BACON

GOD INDWELLING


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

Leonard Woolsey Bacon, Congregational divine, born in New Haven, Conn., 1830. He was educated at Yale, from which university he graduated in 1850. He has filled the position of pastor in many important churches and has done much theological and literary work. Among other things he edited Luther's "Deutsche Geistliche Lieder" (New York, 1883), and wrote "History of American Christianity" (New York, 1897).

Lewis O. Brastow, D. D.


BACON

Born in 1830

GOD INDWELLING

Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.—Isaiah lvii., 15.

Inhabiting eternity; yet making His abode within a broken heart! It seems as if we might apprehend either of these things singly; but both together—how can it be? The distresses, the wants, the fears, of life, make us long that indeed it were so. Our soul crieth out for God, for the living God.

We cry; but there seems no answer; only an awful silence. We look upon the outward facts of life and death, and see the steady, unswerving march of law—the unbroken, irrefragable chain of causes and effects—never yielding nor bending to all our needs, to all our prayers. And God seems so far, so far away! We turn the pages of our knowledge from the physical to the metaphysical, and we come no nearer. Our philosophical, our theological, yes, our religious meditations upon the nature and attributes of the infinite One—the omniscient, the eternal, the unchangeable—set Him more and more beyond the reach of our fellowship and prayer. But all the time, one thing testifies to us of a heavenly Father that hears and loves and answers, and that is our ineradicable need. The cravings of our nature cannot be rebuked by scientific observation of the constancy of law, nor by philosophic meditation of the properties of absolute and infinite being. We need, we must have, a Father. Our heart and flesh, our soul, crieth out for the living God.

In such a strait, there is true comfort in this word of the Lord by His prophet, in which the full measure of the difficulty is set forth, and the solution of it is found in faith.

It has seemed to me that we need not seek in vain in the created works of God for helps to that faith by which we know that the infinite and eternal God can have fellowship with us and can dwell within the narrow precincts of a human heart.

That sight in visible nature which gives to us the highest sense of vastness,—the aptest suggestion of infinity,—is doubtless the aspect of the starry heavens;—to all of us, ignorant or learned, poetic or unimaginative. It needs no diagrams nor distances from a book of astronomy to tell the lessons of the firmament. "Their sound is gone out into all the earth, and their words to the end of the world."

And yet it is when we come to study the dimensions of this operation in detail, that the sense of its vastness grows upon us and overpowers us. David never could have felt, as we can feel, the force of his own words:

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
The moon and the stars which thou hast ordained,
What is man that thou art mindful of him,
And the son of man that thou visitest him!

They are like the chariot of Ezekiel's vision, "so high that it was dreadful." It seems a fearful thing to have to do with such magnitudes; and when we hear of scholars in their observatories measuring the distances among the stars, it overcomes us with a giddy feeling, as when we see men clambering on church spires, or crossing the East River on a strand of wire. A row of figures on a slate does seem such a frail support on which to go marching through the starry spaces! We almost shudder when we see human science springing clear of the narrow boundaries of the earth, and on such attenuated threads of calculation venturing boldly forth to other planets, and thence over chasms of space so vast that it is easiest to call them infinite, until he reaches the fixt stars. No longer content with numbering and naming the host of heaven, and marshaling them in constellations, this tiny creature must take upon himself to scrutinize their constitution, must weigh their floating bulk, must

"Speed his flight from star to star,
From world to luminous world, as far
As the universe rears his flaming wall,"

and, as if bearing in this amazing flight the measuring-rod which once the prophet saw in an angel's hand, must measure the paths along which the planets travel, and tell in human language the distances on the chart of heaven.

