SERMON: Alone With God by George MacDonald

Alone With God by George MacDonald

Preached In Westminster Chapel, London

Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. (Psalm 4:4)

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?  Or who shall stand in His holy place?  He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sword deceitfully.   (Psalm 24: 3-4)

It is a great sight to see a multitude of human faces around you; but the whole thing I would rather forget.  Even when I stand before an assembly to speak, I would much rather forget the gathering and meet the individuals gathered.  I prefer speaking to the single heart and soul of an individual; I have no ambition to move the masses.

The true power of life lies in the one soul.  The whole gathered mass is but a heap of human sand except in proportion to what is awakened in the hearts of individuals.  There is no religion, no praise, no worship, but of the individual.  And then in proportion as the individual worships, there is something that rises from all the hearts and combines them into one before the face of their Father in heaven.  But if the individuals do not know God, no gathering of multitudes brings them any nearer to the throne.

You see, my text is just what must be said to every single, solitary person.  It addresses you in the most solitary, silent time — when your day’s work is done and you are going to sleep.

In all the tumultuous going on of life, in all our eager pursuit, whether for pleasure or wealth or bare livelihood, we do not take much time to think seriously about God.  But I tell you that if we make an end of anything else than the kingdom of God, we are of those who “lift up their souls unto vanity” and “who swear deceitfully.”

The tumult of the day goes by, the pleasures of the evening pass, the last meal is taken, the good night is said.  As if we were preparing for our grave we lay aside our work clothes and we lay ourselves out straight on our beds.  There we lie, and God spreads the curtain of darkness around us, so that He may shut Himself in with His child.

It is God and His child then, or else God is left aside, shut out from His own child, and you are with something else than God.

Now the Psalmist David knew all about the storms of the world.  For a man learns quite as much in going about the wilderness and fighting for his life as he does sitting behind a desk in a modern office.  And when you have to protect yourself on all sides and carry out your schemes in the face of multitudes of enemies, you learn to know a great deal about man.  And David, calm and solemn, would have understood us, perhaps better than we know ourselves.  The word he would say to us, and I cannot think of a better word for us, is this: “Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.”

Silence in the Soul

Still!  It is not bodily stillness alone.  Little as we think of it, God has us in His hands far more than any mother has her little child of a week old.  You cannot help going to sleep; He makes you.  You do not know what sleep is, with all the philosophy you can bring to bear upon it; you, so busy all the day, when asleep are still, like death, and anybody might kill you.  There you lie, passive, helpless, but not forgotten.  If it were not for this sleep — that is, the bodily silence — we should all go mad.  You know that sleeplessness is the first step to madness.  If there never be a silence in the soul, and a man goes on always with his own thoughts and schemes and endeavors, it brings about a moral and spiritual madness.  That is tenfold worse than mere madness of the brain, when a man judges everything by false ways, puts a wrong value upon everything, thinks little of great things and much of little things — that is a common way with all of us more or less, only, thank God, with some of us it is growing less.

There comes a silence every now and then; and God makes it just to put a stop to this kind of thing, and give Himself a chance of speaking.  Do you not believe, or can you believe, that there is all about us, and in us, an infinite thought; that the atmosphere in which we live and breathe, as the fishes live and breathe in the sea, is thought, and that thought is the thought of One, and that One is the thought whence we came — that is the thinking God, thinking always?  God’s thoughts are power; they are like our thoughts, with this difference: They are self-made and ours are received from Him.  You cannot tell a moment before it comes what thought you are going to think.  You cannot think at all in a certain sense; your thoughts are only the shadows of God’s thoughts; God is the living, original thought, and this is the atmosphere in which we poor little human creatures live.  Poor do I say?  To live in such an atmosphere, to live by it and to breathe it, and be unable to exist without it, and yet do I say we are poor?  Ah! poor if we do not know it.  Ah! poor indeed if we value it as little and think about it as little as the fishes that swim in the sea.

