J. Armitage (Joseph Armitage) Robinson.

Holy ground : three sermons on the war in South Africa, preached in Westminster Abbey (Volume Talbot Collection of British Pamphlets) online

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I. The Hope of a Nation 7

(November 5, 1899)

II. The Consolation of the Bereaved . 15^

(November 19, 1899)

III. Holy Ground 25

(January 14, 1900)


A Form of Daily Intercession used in

Westminster Abbey 3^


Sit Dominus Deus noster nobiscum
Sicut fuit cum patribus nostris.



* The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting
arms.' — Deut. xxxiii. 27.

These are among the last words of the parting blessing
of Moses. Before the aged statesman-prophet, who has
led the people through the wilderness to the very borders
of the promised land, climbs the hill where (as the old
tradition says) he died of the kiss of God, he sums up
his experience of the past and declares his hope for the

The words were spoken, as all the greatest utterances of
the Old Testament were spoken, to a people.

'There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who
rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in His excellency
on the sky. The eternal God is thy refuge, and under-
neath are the everlasting arms : and He shall thrust out
the enemy from before thee ; and shall say. Destroy them.
Israel then shall dwell in safety! alone : the fountain of
Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine : also his
heavens shall drop down dew. Happy art thou, O Israel !
who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the


shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excel-
lency ! and thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee ;
and thou shalt tread upon their high places.'

It was a people's promise, and a people's hope. The
hope of an individual immortality was not revealed in the
earlier stages of the Jewish religion. It was to be enough
for the individual that he should serve his generation, and
sleep with his fathers. He had no promise of an awaken-
ing. In some of the later Psalms, and in the books
of the Apocrypha, the hope of personal life after death
begins to dawn : but it was left for Christianity to pro-
claim this as a fundamental truth of religion. It was
Christ who * brought life and immortality to light through
the Gospel.'

The hope of the Israelite was a national hope. His
fathers had known God, and done their work, and
passed to their rest. He in his turn was allowed to know
God, and do his share of work, and be buried with his
fathers ; leaving children and children's children to carry
the w'ork still further forward, till at last it reached
its glorious consummation. The Nation lived on and
expanded and developed ; blessed when it feared the
Lord, punished when it forgot Him. Thousands and
tens of thousands of its sons and daughters passed, but
the Nation still lived on, and learned to look for its
perfect glory in the future, when the King Messiah should
reign in righteousness over the whole earth, sitting on
David's throne in Jerusalem.

This was the ideal of the great poets and prophets of
the Jewish people. It was a national, and not an indi-
vidual hope.

It is nowhere more magnificently expressed than in the
ninetieth Psalm. ' Lord, Thou hast been our refuge


from one generation to another.' The individual is like
the grass ; * in the morning it is green and groweth
up ; but in the evening it is cut down, dried up, and
withered.' The span of life is threescore years and ten,
or possibly fourscore. But God remains, and the people
of God remains. And the final and all-satisfying hope of
the individual is that he may wisely spend his days, and
faithfully do his task, and that the future may see the
completed result, * Shew Thy servants Thy work : and
their children Thy glory.'

Think, for one moment, of this vast church, built by
successive generations, rising to overshadow the graves of
hundreds of its builders. Look at that solitary workman,
swung in mid-air, chiselling some unseen, unnoticed
ornament. What is the extent, or the value, of his indi-
vidual work ^ Can he hope to see the great design carried
to completion in his life-time ? No ! he must work while
it is day for him, and then lie down to sleep the great
sleep when his night-time comes. But others — his children
or his grand-children — will see the full glory of the
finished temple. And so every stroke of his patient chisel
is in itself a prayer that his tiny part may be not unworthy
of the glorious whole ; that the work of the present may
help to make up the majesty of the future :

' Shew Thy servants Thy work,
And their children Thy glory.'

