And yet she was no mean city. No; she was distinguished indeed. The hearts of men, in all ages of the world, have been drawn to her, and are so still. For she was and is surpassingly lovely. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole land around, compared to the Paradise in which our first father was placed by God, and celebrated by every writer, sacred and secular, that has had occasion to speak of her or her history. "It is the oldest city in the world. Its fame begins with the earliest patriarchs and continues to modern times. While other cities of the East have risen and decayed, Damascus is still where and what it was. While Babylon is a heap in the desert, Nineveh buried beneath her mounds, and Tyre a ruin on the seashore, it remains what it is called in the prophecies of Isaiah, ' the head of Syria.' And ever since, down to our own days, its praise is celebrated. It was 'a predestinated capital.' Nor is it difficult to explain why its freshness has never Faded through all its series of vicissitudes and wars." Men have ever loved it and love it still. As the traveller from the west climbs up and up the steep passes of the great Lebanon range, and at length nears their eastern side, there, on the summit of a cliff, high up above the plain beneath, he looks down on the city of Damascus. "At the foot of the cliff on which the beholder stands, a river bursts forth from the mountain in which it has had birth. That river, as if in a moment, scatters over the plain, through a circle of thirty miles, the verdure which had hitherto been confined to its single channel. It is like the bursting of a shell, the eruption of a volcano - but an eruption, not of death, but of life. Far and wide extends in front the level plain, its horizon bare, its lines of surrounding hills bare, all bare, far away on the road to Palmyra and Bagdad. In the midst of this plain lies at your feet the vast island of deep verdure, walnuts and apricots hanging above, corn and grass below." The river is its life. It is drawn out in watercourses and spread in all directions. For miles around it is a wilderness of gardens - gardens with roses among the tangled shrubberies, and with fruit on the branches overhead. Everywhere among the trees the murmur of unseen rivulets is heard. Even in the city, which is in the midst of the garden, the clear rushing of the current is a perpetual refreshment. Every dwelling has its fountain; and at night, when the sun has set behind Mount Lebanon, the lights of the city are seen flashing on the water. All travellers in all ages have paused to feast their eyes on the loveliness of the city as they first behold it from the cliffs of Lebanon. Abana and Pharpar still flash and gleam as they flow along amid her fragrant gardens and by her dark olive groves. Snow-capped Hermon and the rugged range of Lebanon still keep over her their wonted watch and ward. Hence she may well be taken as the symbol of all that is lovely and fair in outward life, all that is bright and beautiful in the moral nature of man. But yet she fell, and she has lost her place amongst the nations forever. Thus she suggests to the thoughtful reader the heart searching truth that the lovely and the lovable may yet be lost - those on whom Jesus, looking, loves them, because they are so lovable, may yet miss of the life that is eternal; and he may say, as he did to one of them, "One thing thou lackest." Observe, then -
I. THERE HAVE BEEN SOULS CHARACTERIZED BY MUCH THAT IS LOVELY AND LOVABLE, AND YET HAVE NOT ENTERED INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Read the history of Orpah. Then there was that young ruler to whom reference has already been made. And the many who flocked around our Saviour when he was here on earth, and whom he likened to the stony ground hearers. They all had much that was excellent and good about them, but they failed to bring forth fruit unto life eternal.
II. AND THERE ARE MANY SUCH NOW. Were our Lord amongst us now, he would love them as he did him of whom the Gospel tells. They may be young in years; in the morning of life, fair and comely to look upon, vigorous and strong, well educated, intelligent, bright and clever, cultured themselves and loving refinement and culture in others; they may be possessed of very attractive moral qualities, amiable and kindly, ready to do a kind action and scorning to do a mean one, possessed of and deserving an honourable reputation, of unquestioned veracity, of high honour, modest and pure in word and deed, gentle and courteous in manner, unassuming, thoughtful of the feelings and wishes of others; parents and friends, family and neighbours, all speak well of them, and those who know them best honour and love them most. Now, there are thousands of such as these. They are loved and lovable; they must be so. And as we picture them to ourselves we almost shrink from saying that such may nevertheless miss of the kingdom of God; like Damascus in all that is externally beautiful, and yet, like her, come under the condemnation of God. It seems scarce believable, and yet in the face of God's Word what can we say? Nicodemus was one such, and yet our Lord told him, "Except a man be born again," etc. We would be as charitable as the Word of God - and if we were that would make us far more charitable than the most of us are - but we would not be more so, for that would be to be uncharitable and unfaithful both to God and to the souls of men. And therefore we say that a man may be all that is externally fair and lovable, and yet, like bright beautiful Damascus, come under the condemnation of God; lovely and lovable like him whom Jesus loved, and yet, because lacking the one thing, shut out - self shut out - from the kingdom of God. And observe -
