THE RESTORING OF SOULS.
There is only one restorer of souls, but there are multitudes of souls which want restoring. We do not need to have formed any theories of human nature or to have been trained in any theological school; we only need to look out upon society, or perhaps to look in upon our own hearts, in order to see that there is here a great and difficult and delicate work to be done, whether there is any power which is able to do it or not.
For we have a more or less definite idea of what a soul ought to be - of what our souls were meant to be, when they came from the creative hand of God, and were entrusted, if I may say so, to our keeping and care. They were surely intended both for activity and for enjoyment, but their enjoyment was meant to be derived not from those objects which appeal to the senses, but from those which are spiritual, like the soul itself; and their activity was meant to be spontaneous and free. They were designed to do easily and well, without fric tion or conflict, the work assigned them. They were designed to live in harmony with them selves, with nature and with God. They were made to grow, but to grow not by a continual battling against opposition, by a series of spasmodic struggles, followed by reaction and exhaustion, but by a steady, harmonious, natural development, into an enlarged capacity, a fuller strength, a diviner beauty. That certainly is the law which elsewhere prevails in the universe which God has made. The planets swing smoothly on their bright circles, and there are no discords in the music of the spheres. Every living thing is finely fitted for the part as signed it in the great drama of existence. There is nothing more astounding to us, and yet nothing more characteristic of the infinite resources of skill and power in the mind and will of the Most High, than the manner in which each form of life adapts itself to new conditions in the ceaseless transforma tions of the material world, unfolding new capacities and putting forth new powers, in the upward move ment which is everywhere exhibited. Everything within us and around us is in motion, but whirling atoms and circling suns are alike under a law of progress. There is no pause, there is no diversion, there is no waste of material or of energy. But silently and constantly the new creation is building itself out of the old.
But when we look into the life of human souls, we seem to find not harmonious development but irregularity and discord, waste of power, confusion, and the continual need of restoration into the di vine order, which has in some way been lost.
Here, for instance, is a young and eager spirit, which has entered life full of hope and courage and energy, with pure tastes and generous affections and high ideals, enthusiastic in its pursuit of that which is noble and true, with a profound senti ment of the grandeur of life, the sacredness of duty, the nearness of God, and with tke strong de sire to make its pathway through the world bright, not with the lustre of material success, but with the glory of a character and a career which men shall honor and God approve. But soon it is caught by some gust of temptation and whirled off, like a wandering star, out of the course which it was appointed to follow, toward some utterly selfish and unworthy end. On this its powers are all concen trated. The fine balance of its faculties is lost. It becomes narrow and sharp, perhaps unscrupu lous and cruel. It needs to be brought back to its orbit again, to be restored to the line of orderly, self-restrained, harmonious development, from which it has gone so far astray.
Here is another soul which has become dis couraged. It has not been misled by enthusiasm or betrayed by self-confidence. It has fully ap preciated the dangers surrounding it and the diffi culties that lie in its way. But in spite of these it has honestly and faithfully tried to make something of itself, and it seems doomed to failure. It finds the world a cold, hard, selfish place. It has been baffled by its enemies and deceived by its friends. Its most careful plans have fallen to pieces; its sudden inspirations have proved bitter delusions. It feels as if there were no place for it in the Babel of human voices and passions, where it is lonely and helpless. And it longs for the day to end, and for the quiet night to come. Or else it feels as if it must give way, abandon the principles to which it is struggling to keep true, throw itself into the torrent, and let that bear it whithersoever it will. It needs, you see, to be restored to courage.
Another soul has lost its faith in- men, in God, in all things spiritual. It has been forced to see the darker sides of human nature, its meanness, its insincerity, its sensuality, its predominant selfish ness, and it no longer believes in any real disinter estedness, in any incorruptible integrity, among mankind. And God has come to seem further and further away. He does not appear to be accessible to prayer. His providence seems so unequal that the soul has grown to think that there is no provi dence, or else it cannot reconcile this with the government of the world by natural law. It has found difficulties in believing in a divine revelation, and does not believe in it. A divine incarnation is more mysterious still, and faith in that is swept away. Immortality itself has at last become doubtful. And with the loss of all these the very foundations of morality have been undermined. There is but one step further which such a soul can take in this direction; it is to doubt its own ex istence. Evidently it needs to be restored to faith.