And how human language staggers under the burden thus laid upon it! We begin with attempting to state the least of these distances in numbers of a unit of earthly distance, but, when we speak of some of our near neighbors in celestial space as being twenty trillions of English miles away, the words will not hold the meaning—they carry no conception to the mind. They are good to cipher with, but that is all they are good for. We try to invent a new form of speech, and for our unit we take the distance which a cannon-ball, if retaining the velocity with which it leaves the gun, would travel in twenty-four hours, and say that, at this rate of speed, it would take so many months, and years, and centuries, to reach such and such of the nearer stars. But this, too, is a clumsy failure; and we resort, at last, to the heavens themselves for a standard of measurement, and find it in the velocity of light. It shoots from the sun to the earth, a distance of ninety-two millions of miles, in eight minutes and seven seconds. And we attempt to represent the distance of certain of the stars by stating how many years, how many hundred years, how many thousand years, it takes a ray of their light to reach the earth. But it is all in vain. We commonly speak of imagination as outstripping, in its speed, the slow-paced reason; but here it is the reason that has outrun the imagination. From these unspeakable tracts of space, over which the reason of man has not hesitated to go,

"Sounding along its dim and perilous way,"

the imagination shrinks back and refuses to follow. We know things which we cannot conceive. In presence of such stupendous magnitudes,

"Imagination's utmost stretch
In wonder dies away."

We can only bow with awe in the presence of things which the calmest computations have revealed, and seizing the words kindled on the lips of inspiration, sing aloud in worship:

"O Lord, how great are they works!
In wisdom hast thou made them all!"

I have shown you what is wonderful. Come now and I will show you what is more wonderful. For I will show you these infinite spaces of the sky, and the glory of them, and the innumerable host of starry worlds, gathered up in a moment of time, within the tiny pupil of a human eye. It is wonderful that the heavens and the host of them should be so great; but that, being so great, they should be able to become so infinitely little,—this passes all wonder. The shepherd stretched upon the ground amid his sheep gazes up into the starry depths, and finds them wonderful; but never thinks how far more wonderful than the heavens which he beholds is himself beholding them. As he lies gazing, long lines of light, from planet and star and constellation, come stretching on through the infinite void spaces, to center on the lenses of his drowsy eye. Side by side, and all at once, yet never twisted or confused, these ten thousand rays of different light enter the little aperture in the center of the eye which we call the pupil. There they cross, in a point which has no dimensions, and separate again, and paint in microscopic miniature upon the little surface of the retina, behind the eyeball, the inverted facsimile of the visible heavens. There, in the ante-chamber of the brain, marches Orion, with his shining baldric and his jeweled sword; there glow Arcturus and Sirius, and the steadfast North Star; there pass the planets to and fro; and the far-off nebulæ are painted there with suffused and gentle radiance—all the heavens and the glory of them gathered in that slender filament of light, threaded through that tiny aperture, painted by their own rays upon that little patch of nervous network, apprehended, felt, known through and through by that finite human mind. How far stranger and sublimer a thing is this than the mere bulk of the worlds, or the mere chasms of void space in which they hang weltering!

By this sublime fact of God's visible creation, we are led on to apprehend and feel the sublimest of the glories of God Himself, set forth in the prophet's words,—that He whose lifetime is infinite duration, whose dwelling-place is infinite space,—He who before the earth and the world were made was no younger, neither will be older when they are all consumed,—whose presence reaches out to the farthest fixt star that eye or telescope has ever described floating upon the far verge of the universe, and occupies beyond in all the orbits of worlds yet undiscovered, and still beyond in the regions of space where is naught but the possibility of future worlds, and fills all this immensity to repletion,—that this "high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity" should enter into some poor, crusht and broken spirit, that trembles at the very whisper of His voice, and should make the narrow recesses of that heart His abode, His home. This is the mystery and glory of the Godhead,—not alone that He should be infinite, eternal, immortal, invisible, but that being all these, He should yet be apprehended by the little mind of a man, and call Himself that man's Friend and Comforter and Father.

For it is not more evident that the tiny pupil of human eye can take in the expanses and abysses of the heavens, than it is that the little soul of man can receive into itself the infinite God.

I. Man receives God into himself by the intellect. We trifle with the facts of our own consciousness, if we suffer the theological description of God as incomprehensible to divert us from the fact that our minds are made for nothing more expressly than for this, that they should receive God. The lowest rudiments of the knowledge of the simplest forms of matter are the beginnings of the knowledge of God. If we could remember, you and I, now that we are grown, all that came to us in infancy—the first struggles of the childish mind with the questions that we are not done with yet, we should see how soon the knowledge of God comes to the little one. Beyond the cradle in which it wakes up to the wonders of a new day is the nursery, and beyond the nursery is the house, and beyond the house is the garden, and beyond the garden there lies all the world, and beyond the world shuts down the sky with its stars, and beyond the sky—what? "Tell me, father—tell me, mother, what is there beyond the sky?" And, according to your knowledge or your ignorance, your faith or your unbelief, you may tell the little questioner of heaven, or of infinities of other worlds, or of infinite waste room and empty space, and he will believe you. But attempt to tell him that beyond is nothing, and not even room for anything, and will he believe you? He may seem to believe you, but it is impossible that he really should believe. The infant mind—any mind—rejects it as impossible. It cannot live in anything less than infinite space. It stifles. It leaps up and beats its wings against any bars with which you would cage it in, but that it will break through and take possession of its inheritance.

