David Hummell Greer.

Visions : Sunday morning sermons at St. Bartholomew's, New York online

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ples ; and for the very obvious reason, as has been
suggested, that those high places were supposed to
be a little nearer to heaven, nearer to their God, or
nearer to their gods ; and w^here, in some especial
and exceptional sense, their gods w^ere thought to
dwell. When, therefore, the people of those times
wanted to meet their gods, and to worship and pray
and sacrifice and burn incense to their gods, that is
Avhat they had to do — they had to go up to the
high places, Avhere their gods were, Avhere their
gods lived; as in the other places, the fields, the
valleys, the plains, where for the most part the
people themselves were, and the people themselves
lived, the gods of the people were not^ and did not

That was the way in which, and the only way in
which, they could become religious. So at least
they thought. And that, apparently, in spite of all
their teaching to the contrary, is what the children
of Israel thought. This is what in fact we find
throughout their whole history they were always
doing — going up to the high places, building there
their altars, offering there their sacrifices, thinking


that there they were able to come a little nearer to
God. That was not the case, so their teachers
taught them, Moses and the prophets; that was
not the case ; they were not an}^ nearer to God in
the high places than in other places. Persistently,
repeatedly, over and over they taught it ; but they
could not make the people see and understand it.
They continued still to go to the high places, build-
ing there their altars, burning there their incense,
on the high places, and giving thus the impression —
and naturally enough — to their polytheistic neigh-
bors, that the gods of the children of Israel were
the gods of the hills !

And that is why they said they had been de-
feated by them — they had been fighting them on
the hills, where their gods were. If they could only
fight them again, on the plains, where their gods
were not, they would experience a different result.

Well, so it was with them, and their religion ;
not their theoretical, but their practical religion, or
their popular religion. How is it with us, and bur
popular religion ? Are we any better and wiser ?
Are we not disposed, as the children of Israel were,
to localize God, in the high places of the earth ; not
literally in the high places, but figuratively in the
high places, the places we call religious, and there-


fore near to God, and where indeed we meet Him ;
as the other places are not called religious, and
therefore not near to God, and where we do not
meet Him, but where we do meet om^ enemies, the
lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, the pride of
life, and where we are so often whipped and routed
by them, and driven from the field ?

This, for instance, is one of our high places, this
House, this Church. And coming here for a little
while, and dwelling here for a little while, an hour
or two a week, we are dwelling near to God, in
some sense, so I presume we think, and doing some-
thing religious. So in truth we are dwelling near
to God, and doing something religious. How will
it be to-morrow, to-morrow morning, to-morrow
evening, when we are not dwelling here, but dwell-
ing somewhere else ? Will we still continue to think
that we are dwelling near to God, and doing some-
thing religious ; when we are traveling and trading,
and bargaining and calling and shopping, and visit-
ing, and dancing — will we still continue to think that
we are dwelling near to God, just as much as now,
and doing something religious just as much as now ?
We ought to think it, for it is true. So our Chris-
tian teachers and our Christian creeds declare. But
will we think it true : will we feel it true ? Or


will vre find it hard as the children of Israel did to
think and feel it true ?

AVe will find it hard, very hard, to feel that there
we are dwelling as near to God as here. And all
our old temptations, our old besetting sins, our
vanities, our prides, our passions, seem indeed to
know that Ave will find it hard. Therefore they do
not fight us here, or they do not fight us here so
much ; or if they do, we rise above them here, we
overcome them here ; for here we seem to be dwell-
ing near to God, as in His presence, with His at-
mosphere about us, feeling here a little His protect-
ing help, receiving here a little His quickening
strength. But just wait, they seem to say, these
enemies of ours, these vanities, these prides, these
passions, these grasping and covetous ambitions —
just wait till we get these religious people down
there, on the plains ; in the clubrooms, in the ball-
rooms, in the banqueting-rooms, in all their social
places, their market places and their other places ;
just wait till we get these religious people down on
the plains — not on the hills where their gods are,
but on the plains where they are not, and then you
will see that we shall be stronger than they, and
that we shall overcome them there.

