And then, if we will but cry with St. Paul, 'Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?' we shall surely, sooner or later, hear a voice within our hearts, a voice full of love, of comfort, of fellow-feeling for us,—'I will deliver thee, my child; I, even I thy Father in heaven; I will teach thee, and inform thee in the way wherein thou shouldest go; and I will guide thee with mine eye.' And then with St. Paul we shall be able to answer our own question, and say, 'Who will deliver me? I thank God, that God Himself will deliver me, through Jesus Christ our Lord.'
This, then, is the reason why we need to pray: because we need to be delivered from ourselves. This is the reason why we may pray, because God is willing to deliver us from ourselves, if we be willing.
But every human being round us needs to be delivered from themselves, just as much as we do. Without that deliverance we cannot do our duty, neither can they. And just in proportion as men are delivered from themselves, will mankind do its duty, and the world go right.
Now their duty is the same as ours; and therefore the prayer which is right and good for us is equally right and good for them. And what is more, we cannot pray rightly for ourselves unless we pray for them in the very same breath; for the Catechism tells us that there is one duty for all of us, to love and obey and serve our heavenly Father, and to love our neighbour as ourselves, because they are our brothers, children of one common Father, members of the same God's family as we are, and their interest and ours are bound up together. Yes, to love all mankind as ourselves; for though too many of them, alas! are not yet in God's family, and strangers to His covenant, yet God's will is that they too should come to the knowledge of the truth; and therefore for them we can pray hopefully and trustfully, 'Lord have mercy on all men, on Jews, Turks, Infidels, and heretics; and bring them home, blessed Lord, to Thy flock, that they may be saved and made one fold under one Shepherd, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in whom Thou hast declared Thy good will to all the children of men.'
This is the right prayer. That all men may do their duty where God has put them. That those who, like the heathen, do not know their duty, may be taught it; that we who do know it, may have strength to do it.
And therefore it is that the Catechism teaches us the need of prayer, immediately after making us confess our duty; and therefore it is that it begins by teaching the Lord's Prayer, because that prayer is the one, of all prayers which ever have been offered upon earth, which perfectly expresses the duty of man, and man's relation to Almighty God.
It is throughout a prayer for strength. It confesses throughout what we want strength for, to what use we are to put God's grace if He bestows it on us. Our delight in the Lord's Prayer will depend on what we consider our duty here on earth to be.
If we look upon this earth principally as a place where we are to pray for all the good things which we can get, our first prayer will be, of course, 'Give us this day our daily bread.'
If we look at this earth principally as a place where we have a chance of being saved from punishment and torment after we die, then our first prayer will be, 'Forgive us our sins.' And, in fact, that is all that too many of our prayers now-a-days seem to consist of,— 'Oh, my Maker, give me. my daily bread. Oh, my Judge, forgive me my sins.' Right prayers enough, but spoilt by being taken out of their place; spoilt by being prayed before all other prayers; spoilt, too, by being prayed for ourselves alone, and not for other people also.
But if we believe, as the Bible and the Catechism tell us, that we and all Christian people are God's children, members of God's family, set on earth in God's kingdom to do His work by doing our duty, each in that station of life to which God has called us, in the hope of a just reward hereafter according to our works, then our great desire will be for strength to do our duty, and the Lord's Prayer will seem to us the most perfect way of asking for that strength; and if we believe that we are God's children and He our Father, we shall feel sure that we must get strength from Him, and sure that we must ask for that strength; and sure that He will give it us if we do ask.
But if His will is to give it us, why ask Him at all? Why pray at all, if God already knows our necessities, and is able and willing to supply them?
My friends, the longer I live, the more certain I am that the only reason for praying at all is because God is our Father; the more certain I am that we shall never have any heart to pray unless we believe that God is our Father. If we forget that, we may utter to Him selfish cries for bread; or when we look at His great power, we may become terrified, and utter selfish cries to Him not to harm us, without any real shame or sorrow for sin: but few of us will have any heart to persevere in those cries. People will say to themselves, 'If God is evil, He will not care to have mercy on me: and if He is good, there is no use wearying Him by asking Him what He has already intended to give me: why should I pray at all?'
The only answer is, 'Pray, because God is your Father, and you His child.' The only answer; but the most complete answer. I will engage to say, that if anyone here is ever troubled with doubts about prayer, those two simple words, 'Our Father,' if he can once really believe them in their full richness and depth, will make the doubts vanish in a moment, and prayer seem the most natural and reasonable of all acts. It is because we are God's children, not merely His creatures, that He will have us pray. Because He is educating us to know Him; to know Him not merely to be an Almighty Power, but a living, loving Person; not merely an irresistible Fate, but a Father who delights in the love of His children, who wishes to shape them into His own likeness, and make them fellow-workers with Him; therefore it is that He will have us pray. Doubtless he could have given us everything without our asking; for He does already give us almost everything without our asking. But He wishes to educate us as His children; to make us trust in Him; to make us love Him; to make us work for Him of our own free wills, in the great battle which He is carrying on against evil; and that He can only do by teaching us to pray to Him. I say it reverently, but firmly. As far as we can see, God cannot educate us to know Him, The living, willing, loving Father, unless He teaches us to open our hearts to Him, and to ask Him freely for what we want, just because He knows what we want already.
If I have not made this plain enough to any of you, my friends, let me go back to the simple, practical explanation of it which God Himself has given us in those two words—father and child.
Should you like to have a child who never spoke to you, never asked you for anything? Of course not. And why? 'Because,' you would say, 'one might as well have a dumb animal in one's family instead of a child, if it is never to talk and ask questions and advice.' Most true and reasonable, my friends. And as you would say concerning your children, so says God of His. You feel that unless you teach your children to ask you for all they want, even though you know their necessities before they ask, and their ignorance in asking, you will never call out their love and trust towards you. You know that if you want really to have your child to please and obey you, not as a mere tame animal, but as a willing, reasonable, loving child, you must make him know that you are training him; and you must teach him to come to you of his own accord to be trained, to be taught his duty, and set right where he is wrong: and even so does God with you. If you will only consider the way in which any child must be educated by its human parents, then you will at once see why prayer to our Heavenly Father is a necessary part of our education in the kingdom of heaven.
Now the Lord's Prayer, just this sort of prayer, is man's cry to his Heavenly Father to train him, to educate him, to take charge of him, daily and hourly, body and soul and spirit. It is a prayer for grace, for special grace; that is, for help, daily and hourly, in each particular duty and circumstance; for help from God specially suited to enable us to do our duty. And the whole of the prayer is of this kind, and not, as some think, the latter part only.
It is too often said that the three first sentences are not prayers for man, but rather praises to God. My friends, they cannot be one without being the other. You cannot, I believe, praise God aright without praying for men; you cannot pray for men aright without praising God; at least, you cannot use the Lord's Prayer without doing both at once, without at once declaring the glory of God and praying for the welfare of all mankind.
'Hallowed be Thy name.' Is not that a prayer for men as well as praise to God? Yes, my friends, when you say, 'Our Father, hallowed be Thy name,' you pray that all men may come at last to look up to God as their Father, to love, serve, and obey God as His children; and for what higher blessing can you pray? Ay, and you pray, too, that men may learn at last the deep meaning of that word—father; that they may see how Godlike and noble a trust God lays on them when He gives them children to educate and make Christian men; you pray that the hearts of all fathers may be turned to the children, and the hearts of all children to the fathers; you pray for the welfare, and the holiness, and the peace of every home on earth; you pray for the welfare of generations yet unborn, when you pray, 'Our Father, hallowed be Thy name.'
'Thy kingdom come.' Is not that too, if we will look at it steadfastly, prayer for our neighbours, prayer for all mankind, and still prayer for ourselves; prayer for grace, prayer for the life and health of our own souls?
