Reuen Thomas.

Divine sovereignty, and other sermons online

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but in vain. Never can we be rid of them till this

379



280 TEE DIVINE INVISIBILITY.

nature of ours is dissolved into nothingness. Some
ideas crush us — such as those of the Infinity and
Eternity of the Divine Nature. We can do noth-
ing with them. They are represented to the mind
only by vague expanses without any measurement.
The wonder is that we can approach them at
all. It indicates that our nature is allied to the
Divine nature. The thought of the Divine invisi-
bility is not so oppressive as these other ideas,
and yet it is perplexing. There are moods in
w^hich it is not a welcome thought. It comes to
us with no comfort and no help. I suppose that
we all have times in which the greater an idea is
the more unwelcome it is. We make desperate
efforts to put large thoughts away from us, and
confine ourselves to that which is measurable
and familiar. Yea, have we not often resolved to
have nothing to do with that which is unfamiliar,
strange, vast, indefinite, awful ? Why cannot we
live our life in perpetual disregard of everything
but the common-place ? I suppose that the reason
is that in this nature of ours there are possibilities
which will not be smothered, intuitions which
stru2:«:le to o^et their heads out of the ocean of
doubt in which we try to drown them. We have
in us from babyhood an irrepressible desire to
know the unknown. Tell a child that there is a
cupboard into which he must not look, and he will
think more of that cupboard than of all the rest of



THE DIVINE INVISIBILITY. 281

the house. Let there be an apple tree in an
orchard whose fruit is forbidden, only one tree in
five hundred, and that tree becomes immediately
invested with a fascination which is almost painful.
There is almost a certainty that the fruit of that
tree will ere long be plucked and tasted. Not
that which we know but that which to us is un-
known, that which is mysterious, only partially
revealed, interests us. It appeals to our imagina-
tion. We are discontented till we know something
of it. The unknown is the awful. And so in
heathen religions there is always some mysterious
place into which only a high priest enters, some
inner sanctuary veiled from mortal eyes where the
Divine presence is more perceptible than else-
where. Even Judaism had it and its veil of the
temple was not rent in twain till Christ came.
Sacerdotal churches maintain the idea till this day.

Idolatry — what is it ? What but the eifort to
make the invisible visible ? There is somethinir
pitiful about it. Though its tendency is ever
towards materialistic grossness, yet is there
something pathetic in it, something more calcu-
lated to bring the tear than the frown.

When Jesus the Christ came into this world's
life. He came to answer the longing of the human
heart after some such expression of Deity as should
satisfy that desire to make the invisible visible.
Idolatry is the cry of man to God to show himself.



282 TEE Bl VINE INVISIBILITY.

It is the effort of the mind of man to give definite-
ness to the idea of Deity. In the fulness of time
Jesus the Christ comes, and one of His disciples
expresses the longing of the whole human race
when he cries, ** Lord, show us the Father, and it
sufBceth us." And when our Lord replies *' He
that hath seen me hath seen the Father " He but
tells us that Almighty God has revealed all that is
revealable of his personality in Himself. If only
we knew the heart of God we could be satisfied, —
anyway, we could have a sort of restful content,
and could do our work in the world more hope-
fully and cheerfully ; we could worship with
more intelligence — we could work with more
confidence.

I think that in our noblest moments it must
seem to us that the demand for a full and perfect
revelation of Deity is unreasonable, not to use the
stronger word, absurd. Reasonable enough is the
demand, let us know the heart of Deity, the
Divine disposition, how God feels towards us.
Here we are on an earth that in itself is altogether
appalling, because of the material forces which
display themselves. We are in the midst of a
Providence which buffets us, disappoints us,
thwarts and troubles us ; a Providence which
seems at variance with itself. Reconcile one thing
with another we cannot. Generally speaking,
most of us seem more to be pitied than envied.



