And whence has all this waste come? Simply because these Russian rulers have chosen to seek first, not God's kingdom, but their own. Instead of behaving like God's ministers and God's stewards, and asking, 'How would God our King have us rule His kingdom?' they have laboured for their own power, conquering all the nations round them, removing their neighbour's landmark, and wasting the wealth of their country on armies, and fortresses, and fleets, with which they intended to conquer more and more of the earth which did not belong to them. Because, instead of seeking God's righteousness, and saying to themselves, 'How shall we be righteous, even as our Heavenly Father is righteous, and how shall we teach this great people to be righteous likewise?' they have sought their own pleasure, and lived in profligacy, covetous and cheating almost beyond belief; and instead of behaving righteously to the people, or teaching them to be righteous, they have crushed down the people, stupefied and corrupted them by slavery, and maddened them by superstitions which are not the righteousness of God, till they have made them easy tools in their unjust wars, and are able to drive them, even by force, like sheep to the slaughter, to die miserably in a cause in which, even if those unhappy slaves conquered, they would only rivet their own chains more tightly, and put more power into the hands of the very rulers who are robbing them of their earnings, dishonouring their daughters, and driving off their sons to die in a foreign land. Ah, my friends, if these men had but sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; if the great wealth, and the wonderful industry and prudence of Russia had been but spent in doing justly, and loving mercy, what a rich and honourable country of brave and industrious Christian men might Russia be; a blessing, and not a curse, to half the earth of God!
Let us pray that she will become so, some day; and we may have hope for her, for she is but young, and has time yet for repentance.
But some may say—indeed, we are all ready enough to say—'Then the evil of this war is the Russians' fault, and not ours; and so in every other case. In every other evil and misery they are rather other people's fault than ours. If we do our duty well enough, and if other people would but do theirs, all would be well.'
We are all apt to say this in our hearts. But our Lord does not say so. His promise is to all mankind: but His promise is to each of us also. When He says, Seek ye first God's kingdom and righteousness, He speaks to you and to me, to every soul now here. Believe it, my friends. The more that I see of life, the more I see how much of our sorrow is our own fault; how much of our happiness is in our own hands; and the more I see how little use there is in finding fault with this government, or that, the more I see how much use there is in every man's finding fault with himself, and taking his share of the blame.
I do not doubt that if the whole people of England, for the last forty years, had sought first God's kingdom and God's righteousness, and said to themselves in every matter, not merely 'What is profitable for us to do?' but 'What is right for us to do?' we should have been spared the expenses and the sorrows of this war: but as for blaming our government, my friends,—what they are we are; we choose them, Englishmen like ourselves, and they truly represent us. Not one complaint can we make against them, which we may not as justly make against ourselves; and if we had been in their places, we should have done what they did; for the seeds of the same sins are in us; and we yield, each in his own household and his own business, to the same temptations as they, to the sins which so easily beset Englishmen at this present time. I say, frankly, I see not one charge brought against them in the newspapers which might not quite as justly be brought against me, and, for aught I know, against every one of us here; and while we are not faithful over a few things, what right have we to complain of them for not having been faithful over many things? Believe, rather (I believe it), that if we had been in their place, we should have done far worse than they; and ask yourselves, 'Do I seek first God's kingdom and God's righteousness; for if I do not, what right have I to lay the blame of my bad success on other men's not seeking them?' To each of us, as much as to our government, or to the Russian empire, is Christ's command; and each of us must take the consequences, if we break it. Let us look at ourselves, and mend ourselves, and try whether God's promise will not hold true for us, each in his station, let the world round us go as it will. Be sure that God is just, and that every man bears his own burden: that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from Thee, O God! Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? Be sure that those who trust in Him shall never be confounded, though the earth be moved, and the mountains carried into the midst of the sea, as it is written, 'Trust in the Lord, and be doing good; dwell in the land, and work where God has placed thee, and verily thou shalt be fed.'
But have we done so, my friends? have we sought first God's kingdom and His righteousness? have we not rather forgotten the meaning of the text, and what God's kingdom is, and what His righteousness is? Do not most people fancy that God's kingdom only means some pleasant place to which people are to go after they die? and that seeking God's righteousness only means having Christ's righteousness imputed to us (as they call it), without our being righteous and good ourselves? Do not most of us fancy that this very text means, 'Do you take care of your souls, and God will take care of your bodies; do you see after the salvation of your souls, and God will see after the salvation of your bodies'? a meaning which, in the first place, is not true, for God will do no such thing; and all the religion in the world will not prevent a man's having to work for his daily bread, or pay his debts for him without money; and a meaning which, in the second place, people themselves do not believe; for religious professors in general now are just as keen about money as irreligious ones, and even more so; so that covetousness and cunning, ambition and greediness to rise in life, seem now-a-days to go hand in hand with a high religious profession; and those who fancy themselves the children of light have become just as wise in their generation as the children of this world whom they despise.
No, my friends, that is not the meaning of the text; and when I ask you, Have you obeyed the text? I do not ask you that question; but one which I believe is something far more spiritual and more deep, something at least which is far more heart-searching, and likely to prick a man's conscience, perhaps to make him angry with me who ask.
Do you seek first God's kingdom, or your own profit, your own pleasure, your own reputation? Do you believe that you are in God's kingdom, that He is your King, and has called you to the station in which you are to do good and useful work for Him upon this earth of His? Whatever be your calling, whether you be servant, labourer, farmer, tradesman, gentleman, maid, wife, or widow, father, son, or husband, do you ask yourself every day, 'Now what are the laws of God's kingdom about this station of mine? what is my duty here? how can I obey God, and His laws here, and do what He requires of me, and so be a good servant, a good labourer, a good tradesman, a good master, a good parish officer, a good wife, a good parent, pleasing to God, useful to my neighbours and to my countrymen?' Or do you say to yourselves, 'How can I get the greatest quantity of money and pleasure out of my station, with the least trouble to myself?' My dearest friends, ask yourselves, each of you, in which of these two ways do you look at your own station in life?
And do you seek first God's righteousness? There can be no mistake as to what God's righteousness is; for God's righteousness must be Christ's righteousness, seeing that He is the express image of His Father. Now do you ask yourselves, 'How am I to be righteous in my station, as Christ was in His? how can I do my Heavenly Father's will, as Christ did? how can I behave like Christ in my station? how would the Lord Jesus Christ have behaved, if He had been in my place, when He was on earth?' My friends, that is the question, the searching question, the question which must convince us all of sin, and show us so many faults of our own to complain of, that we shall find no time to throw stones at our neighbours. How would the Lord Jesus Christ have behaved, if He had been in my place when He was upon earth?
My dear friends, till we can all of us answer that question somewhat better than we can now, we have no need to look as far as Russia, or as our forefathers' mistakes, or our rulers' mistakes, to find out why this trouble and that trouble come upon us: for we shall find the reason in our own selfish, greedy, self-willed hearts.
Oh, my friends, let us each search our own lives, and repent, and amend, and resolve to do our duty, as sons of God, in the station to which God has called us, by the help of the Spirit of God, which He has promised freely to those who ask Him. And now, this day, as we thank God for this great victory, let us thank Him, not with our lips merely, but with our lives, by living such lives as He loves to see, such lives as He meant us to live, lives of loyalty to God, and of usefulness to our brethren, and of industry and prudence in our calling, and so help forward, each of us, however humble our station, the glory of God; because we shall each of us, in the cottage and in the field, in the shop and in the mansion, in this our little parish, and therefore in the great nation of which it is a part, help forward the fulfilment of those blessed words, Our Father which art in heaven; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven; and therefore, also, the fulfilment of the words which come after them, and not before them; Give us this day our daily bread.
SERMON XIV. ENGLAND'S STRENGTH
2 Kings xix. 34. I will defend this city, to save it for mine own sake.
The first lesson for this morning's service is of the grandest in the whole Old Testament; grander perhaps than all, except the story of the passage of the Red Sea, and the giving of the Law on Sinai. It follows out the story which you heard in the first lesson for last Sunday afternoon, of the invasion of Judea by the Assyrians. You heard then how this great Assyrian conqueror, Sennacherib, after taking all the fortified towns of Judah, and sweeping the whole country with fire and sword, sent three of his generals up to the very walls of Jerusalem, commanding King Hezekiah to surrender at discretion, and throw himself and his people on Sennacherib's mercy; how proudly and boastfully he taunted the Jews with their weakness; how, like the Russian emperor now, he called in religion as the excuse for his conquests and robberies, saying, as if God's blessings were on them, 'Am I now come up without the Lord against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, Go up against this place to destroy it;' while all the time what he really trusted in (as his own words showed) was what the Russian emperors trust in, their own strength and the number of their armies.
