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, "Thy righteousness is like the great mountains." — Psalm 36 : 6. MOST striking and snggestive is the imagery of the Bible. The sublimest scenes in nature are chosen to set forth the attributes and perfections of God. The distant clonds, the lofty mountains, the fathomless sea are made to illustrate the extent of God's mercy, the grandeur of his righteous character, and the mj^stery of his providential dealings with men. All things visible are made to pay tribute to the invisible Maker of all. All the power and the beauty of figurative language are exhausted in the inspired attempt to portray to human minds the inexhaustible grace and glory of the Divine nature. The text is taken from a descriptive passage of surpassing eloquence and grandeur. "Thy mercy, Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep : Lord, thou preservest man and beast. How excellent is thy loving kindness, God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings." It is sometimes said that in the Old Testament we find a low standard of morality, vague and imperfect ethical notions, only dim conceptions of righteousness as an essential element in the character of God, and as required by him in the character and conduct of man. There are a few incidents in the Old Testament, as, for illustration, Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac and the destruction of the Canaanites, which we find it difficult to reconcile with our moral ideas. The difficulty may grow out of our imperfect knowledge of the circmnstances or our inadequate apprehension of the great purposes which God had in view in his progressive dealings with men and nations., There can be no question, however, that in these exceptional incidents the immediate effect was positively and only moral., Abraham was a holier man after the trial of his faith, and the children of Israel found in the destruction of the Canaanites not only a deliverance from the awful peril of apostasy from God which might have thwarted the Divine purpose in the plan of human redemption, but an illustration of God^s righteous judgment against sin and unbelief, and of God^s gracious care over his people,
which they never forgot. At any rate, no man can read carefully the Old Testament Scriptures, and note the tone and trend of their teachings, from the judgment of the first sin in the garden and the first murder without the garden, down through the giving of the law, both ceremonial and moral, the sacrifices and the commandments, and the constantly reiterated denunciations of evil by God's stem prophets, without getting a profound impression of the moral nature of God^s government, and without being convinced that the glory of heaven and the supreme requirement of man on earth is righteousness. Indeed, with a strange contradiction and inconsistency some persons have gone so far the other way as to declare that the Old Testament contains nothing but righteousness ; that from beginning to end we behold only the sterner aspects of God's character in the condemnation of sin and the infliction of deserved penalty; that we find no unclouded revelation of love and mercy until we come down to the Word made flesh, and the eloquent testimony of the uplifted cross of Calvary. All of which proves simply that men need to read their Bibles more intelligently and prayerfully, and without mental bias. The two Eevelations may disclose progress in the unfolding of truth, but not contradiction. The Old Testament, like the New, is full of the mercy of the Lord which endureth forever, and, like the Xew, it has its lessons of exalted holiness, and is filled with the highest and sublimest conceptions of righteousness. This principle is wrought into the very substance of the old dispensation. It
76 THE AMERICAN BAPTIST PULPIT. throbs in all its life, and gives force and direction to the current of all its teachings. Eighteonsness ! How it peals out from these sacred pages like the regularly recurring boom of the sea, wave following wave with unabated force ! How it echoes and resounds in thunder-tones along the mountain sides of these ancient Scriptures ! Listen to them whenever and wherever you will, and you
hear the deep and solemn rumbling of the same unceasing and unmistakable righteousness. "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness." "The jud'gments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." "Eighteousness shall go before him, and shall set us in the way of his steps." "By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us." "Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness." "Thy righteousness is like the great mountains," or, as it might be translated, "like the mountains of God." The loftiest and sublimest works of creation are chosen to set forth that which is loftiest and sublimest in the character of the Creator. "Thy righteousness is like thine own mountains." The mountains unchangeable, immovable, sublime are the eternal pulpits which God has built to proclaim^ something of the glory of the Divine nature to the little creatures who dwell at their base and listen awe-struck and reverent to their message. The inhabitant of the Holy Land was not unacquainted with impressive mountain sceneTy. Some of the most memorable events of his national history were associated