Joyous Spirituality of Christian Pilgrimage: Part III -
It cannot, I trust, be warrantably inferred from anything that has now been said, that we could mean to represent the believer as a miserable recluse or a moping solitaire - as uncompanionable - not formed for or aiming at the duties and enjoyments of friendship. Any such inference would be alike unjust and untrue, alike false and calumnious. The man who is scripturally and spiritually "a stranger on the earth" has assumed this relation and disposition towards the world, as we have seen, by becoming a friend of God; and that he should, and should therefore, be indifferent to the sacred claims and the frank and joyous privilege of friendship, is altogether incredible. It is frequently the estimate entertained by the world no doubt concerning the living Christian, that he is of a sullen and morose disposition, looking coldly on the innocent joys of life, and refusing all genial and gladsome association with his fellows. But it is one of many misapprehensions and misrepresentations which the Christian must be content that his character in the eyes of the world should suffer - one of those many proofs that he cannot expect to be sympathized with or even understood by the world - that he is, in short, a stranger to the earth. There are those, however, who will deal out to him another measure, and do him justice. They will understand from their own experience how the case really stands.
For it is a grievous misunderstanding. The believer in reality is the only man who has thoroughly fathomed the nature and claims of true and incorruptible friendship. In his friendship with God he has had the glorious opportunity of learning them. And the lessons, which on that high field he learns, he will be prepared and desirous to bring into exercise in those lower spheres of friendship which he may be privileged to occupy among his fellowmen. Nor will he want opportunity for doing so. In this sense he is indeed no more a stranger and a foreigner, but a fellow-citizen with the saints and of the household of God, admitted to a brotherhood of the widest extent and of the most intimate kind. Can it be forgotten that the David who gave utterance to the sentiment we have so often quoted, "I am a stranger on the earth," was the friend of Jonathan, and that it was precisely when realizing most intensely that he was a stranger on the earth, hunted even as a partridge on its mountains, that he enjoyed most intensely the sweetness and privilege of that most passionate and honorable attachment?
Friendship, indeed, recruits its ranks from the kingdom of grace. The Christian, though separated from the world, is not isolated on a platform by himself, on which he can find none to share or sympathize with him. Unforgiven sin may constitute such a platform - yea, a prison - for the soul. But the fellowship of God is a large and wealthy place, in which all the faithful dwell together in unity. "Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name; the righteous shall compass me about, when thou hast dealt bountifully with me" (Ps. 142:7).
Indeed, no man knows the calm, quiet, and confiding joy of true friendship, but he who is a friend of God and a stranger on the earth. For, when once he finds his deepest anxieties settled, and his deepest longings satisfied, in God, so that he needs no more to depend or draw upon created friends for his chief good; he returns now to find in them what it really is in them to yield - not a primary and supreme, but a secondary and subordinate enjoyment. That he does find them capable of yielding. He finds them capable now of yielding what he now seeks - an accession, namely, a supplement, to a happiness already in the main secure. He found them incapable of yielding what he formerly sought, when he vainly assayed to make them, or any created good, his "all in all," his satisfying portion. Now, therefore, for the first time, he has in the fellowships and friendships of brethren a quietness of enjoyment, a real and full meeting of his expectations, which he never had before. And being now, even if alone in the world and friendless, not friendless and alone, because the Father is with him, he finds, if surrounded by friends, enjoyment in them for the Father's sake.
You are not at liberty merely, it is your imperative duty, to cultivate Christian friendship. Concerning each of his friends alternately, Jesus says to all, "He that receiveth you, receiveth me."
