Deep Calling unto Deep – Sermons & Articles

“Deep calleth unto deep.”—Psalm 42:7

In one of the most spiritual of David’s Psalms there come, almost incidentally as it were, the most striking pictures of external Nature. He begins by singing, “Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, God.” Then he goes on to that profound remonstrance with his own oppressed and melancholy heart. “Why art thou so full of heaviness, my soul? Why art thou so disquieted within me? “And then comes his great appeal to God in Nature, — ” Therefore will I remember Thee concerning the land of Jordan and the little hill of Hermon. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of Thy waterspouts.” It is partly a recollection of the causes of his gratitude. It is a remembrance of how Jordan and Hermon had witnessed God’s goodness to him; but it is also the effort to lose his own spiritual vexations in the vastness and majesty of the scenes and the phenomena of natural life. He would put his own personal woe where the billows and the tides are sweeping and beating across one another, and make it sensible in their movement of the larger world of which it is a part, and in whose whole there is peace.

This is the way in which David’s descriptions of Nature come about. He is no word-painter depicting the beautiful majestic world for the mere pleasure of the exercise of his literary skill. It is all a spiritual experience. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” It is God and peace and holiness which his soul is seeking when he climbs the mountain, or stands under the starry heavens, or is tossed on the tumult of the resistless sea.

We all know something of what was in the great man’s heart. We have all taken a sorrow or a perplexity out into the noontide or the midnight and felt its morbid bitterness drawn out of it, and a great peace descend and fill it from the depth of the majesty under whose arch we stood. It was not consolation. That can come only through the intelligence and reason, or through personal sympathy and love. The sweet and solemn influence which comes to you out of the noontide or the midnight sky does not take away your pain, but it takes out of it its bitterness. It lifts it to a higher peace. It says, “Be still and wait.” It gives the reason power and leave and time to work. It gathers the partial into the embrace of the universal. It fills the little with the large. Without mockery or scorn it reminds the small that it is small. The atom floating on the surface hears deep calling unto deep below, and forgets its own restlessness and homelessness in listening.

This was what Nature in our Psalm is seen doing for the spiritual life of David. But that is not what I want to speak about to-day, although I could not help alluding to it as it gives so rich a character to our Psalm.

I want to take now these words by themselves, — “Deep calleth unto deep,” — and let them suggest to us some thoughts with regard to man’s relation to the world and his true way of living in it, which I hope will not be without their value. “Deep calleth unto deep.” It is the profound responsiveness of life which those words utter. If some great natural philosopher were to speak to us, no doubt he could tell us of the way in which even in physical nature what they suggest is true; of how there is no force which does not correspond with other forces, and find the reason of its own existence in its relationship to them. For such a great rich topic as that, I have no fitness. But there is another responsiveness, — the responsiveness of the life of man, the responsiveness of the world and the human nature which inhabits it to one another, which is also worthy of our study. And it is of that that I desire to speak.

How clear they are, and how they call and answer to each other, — the world and man! The world, — this aggregate of conditions and phenomena and events, this multitudinous complexity of things which happen as old habits to which the gray old earth has long been used, and other things which come with sharp and strange surprise and unexpectedness, as if they never had occurred before; the world, — this crowd of circumstances, with a certain subtle spirit and identity and law pervading it; this world, living and yet dead, dead and yet living, — at one moment a thing of mere material of wood and rock and water, at the next moment a thing all instinct with quickness and vitality; the world on one side, and on the other man, sensitive and eager, ready to respond, often responding even when no one speaks to him, — man who seems sometimes to be only the chief of animals, sprung as it were out of the very substance of the world itself, and then at other times seeming to carry on his forehead the star of a supremacy and an authority almost divine, — this world and this man, behold them standing and looking each other in the face, and listening for one another’s words! The world hears the man. It answers him with its obedience’s. It responds to his advancing character. It holds its resources ready as he grows fit to call for them. But even more sensitively the man hears the world. The mass and crowd of things abound in influences which pour forth and tell upon the human creature’s life. Its slightest whisper fills him with emotion and works upon his sensitive will. Almost we can think of the angelic beings which are in the heavens, full of sympathy, bending and listening to this converse between man and his world, between each man and his circumstances, and knowing how it fares with him by the way in which they speak to him and the way in which he answers.

