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I like to draw water from these ancient wells, especially from this dug by our father Abraham, because its waters are so sweet and wholesome. They spring up from the central depths of our common nature, they quench the strong thirsts of our immortal being. There is a sublime naturalness and simplicity in the way in which Abram is led through life. God deals with him and he deals with God, in lofty, natural, and direct ways. He needed very nearly the same things that we need, and God led him very nearly as he leads us.
We will break up this divine rewarding into some of its particulars, with the question, How does God become our reward ?
It is a striking fact that God's leading representations of true and righteous life are that it is not in vain, that it will be rewarded. This is the truth that underlies that commonest of all religious words, bless, a word used with such iteration that its meaning has well-nigh dropped out of it. That God will bless, is the sum of our prayers. We mean, if we mean anything, that God will prosper us, that success may attend our labors, that we may reach happy consummations, that we may get good things, that we may receive benefits of some kind. Thus our commonest and deepest feeling in religion is keyed to a divine reward ; it shows that we were made to have it, clear proof that we are the heirs in God's kingdom, that the ascetic idea of going without is not in his plan. The little child believes that all things belong to it and claims everything it can touch, book, or toy, or picture, stretching out its bands for the moon with a divine sense of ownership. And the child is not wrong; the child is never wrong in its spontaneous conduct, acting out what God put into it, reflecting the thought of the face that its spirit beholds. All things do belong to it, and are withheld only while it is in its spiritual minority, for purposes of discipline, and until it learns to distinguish between the good and the evil. But at last God's children, being heirs, inherit, and all things become theirs. These are not idle words, nor a dream of conceited religionists. Down equally deep with the truth, that man, like God, is a giver, is the other truth, that he is a receiver, like God in this also for whom are all things. The largest generic truth from which we think, is that God made man in his own image, a truth not so much to be restricted as spread out and applied in the whole field of human speculation. If it opens abysmal depths and heights in God, from which we shrink as not for us, it is still God who summons us towards Himself, even to a seat in his throne. This ceaseless cry and strife for something we have not got, this outstretched hand of humanity, is not a caprice, nor yet an act of selfishness, but rests on this divine, inborn sense of heirship to all things; only, we forget that we must inherit through God, that only the meek possess the earth, the pure in heart see God. But what a truth! What transforming power is wrapt up in it! What a light it throws on toil, and narrow circumstance, and all these restraints and bonds that tie us down to this place and that task! I take it that a great part of this earthly tuition and discipline is not more to work out the evil that is in us, than to prepare us to receive what God has in readiness to give us. I cannot otherwise interpret the great and terrible withholding seen in the vast majority of lives ; this fearful negative must mean a gracious positive. I know that we are often summoned to think of all worlds from the conditions of this, to reason that because they are hard here they will be hard elsewhere, but the logic is meagre. I grant that if present and known conditions are the only factors in the argument we have a very dreary outlook, almost worse than none. But when God is introduced into the argument, it changes its drift and conclusion, for He is just and good, and He is also eternal, and hence his plans are not to be judged by their appearance in any section of time. I know not how else to put any meaning on life. Here is a widow, alas, how many such ! poor and all but friendless, suffers perhaps for food, shivers with cold, no past but suffering, no future with any hope or light, life a simple struggle to keep her soul alive as God would have her, but she reads, “ all things are yours,” and carries the promise up to God in faith. What will you do with such a life? What, but say that the withholding is but a preparation for, and pledge of, a corresponding giving. Or, take some finer spirit, a mind athirst for knowledge, burning to see the world and the works of men, to look on art, to hear music, to know history and literature, eager to push out into his great world of thought and fact, filled with a passion truly divine to see and know and realize ; but here he is, poor, fettered to some given place and task, perhaps watching a shuttle to earn the bread of dependent ones. What a mal-adjustment! What a blindness of fate! What a cruelty of providence ! Yes, unless sometime and somewhere this sublime hunger is satisfied. There is running through all Christ's teachings a subtle thread of reversal ; it seems to cover circumstance as well as character ; it is not always based on the moral; Lazarus passes before our eyes without character; the poor have their blessing on the ground of poverty. The scales of allotment and condition will be evened, the lack here will find its fullness there, whatever it be. We reason far more truly from the character of God than from his acts. One we know, the other is partial, in process ; one is absolute, the other is phenomenal; one is eternal, the other is for the time being. So, I do not build my expectations of the future on the processes and conditions now going on, but rather on the absolute nature of God, which is love; it is the nature of love to meet wants, and will omnipotent love leave any wants unmet? I do not forget that life is largely made up of duties and responsibilities, but these are simply forerunners, having no value in themselves, and but the drill and education necessary for a reception of God's measureless gifts. Hence, as soon as we begin to believe in God, to see, obey, and trust Him (the sum and definition of faith), God begins to feed us with promises as He did Abram. Everything is for the believer; but he does not now
want, nor could he now receive, everything, but only certain things, and so God promises and gives these, varying the form to suit his expanding nature. Abram longed to become the head of a nation, and God made him the father of all believers; he desired a country, and God gave him an eternal possession. And so it is with all who have turned their faces trustingly towards the great Giver; it were well to know and feel it! God is an imposer of duties; yes, but beyond that He is the Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. God says, “ Thou shalt and thou shalt not," and scourges the disobedient; yes, but above and beneath all this He is the giver of eternal life to all who will, and this must contain all things.
Such a thought is wholesome and heartening; it is intended to give tone and color to life. Hence, it should enter fundamentally, and in its true order, into theology. First of all, God is a giver. Hence, away back in the dawn of history, God said to the first man worthy to hear it : “ Now that you believe, I would have you begin by thinking of me as one who will be your shield and reward: I will take care of you, I will give you unspeakable blessings." God began with Abram in this way; it was not hard duty first and the joy of reward finally, but the great, glad hope and promise came first. It is a common thing to mistake the key-note of our faith; we trust Providence as though it were a last resort, and think of duty as perhaps a noble yet rather heavy thing to do. But not to such a key is the psalm of believing life to be sung; it is