'Thy kingdom come.'—That kingdom of the Father which Jesus Christ proved by His works on earth to be a kingdom of justice and righteousness, of love and fellow-feeling. When we pray, 'Thy kingdom come,' it is as if we said, 'Son of God, root out of this sinful earth all self-will and lawlessness, all injustice and cruelty; root out all carelessness, ignorance, and hardness of heart; root out all hatred, envy, slander; root them out of all men's hearts; out of my heart, for I have the seeds of them in me. Make me, and all men round me, day by day, more sure that Thou art indeed our King; that Thou hast indeed taught us the laws of Thy Father's kingdom; and that, only in keeping them and loving them is there health, and righteousness, and safety for any soul of man, for any nation under the sun.' 'Thy will be done;'—no, not merely 'Thy will be done;' but done 'on earth as it is in heaven;' done, not merely as the trees and the animals, the wind and clouds, do Thy will, by blindly following their natures, but done as angels and blessed spirits do it, of their own will. They obey Thee as living, willing, loving persons; as Thy sons: teach us to obey Thee in like manner; lovingly, because we love Thy will; willingly, because our wills are turned to Thy will; and therefore, oh Heavenly Father, take charge of these wayward wills and minds of ours, of these selfish, self-willed, ignorant, hasty hearts of ours, and cleanse them and renew them by Thy Spirit, and change them into Thy likeness day by day. Make us all clean hearts, oh God, and renew within us a right spirit, the copy of Thine own Holy Spirit. Cast us not away from Thy presence, for from Thee alone comes our soul's life; take not from us Thy Holy Spirit, who is The Lord and Giver of Life; whose will is Thy will; who alone can strengthen and change us to do Thy will on earth, as saints and angels do in heaven, and to be fellow-workers with each other, fellow-workers with Thee, O God, even as those blessed spirits are who minister day and night to all Thy creatures.
'Give us this day our daily bread.' People sometimes divide the Lord's Prayer into two parts—the ascriptions and the petitions—and consider that after we have sufficiently glorified and praised God in the first three sentences of the prayer, then we are at liberty to begin asking something for ourselves, and to say 'Give us day by day our daily bread.' I cannot think so, my friends. I have been showing you that 'Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,' if we do but recollect that they are spoken to our Father, are just as much prayers for all mankind, as they are hymns of honour to God; and so I say of these latter: 'Give us—Forgive us— Lead us not—Deliver us'—that if we will but remember that they, too, are spoken to our Father, we shall find that they are just as much hymns of honour to God as prayers for mankind.
Yes, my friends, when we say, 'Give us this day our daily bread,' we do indeed honour God and the name of God. We declare that He is Love, that He is The Giver, The absolutely and boundlessly generous and magnanimous Being. And what higher glory and honour or praise can we ascribe, even to God Himself, than to say that of Him? Next, we pray not for ourselves only, but for our neighbours; for England, for Christendom, for the heathen who know not God, and for generations yet unborn. We pray that God would so guide, and teach, and preserve the children of men, as to enable them to fulfil in every country and every age the work which He gave them to do, when He said, 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.' We know that our Father has commanded us to labour. We know that our Father has so well ordered this glorious earth, that whosoever labours may reap the just fruit of his labour; therefore we pray that God would prosper our righteous plans for earning our own living. We pray to Him not only so to order the earth that it may bring forth its fruits in due season, but that men may be in a fit state to enjoy those fruits, that God may not be forced for their good to withhold from them blessings which they might abuse to their ruin. But we pray, also, 'Give us:' not me only, but us; and therefore we pray that He would prosper our neighbour's plans as well as ours. So we confess that we believe God to be no respecter of persons; we confess that we believe He will not take bread out of others' mouths to give it to us; we declare that God's curse is on all selfishness and oppression of man by man; we renounce our own selfishness, the lust which our fallen nature has to rise upon others' fall, and say, 'Father, we are all children at Thy common table. Thou alone canst prosper the richest and the wisest; Thou alone canst prosper the poorest and the weakest; Thou wilt do equal justice to all some day, and we confess that Thou art just in so doing; we only ask Thee to do it now, and to give us and all mankind that which is good for them.'
Thus we pray not for this generation only, but for generations yet unborn; not for this nation of England only, but for heathens and savages beyond the seas. When we say, 'Give us our daily bread,' we pray for every child here and on earth, that he may receive such an education as may enable him to get his daily bread. We pray for learned men in their studies, that they may discover arts and sciences which shall enrich and comfort nations yet unborn. We pray for merchants on the seas, that they may discover new markets for trade, new lands to colonize and fill with Christian men, and extend the blessings of industry and civilization to the savage who lives as the beasts which perish and dwindles down off the face of the earth by famine, disease, and war, the victim of his own idleness, ignorance, and improvidence.
And all the while we are praying for the widow and the orphan, that God would send them friends in time of need; for the houseless wanderer, for the shipwrecked sailor, for sick persons, for feeble infants, that God would send help to them who cannot help themselves, and soften our hearts and the hearts of all around us, that we may never turn our faces away from any poor man, lest the face of the Lord be turned away from us.
So far we have been praying to our Heavenly Father, first as a Father, then as a King, then as an Inspirer, then as a Giver; and next we pray to Him as a Forgiver—'Forgive us our trespasses.' We have been confessing in these four petitions what God's goodwill to man is; what God wishes man to be, how man ought to live and believe. And then comes the recollection of sin. We must confess what God's law is before we can confess that we have broken it; and now we do confess that we have broken it. We know that God is our Father. How often have we forgotten that He is a father; how often have we forgotten to be good fathers ourselves.
We are in God's kingdom. How often have we behaved as if we were our own kings, and had no masters over us but our own fancies, tempers, appetites! We are to do His will on earth as it is done in heaven. How have we been doing our own will!—pleasing ourselves, breaking loose from His laws, trying to do right of our own wills and in our own strength, instead of asking His Spirit to strengthen, and cleanse, and renew our wills, and so have ended by doing not the right which we knew to be right, but the wrong which we knew to be wrong. God is a giver. How often have we looked on ourselves as takers, and fancied that we must as it were steal the good things of this world from God, lest He should forget to give us what was fitting! How often have we forgotten that God gives to all men, as well as to us; and while we were praying, give me my daily bread, kept others out of their daily bread!
Oh, my friends, we cannot blame ourselves too much for all these sins; we cannot think them too heinous. We cannot confess them too openly; we cannot cry too humbly and earnestly for forgiveness. But we never shall feel the full sinfulness of sin; we never shall thoroughly humble ourselves in confession and repentance, unless we remember that all our sins have been sins against a Father, and a forgiving Father, and that it is His especial glory, the very beauty and excellence in Him, which ought to have kept us from disobeying Him, that He does forgive those who disobey Him.
And, lastly, in like manner, when you say, 'Lead us not into temptation, but deliver,' &c., you are not only entreating God to lead you, but you are honouring and praising Him, you are setting forth His glory, and declaring that He is a God who does lead, and a God who does not leave His poor creatures to wander their own foolish way, but guides men, in spite of all their sins, full of condescension and pity, care and tender love. You do not only ask God to deliver you from evil, but you declare that He is righteous, and hates evil; that He is love, and desires to deliver you from evil; One who spared not His only-begotten Son, but gave Him freely for us, to deliver us from evil; and raised Him up, and delivered all power into His hand, that He might fight His Father's battle against all which is hurtful to man and hateful to God, till death itself shall be destroyed, and all enemies put under the feet of the Saviour God.
SERMON X. THE DOXOLOGY
Psalm viii. 1 and sqq. O Lord our Governor, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth, Thou that hast set Thy glory above the heavens!
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength, because of Thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
This is the text which I have chosen to-day, because I think it will help us to understand the end of the Lord's Prayer, which tells us to say to our Father in Heaven, 'Father, Thine is the kingdom; Father, Thine is the power; Father, Thine is the glory.'
The man who wrote this psalm had been looking up at the sky, spangled with countless stars, with the moon, as if she were the queen of them all, walking in her brightness. He had been looking round, too, on this wonderful earth, with its countless beasts, and birds, and insects, trees, herbs, and flowers, each growing, and thriving, and breeding after their kind, according to the law which God had given to each of them, without any help of man. And then he had thought of men, how small, weak, ignorant, foolish, sinful they were, and said to himself, 'Why should God care for men more than for these beasts, and birds, and insects round? Not because he is the largest and strongest thing in the world; for I will consider Thy heavens, even the work of Thy hands, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained, how much greater, more beautiful they are than poor human beings. May not glorious beings, angels, be dwelling in them, compared to whom man is no better than a beast?'
And yet he says to himself, 'I know that God, though He has put man lower than the angels, has crowned him with glory and honour. I know that, whatever glorious creatures may live in the sun, and moon, and stars, God has given man the dominion and power here, on this world. I know that even to babes and sucklings God has given a strength, because of His enemies—that He may silence the enemy and the avenger; and I know that by so doing, God has set His glory above the heavens, and has shown forth His glory more in these little children, to whom He gives strength and wisdom, than He has in sun, and moon, and stars.'
Now how is that? The Catechism, I think, will tell us. The Doxology, at the end of the Lord's Prayer, will tell us, if we consider it.
If you will listen to me, I will try and show you what I mean.