THE DIVINE INVISIBILITY. 283

"We never know whether we can carry out what
we begin. Affliction may come and lay us low,
death may come and put the hand of total arrest
upon us. We walk by faith because we cannot
do ought else. Now, if only we could know that
the Infinite Being who sustains and controls all
this perplexing and involved condition were as
good as He is great, as loving as the best of
Fathers to his children, so that if we were
suddenly arrested in our life here, it would be a
surprise but not a calamity, — would it not make
worlds of difference to us ? We all feel that it
would. And it seems to be reasonable that at the
right time in the development of this human race
of ours, that demand should be met. It seems
tome that it has been met, fully and fairly met, in
the gift of Jesus the Christ to this world. And if
only we could clear our minds of the prejudices
which have been created there by theological and
denominational controversies, and look at this
Jesus Christ honestly and candidly, it seems to me
altogether impossible not to feel that in Ilim, in
what He was and in what Pie did, is the gospel for
humanity, that which every human heart needs.

And so, while it is still true that the Eternal
One is a God that hideth Himself, it is also true
that the prayer of man's heart '* Lord, show us the
Father and it sufSccth us," has been answered.

But can we not see that the Divine invisibility has



284 THE DIVINE INVISIBILITY.

its uses in the development of this nature of ours ?
One use is to train us to Keverence. If everything
should become so common-place to us that we could
treat it with vulgar familiarity, our life would lose
its power of self-improvement and development. A
thoroughly refined and cultured mind will always
see far enough to be abashed in the presence of
that which is high and holy. But the vast major-
ity of minds are not refined and cultured. Nor
can they be. Think long enough to take in the
dreadfulness of the scene — of that coarse, vulgar,
hideous mockery which Jesus the Christ experi-
enced in those days which anticipated the
Crucifixion. Think of men striking Him, jeering
at Him, even spitting in His face, making Him a
sham King and I know not what else of coarse,
vulojar, shameful conduct. Reco^rnizinsr what He
was — think of it all I Here are men with no
ability left to recognize the divine superiority of
that unequalled personality. Brutalized Roman
soldiers had felt themselves powerless to put a
finger on Him because of the unearthliness of His
speech, ** Never man spake like this man."
Lepers had felt new life pulse in them as His
shadow fell athwart their path. Fallen women
had realized a reviving purity as He spake to them.
Devils had trembled in His presence. In this
personality there was a mysterious charm, a new
kind of power, yet men can sink so low, become



THE DIVINE INVISIBILITY. 285

SO vulgar, so coarse, as to be hideously familiar
"vvitli such a Presence, and treat it with contempt.
Now, there is nothing w^hich so bespeaks meanness
of character as the ability to treat things high and
holy with contempt. To be capable of respect,
of esteem, of affection, is to be capable of that wor-
shipfulness which belongs to God — the witholding
of w^iich amounts to treating Deity with contempt.
If w^e could see our natures as they are, w^ith all
the possibilities of aspiration and degradation that
slumber in them, we should have no Ibort of doubt
that every man needs something to worship more
than something to eat. The ability of feeling the
splendor, the glory, the beauty of things, and
especially the ability to feel the splendor, glory,
and beauty in the highest types of human life, this
ability indicates a condition of soul in which there
is nearness to God. *' It is of all things the most
melancholy (writes a man entitled to be called
great) to watch the moral clouding over of life's
early dawn ; to trace the dim veil stealing o'er the
artless look ; to notice how the earnest tone begins
to leave the voice, and every worthy enthusiasm
dies away into indifference ; how it comes to be
thought a fine thing to speak coolly of what is
odious for its vice, and critically of what is awful
for its beauty. Where this spoiling takes place,
I believe it is because w^e mingle no reverence
with our affection, and accept without awe the



286 THE DIVINE INVISIBILITY.

solemn trust of a child's conscience." God hides
Himself that we may not become coarsely familiar
with that which is Divine and thus add to our sin
instead of adding to our Keverence. Further, God's
hiding of Himself is necessary to our freedom.

