We have committed ourselves, in our mode of dealing with the subject of these lectures, to the guidance of Scripture; and I have already, in the opening lecture, alluded to the doubt, which might arise in some minds that this method might carry us away from the living questions of the present age. But long experience has taught me to be very confident in this method of study. It is astonishing how directly, when trusting to the leading hand of Scripture, one is conducted to the heart of almost any subject, and how frequently one is thus compelled to take up delicate aspects of present questions which one would otherwise timidly avoid; while there is, besides, this other great advantage, that one can always go forward with a firm step, having at one's back a Divine warrant and authority. To-day we shall have an illustration of this; for the method which we are obeying will carry us straight into the midst of the burning questions of the hour; and the example of the prophets will press on our attention an aspect of ministerial duty which the times are urgently clamouring for, but which it is by no means easy to face. In our last lecture we were occupied with the call of the prophet to the service of God; to-day we have to study wherein consisted this service itself.
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Here we are at once confronted with a contrast between the work of Old Testament prophets and that of modern ministers, to which it is by no means easy to adjust the mind. Our message in modern times is addressed to the individual; but the message of the prophets was addressed to the nation. The unit in our minds is always the soul; we warn every man to flee from the wrath to come; we reason and wrestle with him in the name of Heaven; we watch over the growth of his character; and we estimate our success by the number of individuals brought into the kingdom. In the prophets there is a complete absence of all this. They are no less in earnest; their aim is equally clear before them; but the unit in their minds is different: it is the Jewish state, or at least the city of Jerusalem, as a whole. A recent commentator on Isaiah has raised the question, whether Isaiah has a gospel for the individual. He makes out that he has; but it is in a somewhat round-about way; and it is not done without, to some extent, attributing to Isaiah a point of view which was not his. It was Christ who introduced the modern point of view. He was the discoverer of the individual. It was He who taught the world to believe in the dignity and destiny of the single soul; and He trained His ministers to seek and save it.
Isaiah's position, however, is well worth studying, and has its own lesson for us. Only we must acknowledge it to be what it really is, and endeavour to place ourselves on his standpoint. To him the New Testament position was no more possible than the modern view of ethics was to the ancient philosophers; and the student of philosophy saturated from birth with the modern ideas of freedom and individuality, has an exactly similar difficulty to overcome, as he reads, for example, the Republic of Plato, where the state is everything and the individual nothing.
While a message to any individual is rare in the prophetical books, that which we come upon wherever we open them is a patriotic and statesman-like appeal on the condition of the country. The prophets addressed themselves by preference to the heads and representatives of the people, such as kings, princes and priests; because the power to effect changes in the situation of the country rested in their hands. But they also took advantage of large popular gatherings, and in some conspicuous place, such as the city-gate or the court of the temple, delivered their message, which thus might reach every corner of the land. A name which they delight to apply to themselves is Watchmen. As the watchman, stationed on his tower over the city-gate, kept guard over the safety of the place, giving notice when danger was approaching and summoning the citizens to defend themselves, so the prophets from their watch-tower -- that is, the position of elevation and observation which inspiration gave them -- watched over the weal of the state, observing narrowly its condition within, keeping their eye on the influences to which it was exposed from without, and, when danger threatened, giving the alarm. Their acquaintance is extraordinary with the state of every part of the country; and still more astonishing is their knowledge of surrounding countries. When they have to speak of Moab or Edom, they seem as familiar with the towns and rivers, the customs and history of these countries, as with those of Judah; and they appear to be as well acquainted with what is going on in the cities on the Nile or the Euphrates as with what is happening in Jerusalem. No home secretary is as well acquainted with the internal affairs of his own country, and no foreign secretary with the affairs of foreign countries. It was their vocation to be sensitively alive to all the influences, near or remote, by which their native land could be affected.
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The contents of the prophetic writings, notwithstanding their variety, easily fall into a few great masses. The chief are these three -- Criticism, Denunciation and Comfort.
