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II. Not Realising the Presence of God.
My subject this week is Religious Indifference : some Causes of it, some Cures for it. One cause of religious indifference I have already mentioned, regarding saintliness as ancient and not modern, a possible virtue long ago, but not in these days. To-day I come to a second cause, namely, of set purpose trying to hide from the presence of the Lord. " The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God."^ Yes, a very frequent cause of religious indifference is "hiding from the presence of God." That presence of the Lord, which may be the very fulness of joy, men actually, of set purpose, hide themselves from ; the means of grace naturally come to be neglected, and those means of approaching to and realising
» Gen. iii. i8.
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God's presence being disregarded, then that which under these circumstances must come, comes — rehgious indifference — caring for none of these things. Mrs. Annie Besant says in her Atifobiography that God gradually fades out of the daily life of those who never pray. If God fades out of our daily life, — if God is unthought of in business, and His realised presence would be entirely unacceptable, — and if God is not wanted in pleasure, if His realised presence when we are entertaining ourselves would be a most unfortunate and embarrassing circumstance, — if in business there is to be no time for God, and in pleasure there is to be no taste for God, the cold chill of religious indifference will only too soon make us of set purpose seek for hiding-places from God. Oh, listen, I pray you, for a few minutes, as I beg of you for your comfort, cheer, help, to see the foolishness, the uselessness of trying to get out of the way of God. Do you know what trying to get out of the way of God really means } It means trying to get out of the way of One Who in your business all-engrossing, in your pleasure too enticing, would pursue you, first in order to find you, and then in order to lead you back home with Him rejoicing. I do not
attempt to explain the fact, and yet fact it is, that so unwelcome to many is the presence, I mean the felt, realised presence of God, so embarrassing the recollection of the haunting words, "Thou God
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seest me," that by various well-known plans men do their best to hide themselves from God. Some attempt it by pleasure, some by business, and some by the popular but desperate effort to persuade themselves that sin is not so bad as God has said it is. Now, why this conduct 1 Why this behaviour.? Because, as it was of old with Adam and Eve, God's presence by so many is regarded both with shame and fear ; that man and his wife we are told " hid themselves from the presence of the Lord amongst the trees of the garden." They were now — it was after what is called " the fall of man " — afraid of the Lord. God's presence, which heretofore brought happiness and security, now — now that sin had come upon man — God's presence now regarded both with shame and fear! Once far sweeter than honey were the glimpses of God's
presence ; but now when that man and his wife heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden amid the cool breezes of the evening, they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord ; at least, they tried to do so, they wanted to do so, and they would have been most thankful if they had been able to do so. Think of the old story ; it may come to some hearts with a new, with an uplifting force. Adam and Eve had done wrong ; they felt it, they knew it, they were ashamed of themselves, and so they tried to hide themselves, they tried to go where they hoped they would not be seen by
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God. It was very foolish of them, but very natural ; for they forgot, as we forget, that we all of us— in
business and in pleasure, whether we will or no
must live always in the presence of God. We cannot help ourselves. We may forget the Presence to our loss ; but there it is. We may try to hide ; but there it is. " The eyes of the Lord are in every
place, beholding the evil and the good," the sinful action and the noble deed, the He and the truth. There is no creature which is not manifest in His sight ; but all things are naked and open to Him with Whom we have to do. For ever one truth there is which must remain a truth for all, for young and old, for rich and poor, for good and bad ; and that truth, that fact, is that wherever I go, wherever I am, " Thou, O God, seest me."
That man and his wife "hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden." The trees of a garden to hide from the presence of God— a childish notion ; but that was an early age, and to hide from the presence of God had not then been worked out into the regular accomplishment — at least, imagined accomplishment —that now it is. That which that man attempted, tried to do, by getting under the branches of some trees or under the cover of some bushes, is now attempted, is now tried to be done, by various wellknown plans, as I said ; by— first, pleasure ; secondly, business and occupation; and, thirdly, by the
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scheming to find out and to believe that sin is not so bad after all, that the written Word is not to be interpreted quite so literally. Yes, yes ; and men do thus build up within themselves a false conscience, and this as a hiding-place from God, as a hiding-place from Him in Whom, do what they will, somehow they cannot but believe. Conduct like this soon advertises in a man religious indifference. Do we here, now, do we know nothing in our inner self of this feeling 1 — accepting the precepts of Christianity as far as they suit one, but keeping clear of the track of self-denial, selfdiscipline, high views of duty, responsibility, and the like. We build a hut for ourselves, we get inside it, we sit down, we make believe we are very comfortable, we take a free and easy view of life and duty ; and all does very well for us as long as it lasts. As long as it lasts ; and how long is that ? Well, it will last to hide us under it, inside it, from the presence of God, just as long as the trees of the garden lasted to hide Adam and Eve from the presence of God — ^just as long, no longer — which was, as you know, not for one single moment.