And so thev often do. And for the reason that


our gods are not the gods of the valleys, and the
plains, but like the children of Israel's gods, they
are only the gods of the hills.

Let me try to make it clearer, with another illus-

Are we not disposed, when we think of God, to
think of Him as up there, somewhere, we do not
know where exactly, but away up there, some-
where, at some great distance from us, on some
distant throne perhaps, in some distant heaven,
where the angels are, and the archangels, and the
cherubim, and the seraphim, and all the heavenly
hosts, and where He rules and governs and has so
much to do with all that is going on ? And
if, while living here, we would try to seek
His kingdom, we must try to seek it there, in
heaven, among the angels ; putting ourselves in
sympathy with what is going on there, in heaven,
and not so much in sympathy with what is going
on here, upon the earth, and among the peoj^le here.
We must be separate and apart a little from what is
going on among the people here, the interests here of
the people, the struggles here of the people, the bet-
terments here of the people, their social betterments,
their political betterments, their recreational or
tlieir educational betterments, their betterments


here on the earth. These things we say are tem-
poral, and worldly. We, as religious persons,
if we want to be very religious, must not minister
unto these things. We must go apart from these
things and minister unto other things ; and, instead
of putting ourselves in sympathy with the people
here, on the earth, and what they are trying to do,
we must i)ut ourselves in sympathy with the angels,
there, in heaven, and what they are trying to do.

And the consequence is, my friends, so far as
that is the case, that these great absor])ing inter-
ests, these secular and earthly interests, are going
on so much without religion to-day. And the peo-
ple absorbed in them, and who have to be ab-
sorbed in them, are going on so much without re-
ligion to-day ! For that is a kind of religion, a
religion of the heavenly hills, or of the heavenly
hilltops, that the people cannot reach to day, and
do not need to-day, and do not want to-day ! And
they are right ; they ought not to want it ! And if
we are to make and keep this religion of ours strong
upon the earth, an appealing power on earth, re-
deeming and conquering the earth, we must some-
how try to make it live and move and be upon the
earth, in the midst of the interests, in the midst of
the struggles, of the people on the earth.

240 VISIONS IN HIGH places.

That ought to be our way, but that is not our

"The parish priest of Austerity

Climbed up in a high Church steeple

To be uearer God ; so that he might hand

His word down to his people.

And in sermon script he daily wrote

What he thought was sent from heaven ;

And he dropjied this down on his people's heads

Two times one day in seven.

In his age, God said, 'Come down and die ! '

And he cried from out the steeple —
'Where art Thou, Lord?' And the Lord replied,
* Down here, among my people! ' "

Ah, yes, so He is, and so Ave must learn to find
Him, down here, on the earth, revealing here His
presence, and through, and by means of, and in the
midst of all our kingdoms, establishing here His
kingdom ; giving here a heaven, not merely when
we die, but here on the earth a heaven ; or giving
to us here, not merely when we die, but here upon
the earth, something like tlie joy and the peace and
the gladdening inspiration of a heavenly music to

That is religion. Not something that we go and
touch every now and then, up in the high places,
and then run away from, until the time comes to
go back and touch it again, in the high places.
That religion is passing away. It is almost gone.


It will not do to-day. For religion is something
within us, always within us, in all places. Eeligion
is a life — if you please to call it so, it is a culture,
God's culture ; or, better still it is a faith, which
looks out upon the world, as the great and wonder-
ful Sacrament of the Almighty God, with its out-
ward and visible sign and its inward and spiritual

A life, a culture, a faith. Like the poet's faith,
to whom in all the physical light that lightens land
and sea, another light appears. The artist's faith,
who, in all the varied forms of the physical beauty
about him, another beauty sees. The musician's
faith, who, as the surging waves of sound strike
upon his ear, another wave of. sound is made to
hear and feel, deeper, sweeter, mightier, surging
through his soul. The prophet's faith, who, in all
the happenings of things upon the earth, some
great enduring truth and enduring principle sees.
The philosopher's faith, who, with his philosophic
and penetrating insight, sees the spiritual in the
physical, the eternal in the temporal, the ideal in
the real. And the poet's faith, and the artist's, the
musician's, 'the prophet's, the philosopher's, suggest-
ing some one greater faith as comprehending all,
gathering all their fugitive and fragmentary forms

