I. There are feelings and instincts in human nature the very antiquity of which is a proof of their universal reality.—Foremost among such instincts is the aching sense of severance between man and the Infinite Being outside and above himself. Long before the Hebrew Psalmist, Indians and Egyptians, and savage races beyond the pale of even primitive civilisation, had been, with varying accents, uttering the same lament; and Greek tragedians, and Roman Stoics, and mediæval monks and mystics, and all the voices of modern poets and philosophers, have been echoing incessantly, with however strange a dissonance, the eternal cry of humanity, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’
II. It is upon this universal sense of severance that the spiritual life of Christianity depends.—You may never have dreamed of saying to yourself, ‘My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God’; but you are athirst for finite objects, with a thirst which upon analysis will turn out to be infinite, both in quality and kind, and which therefore nothing short of an infinite object can ever satisfy. (1) Take, for instance, your desire for communion with the natural world. You desire infinite possession of, and infinite communion with, the grandeur, and the beauty, and the wonder of the world; and failing, you feel bitterly that it is your prison, and not your home. (2) It is the same with your human relations. Man will not be satisfied with family, or friendship, or acquaintance. Fresh vistas of humanity are ever opening before him, and each new friend becomes a new point of departure for the extension of his influence to a wider circle still. His motive may vary, but the instinct remains the same, and is simply the instinct to wider, deeper, more intense communion with his fellow-men. And yet, as before, its very unrest is but the measure of its failure. We are more severed from humanity than ever we were from external nature, and if the world is our prison, our fellow-men are our gaolers. (3) And so in our loneliness we look within and try to find refuge in an ideal world, but only to find schism and severance in the recesses of our inmost being. We are farther off from our ideals than even from nature and mankind.
III. All this is a fact, and a fact as universal as human experience; and Christianity, beyond other creeds, has faced and interpreted the fact.—Nature, and society, and the thoughts of our hearts were created by a Person, and created for Himself; and our feelings of separation from the world and its inhabitants, and even from the inner vision of our own ideal self, are but symptoms of alienation from the Person in Whom they exist.
IV. Because God is a Person, He cannot be contented with the abstract allegiance of one part of our nature.—He claims our being in its wholeness, and says, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ This command is, on the face of it, a paradox. But obey, give God your love, and the paradox will pass into a truism, for you will find that you possess Him in whom all things lovely have their being.
Rev. J. R. Illingworth.
(1) ‘We may well say with the Ethiopian statesman, “Of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself or of some other?” Whatever may have been its immediate occasion in David’s life, it is clear that he was borne along by prophetic impulse, and said things which he must have questioned after he had written them, searching what the Spirit of Christ that was in him did signify, when it testified of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.’
(2) ‘Coleridge once said, “I am much delighted and instructed by the hypothesis that our Lord in repeating ‘Eli, Eli,’ etc., really recited the whole or a large part of the twenty-second psalm. It is impossible to read that psalm without the liveliest feelings of love, gratitude, and sympathy.” ’
(3) ‘We often ask why? The answer is not always vouchsafed. But never let us cease to believe in the holiness of God. Roll thyself on God. Tell God the full measure of thy complaint. He knows all, but He likes thee to tell Him all; and when He has answered thee from the horns of the wild oxen (21 R.V.) then call upon brethren and congregation to join in thy glad praise. It is helpful to read these closing words into the lips of Christ, as He speaks them from the throne of His glory and triumph, and assures us that God does hear, that the meek shall be satisfied, that those who seek God shall praise Him.’