"Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord on the heart." - 1 Samuel 16:7.
C. Allan: Samuel, choosing a ruler for Israel, has come by divine direction to Jesse's household, and as his eye lights on Eliab, the firstborn, he feels that his quest is over. Here indeed is a proper man, one built on great lines: in physique and bearing a very king among men.
Feeling the greatness and solemnity of the occasion, and conscious of a holy Presence near him, it seems to the prophet that God and God's chosen are standing face to face. "Surely," he murmurs, "the Lord's anointed is before Him." (1 Sam. 16:6)
But even as he speaks he becomes aware that he is wrong, and has surrendered too quickly to the report of his senses. For to his inner ear, so long attuned to catch heaven's wireless messages, comes the warning: "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."
So Eliab - Eliab with his goodly stature, with face and figure like a young god - passes out of the story, and one by one the other stalwart sons after him, until at last the youngest - at that crucial moment tending the sheep - is summoned. On him the choice falls, and on his head the anointing oil is poured. He too is goodly to look on, the glow of health on his cheeks, his countenance frank and open as the day. But the choice is determined by something deeper than all that, something in David's inner life, something pleasing in the eyes of Him who looketh upon the heart.
How wonderful these old Bible stories are. How simply, directly, inevitably they drive at the very center, pierce to the very core of reality. The Lord looketh on the heart: how real it all is and how vital: pure gold: teaching for all time.
And nothing namby-pamby about it either. For David, as we remember, was no "plaster saint." The subsequent record is quite frank about that. He was a perfectly human man. He went wrong sometimes, and once terribly wrong. But the wonder about that, to anyone who thinks, who has the historical sense of time and situation, is not the sin but the pain it brought, the agony of soul, the sweat as of the man's very life blood that seems still to drop visibly on the pages that record his broken cries: the desolation of spirit following interrupted communion which was the essence of his punishment and the index to him of the enormity of his offence. Only to a big man, a man sound at heart, an essentially great and noble man was such pain - pain of this intensity and quality and order - possible.
The Lord looketh on the heart. That is to say, when God seeks a man fit to be king, He does not ask how he looks, but what he is. The divine concern is not with the man's circumstances or appurtenances, but with himself ; what he is fundamentally, at the center and core of him. That is what counts when real issues are at stake and there is real work to do. Has the man soul, has he the root of the matter in him, is he alive and aware? Is he in touch with the realities about him and over him? Has he a spirit capable of answering to the call of the hour and listening to the directive impulses that come to him from above and beyond himself? Then he is the man God wants and the world needs; the man who counts, the man for a crisis, the man after God's own heart, who alone can serve the purposes of heaven in all the generations.
"Man looketh on the outward appearance." How true that has always been and is still. How superficial the world's judgment is, how easily influenced and deflected by surface appearances. Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? (John 1:46) Is this the Carpenter's son? (Mark 6:3) Have we not here yelling tent-maker? (Paul) Oh! fools that we are, blind! it is the soul of a man that counts: the soul that in its simple power and majesty can shake this old world to its foundations.
"God looketh on the heart." How much greater that is, how much wiser; for the heart is dynamic, creative, central. Eliab looks big but David is big. He has a roomy heart, a loyal and tender heart, the courage of a soldier and the sensitiveness of a saint.
If God looks on the heart, it is there too we must look. For after all it is His world, and everything goes dreadfully wrong when we forget that simple but fundamental fact. Indeed with "God looketh on the heart" for text, you could re-write all history. The crumbled empires, the vanished pomps, the foiled ambitions, the world embracing plans that came to naught, all have this for epitaph and explanation. It is the lesson above all others which history teaches, and recent history [First World War] not least. We must grow better hearts, cleaner hearts, more understanding hearts if the future is to be different from the past. We must devote new and purposeful attention to the things within, for always and everywhere they are the determining things.
The state of the world at any given period is only the state of its heart writ large: that and nothing more. "Say ye not, lo here or lo there, for behold the kingdom of heaven is within you." (Luke 17:21) The better world grows out of the better heart, not otherwise or otherwhere.
Tinker at the Constitution as you will, alter this or alter that - and much can be usefully altered - if that is all you have altered you have really altered nothing. For the heart is the strategic point. It is the inner life that matters, the kind of souls men have, the ideals that win their allegiance, the moral forces that sway their conduct, the power that rules at the deep center of their lives.
These are the things that make or mar the world: a fact which, to the thinking mind, supplies convincing evidence that the Power behind this universe is a spiritual power and the end contemplated a spiritual end. The Lord looketh on the heart. By the heart He judges all man's work, the civilizations he builds, the social fabric he erects, the thing he makes of it all. And if by this test it is condemned, condemned it is, and sooner or later crumbles in ruin abject and complete. If the wheels of God grind slowly, they grind surely, and they grind exceeding small [H. W. Longfellow].
The Lord looketh on the heart. Nothing else counts. Nothing else in the long run avails: that in brief, but also in full, is the history of the world.
And what is the simple and inevitable conclusion to draw from this? Surely that the heart, the soul, the inner life must be given its rightful place - which is the first place - in the concerns of men. We hear much in these days of the decay of ancient reverences and loyalties, of the slow withering of the will and power to work, and other evidences of national and social deterioration. But what gain is there in bemoaning consequences and ignoring the causes from which the consequences come? If we neglect the heart and the things that train the heart, the emotions that purify it, the truth that commands it, the spiritual forces that direct it, what else can we expect?
"Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23); no greater injunction than that was ever given, and no more penetrative analysis ever offered of man's rise and progress or his decline and fall. Civilizations flourish or decay as the import and implications of that great saying are honored or despised. Man is as his heart is, and as his heart is so the world will be.
Education. - What avails the education which leaves out of account the nature and quality of the inner life? I have been reading these last days the story of a great headmaster, Sanderson of Oundle. A mathematician of distinction, whose stress lay on the scientific side of education rather than the literary - although this last was by no means neglected - it was all the more surprising and delightful to find that what through all and above all this great-souled man was seeking was to awaken the spiritual life of his boys: the creative instinct, through the work-shops where during a portion of their time they made real things; the community instinct, which by a skilful arrangement of groups the whole educational method was devised to develop; everything indeed except the competitive instinct, which was anathema. The work was the thing; to do it well for its own sake, not to beat another boy.
Sanderson held that parents should send their children to school not simply that they might learn lessons, either in languages or mathematics or science or art, but that they might gain life, the enthusiasm of life, the capacity and desire of giving their own lives for the life of the world. His favorite text was: "I came that ye might have life, and that ye might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10)
And that is what a really good teacher does, he communicates, he awakens life, and for that, of course, he must himself have life. It is the soul that matters, and that which comes only from the soul: joy in living, in creating, in cultivating some bit of the garden of the world in which God has placed us, "to dress it and to keep it," (Gen. 2:15) as in the immortal story of Genesis. That we can do this and joy in doing it is to be educated, and nothing else is. Doing it as well as we can, and with a live sense of what it means and what hangs on the doing of it, that is education. And its fountain and motive is within.
It cannot take its rise from outward things, least of all from the money-making spirit which is the foe of good work and good life and good brotherhood everywhere. "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon" (Matt. 6:24). God looketh on the heart. It is out of a good heart and a good heart only that a renovated social and economic life can come. So Sanderson of Oundle believed, and so it is. The education which ignores that, ignores all that really matters.
So too with the child in family life. Make the of a child's ambition selfish - money, fame, power, anything but service, and you dwarf and cripple his soul, do a grievous wrong to him and to God and to the world. The family is the school of unselfishness, the first and the best. But unless its atmosphere is right there will be nothing doing; nothing that is worth doing. A child learns by atmosphere, grows by it far more than by direct precept. Character communicates itself. You must inwardly be what you would have your child be. There also the Lord looketh on the heart.
Attention has been recently directed to three noble utterances. One was the King's message to the children on Empire Day; another was the Queen's. The third was delivered in the House of Commons by the man who is now Prime Minister [Baldwin]. The thing common to all three was that the qualities they desiderated [desired as essential] were all qualities of the soul. The King spoke of the courage, wisdom and unselfishness by which all that was great in our Empire had been built and by which alone it could endure. The Queen spoke of those simple lessons of love, kindness and unselfishness which in cloud and sunshine are the strength and beauty of life. And when Mr. Baldwin - in circumstances where language so direct and vital is, to say the least unusual - said, "There are four words of salvation for this country and for the whole world, and they are, Faith, Hope, Love, and Work," he uttered something which drew to him the hearts of all thinking people, and which will make men and women of goodwill in all parties watch his career with prayerful expectancy. Faith, hope, love and work are indeed the watchwords of the world's salvation, and it is out of the heart alone they can come to do their saving office.
But this must be added, that faith, hope, and work and love, to-day as ever, imply something beyond themselves. The souls out of which they are to grow need the quickening of some higher power. And that has always come and always will come through the channel of a deepened religious life. Not out of prudential [selfish] motives will these four great words of salvation come to their Kingdom and rule the hearts of men. Not thus will they become flesh and dwell among us; be embodied in the life and movement of the actual, breathing everyday world.
When the Napoleonic Wars brought on our land economic hardship and deep distress, it was the spring-air of the great Evangelical Revival that breathed quickening and hope through the national life. And as it was so it will be. One of our teachers recently gave it as his considered opinion that religion is slowly moving from a center in self to a center in God. If that be true it is indeed good news. And signs are not wanting that the quest for material sensation is suffering from exhaustion, and that a hunger for higher things is stirring in the general soul. Witness the historic City churches in Smithfields and Wood Street and elsewhere crowded to overflowing during the luncheon hour in the midst of the weekday life of busy London, while Dean Inge, Sir Oliver Lodge and others speak of spiritual things.
Is not all this prophetic, something of a sign and signal like that given once to David, on whose heart God looked, "The sound of a going in the of the mulberry trees" (2 Sam. 5:24)? God never quite repeats Himself. The coming revival may not be like those that have been. New needs call for new remedies, and the divine resources are inexhaustible. Revival in these days must go deep, for it must spread wide, widely enough to cover all life. But its dynamic center will not cease to be the heart. What we all need to-day is something to make us simple-minded, open to the truth, humble and contrite when we have done wrong, and passionately eager as David himself was for the restoration of God's presence and favor.
May He who looks on the heart give us all the hearts He seeks; the hearts through which alone He can do His holy errand and bring salvation to a sorely bewildered and distressful world.
Sermon preached by Charles Allan, Greenock, Scotland, ca. 1920
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