The name of God stands for His Person, His character. A man’s name is often the exact opposite of himself, but God’s names are revelations of God. The early patriarchs knew Him by the name Elohim. They knew Him so far, and adored Him with deep awe and absolute trust in His power, righteousness, and goodwill. That name raised them out of earthly and debasing associations, delivered them from the fetishism of idolatry, and brought them into near contact with the spiritual world; they trusted in Him according to the measure of their knowledge, and were saved by their faith. A further disclosure of the Divine goodness and love was made by the revelation of the name Jehovah, when the Lord made all His goodness pass before Moses, and proclaimed, “Jehovah, Jehovah Elohim, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” With that revelation was associated an entire system of typical institutions, preparing the way for a still more perfect discovery, at once quickening the conscience, making it sensible of the extent of human sinfulness, and indicating the conditions and principles of a future atonement. The forms of the living Word and of the living Spirit gradually disclosed themselves to the prophetic vision, never fully revealed, yet ever approaching nearer to a personal manifestation; but the Name itself in its highest sense was first suggested, then declared, by the voices which heralded the Incarnation and by the utterances of the Incarnate Word.
1. God is, of course, the embodiment of almighty power. But we learn that He uses His power for beneficent ends. It was His almighty power that shaped a world into being. At His voice chaos became order, darkness fled, and light and life came. It is by His power that He moves every atom of the globe, expands and beautifies every leaf, erects every blade of grass, builds up every tree, and paints every flower in the garden. His Almightiness flashes in the lightning, rolls in the thunder, guides the light, roars in the volcano, wings the angels, and feeds the sparrows. It is His almighty hand that seizes the curtain of darkness, and swings it across the chambers of the sky every night, and puts tired man to rest, and covers him with His feathers. It is His power that sends the sun every morning to wake us to duty and pleasure.
I sing the almighty power of God,
Which made the mountains rise;
Which spread the flowing seas abroad,
And built the lofty skies.
Does this not help me? Yes. If God is almighty, then He is able to help and keep me. If He is possessed of all power I may put my soul and body and all my concerns into His hands, assured that none shall be able to pluck me out. “Help is laid upon one that is mighty,” so I may trust and not be afraid. I am poor and feeble; He is strong. In my pilgrimage I often come into danger, and may fall, but underneath is the omnipotent arm of God.
When we have got into our blood for ever the conception of God which crowns Him the King, Holy and Almighty, we are prepared upon a sound moral basis to receive Him as the loving and merciful Father. One therefore anticipates that the new doctrine will be based on the conception of the Divine Fatherhood—not the Fatherhood that throws away the Judgeship and the Righteousness of God, but the Fatherhood that gathers these up into a nobler and final unity; and that the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the revelation of the Father and the Head of the human race, will yield more blessed and practical fruit in the life of the race from year to year.1 [Note: John Watson, The Cure of Souls.]
2. God is also the embodiment of perfect justice; but we must complement this truth by saying that He is the Everlasting Father. We cannot trust an impersonal force, who neither loves nor hates and who hears no prayer. Such a God is only a God in name. He does not care for me; He does not know what care is, and how then can I care for Him; how can I bring myself to trust in Him? It were a blessing if I could only be like Him—unconscious and careless—like the insect of a summer’s day, or the flower by the wayside, or the fish that sport in the sea. My reason, my conscience—these are my curse! The birds of the air are my superiors. For, with such a God, all that you count best in me is stifled and is a monstrous blunder. The heavens are brass, the earth is iron, and no one is to be pitied as am I, who cry but receive no answer. I can only hate the system which gave me birth, and to talk of trust is to mock me, to add insult to injury.
Truly there is no law but truth; there is
No judge but justice. They who use the sword
Shall perish by the sword, for no reward
Is there but virtue, nor shall evil miss
The strict revenge of its calamities,
Since in and of ourselves, perforce, are scored
Exact effects for every deed and word,—
Nor life, nor death forego the least of this!
Nothing effects our destinies save we:
Ours is the seed we sow, the fruit we reap—
Yea, and the heart’s one flame of ecstasy,
And the soul’s vigil we are sworn to keep,
And life’s low average of strife and sleep,
And, O, the best we are and dare not be!2 [Note: George C. Lodge, Poems and Dramas, ii. 141.]
There is no power to generate trust in any philosophy that identifies God with the order of the universe. There is no pity for the weak and the wicked. Tennyson does not put it too strongly when he represents Nature as not only careless of the single life, but as crying, from scarped cliff and quarried stone—
A thousand types are gone;
I care for nothing, all shall go.
And philosophical theism, deifying reason and moral law, can rise no higher than the moan—
Oh yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood.
