The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a high way for our God.—Isa_40:3.
All the four Evangelists refer these words to the ministry of St. John the Baptist. In the Baptist they received their highest and complete fulfilment. But their first and historical reference is to the return of the Jewish captives from Babylon. The Lord was the King of the chosen people; and in the vision of the prophet, the promised return to home and freedom was to be a triumphant procession across the desert, headed by Israel’s invisible Monarch. The cause of the holy people was the cause of God; their bondage and shame in Babylon, although a heaven-sent punishment, had been a humiliation for the majesty of Jehovah before the face of the scoffing heathen; their triumphant return would be the work of God, it would also be the manifestation of His glory. No obstacle should stop the path of His resistless advance: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
Clearly there is here a wider reach of meaning than any which can be satisfied by the actual prospect or history of the return from Babylon. Say what you will about the highly poetical form into which the prophet has undoubtedly thrown his fervid thought, still here is the thought beneath the form which clothes it. If it would be a degrading mistake to resolve this passage into a mere description of some vast engineering operation: if valleys were not literally to be filled up, and mountains were not literally to be levelled, something, at any rate, was to take place in the moral, social, or political world which should correspond to this vigorous imagery. And that something was to interest, not merely the Jewish race and their heathen neighbours, but the whole human family: “All flesh shall see it together.” It is clear that the particular, local, temporal deliverance melts before the eye of the prophet—as, gazing on it, he describes it—into a deliverance, general and world-wide in its significance, extending in its effects far beyond the limits of time. The deliverance of deliverances is before him. He sees the great escape from bondage, of which all earlier efforts at freedom were but shadows; he sees it afar off, the pathway of mankind across the desert of time from the city of chains and sorrow, whereof Babylon was the earthly type, to the city of freedom and glory imaged in Jerusalem.
And thus it is that the Evangelists so unhesitatingly apply the passage to St. John the Baptist. St. John was the immediate forerunner of the Deliverer of humanity; St. John, as a hermit of the desert and a preacher of repentance, supplied, by his life, the connecting link between the literal and spiritual senses of the prophecy; St. John gathered up in himself, embodied and represented the ages of prediction and expectation. He was the mind of the Old Testament in a concrete form, laying down its office and proclaiming its work of preparation finished, when the Reality which it foreshadowed had come.1 [Note: A. L. Moore.]
The prophet’s mind is haunted by the vision of perfectness. He has seen it. Not in some dream of shadowy romance has his mind toyed with the bright imagination, but in his hours of deepest commerce with the unseen has this great thing been unveiled, and he has gazed upon its holy beauty. It may lie in dim distances. It may be the final issue of many a bitter conflict and many a dreadful struggle. It may tax the faith, and try the hope, and wear away the strength of generations of holy men and women before its fine glory shall be translated into the actual fact of life. But there it is—a profound and actual reality. His inspired imagination has run forward to greet it, his sometime despondent heart has rested in its certainty. “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” That is the revelation, that the certainty, the hope, and the joy. The world may have no eyes for the glory of the vision, the wise may be deaf to the Voice that declared it. The cynic may burst into ironic laughter, and the coarse interpret its holy prophecy in terms of madness. But goodness ever has its own vision. The prophet has ever been the man with eyes in his soul. He can sing with Abt Vogler—
But God has a few of us whom He whispers in the ear;
The rest may reason and welcome: ’tis we musicians know.
One holy vision fills his mind and heart—there is a perfectness which is dowered with supremacy, beauty, and abidingness. And ultimately that shall surely triumph.1 [Note: G. B. Austin, The Beauty of Goodness, p. 190.]