Friend, you are close to God, infinitely closer than your imagination can represent to you, and if you do not know it you are in the very essence a poor, foolish thing, whom God has not forgotten, though.  But it is not in the midst of the tumult of life that a person first of all is able to hear God.  We have not got up to Jesus Christ yet; God was always with Him; He was never alone.  So He is with us; but then Jesus knew it and felt it.  “I know that Thou hearest me always; I am not alone, for the Father is with me.”  Even He, when night came — and, I suppose, partly because there was not the retirement in the poor little houses that He wanted — went out into the great temple of God, the house of God — out to the mountains, that there might be nothing between Him and God.  In His love to us He had consented to a kind of veil being drawn between Him and some of the aspects of God.   When He took our human form the form was His own, but the kind of form was ours.  Christ took His own shape when He took ours, but He did not need to be just made as we are.  A kind of veil came between Him and God, which was something like another kind of faith — namely, shady human faith.  I mean shady compared with what He had before.  The Son always has faith in the Father.  That is an immortal faith, but now He has human faith, as well; and, therefore, somehow it was better for Him to go out and be alone, with nothing between His heart and the heart of the Father, just that he might lie still and let God and Him be, and nothing else.  The only name that will do for our God is, “I am that I am.”  There is no describing it.  “I am.”  And for us, when we are nearest God, it is just when we are in the knowledge that He is.

This is what David felt.  When the tumult of his day was over he lay down in his bed, and then God was and David was; there was nothing else for the time.  That is the fountain of life to which we have to go to draw life, just to be at peace and let God let us know that He is there; it is just to let all the rest go away, all the troubles and anxieties of life, and let God say to our hearts, “Here I am, and here you are; you are in My charge, and nothing can hurt you, everything is well; I am here in peace, and I am leading you through these dreams of the daytime with all those troubles and pains; I am leading you up to My eternal peace, no dull existence, but with a sense of joy such as I have in My own heart, such joy that compelled Me to create in you, such joy as you have in the sense that you are My child.”  Something like that it is between God and the man who knows how to be still.  Let God speak to him.  And this is what He wants to bring us to even by means of the tumult of life.

I think God sometimes has great trouble in separating us far enough from Himself that He can look round and know us.  A mother will take her child and set it just as far as her arms can reach and draw back a little, so that the child may turn and run back to her.  That is the first and most important lesson — the richest lesson that is given us in all our lives, just to run back to our mothers.  And that is what God has been doing all this time through all the ages.  I do not know how He has made me.  I shall only say what trouble my Father had to get me just far enough from Him in order to let me know and choose Him.  Then am I of His kind when I know Him, and choose Him, and go back to Him.  This thing is what He wants us to know.  Oh! let the work of the day tire us.  When the work of the day does not tire us, and we keep going on with it, there is no peace when we go to sleep.  We dream about rubbish, and we know nothing about God at all.  But sometimes we lie down and think, “Oh how stupid I have been; I have been forgetting my high calling, I have been fretful and distrustful, I have been unkind, I was not fair to that man, I have been cross to my own flesh and blood; it has not been a good shiny day with me.”  We think like that, and lift up our cry to the heart of our being, to the living, pure, loving Father, who cannot bear to see a spot on His child and who has patience for a thousand years to get rid of that spot.

Fathers Like Windows

Ah! that is a Father, indeed.  The best of fathers are but little windows compared with God; and some fathers are very smoky windows, and have made a very wavy distorting glass for the child through him to see the path to eternal life.  If we cry to Him so, then sometimes there comes down upon us a peace, a rest, and an awareness of what He is and what we are.  We get strength and hope, we may even be able to sleep; and often because we cannot get it any other way, or cannot get enough of it any other way, He gets us ill and sends us to bed.  This is just another way to bring about that peace, that quiet of heart in which God can speak.  It seems then the most natural thing that God and man should thus meet, and know, and understand each other, that there should be the meeting together of the thought of the one with the thought of the other.  That is the simplest, most reasonable, common way and, therefore, I would say to some who doubt whether it can be God that is speaking to them, because it seems to come in such a natural way just out of their own hearts — I would say to them, “God is so near you that He cannot speak into the deepest of you, and you become conscious of it without its coming through the most reasonable, natural channel; for all that you do not know of your own being joins on to what you do not know about God’s.”  Our best thoughts come to us just simply in our souls like our bad ones, only they come from a much deeper source.  Bad ones are not half so deep as good ones, and it seems “Can this be?  Am I not thinking this myself?”  Yes, you are thinking it yourself, because God has thought it before you.  And then you do think it yourself, for there is no possibility of dividing you from God.  God thinks you out of Himself, and you live because He lives.  God has set us to choose the right thing and do the right thing, and then we are willing, willing from ourselves, but those selves are of His making.  They are not only rooted in Him, but their very existence springs out of His existence, and so we live and cannot be parted from Him.  We are the heirs of Him, our Father; we are the heirs of eternal life, and partakers of the Divine nature, as soon as ever we give in to the real natural law of things, and say, “Thou art my Father.  I am doing Thy will.”  And this is all that Jesus wants of us.  But we are so hard to bring to this that I say He makes us ill, sends us to bed, and we have to lie still, and, perhaps, we are not able to think much, only able to feel, and so He makes it quiet around about us.