Or if it has kept its faith, it has lost its joyful ness. Its childish mirth it expected to lose, but under repeated shocks of sorrow its elasticity of spirit is gone. One by one the dearest objects of its love have been taken from it, and it has been left forlorn and desolate. It has not lost its courage, but its courage has become a matter of simple resolute ness of will. It is submissive and patient, but it is broken-hearted. It has no interest in life except to do its duty till the end shall come. It may brighten into a sudden cheerfulness, but it is only now and then and for an instant that the sun breaks through the clouds. Its prevailing temper is one of sadness, and hope is buried by the side of joy. Is it pos sible that they can ever be restored to life? Then another soul needs restoration into peace with itself. It is full of abounding and eager life, full of the keen joy of living, but it is conscious that it is not doing the best work that it is capable of doing; it is wasting its energies or a part of them; it is divided in its ideals and its endeavors, and it is aware of a conflict going on all the time within it. It may be simply restless, and hardly understand its own complaint, or it may be dis satisfied, ashamed, even furiously indignant with itself. It may heap upon itself all manner of bit ter reproaches and form all manner of good resolu tions. But there it is, disturbed by the ancient conflict between"I would not"and"I do, "be tween principle and desire, between purpose and performance, and it longs for the peace of a soul that is in full harmony with itself.
Or it may be peace with God that it desires. There was a time when it loved Him and strove to do His will. But a great temptation came and it fell, - fell into an open and dreadful sin. In one dark and terrible moment, by one swift and shame ful act, it seemed to cut itself off from Him, and the sense of His anger now rests upon it. It has mourned, how often and how bitterly, over its one great fault; it has repented of it with keen self-re proach and floods of tears. But it cannot forgive itself; how then can it hope that God will forgive it?"What possible restoration, "it cries, "into His love, can there be for me?" Or if its happiness and its hope are not blighted by one conspicuous act of wrong, it has come into bondage to a sinful habit. Little by little this has been tightening its fetters upon it, its very strug gles to escape only fixing these more firmly, and making it more vividly conscious of its captiv ity. But the habit has not yet become a nature; the imprisoned soul is like a caged bird, which has not lost the sense of the free air that it was made for, and still struggles to escape. Who shall re store it to liberty, that it may spread its wings and soar into the large and joyous life of those creatures of God, whom Satan has never caught and bound? And, once more, for I need not multiply these illustrations, how many souls of us there are which want to be restored to purity? We are not guilty of flagrant vices, we are not perhaps under the do minion of degrading habits, but we are stained, - spotted by the world. The freshness of our inno cence is gone. We have become familiar with many forms of sin. Our consciences have become less sensitive; the light that is in us has been grow ing dim. Our judgments of character have been growing less severe; our standards less pure and high. We look with allowance on many things at which we should once have revolted; we count it nothing to omit many things which we should once have thought it a shame to neglect. We used to be devout, but we have become indifferent or scornful. We have lost our gentleness and become hard-hearted; we have lost our earnestness and become flippant or cynical. Others observe and deplore the change that has taken place in us, but no one knows, as well as we do, how greatly our purity has suffered, how deeply these stains have struck into our souls. This then is what we want above all other things, to be made clean again, to be restored to purity.
Now we need not, I think, go any more pro foundly than this into what may be called the pathology of souls, to perceive that the work of restoring them is a very important and difficult and dangerous task. It is important because a soul that is diseased, that is out of harmony with itself, with nature, and with God, causes in the first place an immense waste of moral power. Think of the almost measureless capacities which a pure and perfect soul possesses, for knowledge, for happi ness, for high and holy service of God, within the sphere of this present life and in the vaster spheres of the life to come; and then consider the incal culable loss of possible good, which comes from the paralyzing of its powers, when it is spending its force in conflict with itself or lying in the lethargy of doubt or despondency or fear. Or rather, since the great law of the conservation of energy holds true in the moral as in the physical government of God, the energies which should have been directed to the building up of character, the advancement of God's kingdom, the promo tion of righteousness and peace, become energies of destruction, working toward the overthrow of all moral order, toward the ruin of the soul in which they are operating, and of all other souls upon which it acts. The restoring of a soul is a matter of the utmost consequence for its own sake, by reason of the immortal joys that it misses and of the inevitable miseries that it suffers if it con tinues unrestored. But the whole moral universe is concerned in it as well, because of the beneficent activity which is wasted and the destructive influ ence which is let loose, when a human soul breaks away from its orbit and starts off in a wild and wanton career.
And yet it is no easy matter to restore a soul.