The Need of Deliverance
1. The herald and hastener of a better and holier day must be distinguished first by a profound sense of the evil of the present. The prophet was no blind optimist cherishing a foolish hope of a better and happier future, because he did not see the abounding evils around him. He saw with clear, penetrating eyes, the moral and spiritual degradation of his nation and day; saw how king and priests and people were, with few exceptions, eaten with idolatry as with a cancer. He speaks of it, aye, and of the national evils which must issue from it—exile, defeat, the overthrow of their beautiful city. That is true of the prophetic band from first to last—from Elijah to John. They saw, they were oppressed by, the evils in Church and State—were almost overwhelmed by them—and rose up in indignant condemnation. They pointed out the unescapable issue of the evil they saw, and demanded a return to a simpler and purer life. Elijah, with trumpet voice, demands: “How long halt ye?” And John lifts up his voice in the desert and bids men “flee from the wrath to come.” A profound sense of the sinfulness of sin, and of the wrath of God which abides perpetually upon it, distinguishes those who were the “road-makers” of past ages. I do not say it was not shared by many of their countrymen, but it is as true of these men as it is of men of our own day—the holier and the more consecrated to God feel the evil and the sin most. They see the mountains of injustice that need to be levelled, the abysses of vice to be filled in, the crookedness, falsity of social life, the inequalities which make the existence of myriads a lifelong martyrdom.
2. What then was the evil which Christ was to conquer in man and for man? It was sin. Sin is the one real evil. It is certainly worse than pain, since pain may become a good. It is certainly worse than death, since death is only the effect of sin, and may be the gate of freedom. It is worse even than the devil, since it makes the devil to be what he is. The devil would be powerless, and death would have no sting, and pain would be unknown, if it were not for sin. But sin is not a thing always palpable to and recognised by the sinner. It is, says Liddon, like the peculiar atmosphere in which we pass the great part of our lives here in Oxford. Looking down upon our homes from the top of Shotover, we see the thick damp fog burying this city and valley beneath a shroud of unwholesome vapour; but here in the streets of Oxford we scarcely observe it hanging in the sunlight, except when it becomes excessive in the depth of winter. Sin is just such a mist as this: it is a fog, a blight, impalpable yet real, about us, around us, within us. It bathes our moral life on this side and that, and withal it blinds us to the fact of its existence. If man would take a true measure of sin, he must be lifted out of it; he must ascend to some moral eminence, whence its real character will be made plain to him, and where he may form strong resolutions to close with any offer of deliverance and escape from its importunity and thraldom. Now such an eminence was supplied in early days by the gift of a moral law. The law did not add to the stock of existing evil, but it drew the unsuspected latent sin of man forth into the daylight; it irritated into intense vigour the principle of opposition which, even when dormant, is ever so strong in sinful human nature, and which shows itself, under the irritation, in its true light as sin. The law was like those remedies in medicine which rid us of a disease by bringing it to the surface, or, as we say, by precipitating it; it forced man to see what he really is, and to forget what he had fancied himself to be. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.”
3. But men must be convinced of the evil and of the need of deliverance from it. Take an illustration. We know that in this country no political measure that really touches the interests of the people can receive the sanction and the force of law, unless the people themselves are convinced that the evils which the measure proposes to remedy are substantial and not fancy evils. No legislative genius on the part of the minister can dispense with this condition of success. If the country is not convinced that the measure is necessary, the minister must take measures that will produce this conviction. He must hold meetings; he must make speeches; he must write dissertations; he must deal in dry statistical demonstrations and in vehemently passionate appeals; he must set in motion all the complicated machinery of political agitation and enterprise which may be at his disposal. Supposing him to be himself satisfied of the necessity of the measure in contemplation, this is nothing more than his duty to his country; he would fail of that duty if he should neglect to diffuse, according to the best of his power, that amount of political information which is necessary to his success.
You will not understand me to be saying that here we have a strict and absolute analogy to the sacred matter immediately before us; because it is plain that the correspondence fails in a most vital particular. We all know that the enactment of a new law in a free country is, in reality, the act not of the legislature but of the people; the legislature is only the instrument of the popular will. But the redemption of the world is in no wise the work of redeemed man; Christ is the one Redeemer, in whose redemptive triumph man could have no part save that of accepting and sharing its blessings. Yet this deliberate acceptance of Christ’s Redemption by man is of vital necessity to man; man is not saved against or without his will to be saved; and it is therefore of the last importance that he should understand his need of the salvation which he must desire and accept.