Our Great Teacher puts this thought, as is His
wont, into the parable of an Eastern lord going
into a far country and delivering his goods into
the custody of his servants, that, in his absence,
they may so use them as to increase them. In
order to the development of every human life, a
certain amount of freedom is necessary. The
over-awing sensible presence of God would com-
pletely destroy our freedom. It would paralyze
our activities. It is necessary that men should be
from under any fettering constraint if the faculties
they possess are to move easily and with spon-
taneity towards the end for w^iich they were given.
Our God is no slaveholder, standing over us with
uplifted arm ready to bring down the lash on our
palpitating flesh. So much freedom has He given
us that it seems to be excessive ; oftentimes when
crime seems to be here, there, and everywhere
even appalling. Not that man is left entirely to
himself. Everywhere he meets law, and law
means a law-giver. Physically, mentally, morally
he is compelled to recognize law, in a word, God
as a God of order and not of confusion. But
God as law, limiting liberty, and God as Love,



THE DIVINE INVISIBILITY. 287

inspiring liope, and kindling aspiration, are two
different stages in the revelation of Deity. We
are all of us anxious to recognize that God is Love,
and to rest in it. But our ideas of love and its
nature may be very weak, infantile and ignorant.
Love is not something that sets law aside. It is
not a disposition which indulges a child with all
it asks. '' Because I love you so, I let you do as
you like " — is that the inference proper to love ?
While the Almighty One has given us that freedom
without which our natures cannot develop into
strength and beauty, — without which there is no
possibility of that variety in which the idea of
personality comes out, yet it always seems to me
that our freedom is a cord w^hich allows us to go
so far and no farther. The most self-willed and
reckless of men eventually find that there is a
limit to their ability of recklessness. Until we
can see the whole area throu2:h which the life of
the spirit of man moves, I do not believe it possi-
ble for us to justify the appalling amount of
freedom which God has allowed to His creatures.
Still, we can see some of its uses and its necessity.
We can see that it gives room for each individual
man to show himself. He can choose this or that.
By the results of his choice he learns something.
He recognizes his mistakes, he feels his error, he
builds up his life. He gains experiences which
may be of incalculable use to him in the hereafter.



288 THE DIVINE IN VISIBILITY.

All this suggests itself. But is it not easy to see
that if the flaming eye of Deity were visible upon
us all the while we should be paralyzed into
inaction ? Our rightful freedom makes the demand
upon God that He hide Himself from our vision.
Moreover it is necessary to our ^erfectness of
nature. There must be a limit to the growth
of this nature of ours, a point attainable at which,
in every moment of our existence, we shall feel
like praising God for our creation. There must
be for man a state of life which is itself bliss —
harmony — music, in which the internal and exter-
nal are in accord. N'ow we live by eifort, by
endurance, by overcoming difficulties, by braving
dangers, by surmounting obstacles, by resisting
evils. It is a kind of chronic w^arfare with men
and things.

But in us are ideas of something entirely differ-
ent and immearsurably superior. Those ideas are
endorsed by Jesus the Christ. But perfectness in
man is not simply a matter of outward condition,
it implies internal correspondence with an enviro-
ment in itself perfect. In order to perfectness of
inward condition there must be the ability of faith
in a Power outside ourselves, and of faith in all
around us, the ability of perpetual hope, the ability
of undying love. It is not possible for us to
conceive of a state in which these three elements
of life will not be needed. And it is not possible^



THE DIVINE INVISIBILITY. 289

SO far as we can see, to develop these virtues
unless we have room for their growth. The
invisibility of God is necessary to their growth.
Sight is very much inferior to trust. The most
perfect communion of soul with soul, the most ex-
quisite fellowship of mind with mind, are possible
only where undoubted trust and undying love are
possible, nowhere else. Now, if our God were to
show Himself as over us, watching us, noting us
all the time, every day and every hour, so that the
eye saw Him, would we not feel as the slave feels
when the Master is there whip in hand ? If the
Almighty One were simply an Almighty Task-
master, or an Almighty Detective, what pos-
sible room would there be for the growth of
these three royal virtues, faith, hope and love?
But now He hides Plimself, conceals His presence
and His workings, so that we have to bring faith
into exercise. And nothing so ennobles and
purifies a spirit as the exercise of faith in some-
body. The opposite of faith is fear and suspicion.
Train a child under the influence of these and see
what the result will be. Nothing good, a blight
will be on that child's soul for life. There are
some men who need watching all the time. If
you employ them and are to get any work out of
them you must keep an eye on them. Of what
order are these men ? The very lowest to be found
anywhere. Nothing noble in them.



