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Elemental Religion.

Elemental Religion.

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Published by GLENN DALE PEASE
BY THE REV. JAMES DENNEY, D.D.


"O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me." PSALM cxxxix. I.
BY THE REV. JAMES DENNEY, D.D.


"O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me." PSALM cxxxix. I.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on May 30, 2013
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07/18/2013

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ELEMETAL RELIGIO.BY THE REV. JAMES DEEY, D.D."O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me." PSALM cxxxix. I.I OCE heard a well-known man, speaking of difficultiesin the Bible, express himself between jest and earnestin this fashion : "The Gospels are a story, and a storymay conceivably be untrue ; the epistles are arguments,and arguments may conceivably be unsound ; but thePsalms are the immediate reflection of personal experiences, and we can take them as they stand withoutasking any questions." Certainly that is true of the1 39th Psalm, which even in the Psalter has an eminenceof its own, and brings us into contact with elementalreligion, with the soul s direct and overwhelming experience of God. one of us could have written it,but there is none of us in whom there is not an echoto its sublime and solemn utterance ; and that echo isthe spirit of God, bearing witness by and with Hisword in our hearts.The Psalm has four strophes, each of six verses ;and in each of the four an essential aspect or elementin the soul s experience of God absorbs the mind of thewriter. It will repay us if in following his thoughthis experience in any degree becomes ours.i . First, he is overpowered by the experience of God s jperfect knowledge of him.We are apt to speak in this connexion of God s omniscience, but there is nothing about omniscience ini2 THE WAY EVERLASTIGthe Psalm. Omniscience is an abstract noun, andabstract nouns are unequal to the intense feeling of the passage. The important thing in religion is notthe belief that God is omniscient, but the experiencethat God, knows me, and it is on this the Psalmist
 
dwells. (It is almost implied in the connexion of hiswords that in the heart of the writer there was a kindof passive resistance to this experience, a resistancewhich God s spirit overcame, piercing and discoveringall his inner life. We are slow to know ourselves,and sometimes do not wish to ; purposes form in thebackground of our minds, of, which we are hardlyconscious ; latent motives actuate us ; perhaps our ownwords or deeds, in which they suddenly issue, startleus ; we are amazed that we should have said or donesuch a thing. But it is no surprise to Him. "Thouunderstandest my thought afar off." Such knowledgeof man by God is quite different from omniscience.Omniscience is a divine attribute, but what is here experienced is a divine action it is God through Hissearching knowledge of us entering with power intoour lives. It is God besetting us behind and before,and laying His hand upon us. The Psalmist does notdwell particularly on the divine motive, so to speak, inthis searching of man. It might be felt as the shadowing of the soul by an enemy, or as the over-shadowingpresence of a friend. The one thing on which he doesdwell is its reality and its completeness. It is toowonderful for him ; it baffles him when he tries tounderstand it ; but incomprehensible as it is, it is real.He only knows himself as he is conscious of beingsearched and known by God.I suppose most of us have wrestled with argumentsELEMETAL RELIGIO 3intended to prove the existence or the personality of God. Well, I am not going to raise any philosophicalquestion about the powers or the incapacities of humanreasoning in this matter. o religion ever took itsorigin in such reasoning, however it may have succeeded or been baffled in trying to justify itself atreason s bar. The being and the personality of God,so far as there is any religious interest in them, are notto be proved by arguments ; they are to be experiencedin the kind of experience here described. The manwho can say, O Lord, Thou hast searched me and knownme, does not need any arguments to prove that God is,and that He is a person, and that He has an intimateand importunate interest in his life. If that is a real
 
experience as who will deny that it is ? and if it isnot a morbid phenomenon, but one which is sane andnormal, then the thou in it is just as real as the me.The Psalmist is as certain of God as he is of his ownexistence ; indeed it is not too much to say that it isonly as he is conscious of being searched and knownby God only as he is overwhelmed by contact with aspirit which knows him better than he knows himself that he rises to any adequate sense of what his ownbeing and personality mean. He is revealed to himself by God s search ; he knows himself through God.Speaking practically and in religion everything ispractical God alone can overcome atheism, andthis is how He overcomes it. He does not put arguments within our reach which point to theistic conclusions ; He gives us the experience which makes thisPsalm intelligible, and forces us also to cry, O Lord,Thou hast searched me and known me. "After that-ye have known God," says St. Paul to the Galatians,4 THE WAY EVERLASTIG"or rather" correcting himself "have been knownby God." Yes, it is the overpowering sense that we areknown through and through by another which sealsupon our hearts that knowledge of God on whichreligion rests.2. The second strophe of the Psalm deals withanother aspect or element in the writer s experienceof God. There is indeed something unreal in callingit another, for all experiences of God are interdependent. Still, it inspires the Psalmist anew ; his soul,which has sunk exhausted under the thought of God sabsolute knowledge of him, rallies itself to speak of God s wonderful and inevitable presence with him.And here again we should take care not to lose ourselves and the profit of this high experience by speakingof God s omnipresence. o doubt if we were constructing a doctrine of God, we should have need androom for such a term ; but in religion the importantthing is not the idea that God is everywhere, butthe experience that wherever I am God is with me." Whither shall I go from Thy spirit, or whither shallI flee from Thy presence ? " Why, it may be asked,

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