THE GOD OF THE LIVI G. BY JOSEPH PARKER LUKE 20:38 "God . . . of the Living.

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PERHAPS the text might be made more vivid in its expression by taking the words before, namely, " not a God of the dead, but of the living." This is the very thing which nobody believes. It is probably believed universally in words, but when in this connection we use the word ^'believes** we use it in its intensest and fullest meaning, and in that sense probably there is not a man under heaven who believes that God is the God of the living. They are not the worst atheists who openly call themselves by that dreary name ; such persons are comparatively harmless : the man who is injuring God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost is the man who professes to believe in that God and yet does not. It is the Church that is killing God. If men believed that God was the God of the living, there would be no more fear, or darkness, or sorrow, or tears; nothing would come amiss, nothing would inflict upon the soul humiliating surprise; we should live in the very quietness and peace and glory of God. The kind of atheism that is ruining life is the atheism which says in words ** I believe in God,^ and then goes away and lives as if there were no God to believe in. It is merely theoretical belief that is sowing the earth with the seed of perdition. Yet there will be many a protest against this suggestion; many a man will say, speaking for himself^ that he believes that God is the God of the living : but I would press upon him the inquiry. In what sense do you believe that ? Do you believe it with limitations ? Do you believe it with certain qualifications which you could hardly put into words? Do you really, intensely, and unchangeably believe that God is the chief factor in the present life ? Does he look in through your window every morning ? Does he watch 405

4o6 THE PEOPLE'S BIBLE. [Luke xr. 38.

you in your sleeping hours? Does he direct you in all your ways ? And do you never put on hat or boot, or take up sta£f to walk with, without first asking if you may? "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he will direct thy path." Is that only a verse in the Bible, or is it a principle that rules and and elevates and guides your whole course of conduct? We have a kind of general faith, or faith in theological generalities ; we are somewhat partial to propositions that have about them the haze and the dimness of old age : but what about the immediate life, the present necessity, the temper of the moment ? Do we ask God when we shall lie down and when we shall get up, or do we assume ninety-nine hundredths of our life, and leave God the odd hundredth to make of it what he pleases ? Let us be earnest and searching in these matters ; otherwise our so-called religion will sink into superstition, and our superstition itself will sink into ruin, and ruin will bring with it moral contagion, moral pestilence, social blight and death. Men are so prone to worship somebody else's God. This is not the spirit of Christ, this is not the dominant message of Christianity to the soul : every man must worship, so to say, his own personal God ; he must not have indirect commerce with heaven, he must do immediate business with the skies. Do not receive anything intermediately, except as a kind of incidental help ; open up a great, wide thoroughfare to God, and travel on that road night and day, and never be found on any other road; then you will believe that God is the living God of living men ; not an Old Testament idea, or a ew Testament idea, or a first century idea, but the one all-including, all-glorifying fact of creation and eternity. We do not want any books of references or any books of evidences. If a man's religion stand upon the foundation of argument, it stands upon no foundation at all. A man's religion must stand upon the ground of experience, of immediate, personal, loving intercourse with God, so that a man shall be able to say, I saw God this morning : I will refer this to my Father; having had an interview with heaven, I will give you my answer : God is behind me, before me, on my right hand, on my lefl hand, and he lays his hand upon me, and everything that I do seems to be of importance to

Luke XX. 38.] THE GOD OF THE LIVI G. 407 my Father in heaven. When a man has to go to some book to find out what he believes, he believes nothing. You must be your feith. "The word that I speak unto him/' said Christ,

