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Real Heart Hunger for God

“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”—ST MATTHEW 5:6.

This enthusiasm for goodness which we considered last Sunday on its ideal side, this real heart hunger for God, has also its practical side, at which we briefly glanced. It has an affinity with goodness, it discovers it with the scent of a hound, it goes beneath unpromising manners and uncouth appearances, it fastens on the gold underneath the dross, and its delight therein is like the delight of a man in a found treasure. And this soul hunger for goodness finds ultimately a satisfaction in the goodness around, which its visualizing power enables it to detect, a satisfaction not final and complete, but a satisfaction which is the earnest and the proof of the reality which, in all its fulness, waits for it behind the veil. To “hunger and thirst after righteousness” is to believe and to detect good around us. It is on the present satisfactions of this hunger and thirst which I dwell this morning, the satisfactions which here and now are the earnest and the assurance of the fulness yet to come.

Idealism, it is said, belongs to youth, and the experience of life soon corrects it. All of us feel the nobility, the charm, the interest of youthful belief in men, in things, and institutions, of youthful enthusiasms for progress or of those poetic idealizations of the world which ought to mark the early years of life. They are undoubtedly the raw material of hunger and thirst after righteousness. But the assumption is easily made that, like “the roseate hues of dawn,” they soon pass away. The experience of middle age tends to correct the enthusiasms of youth. We settle in the groove of some hard and grinding employment. We study briefs till midnight, or rise early, only to toil at business. We burn the late oil in mastering documents, till we become like great law or trade machines, whose course is only interrupted by a Sunday spent often chiefly in bed, or in an effort to keep oneself abreast of the thought of one’s day. We develop one part of our nature, and the more successful we are in its development the more does our whole ego—our total self—suffer. By degrees all thought knits itself round self and one’s own family; there is no feeling such as used to stir within us when human interests carried us out of self. If we succeed (and often it is the self-devoted that do succeed) it may be well questioned whether a great success in one department of life is not dearly purchased at the price of an imperfect manhood. The man with only one set of ideas is only the fraction of a man, however much he may have perfected that set of ideas. The same defect confronts us in the theologian and in the artist, as well as in the musician, or the lawyer, or the civil servant. The theologian, who is nothing else, is useless even for his own purposes; his success is often purchased at the price of usefulness; again and again we see and deplore how possible it is, “for the sake of livelihood to lose any reasons for living.” Perhaps we all feel something of the kind as life advances. The old enthusiasms are gone, they haunt us like ghosts, but they have lost their power. The reason is that they were too diverse in their direction; the necessary unity of our life cannot embrace them now. Our later task seems to be, both to renew our interests and to get a greater power over them. It is not our fault or even our misfortune that we have so increased our power of concentration that we cannot gather honey from every flower in our former youthful fashion; but the question for us is, how can we direct that concentration to its highest work by the revival of the real interest of youth in some form of righteousness?

I. One great means is through dwelling on the fundamental position of idealism, viz., that God has called us to perfection, not only moral perfection but to the perfection of every talent which we possess. I dare not say in face of the facts around us, that we make too much of open moral failure, but I do say that we often fail to see how much secret moral imperfection there is in mental sloth, in not using our talents. We have to keep the mind open, and we cannot do that except by a variety of interests. We have no right to maim our manhood, and destroy God’s purposes for us by dwarfing our life interest down to a single pursuit. The professor who let his wife be a slave, and his children grow up in rags and tatters, while he was elaborately investigating the joints of the legs of a beetle was a parable, and a warning. We have not his precise danger, yet which of us is there who does not at times feel the stress of the absorbing nature of some one thing which interests us waking, and even haunts us sleeping? Along that path, be it literary research or scientific skill, be it commercial enterprise or theological investigation, be it some form of amusement or some game of skill—along that path we are developing; but all the other avenues are closing up slowly, yet surely; and we are dwarfing our whole nature by advancement on a single line. God has called us ultimately—a long way off, no doubt—but finally to be perfect; and anything which absorbs us too wholly must therefore be a hindrance to the final growth of our whole nature.

II. Another great means of overcoming those tendencies of advancing years which chill enthusiasm is a *more unreserved acceptance of the Christian motive. As Christ lived for man so should we. Directly that becomes clear to us we have passed the Rubicon; our interests may still vary, and will vary indefinitely; but we “have passed from death unto life,” from the dreary and monotonous flat country of self-worship into the mountain region, the infinite world of ideas.

This is the test for ourselves; not merely do we believe in Christ—the world believes in Christ now, in its sense; His name has been flaunted again and again in modern times as the symbol of a party warfare or for gaining unworthy and selfish ends by means which contradict His essential spirit—the question is, do we wish to have the spirit of Christ, to follow Christ; do we believe in Him enough to try and imitate Him, to be among men as “He that serveth”?