1. There is a great mass of what may be called Criticism. Standing on their watch-tower and turning their observation on the internal condition of the state, the prophets could nearly always discern diseased symptoms in the body corporate, and it was their duty to point them out. So Isaiah commences his prophecies: |The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.| And he thus gives expression to the obligation which was laid on him to make these discoveries known: |Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.|
The sins which the prophets had to reprehend were pretty uniform all through the prophetic period; and it is interesting to compare them with those by which our own age is afflicted. There is no school in which the conscience can be so well educated to a sense of public sin as in the writings of the prophets.
The root evil was always Idolatry. The nation was continually falling away from the worship of the true God to idols, or at least the worship of other deities was incorporated with that of Jehovah. This was always both a symptom of advanced degradation and the head and fountain of other evils of the worst kind. All the prophets attack it with all the weapons in their armoury -- with hot indignation and close argument and scalding tears. Isaiah is remarkable for attacking it with raillery and sarcasm. He takes his readers into the idol workshop and details the process of their manufacture. He shows us the workmen, surrounded with their plates of metal and logs of wood, out of which the god is to be fashioned, and busy with their files and planes, their axes and hammers, putting together the helpless thing. The idolmaker, he says, has a fine ash or oak or cedar-tree, and makes a pretty idol with it; but with the same wood he lights his fire and cooks his dinner -- |He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast and is satisfied; yea, he warmeth himself and saith, Aha, aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire; and the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image; he falleth down unto it and worshippeth it and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me, for thou art my god.|
Closely associated with idolatry was Luxury. So successful to our minds is the polemic of a prophet like Isaiah against idolatry that the wonder to us is that it was ever necessary; and, indeed, there are few things more puzzling to the ordinary reader of Scripture than the constant lapses of the people of God into idolatry. How could they, knowing the true God, exchange a worship so rational and elevated for the worship of stocks and stones? The explanation is a simple but a humiliating one. The worship of these foreign deities was accompanied with sensual excesses, which appealed to the strongest elementary passions of human nature. Feasts, dances and drunken orgies formed part of the worship of Baal and the other Canaanite divinities. Idolatry in Israel was never due to theoretic changes of opinion; it was only the way in which an outbreak of laxity and luxury manifested itself. Its equivalent in our day would be an excessive development of the passion for amusement and excitement, destroying the dignity and seriousness of life. The wealthy and fashionable classes led the way, as they generally do in periods of moral retrogression; and the worst symptom of all was when the womanhood of the country surrendered itself to the prevailing tendencies. This last feature of degradation had developed itself in Isaiah's day; and he attacks it with a strange combination of humour and moral indignation: |Because the daughters of Jerusalem are haughty, and walk with outstretched neck and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, making a tinkling with their feet, therefore ... the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls and their round tires like the moon, the chains and the bracelets and the mufflers, the bonnets and the ornaments of the legs and the headbands, the tablets and the earrings, the rings and nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel and the mantles and the wimples and the crisping pins, the glasses and the fine linen, and the hoods and the veils; and it shall come to pass that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink, and instead of a girdle a rent, and instead of well-set hair baldness, and instead of a stomacher a girdle of sackcloth, and burning instead of beauty.|
Then there was Oppression. Excessive luxury in the upper classes is usually accompanied with misery among those at the opposite end of the social scale; because the rich in such a state of society are heartless, and not only neglect the poor, but oppress them. The prophets are full of the wrongs inflicted on the weak by the powerful. The wealthy landowners took advantage of the difficulties of their less prosperous neighbours to rob them of their holdings and remove the ancient landmarks; and the courts of law were so corrupt that those who could not bribe the occupants of the chair of justice had no chance of redress. The spirit of the constitution was so far violated that the rich held their own fellow-countrymen in slavery, and did not even give them the advantage of the year of jubilee. Many a page of the writings of the prophets looks like a programme for the reform of abuses with which we are too familiar in our own civilisation. |Woe,| says Jeremiah, |to him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's services without wages and giveth him not for his work.|
Last of all there was Hypocrisy. In spite of these sins, crying to Heaven, there was seldom any lack of religiosity or the outward forms of religion. Religion was divorced from morality, and ritual was substituted for righteousness. There is no commoner or weightier burden in the prophets than this. It is on this subject that Isaiah lets loose the whole force of his prophetic soul in his very first chapter, where there is a truly appalling picture of the combination of religious rites the most multiplied with moral abuses the most clamant: |To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me? saith the Lord. I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks or of rams or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before Me, who hath required this at your hands, to tread My courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto Me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth; they are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them. And, when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash you; make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge the fatherless; plead for the widow.|
Thus did these watchmen search out the moral and religious condition of the people to the very bottom and, in the most expressive language, bring home to their fellow-countrymen how they stood in the eyes of God.