That ninetieth Psalm is called ' A prayer of Moses, the
man of God.' Whatever may be the value of the tradi-
tion, we may at least trace the harmony of its thought with
the Blessing from which we take our text. Israel is in the
hands of God : *■ The eternal God is thy refuge, and
underneath are the everlasting arms.' The continuity of


national life is a perpetual inspiration. He, watching over
Israel, guides its destinies : from generation to generation
it finds its refuge in Him. Its leaders pass, its meaner
folk pass too : but the people remains in the very bosom
of the Eternal : ' underneath it are the everlasting arms.'

Is the eternal God the refuge of nations to-day ? Or
was the Jewish dispensation a temporary phase with no
permanent lesson for the world ^

If we study the history of revelation, we shall find that
it has connected itself with the expanding life of a people.
God reveals Himself to a man — to a family — ^to a nation.
And to each in turn the promise is made : * In thee and
in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.'

Christianity does not reject the method, though it
enlarges the scope of God's dealing. It introduces a wider
conception, and presents a cosmopolitan ideal.

It might have seemed, on the arrival of Christianity,
that national life was a thing of the past. For Christianity
came into the world under the Roman empire : and the
universalism of Rome was the foe of nationalism. But
presently Rome broke up. The false unity gave a witness
that some day there should be a true unity, and then fell
to pieces to shew that it was not that true unity itself.

The nations awoke, and have been slowly developing
themselves. And we have been taught that just as the
true nation does not suppress the family, so the true
human unity does not suppress either the family or the
nation, but promises both in their fullest realization.

God is not indeed the God of a single nation as against
the rest : just as He is not the God of a single family as
against others. But He is the God of nations, and the
Judge among the nations. Every true nation, that be-
lieves in God and does righteousness, can claim the


promise of these words, as much as the Jewish nation
could : ' The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath
are the everlasting arms.'

There are times when a nation becomes for a while
vividly conscious of its corporate life. These times are
not the dangerous ' hours of wealth,' but the more blessed,
because the more uniting, moments of common anxiety
and trouble. Then it is that a silence is made in which
you almost hear the pulsings of that mighty heart : then
the great and small alike forget their miserable in-
dividuality, and rise to remember that they are parts of a

A young lad said to me two nights ago, fixing his deep
earnest gaze upon me for some time before he spoke, ' You
will pray for the soldiers, won't you ? ' And when I asked
him whether he had any friend in the campaign, he said,
' No — but it does seem so terrible.'

More than the speeches of all the politicians that
simple incident told me that we were one. In reckoning up
what spiritual gains we may set against the evils and losses
of war, we shall do well to lay stress on its proved power
to unite the Nation as a single man in presence of a
common trouble.

This unity is God's highest gift to a people. The
renewed sense of it is a promise that He has not
forsaken us.

We believe that God is not our God alone, but the one
God who has made * all nations of men, for to dwell on
all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times
before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation, that
they should seek the Lord.' But this large faith shall
not prevent us from invoking the God of our fathers,
whose hand we trace in all our national history ; from


committing our cause to Him, in repentance and humility,
but yet in strong confidence. For all the pride and
selfishness that mingles with our motive, for all in detail
that may have been wrong in the method of our policy —
and for the most part it is too soon for human judgment to
pronounce on that — we know that He will punish us. But
we believe that our cause is bound up with liberty and
human progress ; and we call upon God to prosper our
effort to maintain it. * The Lord our God be with us, as
He was with our fathers.' The Lord our God unite us,
and keep us united. The Lord our God forgive us, and
purify us, and lead us in the paths of righteousness, for
His Name's sake. So, though we walk through the
valley of the shadow of death, for ourselves and for our
brothers we will fear no evil : * The eternal God is our
refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.'

If the national reference of these words be their primary
reference, yet we are justified in giving them a further and
more personal reference in the light of the Christian

Few things can be more affecting to a Christian soul
than the thought of the hundreds of lives, both on our
own and on the opposing side, which are suddenly cut
short in the fulness of physical vigour — lives that might
have had so much before them, that might have done such
great work in the world.