Upon others, He brings sudden poverty.  There comes a great shock, and then a silence, and then the person begins to think, “What have I been about?  If I were to fill myself with this money that I have been seeking, if it filled every pocket, and every box at my banker’s, where should I have been?  Without life, without hope, a hollow, empty, miserable thing, sending my God-born being out to inhabit the forms of sovereigns and banknotes, descending from my calling into this worship of the miserable.”

Oh, friends, commune with your own hearts, with your own body, and be still, and know that there is a Power that made you, made your money, too, and does not care much about it.  It is not a sign of God’s favor to give much money to people, and most heartily do I not only believe because Christ said it, but because I see that it is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and I find it hard enough, being a poor man.  It is not easy, but it is worth doing.  It may not be easy to banish from your soul the things of the day that you may be still and hear God; but oh, is God worth nothing?  Is the presence closer than that of husband, or wife, or child, or brother?  Is the presence of this loving Power that loves you out and out, is it nothing to you?  Do you prefer to write so many figures as your possession to having  God yourself?  It is awful folly, and yet you and I are always in danger of it, and every time we are miserable about what may happen tomorrow, we are denying God and saying He is not enough for us.  It is just as you have seen an ungracious child or an ungracious beggar sometimes snatch your gift from you.  You see an ungracious dog do it sometimes, but not often.  If you loved God His gift to you would be a living gift, and you would use it for Him.  Reaping and keeping to oneself is altogether against the heart and thought, the very being of God, who lives in giving, from whom there is always a going out, and out, and out.

If we do not do the will of God in the day, it is not likely that we will be still upon our beds that He may come and visit us.  We need not be without Him during the day.  Though not a businessman myself, I sympathize with you who have so many things to think about.  A thousand things pressing upon you, it must be so difficult for you to remember God, and I know it is such poverty, such wretchedness, not to remember Him.  But if you commune with your hearts on your bed, and are still, and God comes to you there, there will come a moment, even in the midst of your business, when a quiet will drop down upon you like a little bit of heaven covering your head, as it were, for a moment, and you think, “Oh there is God, and if God is there, how well all this is!”  Only what an awful thing, then, if you do not, from that thought, go up like a very priest of God in His temple dispensing righteousness in truth — I do not mean in talking; I do not mean speaking about the Bible, but I mean in buying and selling, and in common speech, and in the common things of the day, for there is nothing in this world to be done that is not honorable in itself, and may not be, and ought not to be, a service — a service in the temple of the living God.  It is indeed serving God if a man can make his counter the very altar of the living God; the goods he puts down upon it are holy before God, because they are placed there in honor and in service.  I believe that the true temple and the true worship is an every-day-of-the-week worship.  That is what our Lord would have.  You do not hear Him talk what we commonly call religious talk.  He did not talk the religious talk of His day, but when He does talk, it is as deep as the foundations of the universe; it is God and man, and that is real religion.  It is not this observation and that observation; it is my soul and His soul, and then my hands to do His will; that is real religion.  It is the deed that stirs the man; it is the thing you do, and not what you feel.

One man lamented to me that sometimes it seemed to him as if had no feelings at all; that he inherited from his poor father who had no feelings, or next to none; but his hands and his heart were busy for his fellow creatures from morning to night, and his prayer ascended to the God of his salvation.  We were not meant to be creatures of feeling; we were meant to be creatures of conscience toward God, a sense of His presence; and if we go on, the feeling will come all right.  Our feelings will blossom as a rose just from the very necessity of things.  And blessed is the man whose highest, deepest feelings come to him when he is alone on his bed and still.

But if even that man does not go out, and carry with him the principle that God is all-in-all, he will be the worse.  Let us be careful, above all things, if God has given any insight into the reality of His Being, and our relation to Him, and let us be tenfold careful about our fellow man, that we do him no wrong.

“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?  He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.”  Some of us lead homely lives and have not the temptations that others have.  We have our own temptations.  It is so easy to be rough in the house, so easy to lay aside our good manners to our spouses and children.  Who shall know the eternal Father, and come forth and not be a gentle one?  God will be readier to come to His child the next night if during the day he has been living childlike, walking in the steps of his Father, holding fast by Him.  If he has been good to his fellow children, to his brothers and sisters, wherever they are, God will be readier to meet him, readier to say, “My child, here I am.”  The one eternal, original, infinite blessing of the human soul is when in stillness the Father comes and says, “My child, I am here.”

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