2. A second large mass of the prophetic writings is occupied with Denunciation, or the prediction of calamities about to come as the punishment of sin. As sure as the prophets were that the God of the universe was a righteous God, so certain were they that the public sins which they exposed would bring down the wrath of Heaven; for |though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.|
The instruments of punishment were not far to seek. Israel was surrounded by nations which entertained towards her feelings of bitter hostility and needed only the slightest provocation to attack her. Such were Edom and Moab, Philistia and Syria. But, above all, she was hemmed in on both sides by great and warlike powers -- Egypt on the one hand and Assyria or Babylonia on the other. These were incessantly watching each other, and, in doing so, they had to look across Israel. She lay in the way which the one had to take in order to get at the other. The secular historian would say that she could not but fall sooner or later into the hands of the one or the other, and that she would probably pass frequently from hand to hand. But to the prophets these warlike powers were the scourges in God's hand to punish the sins of His people; and, looking outwards from their watch-tower, after exposing the sins within the state, they announced that the storm-cloud of calamity was rising from this quarter or that long before any suspicion of it had dawned on the citizens themselves. Jehovah turns the hearts of kings and peoples as the rivers of water, and He stirred up these hostile nations when His people were in need of chastisement; He could wield their power as the axe which assails a tree is wielded by the woodman; He could call the mightiest conqueror to serve His secret purposes, as a man calls a dog to his foot. They did not know that they were being thus used. They had their own designs, and their hatred and cruelty towards God's people were real enough. They were even, after doing God's work on His people, to be punished in turn for the animosity and violence with which they performed it. But in the meantime the will of Jehovah was accomplished, and the discipline of His providence wreaked on the sins of the nation.
3. The third great element in these books is Comfort. Not unfrequently, in delivering these predictions of approaching calamity, the prophets had to put themselves into opposition to popular forms of patriotism and incur the danger of being regarded as enemies of their country. This was especially the case with Jeremiah, who was burdened all his life with the sad task of proclaiming that the time for repentance was past, and the Jewish state, with its capital, must be destroyed. When the enemy was before the walls of Jerusalem, and the heads of the state were rallying the citizens to the last and most sacred duty of defending their hearths and altars, he had still to predict that resistance was useless; and he was imprisoned as a traitor, because his words were disheartening the soldiers. When at last the city fell into the hands of the enemy, he was set free from imprisonment and loaded with honours by the conqueror as one who had been a valuable ally. Never was a position more equivocal occupied by a patriot. Yet never has there beaten in a human breast a heart more patriotic than Jeremiah's. Patriotism, strong as a man's passion and tender as a woman's love, is the keynote of every chapter of his prophecies. This is characteristic of all the prophets. They loved Israel, and especially the city of Jerusalem, with an ardour of affection such as has rarely, if ever, been bestowed on any other country or city on earth. There was something natural in this passion; for Palestine was a lovely country, whose fruitful plains and picturesque valleys and vine-clad hills easily captivated the hearts of its inhabitants; and Jerusalem was a city beautiful for situation. But this natural attachment was transfigured into a higher sentiment. Jerusalem was the hearth and sanctuary of the true religion. The country was dear to the hearts of the prophets, because it had been specially chosen by Jehovah as a home for His people, in which they might work out their destiny. The people who inhabited this country were to be married to Jehovah; He was to penetrate them with His spirit and character; and in them and their seed all nations of the earth were to be blessed.