But then, to take another step, when we look somewhat closer at the world and at man, we find this other thing, — that both in the world and in man there are profounder and there are more superficial parts, there are depths and shallows; and that it makes great and most critical difference which part of the world it is that speaks to which part of the man. The world is deep or shallow. How deep it is! What solemn and perplexing questions come up out of its darknesses! How it is always on the point of vast changes, terrible explosions! How character is always being moulded by the powers which it contains! How souls seem to change their whole nature as they pass through its furnaces! And yet change your point of view and what a shallow thing the world is! How its changes chase one another almost like the idle alternation of joy and sorrow on the face of a child! How much happens in the State and in society, and in the schools, which comes to nothing! What a waving of lights and jingling of bells and playing at hide-and-seek of waves upon the sea a large part of this perpetual activity appears.

And not only the world but man as well is deep or shallow. How deep he is! What struggles may tear the very foundations of his life asunder! On the other hand, what peaces which passeth understanding may lie like a great ocean underneath the surface turmoil of his days. How profoundly he can suffer; how profoundly he can enjoy! What rich things are his conscience and his will! And then, all of a sudden, when it seems as if all the universe were in him; when it seems as if he were as high as heaven and as low as hell; when the music of his nature seems to be full of the intensest passion which out-goes expression, — how he will begin, all of a sudden, to chatter like a bird! How nothing is too light for him! How he will play with straws and chase shadows across the fields! How he will make life a frolic, and refuse to be serious even when the heaviest shadows fill the solemn sky!

Thus the two, — the world and man, whose converse with each other makes the history and poetry, the comedy and tragedy of this planet whereon we live, — both of them have their depths and their shallows. Each of them is capable of seeming profound and rich and serious or superficial and meagre and trivial. And all this makes their talk with one another, their influence on one another, endlessly interesting and pathetic. It is the noblest and completest form of their intercourse — the intercourse of the world and man — which has seemed to me to be suggested by the words from David’s Psalm. When the strongest powers of man are brought out by the greatest exigencies of life; when what a man can do is tested to the very bottom by the most awful or splendid exhibition of what the world can be; when a man stands amazed himself at the patience and courage and resource which comes welling up in his soul at the demand of some great suffering or some great opportunity of his fellow-men, — could there be words which could describe the great scene better than these, ” Deep calleth unto deep? ”

It may be in the region of thought or in the region of action; it may be a great problem awakening the profoundest intelligence, and saying, ” Come, find my solution,” or it may be a great task summoning the active powers, and saying, ” Come, do me; ” it may be in an excitement and a tumult which shakes the nature through and through, or it may be in a serene and open calmness which means more than any tumult.

The form is nothing; the substance of the experience is everything. When the supreme demand of life calls out the supreme capacity of man, then it is that the picture of the waves is fulfilled in spiritual life and “Deep calleth unto deep.”
It is a great inspiring spectacle when this is seen taking place in a young man’s life. There is a beautiful exhilaration in it. The mysterious world lifts up its voice and asks its old unanswered questions, — problems which have puzzled all the generations which have come and gone, lo! they are not dead. They are still alive. They lift up their undiscouraged voice and ask themselves anew of this new-comer, and he with his audacious heart accepts their challenge. All that is most serious and earnest in him tells him that their answers must be somewhere. His clear eyes question them with hope. Perhaps he can find what all who have gone before have failed to find. So the best which the young man is leaps to wrestle with the hardest which the world can show; so deep answereth to deep.

At the other end of life the same thing comes, only in another way. When the great shadow of the earth lies on the old man’s soul, and the light of the life beyond is gathering in the western sky; when wonder deepens and great questions swarm and the supreme problem, ” What does it all mean? ” stares out at him from all familiar things, — how often then a patience and a faith, a love and trust and spiritual certainty come forth which all the life has been preparing unconsciously; and in the silent days which wait the end, the soul hears the eternity, and ” Deep calleth unto deep. ”
I speak of notable periods which are, as it were, emergencies of life; but I should be sorry to think that this dealing of the deepest part of us with the deepest part of the world were confined to critical occasions and solemn or enthusiastic days. I should be sorry not to think that there are lives in which it is habitual. There are men, not oppressed and gloomy, but serious and happy, whose deepest thought is always busy with the deepest things. Very unhappy is the man who never knows such converse. Happiest of all is he for whom it starts without surprise at any moment, who is always ready to give his deepest thought to deepest questions and his strongest powers to the hardest tasks.

