David Hummell Greer.

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

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At evenmg time it shall he light. — Zeciiariaii
xiv. T.



The prophet in this chapter is describing what
he calls the "day of the Lord." And a very
strange day it is ; opening, not in brightness like
other days, and continuing in brightness to its
close, but opening in darkness, or partial darkness
at least, with some admixture of brightness in it,
but not enough to dispel the darkness altogether.
And yet — and this is the other strange thing about
it — from this darkness, or from this partial dark-
ness, brightness at last issues ; so that, as the
prophet tells us, "At evening time" — and it has
all seemed like a kind of evening time — "At even-
ing time it shall be light ! " •

Let us co'nsider this characteristic of the day of
the Lord, and see how it is that brightness comes
from darkness, or what we learn in the twilight.

We sometimes hear it said, as an objection to the
Christian religion, that if it be as it claims to be, a
revelation to us, why does it not reveal what we
would so much like to know? Why* does it not
reveal, more openly and clearl\% so that there would



be no mistake and no uncertainty about it, and no
possibility of uncertainty or of mistake — why does
it not reveal what we would all like to know, in
such a way and fashion that we could not help
knowing it? We would all like to know, for in-
stance, a little more than we do, a great deal more
than we do, about God Himself ; Who He is, and
what He is, and where He is. And some of us per-
haps would like to know a great deal more than we
do, beyond all doubt and question, whether He is at
all. We would also like to know a great deal more
than we do about the immortality of the soul, and
another life, and another world. And if there be
another world, what are the conditions of existence
in that other world ? How do people live there ?
What do people do when they get there ? What
shall we do when we get there, if we do get there ?
What shall we see there ? AVhom shall Ave meet
and know there ? Shall we meet and know our
friends there, and recognize them there, and love
and enjoy them there, and be with them there, in
fellowship, forever ? We think so ; Ave hope so ;
Ave believe it. But Ave Avould like to believe it
more. AVe would like to have it rcAxaled to us in
such a way that Ave could n(jt help believing it ;
that nobody in all the woi'ld could help believing


it. Would it not be better if it could be so re-
vealed, if it had been so revealed ; and would not
we be better, more patient in our trials, more faith-
ful in our duties : would not we be better ?

Ah, would Ave ? I do not believe we would, or
could ! I do not believe that in such a case there
would be any such thing, or any such word as " bet-
ter," in its moral sense. For " better " in its moral
sense is a word that is associated with character ;
and I do not believe that in such a case there would
be any such thing as character, or any such thing
at least as the development of character. For how
is character developed ? Through knowledge ? Xo ;
not exactly. Character is developed through the
searching after knowledge, with peril, toil, risk, un-
certainty, and the possibility of not finding it :
through searching after knowledge is character de-
veloped. If the knowledge which we seek could be
given to us without seeking it, it would be not a
blessing but a calamity to us, a very great calamity,
the greatest perhaps of any. But the world has
been so wisely ordered and fashioned, this world in
which we live, that whatever calamity we may ex-
perience in it, we cannot experience that calamity
of finding knowledge without searching for it.

There is brightness in the world ; there is dark-


ness in the world ; brightness mixed with darkness,
a kind of twilight darkness, or a kind of twilight
brightness ; the brightness not so bright that we
can see what Ave Avant to see if Ave do not make an
effort to see ; and the darkness not so dark that Ave
cannot see Avhat Ave Avant to see if Ave do make an
effort to see. And out of this tAvilight brightness,
or out of this tAvilight darkness, sloAvly, gradually,
surely, character comes and issues, grows, strength-
ens, ripens, bears fruit, blesses and enriches both its
possessor and the Avorld.

That is man's distinctive place and function in
the AA^orld ; as midAvay in the Avorld he stands, be-
tAveen the beasts and God ;

"Lower thau God who knows all, and can all,
Higher than beasts which know and can so far,
As each beast's limit, perfect to an end,
Nor conscious that they know, nor craving more,
While man knows partly, but conceives beside,
Creeps ever on, from fancies to the fact.
And in this striving, this converting air.
Into a solid he may grasp and use,
Finds progress, man's distinctive mark alone,
Not God's, and not the beasts: God is, they are,
Man partly is, and wholly hopes to be."

