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Chapter 3

SERMON IV.--GOD'S TRAINING

DEUTERONOMY viii. 2-5.

And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee
these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove
thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his
commandments or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to
hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did
thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live
by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of
the Lord doth man live. Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither
did thy foot swell, these forty years. Thou shalt also consider in
thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God
chasteneth thee.



This is the lesson of our lives. This is training, not only for the
old Jews, but for us. What was true of them, is more or less true of
us. And we read these verses to teach us that God's ways with man do
not change; that his fatherly hand is over us, as well as over the
people of Israel; that we are in God's schoolhouse, as they were;
that their blessings are our blessings, their dangers are our
dangers; that, as St. Paul says, all these things are written for our
example.

'And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger.' How true to life
that is! How often there comes to a man, at his setting out in life,
a time which humbles him; a time of disappointment, when he finds
that he is not so clever as he thought, as able to help himself as he
thought; when his fine plans fail him; when he does not know how to
settle in life, how to marry, how to provide for a family. Perhaps
the man actually does hunger, and go through a time of want and
struggle. Then, it may be, he cries in his heart--How hard it is for
me! How hard that the golden days of youth should be all dark and
clouded over! How hard to have to suffer anxiety and weary hard
work, just when I am able to enjoy myself most!

It is hard: but worse things than hard things may happen to a man.
Far worse is it to grow up, as some men do, in wealth, and ease, and
luxury, with all the pleasures of this life found ready to their
hands. Some men, says the proverb, are 'born with a golden spoon in
their mouth.' God help them if they are! Idleness, profligacy,
luxury, self-conceit, no care for their duty, no care for God, no
feeling that they are in God's school-house--these are too often the
fruits of that breeding up. How hardly will they learn that man doth
not live by bread alone, or by money alone, or by comfort alone, but
by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Truly, said
our Lord, 'how hardly shall they that have riches enter into the
kingdom of heaven.' Not those who earn riches by manful and honest
labour; not those who come to wealth after long training to make them
fit to use wealth: but those who have wealth; who are born amid
luxury and pomp; who have never known want, and the golden lessons
which want brings.--God help them, for they need his help even more
than the poor young man who is at his wit's end how to live. For him
God is helping. His very want, and struggles, and anxiety may be
God's help to him. They help him to control himself, and do with a
little; they help him to strengthen his character, and to bring out
all the powers of mind that God has given him. God is humbling him,
that he may know that man doth not live by bread alone, but by every
word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God. God, too, if he
trusts in God, will feed him with manna--spiritual manna, not bodily.
He fed the Jews in the wilderness with manna, to show them that his
power was indeed almighty--that if he did not see fit to help his
people in one way, he could help them just as easily in another. And
so with every man who trusts in God. In unforeseen ways, he is
helped. In unforeseen ways, he prospers; his life, as he goes on,
becomes very different from what he expected, from what he would have
liked; his fine dreams fade away, as he finds the world quite another
place from what he fancied it: but still he prospers. If he be
earnest and honest, patient and God-fearing, he prospers; God brings
him through. His raiment doth not wax old, neither doth his foot
swell, through all his forty years' wandering in the wilderness. He
is not tired out, he does not break down, though he may have to work
long and hard. As his day is, so his strength shall be. God holds
him up, strengthens and refreshes him, and brings him through years
of labour from the thought of which he shrank when he was young.

And so the man learns that man doth not live by bread alone, but by
every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God; that not in the
abundance of things which he possesses, not in money; not in
pleasure, not even in comforts, does the life of man consist: but in
this--to learn his duty, and to have strength from God to do it.
Truly said the prophet--'It is good for a man to learn to bear the
yoke in his youth.'

After that sharp training a man will prosper; because he is fit to
prosper. He has learnt the golden lesson. He can be trusted with
comforts, wealth, honour. Let him have them, if God so will, and use
them well.

Only, only, when a time of ease and peace comes to him in his middle
age, let him not forget the warning of the latter part of the
chapter.

For there is another danger awaiting him, as it awaited those old
Jews; the danger of prosperity in old age. Ah my friends, that is a
sore temptation--the sorest, perhaps, which can meet a man in the
long struggle of life, the temptation which success brings. In
middle age, when he has learnt his business, and succeeded in it;
when he has fought his battle with the world, and conquered more or
less; when he has made his way up, and seems to himself safe, and
comfortable, and thriving; when he feels that he is a shrewd,
thrifty, experienced man, who knows the world and how to prosper in
it--Then how easy it is for him to say in his heart--as Moses feared
that those old Jews would say--'My might and the power of my wit has
gotten me this wealth,' and to forget the Lord his God, who guided
him and trained him through all the struggles and storms of early
life; and so to become vainly confident, worldly and hard-hearted:
undevout and ungodly, even though he may keep himself respectable
enough, and fall into no open sin.

Therefore it is, I think, that while we see so many lives which have
been sad lives of poverty, and labour, and struggle, end peacefully
and cheerfully, in a sunshiny old age, like a still bright evening
after a day of storm and rain; so on the other hand we see lives
which have been prosperous and happy ones for many years, end sadly
in bereavement, poverty, or disappointment, as did the life of David,
the man after God's own heart. God guided him through all the
dangers and temptations of youth, and through them all he trusted
God. God brought him safely to success, honour, a royal crown; and
he thanked God, and acknowledged his goodness. And yet after a while
his heart was puffed up, and he forgot God, and all he owed to God,
and became a tyrant, an adulterer, a murderer. He repented of his
sin: but he could not escape the punishment of it. His children
were a curse to him; the sword never departed from his house; and his
last years were sad enough, and too sad.

Perhaps that was God's mercy to him; God's way of remembering him
again, and bringing him back to him. Perhaps too that same is God's
way of bringing back many a man in our own days who has wandered from
him in success and prosperity.

God grant that we may never need that terrible chastisement. God
grant that we, if success and comfort come to us, may never wander so
far from God, but that we may be brought back to him by the mere
humbling of old age itself, without needing affliction over and
above.

Yes, by old age alone. Old age, it seems to me, is a most wholesome
and blessed medicine for the soul of man. Good it is to find that we
can work no longer, and rejoice no more in our own strength and
cunning. Good it is to feel our mortal bodies decay, and to learn
that we are but dust, and that when we turn again to our dust, all
our thoughts will perish. Good it is to see the world changing round
us, going ahead of us, leaving us and our opinions behind. Good
perhaps for us--though not for them--to see the young who are growing
up around us looking down on our old-fashioned notions. Good for us:
because anything is good which humbles us, makes us feel our own
ignorance, weakness, nothingness, and cast ourselves utterly on that
God in whom we live, and move, and have our being; and on the mercy
of that Saviour who died for us on the Cross; and on that Spirit of
God from whose holy inspiration alone all good desires and good
actions come.

God grant that that may be our end. That old age, when it comes, may
chasten us, humble us, soften us; and that our second childhood may
be a second childhood indeed, purged from the conceit, the scheming,
the fierceness, the covetousness which so easily beset us in our
youth and manhood; and tempered down to gentleness, patience,
humility, and faith. God grant that instead of clinging greedily to
life, and money, and power, and fame, we may cling only to God, and
have one only wish as we draw near our end.--'From my youth up hast
thou taught me, Oh God, and hitherto I have declared thy wondrous
works. Now also that I am old and grey-headed, Oh Lord, forsake me
not, till I have showed thy goodness to this generation, and thy
power to those who are yet to come.



Charles Kingsley

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