This then is what we mean by deep calling unto deep. You see what kind of life it makes. There is another kind of life by contrast with which this kind may perhaps best be understood. There is a life to which the world seems easy, and so in which the strongest powers of the human nature are not stirred. I call that the life in which shallow calleth unto shallow. Like little pools lying in the rock, none of them more than an inch deep, all of them rippling and twinkling in the sunshine and the breeze, — so lie the small interests of the world and the small powers of man; and they talk with one another, and one perfectly answers the demands which the other makes. Do you not know all that? The world simply as a place of enjoyment summons man simply as a being capable of enjoyment. The whole relationship gets no deeper than that. The material of pleasure or of pride cries to the power of pleasure or of pride, “Come, be pleased,” or “Come, be proud.” It is the invitation of the surface to the surface, — of the surface of the world to the surface of the man.

What shall we say of this? It is real. It is legitimate. In its degree and its proportion it is good; but made the whole of life and cut off from connection with the deeper converse between the world and the soul, it is dreadful. The world does say to us, “Enjoy;” and it is good for us to hear her invitation. But for the world to say, and for us to hear, nothing better or deeper than “Enjoy” is to turn the relation between the world and man into something hardly better than that which exists between the corn-field and the crows. It is clothing oneself with cobwebs. Only when the deeper communion, rich and full and strong, is going on below, between the depths of life and the depths of man, — only then is the surface communion healthy and natural and good. He who is always hearing and answering the call of life to be thoughtful and brave and self-sacrificing, — he alone can safely hear the other cry of life, tempting him to be happy and enjoy.
But look! What multitudes of men have ears only for the summons to enjoyment, who never once seem to hear the call to righteousness and self-sacrifice and truth. Look at the devotees of art to whom it is never more than a mere vehicle of pleasure. Look at the slaves of society who never make it their slave by compelling it to make them generous and good. Look at the business-men who never make anything out of their business except money. It is shallow calling unto shallow. It is the tinkling clatter of the lighter instruments with no deep thunder of the organ down below, and oh, how wearisome it grows!

But there are two other wrong and bad relations between man and the world he lives in, which result of necessity from what we saw, — that both the world and man have their shallows and their depths. I have spoken of deep calling upon deep, which is great and noble; and of shallow calling upon shallow, which is unsatisfactory and weak. The words of David suggest to me also that there is such a thing as deep calling unto shallow, — by which I mean, of course, the profound and sacred interests of life crying out and finding nothing but the slight and foolish and selfish parts of a man ready to reply. There are a host of men who will not leave great themes and tasks alone and be content to live trivially among trivial things. They are too enterprising, too alive for that. You cannot reduce them to mere dilettantes of the galleries, or exquisites of the parlors, or book-keepers of the exchange; they will meddle with the eternities and the profundities. They have perception enough to hear the great questions and see the great tasks; but they have not earnestness and self-control enough to answer them with serious thought and strong endeavor; so they sing their answer to the thunder, which is not satisfied or answered. This is what I mean by deep calling unto shallow.
If you do not understand what I am thinking of, consider what you see in politics. Is there a greater call than that which comes out of the depths of a nation’s needs? “Tell me what this means, and that, in my experience. Tell me how I shall get rid of this corruption and that danger. Tell me how I can best be governed. Help me to self-control.” These are the appeals which come out of the nation’s heart of hearts. And what is it that they find to cry to? In part, at least, are they not answered back by personal ambitions, by party spirit, by the trickery of selfishness, and by the base love of management? This is the misery of politics, — the disproportion between the interests which are at stake and the men and machineries which deal with them. Those interests need the profoundest thought and the most absolute devotion. In some degree they get it; but how often what they get is only prejudice and passion, — the lightest, least reasonable, most superficial action of our human nature.

If we turn to religion, the same thing is true there as well. What does it mean when out of the profound realities of the soul, of God, of life, of death, of immortality, of duty, there rises to the surface and flaunts itself in the astonished gaze of men — what? The banner of a denominational pride, or the ribbons of a ritualistic decoration, or the rigidities of formal dogma. Listen to what men call a religious discussion. Is this captiousness, this desire to get the advantage of an adversary, this delight in making hits, this passion for machinery, this mixture of the false with the true, — is this the utterance in human speech of the overwhelming dangers, the overwhelming opportunities of the soul of man? The religious newspaper and the religious convention are often the least religious of all the journals and meetings, the least exalted in their spirit, the most sordid and worldly in their tone.