Even so much as that no classic poetry or philosophy had ventured to utter. It had no such dream. And whence Tennyson brought it becomes clear when Christmas bells are ringing—
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be!1 [Note: A. J. F. Behrends.]
In his Jungle Books, Kipling gives us his view of the order in which we have our place, and it is all summed up in this stanza with which he closes his description of the Jungle—
Now these are the laws of the jungle,
and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the law,
and the haunch and the hump, is—Obey!
3. The supreme name of God is Love—not love merely as goodwill, but love as active, seeking the lost until they are found, seeking all until they are found. That converts the poet’s dream into a blessed certainty, and the faintness of his trust into solid assurance. The omnipotence of God does not make Him attractive to me. The omniscience of God sounds the death-knell of my hope. The justice of God thrusts me into the dungeon of despair. In such an atmosphere there cannot be the first breath of faith. But when you make it clear to me that this omnipotent, omniscient, holy God is also infinite in His tenderness, that He loves me and wants me, that He is my Father, and that in Christ His Fatherhood has become incarnate, so that when I see Him I see the Father, my faith is kindled and my trust knows no misgiving. Here, in God’s love for me, sealed by manger, cross, and open grave, is the Ariadne thread which leads me out of the cave of darkness, despair, and death.
When David Gray, the young poet of Kirkintilloch, lay dying in his cottage home by the banks of the Luggie, about which he had sung so sweetly, his last words, whispered in the ear of his mother, were, “God has love, and I have faith.” With this sweet utterance upon his lips, and this blessed confidence in his heart, he “fell asleep.”
Another instance of the effect of his preaching is given in the story of how, during a confirmation which he was holding in an East-end church, a poor hawker of infidel literature strolled into the church, and listening to the Bishop’s address was struck by his assertion of the Fatherhood of God. At the close of the service the man asked a church-worker at the door, with much earnestness, “Is what the Bishop says true? Is God indeed the Father of men?” “Of course it is true,” said the lady. “Then,” said he, “my occupation is gone; I have been teaching the reverse of this for years, but I can do so no more.”1 [Note: Life of Bishop Walsham How, 170.]
Trust in God
1. In its literal force the term used by the Psalmist means “to flee to a refuge.” Elsewhere we read, “Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me; for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge.” The words recall the time when David betook himself to the cave of Adullam for shelter from his persecutors. In imagination we can see the rough sides of the cavern that sheltered him arching over the fugitive, like the wings of some great bird, and just as he has fled thither with eager feet and is safely hidden from his pursuers there, so he has betaken himself to the everlasting Rock, in the cleft of which he is at rest and secure. To trust in God is neither more nor less than to flee to Him for refuge, and there to be at peace. The same presence of the original metaphor, colouring the same religious thought, is found in the beautiful words with which Boaz welcomes Ruth, when he prays for her that the God of Israel may reward her, “under whose wings thou art come to trust.”
Such a figure as that is worth tomes of theological lectures about the true nature of faith, telling us, as it does, by means of a picture which says a great deal more than many a treatise, that faith is something very different from a cold-blooded act of believing in the truth of certain propositions; that it is the flight of the soul—knowing itself to be in peril, and naked, and unarmed—into the strong Fortress.
What is it that keeps a man safe when he thus has around him the walls of some citadel? Is it himself, is it the act by which he took refuge, or is it the battlements behind which he crouches? So in faith—which is more than a process of a man’s understanding, and is not merely the saying, “Yes, I believe all that is in the Bible is true; at any rate, it is not for me to contradict it,” but is the running of the man, when he knows himself to be in danger, into the very arms of God—it is not the running that makes him safe, but it is the arms to which he runs.
The man that stands with his back against an oak-tree is held firm, not because of his own strength, but because of that on which he leans. There is a beautiful story of a heathen convert who said to a missionary’s wife, who had felt faint and asked that she might lean for a space on her stronger arm, “If you love me, lean hard.” That is what God says to us, “If you love Me, lean hard.” And if you do, because He is at your right hand, you will not be moved. It is not insanity; it is not arrogance; it is simple faith, to look our enemies in the eyes, and to feel sure that they cannot touch us. “Trust in Jehovah; so shall ye be established.” Rest on the Lord, and ye shall rest indeed.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
Dr. Cochran became the great character of Urumia and of western Persia. A Moslem lady of high rank in the town once remarked, as he was starting away, “We always feel that the city is perfectly safe when Dr. Cochran is here.” In 1887 Mrs. Cochran wrote: “It is wonderful what confidence these people have in us, and even in our people. The Governor gave Joe (Dr. Cochran) his gold watch to send to Europe to be repaired. Joe told him there was no chance to send it unless by some of our Nestorians as far as Constantinople, and there would be several changes of hands, and perhaps it would not be safe. ‘Oh yes,’ said he, ‘the hands of all your people are good.’ ”2 [Note: R. E. Speer, The Foreign Doctor, 298.]