4. And not only must men be convinced of the need of deliverance, but the Church (taking the forerunner’s place) must prepare for the coming of the Deliverer. In the language of the prophet, it is the business of the Church to prepare a highway for Him in the desert. This is a very significant statement, for the world resents the idea that it is a desert and not fit to receive the Saviour when He comes to it. The tendency of all human systems of religion, in these days at least, is to make the best of whatever there is found among men. It is popular to say that there is a great deal of good in the world after all. That is false, however, except so far as the Gospel has won its way into the hearts of men. The world is essentially evil. “All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father,” says the apostle. Men lose sight of this fact, that the whole world lies in sin, and that God is displeased with it. There is no inherent goodness in it that can be brought out into the light and cherished and developed until it becomes a valuable auxiliary of the work of the Church. No, the world is a desert, and its barrenness and worthlessness are brought out into sharp relief by the “highway” which is to be constructed right through it by the servants of God.
The servants of God have not only to build this highway through the desert, but they have also to make it straight and level, for the Lord’s unhindered progress into the hearts of men. For there are many obstacles to the spread of the Kingdom interposed by the world, and every one of them has to be met by the Church and vanquished.
(1) Every valley is to be exalted. That is, the lowlands of indifference and sordid worldliness are to be filled up and raised to the Gospel level. Divine truth is the great enlightener and quickener of the world. The vast masses of mankind are indeed sunk in sin and shame, but it is largely because they have been left so long in the pit, in the swampy places of every sort of misery and degradation, that they have lost hope. They but strive to get through the days of this world’s life without grievous want of food or shelter, and that is all. Nothing could be more pitiful than the hopeless misery and stolid indifference of the teeming millions of earth’s poor. If Christ is to come into their lives, they must first be inspired to look up and realise that better things are possible, that their condition need not be so wretched, as it is only for the few years of this world’s span, and then every good and pleasant thing may be theirs in eternity, if they but ally themselves with the gracious Redeemer who passes through their midst along this high road.
(2) Not only are the valleys to be exalted, but the mountains and hills are to be made low. These mountains and hills are the prejudices and self-satisfied ignorance of men, their wilful ways and false systems, which they choose to think are better than the Gospel, or in any case equally good with it. They will not suffer their creeds and philosophies and ideals to be beaten down. Yet this is just what the Church has to do if she is to prepare the straight path for our Lord. Every human system upon which men pride themselves is hostile to the Gospel. It must be broken down if Christ our Lord is to possess their hearts. The wise one must surrender the fine-spun conceit of his theories and hypotheses, and bow to the authority of the Gospel. And so it becomes the business of the Church in every way possible to overcome the false systems and notions which oppose Divine truth, that the Master’s paths into the hearts of men may be levelled.
(3) Again, the crooked places are to be made straight. How many of these there are, and what a Herculean task it seems to be to try to overcome in men’s minds the opposition they have to the Divine religion because of the inscrutable things in nature and in life’s experiences. Therefore the servants of God who would make straight His path have to be striving, with tireless patience, to show their troubled neighbours that there is wisdom in all manner of circumstances which at first sight appear merciless and capricious.
(4) Once more, God’s servants are called to make the world’s rough places plain. How many places there are, and how cruelly rough they often are also. We have to contend against this just as much in the Church as without, for alas, Christians so seldom seem to illustrate the Christ-spirit in their lives, in their daily intercourse with one another. As the apostle says, they bite and devour one another; so much so that it is proverbial that ecclesiastical quarrels are the most bitter of all. It is no easy task to soften hard hearts, to comfort sore hearts, to persuade men that there is something better in the Master’s religion than they see exemplified commonly in the lives of believers. Yet there is no sort of labour more fruitful in results than this. The constant effort to speak kindly, to act lovingly, to be gracious and sympathetic; slow to take offence, quick to make up—such things as these move men more strongly than any words of argument to embrace the Divine religion. Thus by making the rough places plain do we wonderfully make straight the highway for our Lord in the desert of this world.
