Thy Exceeding Great Reward

From “The True Reward,” Sermons on Some Words of Christ, 24-26 (1877)

The Lord hath made all things for himself” (Prov. 16:4). That is the secret, the key of creation. If God was to create at all, let us say it with reverence, he could not do otherwise. The self-existent and all-perfect Being could not surround himself with creatures who were to find the final satisfaction of their various powers and instincts in something else than himself. He is the end of all beings, He is the center of all existences, by an inevitable necessity, because he is God.

The irrational creation serves his purpose by an irresistible law. The sun, the animals, the plants cannot but praise the Lord, as they obey the laws which govern them. They are fated, by a happy necessity, to promote his glory. With man it is otherwise. Man has the majestic, it may be the fatal, prerogative of deciding whether he will serve his Creator or not. The sovereign gift of free-will, which is man s highest distinction among the creatures, involves this power of deciding whether to live for God, or for someone or something else.

But however man may decide, the law of his happiness, as of his perfection, remains the same. Only one Being can say to the soul of man, as he said to the patriarch nearly four thousand years ago, “I will be thy exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15:1).

There is that in man which nothing short of God can satisfy. There are inexplicable longings, depths of restlessness, unexplored chasms of possible despair, out of which the soul of man cries for an infinite and perfect Being as its true end and object in existence. “Out of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice” (Ps. 130:1).

And He does satisfy, or, as our Lord says, reward the soul that gives itself to him. All the mysterious yearnings of the heart, all the bright utopian visions of boyhood, all the earnest dreamings of the higher and purer hours of later life, find their counterpart and their explanation in him, the infinite and the eternal.

“I will be thy exceeding great reward.” So it was in the beginning of human history; so it is now and ever shall be. Those only are kept in perfect peace whose minds are stayed on him. The passion for truth, the passion for beauty, the demand for law, the sense of awe, of wonder, of reverence, of exhilaration, all are satisfied in the eternal God. They are satisfied, in no stinted way, here and now in this sphere of sense and time; but they are only satisfied perfectly in the endless beatific vision of the saints in heaven.

This, my brethren, was the reward of which our Lord spoke. “Thy Father, which seeth in secret, himself shall reward thee openly.”  Heaven means at bottom not an infinitely magnificent pleasure-garden, but lasting contact between a created nature and its God. Pleasure was said by a great heathen thinker to consist in the contact between a faculty and its object; and man’s true and perfect happiness consists in like manner in contact – contact the closest, the most uninterrupted with the Being who has shaped every faculty of man’s existence that it might find its satisfaction only in himself.

Men sometimes speak of certain abstract objects as the reward of their efforts in life. They live for virtue; they live for truth; they live for philosophy; they live for philanthropy. Brethren, if these things are real to them, they live for God. He is the eternal Loving-kindness from which all human love of man must flow. He is the eternal Wisdom, the eternal Truth, the one unerring Philosophy of which all that can present itself to a created intelligence is a spark or a shadow. He is himself the absolute Virtue, Virtue in its personal and self-existing form, so that to live really for virtue is to live for him. In him all these nobler aspirations of men meet and are satisfied; they are all included in that comprehensive promise, “I will be thy exceeding great reward.”

Henry Parry Liddon (1829-1890) was an influential Catholic Anglican theologian, one of the most acclaimed preachers of Victorian Britain. He was professor of scriptural interpretation at Oxford University and, for twenty years, chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The True Reward was preached there on August 26, 1877.

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