The Presence of God

Deut. 29:10.---' Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord your God.'

Intense in their significance, fresh in their solemnity, those warning words roll to us across the centuries.  They express the formative principle, the regulating conception, the inspiring impulse of every greatly Christian life.  The distinguishing feature of such a life is this, that it is spent always and consciously in the presence of God.

And in proportion to our faith is the vividness and reality wherewith, like Moses, we see God---like Enoch walk, like Abraham converse, like Jacob wrestle with Him, like Elijah thrill to the inward whisper of His still small voice.  There are, indeed, some eyes so dim that they catch no gleam of His Presence; some ears so dull that they never hear the music or the thunder of His voice; and there are moments when, even the best of men, He seems silent or far off.  But when the eyes are opened by prayer and penitence, when the ears are purged by listening humbly for the revelation of His will, then all life, all nature, all history, are full of Him.  Then Conscience, speak she never so faintly, becomes His articulate utterance.  Then Experience, seem it never so perplexing, is but the unknown pattern which He is weaving into the web of our little lives.  Then, even amid the crash of falling dynasties and the struggles of furious nations, we see His guiding hand.  Then the great open book of the universe reveals Him on every page, while, legibly, as on the tables of Moses, He engraves His name upon the rock tablets of the world; and clearly as on the palace wall of Belshazzar, He letters it in fire amid the stars of heaven, in flowers among the fields of spring.  But, whether we see or see not, whether we hear or hear not, whether conscience and life be voiceful to us or silent, assuredly God is, and He speaks to us; assuredly every day we stand each and all of us before the Lord our God.

    The first lesson from this thought is a sense of warning.  It is, even for the good man, a very solemn thought that not only life in its every incident, but even the heart in its inmost secrets, lies naked and open before Him with whom we have to do.  When we remember that He who chargeth even His angels with folly, and in whose sight the very heavens are not clean, is always with us; that the very loneliest solitudes are peopled with His presence; that walls do not hide or inner chambers conceal us from Him;  that the deepest curtains of secrecy and midnight are to Him transparent as the blaze of noon---are we indeed so pure and innocent that there is no warning for us in that thought?  If Peter, troubled by the sudden apocalypse of Christ's tenderness and power, could fall at His feet, saying, 'Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord,' must there not be a similar repugnance and alarm in every willing sinful soul? If there be such alarm in your soul, be warned in time.  If you hate, if you are terrified by, the thought of God's perpetual presence, then be sure that there must be some deep disharmony in your being, and be sure that, while this continues, you cannot be fulfilling the law of your creation, you cannot be at peace with God.

    To Florence Nightingale, communion with the Unseen meant something deeper, richer, fuller, more positive than the fear of God.  The fear of God is the beginning, but not the end, of wisdom, for perfect love casteth out fear.  It was the love of God as an active principle in her mind, constraining all her deeds, that she strove.  When she was conscious of falling away from His grace, she knew the pains of hell, here and now, as the state of a soul estrangement from the Eternal goodness.  As she wrote to her friend, Miss Nicholson, May, 1846:  "The sorrows of hell compassed me about."  We learn to know what these are beforehand, when we cannot command our thoughts to pray, when all our omissions give themselves form and life, and shut us up within a wall over which there is no looking, no return:  when they hold us down with a resistless power, and we are hemmed in with our remembrances, like a cell compassing us about.  What can the future hell be other than this?  The Unspeakable Presence may be joy and peace unspeakable, but it may be a Horror, a Dweller on our Threshold, a Spirit of Fear to the stricken conscience.

    But to all who have learnt to love and to trust God, the thought that we stand before Him involves not only a sense of warning, but, secondly, a sense of elevation, ennoblement.  It is a sweet and a lofty doctrine, the highest source of all the dignity and grandeur of life.  It is the thing that distinguishes us from the beasts that perish.  They, so far as we know, feel no responsibility, rise to no worship, attain no knowledge, cherish no hope for the future, and have but a dull, blind memory of the past; until, their unimmortal but sinless destiny being accomplished.

But man, how different a life is his!  How noble in reason!  how infinite in faculty!  in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god!  And why?  Because He is a son of God, made in His image, an inheritor of His Kingdom, conscious of His presence.

    And besides a sense of warning and of elevation, a third consequence of life spent consciously in God's presence is an unwavering sense of duty.  And surely this sense of duty, so marked a feature in every good man's character, is a thing of extraordinary dignity.  Certainly without it life is singularly contemptible, inevitably miserable.  Compare a vessel rolling, water-logged and helpless, at the mercy of the storm---a wind-tossed, melancholy hulk, or a desolate wreck upon a lonely shore---compare it with the same vessel obeying a very small helm, cutting through the billows in victorious career, and making the very hurricane speed it onwards towards the destined shore; such is a human life without, and a human life with, the sense of duty.  A life regardful of duty is crowned with an object, directed by a purpose, inspired by an enthusiasm, till the very humblest routine, carried out conscientiously for the sake of God, is elevated into moral grandeur.  To one who lives thus the insignificant becomes important, the unpleasant delightful, the transient eternal.

    But, as a fourth consequence, there is something loftier and lovelier than even a sense of duty which results from a consciousness of standing in the presence of God---it is the sense of holiness.  A man may perform his duties, and yet not be a holy man; he may be apparently upright, but not inwardly sincere.  It is one thing to be 'not far from the kingdom of God,' another to be a member thereof; one thing to be near the gate of heaven, another thing to be therein.  It is mostly some cherished idol, some willful reservation, some favorite temptation, in a word, some besetting sin, that makes men fall short of that truth in the inward parts which God requires, and which, to those who seek for it and love it, He will give.

Always it is sin, and only it is sin, which blinds the eyes and hardens the heart of mankind.  It may be the smallest sins, one of those sins which we describe as merely amiable weaknesses; but let it be in charge of a soul and directing its course, let it be a sin which we find ourselves unable to give up, which we recognize as unworthy, and yet cling to, and we are living in the cold, we are moving in the shadows, and all our faculties are in shackles.

It would seem that the whole matter turns upon a complete unison of the two wills, the divine and the human.  They must both want the same things to happen, they must both desire the same qualities, they must both be pursuing the same end.  Discordance between the will of the creature and the will of its Creator results in a weakening of the consciousness of God in the heart of the creature. Men may live very religiously and yet fail to dislodge their will from some form of selfishness which is fatal to their possession by the grace of God.  They may be perfectly pure, and yet vain; or wonderfully generous with their time and money, yet intolerantly wedded to their own ideas; or they may lay down their lives for their religion, and yet never have loved anybody so well as themselves.

    We stand before the Lord God.  The knowledge of this not only warns us, not only ennobles us, not only inspires us with a sense of duty, not only convinces us of the necessity for holiness, but, lastly, it encourages us with a certainty of help and strength. That God before whom we stand is not only our Judge and our Creator, but also our Father and our Friend.  Behold Him revealed to us in Christ, our Elder Brother in the great family of God!  He feels for all our infirmities.  He can sympathize in all our sorrows.  He has conquered all our temptations.  He has borne the dread burden of all our sins.  The pulse of every beating heart is known to Him.  He sees every tear we shed.  He considers every wish we cherish.  He answers every true prayer we breathe.  In the depth of humiliation He is with us.  In the rough places His angels catch us by the hand.  In the valley of the shadow of death His brightness illumines every dreadful step.  Fear not; even the youngest and weakest He loves; let us be true to the higher law of our nature; let us remember that God sees us; and then let us doubt not, but earnestly believe that He will accept us in the Beloved as His redeemed, forgiven sons.

In Christ,  timothy. maranatha

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