Jerusalem was thus in utter need and danger; the vast army of the Assyrians was encamped at Lachish, not more than ten miles off; and however strong the walls of Jerusalem might be, and however advantageously it might stand on its high hill, with lofty rocks and cliffs on three sides of it, yet Hezekiah knew well that no strength of his could stand more than a few days against Sennacherib's army. For these Assyrians had brought the art of war to a greater perfection than any nation of the old world: they lived for war, and studied, it seems, only how to conquer. And they have left behind them very remarkable proofs of what sort of men they were, of which I think it right to tell you all; for they are most instructive, not merely because they prove the truth of Isaiah's account, but because they explain it, and help us in many ways to understand his prophecies. They are a number of sculptures and paintings, representing Sennacherib, his army, and his different conquests, which were painted by his command, in his palace; and having been lately discovered there, among the ruins of Nineveh, have been brought to England, and are now in the British Museum, while copies of many of them are in the Crystal Palace. There we see these terrible Assyrian conquerors defeating their enemies, torturing and slaughtering their prisoners, swimming rivers, beating down castles, sweeping on from land to land like a devouring fire, while over their heads fly fierce spirits who protect and prosper their cruelties, and eagles who trail in their claws the entrails of the slain. The very expression of their faces is frightful for its fierceness; the countenances of a 'bitter and hasty nation,' as the Prophet calls them, whose feet were swift to shed blood. And as for the art of war, and their power of taking walled towns like Jerusalem, you may see them in these pictures battering down and undermining forts and castles, with instruments so well made and powerful, that all other nations who came after them, for more than two thousand years, seem to have been content to copy from them, and hardly to have improved on the old Assyrian engines.
Such, and so terrible, they came up against Jerusalem: to attempt to fight them would have been useless madness; and Hezekiah had but one means of escaping from them, and that was to cast himself and his people upon the boundless mercy, and faithfulness, and power of God.
And Hezekiah had his answer by Isaiah the prophet: and more than an answer. The Lord took the matter into His own hand, and showed Sennacherib which was the stronger, his soldiers and horses and engines, or the Lord God; and so that terrible Assyrian army came utterly to nought, and vanished off the face of the earth.
Now, my friends, has this noble history no lesson in it for us? God forbid! It has a lesson which ought to come nearer to our hearts than to the hearts of any nation: for though we or our forefathers have never been, for nearly three hundred years, in such utter need and danger as Jerusalem was, yet be sure that we might have been so, again and again, had it not been for the mercy of the same God who delivered Jerusalem from the Assyrians. It is now three hundred years ago that the Lord delivered this country from as terrible an invader as Sennacherib himself; when He three times scattered by storms the fleets of the King of Spain, which were coming to lay waste this land with fire and sword: and since then no foreign foe has set foot on English soil, and we almost alone, of all the nations of Europe, have been preserved from those horrors of war, even to speak of which is dreadful! Oh, my friends! we know not half God's goodness to us!
And if you ask me, why God has so blest and favoured this land, I can only answer—and I am not ashamed or afraid to answer—I believe it is on account of the Church of England; it is because God has put His name here in a peculiar way, as He did among the Jews of old, and that He is jealous for His Church, and for the special knowledge of His Gospel and His Law, which He has given us in our Prayer-book and in our Church Catechism, lighting therein a candle in England which I believe will never be put out. It is not merely that we are a Protestant country,—great blessing as that is,—it is, I believe, that there is something in the Church of England which there is not in Protestant countries abroad, unless perhaps Sweden: for every one of them (except Sweden and ourselves) has suffered, from time to time, invading armies, and the unspeakable horrors of war. In some of them the light of the Gospel has been quenched utterly, and in others it lingers like a candle flickering down into the socket. By horrible persecutions, and murder, and war, and pillage, have those nations been tormented from time to time; and who are we, that we should escape? Certainly from no righteousness of our own. Some may say, It is our great wealth which has made us strong. My friends, believe it not. Look at Spain, which was once the richest of all nations; and did her riches preserve her? Has she not dwindled down into the most miserable and helpless of all nations? Has not her very wealth vanished from her, because she sold herself to work all unrighteousness with greediness?
Some may say, It is our freedom which makes us strong. My friends, believe it not. Freedom is a vast blessing from God, but freedom alone will preserve no nation. How many free nations have fallen into every sort of misery, ay, into bitter slavery, in spite of all their freedom. How many free nations in Europe lie now in bondage, gnawing their tongues for pain, and weary with waiting for the deliverance which does not come? No, my friends, freedom is of little use without something else—and that is loyalty; reverence for law and obedience to the powers that be, because men believe those powers to be ordained of God; because men believe that Christ is their King, and they His ministers and stewards, and that He it is who appoints all orders and degrees of men in His Holy Church. True freedom can only live with true loyalty and obedience, such as our Prayer-book, our Catechism, our Church of England preaches to us. It is a Church meant for free men, who stand each face to face with their Heavenly Father: but it is a Church meant also for loyal men, who look on the law as the ordinance of God, and on their rulers as the ministers of God; and if our freedom has had anything to do (as no doubt it has) with our prosperity, I believe that we owe the greater part of our freedom to the teaching and the general tone of mind which our Prayer-book has given to us and to our forefathers for now three hundred years.
Not that we have listened to that teaching, or acted up to it: God knows, we have been but too like the Jews in Isaiah's time, who had the Law of God, and yet did every man what was right in his own eyes; we, like them, have been hypocritical; we, like them, have neglected the poor, and the widow, and the orphan; we, like them, have been too apt to pay tithe of mint and anise, and neglect the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and judgment. When we read that awful first chapter of Isaiah, we may well tremble; for all the charges which he brings against the Jews of his time would just as well apply to us; but yet we can trust in the Lord, as Isaiah did, and believe that He will be jealous for His land, and for His name's sake, and not suffer the nations to say of us, 'Where is now their God?' We can trust Him, that if He turn His hand on us, as He did on the Jews of old, and bring us into danger and trouble, yet it will be in love and mercy, that He may purge away our dross, and take away all our alloy, and restore our rulers as at the first, and our counsellors as at the beginning, that we may be called, 'The city of righteousness, the faithful city.' True, we must not fancy that we have any righteousness of our own, that we merit God's favour above other people; our consciences ought to tell us that cannot be; our Bibles tell us that is an empty boast. Did we not hear this morning, 'Bring forth fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father; for God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.' But we may comfort ourselves with the thought that there is One standing among us (though we see Him not) who will, ay, and does, 'baptize us with the Holy Ghost and with fire, whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather the wheat into His garner,' for the use of our children after us, and the generations yet unborn, while the chaff, all among us which is empty, and light, and rotten, and useless, He will burn up (thanks be to His holy name) with fire unquenchable, which neither the falsehood and folly of man, nor the malice of the Devil, can put out, but which will purge this land of all its sins.
This is our hope, and this is the cause of our thankfulness. For who but we should be thankful this day that we are Englishmen, members of Christ's Church of England, inhabitants of, perhaps, the only country in Europe which is not now perplexed with fear of change, while men's hearts fail them for dread, and looking for those things which are coming on the earth? a country which has never seen, as all the countries round have seen, a foreign army trampling down their crops, burning their farms, cutting down their trees, plundering their towns, destroying in a day the labour of years, while women are dishonoured, men tortured to make them give up their money, the able-bodied driven from their homes, ruined and wanderers, and the sick and aged left to perish of famine and neglect. My friends, all these things were going on but last year upon the Danube. They are going on now in Asia: even with all the mercy and moderation of our soldiers and sailors, we have not been able to avoid inflicting some of these very miseries upon our own enemies; and yet here we are, going about our business in peace and safety in a land in which we and our forefathers have found, now for many a year, that just laws make a quiet and prosperous people; that the effect of righteousness is peace, and the fruit of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever;—a land in which the good are not terrified, the industrious hampered, and the greedy and lawless made eager and restless by expectation of change in government; but every man can boldly and hopefully work in his calling, and 'whatsoever his hand finds to do, do it with all his might,' in fair hope that the money which he earns in his manhood he will be able to enjoy quietly in his old age, and hand it down safely to his children, and his children's children;—a land which for hundreds of years has not felt the unspeakable horrors of war; a land which even now is safely and peacefully gathering in its harvest, while so many countries lie wasted with fire and sword. Oh, my friends, who made us to differ from others, or what have we that we did not receive? Not to ourselves do we owe our blessings; hardly even to our wise forefathers: but to God Himself, and the Spirit of God which was with them, and is with us still, in spite of all our shortcomings. We owe it to our wise Constitution, to our wise Church, the principle of which is that God is Judge and Christ is King, in peace as well as in war, in times of quiet as well as in times of change; I say, to our wise Constitution and to our wise Church, which teach us that all power is of God; that all men who have power, great or small, are His stewards; that all orders and degrees of men in His Holy Church, from the queen on the throne to the labourer in the harvest-field, are called by God to their ministry and vocation, and are responsible to God for their conduct therein. How then shall we show forth our thankfulness, not only in our lips, but in our lives? How, but by believing that very principle, that very truth which He has taught us, and by which England stands, that we are God's people, and God's servants? He has indeed showed us what is good, and our fathers before us; and what does the Lord require of us in return, but to do the good which He has showed us, to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God?
