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Chapter 39

SERMON XXXIX. THE LOFTINESS OF GOD

ISAIAH lvii. 15.

For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.


This is a grand text; one of the grandest in the whole Old Testament; one of those the nearest to the spirit of the New. It is full of Gospel--of good news: but it is not the whole Gospel. It does not tell us the whole character of God. We can only get that in the New. We can get it there; we can get it in that most awful and glorious chapter which we read for the second lesson--the twenty-seventh chapter of St. Matthew. Seen in the light of that--seen in the light of Christ's cross and what it tells us, all is clear, and all is bright, and all is full of good news--at least to those who are humble and contrite, crushed down by sorrow, and by the feeling of their own infirmities.

But what does the text tell us?

Of a high and lofty One, who inhabits eternity.

Of a lofty God, Almighty, incomprehensible; so far above us, so different from us, that we cannot picture him to ourselves; of a glory and majesty utterly beyond all human fancy or imagination.

Of a holy God, in whom is no sin, nor taint of sin; who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity; who is so perfect, that he cannot be content with anything which is not as perfect as himself; who looks with horror and disgust on evil of every shape; who cannot endure it, will at last destroy it.

Of a God who abides in eternity--who cannot change--cannot alter his own decrees and laws, because his decrees and laws are right and necessary, and proceed out of his own character. If he has said a thing, that thing must be; because it is the thing which ought to be.

How, then, shall we think of this lofty, holy, unchangeable God--we who are low, unholy, changing with every wind that blows?

Shall we say, 'He is so far above us, that he cannot feel for us? He is so holy that he must hate us, and will our punishment, and our damnation for all our sins?'

'He is eternal, and cannot change his will; and, therefore, if he wills us to perish, perish we must.'

We may think so of God, and dread God, and cry 'Whither shall I flee from thy Spirit, and whither shall I go from thy presence?' We may call to the mountains to fall on us, and to the hills to cover us, till we try to forget at all risks the thought of God: and if we do not, there are plenty who will do it for us. The devil, who slanders and curses God to men, and men to God, and to each other--he will talk to us of God in this way.

And men who preach the devil's doctrine, will talk to us likewise, and say, 'Yes, God is very dreadful, and very angry with you. God certainly intends to damn you. But I have a plan for delivering you out of God's hands; I know what you must do to be saved from God--join MY sect or party, and believe and work with me, and then you will escape God.'

But, after all, would it not be wiser, my friends, to hold your own tongues, and let God himself speak?

If he had not spoken in the first place, what should we have known of him? Can man by searching find out God? We should not have known that there was a high and lofty One, who inhabits eternity, if he had not told us. Had we not better hear the rest of his message, and let God finish his own character of himself?

And what does he say?

'I dwell--I, the high and lofty One, who inhabit eternity--with him also, who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.'

Oh, my friends, is not this news? good news and unexpected news, perhaps, but still as true as what went before it? God hath said the one, and we believe it: and now he says the other; and shall we not believe it too?

Come, then, thou humble soul; thou crushed and contrite soul; thou who fearest that thou art not worthy of God's care; thou from whom God has taken so much, that thou fearest that he will take all--come and hear the Lord's message to thee--God's own message; no devil's message, or man's message, but God's own.

'I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth; for then the spirit would fail before me, and the souls which I have made. I have seen thy ways, and will heal thee. I will lead thee, also, and restore comforts to thee and to thy mourners. I create the fruit of the lips. I give men cause to thank me, and delight in giving. Peace, peace to him that is near, and to him that is far off, saith the Lord. If thou art near me, thou art safe; for if I were to take all else from thee, I should not take myself from thee. Though thou walkest through the valley of the shadow of death, I will be with thee. And if thou art far off from me, wandering in folly and sin, I cry peace to thee still. Why should I wish to be at war with any of my creatures? saith the Lord. My will is, that thou shouldst be at peace. I am at peace myself, and I wish to make all my creatures at peace also, and thee among the rest. I am whole and perfect myself, and I wish to heal all my creatures, and make them whole and perfect also, and thee among the rest.

'But the wicked? Ay, this is their very misery, that there is no peace to them. I want them to enter into my peace, and they will not. I am at peace with them, saith the Lord. I owe them no grudge, poor wretches. But they will not be at peace with themselves. They are like the troubled sea, which casts up mire and dirt, and fouls itself. I cast up no mire nor dirt. I foul nothing. I tempt no man. I, the good God, create no evil. If the troubled sea fouls itself, so do the wicked make themselves miserable, and punish themselves by their own lusts, which war in their members. But they cannot alter ME, saith the Lord; they cannot change my temper, my character, my everlasting name. I am that I am, who inhabit eternity; and no creature, and no creature's sin, can make me other than I am.