Suppose I took one of your children, and showed him that large bright star, which you may see now every evening, shining in the south-west, and said to him, 'My child, that star, which looks to you only a bright speck, is in reality a world—a world fourteen hundred times as big as our world. We have but one moon to light our earth; that little speck has four moons, each of them larger than ours, which light it by night. That little speck of a star seems to you to be standing still; in reality, it is travelling through the sky at the rate of 25,000 miles an hour.' What do you think the child's feeling would be? If he were a dull child, he might only be astonished; but if he were a sensible and thoughtful child, do you not think that a feeling of awe, almost of fear, would come over him, when he thought how small and weak and helpless he was, in comparison of those mighty and glorious stars above his head?
And next, if I turned the child round, and bade him look at that comet or fiery star, which has appeared lately low down in the north-west, and said, 'My child, that comet, which seems to you to hang just above the next parish, is really eighty millions of miles off from us. That bright spot at the lower part of it is a fiery world as large as the moon,—that tail of fiery light which you see streaming up from it, and which looks a few feet long, is a stream of fiery vapour, stretching, most likely, hundreds of thousands of miles through the boundless space. It seems to you to be sinking behind the trees, so slowly that you cannot see it move. It is really rushing towards us now, with its vast train of light, at the rate of some eighty thousand miles an hour.' And suppose then, if, to make the child more astonished than ever, I went on—'Yes, my child, every single tiny star which is twinkling over your head is a sun, a sun as large, or larger than our own sun, perhaps with worlds moving round it, as our world moves round our sun, but so many millions of miles far off, that the strongest spy-glass cannot make these stars look any larger, or show us the worlds which we believe are moving round them.'
Do you not think that just in proportion to the child's quickness and understanding, he would be awed, almost terrified?
And lastly, suppose that to puzzle and astonish him still more, I took a chance drop of water out of any standing pool, and showed him through a magnifying-glass, in that single drop of water, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of living creatures so small that it is impossible to see them with the naked eye, each of them of some beautiful and wonderful shape, unlike anything which you ever saw or dreamed of, but each of them alive, each of them moving, feeding, breeding, after its kind, each fulfilling the nature which God has given to them, and told him, 'All the whole world, the air which you breathe, the leaves on the trees, the soil under your feet, ay, even often the food which you eat, and your own flesh and blood, are as full of wonderful things as that drop of water is. You fancy that all the life in the world is made up of the men and women in it, and the few beasts, and birds, and insects, which you see about you in the fields. But these living things which you do see are not a millionth part of the whole number of God's creatures; and not one smallest plant or tiniest insect dies, but what it passes into a new life, and becomes food for other creatures, even smaller than, though just as wonderful as itself. Every day fresh living creatures are being discovered, filling earth, and sea, and air, till men's brains are weary with counting them, and dizzy with watching their unspeakable beauty, and strangeness, and fitness for the work which God has given each of them to do.'
And then suppose I said to the child, 'God cares for each of these tiny living creatures. How do you know that He does not care for them as much as He does for you? God made them for His own pleasure, that He might rejoice in the work of His own hands. How do you know that He does not rejoice in them as much as in you? Those mighty worlds and suns above your head, which you call stars, how do you know that they are not as much more glorious and precious in God's sight than you are, as they are larger and more beautiful than you are? And mind! all these things, from the tiniest insects in the water-drop, to the most vast star or comet in the sky, all obey God. They have not fallen, as you have; they have not sinned, as you have; they have not broken the law, by which God intended them to live, as you have. The Bible tells you so; and the discoveries of learned men prove that the Bible is right, when it declares that they all continue to this day according to His ordinance; for all things serve Him; that sun, and moon, and stars, and light are praising Him; that fire and hail, snow and vapour, wind and storm, mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars, beasts and all cattle, worms and feathered fowl, are showing forth His glory day and night; because He has made them sure for ever and ever, each according to its kind, and given them a law which shall not be broken; for all His works praise Him, and show the glory of His kingdom, and the mightiness of His power, that His power, His glory, and the mightiness of His kingdom might be known unto the children of men.
And you!—They keep God's ordinance, and you have broken it; they fulfil God's word, you fulfil your own fancies. They have a law which shall not be broken, you break God's law daily. Are not they better than you? Is not, not merely sun and stars, but even the meanest gnat which hums in the air, better than man, more worthy of God's love than man? For man has sinned, and they have not.'
Do you not think that I should sadden, and terrify the child, and make him ready to cry out, 'Whither shall I flee from the wrath of this great Almighty God; who has made this wondrous heaven and earth, and all of it obeys Him, except me—I a rebel against Him who made and rules all this?'
My friends, I only say, suppose that I spoke thus to your children. For God forbid that I should speak thus to any human being, without having first taught him the Lord's Prayer, without first having taught him to say, 'I believe in Jesus Christ, Very God of Very God, who was born of the Virgin Mary, and took man's nature on Him;' without having taught him to say, 'Our Father which art in heaven, Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen.' So it is, and so let it be: for so it is well, and so I am safe, sinner and rebel though I be.
I would not say it, unless I had taught him this; for then I should be speaking the Devil's words, and doing the Devil's work: for these are the thoughts of which he always takes advantage, whenever he finds them in men's hearts; because he is the enemy who hates men, and the avenger who punishes them for their bad thoughts, by leading them on into dark and fearful deeds; because he is the Devil, the Slanderer, as his name means, and slanders God to men, and tries always to make them believe that God does not care for men, and grudges them blessings; in order that he may make men dread God, and shrink from Him into their own pride, or their own carnal lusts and fancies.
These are the thoughts of which the Devil took advantage in the heathen in old times, and tempted them to forget God—God, who had not left Himself without a witness, in that He gave them rain and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness—God, whose unseen glory, even His eternal power and Godhead, may be clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood from the things which are made—God, in whom, as St. Paul told the heathen, they lived and moved, and had their being, and were the offspring of God. This—that man is the offspring of God, and has a Father in heaven—is the great truth which the Devil has been trying to hide from men in every age, and by a hundred different devices. By making them forget this, he tempted them to worship the creature instead of the Creator; to pray to sun and moon and stars, to send them fair weather, good crops, prosperous fortune: to look up to the heaven above them, and down to the earth beneath their feet, in slavish dread and anxiety: and pray to the sun, not to blast them to the seas, not to sweep them away; to the rivers and springs, not to let them perish from drought; to earthquakes, not to swallow them up; ay, even to try to appease those dark fierce powers, with whom they thought the great awful world was filled, by cruel sacrifices of human beings; so that they offered their sons and their daughters to devils, and burned their own children in the fire to Moloch, the cruel angry Fire King, whom they fancied was lord of the earthquakes and the burning mountains. So did the Canaanites of old, and so did the Jews after them; whensoever they had forgotten that God was their Father, who had bought them, and that the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, throughout heaven and earth, were His, then at once they began to be afraid of heaven and earth, and worshipped Baalim, and Astaroth, and the Host of Heaven, which were the sun and moon and stars, and Moloch the Fire King, and Thammuz the Lord of the Spring-time, and with forms of worship which showed plainly enough, either by their cruelty or their filthy profligacy, who was the author of them, and that man, when he forgets that heaven and earth belong to his Father, is in danger of becoming a slave to his own lowest lusts and passions.
And do not fancy, my friends, that because you and I are not likely to worship sun and moon and stars as the old heathen did, that therefore we cannot commit the same sin as they did.
My friends, I believe that we are in more danger of committing it in England just now than ever we were; that learned men especially are in danger of so doing, because they know so far more of the wonders and the vastness of God's creation than the heathens of old knew.
But you are not learned, you will say: you are plain people, who know nothing about these wonderful discoveries which men make by telescopes and magnifying-glasses, but use your own eyes in a plain way to get your daily bread, and you feel no such temptations. You believe, of course, that the kingdom and power and glory of all we see is God's.
Yes; but do you believe too that He whom people are too apt to call God, just because they have no other name to call Him, is your Father? That it is your Father's will which governs the weather, which makes the earth bear fruit and gladden the heart of man with good and fruitful seasons?
Alas, my friends, if we will open our eyes, see things in their true light, and call things by their true name, we shall see many a man in England now honouring the creature more than the Creator; trusting in the seasons and the soil more than he does in God, and so sinning in just the same way as the heathen of old.
When people say to themselves, 'I must get land, I must get money, by any means; honestly if I can, if not, dishonestly; for have it I must;' what are they doing then but denying that the kingdom, the power, and the glory of this earth belong to the Righteous God, and that He, and not the lying Devil, gives them to whomsoever He will?