It you do not think so, try to do it. Go to one that is crushed by a great sorrow, and see if your tenderest sympathy, your most soothing and com forting words, can bring"the light of smiles again to lids that overflow with tears."Go to one that is despondent, and see if your exhortations to cour age and your cheerful tones can lift from the bur dened spirit the weight, of gloom that has settled upon it. You might almost as well try to draw
back the curtains of the midnight and bring forth the sun from the chambers of the east. How much less then is it within the compass of any human power, to restore purity to the soul that is conscious of guilt, or peace to one that is tossed to and fro by the waves of an inward unrest, or the sense of God's forgiveness to one which has come to feel the sense of God's wrath Nay, it is an office as dangerous as it is difficult. For the peril is that in delivering it from one evil, you will plunge it into another, and not restore it after all. You may save it from despondency, but it will be by leading it to take a light view of its failures. You may give it peace, but it will be by destroying its aspirations after purity. You may make bold to speak for God and assure it that its apprehensions of His anger are superstitious de lusions, but if you persuade it to accept your words, you will have destroyed its reverence for Him and have brought confusion into all its ideas of the principles on which His government is based. And this incalculable mischief men are all the time doing when they try to restore one another's souls. Sometimes they mistake the true nature of the dis order; sometimes their fatal error is in applying a remedy which only aggravates the evil. You ob serve, for instance, on the face of a friend a shadow of anxiety or care, which betokens a soul that is ill at ease, and in order to bring back the old ex pression of careless gaiety, you invent distraction, and urge rest, amusement, change of scene. But the peace that you perhaps succeed in restoring is not the peace of God, which His Spirit was ready to bestow; it is the peace of spiritual indifference and death. You may have destroyed the soul that you desired to heal. How often sorrow is sent as a divine influence to make a heedless mind thought ful or a hard heart tender; to bring a soul face to face, as it were, with the realities of the unseen world; to awaken desires that had been slumbering, and open again capacities that had been choked up by earthly pleasure or success. But your first thought is to restore it to happiness, if you can do so, though you can do so only by restoring it to the condition of religious apathy, from which the providence of God has aroused it. And this is why, as I said, the restoration of a soul is such a delicate thing. It is a task too vast for our power and too fine for our skill. We cannot even restore our own souls, and how shall we succeed in restor ing others? Is it not a comfort then to know that He who alone is equal to this great office is willing to per form it? It is a divine work, and divinely does God accomplish it. He does it often in unnoticed ways, by a power as silent and as gradual, as that by which He brings back the earth from the cold and hard desolation of winter, into the bursting luxuriance of June. But He does it; He does it in His own way; and there is nothing else which He is so intent upon doing. He did not make the soul of man to be a destructive force in the uni verse, at variance with itself and at enmity with Him, and the very first end of His providence and His grace is to bring it back into an orderly and harmonious life.
And observe how He does this. It is, first of all, by revealing Himself to it. The true source of all the disorders of souls is their forgetfulness of God. They have lost the great consciousness that they came from Him and are to return to Him again, and that He is Himself present within them. The eye has become blind to His glory; the ear has be come deaf to His voice. And that is why one has rushed off in hot chase of some earthly good, and another has lost hope and courage, and an other is borne down by sorrow, and another has been swept away by temptation, and all have be come spotted by the world. It is because they have forgotten Him who is over and around and within them, who is the law and the end of their life, who is their very life itself. And so when He restores a soul, it is to this first that He restores it, to the appreciation of the fact that He is, that it is encompassed and animated by Him.
Then the second step in the divine process of restoration is to make a soul aware of God's love. Not merely from Him does the power go forth by which it lives and moves, but He is watching over it with a fatherly and faithful care. It is not lost to His view amid the swarms of His creatures, but He has a personal knowledge of it. All its wants and its weaknesses, its successes and its failures, its aspirations and its discouragements are perfectly manifest to Him. It is the wonder of His infinite nature that each soul is as plainly present to Him, as if in all the universe it were the only soul. And not only so, but He has a purpose for it, a definite plan for its life and action. There is a path which He has meant it to follow, and in pursuing that path its true happiness and peace are found. Its disorder and its wretchedness have come from its deliberate choosing of some other course or its un conscious wandering away from that which He has appointed for it. And it cannot be restored till it has learned that God has something for it to be and do. And not merely that, again, but far as it has wandered from Him, it has not gone beyond the reach of His love. He follows it still with a strong, deep, personal affection, and longs to have it return to its duty and to Him. Now it is by bringing this to its knowledge, by impressing this upon its feeling, that He seeks to restore it to its true relation to Himself, and so to establish within it His own peace and purity and joy.