^ shall be in him " : he does not take it with him as an external article, he does not hold it in his hand, as who should say. Behold my belief is written in this paper, and if you would know what I believe read these words in black and white. That is not faith. As with faith so with preaching. A man must not have his sermon, for then he would be no preacher ; he must be his sermon, and then he never can be other than eloquent. It is just here that the Church has been making its mistakes with painful consistency. It has had a library to which it has gone ; it has kept God in the library. I want God kept in the livingroom, wherever that is ; if we live in the library, so be it We must not keep God in the ornamental rooms, but in the place we live in, and so realising the nearness of the divine presence the humblest chamber will become as the vestibule of heaven. It is possible to dishonour the very God that we pretend to worship. We say God is in heaven. othing of the kind : God is not in heaven in any sense of the word which implies distance, palatial luxury, and security and delight; God is in the field, on the highroad; God is in thee, thou poor fool, if thou wouldst open thine eyes and see him in the sanctuary of thine heart. We will have God in heaven ; nothing can persuade us that he is anywhere else: we forget that wherever he is his presence is heaven. The Church will not have it so : it will have God in heaven, immeasurable number of miles away, and it will have all its arrangements formal and mechanical : immediate absorption in God would appear to the Church to be a kind of sentimental blasphemy, whereas it is the central doctrine of Christ, it is the essential principle of the Cross. We also dishonour the very men whose memories we celebrate. Who honours the Apostle Paul ? o man, except in the character of a historical personage, somebody who lived, maybe, eighteen centuries ago, somewhere, under certain circumstances detailed in some book. That is not the Paul to honour. The Paul to honour is the man who living to-day would repeat the Paul of.

4o8 THE PEOPLE'S BIBLE. [Luke xx. 38. eighteen centuries ago. ' Paul asks no granite stone at our hands ; the mighty heroic prince of God does not ask for our memorial brass ; speaking from his urn he says, If I lived amongst you

nineteenth-century men, I would tear society to pieces. The revolutionist, inspired by justice and chastened by reason and ennobled by reverence, is the only man that really honours the Apostle Paul. Other honour is worthless flattery, encomium that never reaches the object of the worthless eulogy. There are those who honour, almost worshipfully, Martin Luther. Martin ' Luther is honoured when Lutherism is propagated. We cannot honour Martin Lutheri but we can repeat Lutherism, and Lutherism is Martin Luther in his noblest form. If Luther lived to-day he would eat and drink amongst the people, he would have his music, he would sit down at the table and discourse eloquently upon all the affairs of earth ; he would rise, and, shaking himself like a lion, he would condemn all evil things; he would flame and bum against all restrictions placed upon individual conscience and private judgment ; he would hurl his thunders against the little popes that are trying to snub the rising genius of immediate progress. It Martin Luther were himself to come back again, we should kill him. If Christ were to descend to the earth again, we should take him to a place called Calvary. It is not Christ in any historical sense we want, but Christianity, Christ's own deep sweet saving truth, Christ's blessed spirit of sacrifice and obedience* There are those who honour everything that is about a hundred years old as against things that are of immediate conception, and immediate purpose and use. Only give some people a tune that Wesley sang, and they think that they are as near heaven as they ever will be — which is indeed probable, now I think of it Only give them a tune .that was sung a hundred and fifty years ago, and the very fact that it was sung a hundred and fifty years ago is the only fact they care about I whereas if Wesley

were here now he would be listening to the tunes on the streets. That will do I the fine old statesman would say, if that tune were baptised and consecrated it would be useful in the church : I will fit it to words. He would take the tune home and link it to worthy expression, and that tune would be sung in the church