III. THIS RULE OF GOD IS NOT ARBITRARY, BUT JUST AND INDISPENSABLE. For all that we have said may coexist along with the will alien from the will of God, the heart not yet truly surrendered to him. It was so in that typical instance of this character to whom we have so often referred. For when brought to the test he refused the will of God. For the proof of our loyalty to God is seen, not in the many things that we are and do which are in keeping with our own inclinations, but in those that we are ready to do when they involve a real taking up of the cross and contradict those inclinations. A cultured, refined disposition may lead us, out of regard to our own self-interest, to do and be that which wins for us the applause and favour of our fellow men. It would be a pain and grief to us to be otherwise. All the commands of the moral law we may have kept from our youth up, and hence conclude, and others - even Christ's disciples - may think also, that we lack nothing. And in fact we may lack nothing but that one thing without which all else is vain and useless for our admission into the kingdom of God. But in that kingdom the will of God must be paramount, or it ceases to be the kingdom of God. Suppose one of the heavenly bodies could choose, and did so, to swerve at times from its appointed orbit, and to take a course of its own; the whole universe would be thrown out of order, and confusion and destruction must ensue. Suppose one string of harp, one pipe of organ, instead of giving its proper note, were to resolve to utter a sound different from that which was appointed for it; what jarring discord must result! no true music could such harp or organ give. And so in God's kingdom, if there be one discordant will, how can the harmony and peace and blessedness of heaven any longer exist? If in our homes the law of the house be violated by any one of its members, how little would such a household deserve the sweet name of home! For the good of all, therefore, and not for any arbitrary reason, one law, one will, must be paramount. It is so in our earthly homes; it must yet more be so in the home of God, the kingdom of heaven. The heart, the will, must be surrendered to God if we are to be at last numbered amongst the inhabitants of God's eternal home.
IV. WHAT, THEN, SHALL WE SAY TO SUCH? Shall we bid you set light store by those varied qualities which draw forth the affection and esteem of your fellow men? Shall we say - Care nothing for that which, when Jesus looked upon, even he could not but love? Still less shall we say that all these things are of the nature of sin. On the contrary, we would say - Give God thanks for these things. For, indeed, it is of his great mercy that you have been led to approve of them, and to turn away with disgust and abhorrence from that which is contrary thereto. Why were you made to hear God's voice? - for it was his voice which called you, and his hand which led you to this good choice. Without doubt the parents of that young ruler gave God thanks again and again when they saw the character of their son unfolding and developing in all such high minded, pure, and amiable ways. And when we see the like in our children, do we not, ought we not to, give thanks likewise? What, then, do we say to you but this? -
(1) Render thanks to God that he has thus inclined your heart; and then
(2) go on to ask him who has been so good to you thus far that he will be more gracious still, and give you that one thing which yet you lack - the new heart, the perfectly surrendered will, the faith in God of which such surrender is the chief expression. Remember that the merchantman who became the happy owner of the pearl of great price was not content with the many goodly pearls after which he had been seeking and which he had already attained, No; but when he saw that pure, all-precious, lustrous pearl, he resolved that that should be his, and hence all was surrendered that he might make it his own. Now, you resemble him in two out of the three great facts of his history. Like him, you have sought and found many goodly pearls. The goodly pearls of moral excellence, virtue, amiability, many things lovely and of good report. You prize these things, as you ought to do. You have sought after them and have found them. And now, again, like that merchantman, there is shown and offered to you that pearl which is more precious than all - even the gift of God, which is Jesus Christ, the eternal salvation which comes to us alone through him. Yes, that is offered to you - that gift of the regenerated nature, that new heart and right spirit, which they who come to Christ receive. But now, in the third and chief point of all, would that you resembled that merchantman. He was willing to part with all he had for the sake of the pearl of great price. Are you? To persuade hereto we add two words.
1. The first by way of encouragement. That merchant had to part with his goodly pearls for the sake of the one all-precious one. You not only will not have to do this, but they will become more goodly and more indisputably yours than ever if the all-precious one be yours. You will have to renounce none of them, nothing lovely and of good report, nothing wherein there is any virtue or any praise. On the contrary, they shall gain an added lustre from their association with that chief excellence which we would have you win. Like as there is so great difference between a fair landscape on a bright summer's morn, and that same scene looked upon amid the mists of winter, so shall all that is virtuous and good in us attain to a higher beauty, a more perfect loveliness, by the bright shining of the Sun of righteousness upon them. Apart from him they are cold, dim, vague, uncertain; but in him and through him they become radiant and more beautiful than ever. And not only so, but they are more securely yours; they are far less likely to be lost.