There is scarcely one good road throughout the length and breadth of Palestine. Travellers, as they manage to pass their horses with difficulty along the wretched highways, or choose some adjacent path over the open plain as far preferable to the road itself, often wonder whence come the huge rough stones which so constantly obstruct the way. I was at a great loss to account for the presence of these, until my attention was called, by W. Schick, our able architect at Jerusalem, to the manner in which many of them are brought there. The camel, horse, and mule drivers, when they find the burdens they have arranged on the backs of their sumpter animals are not equally poised, instead of rearranging them, have a cruel and senseless custom of seizing any large stone which comes to hand, and placing it on that side where the weight is deficient. This stone in time jolts off, and is replaced by another and often by a third and a fourth, and in any case, at the journey’s end or when the animals are unloaded, is left where it falls in the midst of the way. Besides this, in cleaning the vineyards, gardens, and arable land, stones are constantly thrown out on to the nearest road. None of the highways, moreover, are at any time properly metalled, and in winter they suffer very severely from the tropical torrents of rain. Neither is there any adequate provision for keeping them in permanent order, even if they were efficiently made. Yet, notwithstanding the almost impassable condition of the highways at ordinary times, I have repeatedly showed that on a few occasions for brief intervals they were carefully mended. These few occasions were those of the arrival of some royal personages. As soon as it was known at Jerusalem that a king or prince of the blood was about to come through any of the adjacent parts of Palestine which lie within that pashalic, orders were forthwith issued to the people of the various towns and villages to put all the roads in order over which it was arranged he should pass. This was done as usual by means of enforced labour, as was probably the case in former times.1 [Note: James Neil, Palestine Explored.]
When I was a boy I sometimes used to stay at a little farm in the country, and of the many delights of my holiday there, I do not think that any were more delightful than a ride in the farmer’s cart. The farmer’s cart had no springs under it; the tub was fixed straight to the axle, and when it came to ruts or rough places upon the road we knew it. Sometimes we went down with such a sudden jerk that we were almost jerked out of the cart. Well, I used to like that jolting; I did not mind at all those rough places in the road. But I find that as people get on in life they do not like these shakings up; they prefer to go along easily and smoothly. And when people in Brighton want to go for a ride in a cab or carriage, they always look out for one that has written on the lamps, “Rubber Tyres.” You see, the rubber tyres on the wheels make the rough places plain; that is, they take off the friction; they lessen the unpleasant jolting, and people’s nerves are not so strained as they would be if they went along the road in an old cart like the one I used to enjoy going for a ride in, that was fastened to the axle without springs between or rubber tyres on the wheels. Well, now, I want you to remember that the road of life is rough for most people, and it is rough sometimes even for boys and girls. It is possible for us all to do something to make life easier, to take away the friction and the unpleasantness of life, and to make it more pleasant and more enjoyable for those going over the road.1 [Note: D. J. Llewellyn.]
The discovery of man’s deep need was accompanied by another discovery, the revelation of a Deliverance. The hopes of man are as ancient as his despondency. At the gates of Eden was given the promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. We interpret that promise, and rightly enough, in the light of its fulfilment. But when it was given it might have seemed vague, and capable of many interpretations; nothing was certain except that man’s deliverance would in some way be wrought out through humanity itself. Around this promise all the faith and hope of the earliest ages gathered, and from this point gradually narrows and becomes definite as it proceeds to unfold its true interpretation, until at length, when Isaiah and Zechariah had spoken, the whole life and sufferings of Jesus Christ had been written by anticipation.
For myself, I am a social optimist, simply because I am a Christian; because I am not willing to take up the cry which the pessimist and the social cynic desire to put into my mouth. The sky is not black, but bright with the Christmas star which announces the advent of a King, of a Ruler of men—Christ Jesus—not reigning merely supreme in far-off splendour in the glory of the heavenly palaces, but King in England to-day, by His Spirit inspiring, illuminating, transfiguring life, the great Companion, full of love and sympathy for all the sorrows and sufferings of the poor, full of care and concern also for the wider good of the commonweal—the Reformer, the Emancipator of the captive and of the oppressed, the Champion of social right and the Inspirer of social duty. And I am a social optimist also because I am an Englishman; because I believe in what Burke once called “the inbred integrity and piety of the English people”; because it is bred into my very bone, as I expect it is bred into yours, that somehow with Englishmen things cannot go permanently wrong, but are bound to worry through in the end.1 [Note: C. W. Stubbs, Bishop of Truro.]