Oh, my friends, come frankly and joyfully to the Lord's Table this day. Confess your sins and shortcomings to Him, and entreat Him to enable you to live more worthily of your many blessings. Offer to Him the sacrifice of your praise and thankfulness, imperfect though it is, and join with angels and archangels in blessing Him for what He is, and what He has been to you: and then receive your share of His most perfect sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, the bread and the wine which tell you that you are members of His Church; that His body gives you whatsoever life and strength your souls have; that His blood washes out all your sins and shortcomings; that His Spirit shall be renewed in you day by day, to teach you to do the good work which He has prepared already for you, and to walk in the old paths which have led our forefathers, and will lead us too, I trust, safe through the chances and changes of this mortal life, and the fall of mighty kingdoms, towards that perfect City of God which is eternal in the heavens.
SERMON XV. THE LIFE OF GOD
Ephesians iv. 17, 18. That ye walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.
You heard these words read in the Epistle for to-day. I cannot expect that you all understood them. It is no shame to you that you did not. Some of them are long and hard Latin words. Some of them, though they are plain English enough, are hard to understand because they have to do with deep matters, which can only be understood by the help of God's Spirit. And even with the help of God's Spirit we cannot any of us expect to understand all which they mean: we cannot expect to be as wise as St. Paul; for we must be as good as St. Paul before we can be as wise about goodness as he was. I do not pretend to understand all the text myself: no, not half, nor a tenth part of what it very likely means. But I do seem to myself to understand a little about it, by the help and blessing of God; and what little of it I do understand, I will try to make you understand also.
For the words in the text belong to you as much as to me, or to St. Paul himself. What is true for one man, is true for every man. What is right for one man, is right for every man. What God promises for one man, He promises to every man. Man or woman, black or white, rich or poor, scholar or unlearned, there is no respect of persons with Him. 'In Christ Jesus,' says St. Paul, 'there is neither male nor female, slave nor freeman, Jew who fancies that God's promises belong to him alone, or Gentile who knows nothing about them, clever learned Greek, or stupid ignorant Barbarian.'
It is enough for God that we are all men and women bearing the flesh, and blood, and human nature which His Son Jesus Christ wore on earth. If we are baptized, we belong to Him: if we are not baptized, we ought to be; for we belong to Him just as much. Every man may be baptized; every man may be regenerate; God calls all to His grace and adoption and holy baptism, which is the sign and seal of His adoption; and therefore, what is right for the regenerate baptized man, is right for the unregenerate unbaptized man; for the Christian and for the heathen there is but one way, one duty, one life for both, and that is the life of God, of which St. Paul speaks in the text.
Now of this life of God I will speak hereafter; but I mention it now, because it is the thing to which I wish to bring your thoughts before the end of the sermon.
But first, let us see what St. Paul means, when he talks about the Gentiles in his day. For that also has to do with us. I said that every man, Christian or heathen, has the same duty, and is bound to do the same right; every man, Christian or heathen, if he sins, breaks his duty in the same way, and does the same wrong. There is but one righteousness, the life of God; there is but one sin, and that is being alienated from the life of God. One man may commit different sorts of sins from another; one may lie, another may steal: one may be proud, another may be covetous: but all these different sins come from the same root of sin; they are all flowers of the same plant. And St. Paul tells us what that one root of sin, what that same Devil's plant, is, which produces all sin in Christian or Heathen, in Churchman or Dissenter, in man or woman— the one disease, from which has come all the sin which ever was done by man, woman, or child since the world was made.
Now, what is this one disease, to which every man, you and I, are all liable? Why it is that we are every one of us worse than we ought to be, worse than we know how to be, and, strangest of all, worse than we wish and like to be.
Just as far as we are like the heathen of old, we shall be worse than we know how to be. For we are all ready enough to turn heathens again, at any moment, my friends; and the best Christian in this church knows best that what I say is true; that he is beset by the very same temptations which ruined the old heathens, and that if he gave way to them a moment they would ruin him likewise. For what does St. Paul say was the matter with the old heathens?
First he says, 'Their understanding was darkened.' But what part of it? What was it that they had got dark about and could not understand? For in some matters they were as clever as we, and cleverer. What part of their understanding was it which was darkened? St. Paul tells us in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. It was their hearts—their reason, as we should say. It was about God, and the life of God, that they were dark. They had not been always dark about God, but they were darkened; they grew more and more dark about Him, generation after generation; they gave themselves up more and more to their corrupt and fallen nature, and so the children grew worse than their fathers, and their children again worse than them, till they had lost all notion of what God was like. For from the very first all heathens have had some notion of what God is like, and have had a notion also, which none but God could have given them, that men ought to be like God. God taught, or if I may so speak, tried to teach, the heathen, from the very first. If God had not taught them, they would not have been to blame for knowing nothing of God. For as Job says, 'Can man by searching find out God?' Surely not; God must teach us about Himself. Never forget that man cannot find God; God must show Himself to man of His own free grace and will. God must reveal and unveil Himself to us, or we shall never even fancy that there is a God. And God did so to the heathen. Even before the Flood, God's Spirit strove with man; and after the Flood we read how the Lord, Jesus Christ the Son of God, revealed Himself in many different ways to heathens. To Pharaoh, king of Egypt, in Abraham's times; and again to Abimelech, king of Gerar; and again to Pharaoh and his servants, in Joseph's time; and to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and to Cyrus, king of Persia; and no doubt to thousands more. Indeed, no man, heathen or Christian, ever thought a single true thought, or felt a single right feeling, about God or man, or man's duty to God and his neighbour, unless God revealed it to him (whether or not He also revealed Himself to the man and showed him who it was who was putting the right thought into his mind): for every right thought and feeling about God, and goodness, and duty, are the very voice of God Himself, the word of God whereof St. John speaks, and Moses and the prophets speak, speaking to the heart of sinful man, to enlighten and to teach him. And therefore, St. Paul says, the sinful heathen were without excuse, because, he says, 'that which may be known of God is manifest, that is plain, among them, for God hath showed it to them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.' 'But these heathens,' he says, 'did not like to retain God in their knowledge; and when they knew God, did not glorify Him as God, and changed the glory of the Incorruptible God into the likeness of corruptible man, and beasts and creeping things.' And so they were alienated from the life of God; that is, they became strangers to God's life; they forgot what God's life and character was like: or if they even did awake a moment, and recollect dimly what God was like, they hated that thought. They hated to think that God was what He was, and shut their eyes, and stopped their ears as fast as possible.
And what happened to them in the meantime? What was the fruit of their wilfully forgetting what God's life was? St. Paul tells us that they fell into the most horrible sins—sins too dreadful and shameful to be spoken of; and that their common life, even when they did not run into such fearful evils, was profligate, fierce, and miserable. And yet St. Paul tells us all the while they knew the judgment of God, that those who do such things are worthy of death.
Now we know that St. Paul speaks truth, from the writings of heathens; for God raised up from time to time, even among the heathen Greeks and Romans, witnesses for Himself, to testify of Him and of His life, and to testify against the sins of the world, such men as Socrates and Plato among the Greeks, whose writings St. Paul knew thoroughly, and whom, I have no doubt, he had in his mind when he wrote his first chapter of Romans, and told the heathen that they were without excuse. And among the Romans, also, He raised up, in the same way, witnesses for Himself, such as Juvenal and Persius, and others, whom scholars know well. And to these men, heathens though they were, God certainly did teach a great deal about Himself, and gave them courage to rebuke the sins of kings and rich men, even at the danger of their lives; and to some of them he gave courage even to suffer martyrdom for the message which God had given them, and which their neighbours hated to hear. And this was the message which God sent by them to the heathen: that God was good and righteous, and that therefore His everlasting wrath must be awaiting sinners. They rebuked their heathen neighbours for those very same horrible crimes which St. Paul mentions; and then they said, as St. Paul does, 'How you make your own sins worse by blasphemies against God! You sin yourselves, and then, to excuse yourselves, you invent fables and lies about God, and pretend that God is as wicked as you are, in order to drug your own consciences, by making God the pattern of your own wickedness.'