And as with infinite extent, so with infinite duration. How well I remember, as a very little child, when men were talking of the end of the world, and the great comet stretched amain across the sky, and men's hearts were failing them for fear, how the thought of infinite duration prest in, inexorably, on my soul! Come judgment day, come final conflagration, come end of all material things, come cessation and extinction of all angels, all souls, all sentient creatures, still this could not be the end. Eternity must needs go on and on, tho there were never an event or thought to mark its movement. There cannot be an end.

They err, not measuring the import of their own arguments, who tell us, in that pride of not-knowing which is so high uplifted beyond any pride of knowledge, that the very form of the word infinite marks it as the sign of a thing inconceivable, being a mere negation. Nay, verily, it is the word end, limit, cessation, that is the negative word, having no meaning except as the negation of continuance; and infinite is the negation of this negation—a thing positive, affirmative, real.

So, then, it is not the idea of infinity to which the human mind is unfitted. The mind is so made that it cannot help receiving that. The incredible, inconceivable idea is the idea of absolute end. So far is the idea of infinity from being inconceivable, that it is just impossible to thrust the conception out of the mind. And with the conception of eternity, there rushes into the thoughtful spirit at once, the awful and lovely conception of "that high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy." By such a wonder of creation is it, that He who made the little ball of the human eye so that it can take in the heavens and the earth, has made the petty intellect of man so that it can take in the knowledge of the infinite God.

II. But, secondly, it is even a greater wonder than this, that the infinite God, whom the intellect has conceived, draws near for a more intimate society with His creature, and enters the heart of man through the gateway of his affections. I say a greater wonder; for it must be confest that this ideal of the intellect, this center in which all infinite attributes inhere, does by His very majesty so overawe the heart that we shrink away from Him. By every new perfection of His nature, that grows upon our apprehension; by His awful power as the Almighty; by His perfect knowledge as the All-wise; by His unswerving steadfastness as the Faithful and True—the Immutable; by the very infinitude of His nature, He is withdrawn farther and farther from the possibility of being counted among those humble objects on which the tendrils of a human heart are able to lay hold. How, for instance, shall this Inhabitant of eternity, whose name is Holy, be well-pleased with His petty creature who has dared withstand His perfect law, and looks shrinking toward the throne of infinite Majesty, fearing and crying, "Unclean! unclean!" How shall any prayer that we can frame bring arguments to bear upon the Mind that knows the end from the beginning, and to whom there is not a word upon our lips, but lo! He knoweth it altogether? How can any pitiful plight into which we may fall move the compassion of Him who is immutable, and under whose benign government even the pains and severities that befall His creatures are wrought into a plan of common beneficence to the whole? These are questions which the awe-struck intellect, gazing upward at the infinite attributes that adorn the name which is holy, puts to the yearning heart, which, with all the craving of its love, with all the outstretching of its need, gropes after a God to worship, to love, to pray to, if haply it may find Him. And the heart cannot answer back the intellect with arguments of language. But love contains more reason than many arguments; and the strong instincts of affection and devotion with which the humble and contrite heart reaches out after the love and personal friendship of an infinite Creator are themselves an argument that God will not refuse Himself to the affections which He has Himself implanted. The hunger and thirst of our hearts for God are a promise from Him that they shall be filled. He cannot deny Himself.

The very arguments by which we climb to the knowledge of the infinite Spirit are like mountains that separate us from any relation with him of childlike prayer and mutual love. But a trustful confidence can say to these mountains, "Be ye removed and be ye cast into the sea," and it shall be done.

