“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” Psa 25:14
When a man enjoys the friendship of the great, it is always considered an honorable thing. To have the confidence of famous people is a distinction of which everyone is proud. When people point to a man and say to you, “Do you see that man–he was the friend of Gladstone”; when we find ourselves in the company of one who enjoyed the intimacy of Carlyle, there is always a certain thrill in our hearts and a deepened interest in the happy person who enjoyed the freedom of familiar fellowship with those whose names are famous in the world. I noticed the other day in the newspapers the case of a lady who had died. What the facts were I do not recall, but I was impressed by one in particular. She had been the friend of Ruskin in her youth and had been honored with his close friendship, and every newspaper I got my hands on put that in large letters in the heading.
Now if that is so with great men, how much more will it be so with God! To be admitted to the confidence of God must be quite an incomparable honor. It is His hand that hath inspired the genius; it is His spirit that hath made the poet; it is He who hath quickened and kindled into greatness the mightiest upon the stage of history. And if it be honorable to be their confidant and move in the freedom of fellowship with them, how much more to be the confidant of God. That is the deep meaning of our text–“The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” It is not the secret of His hidden counsel; it is the secret of His hidden heart. The psalmist tells us that there are certain people whom God delights to honor with His confidence and to whom He reveals Himself from day to day with a peculiar and delightful intimacy.
Intimacy Associated With Reverence
For those of us who believe on Jesus Christ as the perfect revelation of the Father, that selective freedom of God, if I may call it so, is abundantly confirmed and illustrated. There is no soul which Jesus will not save. There is no man whom Jesus does not love. There is no sheep crying in the wilderness whom the Shepherd will not leave His flock to rescue. Yet universal as His mercy is and stretching to the confines of humanity, Christ, like the Father whom He came to show, had His special and peculiar friendships. Out of the multitude who trusted Him, He chose twelve to be His special comrades. Out of the twelve He made a choice of three, and they were with Him when He was transfigured. And then out of the three He singled one who at the Supper lay upon His bosom and who has been known right down through the centuries as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Were there not fifty cottages where Jesus would have been an honored guest? Were there no sisters in Galilean villages to whom His coming would have been like heaven? And Jesus loved them all and blessed them all, yet was there one cottage that was doubly dear, and there was a brother and two sisters in it whom He loved in a special way. Broad is the love of Christ as the whole world–deep as our deepest need–it is high as our highest aspiration and as long as the enduring of eternity. Yet was the secret of the Lord with them that feared Him. He had His intimates and special confidants. There were certain men and certain women to whom He revealed the treasures of His heart.
Let me say in passing that this peculiar intimacy is always associated with the deepest reverence. Wherever we find it in the Christian centuries, one of its marks is an adoring awe. We have a proverb, known to all of you, that familiarity breeds contempt. We have another not less cynical, that no man is a hero to his servant. And the very fact that these proverbs live and move contemptuously through our common speech shows that they are not without foundation. Intimacy is not always a blessing. Sometimes it is sorely disappointing. There are men whose lives are like oil paintings which look their finest from a little distance. But if that is so with men sometimes, never yet hath it been so with God. The closer the intimacy of a man with God, the deeper his adoration and his awe. Abraham was the friend of God, yet he was but dust and ashes in his own sight. Moses was drawn into His secret counsel, yet who was more devoutly reverent than Moses? John had looked into his Master’s eyes, and lain at the Supper on his Master’s bosom, “yet when I saw him,” said that same disciple, “I fell at his feet as dead.”
I well remember when I was first in Switzerland how we looked at the great Alps from afar off. And from that distance they were so sublime that one almost shrank from any nearer view. And yet when I spent a week embosomed by them with the glaciers reaching almost to the door, that vast sublimity was only deepened. They were not less wonderful when near at hand. They were a thousand times more wonderful and awful. There were voices whispering in these icy palaces which one had never heard from far away. And so when a man who sometimes was far off is brought nigh to God by the blood of Jesus Christ, he does not cease to reverence or adore. Always distrust the religion of a man who speaks to God as to a next-door neighbor. Always distrust that light familiarity with the Almighty Maker of the universe. To know Him best is to adore Him most. To have His secret is to worship Him. He who is closest to the throne is on his knees.