To this sublime conception of the nation the hearts of all the prophets clung. However unworthy of it their own generation might be, they believed in the inexhaustible resources of their race, which was immortal till its destiny was accomplished. It was this faith, inspiring Isaiah, which enabled him to rally his fellow-countrymen to the defence of Jerusalem, when, according to all human probabilities, extinction stared it in the face. And even Jeremiah, though he had to predict the ruin of the city of his heart, never dreamed for a moment that its career was at an end; but, looking beyond the calamities of the immediate future, he predicted that God would restore the captivity of His people and yet make Zion a praise in the earth. It was, indeed, in times of calamity and suffering that the patriotism of the prophets burned most ardently. It was then that, speaking in God's name, they poured out on the stricken city the affection which breathes in such wonderful words of Isaiah as these: |Can a mother forget her sucking child that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget: yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands; thy walls are continually before Me.| The second half of Isaiah, addressed to the exiles in Babylon, overflows with such outbursts of tenderness; and, although there is obviously a love in them which is more than human, yet the Divine love could not have found an outlet and a voice for itself except through a human heart of the most exquisite sensibility and passionate patriotism. The prophets, who could scourge the people in the height of their prosperity and wantonness with words which smote like swords, became in the days of calamity the assiduous ministers of comfort, pouring balm into the wounds of their country and never allowing the daughter of Zion to despair of her future.
It was then especially that they cultivated the most remarkable of all the elements of prophecy -- the hope of the Messiah. Tragic as was the failure of the prophets themselves to raise the nation to the elevation which they saw so clearly to be her destiny, they all believed that what they had failed to do would yet be done, and that there would yet be a Jerusalem bright and glorious as a star, and serving as the star of hope to all the peoples of the earth. Their confidence in this did not rest solely on the will and power of God in general; it was guaranteed to them by the belief, which, under different forms, they all cherished, and taught their countrymen to cherish, that in the womb of the nation there lay One, to be born in due time, endowed with powers far greater than their own, who would take up the task which each of them had had in his turn to lay by unaccomplished, and carry it forward to its fulfilment -- a Child of the nation who would unite in His character all the attributes in their fullest perfection which the nation herself ought to have possessed, and who, though standing high above His fellow-countrymen, would yet be thoroughly incorporated with them, and, taking on His shoulders the responsibility of their destiny, would never fail to be discouraged under it, but bear it victoriously to the goal. |Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.|
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Now, gentlemen, the question is, How far the aspect of the prophetic activity which we have considered to-day is a model to us?
It might be argued that this is a stage of preaching which has been superseded, and that the message of ministers ought now to be addressed entirely to individuals. This is the theory of preaching on which many act, without perhaps considering how widely it differs from the procedure of the prophets. And no doubt much might be said in its defence. It was a vast step in the development of religion when Jesus turned from the nation to the individual and taught the world the value of the soul. Here must ever now lie the stress of Christian preaching; the preacher is not worthy of the Christian name who does not know what it is to hunger and thirst for the salvation of individuals, and who does not esteem the salvation of even one soul well worth the labour of a lifetime.
Still it may be doubted whether any stage through which preaching has passed can ever be entirely superseded; and we may well hesitate to believe that the work of an Isaiah or a Jeremiah is not still work for us.
This doubt is further strengthened when we turn to the record of Christ's own preaching. He is the final standard and incomparable model. But, though He discovered the soul and taught the world the value of the individual, His preaching was not exclusively directed to individuals. It had a public and national side. He cast His protection over publicans and sinners, not only because they were the children of men, but also because they were the seed of Abraham; He submitted His claims to the ecclesiastical authorities of the nation, and, when they rejected them, He directed against the religious parties the thunderbolts of His invective. The tears and words of indescribable tenderness which He poured out upon the city where He was about to be martyred proved that the patriotism of Isaiah and Jeremiah still burned in His heart; and He charged His apostles, when sending them forth to evangelize the world, to begin at Jerusalem.