When people say to themselves (as who does not at moments?) 'To be rich is to be safe; a man's life does consist in the abundance of what he possesses;' what are they doing but saying that man does not live by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God, but by what he can get for himself and keep for himself? When they are fretful and anxious about their crops, when they even repine and complain of Providence, as I have known men do because they do not prosper as they wish, what are they doing but saying in their hearts, 'The weather and the seasons are the lords and masters of my good fortune, or bad fortune. I depend on them, and not on God, for comfort and for wealth, and my Heavenly Father does not know what I have need of?' When parents send their girls out to field-work, without any care about whom they talk with, to have their minds corrupted by hearing filthiness and seeing immodest behaviour, what are they doing but offering their daughters in sacrifice, not even to Moloch, but to Mammon; saying to themselves, 'My daughter's modesty, my daughter's virtue, is not of as much value as the paltry money which I can earn by leaving her alone to learn wickedness, instead of keeping watch over her, if she does work, that she may be none the worse for her day's labour.'
I might go on and give you a thousand instances more, but they all come alike to this; that whensoever you fancy that you cannot earn your daily bread without doing wrong yourself, or leaving your children to learn wrong, then you do not believe that the kingdom, the power, and the glory of this earth on which you work is your Heavenly Father's. For if you did, you would be certain that gains, large or small, got by breaking the least of His commandments, could never prosper you, but must bring a curse and a punishment with them; and you would be sure also, that because God is your Father, and this earth and all herein is His, that He would feed you with food sufficient for you, if you do but seek first His kingdom—that is, try to learn His laws; and seek first His righteousness—that is, strive and pray day by day to become righteous even as He is righteous.
Yes, my friends, this is one meaning, though only one, of St. John's words, 'This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.' We all see the world full of pleasant things, for which we long; of necessary things, too, without which we should starve and die. And then the temptation comes to us to snatch at these things for ourselves by any means in our power, right or wrong; like the dumb animals who break out of their owners' field into the next, if they do but see better pasturage there, or fight and quarrel between themselves for food, each trying to get the most for himself and rob his neighbour. So live the beasts, and so you and I, and every human being shall be tempted to live, if we follow our natures, if we forget that we are God's children, in God's kingdom, under the laws of a Heavenly Father, who has shown forth His own love and justice, His own kingdom, and power, and glory, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. But if we remember that, if we remember daily that the kingdom, and power, and glory is our Father's, then we shall neither fear storms and blights, bad crops, or anything else which is of the earth earthly. We shall fear nothing of that kind, which can only kill the body, but only fear the evil Devil, lest, by making us distrust and disobey our Heavenly Father, he should, after he has killed, destroy both body and soul in hell. And as long as we fear him, as long as we renounce him, as long as we trust utterly in our Heavenly Father's love and justice, and in the love and justice of His dear Son, the Man Christ Jesus, to whom all power is given in heaven and earth—then out of the youngest child among us will God's praise be perfected; for the youngest child among us, by faith in God his Father, may look upon all heaven and earth, and say, 'Great, and wonderful, and awful as this earth and skies may be, I am more precious in the sight of God than sun, and moon, and stars; for they are things: but I am a person, a spirit, an immortal soul, made in the likeness of God, redeemed into the likeness of God, sanctified into the likeness of God. This great earth was here thousands and thousands of years before I was born, and it will be here perhaps millions and millions of years after I am dead; but it cannot harm me; it cannot kill me. When earth, and sun, and stars are past away, I shall live for ever; for I am the immortal child of an Immortal Father, the child of the everlasting God. These things He only made: but me He begot unto everlasting life, in Jesus Christ my Lord. I seem to depend on this earth for food, for clothing, for comfort, for life itself: and yet I do not do so in reality; for man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God my Father. In Him I have eternal life: a life which this earth did not give, and cannot take away; a life which, by the mercy of my Father in heaven, I trust and hope to be living when sun and earth, stars and comets, are returned again to their dust, and blotted from the face of heaven. For the kingdom, the glory, and the power of this world, and all other worlds, past, present, and to come, belong to Him who spared not His only-begotten Son, but freely gave Him for us, and will with Him freely give us all things.'
And thus, my friends, may God's praise be perfected out of the mouth of any Christian child, when He declares that God put man a little lower than the angels only to crown him with the glory and worship of having the only-begotten Son of God take man's nature upon Him, and walk this earth as a man, and live, and die, and rise again as a man, that so He might raise fallen man again to the glory and honour which God appointed for men from the beginning, when He said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air, and the beast of the earth; and be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it.
SERMON XI. AHAB AND NABOTH
1 Kings xxi. 2, 3. And Ahab spake unto Naboth, saying, Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near unto my house: and I will give thee for it a better vineyard than it; or, if it seem good to thee, I will give thee the worth of it in money. And Naboth said unto Ahab, The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.
You heard to-day read for the first lesson, the story of Naboth and King Ahab. Most of you know it well. Naboth's vineyard has passed into a proverb for something which we covet.
It is good that it should be so. We cannot know our Bible too well; we cannot have Bible words and Bible thoughts too much worked into our ways of talking and thinking about everyday matters. As far as I can see, the best days of England, the best days of every Christian country of which I ever read, have been days when men were not ashamed of their Bibles; when they were ready to live by their Bibles; to ask advice of their Bibles about buying and selling, about making war and peace, about all the business of life; and were not ashamed to quote texts of Scripture in the parliament, and in the market, and in the battle-field, as God's law, God's rule, God's word about the matter in hand, which was, therefore, sure to be the right word and the right rule. People are grown ashamed of doing so now-a-days; but that does not alter the matter one jot. We may deny God, but He cannot deny Himself. His laws are everlasting, and He is ruling and judging us by them now, all day long, just as much as He ruled and judged those Jews by them of old. The God of Abraham is our God; the God of Moses is our God; the God of Ahab and Naboth is our God; neither He nor His government are altered in the least since their time, and they never will alter for ever, and ever, and ever; and if we do not choose to believe that now in this life, we shall be made to believe it by some very ugly and painful schooling in the life to come.
What laws of God, now, can we learn from this story?
First, we may learn what a sacred thing property is. That a man's possessions (if they be justly come by) belong to him, in the sight of God as well as in the sight of man, and that God will uphold and avenge the man's right.
Naboth, you see, stands simply on his right to his own property. 'The Lord forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee.' I do not think that he meant that God had actually forbidden him: it seems to have been only some sort of oath which he used. He may certainly have had reasons for thinking it wrong to part with his lands; hurtful, perhaps, to his family after him. Yet, as Ahab had promised him a better vineyard for it, or its worth in money, I cannot help thinking that Naboth's reason was the one which shows on the face of his words. It was the inheritance of his fathers, this vineyard. They had all worked in it, generation after generation; perhaps, according to the Jewish custom, they were buried somewhere in it; at least, it had been theirs and now was his; he had worked in it, and played in it— perhaps since he was a child—and he loved it; it was part and parcel of his father's house to him, a sacred spot.
And so it should be. It is a holy feeling which makes a man cling to the bit of land which he has inherited from his parents, even to the cottage, though it be only a hired one, where he has lived for many a year, and where he has planted and tilled, perhaps with some that he loved, who are now dead and gone, or grown up and gone out into the world, till the little old cottage-garden is full of remembrances to him of past joys and past sorrows. The feeling which makes a man cling to his home and to his own land is a good feeling, and breeds good in the man. It makes him respect himself; it keeps him from being reckless and unsettled. It is a feeling which should not be broken through. It is seldom pleasant to see land change hands; it is seldom pleasant to see people turned out of their cottages. It must often be so, but let it be as seldom as possible. One likes to see a family take root in a place, and grow and thrive there, one generation after another; and you will find, my friends, that families do take root and thrive in a place just in proportion as they fear God and do righteousness. The Psalms tell you, again and again, that the way to abide in the land, and prosper in it, is to trust in the Lord and be doing good; and that the wicked are soon rooted out, and their names perish out of the land. One sees that come true daily.
But to return to Naboth. He loved his own land, and therefore he had a right to keep it. We may say it was but a fancy of his, if he could have a better vineyard, or the worth of it in money. Remember, at least, that God respected that fancy of his, and justified it, and avenged it. When (after Naboth's death) Elijah accused Ahab, in God's name, he put two counts into the indictment; for Ahab had committed two sins. 'Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?' Killing was one sin; taking possession was another.