242 VISIONS IN HIGH places.

in some integrating wholeness — that is the Chris-
tian's faith, seeing in the world, and in all the
world, the presence of God revealed ! He goes up
from time to time, to his high places, to commune
there with his God, not because He is nowhere else,
and can nowhere else be found ; but, lifting up his
eyes to the hills, whence cometh his strength, to
find Him everywhere ; in the fields, the valleys, the
plains, where his life is, where his enemies are, his
temptations, his trials, his wearinesses, his de-
spondencies, his besetting sins ; to meet them there,
and defeat them there, as in the presence there of

That is religion. How great it is ! Hoav good
it is ! A faith, a culture, a life, shining more and
more in its ever-brightening path, as unto some
perfect day ; breaking, like the morning daAvn, over
the heavenly hills of God, as the sunshine after the
rain !


Then was Jesus led u]) of the Sjnrit into the tvil*
derness to he tempted of the devil. — St. Matthew
iv. 1.



It is characteristic, I believe, of the names of the
Alpine Mountains, or many of them at least, that
they are derived from the peculiar shape, or size, or
color, or other physical aspect of the mountains
themselves. One of them, however, has derived its
name not from its own individuality and configura-
tion, but from the vast extent of the varied and
tangled vegetable growth that clusters around its
base, and is known among its fellows in that mar-
velous range, in distinction from all the others, as
the Mountain of the Meadows, or more familiarly

The season of Lent through which we are pass-
ing gives us the thought of God, not as clothed
with those attributes of strength and glory and un-
approachable splendor peculiar to Himself, sitting
high and lifted up upon His exalted throne as the
great and wonderful God of creation, but as the
God of the Avilderness, campaigning here on earth
amid our hardships here, sharing our infirmities,
enduring our privations, engaging in our conflicts
with the world, the flesh and the devil; having



more or less of our varied, tangled, tempted human
life about Him ; as the God of the AVilderness.

And it is of that God of the Wilderness, or more
familiarly "The Temptation of Jesus Christ" that
I wish this morning to speak.

It is not an easy subject to preach upon, for it is
not easy to understand how, if Jesus Christ was
God as well as man He could be tempted at all.
When, therefore, we read that He was tempted in
all points like as we are, it is hard to avoid think-
ing or feeling that those temptations were not real
and actual like those which we encounter, but that
they correspond to ours simply in appearance, phan-
tom forms upon His part of most substantial and
painful experiences upon ours. By virtue of His
being God He was the possessor of infinite and in-
exhaustible resources; and how could such a one
feel as we do the pressure of human limitations and
weaknesses, or experience as we do the stress of
human needs and passions ?

It is easy to state the difficulty and to state it
strongly. It is not so easy to answer it. I shall
not try where so many others have failed, except to
say this : that it is not a difficulty which appertains
exclusively to the thought of Jesus Christ as God,
but appertains as well to any thouglit of God. Yor


if God is to be apprehended by us with an}^ definite-
ness or clearness of apprehension He must be ap-
prehended by us through the medium of man,
through the image and the likeness of man. God
is spirit. Yes ; but what is spirit ? Can we think
it, by itself, apart from all portrayal and attempted
expression of it ? AYe can use the word " spirit,"
but it will have no meaning for us until in our
thought at least we give it human shape, likeness,
image, substance. The ghost must be bodied forth,
not physically perhaps, but mentally, in some
kind of mental picture, otherwise the word " ghost "
will have no meaning for us. So Avith the word
" God." Unless in our minds we can body it
forth in some kind of human likeness, some kind
of human picture, having human features, and
properties and parts, and passions ; the word " God "
will have no meaning for us.

