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Sunday Dispatch #189
Psalm 119: 19. `I am a stranger on the earth, hide not Thy commandments from me.'
It is an old belief and it is a good belief, that our life is a pilgrim's progress - that we are strangers on the earth, but that though this be so, yet we are not alone for our Father is with us. We are pilgrims, our life is a long walk or journey from earth to Heaven.
We are pilgrims on the earth and strangers - we come from afar and we are going far. The journey of our life goes from the loving breast of our Mother on earth to the arms of our Father in heaven. Everything on earth changes - we have no abiding city here - it is the experience of everybody. That it is God's will that we should part with what is dearest on earth - we ourselves change in many respects, we are not what we once were, we shall not remain what we are now.
We are strangers on the earth, hide not Thy commandments from us. Open Thou our eyes that we may behold wondrous things out of Thy law. Teach us to do Thy will and influence our hearts that the love of Christ may constrain us and that we may be brought to do what we must do to be saved.
On the road from earth to Heaven
Do Thou guide us with Thine eye;
We are weak but Thou art mighty,
Hold us with Thy powerful hand.
Our life, we might compare it with a journey, we go from the place where we were born to a far-off haven.
Do we not feel this sometimes on the sea of our lives? Does not every one of you feel with me the storms of life or their forebodings or their recollections?
And now let us read a description of another storm at sea in the New Testa-ment, as we find it in the Vith chapter of the Gospel according to St. John in the 17th to the 21st verse. “And the disciples entered into a ship and went over the sea towards Capernaum. And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five-and-twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea and drawing nigh unto the ship and they were afraid. Then they willingly received Him into the ship and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.” You who have experienced the great storms of life, you over whom all the waves and all the billows of the Lord have gone - have you not heard, when your heart failed for fear, the beloved well-known voice with something in its tone that reminded you of the voice that charmed your childhood - the voice of Him whose name is Saviour and Prince of Peace, saying as it were to you personally, mind to you personally: “It is I, be not afraid.” Fear not. Let not your heart be troubled.
And we whose lives have been calm up till now, calm in comparison of what others have felt - let us not fear the storms of life, amidst the high waves of the sea and under the grey clouds of the sky we shall see Him approaching, for whom we have so often longed and watched, Him we need so - and we shall hear His voice: It is I, be not afraid.
And if after an hour or season of anguish or distress or great difficulty or pain or sorrow we hear Him ask us: “Dost thou love me?” Then let us say: Lord Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee. And let us keep that heart full of the love of Christ and may from thence issue a life which the love of Christ constraineth, Lord Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee; when we look back on our past we feel sometimes as if we did love Thee, for whatsoever we have loved, we loved in Thy name.
Have we not often felt as a widow and an orphan - in joy and prosperity as well and even more than under grief - because of the thought of Thee. Truly our soul waiteth for Thee more than they that watch for the morning, our eyes are up unto Thee, 0 Thou who dwellest in Heaven. In our days too there can be such a thing as seeking the Lord.
What is it we ask of God - is it a great thing? Yes, it is a great thing, peace for the ground of our heart, rest for our soul - give us that one thing and then we want not much more, then we can do without many things, then can we suffer great things for Thy name's sake. We want to know that we are Thine and that Thou art ours, we want to be Thine - to be Christians - we want a Father, a Father's love and a Father's approval. May the experience of life make our eye single and fix it on Thee. May we grow better as we go on in life. We have spoken of the storms on the journey of life
But now let us speak of the calms and joys of Christian life. And yet, my dear friends, let us rather cling to the seasons of difficulty and work and sorrow, for the calms are often treacherous. The heart has its storms, has its seasons of drooping but also its calms and even its times of exaltation. There is a time of sighing and of praying, but there is also a time of answer to prayer. Weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning.
The heart that is fainting
May grow full to overflowing
And they that behold it
Shall wonder and know not
That God at its fountains
Far off has been raining.