If this did not settle the question, the nature of the case would demonstrate that the preacher's vocation includes a message to the community as well as to the individual. It will be conceded by all that the preacher exists for the promotion of righteousness and the diminution of sin in the world. But sin is not only lodged in the heart of the individual: it is embodied also in evil customs and unjust laws, for which the community is responsible. The individual is largely moulded by his environment; but this may either be so favourable to goodness that his evil tendencies are restrained and everything encourages him to do well, or so evil that the worst vices are easily contracted, while every step in the right direction meets with a storm of opposition. No one would contend that the chances of a soul are the same whether it lives among those who watch carefully over its development and guide its footsteps in the paths of peace, or among those whose word and example are encouragements to every kind of sin. Society ought to be a kindly matrix in which incipient life is nurtured into health and beauty; but it may be a malignant nurse, by whom the stream of life is poisoned at its very source. If this be so, then it is as reprehensible in those whose vocation is to watch over the moral and spiritual development of their fellow-men to be indifferent to the conditions by which life is surrounded as it would be discreditable to the physicians of a city swept year after year by pestilence, if they took no interest in the insanitary conditions to which the epidemic was due, but lazily contented themselves with curing their own patients.
We seem to have arrived at precisely the point in the Church's history when her mind and conscience are to awake to this aspect of her duty. One of the most eminent members of the English bench of bishops said recently, that the social question is the question which the Christianity of the present day has to solve; and this sentiment is being echoed in every quarter. Strange it is how age after age one word of the message of Christianity after another lays hold of the Christian mind and becomes for a time the watchword of progress. There can be little doubt that this is the word for our age. The extraordinary response given throughout the civilised world to General Booth's In Darkest England proves how deeply the conscience of the world is being stirred by the misery and degradation of the outcasts of society.
General Booth's book, and other books and pamphlets like it, have brought home to us the fact, that at the base of our civilisation there is sweltering a mass of sin and misery, which is not less a reproach to Christianity than were the publicans and sinners to the religion of the contemporaries of Christ; because, though the Church may not, like the Scribes and Pharisees, despise and hate these outcasts, it has not yet coped effectually with the problem of their condition; and perhaps their numbers are increasing rather than diminishing. There are sections of the community in which the conditions of existence are so evil that childhood is plunged, almost as soon as it is born, into an element of vice and crime, the bloom of modesty is rudely rubbed off the soul of womanhood, and manhood is so beset with temptation that escape is well-nigh impossible. Can anyone doubt that an Isaiah or a Jeremiah would, in such a state of society, have lifted up his voice like a trumpet and cast the condition of these lost children of our people in the face of the luxurious rich, and especially of the professors of religion? And is it less obvious that this is still the duty of the modern pulpit?
It cannot, indeed, be said with truth, that the Church has not faced the problem. There is one of the causes of social misery, and that the very chief, against which the Church, especially in your country, has nobly asserted herself. Drink is the cause to which magistrates and judges, and all who are brought directly into contact with the fallen and criminal classes, attribute three-fourths of the evils of society. Drink is the despair of every Christian worker who has ventured down among the pariahs of our civilisation. Against this the Churches have not been inactive. But we are just beginning to acknowledge that, though drunkenness is the great cause of misery, there are other causes behind it which must likewise be coped with. Why do the people drink? This question, when it is impartially considered, will bring many abuses of our social system into view, which must be put out of the way before the evils of drunkenness can be stopped. Excessively prolonged labour exhausts the system and makes it crave for artificial stimulus. Excessively low wages, with no prospect of rising in the world, beget a spirit of recklessness, which makes men ready to turn to anything that promises to bring a gleam of sunshine into their monotonous lot. Ill-furnished and insanitary abodes drive forth their inmates to seek the brightness and comfort of the saloon. These are specimens of the new questions which demand the attention of those who feel the reproach of our defective civilisation.