One of the first effects, indeed, of living Christianity is seen in those of its disciples who once were, naturally, morose and isolated. Of such, the world will witness with astonishment, and the Church with delight, the expansion which their affections undergo, the enlarged sympathies and genial sensibilities which they display, when grace has effectually loved on to is own delighted enthronement ("Grace reigns"). And why should not Christian men, and women too (women perhaps we should say, especially), be the very patterns of all that is lovely, and honorable, and frank, and open, and heartfelt, and mutually trustful, and helpful in their friendships with one another? Yea, in point of fact, it is really so. None so joyous and genial as they: and so much the more, as they feel that they are strangers on the earth: and so much the more, as they see the day approaching. Conscious thereby the more truly that all their real treasure is safe; with their relation to the living God settled on his own infinitely holy, infinitely gracious terms, on his own infinitely glorious, and absolutely and eternally sure foundations; with their natures placed under the renewing and disciplinary influence of the Spirit and word and Providence of an Almighty Father; and the continuance and ultimate perfection of that process of renewal secured and guaranteed by an everlasting covenant ordered in all things, and sure: who can afford in an hour of recreation - when soul and body and spirit, after faithful duty, need to be relaxed - who can afford, as they can, to unbend and enjoy a brother's society and fellowship - ay, and with a zest, a cordiality, a quiet, calm, and deep pleasureableness, of which the worldling can form no conception , and compared with which the world's noisy and most excited mirth is unnatural and hollow. "Rejoice in the Lord, and be glad, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart."
Equally groundless is another objection that has often been brought against a style of piety so decided as to make a man a stranger on the earth, and to beget the evangelical spirituality of character which we have been describing. It is said that he will be thereby unfitted for discharging his duties in the world.
It were useless to enter seriously on the refutation of this objection. It may be sufficient to reply that it cannot possibly be so, inasmuch as it is precisely duty, and not desire, which dictates the entire intercourse which such an one maintains with the world. That the man whose whole desire is set upon the world should thereby be greatly disqualified for his duty, is natural enough. But that the man, who, by his supreme desire being turned away from earthly things, is thereby left free and unprejudiced to move among them at the dictates, not of inordinate desire, but simple duty - that he should be unfitted, and even thereby unfitted, for his duties in the world, is inconceivable. It is really he, and he only, with whom duty is always constraining, and in whom responsibility is really awake.
Be not afraid, O believing reader, to be a stranger in the earth. Be assured your spiritual safety, comfort, and usefulness are all bound up with your really being so. "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity to God? whosoever, therefore, will be a friend of the world is an enemy to God." Whosoever is at home in the earth is a stranger to God. But the more you are alienated in spirit from a passing, shallow, heartless, ungodly world, the more will you feel constrained to apply in livelier faith and prayer to your heavenly Father for friendship and fellowship with Him.
It was thus that the Psalmist pleaded his separation from the world as a reason for his obtaining clearer insight into the gracious purposes and holy will of God: "Open mine eyes that I may behold the wonders that are in thy law. I am a stranger in the earth, hide not thy commandments from me (Ps. 119:12). The more, also, will you love the worship, the house, the cause and kingdom of Christ upon the earth; and the more liberally, joyfully, and prayerfully will you give for the support and propagation of his gospel. For thus again spake this same stranger on the earth, Israel's sweet psalmist and king: "For who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee. For we are strangers before thee and sojourners, as were all our fathers; our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding? (I Chron. 29:14-15).
Nor will this be wanting to you in the hour of sorrow and anxiety, to plead with God as a reason for his hearing and answering your cry, when, as a stranger in the earth for his sake, you cast yourself upon his help and faithfulness: "Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears; for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were." The appeal is one of inexpressible power with God. His heart warms towards the stranger. He hath most solemnly assured us that he is the stranger's shield. He hath forbidden us, under pain of his especial displeasure, to vex or oppress the stranger. He hath in the most simple and affecting language commanded us to be kind unto the stranger. He hath allured us to the duty of entertaining strangers by beautifully reminding us that some have thereby entertained angels unawares. His dear Son - in whose name we pray, and in whose sympathy we may continually rejoice and enrich ourselves - was preeminently a stranger on the earth, and knoweth more than any man the heart of a stranger. In his members, and in his cause, he is a stranger still: and so highly does he estimate the entertaining of the stranger that, on the great day of accounts, one of his tenderest and most affecting commendations of his people's faithfulness will be in these terms, "I was a stranger, and ye took me in."
With such affections on the part of the Most High as thus indicated towards the stranger, let me only be able honestly to plead at his throne, that "I am a stranger on the earth," and how can I doubt that in my every need and in my darkest hour he will hear my cry, and not be silent at my tears? Rather, may I not assure myself, when poor and needy, when pursued by evil and by fear, when perplexed with guilt and with Satan, when ready to sink under trial and temptation, I flee to his door, he will give me invariable ground to bear this testimony to his grace and faithfulness: "I was a stranger, and the Lord took me in"?