Good people, I need not say it again, there is no such thing as flying from God. God is everywhere, all up and down this city ; each one of us in Him lives and moves and has his being. God would not be God if it were not certain that to Him "all hearts are open, all desires known " ; that
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by Him all transactions are seen and all words heard, and that from Him no schemes are concealed nor any secrets hid. Read Psalm cxxxix., and see what it says there ; see how that Psalm places the creature everywhere, at all times, in the full light of the presence of the Creator —
*' O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising j Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, And art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue. But lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether. . . . Such knowledge is too wonderful for me ;
It is high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit ? Or whither shall I flee from Thy Presence ? . . . . If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, And the light about me shall be night ; Even the darkness hideth not from Thee, But the night shineth as the day : The darkness and the light are both alike to Thee."
No, to attempt to fly from God is only to practise a trick upon one's self. We cannot do impossible things yet. We can do very wonderful things : we can, doubtless, build engines which will travel a hundred miles an hour ; we can, doubtless, set up a tower a hundred feet high ; we can, doubtless, construct for our amusement a wheel that will as it revolves take us a hundred yards aloft. But mortal man cannot yet circumvent the Eternal God.
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The impossible is not yet possible ; but, unfortunately, it is possible to persuade ourselves to forget what is impossible. Though we know that God
exists, that He is everywhere — within us, without us, by day, by night, at home, away from home — yet do we not sometimes think to get out of His sight, to fly from His presence, to hide ourselves from Him ? It cannot be done. If we have ever thought we have managed it, if we have ever thought that we should have liked it, it is no good ; it cannot be done. No roof, no walls, — and for myself, I think the knowledge of this ought to be a blessing, shield, succour, help, defence, — no doors, no blackest night, no dark side of a street, no lonesome lane can hide from God.
But now just think, supposing we could hide ourselves from the presence of God, how extraordinarily foolish, how madly short-sighted ! If in this life God follows us with His watchful Eye and loving Presence, so that we continually have signs that He is moving near and round about us, why is it } Why does He thus track the steps of His weak and sinful creatures that His Hands have made } Why does He, as it is expressed, hold us in His Hand, walk in our midst, invisibly indeed, but none the less really and truly 1 Why is He sacramentally present with us, Sunday by Sunday, in the Holy Communion ? Why is He pleading
with every one of us this very day '^. I ask you*
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why is all this ? Why does Almighty God thus track our footsteps even when we would elude His Presence ? Has God anything to gain by seeking us ? You may put that thought away for ever, and see in a human father's love for his boy or girl, see in the human mother's love for her child, a faint shadow of that boundless Charity, which, having freely given us life, — which, having hung upon the Cross that the gift of life might not be lost, — pursues us with ceaseless care, urges us to meet love by love, and to return as children to the Arms of our most tender Father. " God so loved the world " (that is, you and me) "that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "Therefore," saith the Lord, "turn ye to Me with all your heart ; . . . turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness." Is it the presence of this God we would escape from and hide from 1 Why, of this God I find it written
that " in His presence there is fulness of joy," that "at His right hand there are pleasures for evermore!" This God is represented by His Own Word as searching for us — not for a day, not for a year, but until He finds us ; this God is represented, not as standing somewhere a long way off in cold, unsympathetic isolation, beckoning from a throne ; no, but as Himself out seeking for us ; our faith, our love, our service, our endless life, His
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dearest wish. It is actually the daily prayer of very many that the " perpetual light of the countenance " of this God may shine upon all His faithful servants, living and departed. I do pray you, mould your lives so that that Presence cheers you, not frightens you. Look not out for what may screen you from Him ; rather, in all your efforts, in all your struggles, in all your discouragements, remember His nearness. I tell you — you know, you must know for yourselves — that it is a thought,
that, that will see you safely over many a danger, see you safely through many a trial, keep you back from many a sin and unstained by many a wickedness : " The Lord is near ; " " He walketh in our very midst."
Do you, any of you, feel at a distance, but want to draw near } Read the fifteenth chapter of St. Luke, and you will be much encouraged. But of one thing be for ever aware, that to weave a veil, to build a hut for yourself, to scramble under some bushes which prevent your seeing God, but which by no means can prevent God from seeing you, is not only the trick of a simpleton, but the folly of a fool.
Brethren, on purpose to hold on to, to hold fast by, the right hand of God in busy life is a support which only he who has tried it knows. "Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden."
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May no man and his wife here ever think of doing the same ; and may no man, woman, child, ever try to do the Hke.
For encouragement in right, for restraint in wrong, think thou of God ; and God, Who sees thee, will think of thee.
1. 68 FREE BOOKS http://www.scribd.com/doc/21800308/Free-Christian-Books
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