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will be too many and too sharp for him. And no shield will thoroughly defend him but God. The lowest, by its very condition, demands the highest; the weakest calls out for the strongest, —- none but the strongest can succor the weakest; the saddest can be comforted only by the most blessed; the finite can get deliverance from its binding and torturing condition only in the eternal one. When Hamlet caught sight of life, and saw what he had got to do and bear, he said, “I'll go pray.” You have but to name God before sorrow and it changes color; name Him before burdens and they grow less; name Him before the vanity of life and it disappears. The whole sphere and scene of life is changed, lifted into a realm of power and wisdom and gladness. With the incoming of God there is a sense of reversal, everything that is sad and poor and dark and wrong is turned about and gathers meaning and purpose. A prophetic sense enters into us, and these wandering, disorderly, fragmentary features and experiences of life, are built up into a city that hath foundations in which we repose by faith.
4. God is a shield against ourselves.
It is, in a certain sense, true of us all that we are our own worst enemies. One may have no fatal appetite or habit, and this still be true. There is a wide difference between a development of personality, and that growth and condition known as self-consciousness. One is the highest achievement of life, the other is its curse and failure. The difference springs from the motive or principle of conduct, for in all things the seed determines the shape and character. If this seed is self-love, self-care, self-exaltation, it ends in the creation of a world in which self is the only citizen. It cuts the man off from external inspirations and motives. Humanity ceases to move him. The world breathes upon him no inspiring motive. Human love loses its tender force and appeal. His own instincts and faculties cease to work well. There are no longer sweet influences in the Pleiades. The spirit departs from all things, and nature, instead of a radiating source of influence and thought, becomes a show or vain form that passes dully before his eyes. Whatever he looks upon becomes a mirror that reflects himself, and ceases to be the sign and medium of truth. It is the last and worst result of selfishness that it leaves one alone with self, out of all external relations, sealed up within self-built enclosures. A very fair and seemly life may end in this way. If self be the central thought, it ends in nothing but self, and when this comes about we find that self is a poor companion. It matters not what form it takes, — intellectual conceit, personal vanity, pride of dress, self-pampering, ambition, avarice, or even that commonest of mental habits, the thoughts playing about self in fond and idle ways, — the tendency is to an exclusion of all but self, and so to a fixed state of self-consciousness. And this is misery, this is perdition, to be shut up with self, to walk up and down self and find out at last how small self is, to measure and weigh self and find out how light self is, to feed on self, to dwell, to sleep and
wake and converse with self alone, there is nothing worse than this.
If you would see this truth put into its highest expression, read Tennyson's “ Palace of Art.” The greater poets never mistake when they touch themes like this. The æsthetic school of the day strives to use this poet for enforcing its small fancies and uncertain morality; but this poem, written long ago as if by prophetic inspiration, is the denial and refutation of its main current, and contains its final history; at last
“No voice breaks thro’ the stillness of this world:
One deep, deep silence all.” He built its palace, more gorgeous than its weaker fancy can devise, but he left it empty on the simple ground of a lack of that morality which it passes by, or but lightly names. A weak and false representative of this earnest age is this school with its brooding parade of self at the front, reminding one of the curtain of a theatre whereon is painted a careless youth touching the strings of a lute for listless girls amongst flowers and fountains, while behind it is Hamlet rehearsing his great question, “ To be, or not to be," or Lear struggling with the tempest and his own heart.
One of the main uses of God, so to speak, is to give us another consciousness than that of self, — a God-consciousness. It was this that Christ made the world's salvation, not breaking the Roman yoke, not instituting a new government or a new religion, not revealing any formal law or secret of material prosperity, or any theory of education or reform, but simply making plain a fact, assuring the world that God is, and that He is the Father, and breathing a consciousness of it into men, opening it up to the world's view, and writing it upon its heart as in letters of his own blood ; thus he brought in a God-consciousness in place of a worldconsciousness and a self-consciousness, this only, but who shall measure its redeeming power! And there is no more gracious, shield-like interposing of God than when He comes in between us and self as a delivering presence. It is the joy of friendship that we are conscious of our friend, and that he draws us away from ourselves. It is the joy of the home that each one is conscious of the other; homelife reaches its perfection when parents and children not only love, but pass on to the highest form of love, — a steady and all-informing consciousness of one another. It shadows forth the largest form of the truth, God dwelling, not amongst but in men, a shield against themselves. It is God Himself who fills this relation. I, the ever-living God, am your shield ; not some truth about me, not some 6 stream of tendency,” not some blind or unknown force working towards righteousness, but I who made you in my image, and whom therefore you know, I am your shield !
Thanks for this old and ever new promise flaming its glorious assurance in the front of history! It is the personal God who stands between us and the dread forces of nature, his ministers and ours and no more, between us and our finiteness, between us and calamity, between us and self, with its vanity, its meagreness, and the dread conclusion to which it points.