' They who marched up the bluffs last stormy week :
Some of them, ere they reached the mountain's crown.

The wind of battle breathing on their cheek.
Suddenly laid them down.'

What is the meaning of this in the light of eternity ^
Must we content ourselves now with saying : Thou hast


shewn Thy servants Thy work ; shew their children Thy
glory ?

Or may we not say

* That not one life shall be destroyed,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete ? '

May we not say that our brothers who have given their
lives for us have lost them only to find them : that they
live on in a waiting interval, in a world whither we too
are tending, and where * they without us shall not be
made perfect ' ? May we not say of them in the fullest
and most personal sense : ' The eternal God is their
refuge, and underneath them are the everlasting arms ' ?

I believe from my soul that we may. Into the reasons
of this belief it would be impossible to enter now. Two
Sundays hence we shall ask your contributions towards the
families of those brave men who have given themselves on
our behalf; and then, if God will, we may come back to
these questions again, and try to find a fuller answer
to them.

Meanwhile, let us pray that God will comfort all
stricken homes, alike in England and in South Africa.
May He ' have mercy on all the wounded, our own and of
the enemy ' ; may He ' succour the dying, comfort the
bereaved, cheer the anxious' ; may He * uphold the faith of
His servants ' — for indeed it is sometimes sorely tried —
and may He ' give peace and lasting concord.' This
shall be our daily prayer.

And as the days go on, let us strive more and more to
live worthily of our high calling as a Christian people.
Let us believe more in one another, let us believe more in
our Nation, let us believe more in our God. Let us


cherish the sense of national mission. It was John
Milton who said two hundred years ago that when God
has some hard work to be done for the world, He calls
upon * His Englishmen ' to do it. Our fathers have proved
the truth of this again and again. Let us not fail to bear
the burden that they have transferred to our shoulders.

We shall not be the better Christians for being halting
and half-hearted patriots. We have a divinely- appointed
task: let us not shirk it. Let us purge our imperialism
from the dross of self-seeking and vain-glory. But let us
rise and answer to our call, and the God of Israel will be
our God to-day. ' Happy art thou, O Israel ; who is like
unto thee, O people saved by the Lord ? ' * The eternal
God is thy refuge : and underneath are the everlasting



* The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting
arms.' — Deut. xxxiii. 27.

Two Sundays ago we considered the hope offered by
these words to a Nation, the promise of a perpetual
shelter in the bosom of the Eternal. To-day, as we
endeavour to relieve, so far as our gifts may enable us to
do so, some of the sufferings incidental to the present war,
we are to consider what consolations may be offered to
individual mourners.

We begin by thinking of broken home circles. The
lives lost — and we must add to them the lives permanently
shattered, of which the wrecks alone will reach our shore
— mean much of loss to the Nation ; but how much
more of loss to separate families ? All these lives arc
strong and vigorous lives ; most of them are young lives.
Again and again it must inevitably be that the brightest
promise, the noblest strength, the highest helpfulness is
suddenly snatched from the home : the lamp is quenched,
the pillar of the house is fallen.

We are asked to offer our contributions to lessen in
some degree the poverty and destitution which thereby
falls on poorer households, which have been robbed of the
mainstay of their material fortunes : but we must not


forget that the loss is not measurable by a material

By a strange and stern law of compensation, which
equalizes the distribution of pain, where the material loss
is the less felt the heart's loss is often the greater. No
hunger, no cold, no nakedness, enters this house by reason
of the new record in the registry of death. Externally,
materially, all is as before. But there is the more room
and scope for the agony of bereavement : there is the less
possibility of assuagement by the good offices of others.
Gifts can do nothing here to help : and words, we know,
are often crueller than silence. The stranger cannot inter-
meddle : no anxious effort we can make can mitigate the

What consolations can we offer that will nerve the
hearts of rich as well as poor to bear the burden which
we have imposed upon them ?