with the mountains of Palestine. South of Jerusalem were the mountains of Judah. To the east, across the valley of the Jordan, rose the mountains of Gilead. Immediately in the north were the mountains of Ephraim, with Gilboa and Tabor a little farther away, while in the far northern sky Mount Hermon lifted its snowy crown ten thousand feet, and shared its glory with the Lebanon range, which was of equal height, and, as the name indicates, was the White Mountain range, the Mont Blanc, of Syria. Surrounded on every hand by lifted summits, near and remote, the poetic nature of the Psalmist must have been often thrilled with delight as he watched "the misty mountain tops" and the ever-changing pictures of light and shadow moving across their sides, as he saw them illumined by the first golden rays of the morning or purple in the light of the evening sun, until
GOD 5 EIGHTEOUSXESS LIKE THE GREAT MOUXTAIXS. 77 seeming to rise loftier and more sublime, their outlines faded away in the mysterious darkness of night; and his soul must have been filled with solemn awe as he saw the storm clouds, livid with rage
and black with impetuous wrath, rolling and beating against their hidden forms, while the startling thunder made their foundations tremble. Such scenes, the Psalmist must have looked upon from his boyhood. It was no sudden fancy of a resemblance that seized him, but it was a deliberate and oft-felt conviction, when amid such natural scenery he contemplated the righteous character of G-od and asked himself, to what material and visible object shall I liken it, and with what suitable comparison shall I make it known ? and answered, "''The righteousness of God, why I it is like the great mountains.'' What are some of the obvious points of resemblance on which the comparison is based ? I. The first and most obvious feature of mountain scenery is its sublimity. The susceptible mind, as it gazes upon the lofty summits towering one above another until they seem, like huge pillars, to bear up the clouds, is filled with an indescribable sense of awe. Tt is said that some dwellers under the ven* shadow of the Alps never turn their reverent gaze up toward the colossal forms that look down upon their humble dwellings, and live oblivious of the presence of their mute and majestic neighbors. Such natures are as dull as the clods on which they tread, or as their domestic animals, who look full-eyed upon the landscape, but have no soul within to catch and retain the image. But most persons, though they may not be able to compare things material with things spiritual, do rec-eive an impression from the sublime in nature; and it is not the impression of mere size and bulk, but the impression of power, of power that lifted the immense masses to the sky and congealed them into form. Moreover, power always implies life and being. "Give me matter,^' said Kant, '¦'and I will explain the formation of a world; but give me matter only, and I cannot explain the formation of a caterpillar." The thoughtful mind sees underneath the mountains the almighty hand that lifted them into beinsr. and is overawed with a sense of his
78 THE AMERICAN" BAPTIST PULPIT. power that gave them shape against the sky. There is a spiritual interpretation of nature which finds expression in the words, ^^Which by his strength setteth fast the mountains, being girded with power." How lofty, how impressive, how awe-inspiring is the absolute righteousness of God to every man who reflects upon its nature as an essential attribute of the Divine Being. This is not the aspect of God^s character which men most love to contemplate. Yet none is more real, more essential, more God-like than this., It is this which makes God God, and an object worthy of the worship of moral beings. God must be holy and righteous in all his ways. The infinitely perfect Being must be the infinitely righteous Being. Holiness has been declared to be "our necessarily fundamental conception" of the character and being of God. The late President Eobinson said : "Every other moral attribute, when analyzed, brings us more or less directly to holiness as its underlying thought. The last analysis of justice, mercy, benevolence, blessedness, veracity, glory, majesty, is holiness." Any system of theology which is to command the permanent respect of men and minister strength to moral character, must exalt the righteousness of God, as the Scriptures uniformly exalt it, lifting it above the low level of human conduct and life, as an Alp towers above the plain at its foot, making it manifest in the record of his dealings with nations and with men, in the revelations which his inspired servants have given, in his clear and unchangeable condemnation of sin, and, above all and most conspicuously, in the crucifixion of his only-begotten Son for the guilt of the world. For, make the death of the innocent Son of God on the cross as great an expression of love as you will (and you cannot overstate it, and may quickly repudiate every theory of the atonement which is not saturated with love), yet, as the Apostle Paul says, that death, that central death of human history, was intended also "to declare God's righteousness in the remission of sins that are past; to declare, I say, at that time his righteousness, that he might be just and the justifier of him who believeth in Jesus."