These men saw that man ought to be like God; and they saw that God was righteous and good; and they saw, therefore, that unrighteousness and sin must end in ruin and everlasting misery. So much God had taught them, but not much more; but to St. Paul he had taught more. Those wise and righteous heathen could show their sinful neighbours that sin was death, and that God was righteous. But they could not tell them how to rise out of the death of sin, into God's life of righteousness. They could preach the terrors of the Law, but they did not know the good news of the Gospel, and therefore they did not succeed; they did not convert their neighbours to God. Then came St. Paul and preached to the very same people, and he did convert them to God; for he had good news for them, of things which prophets and kings had desired to see, and had not seen them, and to hear, and had not heard them.
For God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke to the fathers by the prophets, at last spoke to all men by a Son, His only-begotten Son, the exact likeness of His Father, the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person. He sent Him to be a man: very man of the substance of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the same time that He was Very God, of the substance of His Father, begotten before all worlds.
And so God, and the life of God, was manifested in the flesh and reasonable soul of a man; and from that time there is no doubt what the life of God is; for the life of God is the life of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt now what God is like, for God is like Jesus Christ. No one can now say, 'I cannot see God, how then can you expect me to be like God?' for He who has seen Jesus Christ, as His character stands in the Gospels, has seen God the Father. No one can say now, 'How can a man be like God, and live a life like God's life?' for if any one of you say that, I can answer him: 'A man can be like God; you can be like God; for there was once a man on earth, Jesus, the son of the Blessed Virgin, who was perfectly like God.' And if you answer, 'But He was like God, because He was God,' I can say, 'And that is the very reason why you can be like God also.' If Jesus Christ had been only a man, you could no more become like Him than you can become clever because another man is clever, or strong because another man is strong: but because He was God The Son of God, He can give you, to make you like God, the same Holy Spirit which made Him like God; for that Holy Spirit proceeds from Him, the Son, as well as from the Father, and the Father has committed all power to the Son; and therefore that same Man Christ Jesus has power to change your heart, and renew it, and shape it to be like Him, and like His Father, by the power of His Spirit, that you may be like God as He was like God, and live the life of God which He lived; so that the Lord Jesus Christ, because He was a man like God, showed that all men can become like God; and because He was God, Very God of Very God, He is able to make all who come to Him men like Himself, men like God, and raise them up body and soul to the everlasting life of God, that He may be the firstborn among many brethren.
Now what is this everlasting life of God, which the Lord Jesus Christ lived perfectly, and which He can and will make every one of us live, in proportion as we give up our hearts and wills to Him, and ask Him to take charge of us, and shape us, and teach us? When we read that blessed story of Him who was born in a stable, and laid in a manger, who went about doing good, because God was with Him, who condescended of His own freewill to be mocked, and scourged, and spit upon, and crucified, that He might take away the sins of the whole world, who prayed for His murderers, and blest those who cursed Him—what sort of life does this life of God, which He lived, seem to us? Is it not a life of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, patience, meekness? Surely it is; then that is the likeness of God. God is love. And the Lord Jesus' life was a life of love—utter, perfect, untiring love. He did His Father's will perfectly, because He loved men perfectly, and to the death. He died for those who hated Him, and so He showed forth to man the name and glory of God; for God is love. The name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is love; for love is justice and righteousness, as it is written, 'Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.' And God is perfect love, because He is perfect righteousness; and perfect righteousness, because He is perfect love; for His love and His justice are not two different things, two different parts of God, as some say, who fancy that God's justice had to be satisfied in one way, and His love in another, and talk of God as if His justice fought against His love, and desired the death of a sinner, and then His love fought against His justice, and desired to save a sinner. No wonder that those who hold such doctrines go further still, and talk as if God the Father desired to destroy mankind, and would have done it if God the Son had not interposed, and suffered Himself instead; till they can fancy that they are Christians, and know God, while they use the hideous words of a certain hymn, which speaks of
'The streaming drops of Jesu's blood Which calmed the Father's frowning face.'
May God deliver and preserve us and our children from all such blasphemous fables, which, like the fables of the old heathen, change the glory of the Incorruptible God into the likeness of a corruptible man, which deny the true faith, that God has neither parts nor passions, by talking of His love and His justice as two different things; which confound His persons by saying that the Son alone does what the Father and the Holy Spirit do also, while they divide His substance by making the will of the Son different from the will of the Father, and deny that such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost, all three one perfect Love, and one perfect Justice, because they are all three one God, and God is love, and love is righteousness.
Believe me, my friends, this is no mere question of words, which only has to do with scholars in their libraries; it is a question, the question of life and death for you, and me, and every living soul in this church,—Do we know what the life of God is? are we living it? or are we alienated from it, careless about it, disliking it?
For, as I said at the beginning of my sermon, we are all ready enough to turn heathens again; and if we grow to forget or dislike the life of God, we shall be heathen at heart. We may talk about Him with our lips, we may quarrel and curse each other about religious differences; but let us make as great a profession as we may, if we do not love the life of God we shall be heathen at heart, and we shall, sooner or later, fall into sin. The heathens fell into sin just in proportion as their hearts were turned away from the life of God, and so shall we. And how shall we know whether our hearts are turned away, or whether they are right with God? Thus: What are the fruits of God's Spirit? what sort of life does the Spirit of God make man live? For the Spirit of God is God, and therefore the life of God is the life which God's Spirit makes men live; and what is that? a life of love and righteousness.
The old heathens did not like such a life, therefore they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. They knew that man ought to be like God: and St. Paul says, they ought to have known what God was like; that He was Love; for St. Paul told them He left not Himself without witness, in that He sent them rain and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness. That was, in St. Paul's eyes, God's plainest witness of Himself—the sign that God was Love, making His sun shine on the just and on the unjust, and good to the unthankful and the evil—in one word, perfect, because He is perfect Love. But they preferred to be selfish, covetous, envious, revengeful, delighting to indulge themselves in filthy pleasures, to oppress and defraud each other. Do you?
For you can, I can, every baptized man can take his choice between the selfish life of the heathens and the loving life of God: we may either keep to the old pattern of man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; or we may put on the new pattern of man, which is after God's likeness, and founded upon righteousness and truthful holiness.
Every baptized man may choose. For he is not only bound to live the life of God: every man, as the old heathen philosophers knew, is bound to live it: but more. The baptized man can live it: that is the good news of his baptism. You can live the life of God, for you know what the life of God is—it is the life of Jesus Christ. You can live the life of God, for the Spirit of God is with you, to cleanse your soul and life, day by day, till they are like the soul and life of Christ.
Then you will be, as the apostle says, 'a partaker of a divine nature.' Then—and it is an awful thing to say—a thing past hope, past belief, but I must say it—for it is in the Bible, it is the word of the Blessed Lord Himself, and of His beloved apostle, St. John: 'If a man love Me, he will keep my commandments, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.' 'And this is His commandment,' says St. John, 'That we should love one another.' 'God is Love, and he who dwelleth in Love dwelleth in God, and God in him.'
God is Love. As I told you just now, the heathens of old might have known that, if they had chosen to open their eyes and see. But they would not see. They were dark, cruel, and unloving, and therefore they fancied that God was dark, cruel, and unloving also. They did not love Love, and therefore they did not love God, for God is Love. And therefore they did not love loving: they did not enjoy loving; and so they lost the Spirit of God, which is the Spirit of Love. And therefore they did not love each other, but lived in hatred and suspicion, and selfishness, and darkness. They were but heathen. But if even they ought to have known that God was Love, how much more we? For we know of a deed of God's love, such as those poor heathen never dreamed of. God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son to die for it. Then God showed what His eternal life was—a life of love: then God showed what our eternal life is— to know Him who is Love, and Jesus Christ, whom He sent to show forth His love: then God showed that it is the duty and in the power of every man to live the life of God, the life of Love; for He sent forth into the world His Spirit, the Spirit of Love, to fill with love the heart of every man and woman who sees that Love is the image of God, and longs to be loving, and therefore longs to be like God; as it is written, 'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled:' for righteousness is keeping Christ's commandment, and Christ's commandment is, that we love one another. And to those who long to do that, God's Spirit will come to fill them with love; and where the Spirit of God is, there is also the Father, and there is also the Son; for God's substance cannot be divided, as the Athanasian creed tells us (and blessed and cheering words they are); and he who hath the Holy Spirit of Love with him hath both the Father and the Son; as it is written: 'If a man love Me, my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.'