I. First, there springs to our lips the great key-word
that more than any other interprets the mystery of our
human life — the word Sacrifice.

What a lesson may be taught on the battle-field itself,
to the man who has seen his comrade fall by his side, has
been told us by our poet-primate of Armagh. He has
told us how such a man has entered into fellowship with
the other world, and held communion with the dead.

* And thoughts beyond his thoughts the Spirit lent,
And manly tears made mist upon his eyes ;

And to him came a great presentiment
Of high self-sacrifice.'

But it is not only those who lay down their lives for
us on the field of battle that have made sacrifice for the
country's cause.


Look at that mother who kisses her boy for the last
time, and commends him to God. Who shall measure in
words what she is giving away ? She weeps, but she does
not withhold him. She does not say Stay, but Go. She
gives him — gives a large part, perhaps the largest now, of
her own life. He is her sacrifice.

And when the sad telegram comes, she weeps — but she
does not repent. It was a sacrifice : she offered it, and it
has been accepted. She cries indeed, * Would God T had
died for thee, my son, my son ! ' But, when the first
agony is past, there comes, and comes to abide, the noble
pride of a true sacrifice. She would not ask it back
again. It is better so. It is a gift, not a mere loss.

May I read to you some words, written at the time of
the Crimean War by John Ruskin, and worthy to be
recalled to-day ? He is declaring his belief that, in spite
of all its mistakes and its cost, that war was productive of
good more than of evil.^

* I will appeal at once,' he says, ' to the testimony of
those whom the war has cost the dearest .... I ask
iheir witness, to whom the war has changed the aspect of
the earth, and imagery of heaven, whose hopes it has
cut off like a spider's web, whose treasure it has placed,
in a moment, under the seals of clay. Those who can
never more see sunrise, nor watch the climbing light gild
the Eastern clouds, without thinking what graves it has
gilded, first, far down behind the dark earth-line, — who
never more shall see the crocus bloom in spring, without
thinking what dust it is that feeds the wild flowers of
Balaclava. Ask iheir witness, and see if they will not
reply that it is well with them and with theirs ; that they
would have it no otherwise ; would not, if they might,
^ Modern Painters^ pt. iv., ch. 18, § 33.


receive back their gifts of love and life, nor take again
the purple of their blood out of the cross on the breast-
plate of England.'

Forty-five years has not changed the heart of the
English folk. This spirit prevails, and will prevail, in
hundreds of our homes. Its nobility is its own reward :
it finds a joy in having been allowed to give.

2. A true consolation, even if this were all : if death
closed the story ; if there were no hereafter ; if there were
no recognitions and restorations in another world.

If this were all : if the gift sacrificed were thereafter a
wholly vanished thing : if it were nowhere stored in the
hidden treasuries of the Eternal and Divine. For sacri-
fice knows not how to reckon : it cannot barter : it
' rejects the lore of nicely calculated less or more.' Of
such noble stuff are human hearts made, that sacrifice
of itself brings joy — incalculable, unearthly, indestructible.
But this is not all. We know that it is not all. We
know that we cannot die with death. And so there
comes to us another word of consolation — another key-
word that helps to unlock the mysteries of life. It is
the word Resurrection.

I say that we know that we shall not wholly die with
physical death. It is true that we cannot prove it. Many
things point that way. Many things shew us that it is
most reasonable. Many things clear themselves when we
accept that as the truth. But we cannot prove it. At
least, I cannot. Indeed, I cannot even conceive of any
form of proof by which it could be proved. If you
demand a proof, then I ask you to tell me what kind of
proof would convince you : for I know not where to

Most of us will never believe that the so-called mani-


festations of the spirit-world are anything more than the
reflection of the ideas of those who think they receive
these manifestations. We find no proof there. Nor, if
a friend of our own returned from the grave to assure us,
should we believe for that : we should certainly still doubt,
when he was gone, whether we had not been victims of
an illusion.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the nearest thing
to a logical proof that we can conceive of. Not the mere
fact, attested strongly as it is by the best kinds of histori-
cal evidence ; but the fact in its setting, so to speak : the
fitness of the fact as the climax of such a Life and of such
a Death.