To make the death of Christ simply an expression of Divine love is to miss half its significance, and overlook the distinct teaching of
god's EIGHTEOrSXESS LIKE THE GEEAT MOUXTAIXS. 79 the Word of God. It is to fail to see God's most impressive exhibition of his essential holiness. Mr. Spurgeon has said : "Xo awe inspired by mountain scenery can equal that which fills the soul when it beholds the Son of God slain as a victim to vindicate the justice of the inflexible Lawgiver. Eight across the path of every unholy man who dreams of heavem stand the towering And^ of Divine righteousness, which no unregenerate sinner can ever climb. Among great mountains lie slumbering avalanches, and there the yoxmg lightnings try their callow wings until the storm rushes down amain from the awful peaks ; so against the great day of the Lord's wrath the Lord has laid up in the mountains of his righteousness dreadful ammunition of war, with which to overwhelm his adversaries.^' IT. i^otice, secondly, how immovable the mountains are, resting solidly upon their broad and deep foundations. Unmoved by th.e fury of the winds, the violence of the tempest, the bursting of the thunder, unaffected even by the changes of centuries, they have become the symbols of permanence and stabilit}'. They are th.e great sentinels of the continents, the indestructible boundaries of empires. Sometimes in tropical climes subject to earthquakes the contour of the earth may be slightly modified. But the most immovable of all material things are the mountains. The courses of the rivers may be changed in the lapse of time, the shores of continents may recede before the advancing tide by the perpetual attrition of the waves, the massive glaciers may creep slowh' down towards the valleys: but the mountains remain the same forever. Men may, at great toil and expense, construct their narrow highways up their sides and along their dangerous precipices; an ambitious Xapoleon may lead his conquering army through their snowfilled passes : human skill and patience and daring engineering may succeed in tunneling them, and making a pathway for commerce through their granite bowels; but the mountains remain undis-
turbed, and unconscious of the little encroachments of man. The Swiss boy who fled from his native land, returns an old man to find parents and kindred buried beneath the sod, the old home crumbled into dust, the hamlet, it may be, disappeared, all around
80 THE AMERICAN BAPTIST PULPIT. him the evidences of change and deca}^; but the same old familiar summits look calmly down upon his grief and loneliness, the solitary reminders of the past, unchanged, immovable still. As unshaken, as immovable, as unaffected by the conflicts of human opinion and the divers standards of right and wrong and moral obligation among men, as permanent and nndistrirbed as the great mountains, is the righteousness of Grod. "As winds and hurricanes shake not an Alp, so the righteousness of God is never in any degree affected by circumstances ; he is always just." Men may find it difficult to justify the dealings and the ways of G-od; they may demur at his judgments, and his stern condemnation of all sin; they may think they discover inconsistencies between the elder and the younger Testaments, or that the plain teachings of the Bible violate their supposed ethical sense; they may fear lest the ark of God^s righteousness may be overturned by the rough and careless jostling which it receives; but God's righteousness is the same perfect, resplendent attribute in each dispensation and in all dispensations, uninfluenced by human ignorance or doubt, undisturbed by human opposition or the varying conditions of human life and progress, unchanging as his o^^ eternal nature, inflexible as the laws of his moral kingdom, immovable as the mountains. "Thy righteousness, Lord, is an everlasting righteousness.^' "Let God be true, and every man a liar.'' III. This suggests a third point of resemblance between the holiness of God's character and the mountains, viz. : the sense of restfulness which their contemplation produces. Have you never felt, as you sat looking upon the stillness of the hills, as they rose calmly and peacefully above you, their heads lifted above the noise and
confusion of the world into the quiet of the upper air, an indescribable sense of rest in mind and body, as if you, too, were taken up bodily out of the strifes and cares, the annoyances and weariness of life, and were soothed to rest by a kind of sympathy with the iij animate friends with whom you held communion? The sea is full of motion, of restlessness, a ceaseless roll and activity, a never ending ebb and flow, even when it is not lashed by the fury of the storm. But the mountains are ever motionless and still. No winds toss them, and no billows rock them. Amid
god's righteousness like the great mountains. 81 storm and sunshine they preserve the same calm.', reposeful dignity. The proverb has it, "As restless as the troubled sea." It might also be proverbial, by way of contrast, "As restful as the quiet mountains." So, when I contemplate the righteousness of God, lofty, serene, unshaken, immovable, the same unchanging attribute of the same holy Being, never weak and never wrong in its activities, and allcomprehending in its sweep, my soul is filled with a calm repose and a restful, peace-giving confidence. I am weary and sick of this interminable discussion and agitation, the clash and conflict of human opinions, the friction of creeds, the perpetual warfare between faith and unbelief. I am weary of thinking of the dark, unsolved problems of life, the origin of evil, the weakness and perversity of human wills, the awfully destructive power of sin in the world, the seeming triumph of misery and shame, and the slow progress of that kingdom which is "righteousness and peace and jcy." I am distressed sometimes to hear weak, finite men vainly attempt to harmonize God^s judgments and God^s revealed truths with their own narrow and imperfect views of things, declaring authoritatively what God ought to do, and what God ought to teach, and even blasphemously fiinging their accusations against the moral nature of the moral Governor of the universe. But I find rest and comfort in the belief and contemplation of God^s perfect righteousness, lifting its head like a snowy mountain-summit above all doubt