And SO, pressing on through the partial darkness
around him — not too dark — or the pai'tial bright-
ness around him — ^not too bright — character comes
and grows; sliadowy at first, and vague in its


outline, then real, solid, substantial, immortal —
character, out of the twilight !

So does character always come to people. So did
your character come. Such character as you now
possess, whatever it may be worth, how did you
come to possess it? Go back and try to recall,
some of you men, your early days ; some of you
successful men Avho have prospered in the world.
You were starting then on your journey. In order
to make the illustration a little more concretely ap-
pealing, let us suppose — and it may not be alto-
gether a fanciful supposition in the case of some of
you — let us suppose it was a geographical journey.
You had to cross the continent — quite a formidable
thing in those days — and go to California ; or you
had to cross the ocean, also a formidable thing in
those early days — and go to China or Japan. Did
you see before you started the whole course of your
j ourne}^, and all that it involved ? You did not ;
you could not. Fortunately for you, you could not.
Or, you saw it in the twilight, with brightness
enough to see the possible safety in it, with dark-
ness enough not to see the possible peril in it. And
because of the brightness, and in spite of the dark-
ness, you started on your journey, out into the twi-
light ! As the result, 3^ou reached not only the


place you wanted to reach — but, something else you
reached ! Facing and braving the peril, meeting
and running the risk, going forth to wrestle with
and to master and overcome the difficulty and the
danger, something else you reached; skill, clever-
ness, intelligence, endurance, self-reliance, good
judgment, character you reached, than Avhicli you
nothing better and nothing richer reached.

So, throughout your whole journey, across the
formidable continent, or the formidable ocean of
life, if character be the goal we are meant to find
and reach, there is no better way in which to reach
and find it than just this twilight brightness, or just
this twilight darkness, in which at present we are.
The brightness not perfectly bright, but bright
enough to encourage effort ; the darkness not per-
fectly dark, but dark enough to require effort ; and
through the effort encouraged, or the effort required,
character is reached, than Avhich v/e can nothing
better, and nothing richer reach.

Now, that is what the prophet calls the " day of
the Lord " ; a twilight day, an evening day, a day
both bright and dark ; that is what the prophet
calls tlie " day of the Lord " on earth, the day in
wliicli tlie Lord of human hearts and lives makes
Himself supreme in human liearts and lives, makes


them more and more what they are meant to be.
Out of the darkness brightness comes : at the even-
ing time — it has all seemed like a kind of even-
ing time — at the evening time, the light !

If that be true, that character is the goal of hu-
man life on earth, and that character grows, and
expands, and is developed best in the twilight, then
one or two things we learn that may help us a little.

We learn in the first place not to be surprised
when we find that that is just exactly what the
Christian religion is, or just exactly what the Bible is.
A revelation ? Yes : but a twilight revelation ;
not telling us all at once, or showing us all at once,
with a quick and full illuminating flash, what we
would all like to knoAV. It would not be good for
us, for our character, for our character develop-
ment, if we did know it in such fashion. There is
brightness in the Bible, divine brightness in it;
there is brightness enough to show us what we
ought to do, and what we ought to be ; brightness
enough to guide us and to help us in our present
path. Well, then, let it guide us and more bright-
ness will come. Shall I give an instance ? Here is
one : " Forgive your enemies." Do you all hear
that ? " Forgive your enemies." Is not that a
divine thing, is not that a divine light in the Bible ?


That is all the light, it seems to say, that some of
you need just now. Never mind about those other
things, God, and the soul, and the future life, and
another world — you are not ready yet to know
about those other things, to receive that other light.
Here is this thing right before you, this light, " For-
give your enemies ! " Let it shine upon you, in you,
through you, making you light; and some more
light will come ! And out of what is now so dark
visions will come and dawn, visions, of God, of the
soul, of another life, of another world ; and more
and more will this Twilight Book be a book of vi-
sions to you.