This much of proof indeed we have, and it helps to
confirm our conviction. But we know without proof.
There is something in us that is eternal, that goes out
beyond the momentary and the fleeting, and that refuses
to be satisfied with anything less than the eternal God.

We are certain that our short life on earth is not all :
it is a stage in a larger process. Life is a school. It is
not a prison : nor a play-ground : it is a school, and we
are being educated for a purpose. When our school-days
end, life in a sense begins ; so death, which ends this life,
ushers us into another and a larger life.

Put it as you will, we have the indestructible conviction
that we shall live on after death : and this conviction is
allied to all in life that ennobles and uplifts : it is
sanctioned and proclaimed as truth by Christ. He
has * brought life and immortality to light by the

Here then a fresh light springs up in the darkness of
bereavement — a promise that nothing of worth is really


lost — a promise of restitution — a hope full of immor-

* For a while the tired body

Lies with feet toward the morn ;

Till the last and brightest Easter

Day be born.


' On that happy Easter morning

All the graves their dead restore ;
Father, sister, child, and mother,
Meet once more.'

Some one will say : your Christian doctrine brings a
vast comfort to those who have ground for confidence that
their dear departed were among the number of those
earnest souls who had set their Master always before
their eyes, who had trusted in Him and followed Him,
and now sleep in Him. But if it opens a door of hope,
does it not open a wider door over which is written the
legend of despair .'' Can you shut your eyes to the fact
that many, very many, of our eager and brave young
soldiers have lived lives which cannot be counted religious
— that perhaps the majority had thought but little of the
future, and were wholly unprepared for death ? Would
it not be more merciful to keep silence altogether, than to
mention that life after death, which, if it offers consola-
tion to a few, suggests the most grievous anxiety to the
many ? For what is most terrible in war ^ Not the blood
and wounds, not the torture of crushed limbs and the
maddening thirst — not these, but the plunging of
unprepared souls into eternity.

Brethren, in face of this question I dare solemnly to
repeat the words of our text : ' The eternal God is thy
refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.'


Let us ask ourselves for a moment what at all we can
know of this mysterious life after death ? What does it
mean to have crossed the narrow stream and to have
stepped out on the other side ? Some things I am sure it
does not mean :

(tf) It does not mean a wholly new beginning. The
man is what he was ; what his life has made him to be.
There is no break in his character. His conditions have
changed, but he is the same. All he has been and all he
has done is with him now.

* I looked behind to find my past,
And, lo, it had gone before.'

{b) Nor again does it mean an absolute fixity. It is
true that the moment after death I shall be just what 1
was the moment before death : but it is not therefore
true that I shall continue to be that for all the future.
Progress, movement, development — these are implied when
we speak of life, whether in this world or another. I
cannot believe the theory — -for it is but a theory — that
the moment of physical death is the moment in which a
man's state is eternally and unalterably fixed. I cannot
find that in my Bible : all nature, all analogy, is against
it. It cannot be.

What then does death bring with it .? I would venture
to reply, a change of sphere : and I mean especially that
direct contact with the eternal and the real of which most
of us know so little now.

Here we are surrounded with material shrouds and
veils, which come between us and the realities which
are about us. There are moments in which we recognize
these realities, and then all else seems nothing in com-


parison. But these moments pass, and we forget or
ignore or deny their existence again.

Death will bring us face to face with things as they are.

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Online LibraryJ. Armitage (Joseph Armitage) RobinsonHoly ground : three sermons on the war in South Africa, preached in Westminster Abbey (Volume Talbot Collection of British Pamphlets) → online text (page 1 of 3)