God’s Selective Freedom
Nor can we justly quarrel with God because He exercises that selective freedom. It is the very thing which you and I are doing in the fulfillment of that life which is His gift. What is that life which you and I possess? What is it mystically, I mean, not chemically? The deepest truth of things is never chemical. The deepest truth of everything is mystical. And what is life, then, but the overflowing of the exhaustless fountain in the heavens? In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Now did you ever think how poor our life would be had we no freedom in our loves and friendships? Is it not just the genius of selection that makes one life richer than another? When everyone is kept at equal distance, life is a miserable and empty business. It lacks much of its music and charm. Don’t we all have our chosen friends? Don’t we have some who are our confidants? Don’t we sometimes make the great discovery and in a moment recognize our own? We are like Jesus in that village street, caught in the rough pushing of the crowd, yet there was one touch unlike all others–“Someone hath touched me.” Why is it that we are drawn to some people so unerringly and so effectually? And why to others, no matter how admirable, we never unbar the gateway of the heart? To me the meaning of it all is this, that life is interpenetrated with election, whether it be the life of man on earth, or the life of the Almighty in the heavens. Good unto all men is the Lord. He is the Lord God merciful and gracious. I believe in His great love to all the world which moved Him to send us His Son. Yet are there those whom He delights to know in all the freedom of a blessed intimacy. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him.
Now those confidants of God, if I may call them so, are never arbitrarily chosen. They are His friends because He wills it so, but they also become His friends by what they are. It is not always thus we make our friends. Our friendships are not always based on character. Often they take the line of least resistance, and sometimes they develop through a common jealousy or greed. But every friendship which is made with God is from the depths of character-the secret is with them that fear Him.
The note of the nightingale is never heard outside the borders of a certain area. You never hear it north of York. You never hear it west of the river Exe. You may take the eggs and have them hatched in Scotland and carry the fledglings to our Scottish woods, but never will the birds come north again to give us that wonderful music of the night. Outside a certain limit they are silent, and outside a certain limit God is silent. There are frontiers for the voice of heaven as there are for the voice of every singing bird. Only the frontiers are not geographical; they are moral and have to do with character. They are determined by what a man desires and by the deepest craving of his soul. The poorest peasant may know more of God than he who is a master of the sciences. The mystic cobbler may have such gleams of glory as put to shame the wisdom of the wise. For except we become as little children, we cannot even see the kingdom. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see Him.
Waiting on God
Put in another way that just means this, that we must wait on God if we would learn His secret. As the eyes of a servant wait upon her mistress, so, says the psalmist, must we wait on God. It is not by a hasty glance at an old masterpiece that you discern the wonder of the painting. When you confront a celebrated picture, the first feeling is often disappointment. It is only as you wait and watch and ponder, and quietly linger with revering gaze, that you detect its fullness and its depth and waken to the wonder of it all.
The farmers used to make merry with the poet Wordsworth when they saw him sitting hour by hour on some Grey stone. Some of them thought he was an idle rascal, and more of them thought he was a little crazy. But Wordsworth was watching nature like a lover, and he was passive that he might catch her voice, and he waited on nature with such a splendid faithfulness that we are all his debtors to this hour.
A fickle man can never be a scholar, nor can he ever hope to be a saint. No secret that is rich is ever won without the reverence of assiduity. You must wait on Shakespeare and you must wait on science through a thousand struggling and laborious days if you are ever to read the mystic scroll they carry or wrest from it the message it conveys. No self-respecting man reveals his deepest to the chance visitor or to the casual comer. He keeps his best for those who love his company and who rejoice to be with him day by day. And so the secret of the Lord is kept–and kept forever–from the casual comer. The secret is with them that fear Him.
In closing I want you to remember that this secret is given for large issues. It is not bestowed for personal enjoyment so much as for the service of mankind. There are certain plants, like that exquisite child of the spring the woodsorrel, to which God has given two different kinds of flowers. The one is the white flower which we all love, but the other is hidden away beneath the leaves. It has no beauty that we should desire it, nor any petals which unfold in April, yet in that secret flower which you have never noticed there lies the beauty of another spring. So is it with the secret of the Lord, for it is not showy like a fair corolla, yet it gives to every life that knows it a certain gracious and beautiful fertility. The secret of the sun is in the coal, and it is that secret which makes the coal a blessing. It warms our dwellings and drives our engine wheels because the secret of the sun is there. And if for coal, so ugly and defiling, the secret of the sunshine can do that, who can tell what blessing may not radiate from him who has the secret of the Lord? It will not reveal to him tomorrow’s story. It will not make him nastily infallible. He will be humble as a little child set in a world that is aflame with glory. But knowing God with such peculiar intimacy, for him tomorrow will be robbed of terror and in the weariest as in the roughest day there will be direction and repose.