Have you ever pondered that dark mystery of human nature, the origin of the frightful idolatries of India? It seems to be proved that they had their beginning, not (as the prepossessions of modern science would suggest) through development from some form of fetishism baser and coarser still, but by degradation from the most refined and abstract speculations on the infinity, the spirituality, and the immutability of God. No subtler metaphysics is taught to-day in the lecture-rooms of Yale and Princeton than was taught long centuries ago by Hindoo sages, enthroning their supreme divinity in the everlasting, impassive repose of the unconditioned, far beyond the reach of affection, sympathy or prayer, until the needy millions cried out, stifling, famishing, "Give us a God to love, to worship, to pray to!" and, for lack of answer, betook them to the forest or the quarry or the mine, to the carver and the smith, and made them gods that were no gods. So little can argument and reason hold us back in times when the stress of life comes down upon us, and the cravings of the soul grow strong!

I am bringing to the altar of God my offering—my poor little offering of thankfulness and prayer. Here have I my little bundle of anxieties, cares, troubles,—it may be the concerns of a nation in fear and perplexity; it may be the distress and terror of some sorely afflicted little household; it may be the secret of bitterness of some humble and contrite spirit; in any case, a matter how infinitely small when measured by the scale of immensity and eternity; but oh, how great a thing to me! And there meets me, in the way, a philosopher. "And what, forsooth, have you there? Show it me, now." And I unroll before Him my little bundle of griefs, of cares, of pains, of sickness, of fears, of forebodings,—here a handful of myrrh from a troubled heart, and there a sprig of frankincense from a grateful spirit. "And this, then, is what you would bring to lay before the infinite, the eternal, the omniscient, the unchangeable God!" And each great title smites upon my heart with discouragement and dismay. "This is what you would bring to Him in prayer and deprecation! But do you not know that all this is a part of a perfect system?—that it is all fixt by the laws of nature, which no prayer can change or suspend without upsetting the constitution of the universe. You would lay before God your wretched plight to move His pity? Tush! Did He not know it all a hundred thousand ages ago, or ever the earth was?" And I cannot gainsay Him, and I cannot cease to pray. But by and by the philosopher himself comes face to face with some of the overwhelming things in human life and human death. He hangs with tears and wringing of hands over some cradleful of childish anguish, and shrinks from what the laws of nature, the system of the universe, are doing there—so pitiless, so deaf to prayer, so blind to agony; and he looks away, and looks up, and cries, "My God, my God!" And his reason is not one whit the less true, because now, at last, his love and faith are also true and strong. The awful wonder of God's unchangeable infinity abides; but out of cloud and darkness breaks forth, oh, what light of fatherly love! And the bewildered soul sings:—

And can this mighty King
Of glory condescend?
And will He write His name
My Father, and my Friend?
I love His name! I love His word!
Join all my powers and praise the Lord!

And now behold a mystery—the mystery of godliness, without controversy great, manifest in the flesh! That He may come over these mountains of helpless separation, that we may be helped to know, to love, to trust that which is far too vast for the reach of our clinging affections to clasp, what wonders of condescending tenderness will not our Father do! There draweth near to us One having the likeness of man, but glorious with an unearthly glory, as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. He stands beside us in our daily cares, our household joys and griefs, our business troubles and anxieties, our national fears and sorrows. He shares our temptations. He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He carries our sorrows. He bears our sickness. He dies our death. How easy to love Him, to come near to Him, to trust Him! Being lifted up, how doth He draw all men unto Him! And what mean those wonderful words of His, telling of His intimacy, His sonship, His oneness with the invisible and eternal God? Could it be, perhaps, that such an one might bring us nearer to the inaccessible Light—might help us to draw nigh as seeing Him who is invisible? Oh, Master, show us the Father and it sufficeth us! And hear now His gracious words: "He that believeth on me believeth on him that sent me." "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father also." Thus the high and lofty One, who hath wonderfully entered into our narrow understanding, cometh also into our heart, and draweth us to His own bosom "with the chords of love, with the bands of a man."

III. Finally, with a true spiritual intercourse and converse, which no man can define, which is as the viewless wind that men know altho they see it not, and feel its quickening and refreshment, altho they cannot tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth, God entereth into our spirits, "not to sojourn, but to abide with us," and we become the temples of the Holy Ghost.