And so Ahab learnt two weighty and bitter lessons. He learnt that God's Law stands for ever, though man's law be broken or be forgotten by disuse. For you must understand, that these Jews were a free people, even as we are. They were not like the nations round about them, or as the Russians are now—slaves to their king, and holding their property only at his will. The law of Moses had made them a free people, who held their property each man from God, by God's Law, which had said, 'Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not covet. Cursed is he who removes his neighbour's landmark.' And their kings were bound to govern by Moses' law, just as our kings and rulers are bound to govern by the old constitutions of England, and to do equal justice by rich and poor. But the wicked kings of Israel were trying to break through that law, and make themselves tyrants and despots, such as the Czar of Russia is now. First, Jeroboam began by trying to wean his people from Moses' law, by preventing their going up to worship at Jerusalem, and making them worship instead the golden calves at Dan and at Bethel. For he knew that if he could make idolaters of them, he should soon make slaves of them; and he succeeded; and the kingdom of Israel grew more miserable year by year; and now Ahab, his wicked successor, was breaking down the laws of property and wrongfully taking away his subjects' lands. Perhaps he said in his heart, 'I am king; there is no law stronger than I. I have a right to do what I like.' If he did so, he found that he was mistaken. He found that though he forgot Moses' law, God had not; that the law stood there still, because it was founded on eternal justice, which proceeds for ever out of the mouth of God; and by the Law, which he had chosen to forget, he was judged; by the Law of God, which deals equal justice to rich and poor, which is, like God Himself, no acceptor of persons; but says, 'Thou shalt not covet,' to the king upon his throne as sternly as to the beggar on the dunghill.
And that Law stands still, my friends, doubt it not. Thanks to the wisdom and justice of our forefathers who built the laws of England on those old Ten Commandments, which hang for a sign thereof in every church to this day. Thanks to them, I say, and to God, the root of the law of England is, equal justice between man and man, be he high or low; and it is a thing to bless God for every day of our lives, that here the poor man's little is as safe as the rich man's wealth: but there is many a sin of oppression, many a sin of covetousness, my friends, which no law of man can touch. Make laws as artfully as you will, bad men can always slip through them, and escape the spirit of them, while they obey the letter: and I suppose it will be so to the world's end; and that, let the laws be as perfect as they may, if any man wishes to cheat or oppress his neighbour, he will surely be able to work his wicked will in some way or other. Well then, my friends, if man's law is weak, God's is not;—if man's law has flaws and gaps in it, through which covetousness can creep, God's has none;—even if (which God forbid) man's law died out, and sinners were left to sin without fear of punishment, still God's Law stands sure, and the eye of the living God slumbers not, and the hand of the living God never grows weary, and out of the everlasting heaven His voice is saying, day and night, for ever, 'I endure for ever. I sit on the throne judging right; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of My kingdom. I judge the world in justice, and minister true judgment unto the people. I also will be a refuge for the oppressed, even a refuge in due time of trouble.'
O hear those words, my friends! hear and obey, if you love life, and wish to see good days; and never, never say a thing is right, simply because the law cannot punish you for it. Never say in your hearts when you are tempted to be hard, cruel, covetous, over-reaching, 'What harm? I break no law by it.' There is a law, whether you see it or not; you break a law, whether you confess it or not; a law which is as a wall of iron clothed with thunder, though man's law be but a flimsy net of thread; and that law, and not any Acts of Parliament, shall judge you in the day when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, and every man shall receive the due reward of the deeds done in the body, not according as they were allowed or not by the Statute Book, but according as they were good or evil.
Another lesson we may learn from this story: that if we give way to our passions, we give way to the Devil also. Ahab gave way to his passion; he knew that he was wrong; for when Naboth refused to sell him the vineyard, he did not dare openly to rob him of it; he went to his house heavy of heart, and fretted, like a spoilt child, because he could not get what he wanted. It was but a little thing, and he might have been content to go without it. He was king of all Israel, and what was one small vineyard more or less to him? But prosperity had spoilt him; he must needs have every toy on which he set his heart, and he was weak enough to fret that he could not get more, when he had too much already. But he knew that he could not get it; that, king as he was, Naboth's property was his own, and that God's everlasting Law stood between him and the thing he coveted. Well for him if he had been contented with fretting. But, my friends—and be you rich or poor, take heed to my words—whenever any man gives way to selfishness, and self-seeking, to a proud, covetous, envious, peevish temper, the Devil is sure to glide up and whisper in his ear thoughts which will make him worse—worse, ay, than he ever dreamt of being. First comes the flesh, and then the Devil; and if the flesh opens the door of the heart, the Devil steps in quickly enough. First comes the flesh: fleshly, carnal pride at being thwarted; fleshly, carnal longing for a thing, which longs all the more for it because one cannot have it; fleshly, carnal peevishness and ill-temper, at not having just the pleasant thing one happens to like. That is a state of mind which is a bird-call for all the devils; and when they see a man in that temper, they flock to him, I believe, as crows do to carrion. It is astonishing, humbling, awful, my friends, what horrible thoughts will cross one's mind if once one gives way to that selfish, proud, angry, longing temper; thoughts of which we are ashamed the next moment; temptations to sin at which we shudder, they seem so unlike ourselves, not parts of ourselves at all. When the dark fit is past, one can hardly believe that such wicked thoughts ever crossed one's mind. I don't think that they are part of ourselves; I believe them to be the whispers of the Devil himself; and when they pass away, I believe that it is the Lord Jesus Christ who drives them away. But if any man gives way to them, determines to keep his sullenness, and so gives place to the Devil; then those thoughts do not pass; they take hold of a man, possess him, as the Bible calls it, and make him in his madness do things which—alas! who has not done things in his day, of which he has repented all his life after?—things for which he would gladly cut off his right hand for the sake of being able to say, 'I never did that?' But the thing is done—done to all eternity: he has given place to the Devil, and the Devil has made him do in five minutes work which he could not undo in five thousand years; and all that is left is, when he comes to himself, to cast himself on God's boundless mercy, and Christ's boundless atonement, and cry, 'My sins are like scarlet, Thou alone canst make them whiter than snow: my sin is ever before me; only let it not be ever before Thee, O God! Punish me, if thou seest fit; but oh forgive, for there is mercy with Thee, and infinite redemption!' And, thanks be to God's great love, he will not cry in vain. Yet, oh, my friends, do not give place to the Devil, unless you wish, forgiven or not, to repent of it to the latest day you live.
And this was Ahab's fate. He knew, I say, that he was wrong; he knew that Naboth's property was his own, and dare not openly rob him of it; and he went to his house, heavy of heart, and refused to eat; and while he was in such a temper as that, the Devil lost no time in sending an evil spirit to him. It was a woman whom he sent, Jezebel, Ahab's own wife: but she was, as far as we can see, a woman of a devilish spirit, cruel, proud, profligate, and unjust, as well as a worshipper of the filthy idols of the Canaanites. Ahab's first sin was in having married this wicked heathen woman: now his sin punished itself; she tempted him through his pride and self- conceit; she taunted him into sin: 'Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth.' You all remember how she did so; by falsely accusing Naboth of blasphemy. Ahab seems to have taken no part in Naboth's murder. Perhaps he was afraid; but he was a weak man, and Jezebel was a strong and fierce spirit, and ruled him, and led him in this matter, as she did in making him worship idols with her; and he was content to be led. He was content to let others do the wickedness he had not courage to carry out himself. He forgot that, as is well said, 'He who does a thing by another, does it by himself;' that if you let others sin for you, you sin for yourself. Would to God, my friends, that we would all remember this! How often people wink at wrong-doing in those with whom they have dealings, in those whom they employ, in their servants, in their children, because it is convenient to them. They shut their eyes, and their hearts too, and say to themselves, 'At all events, it is his doing and not mine; and it is his concern; I am not answerable for other people's sins. I would not do such a thing myself, certainly; but as it is done, I may as well make the best of it. If I gain by it, I need not be so very sharp in looking into the matter.' And so you see men who really wish to be honest and kindly themselves, making no scruple of profiting by other people's dishonesty and cruelty. Now the law punishes the receiver of stolen goods almost as severely as the thief himself: but there are many receivers of stolen goods, my friends, whom the law cannot touch. The world, at times, seems to me to be full of them; for every one, my friends, who hushes up a cruel or a dishonest matter, because he himself is a gainer by it, he is no better than the receiver of stolen goods, and he will find in the day of the Lord, that the sin will lie at his door, as Jezebel's sin lay at Ahab's. There was no need for Ahab to say, 'Jezebel did it, and not I.' The prophet did not even give him time to excuse himself: 'Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?' By taking possession of Naboth's vineyard, and so profiting by his murder, he made himself partaker in that murder, and had to hear the terrible sentence, 'In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, dogs shall lick thy blood, even thine.'