One other thing : If character be the goal of
human life on earth and character grows, and ex-
pands, and is developed best in the twilight, then
we should not be surprised if sometimes in the
brightness that has been upon our path, the dark-
ness gathers around us, and the twilight gloom ap-
pears. Has it been so with some of you ? I knoAV
it has. And do you sometimes ask and cry, Avith
bitterness of heart, why it is so ? Ah, my friends,
there are some things that you never Avould have
learned, never could have learned in 'the open sun-
shine ; some things so great, so valuable, so true,
that the God of human hearts and lives would have


you learn and know them. The world has had its
day with you, now the Lord is having His day Avith
you, revealing His glory in you, drawing nearer to
you, drawing you nearer to Himself. Out of the
darkness brightness will come, and, at evening
time, the light !

The evening time — yes, it is all a kind of evening
time. But there is another evening time, w^hich
comes at the end of human life on earth, when the
years behind us are many, and the years before us
are few, and age comes on. Will it all be darkness,
and feebleness, and frailness then ? Or seeing then,
perhaps, in a better perspective than now, what
things are right, and good, shall not age have its
vision as well as youth and manhood ? Peace, pa-
tience, wisdom, faith, hope, love, and at evening
time, the light !


A 2)^'iestforeve)', after the order of Melcliisedec.
Hebrews viii. 17.



The person here called Melchisedec is a mysteri-
ous character who suddenly appears to Abraham on
his Avay to the promised land, gives his blessing to
him, and then just as suddenly and abruptly disap-
pears. Whence he comes, or whither he goes, we
do not know. All we know is this : He comes,
and blesses, and goes.

I want to show 3^ou this morning, if I can, that
all the ministering forces of life come and go in the
same manner, from mystery unto mystery, like
priests after the order of Melchisedec ; and that all
we know about them is this : That they give their
blessing tQ us, or may indeed be made to give their
blessing to us.

First, and as preliminary to what I wish to say
subsequently, let me speak of the ministering forces
of nature. We are apt to think, or some of us are,
in these ds^ys of the prevalence of the scientific
spirit, that the mystery of the universe is gradually
being resolved, dissipated, cleared up ; and that the
only thing that still stands for mystery, dealing as
it were in mystery, trading in it, doing business



with it, making capital out of it, is religion. A
moment's reflection, however, will show us that
that is not the case ; and that the scientific spirit
which is at present so dominant, instead of banish-
ing mystery is revealing mystery — if that he not a
paradoxical phrase — is revealing mystery to us,
making us conscious more and more of the impene-
trable mystery about us.

Take, for instance, that subtle and powerful force,
which the scientific spirit is studying so much to-
day, and making in so many ways such a useful
force ; not only as a mechanical force, changing our
machinery ; not only as an optical force, illuminat-
ing our buildings, and cities, but as a pathological
force, revealing to us our bones ! What blessings
it has given, and will continue to give, innumerable,
incalculable. Yes; but what is it? We call it
" Electricity." But nomenclature is not knowledge.
What is " Electricity " ? Where, in its first analy-
sis, docs it come from ? Whither, in its last analy-
sis, does it go ? AYe do not know. We cannot tell.
All we can say is this : That it comes, blesses, and
goes ; from mystery unto mystery, like a priest
after the order of Melchisedec. And that is all we
know a))out it !

So witii tlie other ministering forces of nature,


such as light, and heat, and gravity. What we
know is this : That they appear, give a blessing to
us, render a service to us, then disappear ; like the
bird that flew out of the dark into the lighted hall,
and sang for a moment its blithesome song to cheer
the hearts of the guests, and then flew out of the
hall into the dark again.

So do they come, those ministering forces of na-
ture ; so also do they go ; from mystery unto mys-
tery; giving as they come, and go, their benedic-
tion to us, like priests after the order of Melchise-
dec. And that is all we know about them.

Or, if I were speaking in more strictly philosoph-
ical or scientific language, I would put it in this
way: We only know phenomena, appearances,
manifestations. The noumena, or the essences back
of phenomena, we do not know, and never shall
know, in this world.