There is no unbelief!
Whoever plants a seed beneath a sod,
And waits to see it push away the clod,
He trusts in God.
Whoever says, when clouds are in the sky—
“Be patient, heart: light breaketh by-and-bye,”
Trusts the Most High.
Whoever sees, ’neath winter’s field of snow,
The silent harvest of the future grow,
God’s power must know.
Whoever lies down on his couch to sleep,
Content to lock each sense in slumber deep,
Knows God will keep.
There is no unbelief!
And day by day, and night, unconsciously,
The heart lives by that faith the lips deny—
God knoweth why.1 [Note: Lytton.]
2. The more fully we know God, the more implicitly shall we trust Him. He will draw out our affection and confidence if we really know and understand Him. Trust is from the same root as truth—true, truer, truest—trust. It is repose upon God’s truth. Faith rests on His faithfulness. Hence the more we know of His truth and faithfulness the more perfectly do we rest and repose upon them. Trust is the response to His attraction, but we need to come within the range of that attraction. His Word He has magnified above all His name as the grand mirror of Himself. Having the written and living Word together, we have no reason to ask, “Show us the Father.” In the Scriptures and in the Lord Jesus Christ we have a complete exhibition of God’s Being.
Man, whilst ignorant of God, is always leaning on an arm of flesh. See God’s ancient people, how continually were even they, notwithstanding all their advantages, trusting in the creature, rather than in God. To Egypt or Assyria they looked in their troubles, rather than to their heavenly Protector. Indeed, there was not any thing on which they would not rely rather than on God. But, when they were made sensible of their folly, and had discovered the real character of God, they instantly renounced all these false confidences, saying, “Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy.” The same proneness to creature-confidence is found amongst ourselves. Who does not, at first, rely on his own wisdom to guide him, his own strength to support him, and his own goodness to procure for him acceptance with God? But in conversion we learn where alone our hope is to be placed, even in “God, who worketh all our works in us,” and “in Christ, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” This was the effect of conversion in St. Paul, who accounted all his former attainments to be but “loss for Christ, and desired to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, which was of the law, but the righteousness which was of God by faith in Christ.” And the same effect invariably follows from a discovery of God as reconciled to us in Christ Jesus.1 [Note: C. Simeon, Works, v. 34.]
3. Trust gradually deepens into love. The three letters G O D mean nothing, and there is no power in them to stir a man’s heart. It must be the knowledge of the acts of God that brings men to love Him. And there is no way of getting that knowledge but through the faith which must precede love. For faith realizes the fact that God loves. “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.” The first step is to grasp the great truth of the loving God, and through that truth to grasp the God that loves. And then, and not till then, does there spring up in a man’s heart love towards Him. But it is only the faith that is set on Him who hath declared the Father unto us that gives us for our very own the grasp of the facts, which facts are the only possible fuel that can kindle love in a human heart. “We love him because he first loved us,” and we shall never know that He loves us unless we come to the knowledge through the road of faith. So John himself tells us when he says, “We have known and believed.” He puts the foundation last, “We have known,” because “we have believed” “the love that God hath to us.”
Students of acoustics tell us that if you have two stringed instruments in adjacent apartments, tuned to the same pitch, a note sounded on one of them will be feebly vibrated upon the other as soon as the waves of sound have reached the sensitive string. In like manner a man’s heart gives off a faint, but musical, little tinkle of answering love to God when the deep note of God’s love to him, struck on the chords of heaven up yonder, reaches his poor heart.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
There is a Man whose tomb is guarded by love; there is a Man whose sepulchre is not only glorious, as a prophet declared, but whose sepulchre is loved. There is a Man whose ashes, after eighteen centuries, have not grown cold; who daily lives again in the thoughts of an innumerable multitude of men; who is visited in His cradle by shepherds and by kings who vie with each other in bringing to Him gold and frankincense and myrrh. There is a Man whose steps are unweariedly retrodden by a large portion of mankind, and who, although no longer present, is followed by that throng in all the scenes of His bygone pilgrimage, upon the knees of His Mother, by the borders of the lakes, to the tops of the mountains, in the byways of the valleys, under the shade of the olive trees, in the still solitude of the deserts. There is a Man, dead and buried, whose sleep and whose awaking have ever eager watchers, whose every word still vibrates and produces more than love, produces virtues fructifying in love. There is a Man who, eighteen centuries ago, was nailed to a gibbet, and whom millions of adorers daily detach from this throne of His suffering, and kneeling before Him, prostrating themselves as low as they can without shame; there, upon the earth, they kiss His bleeding feet with unspeakable ardour. There is a Man who was scourged, killed, crucified, whom an ineffable passion raises from death and infamy, and exalts to the glory of love unfailing, which finds in Him peace, honour, joy, and even ecstasy. There is a Man pursued in His sufferings and in His tomb by undying hatred, who, demanding apostles and martyrs from all posterity, finds apostles and martyrs in all generations. There is a Man, in fine, and One only, who has founded His love upon earth, and that Man is Thyself, O Jesus, who hast been pleased to baptize me, to anoint me, to consecrate me in Thy love, and whose Name alone now opens my very heart, and draws from it those accents which overpower me and raise me above myself.