I find the same regarding truth of every kind. Truth and the search for truth are the great food and discipline of human nature. Good is it when a man, sweeping around some sudden corner of his life, sees looming up before him a truth which he has not known before. He has grown used to the old truth; here is another of another kind. How great the moment is!

“Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken.
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific, — and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise, —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.”

In the heart of the finder of the new truth, as in the heart of the discoverer of the new ocean, new chambers open for the new-comer to abide in; new engineries of power leap to life for the new truth to use. All this sometimes. But sometimes also the new truth stirs nothing but new jealousies and vanities. A new law opens out of the complexity of Nature and sometimes — not often, let us be proud to claim — the naturalists stand quarrelling which it was that saw it first. A new view of life, a new religion which is very old, is brought by some disciple of it from his ancient home, and the best use which we can find to make of it is to use it for the attraction and stimulus of our flagging social existence, to discuss it in our aesthetic clubs, and to pretend dilettante conversions to it before we have taken pains to understand what it really means.

Everywhere the deep calls to the shallow, and the shallow answers with its competent and flippant tongue. It is earnest questions dealt with by unearnest men and in unearnest ways which make a large part of the darkness of the world. “If he would only let it alone,” we feel a thousand times when some flippant trifler takes up some solemn theme and turns it easily round and round between his thumb and finger. “Who are these that darken counsel by words without knowledge?” The earnest man to match the earnest question! When he comes how the light breaks! Oh, my dear friends, I beg you listen to no other. When deep calls to deep, when the conscience and the spiritual earnestness of any man — whoever he be — talks with truth, draw near and listen, for you will surely get something; if not great wisdom, from the earnest talker, at least an atmosphere and light in which your own wisdom can work at its best. But when deep calls to shallow, when man deals with great truth in a little spirit and for ends of little selfishness and pride, then turn and go away; for there is no food or education for your soul.

We have heard the deep calling to the shallow. Now let us turn for a few moments and, with another ear, listen to the shallow calling to the deep. All of our treatment of this imagery will, I am sure, show you what I mean by that. When the mere superficial things of life, which are all legitimate enough in their true places and enlisting their own kind of interest, aspire to lay hold of man’s serious anxiety and to enlist his earnest thought, then there is born a sense of disproportion just the opposite of that of which I have been speaking, — a disproportion which seems to be rightly described as the shallow calling to the deep. If we are offended when eternity calls to men, and men chatter about it as if it were a trifle; so we also ought to be offended when some trifle speaks to them and they look solemn and burdened and anxious over it, and discuss it as if it were a thing of everlasting import. Have you never stood in the midst of the world of fashion and marveled how it was possible that men and women should care, as those around you seemed to care, about the little conventionalities which made the scenery and problems of its life? Natural enough questions many of them were, necessary, perhaps, that they should be settled one way or the other, but certainly questions to be settled in an instant and forgotten, — questions to be settled with the simplest powers and the least anxious thought. You meet your friend some morning and he wears an anxious face. You can seem to see into the depths of his being, and they all are stirred. You picture to yourself some awful woe which has befallen him. You seem to see him wrestling like Jacob in Peniel for his life. You stop him and ask what is the matter, and his answer tells you of some petty disturbance of the household, or some question of a bargain he has made, — whether it will turn out twenty-five or thirty per cent to his advantage. Are you not vexed with a vexation that is almost a sense of personal grievance? The man has no right to conceive things in such disproportion. A man has no right to give to the tint on his parlor walls that anxiety of thought which belongs only to the justification of the ways of God to man. And why? Mainly, I suppose, because the man who has expended his highest powers upon the lightest themes has no new, greater seriousness to give to the great problems when they come, and so either avoids them altogether or else, by a strange perversion, turns back and gives them the light consideration which was what he ought to have given to his headache or the color of his walls. Very often the man in whom the shallow calls to the deep is the same man in whom also the deep calls to the shallow.

