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Hope of the Gospel: 7 - God's Family

By George MacDonald

      'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.' 'Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.' 'Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God.'--Matthew v. 8, 6, 9.

      The cry of the deepest in man has always been, to see God. It was the cry of Moses and the cry of Job, the cry of psalmist and of prophet; and to the cry, there has ever been faintly heard a far approach of coming answer. In the fullness of time the Son appears with the proclamation that a certain class of men shall behold the Father: 'Blessed are the pure in heart,' he cries, 'for they shall see God.' He who saw God, who sees him now, who always did and always will see him, says, 'Be pure, and you also shall see him.' To see God was the Lord's own, eternal, one happiness; therefore he knew that the essential bliss of the creature is to behold the face of the creator. In that face lies the mystery of a man's own nature, the history of a man's own being. He who can read no line of it, can know neither himself nor his fellow; he only who knows God a little, can at all understand man. The blessed in Dante's Paradise ever and always read each other's thoughts in God. Looking to him, they find their neighbour. All that the creature needs to see or know, all that the creature can see or know, is the face of him from whom he came. Not seeing and knowing it, he will never be at rest; seeing and knowing it, his existence will yet indeed be a mystery to him and an awe, but no more a dismay. To know that it is, and that it has power neither to continue nor to cease, must to any soul alive enough to appreciate the fact, be merest terror, save also it knows one with it the Power by which it exists. From the man who comes to know and feel that Power in him and one with him, loneliness, anxiety, and fear vanish; he is no more an orphan without a home, a little one astray on the cold waste of a helpless consciousness. 'Father,' he cries, 'hold me fast to thy creating will, that I may know myself one with it, know myself its outcome, its willed embodiment, and rejoice without trembling. Be this the delight of my being, that thou hast willed, hast loved me forth; let me know that I am thy child, born to obey thee. Dost thou not justify thy deed to thyself by thy tenderness toward me? dost thou not justify it to thy child by revealing to him his claim on thee because of thy disparture of him from thyself, because of his utter dependence on thee? Father, thou art in me, else I could not be in thee, could have no house for my soul to dwell in, or any world in which to walk abroad,'

      These truths are, I believe, the very necessities of fact, but a man does not therefore, at a given moment, necessarily know them. It is absolutely necessary, none the less, to his real being, that he should know these spiritual relations in which he stands to his Origin; yea, that they should be always present and potent with him, and become the heart and sphere and all-pervading substance of his consciousness, of which they are the ground and foundation. Once to have seen them, is not always to see them. There are times, and those times many, when the cares of this world--with no right to any part in our thought, seeing either they are unreasonable or God imperfect--so blind the eyes of the soul to the radiance of the eternally true, that they see it only as if it ought to be true, not as if it must be true; as if it might be true in the region of thought, but could not be true in the region of fact. Our very senses, filled with the things of our passing sojourn, combine to cast discredit upon the existence of any world for the sake of which we are furnished with an inner eye, an eternal ear. But had we once seen God face to face, should we not be always and for ever sure of him? we have had but glimpses of the Father. Yet, if we had seen God face to face, but had again become impure of heart--if such a fearful thought be a possible idea--we should then no more believe that we had ever beheld him. A sin-beclouded soul could never recall the vision whose essential verity was its only possible proof. None but the pure in heart see God; only the growing-pure hope to see him. Even those who saw the Lord, the express image of his person, did not see God. They only saw Jesus--and then but the outside Jesus, or a little more. They were not pure in heart; they saw him and did not see him. They saw him with their eyes, but not with those eyes which alone can see God. Those were not born in them yet. Neither the eyes of the resurrection-body, nor the eyes of unembodied spirits can see God; only the eyes of that eternal something that is of the very essence of God, the thought-eyes, the truth-eyes, the love-eyes, can see him. It is not because we are created and he uncreated, it is not because of any difference involved in that difference of all differences, that we cannot see him. If he pleased to take a shape, and that shape were presented to us, and we saw that shape, we should not therefore be seeing God. Even if we knew it was a shape of God--call it even God himself our eyes rested upon; if we had been told the fact and believed the report; yet, if we did not see the Godness, were not capable of recognizing him, so as without the report to know the vision him, we should not be seeing God, we should only be seeing the tabernacle in which for the moment he dwelt. In other words, not seeing what in the form made it a form fit for him to take, we should not be seeing a presence which could only be God.

