I. THE BEGINNING.
Oh that I knew where I might find Him ! "--JOB xxiii- 3.
You will see from the text which I have chosen, that I do not intend to speak to people who don't care about religion.
On the other hand, do not suppose I address only those who are intensely in earnest.
Between these two states of the soul many are to be found. These may for months or years remain without going forward, because they scarcely understand either the danger or the hopefulness of their position. I should like to help them. They must beware of resisting the Holy Ghost, by treating their desire for God as a thing which may lightly be put aside. They must thank God and seek more light, or that which they have may be removed.
Now, in beginning these lectures, I must clear the way by telling you plainly that there are some things — many things — connected with Divine truth which we cannot explain. Apostles could not explain them. God has not explained them. But because there are matters which God's ministers do not presume to explain, that is no reason why you should not give good heed to those plainly-revealed things which they are commissioned to teach.
It is about these plain things, and not about hard and mysterious things, that I intend, please God, to speak to you this Lent. This evening the subject is the beginning of an earnest Christian life.
The first question or difficulty of some hearts is this : " I don't know how to begin. I have been bapti2ed, instructed, confirmed—have gone to church and done my best ; but all seems to no purpose. I have no reason to believe that I am one of God's faithful soldiers and servants. And this I do wish to be."
Is this your wish? Not merely as you read this page, but often (I do not say always) in secret, when you lie awake at night, or work alone at your business, or walk in the fields and see the wonderful beauty of God's works. Do you sometimes sigh and say, "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him"? Is there a real desire to be safe, or to serve God, or to be a Christian, or -to feel or to have a peaceful heart?
THEN YOU HAVE BEGUN. Oh, believe this, Or rather, GOD THE HOLY GHOST HAS BEGUN to Work
in your heart that gracious work, which, if you do not stifle His voice and resist His leading, will lead you to the peace and service of God on earth, and to the joy of the Lord in heaven.
This desire is the germ of the future tree; small, easily killed by unkindness, but possessed of life. Do you suppose such a desire is of yourself, or of the world ? Who but Himself could kindle that earnest wish to seek and find the Lord ? (See Phil. ii. 13; also Prov. xvi. i ; Jas. i. 17.)
1. Therefore let us lay down, as a first principle, this truth for each to hold fast :—God the Holy Ghost is living and working in me. I do not understand how; I do not understand why. But since from Him "all holy desires" do proceed,
(Second Collect, Evening Prayer), and since this is a "holy desire," it therefore is from Him.
Thank God for this. It is a beginning.
Meditate on this truth, full of solemnity and of hopefulness :—My body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. He dwells in me, not yet as my controlling Lord, but as my Guide to more than I now possess, or perhaps can imagine I ever shall possess.
Say, "Lord, I thank Thee that I have not to call on Thee as an abstract, distant, unwilling, faultfinding Spirit. But I thank Thee that, on the contrary, Thou dwellest with me and workest in me. May I not quench that quiet voice. Help me to listen to it, and to follow where it leads, for Christ's sake."
2. Try to understand clearly for what purpose He dwells in you, and to what He desires to lead you.
The Bible tells you that in Christ's great goodness He has given the Holy Comforter as His gift to the Church, and as a guide to each soul (St. John xiv. 16, 17, 26; xvi. 7, 8). And St. Paul tells you (Rom. ii. 4) what that goodness or kindiiess (70' Xpqo-,ro'v, translated kind in St. Luke vi.3 5 ; benignitas, Vulg.) is doing :—" The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance."
Listen to that quiet voice ; it demands an attentive ear ; it is a gentle voice, persuasive but not loud. It speaks ; and what is the message ?
" Soul, canst thou be satisfied with thyself ? Think of days long ago, of youthful purposes,
wishes. What has come of all thou didst learn, and know, and purpose, and vow ? Think of the years of boyhood and girlhood, and the opening up of sinful knowledge, desire, practice 1 Compare thy past years with this law:--"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and thy neighbour as thyself."
Think of thy hidden sins.
Try to remember thy forgotten sins.
Think — unchecked faults are willing sins.
Think — God forgets nothing but what through Christ He forgives.
Think of the words which during how many years thou hast spoken.
Think of thy temper — how often others have been made uncomfortable by it, and God dishonoured.
Think of the heartlessness of thy secret prayers —thy wandering thoughts in God's house. wandering
Think of the hollowness of thy religion.
If God the Holy Spirit is allowed to speak, He will show clearly enough that all these things are
realities, and that sin does not vanish by being forgotten, but remains fresh in Another Memory when it has faded from thine.
Now, the goodness of God is leading thee to repentance. When He makes an impression (a painful or irritating one) that all is not right, it is of His goodness that He does it, and He does it to lead to repentance.
Repentance is a very different thing in different persons.
Repentance is agony and remorse in some souls, stricken to the earth by a discovery of their vileness. They crouch in terror and cry, " God have. mercy ere I perish."
But repentance may be very real without producing such agonies.
The genuine sigh of some fair and pure young heart, as when, all alone, a young girl of refined
and cultivated mind sits thinkin of her God and thinkingof her worthless life, may be the commencement of true repentance. The thought, rising in some honest young man's mind, " This life of mine is not what God made me for. I am leaving Him out of account, and amusing myself as if there were no such thing as Eternity. I am wrong — quite wrong. What ought I to do?" This, too,
is repentance begun.