But among great men, who are loved? Among warriors? Is it Alexander? Cæsar? Charlemagne? Among sages? Aristotle or Plato? Who is loved among great men? Who? Name me even one; name me a single man who has died and left love upon his tomb. Mahomet is venerated by Muslims; he is not loved. No feeling of love has ever touched the heart of a Muslim repeating his maxim: “God is God, and Mahomet is His prophet.” One Man alone has gathered from all ages a love which never fails. Jesus Christ is the sovereign Lord of hearts as He is of minds.1 [Note: Père Lacordaire, O.P., The Foundation of the Reign of Jesus Christ.]
O Power of Love, O wondrous mystery!
How is my dark illumined by the light,
That maketh morning of my gloomy night,
Setting my soul from Sorrow’s bondage free
With swift-sent revelation! yea, I see
Beyond the limitation of my sight
And senses, comprehending now, aright
To-day’s proportion to Eternity.
Through thee my faith in God is made more sure,
My searching eyes have pierced the misty veil;
The pain and anguish which stern Sorrow brings
Through thee become more easy to endure.
Love-strong I mount, and Heaven’s high summit scale;
Through thee, my soul has spread her folded wings.2 [Note: Katrina Trask.]
Experience of God
1. The Psalmist is content to ground his deepest trust on experience. “They that know thy name” means “They that know thy fame.” Faith is not credulity. It is built, says the Psalmist, on the law of averages—on a study of the census, “Thou hast not forsaken them that seek thee.” We shall never get a living faith until we get back that view. We rest our faith on the command of God; we should rest it on the name of God—on the fame of God. “They that know thy name shall put their trust in thee”—it is experience interpreted by faith.
There are two suggestions contained in Watts’s picture of “Faith” which we do well to recall. First, in his figure there is nothing languishing, mediæval, or sacerdotal. The conventional type is that of a languishing woman gazing upward, with sentimental pose of head and expression of countenance. Instead of this he has represented her as a powerful and resolute figure belonging to our common humanity, not to the cloister or the Church. And by this he reminds us that faith is the conquering principle in all walks of life. It is not merely in order to possess the things above, but also to conquer the things beneath, that faith is essential. In all the ranks of life it is ordained that we must walk by faith and not by sight. The second thought is that faith is a heroic, not a passive virtue. The characteristic act of faith is to lift up the eyes toward Heaven, but also to fight the evil things of earth. So Watts has represented her as holding the sword in her lap, and while she lets the waters wash her feet they wash away the blood of conflict. To gain faith we must fight, not meditate, not languish, and to make faith victorious we must make it the active principle of our lives.1 [Note: J. Burns, Illustrations from Art (1912), 124.]
At midnight, when yon azure fields on high
Sparkle and glow without one cloudy bar,
The radiance of some “bright particular star”
Attracts, perchance, and holds my watching eye.
That star may long have vanish’d from the sky;
Yet still its unspent rays, borne from afar,
Come darting downwards in their golden car—
Proof it once glitter’d in the galaxy.
So in my heart I feel a healing ray
Sweetly transmitted from a Star divine,
Which once illumed the coasts of Palestine:
And though its beauty beams not there to-day,
I know that Star of old did truly shine,
Because its cheering radiance now is mine.2 [Note: R. Wilton.]