2. By way of warning, let me remind you that on the wedding garment in which we must all be clothed if we would enter in and abate in the festivities of the marriage supper of the Lamb - on that garment there shines resplendent but one jewel; it is this pearl of great price. If we have not that, no bedizening of ourselves with such goodly pearls as we may possess, or think we possess, will serve instead. Many will seek, do seek, so to adorn themselves. But all such righteousness is rejected, all such trust refused. Oh, then, to your virtues and other lovely and lovable qualities add this - trust in the blessed Saviours Name, which will include in it the heart perfectly surrendered, the will yielded up to him! - C.
Flee, get you far off, dwell deep, O ye inhabitants of Hazor, saith the Lord.Josephus, was afterwards honeycombed with passages, canals, and secret galleries, not for sanitary purposes, but as places of refuge for women and children in times of war. These passages were all connected with the forts and towers of the city, and were a secret means of escape when the city was besieged. When Jerusalem was surrounded by the Romans under Titus large numbers of the Jews fled for refuge to these underground hiding-places. Before the Romans knew of these hiding-places, they were often astonished, and sometimes startled, by seeing persons rising as from the ground and making their escape by the towers, when at length they entered the city, and had passed from Moriah to Mount Zion, they thought that their work of destruction was ended; but they only then learned that thousands of the Jews were living beneath the ground. It is alleged that more than a hundred battles were fought underneath the city, and that more than two thousand dead bodies were taken out of the tunnels and secret chambers of what is now called Underground Jerusalem. when the prophet enjoined the inhabitants of Hazor to flee, and dwell deep, he may have had some such invisible cities of refuge in view. But even in such hiding-places they were only comparatively safe. Their enemies often sought them, and found them, and put them to death.
I. One of the dangers to which the Church is exposed in modern times is SHALLOWNESS OF THOUGHT. Many seem to be satisfied with as little of Christianity as possible. Shallowness of thought means want of heart, want of understanding, want of principle, moral purpose, and power. The Church can outlive pagan conspiracies, tyrannical laws, and cruel persecutions; but she cannot outlive thoughtlessness. "Dwell deep" may be regarded as synonymous with Solomon's injunction, "With all thy getting, get understanding." It means that we should get beneath the surface and find out the true meaning of things. We are to know things not as they may have been perverted, or as they seem, but as they are. who that is wise would estimate the value of a chronometer by its cases, or of a picture by its frame, or of a book by its binding? We would sooner expect a man to tell us all about the growth and development of a tree without reference to sunshine and showers, or the soil in which the tree was planted and in which it grew, than we should expect him to understand all about salvation without any reference to sin, or all about God without any reference to Jesus Christ. Things can only be known thoroughly and satisfactorily as they are studied in their proper connections. Take the letters of the most precious word you know, and transpose them, and they cease to convey thought to your thought. Separate the Old Testament from the New, or the first Adam, in his federal relationships, from the second Adam, and you will fail to understand one of the deepest doctrines of the Bible. But unite these as Paul does in his Epistle to the Romans, and you have the key to understand much of the great mystery of godliness.
II. Another source of danger to the Church in these days
IS SUPERFICIALITY OF CHARACTER. In the course of our voyage to America, some years ago, the motion of the ship was on some days very disagreeable to the passengers. She pitched and lurched and rolled Among the waves so constantly as to render it impossible for us to rest or be at peace in any position. The sea on the surface being comparatively calm, some of us wondered why the vessel was so unsteady, and on making inquiry were informed that it was owing to her light cargo. The ship had no grip of the water, and the water had no grip of her, and hence her unsteady movement. Men of superficial character are somewhat like this ship, not very steady. Superficial Christians remind you of those shopkeepers who make the most of their limited stock by putting it all or nearly all in the windows. In all substantial buildings there is much invisible mason work. The foundation of every palatial edifice is not only deep and solid, but it has been laid with a view to sustain the structure that rests upon it. It is also well known that there is a fair proportion between the roots of a tree in the ground and its height and breadth above it. It is even so with respect to human character. Those who grow up to Christ in all things cannot be strangers either to the depths from which the Psalmist cried, "Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, O Lord!" or to the secret place of the Most High, when the soul resides under the shadow of the Almighty.
III. Another source of danger to the Church in modern times is her apparent ACQUIESCENCE IN PIOUS FRAUDS. "The greatest obstacle," says Archbishop Whately, "to the following of truth is the tendency to look in the first instance to the expedient. Pious frauds," he says, "fall naturally into two classes — positive and negative: the one refers to the introduction and propagation of what is false; the other refers to the toleration of it. A plant may be in a garden from two causes, either from being planted designedly or being found there and left there. In either case some degree of approbation is implied. He who propagates a delusion, and he who connives at it when already existing — both alike tamper with truth."
(J. K. Campbell, D. D.).
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