And then, if we have God abiding with us, and filling us with His Eternal Life, what more do we need for life, or death, or eternity, or eternities of eternities? For we shall live in and with and by God, who can never die or change, an everlasting life of love, whereof St. Paul says, that though prophecies shall fail, and tongues shall cease, and knowledge shall vanish away, because all that we know now is but in part, and all that we see now is through a glass darkly, yet Love shall never fail, but abide for ever and ever.
SERMON XVI. GOD'S OFFSPRING
Galatians iv. 7. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
I say, writes St. Paul, in the epistle which you heard read just now, 'that the heir, as long as he is a child, differs nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors, until the time appointed by his father. Even so,' he says, we, 'when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son made of a woman, made under a law, to redeem them that were under a law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.'
When we were children. He is not speaking of the Jews only; for these Galatians to whom he was writing were not Jews at all, any more than we are. He was speaking to men simply as men. He was speaking to the Galatians as we have a right to speak to all men.
Nor does he mean merely when we were children in age. The Greek word which he uses, means infants, people not come to years of discretion. Indeed, the word which he uses means very often a simpleton, an ignorant or foolish person; one who does not know who and what he is, what is his duty, or how to do it.
Now this, he says, was the state of men before Christ came; this is the state of all men by nature still; the state of all poor heathens, whether in England or in foreign countries.
They are children—that is, ignorant and unable to take care of themselves; because they do not know what they are. St. Paul tells us what they are. That they are all God's offspring, though they know it not. He likens them to young children, who, though they are their father's heirs, have no more liberty than slaves have; but are kept under tutors and masters, till they have arrived at years of discretion, and are fit to take their places as their father's sons, and to go out into the world, and have the management of their own affairs, and a share in their father's property, which they may use for themselves, instead of being merely fed and clothed by, and kept in subjection to him, whether they will or not. This is what he means by receiving the adoption of sons. He does not mean that we are not God's children till we find out that we are God's children. That is what some people say; but that is the very exact contrary to what St. Paul used to say. He told the heathen Athenians that they were God's children. He put them in mind that one of their own heathen poets had told them so, and had said, 'We are also God's offspring.' And so in this chapter he says, You were God's children all along, though you did not know it. You were God's heirs all along, although you differed nothing from slaves; for as long as you were in your heathen ignorance and foolishness, God had to treat you as His slaves, not as His children; and so you were in bondage under the elements of the world, till the fulness of time was come.
And, then, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under a law, to redeem those who were under a law—that is, all mankind. The Jews were keeping, or pretending to keep, Moses' law, and trying to please God by that. The heathens were keeping all manner of old superstitious laws and customs about religion which their forefathers had handed down to them. But heathens, and indeed Jews too, at that time, all agreed in one thing. These laws and customs of theirs about religion all went upon the notion of their being God's slaves, and not his children. They thought that God did not love them; that they must buy His favours. They thought religion meant a plan for making God love them.
Then appeared the love of God in Jesus Christ. As at this very Christmas time, the Son of God, Jesus Christ the Lord, in whose likeness man was made at the beginning, was born into the world, to redeem us and all mankind. He told them of their Heavenly Father; He preached to them the good news of the kingdom of God; that God had not forgotten them, did not hate them, would freely forgive them all that was past; and why? Because He was their Father, and loved them, and loved them so that He spared not His only begotten Son, but freely gave Him for them. And now God looks at us human beings, not as we are in ourselves, sinful and corrupt, but he looks at us in the light of Jesus Christ, who has taken our nature upon Him, and redeemed it, and raised it up again, so that God can look on it now without disgust, and henceforth no one need be ashamed of being a man; for to be a man is to be in the likeness of God. Man was created in the image and likeness of God, and who is the image and likeness of God but Jesus Christ? Therefore man was created at first in Jesus Christ, and now, as St. Paul says, he is created anew in Jesus Christ; and now to be a man is to partake of the same flesh and blood which the Lord Jesus Christ wore for us, when He was made very man of the substance of his mother, and that without spot of sin, to show that man need not be sinful, that man was meant by God to be holy and pure from sin, and that by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ we, every one of us, can become pure from sin. This is the blessedness of Christmas-day. That one man, at least, has been born into the world spotless and free from sin, that He might be the firstborn of many brethren. This is the good news of Christmas-day. That now, in Christ's light, and for Christ's sake, our Father looks on us as His sons, and not His slaves.
Therefore is every child who comes into the world baptized freely into the name of God. Baptism is a sign and warrant that God loves that child; that God looks on it as His child, not for itself or its own sake, but because it belongs to Jesus Christ, who, by becoming a man, redeemed all mankind, and made them His property and His brothers. Therefore every child, when it is brought to be baptized, promises, by its godfathers and godmothers, repentance and faith, when it comes to years of understanding. It is not God's slave, as the beasts are. It is God's child. But God does not wish it to remain merely His child, under tutors and governors, forced to do what is right outwardly, and whether it likes or not. God wishes each of us to become His son, His grown-up and reasonable son. To know who we are;—to work in His kingdom for Him;—to guide and manage our own wills, and hearts, and lives in obedience to Him;—to claim and take our share as men of God of the inheritance which He has given us. And that we can only do by faith in Jesus Christ. We must trust in Him, our Lord, our King, our Saviour, our Pattern. We must confess that we are nothing in ourselves, that we owe all to Him. We must follow in his footsteps, giving up our wills to God's will, doing not our own works, but the good works which God has prepared for us to walk in; and then we shall be truly confirmed; not mere children of God, under tutors, governors, schoolmasters and lawgivers, but free, reasonable, willing, hearty Christians, perfect men of God, the sons of God without rebuke.
Oh, my friends, will you claim your share in the Spirit of God, whom the Lord bought for us with His precious blood, that Spirit who was given you at your baptism, which may be daily renewed in you, if you pray for it; who will strengthen and lift you up to lead lives worthy of your high calling? Or will you, like Esau of old, despise your birthright, and neglect to pray that God's Spirit may be renewed in you, and so lose more and more day by day the thought that God is your Father, and the love of holy and godlike things? Alas! take care that, like Esau, you hereafter find no room for repentance, though you seek it carefully with tears! It is a fearful thing to despise the mercies of the living God; and when you are called to be His sons, to fall back under the terrors of His law, in slavish fears and a guilty conscience, and remorse which cannot repent.
And do not give way to false humility, says St. Paul. Do not say, 'This is too high an honour for us to claim.' Do not say, 'It seems too conceited and assuming for us miserable sinners to call ourselves sons of God. We shall please God better, and show ourselves more reverent to Him, by calling ourselves His slaves, and crouching and trembling before Him, as if we expected Him to strike us dead, and making all sorts of painful and tiresome religious observances, and vain repetitions of prayers, to win His favour;' or by saying, 'We dare not call ourselves God's children yet; we are not spiritual enough; but when we have gone through all the necessary changes of heart, and frames, and feeling, and have been convinced of sin, and converted, and received the earnest, God's Spirit, by which we cry, Abba, Father! then we shall have a right to call ourselves God's children.'
Not so, says St. Paul, all through this very Epistle to the Galatians. That is not being reverent to God. It is insulting Him. For it is despising the honour which He has given you, and trying to get another honour of your own invention, by observances, and frames, and feelings of your own. Do not say, 'When we have received the earnest of God's Spirit, by which we can cry, Abba, Father! then we shall become God's children;' for it is just because you are God's children already—just because you have been God's children all along, that God has taught you to call Him Father. The Lord Jesus Christ told men that God was their Father. Not merely to the Apostles, but to poor, ignorant, sinful wretches, publicans and harlots, He spoke of their Father in heaven, who, because He is a perfect Father, sends His sun to shine on the evil and the good, and His rain to fall on the just and on the unjust. The Lord Jesus Christ taught men—all men, not merely saints and Apostles, but all men, when they prayed—to begin, 'Our Father.' He told them that that was the manner in which they were to pray, and therefore no other way of praying can we expect God to hear. No slavish, terrified, superstitious coaxing and flattering will help you with God. He has told you to call Him your Father; and if you speak to Him in any other way, you insult Him, and trample under foot the riches of His grace.