And what is that? What is the name, what is the character, what is the temper of him who inhabits eternity? Look on the cross, and see.

The cross, at least, will tell you what kind of a God your God is. A good God; a God of love; a God of boundless forbearance and long- suffering. Good God! The folly and madness of men's hearts, who look on God dying on the cross for them, and begin forthwith puzzling their brains as to HOW he died for them; how Christ's blood washes away their sins; how it is applied, and to whom; puzzling their brains with theories of the atonement, and with predestination, and satisfaction, and forensic justification, and particular redemption, and long words which (four out of five of them) are not in the Bible, but are spun out of men's own minds, as spiders' webs are from spiders--and, like them, mostly fit to hamper poor harmless flies.

How Christ's death takes away thy sins, thou wilt never know on earth--perhaps not in heaven. It is a mystery which thou must believe and adore. But why he died, thou canst see at the first glance--if thou hast a human heart, and wilt look at what God means thee to look at--Christ upon his cross. He died because he was LOVE- -love itself--love boundless, unconquerable, unchangeable--love which inhabits eternity, and therefore could not be hardened or foiled by any sin or rebellion of man, but must love men still; must go out to seek and save them; must dare, suffer any misery, shame, death itself, for their sake; just because it is absolute and perfect love, which inhabits eternity.

Look at that--look at the sight of God's character, which the cross gives thee; and then, instead of being terrified at God's will and decree being unchangeable and eternal, it will be the greatest possible comfort to thee that God's will is unchangeable and eternal, because thou wilt see from the cross that it is a GOOD will--a will of mercy, forbearance, long-suffering towards thee and all mankind, eternal in the heavens as God himself.

Then let those be afraid who are not afraid; and let those who are afraid, take heart. Let those who think they stand, take heed lest they fall. Let those who think they see, take care that they be not blind. Let those be afraid who fancy themselves right and above all mistakes, lest they should be full of ugly sins when they fancy themselves most religious and devout. Let those be afraid who are fond of advising others, lest they should be in more need of their own medicine than their patients are. Let those fear who pride themselves on their cunning, lest with all their cunning they only lead themselves into their own trap.

But those who are afraid, let them take heart. For what says the high and holy One, who inhabits eternity? 'I dwell with him that is of a humble and contrite heart, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.'

Let them take heart. Do you feel that you have lost your way in life? Then God himself will show you your way. Are you utterly helpless, worn out, body and soul? Then God's eternal love is ready and willing to help you up, and revive you. Are you wearied with doubts and terrors? Then God's eternal light is ready to show you your way; God's eternal peace ready to give you peace. Do you feel yourself full of sins and faults? Then take heart; for God's unchangeable will is, to take away those sins and purge you from those faults.

Are you tormented as Job was, over and above all your sorrows, by mistaken kindness, and comforters in whom is no comfort; who break the bruised reed and quench the smoking flax; who tell you that you must be wicked, and God must be angry with you, or all this would not have come upon you? Job's comforters did so, and spoke very righteous-sounding words, and took great pains to justify God and to break poor Job's heart, and made him say many wild and foolish words in answer, for which he was sorry afterwards; but after all, the Lord's answer was, 'My wrath is kindled against you three, for you have not spoken of me the thing which was right, as my servant Job hath. Therefore my servant Job shall pray for you, for him will I accept;' as he will accept every humble and contrite soul who clings, amid all its doubts, and fears, and sorrows, to the faith that God is just and not unjust, merciful and not cruel, condescending and not proud--that his will is a good will, and not a bad will--that he hateth nothing that he hath made, and willeth the death of no man; and in that faith casts itself down like Job, in dust and ashes before the majesty of God, content not to understand his ways and its own sorrows; but simply submitting itself and resigning itself to the good will of that God who so loved the world that he spared not his only begotten Son, but freely gave him for us.

Footnotes:

[75] Compare Rom. iii. 23 with I Cor. xi. 7. Let me entreat all young students to consider carefully and honestly the radical meaning of the words [Greek text] and [Greek text]. It will explain to them many seemingly dark passages of St. Paul, and perhaps deliver them from more than one really dark superstition.

[151] I do not quote the Crishna Legends, because they seem to be of post-Christian date; and also worthless from the notion of a real human babe being utterly lost in the ascription to Crishna of unlimited magical powers.

[162] See, as a counterpart to every detail of Joel's, the admirable description of locust-swarms in Kohl's RUSSIA.


THE END.

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Charles Kingsley