Is not that in fact precisely what we do when we
try to think of God, to body Him forth a little in
some kind of human embodiment, giving a human
name, a human intelligence to Him, human pity,
and love, and personality to Him, using those words
as Ave have learned to use them in our human
speech ? Try to think of God in any other Avay
with nothing human about Him, having no human


endowments, or properties, or affections, with noth-
ing human about llim, and you will find you can-
not do it. Just as soon as you begin to think of
God with any kind of clearness you begin to think
of Him with some kind of humanness. If, then, it be
true, that God in order to be apprehended by us at
all, must be apprehended by us through some kind of
human picturing ; it also follows as true, that in that
human picturing of llim, we bring Him within the
range of human limitations, needs, wants, ex|)eri-
ences. So that the difficulty of understanding hoAv,
if Jesus Christ was God He could be tempted, does
not appertain exclusively to the thought of Jesus
Christ as God, but to any thought of God apart
from Jesus Christ. Such a thought is of necessity
a human thought, a thought that makes Him more
or less human to us. We cannot think of God in
any other way. In Himself He may be some other
Avay ; but that at least is the way in which He is to
us, in which now at least He is apprehended by us,
as having more or less of our human life, our tried
and tempted human life clustered and gathered
about Him.

That, too, is the way in wliich, now at least, we
need to ap])rehend Him ; not so much as the great
God sitting ui)on His throne and calling to the stars


in the order of their course, hut as Gocl in the
wiklerness, AYho knows and understands and feels
our tempted life : a tempted Gocl ! If you tell me
that God cannot be tempted, I answer possibly
not. I know nothing about the divine nature in the
abstract. Apart from all human parallels and like-
nesses I cannot conceive of Him. I know nothing
about the nature of God in the abstract, but what I
do know is this : / can be tempted ; I am tempted ;
and as a tempted man I must somehow find a God
Who knows what temptation is. My life is out in
the wilderness, doing battle there, Avith the evil
forces there, with the evil voices there ; day by day
I meet them ; day by day I feel them ; the pain of
the poise so sharp at times between the good and
the bad, the expedient and the right. Every day
some duty comes in an unattractive form, and with
it the impulse to run away or avoid it. The lust of
the flesh is mine ; and the lust of the eye is mine ;
and the pride of life is mine. My life is out in the
wilderness fighting with the devil; and I must
somehow find a God Who is fighting the devil with
me, and helping me to fight him !

That is the kind of God Whom now we need.
That is the kind of God Whom in Jesus Christ we


find. God in the Wilderness where we are, fight-
ing the deviL

Will you come with me a few minutes into that
wilderness to see what kind of a Avilderness it is ?
I think we shall find that it is the same kind of a
wilderness, substantially, in which we are ; and
that the same kind of fighting is going on in it.

" Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the
Avilderness to be tempted of the devil." Then :
When? When, in connection with His baptism
which had just taken place, there Avas awakened in
Him the consciousness of His great and Avonderful
poAver. Then, the temptation came. Then, it al-
Avays comes. We speak of the Aveak as tempted.
So they are. But the strong are also tempted ; in
some respects I think they are tempted more than
the Aveak. It is not the little average-man, Avitli no
ambition in hhn and no fire of passion in him, Avho
is tempted the most to go Avrong. It is the man
above the average, Avith a great ambition in him,
Avith a great fierce force of slumbering passion in
him ; with exceptional gifts and poAvers, and Avith
exceptional opportunities in Avhich to display those
gifts Avith some improper display, in Avhich to use
tliose poAvers with some improper use ; he is the
man wlio is tempted most to go wrong. The man


who has great talent, and knows and feels that he
has it, other things being equal, is tempted more than
the man who has but little talent. And the woman
who has great beauty, other things being equal, is
tempted more than the woman who has but little
beauty. The consciousness of any kind of gift, phys-
ical gift, mental gift, the gift of money endowment,
brings always I think great temptations with it.
The man who has within him a power which lifts
him up above his fellow men will see more things
to do, not only good but bad, not onl}^ right but
wrong, than they can possibly see ; and will be
tempted to do them. lie may not yield to the
temptation, but he sees it, and will flush and
burn with it at times. The consciousness of his
power, of his gift, will have the effect to drive him
into the wilderness of integrity and virtue, and
purity, struggling with the evil voices !