and perplexity, all discussion and confiict, all tumult and wickedness of men, immaculate, unapproachable and eternal. Whatever men may think, or say, or do> I know that God is righteous. He always has done right; he is now doing right; he will evermore do right. "Here I stand; so help me God." Rev. Dr. L^man Beecher, the father, the noblest Eoman of them all, was once warning a company of young ministers against the dangers of theological speculation. "Wliy, young gentlemen," said he, "I sometimes speculate myself; but I first go along the shore of the pond until I find a firm and unpelding stump, and make fast to that, and then if I get beyond my depth, and do not know where I am, I know where the stump is." Let us make fast to the firm,
82 THE AMEEICAN BAPTIST PULPIT. the immutable righteo-Qsness of God in all our theological questionings, and speciilations, and doubts. lY.. What has already been said will suggest a fourth point of resemblance between the righteous character of God and the great mountains. The mountains do not alwa3^s stand bathed in the bright sunlight. Sometimes they do, and your eye can see their clear outlines with their fringe of trees and the deep depressions which run up and down their sides, and in the transparent atmosphere you seem almost able to touch them, they are so near. But at other times dark shadows move across them, the mists settle thick about their feet, and black, heavy clouds rest down upon them, and cover them as with a pall. The mountains are still there, but they are changed in appearance, or completely hidden from view. Just so the righteousness of our God, in his dealings with nations and with men, sometimes in his dealings with you and with me, even as in his dealings with his innocent Son, our crucified Saviour, may be dark with many a cloud, and veiled with a thick, impene^ trable atmosphere of mystery, and utterly hidden from our comprehension. The Psalmist follows the text with another impressive figure, "And thy judgments are a great deep," dark and unfathom-
able, a thought which Cowper expresses in the familiar words : " God moves in a mysterious way. His wonders to perform; He plants his footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm." The sunlight of prosperity is interchanged in all human experiences with the dark shadows of trial and adversity. There are great, awful mysteries under the reign of God, as, for example, hereditary depravit}^, insanity and idiocy, the existence of evil, and the unnumbe*red calamities and ills to which all life is exposed. Sometimes in the blackness which surrounds us we cannot distinguish even a dim outline of righteousness, and are led to question whether there be a moral government of the world and a righteous God on its throne. But the mountains are still there in darkness as in sunlight, though our vision sees them not. The great philosopher. Bishop Berkeley, described the thought
god's righteousness like the great M0UXTAIN"S. 83 which occurred to him^ of the inscrutable wsljs of Providence, as he saw a fly moving on one of the pillars of Saint Paul's Cathedral: ^•'It requires some comprehension in the eye of an intelligent spectator to take in at one view the various parts of the building, in order to observe their symmetry and design. But to the fly, whose prospect was confined to a little part of one of the stones of a single pillar, the joint beauty of the whole, or the distinct use of its parts was inconspicuous. To that limited view, the small irregularities on the surface of the stone seemed to be so many deformed rocks and precipices." And Dean Stanley, unfolding the beautiful illustration, said: "That fly on the pillar, of which the philosopher spoke, is the likeness of each human being as he creeps along the vast pillars which support the universe. The sorrow which appears to us nothing but a yawning chasm or a hideous precipice, may turn out to be but the
joining or cement which binds together the fragments of our existence into a solid whole ! That dark and crooked path in which we have to grope our wa}" in doubt and fear may be but the curve which in the full dajdight of a brighter world will appear to be the necessary finish of some choice ornament, the inevitable span of some majestic arch!'^ We need to remember that, with all our boasted wisdom, we are but flies creeping along the pillars which support the universe, but children looking at the great mountains which are often liidden from our view. V. Finally, as at evening the mountains are sometimes clothed ^th a purple glory, and glow with the brightness of an almost unearthly splendor, so when the evening of life shall come, and we pass on into the brightness of another world, there will be no shadows of dou.bt and mystery on the Di\T.ne righteousness then. All God's ways will be seen to be right, the clouds and the mists "will roll away forever, and God's righteousness and God's mercy, twin mountains, will lift their heads in undimmed splendor against eternity's sky, and share an equal glory in the eyes of angels and redeemed men. The king asked the artist, who taught him to play, and Ole Bull replied, "The mountains of N'orway, your majesty." May the lofty
84 THE AMERICAN BAPTIST PULPIT. mountains of God''s rigMeonsness, as well as love, inspire the believing songs of his children. "I will sing of mercy and judgment/' said the Psalmist, of the judgment which chastens my sin as well as of the mercy which forgives it, of the trials which humble me as well as of the comforts which cheer me, of the blows of his hand as well as of the kisses of his lips. The last poem which blind Milton ever wrote was a hymn of praise to God for his blindness : " I am old and blind ! Men point at me as smitten with. God's frown,
Afflicted and deserted by my kind: Yet I am not cast down. I am weak, yet dying, I murmur not that I no longer see: Poor, old and helpless, I the more belong, Father Supreme, to thee. O merciful One! When men are farthest, then thou art most near; When men pass coldly by — my weakness shun — Thy chariot I hear. Thy glorious face Is leaning toward me, and its holy light Shines upon my lowly dwelling-place, And there is no more night. On bended knee I recognize thy purpose clearly shown; My vision thou hast dimmed that I might see Thyself — thyself alone." May God give to us all such faith and clearness of spiritual vision that we may recognize even now, amid the dark problems of life, something of the glory of that righteousness which is like the great mountains. 1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books 2. ALL WRITINGS http://www.scribd.com/glennpease/documents?page=1000
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