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want Him near. Look upon Him as a being always in court, and a spy on your track, and you will feel yourself a fugitive, always fleeing from justice.
Seen from the angle of paganism, He is a despot; seen in Christ, He is a father. The enlightened Christian consciousness of our time is rapidly recovering the God Christ came to reveal.
I remark first: Every man paints his own picture of God. What He is and who He is, depends on the viewpoint from which He is seen, and the conception that one forms of Him. The idea of God has been an age long and gradual evolution. It has developed with the development of the race, and grown with the growth of knowledge. Crude in the extreme was this idea in early ages. In the age of brute force, the Greeks saw Him a huge Titan, with gigantic proportions and colossal strength. Leaving Hercules, Zeus and Jupiter behind, monarchial ages saw Him a mighty monarch, seated on a throne of marble. When power became supreme and laws were formulated, He became a stern judge, caring more for His laws and penalties than for His children. When intellect arose, He became infinite mind, His intellect a cold, logic engine, scintillating with thoughts as bright as the sun, but cold as ice. Greatness consisted in hugeness. He inspired reverence by exciting fear. His holiness and greatness were magnified by contrasting them with man's meanness and littleness. Mystery was His place of abode. Sell aggrandizement His only ambition. Favoritism to an elect few and damnation and destruction of the many was the genius of His government.
Paganism has left its impress nowhere, as it has on the idea of God. Religion is still tinged with feudalism, and the castle with its prince reveling in ease and luxury, still represents God. To the thinking of many He is still little more than a monster, moving through the world, mowing down forests, breaking up homes and killing little children. His government is little more than a despotism, where His subjects have no rights, and where they are swayed by the will of an autocrat. Even in our enlightened day, polytheism still exists, and in christian lands there are still as many gods as there are differing conceptions. With all our boasted progress, religion is still shot through with mediaevalism, and christianity has not yet been freed from paganistic perversions.
Strange as it may seem, there are many who still regard God as a being, living apart from men, and chiefly concerned about His own glory and His own self interest. He is not in the world, but away from it and above it. He is not down with men, helping them in their struggles, but away watching them, and increasing their struggles when it pleases and profits Him. It is maintained that He gets His glory, not out of the happiness of men, but their toils and struggles. His chief concern is not our welfare, but His own worth and wealth. He is a being who rules men by fear and awes them into submission by authority. He is a mighty thunderer. He sits on the throne of the universe and sways men by His majesty and awfulness. The sun is His eye; the pestilence His anger; the thunder His voice. His storms mow down forests; His winds devastate fields; His earthquakes shake down cities. He lives and rules, we are told, for His own glory. Man is not his child, now that he has wandered, but His creature and slave, and he must serve if he would live. He is keeping books with him, recording his every act, thought and word, and one day will square accounts with him. He has no claim upon his creator, and poor worm of the dust that he is, he has no right to live; but he will at least be tolerated as long as he submits to the will of the Almighty and performs his quota of service.
Imbued with such teaching as this, the impression is abroad that somehow God is opposed to man. Because His children, somewhere in the remote past strayed, He is on the war path. He is more angry than grieved over the deflection of the prodigal race. Lying in ambush on man's path, He is waiting for an opportunity to wreak vengeance on him for his waywardness. It is said His anger must be appeased before He can or will be merciful. Man was His child once, but having sinned he disinherited him, and will strike him down, unless somebody stands between them.
In this view, God is a sort of uncomfortable presence about life. The consciousness that He is around, makes us uneasy and miserable. The outstanding element in His character is vengeance, which excites fear. He is a spy on our track and a being always in court. He is either sitting in judgment, trying a case, or collecting materials for a case. Unfortunately, in the mind of many, God is not yet christianized. He is not God in Christ,
made intelligible by Christ. He is still the Jehovah of the old testament. He is the great I am of the Mosaic dispensation, thundering from Mount Sinai, before whose presence the Israelites fled as men would flee from a storm or a cyclone. He is still God eternal, invisible, unchangeable and therefore, unknowable. “He is the center of darkness, His throne is iron, His heart marble. His laws are huge implements of destruction; His penalties red-hot cannon balls, crashing along the sinner's path;" His wrath a pent up thunder storm, ready to burst on man's head.
This is the view of God which many people still entertain; and this the God many try to worship. It need scarcely be said, however, that this is not the God of the new testament. Far less is it the christian's God.
I remark second: It remained for Christ to give to the world the most radiant idea of God. The question, who God is, finds its best and fullest answer in what Christ was; what He said; what He did. Christ unveiled God, not as a selfish monarch, but a ministering father. He lifted before the world not an abstraction, cold, vague, indefinite and impersonal, moving through thought; but a person, loving and loveable, living among men. He was not a prince, reveling in ease and self-indulgence, but a tender father, caring for a family. He was not a despot, sitting on a throne, watching the struggles of wandering men, but a sympathetic savior, seeking the lost.