2. Our fathers proved the worth of their religion. One of the healthiest facts of human nature, and of human life, has ever been that spirit of reverence for the past which links generation to generation, and practically makes the race one. Perhaps this was most strongly developed among the Jews. For noble precedent, for inspiring motive, for reassurance, for guidance and strength, the Jew always appealed to his fathers. In battle he invoked “the God of his fathers”; in exile he sighed for the “land of his fathers”; in travel he carried with him “the bones of his fathers”; and in death he spoke of being “gathered to his fathers.” The destruction of that veneration for the past which binds the generations together, is equalled in point of misfortune only by that somewhat ruthless spirit which questions the testimony borne by honest men who have preceded us. What is that testimony? It is that the religion of Jesus is a grand reality and not a human dream; that the Bible contains a Divine and all-satisfying revelation of God; that it is not a fabrication or an imposture; that the heart of man is weary till it find rest in Christ; that there is such rest in Christ; that in the cross of the Crucified One there is hope for all, comfort for all, heaven for all. Some of the best literature we are familiar with to-day comes from the days of “our fathers.” What are we to say then to the testimony they bore? They have gone—they went all too soon—like the advance-guard of an army, across the bridge which spans the gulf. They shout back to us that the bridge is safe. What are we to say? Oh, not because they were religious will we be religious too; but surely we will go long before we speak ill of the bridge which bore them over!1 [Note: J. Thew.]
We call Him the “God of our fathers”; and we feel that there is some stability at the centre, while we can tell our cares to One listening at our right hand, by whom theirs are remembered and were removed; who yesterday took pity on their quaint perplexities, and smiles to-day on ours, not wiser yet, but just as bitter and as real; and who accepts their strains of happy and emancipated love, while putting into our hearts the song of exile and the plaint of aspiration.2 [Note: James Martineau.]
Yesterday I preached at Kiel (one of the parish churches of Morven). It was a strange thing to preach there. As I went to the church hardly a stone or knoll but spoke of “something which was gone,” and past days crowded upon me like the ghosts of Ossian, and seemed, like them, to ride even on the passing wind and along the mountain-tops. And then to preach in the same pulpit where once stood a revered grandfather and father! What a marvellous, mysterious world is this, that I, in this pulpit, the third generation, should now, by the grace of God, be keeping the truth alive on the earth, and telling how faithful has been the God of our fathers! How few faces around me did I recognize! In that seat once sat familiar faces—the faces of a happy family; they are all now, a few paces off, in a quiet grave. How soon shall their ever having existed be unknown? And it shall be so with myself!3 [Note: Memoir of Norman MacLeod, i. 111.]
3. If we have had experience of God’s goodness for ourselves, and if we really believe that He will not forsake us, we shall not forsake Him; we shall trust Him at all times. When the day is bright, and we live in the sunshine, it is easy enough to trust then. But wait until the sun is hid, the child is sick, work scarce, and we walk through the valley of pain and weariness. How do we act then? When the light goes out in our home, and those fingers whose touch was once our joy are cold and stiff, and that voice, once our inspiration, is silent, never more to be heard, save in those dreams of other days which will come to us, do we trust then? Yes, even then the child of God who knows his Father’s name, and has learned to spell the word “Saviour,” can and does trust. When the way is dark, and we cannot see, we shall put our hand in His, and with the poet say—
Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be!
Lead me by Thine own hand;
Choose out the path for me.
Smooth let it be or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight, it leads
Right onward to Thy rest.
I saw a picture in Birmingham which interested me a good deal. It represented a house through the window of which a beautiful figure was departing. At the other side of the picture the door was open, and a poor dejected, ragged figure was entering. There was a strong cold wind outside the door, which blew in the dead leaves, and straws, and rubbish. The picture was intended to illustrate the somewhat pithy saying—“Love flies out of the window when Adversity comes in at the door.” But I pick up the old Bible, and it tells me that “God has not forsaken any that trust Him.” Hear this sweet word: “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.”1 [Note: C. Leach, Sermons to Working Men, 123.]
Dr. MacDonald of North Leith told some of us lately of a man who went to a distant part of the country to see a woman who was known as “the woman of great faith.” He found her in a humble cottage, and on asking if she was the woman of great faith, she replied, “No, I am the woman of little faith in a great Saviour.”2 [Note: J. Wells, Life of James Hood Wilson, 105.]
Bonar (H.), Light and Truth: Old Testament, 188.
Cook (F. C.), Church Doctrine, 215.
Hutton (R. E.), The Crown of Christ, 187.
Leach (C.), Sermons for Working Men, 112.
Maclaren (A.), Expositions of Holy Scripture: Psalms 1-49, 16.
Pierson (A. T.), The Making of a Sermon, 41.
Simeon (C.), Works, v. 32.
Spurgeon (C. H.), New Park Street Pulpit, vi. (1860) 10.
Voysey, Sermons, vi. (1883) No. 7.
Webb-Peploe (H. W.), The Titles of Jehovah, 1.
Homiletic Review, New Ser., xxxviii. 414 (Behrends).