Oh, my friends, whatsoever you do, keep clean hands and a pure heart. If you touch pitch, it will surely stick to you. Let no gain tempt you to be partaker of others men's sins; never fancy that, because men cannot lay the blame on the right person, God cannot. God will surely lay the burden on the man who helped to make the burden; God will surely require part payment from the man who profited by the bargain; so keep yourselves clear of other men's sins, that you may be clear also of their condemnation.
So Ahab had committed a horrible and great sin, and had received sentence for it, and now, as I said before, there was nothing to be done but to repent; and he did so, after his fashion.
Ahab, it seems, was not an utterly bad man; he was a weak man, fond of his own pleasure, a slave to his own passions, and easily led, sometimes to good, but generally to evil. And God did not execute full vengeance on him: his repentance was a poor one enough; but such as it was, the good and merciful God gave him credit for it as far as it went, and promised him that the worst part of his sentence, the ruin of his family, should not come in his time. But still the sentence against him stood, and was fulfilled. Not long after, as we read in the second lesson, he was killed in battle, and that not bravely and with honour (for if he had been, that would have been but a slight punishment, my friends), but shamefully by a chance shot, after he had disguised himself, in the cowardice of his guilty conscience, and tried to throw all the danger on his ally, good King Jehoshaphat of Judah; 'and they washed his chariot in the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah the prophet.'
So ends one of the most clear and terrible stories in the whole Bible, of God's impartial justice. May God give us all grace to lay it to heart! We are all tempted, as Ahab was; rich or poor, our temptation is alike to give place to the Devil, and let him lead us into dark and deep sin, by giving way to our own fancies, longings, pride, and temper. We are all tempted, as Ahab was, to over-reach our neighbours in some way; I do not mean always in cheating them, but in being unfair to them, in caring more for ourselves than for them; thinking of ourselves first, and of them last; trying to make ourselves comfortable, or to feed our own pride, at their expense. Oh, my friends, whenever we are tempted to be selfish and grasping, be sure that we are opening a door to the very Devil of hell himself, though he may look so smooth, and gentle, and respectable, that perhaps we shall not know him when he comes to us, and shall take his counsels for the counsel of an angel of light. But be sure that if it is selfishness which has opened the door of our heart, not God, but the Devil, will come in, let him disguise himself as cunningly as he will; and our only hope is to flee to Him in whom there was no selfishness, the Lord Jesus Christ, who came not to do His own will, but His Father's; not to glorify Himself, but His Father; not to save His own life, but to sacrifice it freely, for us, His selfish, weak, greedy, wandering sheep. Pray to Him to give you His Spirit, that glorious spirit of love, and duty, and self- sacrifice, by which all the good deeds on earth are done; which teaches a man not to care about himself, but about others; to help others, to feel for others, to rejoice in their happiness, to grieve over their sorrows, to give to them, rather than take from them—in one word, The Holy Spirit of God, which may He pour out on you, and me, and all mankind, that we may live justly and lovingly, as children of one just and loving Father in heaven.
SERMON XII. THE LIGHT OF GOD
[Preached for the Chelsea National Schools.]
Ephesians v. 13. All things which are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever is made manifest is light.
This is a noble text, a royal text; one of those texts which forbid us to clip and cramp Scripture to suit any narrow notions of our own; which open before us boundless vistas of God's love, of human knowledge, of the future of mankind. There are many such texts, many more than we fancy; but this is one which is especially valuable at the present time; one especially fit for a sermon on education; for it is, as it were, the scriptural charter of the advocate of education. It enables him boldly to say, 'There is nothing I will refuse to teach; there is nothing which man shall forbid me to teach; there is nothing which God has made in heaven or earth about which I will not tell the truth boldly to the young.'
For light comes from God. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. And therefore He wishes to give light to His children. He willeth not that the least of them should be kept in darkness about any matter. Darkness is of the Devil; and he who keeps any human soul in darkness, let his pretences be as reverent and as religious as they may, is doing the Devil's work. Nothing, then, which God has made will we conceal from the young.
True, there are errors of which we will not speak to the young; but they are not made by God: they are the works of darkness. Our duty is to teach the young what God has made, what He has done, what He has ordained; to make them freely partakers of whatsoever light God has given us. Then, by means of that light, they will be able to reprove the works of darkness.
For whatsoever is made manifest is light. Our version says; 'Whatsoever makes manifest is light.' That is true, a noble truth; but I should not be honest, if I did not confess that that is not what St. Paul says here. He says, 'That which is made manifest is light.' On this the best commentators and scholars agree. Our old translators have made a mistake, though in grammar only, and have substituted one great truth for another equally great.
'Whatsoever is made manifest is light.' We should have expected this, if we are really Christians. If we have faith in God; if we believe that God is worthy of our faith—a God whom we can trust; in whom is neither caprice, deceit, nor darkness, but pure and perfect light;—if we believe that we are His children, and that He wishes us to be, like Himself, full of light, knowing what we are and what the world is, because we know who God is;—if we believe that He sent His Son into the world to reveal Him, to unveil Him, to draw aside the veil which dark superstition and ignorance had spread between man and God, and to show us the glory of God;—if we believe this, then we shall be ready to expect that whatsoever is made manifest would be light; for if God be light, all that He has made must be light also. Like must beget like, and therefore light must beget light, good beget good, love beget love; and therefore we ought to expect that as true and sound knowledge increases, our views of God will be more full of light.
Yes, my friends; under the influence of true science God will be no longer looked upon, as He was in those superstitions which we well call dark, as a proud, angry, capricious being, as a stern taskmaster, as one far removed from the sympathy of men: but as one of whom we may cheerfully say, Thy name be hallowed, for Thy name is Father; Thy kingdom come, for it is a Father's kingdom; Thy will be done, for it is a Father's will; and in doing Thy will alone men claim their true dignity of being the sons of God.
Our views of our fellow-men will be more cheerful also; more full of sympathy, comprehension, charity, hope; in one word, more full of light. If it be true (and it is true) that God loves all, then we should expect to find in all something worthy of our love. If it be true that God willeth that none should perish, we should expect to find in each man something which ought not to perish. If it be true that God stooped from heaven, yea stoops from heaven eternally, to seek and to save that which is lost, then we should have good hope that our efforts to seek to save that which is lost will not be in vain. We shall have hope in every good work we undertake, for we shall know that in it we are fellow-workers with God.
Our notions of the world—of God's whole universe, will become full of light likewise. Do we believe that this earth was made by Jesus Christ?—by Him who was full of grace and truth? Do we believe our Bibles, when they tell us, that He hath given all created things a law which cannot be broken; that they continue as at the beginning, for all things serve Him? Do we believe this? Then we must look on this earth, yea on the whole universe of God, as, like its Master, full of grace and truth; not as old monks and hermits fancied it, a dark, deceiving, evil earth, filled with snares and temptations; a world from which a man ought to hide himself in the wilderness, and find his own safety in ignorance. Not thus, but as the old Hebrews thought of it, as a glorious and a divine universe, in which the Spirit of God, the Lord and Giver of life, creates eternal melody, bringing for ever life out of death, light out of darkness, letting his breath go forth that new generations may be made, and herein renew the face of the earth.
And experience teaches us that this has been the case; that for near one thousand eight hundred years there has been a steady progress in the mind of the Christian race, and that this progress has been in the direction of light.
Has it not been so in our notions of God? What has the history of theology been for near one thousand eight hundred years? Has it not been a gradual justification of God, a gradual vindication of His character from those dark and horrid notions of the Deity which were borrowed from the Pagans, and from the Jewish Rabbis? a gradual return to the perfect good news of a good God, which was preached by St. John and by St. Paul?—In one word, a gradual manifestation of God; and a gradual discovery that when God is manifested, behold, God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all?
That progress, alas! is not yet perfect. We still see through a glass darkly, and we are still too apt to impute to God Himself the darkness of those very hearts of ours in which He is so dimly mirrored. And there are men still, even in Protestant England, who love darkness rather than light, and teach men that God is dark, and in Him are only scattered spots of light, and those visible only to a favoured few; men who, whether from ignorance, or covetousness, or lust of power, preach such a deity as the old Pharisees worshipped, when they crucified the Lord of Glory, and offer to deliver men, forsooth, out of the hands of this dreadful phantom of their own dark imaginations.
Let them be. Let the dead bury their dead, and let us follow Christ. Believe indeed that He is the likeness of God's glory, and the express image of God's person, and you will be safe from the dark dreams with which they ensnare diseased and superstitious consciences. Let them be. Light is stronger than darkness; Love stronger than cruelty. Perfect God stronger than fallen man; and the day shall come when all shall be light in the Lord; when all mankind shall know God, from the least unto the greatest, and lifting up free foreheads to Him who made them, and redeemed them by His Son, shall in spirit and in truth, worship The Father.