It is in this way that the charm and variety which used to belong to our youth comes back to us. We thought that we had parted with it; we had seemed, if not to ourselves yet to others, to be growing into stereotyped and prejudiced Philistines, prosperous in our way but narrowing in interest, stiffening in mind as in body, without visions, and with little interest. The monotonous worship of self, which leads the less educated often to suicide—at least so it would seem from the sickly and morbid effusions of self-love which they leave behind them—this monotonous worship of self takes hold of the prosperous in a different way; it dwarfs their interest in others, they “see men like trees walking”—shadows to be criticized, bores to be avoided, servants to be used. Some day, perhaps, the Christian motive dawns upon such an one, and all at once a light shines in the dark place, and he finds himself looking at man, even with all his faults and all his limitations, as the most interesting of all objects; he finds the complexity of man’s thought and the manifoldness of man’s feeling occupying his thoughts. Nor does his real work suffer a bit. For, as character widens, we obtain larger ideas of our special work and do it more completely. Directly we take in this motive, the good of man, as our ruling idea, we begin to think how we can work it into our life, and the very effort is widening and enlarging and freeing. Our prejudices begin to melt, our gloomy standards of condemnation become humanized; we begin to see how easy it is to destroy, how hard to construct, and that all construction is on positive lines.

And so the divine hunger and thirst awakens in us. We want to be perfect, we see that we must leave open every avenue, we are certain that the way and means to perfection is to work for the good of man in some shape or form. Practically it comes to this, that all enthusiasm for goodness, that has passed through the green stage of youth, requires, consciously or unconsciously, the Christian motive as its support; that, to put it roughly, if we would love God we must learn to work for the good of man. But then comes the inevitable trial of external conflict. We live in the midst of those who proclaim self-interest as the first law, as the only law, who repudiate all enthusiasm as unpractical; we find ourselves among those whose rule is to suspect rather than to trust; our aspirations and our hopes are ridiculed, and we find ourselves joining in the smile which is raised. We get cheated in business, or we are made the tools of knaves in society, and it seems a great deal if we do not try to cheat back, and deal to others the measure which we have received. We thought men would help us when we desired to help them, and be honorable with us as we would be with them, and we find many as cold and hard as granite, they will neither help, nor give way to right, nor be just if it goes against their personal interest. We go to the religious bodies of the day, and we find them sometimes insisting on privilege or occupied with the strife of words, or contending for a Christ to Whose words they do not listen and Whose Spirit they contradict. “Christ is God,” they say, “Christ is God.” They work themselves into a white heat on behalf of abstract forms of words. But we often look in vain to them for any trace of Him Who cried, “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” Who came “not to judge but to save.” There is nothing of the Son of Man in the Christ of the mere dogmatist—nothing human and nothing Divine, only a contranatural apotheosis. And so we turn sick with despair. “We looked for righteousness, and behold a cry, and for justice, but behold oppression.”

And the whisper comes. “It is no use trying not to swim with the stream; let us soothe our religious instincts with some form of ritualism or emotionalism; let us choose a Pope, and then let us make a bargain with him; let him leave us self-interest as a law of life, and we will worship in his church, follow his observances, conform to his rules and adopt his dogmas. Why should we go behind things and try to see the back side of them? Why should we adopt a higher standard of justice, sympathy, and honor, than others? Why should we not swim with the stream, and get out of the way of other logs that float along as we do?” And perhaps we listen, and stifle our hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Or, ours is even a more bitter story—the disillusion with goodness that comes of personal disappointment. We have had a friend—man or woman—who represented to us the best of mankind, who embodied our earlier dreams of faithfulness and devotion. Our trust in him was full and clear; there was the old sense, “we two are a multitude.” All was well as long as he understood. And all in a moment we found him out as mean, as having used our love for his own ends, as laughing in his sleeve at our trust, and not even ashamed of his own baseness. And we sit amid ruins; “all are as mean and false as he is,” we cry. We hate ourselves for our blindness, and this gives to our bitterness a keener sting. We doubt everyone,—even ourselves,—and as we think of old days and their ideals our laugh is bitter and not good to hear; it is a laugh half of scorn and half of shame. Is this what we have really come to? Is this the atmosphere in which we are to live out our lives? Is this hell of sour suspicion and distrust to be our dwelling-place? Is there any outward misery even comparable to it? Ah, there is but one hope then: that the Christ-life should really speak to us; that He Who was lifted up should teach us that the more we give up for others, the deeper our inward peace; that we find men bad just so long as we expect from them more than we give, but that we begin to find them better on the day on which we begin to live for others. Love, trust, and the ignoring of wrong will alone restore our former joy, and set our heart on fire again with the hunger and thirst after righteousness. It is wonderful how others seem to change when we ourselves change. When we begin to love others we see noble things in them, traits of goodness which we never perceived before. Where we thought men hard, selfish, and groveling, we find them capable of penitence and tenderness. The change is often in ourselves, not in them. The Divine hunger has awakened within us and will find its food, and they who hunger and thirst after righteousness are here and now filled.

At last we are driven, as it were,—driven by the new Christ-principle within us, the desire of man’s good,—to search for good, and not evil; we go further afield, and then we find how widespread is the service of God; how, amid the hard battles of the poor, there is often heroic virtue and touching unselfishness.

So it is that hope—hope, which is the protection of this hunger and thirst—takes possession of us; a hope not of mere dreams, but a hope founded on experience; hope in the guiding tenderness of the Father, hope that in His own time and way He will yet awaken in each that Divine hunger, that heaven-sent enthusiasm, which will long for Him here and repose for ever in Him hereafter.

* Stopford Brooke.

Eyton, R. (1896). The Benediction on the Passion for Righteousness (II). In The Beatitudes (Second Edition, pp. 63–72). Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd. (Public Domain)

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