It is an old commonplace of divinity, which we are strangely forgetting, that despair is the only utter perdition; because despair binds a man in the prison of his own evil nature, and fastens the chain of the evil spirit upon him; because all hope points upwards to God, and is the response of our spirit to His Spirit. Therefore I say it again, we ought to stir up hope in every human being. Hope for present help from God to overcome the sin that most easily besets him; hope that he shall be able to say to the mountain which now stands in his way, “Remove, and be cast into the sea”; hope for the future that the glory of God, the Deliverer, shall be fully revealed; and that he, being included in the “all flesh” of which the prophet writes, bearing that nature in and for which Christ died, shall be able to see it and rejoice in it.2 [Note: F. D. Maurice, Sermons preached in Lincoln’s Inn Chapel, i. p. 164.]
1. What is the “straight” line to heaven? Far, far away is the eternal, electing love of God. The visible starting-place is a sense of sin, and a sincere desire for pardon and peace with God. Next is a feeling of forgiveness through the mercy of God by the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This leads on to peace. And then peace runs into love. And love goes on into a new and holy life,—a life dedicate, a life loving, a life of usefulness, a life for heaven. This line of life grows broader and broader as it goes on. And it also grows humbler and humbler, till it is all Christ, and no self. And so it brings the traveller to heaven. And not to stay there, but to go on, in the same line, straighter still, perfectly “straight,” for ever and ever! Thus the “straight” line is—repentance, pardon, peace, love, holiness, usefulness, humility, heaven. Each runs into the other; and they make one line.
“The rough places smooth!” Did it ever happen to you to know some very rough man, illiterate, coarse, hard, who became a Christian? You saw, you could not help seeing, the wonderful change! How soft, how gentle, how refined that hard man became. The whole being of that man was “smooth.” The “rough places” were made “plain.” You may be perfectly conscious that there is much in yourself which is very “rough”; much that grates and irritates; much that is most unlike your Master, and often very grievous to yourself. “Rough” ways of speaking; “rough’ judgments; “rough” looks; “rough” actions. You regret them afterwards. But the “roughness” is still there. It breaks out again. What shall you do? Think of the gentle Jesus! Often have before your eyes His calm, holy, peaceful look. Cling to Him. Unite yourself to Him. Ask Him to do it, and it will be done. He will make an Advent into your heart. And the more He comes, the more certain is the result. He will bring quietness. He will make your “rough” places “smooth.” Or, it may be thus: Perhaps there are many “roughnesses” now in your path; jars in daily life; “rough” persons with whom you have to do; “rough” circumstances; “roughening” troubles; vexatious annoyances. The whole discipline of life is “rough” to you! It is astonishing how Christ can, and will, turn those “rough” edges, if you will ask Him! If He but throw in His calming presence, and pass over it all His smoothing hand, the “rough” places will soon be “smooth”! The waters will soon settle down when He speaks “Peace”! Believe it. It is in the covenant. “The rough places shall be made smooth.”1 [Note: J. Vaughan, Sermons, Sept. 1881 to April 1882, p. 107.]
2. There are many advents of the Son of God, and for every one of them there is some forerunner, some voice crying in the wilderness: “Prepare ye His way; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” His comings mark the great upward strides of humanity towards a nobler, freer, purer life; they are the occasions when the bonds of the past are broken, and the world moves swiftly towards its Divine goal. The greatest and most hopeful epochs of history have been those when the religious spirit, which is the Spirit of God moving in the hearts of men, has been quickened and purified. The voice of some John the Baptist has gone ringing through the wilderness of a dead faith, of a formal worship, of a worldly life, and men have been startled into attention, have been made conscious of shortcomings and sins, have broken up the fallow ground of their hearts, have sown to the Lord in righteousness, and have reaped the golden harvest of a Divine spiritual life.
Let me remind you of three cardinal instances in which living sympathy has prepared the way for Christ’s triumphal entry into the heart of a generation.
(1) Why was it that while other apostles presented Christ in other ways—as Messiah, as Judge, as Healer—Paul determined to know nothing but Christ crucified? Not because His Gospel, as he calls it, was the whole of the Divine message, but because the language of sacrifice was the common speech of all mankind. Differing in all else, Jew and Greek, barbarian and Scythian, were one in this, that they regarded sacrifice as the central means of grace. While other aspects of the Saviour might appeal to this class or that nation, this one touched the springs which move the universal heart of humanity. And so it was not James or Peter, but Paul, whose picture of the Christ won the homage of the world.