Xow, my friends, — and this is the point at which
I have been aiming — if it be true of the ministering
forces of nature, that all we know about them is not
their first " whence," and not their last " whither,"
or what in themselves they are; but simply that
they are ; then, why should it be a surprise or an
offence when we find that that is all we know
about the ministering forces of religion ? And


yet to many it seems to be both a surprise and an
offence. Religion, they say, is such a mysterious
thing; there is so much in it that they cannot
understand, so nebulous, and vague: it is such a
mysterious thing ! So it is. It comes from mys-
tery, out of the bosom of impenetrable mystery,
for it comes from a Being Whom we call " God,"
or professes to come from a Being "Whom we call
"God." And God,— who shall explain Him? Not
only does it come from God, it also goes to God,
carries us to God in thought, brings us to God in
communion, binds us to God in conscience, with a
sense of responsibility, calling upon us to love God,
and to serve God, and to believe in God. From
God, I say, they come, those ministering forces of
religion. To God they also go ; from mystery to
mystery, like priests after the order of Melchisedec ;
giving as they come, and go, their benediction to
us ; and that is all we know about them !

But what of that ? That is all we know about
the ministering forces of nature, light, heat, gravity,
electricity ; that they give their blessing to us. But
that is enough. And we take that blessing, and
use it, Avhich light, and heat, and gravity, and elec-
tricity give. We take tliat blessing, and are blessed
by it a little, and are heli)ed by it a little to reach


some promised land. That is the wise thing to do,
and the right thing to do. It would be wrong and
foolish not to do it. And it is the wise thing and
the right thing to do in regard to the minister-
ing forces of religion ; not to repudiate them and
reject them, and to have nothing to do with them,
because we cannot understand them ; but to take
the blessing which they give, and use it, to be
cheered and comforted by it, to be heartened and
strengthened by it, and to be helped upon our jour-
ney toward some promised land.

KoAV, I have made this parallel between what I
call the ministering forces of nature and the minis-
tering forces of religion, because it seems to be the
impression of some that while they walk in the
path of nature they walk in the light, and go
openly ; and that when they walk in the path of
religion they walk in the dark, and go blindly. Is
it so ? Clearly, it seems to me, it is not so. Up to
a certain point, and the same certain point, both
paths are light. We see the blessings which the
forces of nature give us ; we see the blessings which
the forces of religion give us. Up to that point
both of them are light. Beyond that point both of
them are dark, and the one as dark as the other ;
tin impenetral^le mystery enshrouds them.


There is still another point in the parallel. The
forces of religion sometimes seem to go astray, and
instead of blessing human life they have the effect
sometimes to injure human life, with superstitions,
and persecutions, and alienations, and separations,
and bigotries, and intolerances, and cruelties. But
what of that, again ? The forces of nature sometimes
have the effect not to bless but to injure human life ;
and the electricity in the black thundercloud, instead
of being our servant, to help us, and to bless us,
becomes at times our master, our cruel master,
and kills us ! And the heat that warms our bodies
consumes at times our bodies ! And the force of
gravity breaks and destroys at times our bodies !
And all the forces of nature become to us at times
destructive forces of nature. And yet, because of
the fact that they sometimes hurt and injure, we do
not cease to use those ministering forces of nature ;
neither, though they sometimes hurt and injure,
should Ave cease to use the ministering forces of re-
ligion. Our wisdom is still to use them, in the one
case, as in the other ; and to make them — as they
come and go give their blessing to us.

That, my friends, is the wisdom which I preach
to you this morning ; not tlie wisdom which under-
takes to clear up and dissipate and explain all the


mysteriousness in religion ; not the wisdom which
undertakes to answer all the questions about re-
ligion which you can ask. I cannot do that. 'No one
can do it. But the wisdom which would prove the
reality of religion by the experience of the blessed-
ness of it.

That, I say, is the wisdom which I preach to you
this morning ; and to two classes of persons among
you I preach it.