This is the good news which the Bible preaches. This is the witness of God's Spirit, proclaiming that we are the sons of God; and, says St. Paul in another place, 'our spirit witnesses' to that glorious news as well. We feel, we know—why, we cannot tell, but we feel and know that we are the sons of God. When we are most calm, most humble, most free from ill-temper and self-conceit, most busy about our rightful work, then the feeling comes over us—I have a Father in heaven. And that feeling gives us a strength, a peace, a sure trust and hope, which no other thought can give. Yes, we are ready to say, I may be miserable and unfortunate, but the Great God of heaven and earth is my Father; and what can happen to me? I may be borne down with the remembrance of my great sins; I may find it almost too hard to fight against all my bad habits; but the Great God who made heaven and earth is my Father, and I am His son. He will forgive me for the past; He will help me to conquer for the future. If I do but remember that I am God's son, and claim my Father's promises, neither the world, nor the devil, nor my own sinful flesh, can ever prevail against me.
This thought, and the peace which it brings, St. Paul tells us is none of our own; we did not put it into our own hearts; from God it comes, that blessed thought, that He is our Father. We could never have found it out for ourselves. It is the Spirit of the Son of God, the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, which gives us courage to say, 'Our Father which art in heaven,' which makes us feel that those words are true, and must be true, and are worth all other words in the world put together—that God is our Father, and we his sons. Oh, my friends, believe earnestly this blessed news! the news of Christmas-day, that you are not God's slaves, but his sons, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;—joint-heirs with Christ! In what? Who can tell? But what an inheritance of glory and bliss that must be, which the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is to inherit with us—an inheritance such as eye hath not seen, and incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, preserved in heaven for us; an inheritance of all that is wise, loving, noble, holy, peaceful—all that can make us happy, all that can make us like God Himself. Oh, what can we expect, if we neglect so great salvation? What can we expect, if when the Great God of heaven and earth tells us that we are His children, we turn away and fall down, become like the brutes, and the savages, or worse, like the evil spirits who rebel against God, instead of growing up to become the sons of God, perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect? May He keep us all from that great sin! May He awaken each and every one of you to know the glory and honour which Jesus Christ brought for you when He was born at Bethlehem—the glory and honour which was proclaimed to belong to you when you were christened at that font! May He awaken you to know that you are the sons of God, and to look up to Him with loving, trustful, obedient souls, saying from your hearts, morning and night 'Our Father which art in heaven,' and feeling that those words give you daily strength to conquer your sins, and feel assurance of hope that your Heavenly Father will help and prosper you, His family, every time you struggle to obey His commandments, and follow the example of His perfect and spotless Son, Jesus Christ the Lord!
SERMON XVII. DEATH IN LIFE
Romans viii. 12, 13. Brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
Does it seem strange to you that St. Paul should warn you, that you are not debtors to your own flesh? It is not strange, when you come to understand him; certainly not unnecessary: for as in his time, so now, most people do live as if they were debtors to their own flesh, as if their great duty, their one duty in life, was to please their own bodies, and brains, and tempers, and fancies, and feelings. Poor people have not much time to indulge their brains; and no time at all, happily for them, to indulge their fancies and feelings, as rich people do when they grow idle, and dainty, and luxurious. But still, too many of them live as if they were debtors to their own flesh; as if their own bodies and their own tempers were the masters of them, and ought to be their masters. Young men, for instance, how often they do things in secret of which it is a shame even to speak, just because it is pleasant. Young women, how often do they sell themselves and their own modesty, just for the pleasure of being flattered and courted, and of getting a few fine clothes. How often do men, just for the pleasure of drink, besot their souls and bodies, madden their tempers, neglect their families, make themselves every Saturday night, and often half the week, too, lower than the beasts which perish. And then, when a clergyman complains of them, they think him unreasonable; and by so thinking, show that he is right, and St. Paul right: for if I say to you, My dear young people (and I do say it), if you give way to filthy living and filthy talking, and to drunkenness, and to vanity about fine clothes, you will surely die—do you not say in your hearts, 'How unreasonable: how hard on us! If we can enjoy ourselves a little, why should we not? It is our right, and do it we will; and if it is wrong, it ought not to be wrong.' Why, what is that but saying, that you ought to do just what your body likes: that you are debtors to your flesh; and that your flesh, and not God's law, is your master. So again, when people grow older, perhaps they are more prudent about bad living, and more careful of their money: but still they live after the flesh. One man sets his heart on making money, and cares for nothing but that; breaks God's law for that, as if that was the thing to which he was a debtor, bound by some law which he could not avoid to scrape and scrape money together for ever. Another (and how often we see that) is a slave to his own pride and temper, which are just as much bred in his flesh: if he has been injured by any one, if he has taken a dislike against any one, he cannot forget and forgive: the man may be upright and kindly on many other points; prudent, too, and sober, and thoroughly master of himself on most matters; and yet you will find that when he gets on that one point, he is not master of himself; for his flesh is master of him: he may be a strong-minded, shrewd man upon most matters but just that one point: some old quarrel, or grudge, or suspicion, is, as we say, his weak point: and if you touch on that, the man's eye will kindle, and his face redden, and his lip tremble, and he will show that he is not master of himself: but that he is over-mastered by his fleshly passion, by the suspiciousness, or revengefulness, or touchiness, which every dumb animal has as well as he, which is not part of his man's nature, not part of God's image in him, but which is like the beasts which perish.
Now, my friends, suppose I said to you, 'If you give way to such tempers; if you give way to pride, suspicion, sullen spite, settled dislike of any human being, you will surely die;' should you not, some of you, be inclined to think me very unreasonable, and to say in your hearts, 'Have I not a right to be angry? Have I not a right to give a man as good as he brings?' so confessing that I am right, after all, and that some of you think that you are debtors to your flesh, and its tempers, and do not see that you are meant to be masters, and not slaves, of your tempers and feelings.
Again. Among poor women, as well as among rich ones, as they grow older, how much gossiping, tale-bearing, slandering, there is, and that too among people who call themselves religious. Yes, I say slandering; I put that in too; for I am certain that where the first two grow, the third is not far off. If gossiping is the root, tale- bearing and harsh judgment is the stem, and plain lying and slandering, and bearing false witness against one's neighbour, is the fruit.
Now I say, because St. Paul says it, 'that those who do such things shall surely die.' And do not some of you think me unreasonable in that, and say in your heart, 'What! are we to be tongue-tied? Shall we not speak our minds?' Be it so, my good women, only remember this: that as long as you say that, you confess that you are not masters of your tongues, but your tongues are masters of you, and that you freely confess you owe service to your tongue, and not to God. Do not therefore complain of me for saying the very same thing, namely, that you think you are debtors to your flesh—to the tongues in your mouths, and must needs do what those same little unruly members choose, of which St James has said, 'The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity, and it sets on fire the whole course of nature, and is set on fire of hell.' And again: 'If any person among you seem to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceives himself, that person's religion is vain.'
Again:—and, my good women, you must not think me hard on you, for you know in your hearts that I am not hard on you; but I must speak a word on a sin which I am afraid is growing in this parish, and in too many parishes in England; and that is deceiving kind and charitable persons, in order to get more help from them. God knows the temptation must be sore to poor people at times. And yet you will surely find in the long run, that 'honesty is the best policy.' Deceit is always a losing game. A lie is sure to be found out; as the Lord Jesus Himself says, 'There is nothing hid which shall not be made manifest;' and what we do in secret, is sure, unless we repent and amend it, to be proclaimed on the housetop: and many a poor soul, in her haste and greediness to get much, ends by getting nothing at all. And if it were not so;—if you were able to deceive any human being out of the riches of the world: yet know, that a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses. And know that if you will not believe that,—if you will fancy that your business is to get all you can for your mortal bodies, by fair means or foul,—if you will fancy that you are thus debtors to your own flesh, you will surely die: but if you, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.
And by this time some of you are asking, 'Live? Die? What does all this mean? When we die we shall die, good or bad; and in the meantime we shall live till we die. And you do not mean to tell us that we shall shorten our lives by our own tempers, or our tale- bearing, though we might, perhaps, by drunkenness?'