(2) In Italy, at the end of the twelfth century, Christian faith was all but extinct. So entirely were priests and rulers given up to hatred and greed and luxury that the few humble communities which aimed at a purer life were hunted as heretics. The mass of the people, despised, oppressed and corrupt, lived in one dumb longing for pity. Then came an apostle who, from the storehouse of Christ’s words of power, drew that which they needed—“Blessed are the poor!” When he claimed Poverty for his bride, Francis of Assisi enacted a parable which all the poor could understand. To choose the life of poverty was to choose that which bound the sad millions to each other. It was to proclaim himself the brother of all. It was to rob poverty of its sting by making it a bond of love. The life and words of St. Francis are one long poem, in which Christ is presented as the Lord of pity. From him men learned once more that the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of love; once more they became its willing subjects; once more there was a Christian Italy—a Christian Europe.
(3) But not for long. The glorious revival of the thirteenth century was followed by a long decay of faith and morals. The Renaissance which restored the art and the learning of the ancient world, restored its vices too. An ignorant and corrupt priesthood not only oppressed the people, but degraded them; for they taught that all forms of secular life were profane, and none truly acceptable to God but their own celibate idleness. In Southern lands laymen accepted their degradation, and religion became a mockery. But in Germany, in Switzerland, in England, and wherever men had Teutonic blood in their veins, the old German faith in personal value persisted. Outraged manhood led them to scorn the priests, and almost to renounce the religion which was an excuse for the domination. Then God raised up an apostle from among the labouring poor who could understand and convert them. Convert them not by condemning their errors or denouncing their excesses, but by showing them that all their just claims were allowed and satisfied by the ancient teaching of the Church. The doctrine of justification by faith, which Luther drew from Paul’s forgotten writings, meant release from the tyranny of the Confessional, meant the recognition of each man’s conscience, and the consecration of each man’s life.1 [Note: M. G. Glazebrook, in The Church Family Newspaper, March 24, 1910, p. 248.]
3. As the life of the Church of Christ is developed, as its organisation and its methods are kept simply as instruments for the spirit of faith and love to work through, the Church will become less and less dependent upon the zealous efforts of any man to inaugurate reforms and to lead onward movements. The influence of the one man seems to correspond with the generally low and enslaved condition of the mass of the people; great when the people are most needy; comparatively small when the people are more free and more able to help themselves. John the Baptist is a unique, a commanding figure, because the age in which he prophesied was so destitute of spiritual men. Martin Luther is an imposing presence because, until he began to preach, the people, not having the knowledge of God and of His Christ, were abject enough to bow down to a corrupt Church which they hated and despised. John Wesley and George Whitefield stand out conspicuously from a mass of clergymen and ministers of the last century because the Gospel was then so little known, ministers so rarely experienced its power, and the people were in such gross darkness. I greatly doubt whether in our country such forerunners of the Kingdom of God will appear again, simply because I think that the conditions of our Church life are so highly favourable to upward movements springing from a general sense of need.2 [Note: J. P. Gledstone, in Christian World Pulpit, xxxiv. p. 183.]
It is wonderful to see how sensitive the Church of to-day has become to her condition, to her reputation, and to her efficiency. If there is backsliding, there is always a reprover at hand; if there is a low standard of attainment, there is always some one to urge her forward to higher graces; if there is inefficiency in any department of service, there is always some active, enterprising spirit prepared to supply the lack and do the necessary work. If one Church declines, another grows; if one denomination passes by any field of usefulness, another steps in and occupies it. If the Churches at home were to prove unfaithful, they would be rebuked and stimulated by those abroad. If the ministry becomes cold and formal, the Press utters the complaints of the hungry, starving flock. So much work is now cast upon the Church, her enterprises have carried her into so many lands, and require so many workers and such enormous revenues, that she can maintain her ground only by a life of faith. Faith brought her into this goodly land, and by nothing but faith can she retain it. Yet mere retention is not enough. She must make fresh advances; she lives by growth. To stand still is to die. Thus is she continually cast upon God, and to be cast upon Him is to find His faithfulness and truth.1 [Note: J. P. Gledstone, in Christian World Pulpit, xxxiv. p. 183.]