When, therefore, there came in some mysterious
way, which I cannot explain, to Jesus Christ in
connection with His baptism, the consciousness of
His great, unique and marvelous power, then^
" straightway," " immediately," He was led up of
the Spirit, into the wilderness to be tempted of the
devil. For forty days the conflict lasts ; then the
reaction comes. In the three great temptations


which there He meets and faces, we seem to see all
the varied issues of that prolonged and secret en-
counter brought out into the foreground and

He is represented first as being tempted by the
suggestion to use and employ for Himself — a very
natural suggestion under the circumstances, in his
weak and exliausted condition — to use and employ
for Himself the powers bestowed upon Him for the
Kingdom of God ; to make bread out of the stones
about Him. It will be a misuse of the power, He
might have thought or said, and therefore not right ;
but it is necessary to live, and that will make it
right ! The surrounding circumstances of the temp-
tation were peculiar to Jesus Christ : the temptation
itself comes to us all. The preacher, the lawyer,
the banker, the professional man as well as the man
in business, are all in many and various ways tempted
to make bread out of stone, to perpetrate fraud, and
Avrong, injury, and crime ; not because these things
are desirable in themselves or because they want to
do them, but because as they also say, it is necessary
to live. Truth has been bartered, and sacrificed ;
virtue has been defiled ; purity has been sullied ;
honor has been trailed in the dust, because it is
necessary to live ! And the lips have sworn to a


lie ; and the hands have been stretched out to do
Avhat the conscience behind condemns, hecaiise it is
necessary to live! The merchant has yielded to
what he knows is wrong, hecause it is necessary to
live / and the clergyman has conformed to what he
knows is false ; and the woman has succumbed to
what she knows is shame, hecause it is necessary to
live !

It is the subtlest of all the suljtle temptations met
and encountered by us ; and half the sins and shames
of New York City are engendered by it. And
Jesus Christ met it, met it and overcame it, going
down beneath it to the deeper truth, and show-
ing that not by bread alone, but by every word
that proceedeth out of the mouth of God is it
necessar}^ to live. And if I must think of God in
some kind of human form and image, I will think
of Him as a God, AVho, having been tempted as I
am to make bread out of stone ; can help me to con-
quer as He also conquered.

Then the devil taketh Him into the Holy City
and setteth Him upon a pinnacle of the Temple,
and said : " If thou be the Son of God cast thyself
down I " How all this was done I do not know ;
but it is a marvelous picture. JS'o classic writer of
Greece or Home has ever portrayed such a picture


as that. And the artist avIio painted it, must surely
have been inspired to be able thus to show by a
stroke, by a single stroke, what the sin of pre-
sumption is ; how human it is ; how natural it is ;
how we are all tempted by it ! Tr}^ your powers
on. Put them to the test. Cast yourself down,
and let it be seen that what has harmed others can-
not hurt you. All the way through life we are
tempted by it. The young man is tempted by it.
Conscious then of his strength, or what he calls his
strength ; heedless then of advice, so often in fact
despising it ; unwilling to be Avarned ; thinking that
he knows better than any one else what he is about ;
he runs into risks and dangers, he exposes himself
to perils, he casts himself doAvn for a time, it is
only to be for a time, into careless and reckless
living, presuming upon the strengths and im-
munities, upon the angels of his youthfulness to
bear him up, lest he should dash his foot against a
stone ! And the old man is tempted by it. He is
wiser now, and sadder, through the lessons taught
by experience, and yet still feels quite equal to all
the evils about him, and the difficulties that beset
liim. Master of himself and his destiny, and hold-
ing the reins in his own right hand ; there is time
enough yet to think about God and religion ; time


enough yet to think about that of which the min-
ister speaks so much, a public confession of Jesus
Christ in His Church; time enough yet to think
about that ! And the years go quickly by ; and
suddenly some day they come to an end, and he
casts himself down — he has to now — from the pin-
nacle of the temple of life into the valley of the

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Online LibraryDavid Hummell GreerVisions : Sunday morning sermons at St. Bartholomew's, New York → online text (page 10 of 12)