      To see God is to stand on the highest point of created being. Not until we see God--no partial and passing embodiment of him, but the abiding presence--do we stand upon our own mountain-top, the height of the existence God has given us, and up to which he is leading us. That there we should stand, is the end of our creation. This truth is at the heart of everything, means all kinds of completions, may be uttered in many ways; but language will never compass it, for form will never contain it. Nor shall we ever see, that is know God perfectly. We shall indeed never absolutely know man or woman or child; but we may know God as we never can know human being--as we never can know ourselves. We not only may, but we must so know him, and it can never be until we are pure in heart. Then shall we know him with the infinitude of an ever-growing knowledge.

      'What is it, then, to be pure in heart?'

      I answer, It is not necessary to define this purity, or to have in the mind any clear form of it. For even to know perfectly, were that possible, what purity of heart is, would not be to be pure in heart.

      'How then am I to try after it? can I do so without knowing what it is?'

      Though you do not know any definition of purity, you know enough to begin to be pure. You do not know what a man is, but you know how to make his acquaintance--perhaps even how to gain his friendship. Your brain does not know what purity is; your heart has some acquaintance with purity itself. Your brain in seeking to know what it is, may even obstruct your heart in bettering its friendship with it. To know what purity is, a man must already be pure; but he who can put the question, already knows enough of purity, I repeat, to begin to become pure. If this moment you determine to start for purity, your conscience will at once tell you where to begin. If you reply, 'My conscience says nothing definite'; I answer, 'You are but playing with your conscience. Determine, and it will speak.'

      If you care to see God, be pure. If you will not be pure, you will grow more and more impure; and instead of seeing God, will at length find yourself face to face with a vast inane--a vast inane, yet filled full of one inhabitant, that devouring monster, your own false self. If for this neither do you care, I tell you there is a Power that will not have it so; a Love that will make you care by the consequences of not caring.

      You who seek purity, and would have your fellow-men also seek it, spend not your labour on the stony ground of their intellect, endeavouring to explain what purity is; give their imagination the one pure man; call up their conscience to witness against their own deeds; urge upon them the grand resolve to be pure. With the first endeavour of a soul toward her, Purity will begin to draw nigh, calling for admittance; and never will a man have to pause in the divine toil, asking what next is required of him; the demands of the indwelling Purity will ever be in front of his slow-labouring obedience.

      If one should say, 'Alas, I am shut out from this blessing! I am not pure in heart: never shall I see God!' here is another word from the same eternal heart to comfort him, making his grief its own consolation. For this man also there is blessing with the messenger of the Father. Unhappy men were we, if God were the God of the perfected only, and not of the growing, the becoming! 'Blessed are they,' says the Lord, concerning the not yet pure, 'which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.' Filled with righteousness, they are pure; pure, they shall see God.

      Long ere the Lord appeared, ever since man was on the earth, nay, surely, from the very beginning, was his spirit at work in it for righteousness; in the fullness of time he came in his own human person, to fulfil all righteousness. He came to his own of the same mind with himself, who hungered and thirsted after righteousness. They should be fulfilled of righteousness!

      To hunger and thirst after anything, implies a sore personal need, a strong desire, a passion for that thing. Those that hunger and thirst after righteousness, seek with their whole nature the design of that nature. Nothing less will give them satisfaction; that alone will set them at ease. They long to be delivered from their sins, to send them away, to be clean and blessed by their absence--in a word to become men, God's men; for, sin gone, all the rest is good. It was not in such hearts, it was not in any heart that the revolting legal fiction of imputed righteousness arose. Righteousness itself, God's righteousness, rightness in their own being, in heart and brain and hands, is what they desire. Of such men was Nathanael, in whom was no guile; such, perhaps, was Nicodemus too, although he did come to Jesus by night; such was Zacchaeus. The temple could do nothing to deliver them; but, by their very futility, its observances had done their work, developing the desires they could not meet, making the men hunger and thirst the more after genuine righteousness: the Lord must bring them this bread from heaven. With him, the live, original rightness, in their hearts, they must speedily become righteous. With that Love their friend, who is at once both the root and the flower of things, they would strive vigorously as well as hunger eagerly after righteousness. Love is the father of righteousness. It could not be, and could not be hungered after, but for love. The lord of righteousness himself could not live without Love, without the Father in him. Every heart was created for, and can live no otherwise than in and upon love eternal, perfect, pure, unchanging; and love necessitates righteousness. In how many souls has not the very thought of a real God waked a longing to be different, to be pure, to be right! The fact that this feeling is possible, that a soul can become dissatisfied with itself, and desire a change in itself, reveals God as an essential part of its being; for in itself the soul is aware that it cannot be what it would, what it ought--that it cannot set itself right: a need has been generated in the soul for which the soul can generate no supply; a presence higher than itself must have caused that need; a power greater than itself must supply it, for the soul knows its very need, its very lack, is of something greater than itself.