Does not experience again show us that in the case of our fellow- men, whatsoever is made manifest, is light?
How easy it was, a thousand years ago—a hundred years ago even, to have dark thoughts about our fellow-men, simply because we did not know them! Easy it was, while the nations were kept apart by war, even by mere difficulty of travelling, for Christians to curse Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Heretics, and believe that God willed their eternal perdition, even though the glorious collect for Good Friday gave their inhumanity the lie. Easy to persecute those to whose opinions we could not, or would not, take the trouble to give a fair hearing. Easy to condemn the negro to perpetual slavery, when we knew nothing of him but his black face; or to hang by hundreds the ragged street-boys, while we disdained to inquire into the circumstances which had degraded them; or to treat madmen as wild beasts, instead of taming them by wise and gentle sympathy.
But with a closer knowledge of our fellow-creatures has come toleration, pity, sympathy. And as that sympathy has been freely obeyed, it has justified itself more and more. The more we have tried to help our fellow-men, the more easy we have found it to help them. The more we have trusted them, the more trustworthy we have found them. The more we have treated them as human beings, the more humanity we have found in them. And thus man, in proportion as he becomes manifest to man, is seen, in spite of all defects and sins, to be hallowed with a light from God who made him.
And if it has been thus, in the case of God and of humanity, has it not been equally so in the case of the physical world? Where are now all those unnatural superstitions—the monkish contempt for marriage and social life, the ghosts and devils; the astrology, the magic, and other dreams of which I will not speak here, which made this world, in the eyes of our forefathers, a doleful and dreadful puzzle; and which made man the sport of arbitrary powers, of cruel beings, who could torment and destroy us, but over whom we could have no righteous power in return? Where are all those dark dreams gone which maddened our forefathers into witch-hunting panics, and which on the Continent created a priestly science of witch-finding and witch-destroying, the literature whereof (and it is a large one) presents perhaps the most hideous instance known of human cruelty, cowardice, and cunning? Where, I ask, are those dreams now? So utterly vanished, that very few people in this church know what a great part they played in the thoughts of our forefathers; how ghosts, devils, witches, magic, and astrology, filled the minds, not only of the ignorant, but of the most learned, for centuries.
And now, behold, nature being made manifest, is light. Science has taught men to admire where they used to dread; to rule where they used to obey; to employ for harmless uses what they were once afraid to touch; and, where they once saw only fiends, to see the orderly and beneficent laws of the all-good and almighty God. Everywhere, as the work of nature is unfolded to our eyes, we see beauty, order, mutual use, the offspring of perfect Love as well as perfect Wisdom. Everywhere we are finding means to employ the secret forces of nature for our own benefit, or to ward off physical evils which seemed to our forefathers as inevitable, supernatural; and even the pestilence, instead of being, as was once fancied, the capricious and miraculous infliction of some demon—the pestilence itself is found to be an orderly result of the same laws by which the sun shines and the herb grows; a product of nature; and therefore subject to man, to be prevented and extirpated by him, if he will.
Yes, my friends, let us teach these things to our children, to all children. Let us tell them to go to the Light, and see their Heavenly Father's works manifested, and know that they are, as He is, Light. I say, let us teach our children freely and boldly to know these things, and grow up in the light of them. Let us leave those to sneer at the triumphs of modern science, who trade upon the ignorance and the cowardice of mankind, and who say, 'Provided you make a child religious, what matter if he does fancy the sun goes round the earth? Why occupy his head, perhaps disturb his simple faith, by giving him a smattering of secular science?'
Specious enough is that argument: but shortsighted more than enough. It is of a piece with the wisdom which shrinks from telling children that God is love, lest they should not be sufficiently afraid of Him; which forbids their young hearts to expand freely towards their fellow-creatures: which puts into their mouths the watchwords of sects and parties, and thinks to keep them purer Christians by making them Pharisees from the cradle.
My friends, we may try to train up children as Pharisees: but we shall discover, after twenty years of mistaken labour, that we have only made them Sadducees. The path to infidelity in manhood is superstition in youth. You may tell the child never to mind whether the sun moves round the earth or not: but the day will come when he will mind in spite of you; and if he then finds that you have deceived him, that you have even left him in wilful ignorance, all your moral influence over him is gone, and all your religious lessons probably gone also. So true is it, that lies are by their very nature self-destructive. For all truth is of God; and no lie is of the truth, and therefore no lie can possibly help God or God's work in any human soul. For as the child ceases to respect his teachers he ceases to respect what they believe. His innate instinct of truth and honour, his innate longing to believe, to look up to some one better than himself, have been shocked and shaken once and for all; and it may require long years, and sad years, to bring him back to the faith of his childhood. Again I say it, we must not fear to tell the children the whole truth; in these days above all others which the world has yet seen. You cannot prevent their finding out the truth: then for our own sake, let us, their authorized teachers, be the first to tell it them. Let them in after life connect the thought of their clergyman, their schoolmaster, their church, with their first lessons in the free and right use of their God-given faculties, with their first glimpses into the boundless mysteries of art and science. Let them learn from us to regard all their powers as their Heavenly Father's gift; all art, all science, all discoveries, as their Heavenly Father's revelation to men. Let them learn from us not to shrink from the light, not to peep at it by stealth, but to claim it as their birthright; to welcome it, to live and grow in it to the full stature of men—rational, free, Christian English men. This, I believe, must be the method of a truly Protestant education.
I said Protestant—I say it again. What is the watchword of Protestantism? It is this. That no lie is of the truth. There are those who complain of us English that we attach too high a value to TRUTH. They say that falsehood is an evil: but not so great a one as we fancy. We accept the imputation. We answer boldly that there can be no greater evil than falsehood, no greater blessing than truth; and that by God's help we will teach the same to our children, and to our children's children. Free inquiry, religious as well as civil liberty—this is the spirit of Protestantism. This our fathers have bequeathed to us; this we will bequeath to our children;—to know that all truth is of God, that no lie is of the truth. Our enemies may call us heretics, unbelievers, rebellious, political squabblers. They may say in scorn, You Protestants know not whither you are going; you have broken yourselves off from the old Catholic tree, and now, in the wild exercise of your own private judgment, you are losing all that standard of doctrine, all unity of belief. Our answer will be—It is not so: but even if it were so— even if we did not know whither we were going—we should go forward still. For though we know not, God knows. We have committed ourselves to God, the living God; and He has led us; and we believe that He will lead us. He has taught us; and we believe that He will teach us still. He has prospered us, and we believe that He will prosper us still: and therefore we will train up our children after us to go on the path which has brought us hither, freely to use their minds, boldly to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good; manfully to go forward, following Truth whithersoever she may lead them; trusting in God, the Father of Lights, asking Him for wisdom, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given them.
I have been asked to preach this day for the National Schools of this parish. I do so willingly, because I believe that in them this course of education is pursued, that conjoined with a sound teaching in the principles of our Protestant church, and a wholesome and kindly moral training, there is free and full secular instruction as far as the ages of the children will allow. Were it not the case, I could not plead for these schools; above all at this time, when the battle between ancient superstition and modern enlightenment in this land seems fast coming to a crisis and a death struggle. I could not ask you to help any school on earth in which I had not fair proof that the teachers taught, on physical and human as well as on moral subjects, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help them God.
SERMON XIII. PROVIDENCE
Matthew vi. 31, 32, 33. Be not anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, what shall we drink, or wherewithal shall we be clothed? (for after all these things do the heathen seek:) for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.
We must first consider carefully what this text really means; what 'taking no thought for the morrow' really is. Now, it cannot mean that we are to be altogether careless and imprudent; for all Scripture, and especially Solomon's Proverbs, give us the very opposite advice, and one part of God's Word cannot contradict the other. The whole of Solomon's Proverbs is made up of lessons in prudence and foresight; and surely our Lord did not come to do away with Solomon's Proverbs, but to fulfil them. And more, Solomon declares again and again, that prudence and foresight are the gifts of God; and God's gifts are surely meant to be used. Isaiah, too, tells us that the common work of the farm, tilling the ground, sowing, and reaping, were taught to men by God; and says of the ploughman, that 'His God doth instruct him to discretion and doth teach him.' Neither can God mean us to sit idle with folded hands waiting to be fed by miracles. Would He have given to man reason, and skill, and the power of bettering his mortal condition by ten thousand instructions if He had not meant him to use those gifts? We find that, at the beginning, Adam is put into the garden, not to sit idle in it, nor to feed merely on the fruits which fall from the trees, as the dumb animals do, but to dress it, and to keep it; to use his own reason to improve his own condition, and the land on which God had placed him. Was not the very first command given to man to replenish the earth and subdue it? And do we not find in the very end of Scripture the Apostles working with their own hands for their daily bread?