First, to those of joii who have come out into some
open avowal and acknowledgment of religion. The
way to prove to the world the reality of that religion
is not chiefly by strife, and debate, and theoretical
discussion, meeting thus as best you can the various
objections to it. No ; not in that way. But to show
in yourselves the blessedness of religion. Go, and
show what it can do ; how it makes you strong in
duty, high in character, true in conduct, modest in
your womanhood, upright in your manhood ; serv-
ing your fellow man, loving your fellow man, your
neighbor as yourself, or trying at least to do so.
And the world will see and say, " There is some-
thing in religion, in spite of its mysteriousness,
there is something in religion and it will come at
last to believe in the reality of religion.

To another class of persons listening to me now.


that is the wisdom I preach. I mean the dass of
persons who have not come into an open avowal
and acknowledgment of religion, because they are
doubtful about it, are asking questions about it, are
always asking questions about it, and evermore
coming out, by the same door that in they went.
To you I also say, Go, practice religion. The
questions which you cannot answer, and Avhich no one
can answer for you, let them alone for a time. Go,
practice religion ; do it ; be it ; live it ; put it on and
become it ; and your doubts and questions will go.
Out of religious experience religious vision will
come, religious assurance will come, and religious
faith Avill come !

And Avhat is it to " practice religion " ? Jesus
Christ is religion. All the ministering forces of re-
ligion are gathered and centred in Him. Jesus
Christ is religion ; Whose great, wonderful, quick-
ening personality has flashed across the plane of our
human life, with strange beginning, with strange
ending, from mystery unto mystery, like a priest
after the order of Melchisedec ; giving His blessing
to us !


Lord, I helieve : help Thou mine tcnhelief. — St.
Makk ix. 24



That was the exclamation of the man in the
Gospel story, whose child was afflicted with what
was then regarded as a demoniacal possession, and
who had brought him to Jesus Christ to be cured.
He believed that Jesus Christ, by the exercise of
His healing power, could cure his child. But lie
believed it, apparently, when he thought of it at a
distance, in his distant home perhaps, before he
came near to it ; and then when he did come near
to it, and thought of it as something about to be
performed, actually performed, in making his
afflicted child strong and well again, his faith trem-
bled and weakened, for it seemed too good to be
true, and he doubted what he believed.

That was his case. His case was not singular,
but plural, very plural, including ours perhaps.
Let us inquire and see, calling the subject this :
Doubt Sometimes as a Sign of Coming near to Christ.
Let me show you how.

You people to whom I speak this morning call
yourselves Christians. So I presume you are, all of
you. You are not all members of the Christian



Church — I wish you were, it would do you good.
Nevertheless, in some real and true sense, and after
some real and true fashion, you are a Christian peo-
ple. You are not a Mohammedan people, or a
Buddhist people, or a Pagan people ; you are a
Christian people. If somebody should tell you —
speaking not in jest but in earnest, meaning Avhat
he said — that you are not a Christian people, that
you are a Pagan or a Buddhist or a Mohammedan
people, you would think it an affront and be dis-
posed to resent it. You are not a Pagan people, you
are not a Mohammedan people, you are not a Bud-
dhist people ; 3^ou are a Christian people. You do
not believe in Paganism, you do not believe in
Buddhism, you do not believe in Mohammedanism ;
you believe in Christianity.

Yes, so you do, at a distance, as the man in the
Gospel story believed in the healing power of Christ,
at a distance. How is it when you come near to it,
to take it, to adopt it, to make it your Christianity,
personally and practically yours, not simply as a
good thing in general for others, but as a good
thing in particular for you? "Blessed are the
meek " as a good thing for you. " Blessed are the
merciful : Blessed are the pure in heart : Blessed
are the peacemakers" — not the gossipers and the


talebearers and the strife-makers, but the peccce-
makers — as a good thing for you. " Love your
neighbor as yourself : Forgive your enemies : Seek
first the kingdom of God," when you go down town
in the morning, when you come back again in the
evening. And all those other ideal things which
Christianity teaches, which Christianity is — how
does it seem to you then, when you come near to it,
to be guided by it, to be ruled by it, to be cured by
it, with all your worldly practicings and exercisings
to be exercised and cast out of you ?

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Online LibraryDavid Hummell GreerVisions : Sunday morning sermons at St. Bartholomew's, New York → online text (page 2 of 12)