My peace I leave with you - we saw how there is peace even in the storm. Thanks be to God, who has given us to be born and to live in a Christian country. Has any one of us forgotten the golden hours of our early days at home, and since we left that home - for many of us have had to leave that home and to earn their living and to make their way in the world. Has He not brought us thus far, have we lacked anything, Lord we believe help Thou our unbelief. I still feel the rapture, the thrill of joy I felt when for the first time I cast a deep look in the lives of my Parents, when I felt by instinct how much they were Christians. And I still feel that feeling of eternal youth and enthusiasm wherewith I went to God, saying: “I will be a Christian too.”
Are we what we dreamt we should be? No, but still the sorrows of life, the multitude of things of daily life and of daily duties, so much more numerous than we expected, the tossing to and fro in the world, they have covered it over, but it is not dead, it sleepeth. The old eternal faith and love of Christ, it may sleep in us but it is not dead and God can revive it in us. But though to be born again to eternal life, to the life of Faith, Hope and Charity, - and to an evergreen life - to the life of a Christian and a Christian workman, be a gift of God, a work of God - and of God alone, yet let us put the hand to the plough on the field of our heart, let us cast out our net once more - let us try once more. God knows the intention of the spirit. God knows us better than we know ourselves, for He made us and not we ourselves. He knows of what things we have need. He knows what is good for us. May He give us His blessing on the seed of His word, that He has sown in our hearts.
God helping us, we shall get through life. With every temptation he will give a way to escape.
Father we pray Thee not that Thou shouldest take us out of the world, but we pray Thee to keep us from evil. Give us neither poverty nor riches, feed us with bread convenient for us. And let Thy songs be our delight in the houses of our pilgrimage. God of our Fathers be our God: may their people be our people, their faith our faith. We are strangers on the earth, hide not Thy com-mandments from us, but may the love of Christ constrain us. Entreat us not to leave Thee or refrain from following after Thee. Thy people shall be our people. Thou shalt be our God.
Our life is a pilgrim's progress. I once saw a very beautiful picture: it was a landscape at evening. In the distance on the right-hand side a row of hills appeared blue in the evening mist. Above those hills the splendour of the sunset, the grey clouds with their linings of silver and gold and purple. The landscape is a plain or heath covered with grass and its yellow leaves, for it was in autumn. Through the landscape a road leads to a high mountain far, far away, on the top of that mountain is a city wherein the setting sun casts a glory. On the road walks a pilgrim, staff in hand. He has been walking for a good long while already and he is very tired. And now he meets a woman, or figure in black, that makes one think of St. Paul's word: As being sorrowful yet always rejoicing. That Angel of God has been placed there to encourage the pilgrims and to answer their questions.
And the pilgrim asks her: Does the road go uphill then all the way?” And the answer is: “Yes to the very end.” And he asks again: “And will the journey take all day long?” And the answer is: “From morn till night my friend.”
And the pilgrim goes on sorrowful yet always rejoicing - sorrowful because it is so far off and the road so long. Hopeful as he looks up to the eternal city far away, resplendent in the evening glow and he thinks of two old sayings that he heard long ago - the one is:
“Much strife must be striven
Much suffering must be suffered
Much prayer must be prayed
And then the end will be peace.”
And the other is
“The water comes up to the lips
But higher comes it not.”
And he says: I shall be more and more tired but also nearer and nearer to Thee. Has not man a strife on earth? But there is a consolation from God in this life. An Angel of God comforting man - that is the Angel of Charity. Let us not forget her. And when each of us goes back to the daily things and daily duties let us not forget that things are not what they seem, that God by the things of daily life teacheth us higher things, that our life is a pilgrim's progress, and that we are strangers on the earth, but that we have a God and father who preserveth strangers, - and that we are all brethren.
And now the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us forever more.
(Reading: Psalm 91.)
~Selected from a sermon by Vincent van Gogh 1876