My friends, if such a question rises in your mind, be sure that it, too, is a hint that you think yourself a debtor to the flesh—to live according to the flesh. For tell me, tell yourselves fairly, is your flesh, your body, the part of yourself which you can see and handle, You?—You know that it is not. When a neighbour's body dies, you say, perhaps, 'He is dead,' but you say it carelessly; and when one whom you know well, and love, dies,—when a parent, a wife, a child, dies, you feel very differently about them, even if you do not speak differently. You feel and know that he, the person whom you loved and understood, and felt with, and felt for, here on earth, is not dead at all; you feel (and in proportion as the friend you have lost was loving, and good, and full of feeling for you, you feel it all the more strongly) that your friend, or your child, or the wife of your bosom, is alive still—where you know not, but you feel they are alive; that they are very near you;—that they are thinking of you, watching you, caring for you,—perhaps grieving over you when you go wrong—perhaps rejoicing over you when you go right,—perhaps helping you, though you cannot see them, in some wonderful way. You know that only their mortal flesh is dead. That their mortal flesh was all you put into the grave; but that they themselves, their souls and spirits, which were their very and real selves, are alive for evermore; and you trust and hope to meet them when you die;—ay, to meet them body and soul too, at the last day, the very same persons whom you knew here on earth, though the flesh which they wore here in this life has crumbled into dust years and ages before.
Is not this true? Is not this a blessed life-giving thought—I had almost said the most blessed and life-giving thought man can have— that those whom we have loved and lost are not dead, but only gone before; that they live still to God and with God; that only their flesh has perished, and they themselves are alive for evermore?
Now believe me, my friends, as surely as a man's flesh can die and be buried, while he himself, his soul, lives for ever, just so a man's self, his soul, can die, while his flesh lives on upon earth. You do not think so, but the Bible thinks so. The Bible talks of men being dead in trespasses and sins, while their flesh and body is alive and walking this earth. It talks, too, of a worse state, of men twice dead; of men, who, after God has brought their souls to life, let those souls of theirs die down again within them, and rot away, as far as we can see, hopelessly and for ever. And what is it which kills a man's soul within him on this side the grave, and makes him dead while he has a name to live? Sin, evil-doing, the disease of the soul, the death of the soul, yea, the death of the man himself. And what is sin but living according to the flesh, and not according to the spirit? What is sin but living as the dumb animals do, as if we were debtors to our own flesh, to fulfil its lusts, and to please our own appetites, fancies, and tempers, instead of remembering that we are debtors to God, who made us, and blesses us all day long;—debtors to our Lord Jesus Christ, who bought us with His own blood, that we might please Him and obey Him;—debtors to God's Holy Spirit, who puts into our minds good desires;—debtors to our baptism vows, in which we were consecrated to God, that He, and not this flesh of ours, might be our Master for ever?
This is sin; to give way to those selfish and evil tempers, against which I warned you in the beginning of my sermon, and which, if any man indulges in them, will surely and steadily, bit by bit, kill that man's soul within him, and leave the man dead in trespasses and sins, while his body walks this earth.
My friends, do not fancy these are merely farfetched words out of a book, made to sound difficult and terrible in order to frighten you. God forbid! When Scripture says this, it speaks a plain and simple truth, and one which I know to be a truth from experience. I speak that which I know, and testify that which I have seen. I have seen (and what sadder or more fearful sight?) dead men and dying walk this earth in flesh and blood; men busy enough, shrewd enough upon some points, priding themselves, perhaps, upon their cleverness and knowledge of the world, of whom all one could say was, The man is dead; the man is lost, unless God brings him to life again by His quickening Spirit: for goodness is dead in him; the powers of his soul are dead in him; the hope of being a better man is dead in him; all that God wishes to see him be and do, is dead; God's likeness and glory in him is dead: he thinks himself wise, and he is a fool in God's sight; for he sees not God's law, which is the only wisdom: he thinks himself strong, but he is utterly weak and helpless; for he is the slave of his own tempers, the slave of his own foul lust, the slave of his own pride and vanity, the slave of his own covetousness. Oh, my friends, people are apt to be afraid of what they call seeing a ghost—that is, a spirit without a body: they fancy that it would be a very shocking thing to meet one; but as for me, I know a far more dreadful sight; and that is, a careless and a hardened sinner—a body without a spirit. Which is uglier and ghastlier—a spirit without a body, or a body without a spirit? And yet such one meets, I dare not think how often.
What sadder sight, if you recollect that men need not be thus; that God hates seeing them thus; that they become thus, and die down in sin, in spite of God, with all heaven above, and God the Lord thereof, crying to them, Why wilt thou die? What sadder sight? How many have I seen, living, to all intents and purposes, as if they had no souls; as if there were no God, no Law of God, no Right, no Wrong; caring for nothing, perhaps, but drink and bad women; or caring for nothing but scraping together a little more money than their neighbours; or caring for nothing but dress, and vanity, and gossiping, and tale-bearing; and yet, when one came to know them, one saw that that was not what God intended them to be; that He had given them hearts which they had hardened, good feelings which they had crushed, sound brains which they had left idle, till one was ready to weep over them, as over something beautiful and noble ruined and lost; and looked on them as one would on a grand tree struck by lightning, decayed and dead, useless, and only fit to be burned, with just enough of its proper shape to show what a tree it ought to have been. And so it is with men and women: hardly a day passes but one sees some one of whom one says, with a sigh, 'What a worthy, loveable, useful person, that might have been! what a blessing to himself and all around him! and now, by following his fallen nature, and indulging it, he is neither worthy, nor loveable, nor useful; neither a blessing to himself nor to any human being: he might have been good for so much, and now he is good for nothing; for the spirit, the immortal soul which God gave him, is dead within him.'
My friends, I would not say this, unless I could say more. I would not say sad words, if I could not follow them up by joyful and hopeful ones. It is written, 'If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die;' but it is written also, 'If ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.' It is promised—promised, my friends, 'Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.'
Through the Spirit, through God's Spirit, every soul here can live, now and for ever. Through God's Spirit, Christ not only can, but will, give you light. And that Spirit is near you, with you. Your baptism is the blessed sign, the everlasting pledge, that God's Spirit is with you. Oh, believe that, and take heart. I will not say, you do not know how much good there is in you; for in us dwells no good thing, and every good thought and feeling comes only from the Spirit of God: but I will say boldly to every one of you, you do not know how much good there may be in you, if you will listen to those good thoughts of God's Spirit; you do not know how wise, how right, how strong, how happy, how useful, you may become; you do not know what a blessing each of you may become to yourselves, and to all around you. Only make up your mind to live by God's law; only make up your mind, in all things, small and great, to go God's way, and not your own. Only make up your mind to listen, not to your own flesh, temper, and brain, which say this and that is pleasant, but to listen to God's Spirit, which says this is right, and that is wrong: this is your duty, do it. Search out your own besetting sins; and if you cannot find them out for yourself, ask God to show you them; ask Him to give you truth in the inward parts, and make you to understand wisdom in the secret places of your heart. Pray God's Spirit to quicken your soul, and bring it to life, that it may see and love what is good, and see and hate what is wrong; and instead of being most hard on your neighbour's sin, to which you are not tempted, be most hard on your own sin, on the sin to which you are most tempted, whatsoever that may be. You have your besetting sin, doubt it not; every one has. I know that I have. I know that I have inclinations, tempers, longings, to which if I gave way, my soul would rot and die within me, and make me a curse to myself, and you, and every one I came near; and all I can do is to pray God's Spirit to help me to fight those besetting sins of mine, and crush them, and stamp them down, whenever they rise and try to master me, and make me live after the flesh. It is a hard fight; and may God forgive me, for I fight it ill enough: but it is my only hope for my soul's life, my only hope of remaining a man worth being called a man, or doing my duty at all by myself and you, and all mankind. And it is your only hope, too. Pray for God's Spirit, God's strength, God's life, to give your souls life, day by day, that you may fight against your sins, whatsoever they are, lest they kill your souls, long before disease and old age kill your bodies. Make up your minds to it. Make up your minds to mortify the deeds of the body; to say to your own bodies, tempers, longings, fancies, 'I will not go your way: you shall go God's way. I am not your debtor; I owe you nothing; I am God's debtor, and owe Him everything, and I will pay Him honestly with the service of my body, soul, and spirit. I will do my duty, and you, my flesh, must and shall do it also, whether it is pleasant at first, or not:' and be sure it will be pleasant at last, if not at first. Keep God always before your eyes. Ask yourself in every action, 'What is right, what is my duty, what would God have me do?' And so far from finding it unpleasant, you will find that you are saving yourself a thousand troubles, and sorrows, and petty anxieties which now torment you; you will find that in God's presence is life, the only life worth having, and that at His right hand are pleasures for evermore. Oh, be sure, my friends, that in real happiness you will not lose, but gain without end. If to have a clear conscience, and a quiet mind; if to be free from anxiety and discontent, free from fear and shame; if to be loved, respected, looked up to, by all whose good word is worth having, and to know that God approves of you, that all day long God is with you, and you with God, that His loving and mighty arms are under you, that He has promised to keep you in all your ways, to prosper all you do, and reward you for ever,—if this be not happiness, my friends, what is?