      But the primal need of the human soul is yet greater than this; the longing after righteousness is only one of the manifestations of it; the need itself is that of existence not self-existent for the consciousness of the presence of the causing Self-existent. It is the man's need of God. A moral, that is, a human, a spiritual being, must either be God, or one with God. This truth begins to reveal itself when the man begins to feel that he cannot cast out the thing he hates, cannot be the thing he loves. That he hates thus, that he loves thus, is because God is in him, but he finds he has not enough of God. His awaking strength manifests itself in his sense of weakness, for only strength can know itself weak. The negative cannot know itself at all. Weakness cannot know itself weak. It is a little strength that longs for more; it is infant righteousness that hungers after righteousness.

      To every soul dissatisfied with itself, comes this word, at once rousing and consoling, from the Power that lives and makes him live--that in his hungering and thirsting he is blessed, for he shall be filled. His hungering and thirsting is the divine pledge of the divine meal. The more he hungers and thirsts the more blessed is he; the more room is there in him to receive that which God is yet more eager to give than he to have. It is the miserable emptiness that makes a man hunger and thirst; and, as the body, so the soul hungers after what belongs to its nature. A man hungers and thirsts after righteousness because his nature needs it--needs it because it was made for it; his soul desires its own. His nature is good, and desires more good. Therefore, that he is empty of good, needs discourage no one; for what is emptiness but room to be filled? Emptiness is need of good; the emptiness that desires good, is itself good. Even if the hunger after righteousness should in part spring from a desire after self-respect, it is not therefore all false. A man could not even be ashamed of himself, without some 'feeling sense' of the beauty of rightness. By divine degrees the man will at length grow sick of himself, and desire righteousness with a pure hunger--just as a man longs to eat that which is good, nor thinks of the strength it will restore.

      To be filled with righteousness, will be to forget even righteousness itself in the bliss of being righteous, that is, a child of God. The thought of righteousness will vanish in the fact of righteousness. When a creature is just what he is meant to be, what only he is fit to be; when, therefore, he is truly himself, he never thinks what he is. He is that thing; why think about it? It is no longer outside of him that he should contemplate or desire it.

      God made man, and woke in him the hunger for righteousness; the Lord came to enlarge and rouse this hunger. The first and lasting effect of his words must be to make the hungering and thirsting long yet more. If their passion grow to a despairing sense of the unattainable, a hopelessness of ever gaining that without which life were worthless, let them remember that the Lord congratulates the hungry and thirsty, so sure does he know them of being one day satisfied. Their hunger is a precious thing to have, none the less that it were a bad thing to retain unappeased. It springs from the lack but also from the love of good, and its presence makes it possible to supply the lack. Happy, then, ye pining souls! The food you would have, is the one thing the Lord would have you have, the very thing he came to bring you! Fear not, ye hungering and thirsting; you shall have righteousness enough, though none to spare--none to spare, yet enough to overflow upon every man. See how the Lord goes on filling his disciples, John and Peter and James and Paul, with righteousness from within! What honest soul, interpreting the servant by the master, and unbiassed by the tradition of them that would shut the kingdom of heaven against men, can doubt what Paul means by 'the righteousness which is of God by faith'? He was taught of Jesus Christ through the words he had spoken; and the man who does not understand Jesus Christ, will never understand his apostles. What righteousness could St Paul have meant but the same the Lord would have men hunger and thirst after--the very righteousness wherewith God is righteous! They that hunger and thirst after such only righteousness, shall become pure in heart, and shall see God.