There is one type of remedy which the Church has liberally supplied. To those already fallen she has extended a helping hand. The Evangelical Revival produced a spirit of philanthropy which has invented schemes for the relief of every form of human woe; and these have multiplied to almost unmanageable numbers. But we are beginning to see that, multiply them as we may, they must be totally insufficient as long as the causes of misery are undealt with. If the causes remain as strong as ever, new victims will be manufactured as fast as philanthropy can rescue those already made. The time has come to ascend higher up the stream than has hitherto been done, and cut it off at its source. In other words, we must direct the whole force of Christian philanthropy to the stopping of the causes of social misery.
For this work new weapons will be required; and perhaps the principal of these will be legislation. The prophets appealed, as I have said, to kings and princes, because in their hands lay at that time the force of government. But this power has now passed, and is daily more completely passing, into the hands of the people, on whom lies the responsibility which formerly lay elsewhere. And, if we are to follow in the footsteps of Isaiah and Jeremiah, we must teach the people to rise to their responsibility and make use of the weapon which time has put into their hands for altering the conditions of life. They must send to the seats of authority, both in the municipality and in the state, men of public spirit, who will act not for their own interest or for the interest of factions, but for the good of the whole community; and they must see to it, that the laws and their administration are such as will make evil-doing difficult and well-doing easy.
Of course this will involve conflict with those interests which are vested in abuses; for there are trades which flourish in the poverty of the poor and even the vices of the vicious. These enjoy, in many cases, the advantage of high social standing; and many of the organs of public opinion will rally to their support. But the Church must appeal to the Christian conscience and summon forth the resources of Christian virtue, to meet this new phase of the task which has been appointed her. Christianity has always, and especially during the last hundred years, had the open hand of charity; but she will need, during the next hundred years, to have also a hand which can close itself firmly over the instrument of government, and make use of it as a lever for lifting out of the way many great obstacles which are keeping back the Kingdom of God.
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I am quite aware of the dangers of this new departure which I am advocating. There is the great danger of undervaluing the work of saving individual souls. There is the danger of forsaking the Word of God and converting the pulpit into an organ of secular discussion; although, on the other hand, there are numerous portions of the Bible which directly raise the discussion of social problems and, when otherwise applied, can only be interpreted in a more or less unnatural sense. There is the danger of making the minister the mouthpiece of a party. Christian tact and discretion will be necessary at every step. But surely this is no reason for declining our duty, but only a reason for bringing out all our resources.
One consideration which simplifies the problem is, that it is not so much the place of the minister to intervene in special questions as to beget in his people a public and patriotic spirit, and to teach them to look upon the discharge of the duties of citizenship as a part of Christianity. When our people have been brought to recognise that the public weal is their concern, and that they are responsible for the state of society and the conditions of life, they can be left to themselves to choose the right men to support the right measures.
Here we can build on a natural foundation. It is natural for a man to be attached to the place of his birth or the town in which he lives. The roots of his life are in its soil; his interests bind him to it; and, if he be at all divinely-souled, its traditions and notable names cannot fail to lay hold upon his heart. The chances which a city has of getting its affairs well attended to are measured by the number of its inhabitants who are animated with such sentiments. In the same way, it is natural for a man to love his country. Some countries especially have the power of casting such a spell over the hearts of their children as binds them to their service. Of my country this might be said. Small as it is, its beauty, its history and its romantic associations wield over the hearts of its inhabitants an extraordinary attraction. Perhaps part of the secret may lie in its very smallness; for feeling contracts a passionate force within narrow limits, as our Highland rivers become torrents within their rocky beds. Of your country also it might be said for different reasons. America stirs patriotic sentiment, not by its smallness, but by its largeness and wonderful variety; not by the memories of the past, but by the boundless possibilities of the future.