4. What the world requires most of all is a revelation of the glory of God. The material progress which we have been describing is what many people mean when they speak of “the civilisation of the nineteenth century,” and yet that which has lamentably failed to bless our own people is sometimes vaunted as the best message we can send to the heathen. Many say, “Let our trade, and our railways, and all our conveniences first find entrance to a heathen land, and then the people there will be prepared for the Gospel.” A grosser delusion could hardly be promulgated. Our own social condition might show its fallacy, and experiment in heathen lands has confirmed it. When Christianity has gone first (as to the South Seas), morality, and contentment, and safety have been generated with a simple religious faith, whose earnestness puts us to shame. But when this so-called “civilisation” has preceded Christianity, idolaters have become atheists, and their last state is worse than their first. Now, as our text puts it, the great object we Christians are to keep in view, in all our achievements and enterprises, is that “the glory of God” may be revealed—not, you observe, the glory of man, not the glory of a society, not the glory of a sect, but the glory of God. And what do we understand by that? Certainly no burst of light upon the world such as that which overwhelmed Saul of Tarsus, nor any new and supernatural revelation, but a fulfilment of the Saviour’s words about His disciples, “I am glorified in them.” As a king, a man finds his glory in the contentment of his people; as a father, a man finds his glory in the well-being of his children; and so the great King and Father of us all finds His “glory” in our contentment and well-being. And how can that be brought about? It is by the work and words of those who speak “comfortably” to the sinners, who proclaim a reconciled God revealed in Jesus Christ, who declare to all who in penitence will accept it, that “iniquity is pardoned,” and that it is possible for all flesh to see the salvation of God.1 [Note: A. Rowland.]
We have produced, during the last fifty years, says Bishop Stubbs, agitators of the John the Baptist type, from John Bright down to John Burns, and they have most of them done noble preparatory work; but we have now to produce, if we can, and from the same classes, admirable administrators, who are quite a different kind of people, a new order of men, a new religious order, shall I say?—men who, whilst believing in the possibilities of democratic control, know how essential to efficient administration are all the qualities which are of Christian character, justice, patience, hope, modesty, integrity, frankness, and fellowship. We want, in fact, as great a change, it seems to me, in our conception of the essential qualities which go to make an able public man, a vestry politician even, as Browning described in the wonderful picture he gave of the true function of a poet, which he called, “How it strikes a Contemporary.” Indeed, now I come to think of it, I am not sure that Browning’s poet is not quite the kind of man we want for our county councillors and politicians. Do you remember Browning’s lines—
I only knew one poet in my life:
And this, or something like it, was his way.
You saw him up and down Valladolid,
A man of mark, to know next time you saw.
He walked and tapped the pavement with his cane,
Scenting the world, looking it full in the face.
He turned up, now, the alley by the church,
That leads nowhither; now, he breathed himself
On the main promenade just at the wrong time:
You’d come upon his scrutinising hat,
Making a peaked shade blacker than itself
Against the single window spared some house
Intact yet with its mouldered Moorish work,—
Or else surprise the ferrel of his stick
Trying the mortar’s temper ’tween the chinks
Of some new shop a-building, French and fine.
He stood and watched the cobbler at his trade.
He glanced o’er books on stalls with half an eye,
And fly-leaf ballads on the vendor’s string,
And broad-edge bold-print posters by the wall.
He took such cognisance of men and things,
If any beat a horse, you felt he saw;
If any cursed a woman, he took note;
Yet stared at nobody,—you stared at him,
And found, less to your pleasure than surprise,
He seemed to know you and expect as much.
The town’s true master if the town but knew!
We merely kept the governor for form,
While this man walked about and took account
Of all thought, said and acted, then went home,
And wrote it fully to our Lord the King.
Austin (G. B.), The Beauty of Goodness, 190.
Cook (F. C.), Lincoln’s Inn Sermons, 279.
Davies (J. P.), The Same Things, 10.
Gould (S. Baring), Village Preaching, 2nd Ser., i. 25.
Hare (J. C.), The Mission of the Comforter, i. 325.
Hutton (R. E.), The Crown of Christ, i. 53.
Liddon (H. P.), Sermons on Special Occasions, 117.
Ritchie (A.), Sermons from St. Ignatius’ Pulpit, 29.