But it is not enough that it should know and feel this. It is here that its recovery begins, but not here that it is completed. For then He sends a holy and gracious influence upon it, the influence of His own Spirit, to bring it back into the life in Him and for Him from which it has gone so far astray. Silently but mightily that Spirit works upon it, not as a rushing, resistless force, but as an inward, transforming energy. It gives birth to new affections, new hopes, new desires. It begets a fresh courage in the room of despondency. It sheds abroad a holy and heavenly joy in the place of gloom and grief. It restores strength to the fainting spirit, and faith to the heart that has ceased to trust. It subdues the will that has struggled to have its own way, and makes it admit that God's way is best. It comes to the soul that is crushed and broken by the sense of sin, and it does not teach it that sin is a thing of no conse quence, to be banished from the thoughts as quickly as possible, or an inherited taint for which we are not responsible, or a disease from which we shall recover by some natural process. But it leads it to see in the Lord Jesus Christ its only and its all sufficient Saviour. It leads it to trust in Him for pardon and to look to Him for cleansing, to find in Him the cure of its present distresses and the in spiration of its future character. Not merely by the revelation of Himself in His being, His care, His wise purpose, His gracious love, does God re store the souls that have fallen out of harmony with Him and themselves. But He sends upon them His Holy Spirit to bring them back, through Him who is alone the Way." Is it not plain that our souls need to be thus re stored? Have we not often found our courage failing, our joy overclouded with sorrow? Have we not found ourselves swinging off from our true course into the pursuit of ends that we knew to be unworthy of us, and been discontented and dis tressed because we knew it was all so wrong? Have we not, perhaps, found our faith growing faint, and dreadful doubts of God's wisdom and love distracting our minds? Are we not conscious of a sharp conflict within us between our desires and our purposes, or between our purposes and our actual conduct? Do we not tremble some times when we think of some great sin that we have committed, which we would gladly have forgotten but which we cannot forget? Are we not in bondage to some bad habit which we have vainly struggled to throw off? Are we not at least con scious of many a stain which has fallen upon us in our passage through the world? However it may be that our souls have become what they are, is it not evident that they are not what they ought to be? We have broken away from the divine order. We are out of harmony with ourselves and with God. We need to be restored to this again.
And how shall this great result be brought about? Shall we set ourselves upon the task of do ing it? Shall we try to brush off this or that fleck that has fallen upon our purity? Shall we try to curb this or that wrong impulse, and to bring our desires under a firm restraint? Shall we say to our souls in their discouragement, "Come, be of good cheer, "or in their consciousness of sin, "Go, and sin no more"? Shall we attempt by study to re gain our faith, or by self-indulgence to recover our joyfulness? Ah, not in ways like these shall we conquer back that deep and lasting peace which has gone from us and which we long to have restored.
Shall we not rather, first of all, admit the lesson of our own experience that if we cannot keep our selves steadfast in the line of duty, pure from the corruptions that are in the world, strong in the faith which once we had, true to the high purposes with which we set out in life, we cannot ourselves regain these, after they are lost. Shall we not then go to God, and ask Him to restore us? Shall we not seek the renewing, illuminating, strengthening in fluences of His Holy Spirit, to do the work which we are powerless to do? Shall we not realize that all our trouble comes from our having got away from Him, and so make it our chief object to get back to Him again, and to come under His inspira tions? He is, He loves us, He has a plan for us, He is longing to restore us - it is in the sense of this that our recovery must begin.
And how shall we get back to Him - how, ex cept through Christ in whom He has Himself come near to us? Ah, when we realize God's being, as Christ has revealed it, when we feel His love as Christ has shown it, when His divine light comes in Christ and takes possession of our souls, that is our only true and permanent restoration. It is when we give ourselves to Him in grateful love and consecrated and holy service, when He gives Him self to us, as a power of righteousness formed within us and mastering us more and more - it is only then that we come back into harmony with God and with ourselves. For then it is no longer we who live, but Christ who liveth in us. His own wonderful words are then fulfilled, "I in them and Thou in me."The long strife is ended, and the heavenly peace begun. The shadows have broken apart, and the day has dawned. The fitful fever of our spiritual unrest has subsided; the soul's pulses move with a strong and steady beat, and we begin to grow toward the sound and perfect manhood of those who walk, not after the flesh, but after the spirit.
0 Thou great Restorer of souls, come thus into our souls, and restore them to purity and joy and peace.