But what use of many words? It is absurd to believe anything else; absurd to believe that man was meant to live like the butterfly, flitting without care from flower to flower, and, like the butterfly, die helpless at the first shower or the first winter's frost. Whatever the text means, it cannot mean that.
And it does not mean that. I suppose, that three hundred years ago (when the Bible was translated out of the Greek tongue, in which the Apostles wrote, into English), 'taking thought' meant something different from what it does now: but the plain meaning of the text, if it be put into such English as we talk now, is, 'Do not fret about the morrow. Be not anxious about the morrow.' There is no doubt at all, as any scholar can tell you, that that is the plain meaning of the word in our modern English, and that our Lord is not telling us to be imprudent or idle, but not to be anxious and fretful about the morrow.
And more, I think if we look carefully at these words, we shall find that they tell us the very reason why we are to work, and to look forward, and to believe that God will bless our labour.
And what is this reason? It is this, that we have a Father in heaven; not a mere Maker, not a mere Master, but a Father. All turns on that one Gospel of all Gospels, your Father in heaven. For our Lord seems to me to say, 'Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or drink, or wear. Is not the life more than meat? Has not your Heavenly Father given you a higher life than the mere life which must be kept up by food, which He has given to the animals? He has made you reasonable souls; He has given to you wisdom from His own wisdom, and a share of the Light which lights every man who comes into the world, the Light of Christ His Son; He has created you in His own likeness, that like Him you may make things, be makers and inventors, each in his place and calling, each according to his talents and powers, even as your Heavenly Father, the Maker and Creator of all things. And if He has given you all these wonderful powers of mind and soul, surely He has given you the less blessing, the mere power to earn your own food? If He has made you so much wiser than the beasts, surely He has made you as wise as the beasts.' 'And is not the body more than raiment?' Has He not given you bodies which can speak, write, build, work, plant, in a thousand cunning and wonderful ways; bodies which can do a thousand nobler things than merely keep themselves warm, as the beasts do? Then be sure, if He has given you the greater power, He has given you the less also. And as for fine clothes and rich ornaments, 'Is not the body more than raiment?' Is not your body a far more beautiful and nobler thing than all the gay clothes with which you can bedizen it? If your bodies be fair, strong, healthy, useful, it matters little what clothes you put upon them. Why will you not have faith in your Heavenly Father? Why will you not have faith in the great honour which He put on you when He said at first, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let him have dominion over all things on the earth'? Be sure, that God would not have made man, and given him all these powers, and sent him upon this earth, unless this earth had been a right good and fit place for him. Be sure that if you obey the laws of this earth where God has put you, you will never need to be anxious or fret; but you will prosper right well, you and your children after you. For 'Consider the fowls of the air, they neither sow, nor reap, and gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them; and are ye not much better than they?' Surely you are, for you can sow, and reap, and gather into barns. And if God makes the earth work so well that it feeds the fowls who cannot help themselves, how much more will the earth feed you who can help yourselves, because God has given you understanding and prudence? But as for anxiety, fretting, repining, complaining to God, 'Why hast Thou made me thus?' what use in that? 'Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature?' Will all the fretting and anxiety in the world make you one foot or one inch taller than you are? Will it make you stronger, wiser, more able to help yourself? You are what you are: you can do what God has given you power to do. Trust Him that He has made you strong enough and wise enough to earn your daily bread, and to prosper right well, if you will, upon this earth which He has made. And why be anxious about clothing? 'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.' But man can toil, man can spin; your Heavenly Father has given to man the power of providing clothes for himself, and not for himself only, but for others; so that while the man who tills the soil feeds the man who spins and weaves, the man who spins and weaves shall clothe the man who tills the soil; and the town shall work for the country, while the country feeds the town; and every man, if he does but labour where God has put him, shall produce comforts for human beings whom he never saw, who live perhaps in foreign lands across the sea. For the Heavenly Father has knit together the great family of man in one blessed bond of mutual need and mutual usefulness all over the world; so that no member of it can do without the other, and each member of it—each individual man—let him work at what thing he will, can make many times more of that thing than he needs for himself, and so help others while he earns his own living; and so wealth and comfort ought to increase year by year among the whole family of men, ay, and would increase, if it were not for sin. Yes, my friends, if it were not for that same sin—if it were not that men do not seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, there would be no end, no bound to the wealth, the comfort, the happiness of the children of men. Even as it is, in spite of all man's sin, the world does prosper marvellously, miraculously; in spite of all the waste, destruction, idleness, ignorance, injustice, and folly which goes on in the world, mankind increases and replenishes the earth, and improves in comfort and in happiness; in spite of all, God is stronger than the Devil, life stronger than death, wisdom stronger than folly, order stronger than disorder, fruitfulness stronger than destruction; and they will be so, more and more, till the last great day, when Christ shall have put all enemies under His feet, and death is swallowed up in victory, and all mankind is one fold under one Shepherd, Jesus Christ, the righteous King of all.
But some may ask, What does our Lord mean when He says, 'That if we sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these things should be added to us?'
I cannot tell you altogether, my friends; for eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what God has prepared for those who love Him. But this I can tell you, that these things are taken from men, instead of being added to them, by their not seeking first God's kingdom and His righteousness. I can tell you, as the Prophet does, that it is the sins of man which withhold good things from him; because though, as the Prophet says in the same place, God sends the good things, and the former and latter rain in their season, and reserves to men still the appointed weeks of harvest, yet men will not fear that same Lord their God; and therefore those good things are wasted, and mankind remains too often miserable in spite of God's goodness, and starving in the midst of God's plenty.
If you wish to know what I mean, look but once at this present war. I do not complain of the war. I honour the war. I thank God from the bottom of my heart for this great and glorious victory, and I call on you to thank Him, too, for it. I am none of those who think war sinful. I cannot do so, for I swore at my baptism to fight manfully under Christ's banner against the world, the flesh, and the Devil; and if we cannot reach the Devil and his works by any other means, we must reach them as we are doing now, by sharp shot and cold steel, and we must hold it an honourable thing, and few things more honourable on earth, for a man to die fighting against evil men, and an evil world-devouring empire, like that of Babylon of old, or this of Russia now, that he may save not merely us who sit here now, but our children's children, and generations yet unborn, from Russian tyranny, and Russian falsehood, and Russian profligacy, and Russian superstition. I say, I do not complain of this war; but I ask you to look at the mere waste which it brings, the mere waste of God's blessings. Consider all the skilful men now employed in making cannon, shot, and powder to kill mortal men, who might every one of them, in time of peace, have been employed in making things which would feed, and clothe, and comfort mortal man. Consider that very powder and shot itself, the fruit of so much labour and money, made simply to be shot away, once for all, as if a man should spend months in making some precious vessel, and then dash it to pieces the moment it was made. Consider that Sevastopol alone; the millions of money which it must have cost—the stone, the timber, the iron, all used there—in making a mere robber's den, which might all have been spent in giving employment and sustenance to whole provinces of poor starving Russians. Consider those tens of thousands of men, labouring day and night for months at those deadly earthworks, whose strong arms might have been all tilling God's earth, and growing food for the use of man. And then see the waste, the want, the misery which that one place, Sevastopol, has caused upon God's earth.
And consider, too, the souls of mortal men, who have been wasted there—no man knows how many, nor will know till the judgment day. Two hundred thousand, at the least, they say, wasted about that accursed place, within the last twelve months. Two hundred thousand cunning brains, two hundred thousand strong right hands, two hundred thousand willing hearts: what good might not each of those men have done if he had been labouring peacefully at home, in his right place in God's family! What might he not have invented, made, carried over land and sea? None dead there but might have been of use in his generation; and doubtless many a one who would have done good with all his might, who would have been a blessing to those around him; and now what is left of him on earth but a few bones beneath the sod? Wasted—utterly wasted! Oh, consider how precious is one man; consider how much good the weakest and stupidest of us all might do, if he set himself with his whole soul to do good; consider that the weakest and stupidest of us, even if he has no care for good, cannot earn his day's wages without doing some good to the bodies of his fellow-men; and then judge of the loss to mankind by this one single siege of one single town; and think how many stomachs must be the emptier, how many backs the barer, for this one war; and then see how man wastes God's gifts, and wastes most of all that most precious gift of all, men, living men, with minds, and reasons, and immortal souls.