      If your hunger seems long in being filled, it is well it should seem long. But what if your righteousness tarry, because your hunger after it is not eager? There are who sit long at the table because their desire is slow; they eat as who should say, We need no food. In things spiritual, increasing desire is the sign that satisfaction is drawing nearer. But it were better to hunger after righteousness for ever than to dull the sense of lack with the husks of the Christian scribes and lawyers: he who trusts in the atonement instead of in the father of Jesus Christ, fills his fancy with the chimeras of a vulgar legalism, not his heart with the righteousness of God.

      Hear another like word of the Lord. He assures us that the Father hears the cries of his elect--of those whom he seeks to worship him because they worship in spirit and in truth. 'Shall not God avenge his own elect,' he says, 'which cry day and night unto him?' Now what can God's elect have to keep on crying for, night and day, but righteousness? He allows that God seems to put off answering them, but assures us he will answer them speedily. Even now he must be busy answering their prayers; increasing hunger is the best possible indication that he is doing so. For some divine reason it is well they should not yet know in themselves that he is answering their prayers; but the day must come when we shall be righteous even as he is righteous; when no word of his will miss being understood because of our lack of righteousness; when no unrighteousness shall hide from our eyes the face of the Father.

      These two promises, of seeing God, and being filled with righteousness, have place between the individual man and his father in heaven directly; the promise I now come to, has place between a man and his God as the God of other men also, as the father of the whole family in heaven and earth: 'Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God.'

      Those that are on their way to see God, those who are growing pure in heart through hunger and thirst after righteousness, are indeed the children of God; but specially the Lord calls those his children who, on their way home, are peace-makers in the travelling company; for, surely, those in any family are specially the children, who make peace with and among the rest. The true idea of the universe is the whole family in heaven and earth. All the children in this part of it, the earth, at least, are not good children; but however far, therefore, the earth is from being a true portion of a real family, the life-germ at the root of the world, that by and for which it exists, is its relation to God the father of men. For the development of this germ in the consciousness of the children, the church--whose idea is the purer family within the more mixed, ever growing as leaven within the meal by absorption, but which itself is, alas! not easily distinguishable from the world it would change--is one of the passing means. For the same purpose, the whole divine family is made up of numberless human families, that in these, men may learn and begin to love one another. God, then, would make of the world a true, divine family. Now the primary necessity to the very existence of a family is peace. Many a human family is no family, and the world is no family yet, for the lack of peace. Wherever peace is growing, there of course is the live peace, counteracting disruption and disintegration, and helping the development of the true essential family. The one question, therefore, as to any family is, whether peace or strife be on the increase in it; for peace alone makes it possible for the binding grass-roots of life--love, namely, and justice--to spread throughout what were else but a wind-blown heap of still drifting sand. The peace-makers quiet the winds of the world ever ready to be up and blowing; they tend and cherish the interlacing roots of the ministering grass; they spin and twist many uniting cords, and they weave many supporting bands; they are the servants, for the truth's sake, of the individual, of the family, of the world, of the great universal family of heaven and earth. They are the true children of that family, the allies and ministers of every clasping and consolidating force in it; fellow-workers they are with God in the creation of the family; they help him to get it to his mind, to perfect his father-idea. Ever radiating peace, they welcome love, but do not seek it; they provoke no jealousy. They are the children of God, for like him they would be one with his creatures. His eldest son, his very likeness, was the first of the family-peace-makers. Preaching peace to them that were afar off and them that were nigh, he stood undefended in the turbulent crowd of his fellows, and it was only over his dead body that his brothers began to come together in the peace that will not be broken. He rose again from the dead; his peace-making brothers, like himself, are dying unto sin; and not yet have the evil children made their father hate, or their elder brother flinch.

      On the other hand, those whose influence is to divide and separate, causing the hearts of men to lean away from each other, make themselves the children of the evil one: born of God and not of the devil, they turn from God, and adopt the devil their father. They set their God-born life against God, against the whole creative, redemptive purpose of his unifying will, ever obstructing the one prayer of the first-born--that the children may be one with him in the Father. Against the heart-end of creation, against that for which the Son yielded himself utterly, the sowers of strife, the fomenters of discord, contend ceaseless. They do their part with all the other powers of evil to make the world which the love of God holds together--a world at least, though not yet a family--one heaving mass of dissolution. But they labour in vain. Through the mass and through it, that it may cohere, this way and that, guided in dance inexplicable of prophetic harmony, move the children of God, the lights of the world, the lovers of men, the fellow-workers with God, the peace-makers--ever weaving, after a pattern devised by, and known only to him who orders their ways, the web of the world's history. But for them the world would have no history; it would vanish, a cloud of windborne dust. As in his labour, so shall these share in the joy of God, in the divine fruition of victorious endeavour. Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God--the children because they set the Father on the throne of the Family.