SERMON XVIII. SHAME
Romans x. 11. For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.
My friends, what this text really means is one thing; what we may choose to think it means is another thing—perhaps a very different thing. I will try and show you what I believe it really means.
'Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.' It seems as if St. Paul thought, that not being ashamed had to do with salvation, and being saved; ay, that they were almost the same thing: for he says just before, if thou doest so and so, thou shalt be saved; for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation; for the Scripture saith, 'Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed;' as if being ashamed was the very thing from which we were to be saved. And certainly that wise and great man, whoever he was (some say he was St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, in Italy), who wrote the Te Deum, thought the same; for how does he end the Te Deum? 'O Lord, in Thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded,' that is, brought to shame. You see, after he has spoken of God, and the everlasting glory of God, of Cherubim and Seraphim, that is, all the powers of the earth and the powers of the heavens, of Apostles, Prophets, Martyrs, the Holy Church, all praising God, and crying 'Holy, holy, holy. Lord God of Hosts, Heaven and Earth are full of the majesty of Thy glory;' after he has spoken of the mystery of the Trinity, Father and Son and Holy Ghost, of Christ's redemption and incarnation, and ascension and glory; of His judging the world; of His government, and His lifting up His people for ever; after he has prayed God to keep them this day without sin, and to let His mercy lighten upon them; after all this, at the end of this glorious hymn, all that he has to say is, 'O Lord, in Thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded.'—All he has to say: but that is a great deal: he does not say that merely because he wants to say something more, and has nothing else to say. Not so. In all great hymns and writings like this, the end is almost sure to be the strongest part of all, to have the very pith and marrow of the whole matter in it, as I believe this end of the Te Deum has; and I believe that whoever wrote it thought that being confounded, and brought to shame, was just the most horrible and wretched thing which could happen to him, or any man, and the thing above all others from which he was most bound to pray God to save him and every human being.
Now, how is this? First, let us look at what coming to shame is; and next, how believing in Christ will save us from it.
Now, every man and woman of us here, who has one spark of good feeling in them, will surely agree, that coming to shame is dreadful; and that there is no pain or torment on earth like the pain of being ashamed of oneself: nothing so painful. And I will prove it to you. You call a man a brave man, if he is afraid of nothing: but there is one thing the very bravest man is afraid of, and that is of disgrace, of coming to shame. Ay, my friends, so terrible is the torment of shame, that you may see brave men,—men who would face death in battle, men who would have a limb cut off without a groan, you may see such, in spite of all their courage, gnash their teeth, and writhe in agony, and weep bitter tears, simply because they are ashamed of themselves, so terrible and unbearable is the torment of shame. It may drive a man to do good or evil: it may drive him to do good; as when, rather than come to shame, and be disgraced, soldiers will face death in battle willingly and cheerfully, and do deeds of daring beyond belief: or it may drive him to do evil; rather than come to shame, men have killed themselves, choosing, unhappy and mistaken men, rather to face the torment of hell than the torment of disgrace. They are mistaken enough, God knows. But shame, like all powerful things, will work for harm as well as for good; and just as a wholesome and godly shame may be the beginning of a man's repentance and righteousness, so may an unwholesome and ungodly shame be the cause of his despair and ruin. But judge for yourselves; think over your past lives. Were you ever once—were it but for five minutes— utterly ashamed of yourself? If you were, did you ever feel any torment like that? In all other misery and torment one feels hope; one says, 'Still life is worth having, and when the sorrow wears away I shall be cheerful and enjoy myself again:' but when one has come to shame, when one is not only disgraced in the eyes of other people, but disgraced (which is a thousand times worse) in one's own eyes; when one feels that people have real reason to despise one, then one feels for the time as if life was not worth having; as if one did not care whether one died or not, or what became of one: and yet as if dying would do one no good, change of place would do one no good, time's running on would do one no good; as if what was done could not be undone, and the shame would be with one still, and torment one still, wherever one was, and if one was to live a million years: ay, that it would be everlasting: one feels, in a word, that real shame and deserved disgrace is verily and indeed an everlasting torment. And it is this, and the feeling of this, which explains why poor wretches will kill themselves, as Judas Iscariot did, and rush into hell itself, under the horror and pain of shame and disgrace. They feel a hell within them so hot, that they actually fancy that they can be no worse off beyond the grave than they are on this side of it. They are mistaken: but that is the reason; the misery of disgrace is so intolerable, that they are willing, like that wretched Judas, to try any mad and desperate chance to escape it.
So much for shame's being a dreadful and horrible thing. But again, it is a spiritual thing: it grows and works not in our fleshly bodies, but in our spirits, our consciences, our immortal souls. You may see this by thinking of people who are not afraid of shame. You do not respect them, or think them the better for that. Not at all. If a man is not afraid of shame; if a man, when he is found out, and exposed, and comes to shame, does not care for it, but 'brazens out his own shame,' as we say, we do not call him brave; we call him what he is, a base impudent person, lost to all good feeling. Why, what harder name can we call any man or woman, than to say that they are 'shameless,' dead to shame? We know that it is the very sign of their being dead in sin, the very sign of God's Spirit having left them; that till they are made to feel shame there is no hope of their mending or repenting, or of any good being put into them, or coming out of them. So that this feeling of shame is a spiritual feeling, which has to do with a man's immortal soul, with his conscience, and the voice of God in his heart.
Now, consider this: that there will surely come to you and me, and every living soul, a day of judgment; a day in which we shall be judged. Think honestly of those two words. First, a day, not a mere time, much less a night. Now, in a day there is light, by which men can see, and a sun in heaven which shows all things clearly. In that day, that brightest and clearest of all days, we shall see what we really have been, and what we really have done; and for aught we know, every one round us, every one with whom we have ever had to do, will see it also. The secrets of all our hearts will be disclosed; and we shall stand before heaven and earth simply for what we are, and neither more nor less. That is a fearful thought! Shall we come to shame in that day? And it will be a day of judgment: in it we shall be judged. I do not mean merely condemned, for we may be acquitted: or punished, for we may be rewarded; those things come after being judged. First, let us think of what being judged is. A judge's business is to decide on what we have done, or whether we have broken the law or not; to hear witnesses for us and against us, to sum up the evidence, and set forth the evidence for us and the evidence against us. And our judge will be the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing through the very joints and marrow, and discerning the secret intents of the heart; neither is anything hid from Him, for all things are naked and open in the sight of Him with whom we have to do. With whom we have to do, mind: not merely with whom we shall have to do; for He sees all now, He knows all now. Ever since we were born, there has not been a thought in our heart but He has known it altogether. And He is utterly just—no respecter of persons; like His own wisdom, without partiality and without hypocrisy. O Lord! who shall stand in that day? O Lord! if thou be extreme to mark what is done amiss, who shall abide it? O Lord! in thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded!
For this is being confounded; this is shame itself. This is the intolerable, horrible, hellish shame and torment, wherein is weeping and gnashing of teeth; this is the everlasting shame and contempt to which, as Daniel prophesied, too many should awake in that day—to be found guilty in that day before God and Christ, before our neighbours and our relations, and worst of all, before ourselves. Worst of all, I say, before ourselves. It would be dreadful enough to have all the bad things we ever did or thought told openly against us to all our neighbours and friends, and to see them turn away from us;—dreadful to find out at last (what we forget all day long) that God knows them already; but more dreadful to know them all ourselves, and see our sins in all their shamefulness, in the light of God, as God Himself sees them;—more dreadful still to see the loving God and the loving Christ turn away from us;—but most dreadful of all to turn away from ourselves; to be utterly discontented with ourselves; ashamed of ourselves; to see that all our misery is our own fault, that we have been our own enemies; to despise ourselves, and hate ourselves for ever; to try for ever to get rid of ourselves, and escape from ourselves as from some ugly and foul place in which we were ashamed to be seen for a moment: and yet not to be able to get rid of ourselves. Yes, that will be the true misery of a lost soul, to be ashamed of itself, and hate itself. Who shall deliver a man from the body of that death?