This is the beginning of " finding Him." It may be put aside, quenched, or crushed, this feeling; and there is most serious danger of weak and tender feelings which have no passion in them being so put aside. But if they are encouraged, tended, deepened, they lead to God.
Now, here difficulties arise:—(i.) One is so easily turned aside by trifles from these inward spiritual feelinas—a novel, a leading article, a piece of interesting work, a taste for gardening or painting, a pleasant invitation to a country-house—such trifles have often put an end to serious thoughts.
It is better at such a time to put these things entirely away, than to let them quench these God-kindled desires. Without being ascetic or romantic, it is wise to keep far from the heart and mind all things whatsoever which come between the soul
and God at such a time. It is good to be alone more than usual in Lent.
Despondency sometimes arises when trifles have turned thoughts of God away. Can I, such a trifler, so changeable, so foolish, be saved ? I am not in earnest, or I should not forget. If I am not in earnest, I may as well give up, and enjoy life, and be done with serious thoughts.
But instead of allowing your trifling nature to have this dangerous effect, you should say, " This shows me how exceedingly needful for me is the help of God. I (being so infirm of purpose) must specially cry, 'Lord, save me, or I perish.' Do not lot me have my own way; bold me fast, good Lord!"
Or (2.) It may not be the changeableness of your feeling, but its shallowness which discourages you. I cannot feel deeply." What, then, are you to do ?
Face the facts of the case. What are you ? A sinner. Is there any doubt of this ? A sinner who has broken God's law thousands of times. Whether you feel it, or whether you do not, such are the facts. Does not the want of feeling only make the thing worse? If a brother were to turn mi Ids sister and wound or beat her, or desert her in a place of peril to her body or soul, would it make the dastard's sin greater or less if he complained, " I cannot feel that I have done wrong " ?
The answer is, Behold the facts. See what you have done, and its consequences.
Now, see what you have done against God, and see what you have left undone. The answer to these questions cannot be obtained in a moment, an hour, a day. But if you are sincerely resolved to have an answer — to find out something of the true state of your conscience, the aid of the Holy Spirit is ready. You must daily pray, "Lord, open mine eyes, and show me myself ; " and at the same time try your life in its details by such passages of the Bible as St. Matt. v. i-i i ; i Cor. xiii. ; Gal. xal. V. 19-24; Eph. iv. 25-32; v. 6. These and similar practical passages, carefully read, best so when you are kneeling at prayer, and thought over
kneeling day after day, in their smallest details, will enable you by degrees to know the facts of your conscience. Feeling will follow; but neither feeling nor want of feeling can alter facts. If you have spoken lies, what difference does it make whether you feel the fact more or less?
It is probable that days of meditation on this
one point — What are the facts of my past life in reference to God? — will lead you, under the teaching of the Spirit, to a gradually-increasing certainty, that " you have left undone those things which you ought to have done, and have done those things which you ought not to have done, and that there is no health in you," and you will feel, or at least you will know, that things cannot be left in this state. Forgetting will not avail in the day of account.
But there are two helps which can be given to those who wish to feel more, and complain that they cannot feel their sinfulness :-
I. Think of the Love which during all your careless years has still followed you. Is it of chance that you have been " preserved both in body and soul"? Is the whole wonderful arrangement by which you have been preserved,
upheld, provided for, taught, warned, comforted, to be set down to fortuitous circumstances, or to the love and care of a Heavenly Father ? Which do you believe ? Exact from your heart an answer to this. Nay, pass it not by. Think, Does God indeed love me? and if so, what do I owe to I [jill ?
My soul, what hast thou done for God?
2. The last lines suggest the other remedy for want of feeling about sin. Go and kneel down, and tell it in plainest words to your Father. Tell Him that among all your sins this stands out in dreadful prominence — that you neither feel the sorrow for sin nor the joy in His love which ought to flow from the least knowledge of either.
Look o'er thy misspent years and see
Sum up what thou hast done for God,
And then what God hath done for thee.
Had God in heaven no work to do
But miracles of love for thee?
No world to rule -- no joy in Self
And in His own infinity?
Oh wonderful, oh passing thought!
The love that God hath had for thee,
Spending on thee no less a sum
Than the undivided Trinity I
What hast thou done for God, my soul?
Look o'er thy misspent years and see ;
Cry from thy worse than nothingness
Cry for His mercy upon Thee."
My dear friends, don't be satisfied with hearing my advice, but go and tell God all; — go now, and
three times a day, and every day: be resolute. Follow Him if He seems to elude you; He may do so (I reverently think) just to try whether you will persevere or tire soon. Which shall it be ?
Oh that I knew where I might find Him!" Answer : " Then shall ye find Me when ye shall seek Me with your whole heart."
The Spirit of God works in you. But He works gradually. No one finds all light, all truth, in a day. The great thing is to wish—to ask—to persevere. Will you do this, and never give up
Prayer and the Bible will deepen any feeling of repentance already yours. Never cease to use these means whether you feel any sorrow for sin or no.
Pray do, not read this book in a hurry, and do not read the various chapters all in one day.