290 THE Dl VINE INVISIBILITY.

And yet, though God hides Himself and refuses
to be the Supreme Detective of the Universe, lie
fills Heaven and Earth. He is never absent. We
cannot get away from Him. We cannot escape
Him. He hides Himself, in the presentative
totality of His Being, but Pie does not hide all
His thoughts. Every material thing is a thought
of God presented to us for our recognition. It
used to be assumed that man would become un-
spiritual if he admired Nature, the heavens, the
earth, the cattle on a thousand hills, the birds,
the flowers. No man, with a Bible in his hand
ought to have felt so. How full of poetry is the
Bible ! It sings its highest revelations. And the
more spiritual in mind we become, the more cer-
tainly shall we find *' sermons in stones, books in
the running brooks, and God in everything." Na-
ture is a library of Divine thoughts to the spiritu-
alized mind, to no other mind, — thoughts
presented in forms of beauty, put there for us to
find them. You know how children like to
discover things, and so we are put upon discover-
ing Divine thoughts. They are spoken to us in
parables. These are everywhere, and what we
call our discoveries are simply the wider open-
ing of our eyes to see what w^as there all the
time. "All our boasted discoveries are only of
things that for thousands of years have stared us
in the face and we could not recognize them. We



THE DIVINE INVISIBILITY. 291

must marvel rather at the tardiness than the swift-
ness of our appreliension and confess ourselves
but fools and slow of heart to perceive what the
finger of God has plainly writ."

But not His thoughts only has God spread out
before us. He has made us feel His feeling. He
has put fatherhood and motherhood into men and
women. He has put sisterhood and brotherhood
also. He has made souls capable of friendship.
He has put pity, compassion, sympathy, love into
human hearts. And though these are necessarily
adulterated, yet there is much of the genuine arti-
cle to be found. All these have to be accounted
for. They are not in the dust out of which our
bodies are made. It is next to impossible to
believe that any man is serious when he talks
as if pity and sympathy, compassion and love
and all these elements of moral beauty are the
result of <'a fortuitous concourse of atoms."

For myself, I don't care whether the physical
nature of man was, by what we know as the
method of evolution, developed from the lower
and the lowest, or whether, by some more sum-
mary process, it was created. It is the result not
the process with which we are concerned. It is
interesting to know how the rocks were stratified,
how the hills were cast up, how the valleys were
ploughed. But the result rather than the process
concerns me. I can plant potatoes on the hills ;



292 THE DIVINE INVISIBILITY.

I can graze cattle in the valleys. I can train my
mind to a feeling of the beautiful by the undula-
ting variety all around. And so this organism of
ours may have come up from those other creatui^es
with four pillars to support their frame, instead of
two. The vertical man may once have been physi-
cally the horizontal animal. It makes no differ-
ence as to the process. Now he is 7nan — capable
of love, of pity, of sympathy, of compassion, and
these are not animal. They are the Divine feel-
ings reproducing themselves in the creatures
prepared to incarnate them. And though God
hides His Infinite Personality, draws around Him-
self a veil which none can rend — we know some
of His thoughts, and some of His feelings. His
whisper is in our souls. We name it conscience.
He never leaves us, nor forsakes us. And, with
the Hebrew poet we can ask, *' Whither shall I go
from Thy spirit — whither shall I flee from Thy
presence? If I ascend up into Heaven, thou art
there ; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold thou
art there. If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea ; even
there shall thy hand lead me and thy right hand
shall hold me."

And with Paul, ''In Him we live and move and
have our being." And when we come to Jesus
the Christ, the veil of concealment is so thin that
we can see through it. Are we too rash w^hen we



THE DIVINE INVISIBILITY. 293

say — Deity reduced from His Infinity, coming
within limitations such as we need on this earth
would be Perfect Humanity ? Wonderful language
is that " know ye not that ye are temples of the
Holy Spirit." Man regenerated is the true tem-
ple, and at the inmost of every regenerated human
soul is a ray from the Central Sun of the Uni-
verse — God Himself. Thus God is hidden, yet
manifest. And so, though God hides Himself
from us, we cannot hide ourselves from Him.
" Can any hide himself in secret places that I
should not see him, saith the Lord ; do not I fill
Heaven and Earth, saith the Lord?" Here, even
here, is the ground of our hope and expectation.
The touch of God is everywhere — beyond it
we cannot go.




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Online LibraryReuen ThomasDivine sovereignty, and other sermons → online text (page 16 of 16)