Seen in Christ, God is nowhere on man's track, to strike him down, but everywhere He is a shepherd, seeking him to lead him back home. In the view of Christ, God lives to minister, not to be ministered unto. Instead of being an uncomfortable presence about life, His presence makes life radiant. We never feel so safe or comfortable as when we know He is near. His face beams with kindness; His heart beats with sympathy; His touch thrills with tenderness; His voice cheers with hope. His laws are not huge implements for destruction, but are lights along man's pathway. His commands are not threats, but inspirations upward. His penalties are not cannon balls, crashing along man's track, but protections against waywardness and further sin. Christ taught that God is more grieved over man's sins than angry at his waywardness. He still regards man as His child, though a prodigal and in a far country. He has never despaired of his salvation nor abandoned hope of winning him back
to His fellowship. He needs no propitiation that He may be merciful, but in Christ, has given Himself, that He may reconcile His wandering children. He needs no one to stand between Him and His child, to stay penalty, but in Christ has thrown Himself across man's path to keep him from destruction, and is sacrificing himself to woo him from sin.
Who reads the new testament will see at once that Christ revealed God, not, as a despot, but a father. He transferred the divine idea from the schools to the domestic circle. He defined the relation of God and man in terms of the family. He appropriated the analogies of love and the associations of home, in disclosing God's character. He taught that what an earthly father would not do to his child, because it would be wrong, a heavenly father could not do, because it would be criminal. What of good an earthly father would do, God would do more because He is a heavenly father. He reasoned from good in us to the best in God, and insisted that goodness in us must be goodness in God. He stated the whole circle of religious life and thought in terms of fatherhood. He taught His disciples that prayer must be offered to the Father, and the principles of conduct are the will of the Father. He said the substance of character is likeness to the Father, and providence is mindful oversight of the Father. Repentance with Him is a return to the Father; and the future home of His children will be the Father's house.*
This, in my judgment, is the most radiant idea of God the world has yet known. It gathers up every other relation and dignifies and illuminates it. If it be objected that it loses strength because it gains in tenderness, it will be remembered that there is no real tenderness without strength. It is not meant that God is not a king and a judge, because He is a father, but first of all, and last of all and through all, He is a father. No where is God made so luminous and attractive as in Christ. Who sees Christ sees the Father. This is God, stooping to lift His fallen children back to His side. This is God descending to the plane of men, that He may lift them to His plane. This is God, living among men, that He may teach men how to live. This is God, going about, seeking the lost, to lead them back home. This is God, giving himself in
*"The Mind of the Master,” Chap. XII.
sacrifice, through life and in death, as a mother gives herself for her child.
To me God is not an iceberg, but a tropic center. He is not a shadow falling across life, but sunshine, illuminating life. He comes to the world to unloose the grip of sin, as the balmy days of May come to unlock the Northern zones. He comes like the sun, not only to irradiate the world with light, but to wake to life all its latent forces and sleeping energies. He comes singing in the ears of mortal man, as sweetly as the angels sang in the ears of the sleeping shepherds at the advent. And the note He sounds is, “Peace on earth and good will to men."
Universal christendom is waking to His call. The christian world is breaking with the paganistic view of God. Mediaevalism is passing, as we get the larger view of Christ. "God is no longer a despot, but a father; the incarnation is no longer an expedient, but a consummation. The sacrifice of Christ is no longer a satisfaction, but a reconciliation. The end of grace is not standing but character; and the object of punishment is not retribution, but reclamation and regeneration.”
I remark last: If it be asked now why we should serve God, the answer is found in the very relation we sustain to Him.
One reason is, He needs us in working out his great world plan. He would dignify us with the privilege of being his co-laborers. But He needs our companionship, not less than our co-operation. His aim is not simply to work out a great idea or complete a great machine. The universe without his children would have as little significance for God as a house without occupants would have for us. God's interest is centered in the welfare of His family. The happiness, usefulness and harmony of His children are to Him paramount to all else. Even God cannot be happy living in selfishness and isolation. It is not a matter of indifference to Him, as to whether we are saved; but His interests and His welfare are tied up with ours, as ours are with our children.
Another reason is, we need Him to help us to find and fill our place in His great plan. Our lives are neither games of chance nor freaks of fortune. We have a place in His great family, as also in His plan, and are members of a great working force. No man, therefore, can be his best and do his best and ignore God. God's help and blessing are as necessary to our welfare and salvation, as