Luke xx. 38.] THE GOD OF THE LIVI G. 409 next Sunday. Why do not men see that the very things they praise as belonging to a hundred years ago were a hundred years ago quite novel ? They had not at that period of time the advantage of antiquity, they were then new, they had to run the gauntlet of all kinds of opposition, and establish themselves in the confidence of the Church : and that is what we must do now. If^ny man can make a new tune, let him make it, and the common heart of humanity will soon pronounce upon its merits. It is possible so to use history as to debase it. There is a kind of evil disease in some men which will not allow them to believe that though Wesley is dead God lives. Theirs is a God of antiquity : ours is a God of antiquity, but also the God of the present throbbing moment. We must have no patience with persons who take the life out of God, and worship him as a mere term in ancient history. It is what God is to me at this moment that is the all-important and all-determining factor in my life. Of what avail to tell me that there was once a God called the God of Abraham ? Any God that can die is no God. The only God I can worship is a living present God, who is giving me new experience, new history, new faculties, new inspirations, new tunes, always giving me new grace and new power to reveal himself. There is a novelty that is rich with an eternal secret. By what means can we get rid of the people we do not want to keep, the whining, sentimental, superstitious worshippers of something that happened a hundred and fifty years ago ? Will any infidel build a church to hold such people ? I would transfer them all in one letter. They are the infidels. We had better call them by their right name and put them to their right uses. They who believe that God is here, now, in all the fulness of his light and love and grace, they who believe that every step they take is ordered from heaven, if they have put their life into God's keeping, they are the believers, and they never can be argued down. We are then called upon by this train of suggestion to believe that Providence is not something that expired long ago, but that Providence is in beneficent and detailed action now. Who can

draw himself up to that stature of faith ? What, God in action nowl I could believe that he may have been in action five

410 THE PEOPLE'S BIBLE. [Luke xr. 38. hundred years ago, but to believe that everything is under his control now, at this very present moment, baffles my imagination, and puts my religious faith to severe tests. Yet I must accept . that doctrine. Appearances are sometimes against the theory that God is in action now; we are oftentimes the victims of appearances, we do not take in field enough, within whose amplitude we can judge fairly and justly of God's puT);x)ses in life. When, in a great flood that carried with it village after village, a mother put her lost child upon some driftwood, and the child said, " Mamma, you have always told me God would take care of me : will he take care of me now ? " I must say there is one way of looking at that which utterly shatters our religious faith ; there is another way of looking at it which may confirm the faith which is momentarily in peril. We have formed a wrong conception of death. We first of all take our logical sword and cut the filaments which connect the worlds, and then we say, Will God take care of me now? What is care? What is taking care of a little human life? All men must die, they must go out of this world by fire or flood or disease : what is, in the largest sense of the term, taking care of human life ? In that case, so pathetic and so tragical, I would say, Pity the living, not the dead ; pity her who has to wait a few months or years and carry all the trouble in her soul, do not pity those who by flood or fire or pestilence or disease are urged into their destiny. We must talk of such tragedies fifty years hence; time must work out its ministry of soothing and suggestion and comfort, aye, and in many a day-dream we must see from what awful possibilities they have been saved who under circumstances of violence have been detached from our side. Let those who can testify as to God's presence in their life be no longer silent. I can bear testimony that God has been with me. I have felt him. There be those who with cold pen and ink write whether we know God by some intellectual process. I know him by my feeling, by my experience, by my spiritual elevation ; I know him by the view I have been enabled to take of all past things in my life: they were painful, humiliating, tormenting ; they were full of disappointment and distress ; yet every one of them was right You cannot put that down by any argumentative process. This is not an affidavit in the court of

