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‘As a tree planted by the waters.’
In this picture, likening a man who trusts in the Lord to a tree planted by the waters, we have a description, with six particulars given, of a perfectly fresh, fragrant, and full life, and from this I draw the subject of my address—‘Ministerial Freshness.’
I. The need of ministerial freshness.—If we lose this there is not much left in our ministry. We need it for our own sake, for the sake of others, and for the sake of God.
II. The secret of ministerial freshness.— The inclusive secret is in the minister’s relationship to the Bible. There must be personal meditation on the Word of God. And in this connection I recall the five metaphors used in the Bible concerning that word. It is the mirror that reveals, the water that cleanses, the food that strengthens, the light that illuminates, and the honey which rejoices.
III. The method of ministerial freshness.—(1) This relation to God’s Word must be a daily experience, never to be omitted. If time cannot be found it must be made. (2) We need a first-hand rather than a second-hand meditation. The too free use of books of devotion and meditation is not helpful. The Psalmist said: ‘ My meditation is sweet.’ (3) For devotional reading and meditation it is well to have a Bible absolutely free from marks. (4) Our meditation must be definite. We must read for ourselves and not for our people.
(1) ‘Miss Havergal writes:—“Will you look into each clause of the sixfold promise contained in the beatitude of ‘trust’ ( Jeremiah 17:7-8)? You will enjoy it if you have not yet gone right into those two verses.” ’
(2) ‘I want those on whom the storm of temptation is beating pitilessly to turn to me for shelter. I want those who are passing through the dread hour of sorrow to feel instinctively that I can impart some sure and effectual consolation. I want those whom perplexities and difficulties surround like prison walls to know that I possess the key of promise, which will open every iron door in Giant Despair’s castle. Planted and rooted by the River of waters, I want to be a shadow from the heat to wayworn souls.
“They move through our ranks, recall
The stragglers, refresh the outworn.…
Eyes rekindling and prayers
Follow their steps as they go——”
My Lord, let the sweet words be true of me.’
THE DECEITFUL HEART
‘Who can know it?’
You will remember that this is said of ‘the heart,’ and that it is made to apply itself to one of those terrible descriptions of ‘the human heart’ to which the Bible is so given. Not merely saying, ‘The heart is deceitful;’ but more ‘deceitful’ than anything else in the whole world; and not only ‘wicked,’ but ‘wicked’ to a degree that is in itself beyond all hope—this is the crown of its wretchedness—it cannot be fathomed; it cannot be read; it cannot be really grasped—‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ What, one day, you thought to be your ‘heart,’ that, another day, you find that ‘heart’ is not: the phases of it always varying, not only with outward circumstances, but with the state of the atmosphere of the mind, and even of the body, with which you look at it; and that, of all the difficulties with which the Christian has to do, the inscrutability of his own ‘heart’ is undoubtedly the hardest.
I. As a general rule, the duty of self-examination is placed out of its due and scriptural proportion.—The examination of the Scriptures, and especially the examination of the Lord Jesus Christ—His being, His work, His glory, His claim—have a far healthier effect upon the mind, and ought to exceed, very much, all our examination of our own ‘hearts.’ There is a great danger, which must never be forgotten, of self-inspection becoming unpractical and morbid.
II. But, if there are some who are in danger of anatomising their own breast too often, there are others, and perhaps they are the majority, who would put in the probe too seldom!—And there are seasons, when the duty of the whole Church is to look in, to cultivate self-knowledge. Such seasons are, especially, falls—times of manifest declension—anniversary, say of a birthday, a baptism, or a confirmation, or any spiritual blessing, or any particular mercy, or bereavement, preparation for Holy Communion—and Lent.
But, brethren! let me beg of you that it may be your own ‘heart’ and nobody else’s. Deal with ‘ your own hearts’ this Lent.
III. By ‘the heart,’ I mean the seat of the affections, as distinguished from the intellectual part, although the two can never be really divided; and, manifestly, God has not divided them—for ‘out of the heart’ are said to proceed all ‘evil thoughts’; and faith, which is assuredly part of the intellectual, is always, in the Bible, placed in ‘the heart’; and we have the striking and very touching expression, ‘The understanding heart.’ And, indeed, I think it will appear that the ‘heart’ has much more to do with the mind, with all the processes of mind, than most men suspect.
Still, ‘the heart,’ properly so called, is that part of the man in which reside his desires and his passions—both for good and evil. And this is one reason why it is more difficult to scrutinise the province of the ‘heart,’ than it is to measure the advance of the understanding—for feeling can less easily take hold of feeling, and look at it, than thought could apprehend thought. It is so exceedingly near.
It is as in the natural sight. An object may be so close to the eye that it almost spoils the sight, and so becomes indistinct, if not invisible. And a man’s feeling is so very close to himself that he can scarcely bring his powers to bear upon it—hence, in a degree, it comes to pass that that question stands out from age to age, without an answer, ‘Who can know it?’
Still, it is beyond a doubt, that ‘the heart’ is the most influential power that we possess. For in ‘the heart’ resides the will; and the will rules the man. Every good thing, and every bad thing, in a man, is first an imagination, then a desire, then an intention, then an act, than a habit. And all this chain lies coiled round ‘the heart.’
Every one, who ever goes wrong, goes wrong first in his ‘heart.’ If you allow bad thoughts, and bad fancies, there, they only want opportunity to pass into practice; and God, knowing that, regards them already as practised.
But the opportunity, sooner or later, is sure to come to every wicked imagination that a man allows; and it is the easiest possible step from an allowed imagination to any act in the world, however wicked.
Therefore, if you wish to counteract and arrest sin, you must begin with the desires. So St. James has traced it; and so our Lord; and every man’s own experience will confirm the lesson. You can only stop sin at the ‘heart.’
And equally, whoever would be religious, must be first pious in his ‘heart.’ No one can live above his own level; and the real level of a man is his ‘heart,’ and to that level he will be always returning.
—Rev. Jas. Vaughan.
‘Beware of thine heart, it is so deceitful, so desperately wicked. The old sins, which had hidden their heads, revive after long years. Old temptations, which seemed to have lost their fascination, again attempt to ensnare. Thou wilt be tempted to trust in thy wealth, in men’s good opinions, in the momentum of thy career; but if thou dost, thou wilt inevitably repent of it, and be ashamed. To turn aside from God, to any other cistern of comfort or help, is suicidal. All such are written in the dust, i.e., their name is forgotten, as the characters which children scratch in the sand.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Jeremiah 17". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13