These sentiments exist in the minds of our people already; and we only need to foster them and impregnate them with a Christian element, in order to produce convictions about public duty which would have the most blessed results. We might train our people to feel keenly the woe of mankind and especially the moral blots on the fair fame of their own city or country. We might get them to cherish a high ideal of what the place of their abode should be, morally and spiritually, and of what their country might do in the world. In Scotland there was such an ideal once: the eye of the dying Covenanter saw, painted on the mist of the moorland, the vision of a consecrated land ruled by a covenanted king. In England it existed once, in the Puritan days, when, as Richard Baxter says, England was like to become a land of saints, a pattern of holiness to the world, and the unmatchable paradise of the earth. You had it in America once: when your fathers landed in the Mayflower, they were seeking not merely meat and drink, or even wealth and plenty, but a home in which their descendants might grow up in freedom, virtue and religion. We must get that ideal back again, if, in spite of railroads and industrial armies and wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, we are not to become corrupt and ready to be swept away with the besom of destruction. We might train every man on whom our message lays hold to live with the conviction that it is his duty, before he dies, to do something to make his own town more beautiful, his country happier, and the world better.
As I am addressing some who may before long be wielding a great influence, let me add one suggestion. In matters such as I have been speaking of to-day success comes to the man who has a programme. Now is the time, when you are looking out on the world with the keen eyes of youth, to note the abuses which need correction and to picture with the eye of the imagination the improvements which are required to wipe out the reproach or to elevate the reputation of your country. Fix the vision in the centre of your mind; keep it ever before you; and your dream may change to a reality which will modify the conditions of life for whole generations of your fellow-men. What could be worthier of your manhood at its present stage than to be revolving some plan for the benefit and honour of your country? Even if it should never come to anything, it will be good that it has been in your heart. But there is nothing else which is more likely to come to something. |What,| says Alfred de Vigny, |is a great life? It is a thought conceived in the fervent mind of youth and executed with the solid force of manhood.|
Rev. G.A. Smith.
These are Isaiah's images.
For our purpose in these lectures it is of no consequence whether there were two Isaiahs or only one. We are seeking to ascertain the leading features of the prophets; and, if we attribute to one person qualities which were distributed among two, this will matter little, as long as they are typical qualities of the prophet.
|The tale of the Divine Pity was never yet believed from lips that were not felt to be moved by human pity.| -- GEORGE ELIOT.
Not to mention the social element in His preaching comprehended in the doctrine of the Kingdom of God. The comparative absence of the patriotic element from apostolic preaching is chiefly due to the fact that the apostles were missionaries in cities and countries where they were strangers. In some respects modern ministers in settled charges are liker the prophets than the apostles.
For example, there will rarely be any delicacy at the time of an election in urging on the people that it is their duty to go to the poll, but it will nearly always be an indiscretion to indicate from the pulpit for whom they should vote. Very often good causes are lost or long delayed, not because the sentiment of the electorate is opposed to them, but because large numbers are too apathetic to vote at all.
|When I would cast my mind back to what we have earned and reaped from these men, it strikes me perhaps more than anything which I have yet named, that we should thank them for the passionate quest of a glorious ideal. It is such ideals, even when they are unattainable, which lift up the character of men and nations. I think that no worthy historian has yet been found to tell, as it ought to be told, how much Scotland owes to this splendid vision which these men sought, the vision of a consecrated land of saints ruled by a covenanted king, loyal to Christ. It hovered before the rapt eyes of these saints of Scotland until it well-nigh turned them into seers, it elevated them until it made them heroes, and though the picture seemed to fade before the eyes of their children, as though it had been painted by the morning light on the mist of their own moorland, still, it has done its work, for it has contributed mightily to educate the hearts of Scotchmen. But has it so faded? Or is it not simply thrown forward, as the old Jew learned to throw his Messianic hopes forward, from one anticipated Christ to another, better and greater yet to come?| -- J. OSWALD DYKES, D.D.