Luke XX. 38] THE GOD OF THE LIVI G. 411 intellect, it is sworn testimony in the court of conduct, character, and human feeling. must therefore believe, if faithful to this line of suggestion, that inspiration is now going on. Can you believe in a God who has nothing more to say to his human family? Has God quite gone from his Church ? Does he never whisper to any of his sons and daughters ? Does he never interpret the Scripture by some ministry of the Holy Ghost known and felt by the individual heart alone ? May not God have changed the method of his inspiration without changing the fact ? May- not he who once inspired individual men now inspire whole communities and nations of men? May there not be a thought common to civilisation? May there not now be a tendency in movement which can only be accounted for by a sovereign action on the part of God ? May he not now inspire actions, great acts of self-sacrifice and generosity; may he not now so work in the human mind that men shall keep back nothing from him, but make themselves poor every night that«every morning they may go forth and reap a harvest of gold ? What is your God ? an antiquity, a mythologic conception, some dim nebulous impalpable thing? or is he Father, Shepherd, Friend, in you, near you, round about you ? Is he the builder of your house from the basement to the roof; is he the chief guest at your table; does he keep all your account books; does he watch you with eyes of love ? And has he never anything new to say to his ministers ? Do they go forth Sunday after Sunday to t;pll something that he has not told them ? Does he not now say to his servants, Arise, the time of battle has come, or seed-sowing ; rise, I will go with thee, the people are waiting for us, and I will tell you in the same hour what ye shall say : put away all your own little ability and cleverness and smartness, and put away all attempts to patronise your Father in heaven ; I will go with you, and fill you with the Holy Ghost, and the opening of your mouth shall be as the sounding of music, and the people will answer with a glad amen ? This is the God we worship, this is the God for whose presence we pray. Unchangeableness in providential action does not mean monotony. God ''spake at sundry times" and "in divers manners." We will not allow that expression ''divers

4ii THE PEOI'LE'S BIBLE. [Luke xx. 38.

manners," although it is part of the very economy of heaven. God does nothing by mere repetition : he gives every man an individuality ; every atom casts its own little shadow, every soul has its own momentum from God, every voice has in it a tone that no other voice can utter. Let us therefore find God's consistency in his providence, and not in the methods of it ; let us find God's inspiration, not in some mechanical theory concerning it, but in the feeling that it is created round about us in the minds and hearts of men. When men say in great bodies, whether in families, municipalities or nations, Come, let us go unto the house of the Lord I that is inspiration ; the wind is from heaven, rushing and mighty, and there is no dust of earth in all its sounding tempest We are not then to limit the Holy One of Israel. Let God work as he may. All ministers are necessary to form a ministry. o one preacher can say everything. When you say. What about the preaching of Christianity ? you can say nothing about it until you have heard every preacher under heaven ; the man you have not heard is the man who may contribute the completing touch. God looks upon his ministry as one : we unfortunately look upon the ministry as a series of individuals, one personality having little or no connection with another. To God it is a solidarity, not an association of atoms that have no relation to one another. So with Providence, the great movements of the world are one in purpose and in tendency; and so with inspiration, there is an inspired sentiment, and who dare say that jurisprudence to-day is not in the highest Christian countries inspired ? The noble lord comes before the law, or the noble scion of a noble house, and the one who brings him before the law is some poor orphaned friendless woman : what will jurisprudence do in the highest countries ? It will do right, and the noble scion of a noble house must make compensation to the life he has wronged. When that voice of judgment is heard God is heard. When our laws are good, when our judgment is impartial, when our honour is without a stain, when we speak truth and fear no consequences, let us know that God is in the tabernacle of his people, and that he Is leading the civilisation of the world. What we want, then, is living character, a living Church. When we hear discussions of

Luke xx. 38.] THE GOD OP THE LIVI G. 413 an ecclesiastical kind, what are they all about? Listening to these controversies about words and phrases, see how warm these

men become. They smite the table. Why so hot, my little sirs ? What do you know about it ? othing — nothing. It will require eternity to settle the things you want to handle as if they were so many pennyweights of gold. What you can do is to love justice and mercy and truth ; what you can do is to be honest, helpful, noble, Christlike; what you can do is to realise God in conduct. Yet how pitiable it is to see doxy versus doxy, and many clouds of words. There is a friend of yours, it may be, who settles everything by saying it The Unitarians, he says — ^the blockheads ! Of course the Unitarians, then, are all settled. Strauss and Renan and Wellhausen — the blockheads I That is one way of treating the case ; but it is a useless way in all instances. We cannot settle metaphysics or eternal questions within the little cage of time, but this, through Jesus Christ, our dying, risen Lord, we can do, this by the power of the Cross of Christ lies within the compass of our ability — ^we can do justly, we can love mercy, we can walk humbly with God.

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