      The main practical difficulty, with some at least of the peace-makers, is, how to carry themselves toward the undoers of peace, the disuniters of souls. Perhaps the most potent of these are not those powers of the church visible who care for canon and dogma more than for truth, and for the church more than for Christ; who take uniformity for unity; who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel, nor knowing what spirit they are of; such men, I say, are perhaps neither the most active nor the most potent force working for the disintegration of the body of Christ. I imagine also that neither are the party-liars of politics the worst foes to divine unity, ungenerous, and often knowingly false as they are to their opponents, to whom they seem to have no desire to be honest and fair. I think, rather, they must be the babbling liars of the social circle, and the faithless brothers and unloving sisters of disunited human families. But why inquire? Every self-assertion, every form of self-seeking however small or poor, world-noble or grotesque, is a separating and scattering force. And these forces are multitudinous, these points of radial repulsion are innumerable, because of the prevailing passion of mean souls to seem great, and feel important. If such cannot hope to attract the attention of the great-little world, if they cannot even become 'the cynosure of neighbouring eyes,' they will, in what sphere they may call their own, however small it be, try to make a party for themselves; each, revolving on his or her own axis, will attempt to self-centre a private whirlpool of human monads. To draw such a surrounding, the partisan of self will sometimes gnaw asunder the most precious of bonds, poison whole broods of infant loves. Such real schismatics go about, where not inventing evil, yet rejoicing in iniquity; mishearing; misrepresenting; paralyzing affection; separating hearts. Their chosen calling is that of the strife-maker, the child of the dividing devil. They belong to the class of the perfidious, whom Dante places in the lowest infernal gulf as their proper home. Many a woman who now imagines herself standing well in morals and religion, will find herself at last just such a child of the devil; and her misery will be the hope of her redemption.

      But it is not for her sake that I write these things: would such a woman recognize her own likeness, were I to set it down as close as words could draw it? I am rather as one groping after some light on the true behaviour toward her kind. Are we to treat persons known for liars and strife-makers as the children of the devil or not? Are we to turn away from them, and refuse to acknowledge them, rousing an ignorant strife of tongues concerning our conduct? Are we guilty of connivance, when silent as to the ambush whence we know the wicked arrow privily shot? Are we to call the traitor to account? or are we to give warning of any sort? I have no answer. Each must carry the question that perplexes to the Light of the World. To what purpose is the spirit of God promised to them that ask it, if not to help them order their way aright?

      One thing is plain--that we must love the strife-maker; another is nearly as plain--that, if we do not love him, we must leave him alone; for without love there can be no peace-making, and words will but occasion more strife. To be kind neither hurts nor compromises. Kindness has many phases, and the fitting form of it may avoid offence, and must avoid untruth.

      We must not fear what man can do to us, but commit our way to the Father of the Family. We must be nowise anxious to defend ourselves; and if not ourselves because God is our defence, then why our friends? is he not their defence as much as ours? Commit thy friend's cause also to him who judgeth righteously. Be ready to bear testimony for thy friend, as thou wouldst to receive the blow struck at him; but do not plunge into a nest of scorpions to rescue his handkerchief. Be true to him thyself, nor spare to show thou lovest and honourest him; but defence may dishonour: men may say, What! is thy friend's esteem then so small? He is unwise who drags a rich veil from a cactus-bush.

      Whatever our relation, then, with any peace-breaker, our mercy must ever be within call; and it may help us against an indignation too strong to be pure, to remember that when any man is reviled for righteousness-sake, then is he blessed.

Back to George MacDonald index.

See Also:
   1 - Salvation From Sin
   2 - The Remission of Sins
   3 - Jesus in the World
   4 - Jesus and His Fellow Townsmen
   5 - The Heirs of Heaven and Earth
   6 - Sorrow the Pledge of Joy
   7 - God's Family
   8 - The Reward of Obedience
   9 - The Yoke of Jesus
   10 - The Salt and the Light of the World
   11 - The Right Hand and the Left
   12 - The Hope of the Universe


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