There is a noble economy of the deepest life. There is a watchful reserve which leaps guard over the powers of profound anxiety and devoted work, and refuses to give them away to any first applicant who comes and asks. Wealth rolls up to the door and says, “Give me your great anxiety;” and you look up and answer, “No, not for you; here is a little half-indifferent desire which is all that you deserve.” Popularity comes and says, “Work with all your might for me;” and you reply, “No; you are not of consequence enough for that. Here is a small fragment of energy which you may have, if you want it; but that is all. “Even knowledge comes and says,” Give your whole soul to me; “and you must answer once more, “No; great, good, beautiful as you are, you are not worthy of a man’s whole soul. There is something in a man so sacred and so precious that he must keep it in reserve till something even greater than the desire of knowledge demands it. ” But then at last comes One far more majestic than them all, — God comes with his supreme demand for goodness and for character, and then you open the doors of your whole nature and bid your holiest and profoundest devotion to come trooping forth. Now you rejoice that you kept something which you would not give to any lesser lord. Now here is the deep in life which can call to the deep in you and find its answer.

Oh, my dear friends, at least do this. If you are not ready to give your deepest affections, your most utter loyalty to God and Christ, at least refuse to give them to any other master. None but God is worthy of the total offering of man! Keep your sacredest till the most sacred claims. The very fact that you are keeping it unused will tempt its true use constantly, and by and by the King will take and wear the crown which it has been forbidden any less kingly head than His to wear.

I think that there are men to-day who are living in exactly the condition I describe. Unable to find God and believe in Him in such way that they can give themselves to Him, they yet know themselves to be possessed of powers of love and worship and obedience which it is not possible for them to exercise toward any but a God; therefore they hold these powers sacredly unused and wait. They know their lives imperfect; but they will not try, they will not consent, to complete them by restriction or degradation. If part of the great circle is yet wanting, they will hold the gap open and not draw the line in to fulfill a more limited circumference. To all such waiting souls sooner or later the satisfaction must be given.

Thus I have tried to show how the proportions subsist or fail between the world we live in and the human soul. See what the various conditions are. Sometimes deep calls to deep, and man matches the profoundest exigencies with profound emotions and actions; sometimes shallow calls to shallow, and then there is the surface life of ordinary intercourse and easy carelessness; sometimes deep calls to shallow, and then you see men trifling with eternal things, and playing on the brink of awful truths; sometimes shallow calls to deep, and then the powers which ought to wrestle with the mightiest problems are wasted on the insignificant whims and fancies of the hour.

What is the issue of it all? Does it not sometimes seem as if the struggle of man’s history was toward the establishment of the true proportion between man and his world, and as if, when that were reached, every true man and his world would be saved? There is a slow revelation going on by which men are learning that the effort and the purpose must have relation to each other. “Cast not your pearls before swine;” “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s;” “This ought ye to have done and not to leave the other undone,” — those are the words of Christ which teach the lesson of that proportion. He who hears those words cannot waste his soul’s strength on trifles, nor can he think that the great prizes of life are to be had without a struggle, self-denial, and a patient hope.

There are abundant signs in Jesus of how completely that proportion was maintained in His own life. Men came to Him with selfish little questions about the division of inheritances, and He would not waste His time upon them; but Nicodemus came eager for spiritual light, and Christ would sit all night and teach him. The people at Nazareth wanted to stone Him, and He quietly passed away and left them with their stones in their hands; but the cross demanded Him, and He went up to the terrible experience with a soul consecrated to endure it all, and spared Himself not one blow of the scourge upon the shoulders, and not one piercing of the nails into the hands and feet. He knew what was worthwhile; and He knew that because He was one with God, the Son of God could not count the great little nor the little great. That was the secret of His perfect life.

If we can live in Him and have His life in us, shall not the spiritual balance and proportion which were His become ours too? If He were really our Master and our Saviour, could it be that we could get so eager and excited over little things? If we were His, could we possibly be wretched over the losing of a little money which we do not need, or be exalted at the sound of a little praise which we know that we only half deserve and that the praisers only half intend? A moment’s disappointment, a moment’s gratification, and then the ocean would be calm again and quite forgetful of the ripple which disturbed its bosom.

On the other hand, if we were His, could we help giving the anxiety which we refused to everything beside, to spiritual things? When the deep called, must not the deep reply?

My friends, there are things which it is a shame and an absurdity for any earnest man to care about with any serious care; but there are other things about which a man must care or he is no real man. Whether he is good and honest; whether he is getting more truth and character; whether the world is better for his living; whether he is finding God, — God help us to care for those things with all our hearts. They are the things the care for which brings us into the company of noble souls. They are the things the care for which we never shall out-go; for those things the souls of men glorified will still care, and talk of them upon the streets of heaven.

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