I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. I thank God, that at least now, here, in this life, we can be delivered. There is but one hope for us all; one way for us all, not to come to utter shame. And this is in the Lord Jesus Christ, who has said, 'Though your sins be red as scarlet they shall be white as wool; and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.' One hope, to cast ourselves utterly on His boundless love and mercy, and cry to Him, 'Blot these sins of mine out of Thy book, by Thy most precious blood, which is a full atonement for the sins of the whole world; and blot them out of my heart by Thy Holy Spirit, that I may hate them and renounce them, and flee from them, and give them up, and be Thy servant, and do Thy work, and have Thy righteousness, and do righteous things like Thee.' And then, my friends, how or why we cannot understand; but it is God's own promise, who cannot lie, that He will really and actually forgive these sins of ours, and blot them out as if we had never done them, and give us clean hearts and right spirits, to live new lives, right lives, lives like His own life; so that our past sinful lives shall be behind us like a dream, and we shall find them forgotten and forgiven in the day of judgment;—wonderful mercy! but listen to it—it is God's own promise—'If the wicked man turneth away from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned to him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.'
They shall not be mentioned to him. My friends, if, as I have been showing, the great misery, the great horror of all, is having our sins mentioned to us in That Day, and being made utterly ashamed by them, what greater mercy can we want than this—not to have them mentioned to us, and not to come to shame; not to be plagued for ever with the hideous ghosts of our past bad thoughts, bad words, bad deeds, coming all day long to stare us in the face, and cry to us while the accusing Devil holds them up to us, as if in a looking- glass—'Look at your own picture. This is what you are. This fool, this idler, this mean, covetous, hard-hearted man, who cared only for himself;—this stupid man, who never cared to know his duty or do his duty;—this proud, passionate, revengeful man, who returned evil for evil, took his brothers by the throat, and exacted from them the uttermost farthing;—this ridiculous, foolish, useless, disagreeable, unlovely, unlovable person, who went through the world neither knowing what he ought to do, nor whither he was going, but was utterly blind and in a dream; this person is you yourself. Look at your own likeness, and be confounded, and utterly ashamed for ever!' What greater misery than that? What greater blessing than to escape that? What greater blessing than to be able to answer the accusing Devil, 'Not so, liar! This is not my likeness. This ugly, ridiculous, hateful person is not I. I was such a one once, but I am not now. I am another man now; and God knows that I am, though you may try to shame me by telling me that I am the same man. I was wrong, but I am right now; I was as a sheep going astray, but now I am returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of my soul, to whom I belonged all the while; and now I am right, in the right road; for with the heart I have believed God unto righteousness, and He has given me a clean heart, and a right spirit, and has purged me, and will purge me, till I am clean, and washed me till I am whiter than snow; I do not deny one of my old sins; I did them, I know that; I confess them to thee now, oh accusing Devil; but I confessed them to God, ay, and to man too, long ago, and by confessing them to Him I was saved from them; for with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. And what is more; I have not only confessed my own sins, but I have confessed Christ's righteousness; and I confess it now. I confess, I say, that Christ is perfectly righteous and good, the Perfect Pattern of what I ought to be; and because He is perfectly good, He does not wish to see me remain bad and sinful, that He may taunt me and torment me with my sins, as thou the accusing Devil dost: but He wishes to make me and every man good like Himself, blest like Himself; and He can do it, and will do it, if we will but give up our hearts to Him; and I have given up my heart to Him. All I ask of Him is to be made good and kept good, set right and kept right; and I can trust in Him utterly to do that; for He is faithful and just to forgive me my sins, and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Therefore, accuse me not, Devil! for thou hast no share in me: I belong to Christ, and not to thee. And set not my old sins before my face; for God has set them behind His back, because I have renounced them, and sworn an oath against them, and Christ has nailed them to His cross, and now they are none of mine and none of thine, but are cast long ago into the everlasting fire of God, and burnt up and done with for ever; and I am a new man, and God's man; and He has justified me, and will justify me, and make me just and right; and neither thou, nor any man, has a right to impute to me my past sins, for God does not impute them to me; and neither thou, nor any man, has a right to condemn me, for God has justified me. And if it please God to humble me more (for I know I want humbling every day), and to show me more how much I owe to Him—if it please Him, I say, to bring to light any of my past sins, I shall take it patiently as a wholesome chastening of my Heavenly Father's; and I trust to all God's people, and to angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect, that they will look on my past sins as God looks on them, mercifully and lovingly, as things past and dead, forgiven and blotted out of God's book, by the precious blood of Christ, and look on me as I am in Christ, not having any righteousness of my own, but Christ's righteousness, which comes by the inspiration of His own Holy Spirit.'
Thus, my friends, we may answer the Devil, when he stands up to accuse us, and confound us in the Day of Judgment. Thus we may answer him now, when, in melancholy moments, he sets our sins before our face, and begins taunting us, and crying, 'See what a wretch you are, what a hypocrite, too. What would all the world think of you, if they knew as much against you as I do? What would the world think of you, if they saw into that dirty heart of yours?' For we can answer him—'Whatever the world would think, I know what God Himself thinks: He thinks of me as of a son who, after wasting his substance, and feeding on husks with the swine, has come home to his Father's house, and cried, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before Thee, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son; and I know that that same good Heavenly Father, instead of shaming me, reproaching me, shutting His doors against me, has seen me afar off, and taken me home again without one harsh word, and called to all the angels in heaven, saying, "It is meet that we rejoice and be glad, for this My son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found." And while Almighty God, who made heaven and earth, is saying that of me, it matters little what the lying Devil may say.'
Only, only, if you be wandering from your Father's house, come home; if you be wrong, entreat to be made right. If you are in your Father's house, stay there; if you are right, pray and struggle to keep right; if the old account is blotted out, then, for your soul's sake, run up no fresh account to stand against you after all in the Day of Judgment; if you have the hope in you of not coming to shame, you must purify yourselves, even as God is pure; if you believe really with your heart, you must believe unto righteousness; that is, you must trust God to make you righteous and good: there is no use trusting Him to make you anything else, for He will make you nothing else; being good Himself, He will only make you good: but as for trusting in Him to leave you bad, to leave you quiet in your sins, and then to save you after all, that is trusting that God will do a most unjust, and what is more, a most cruel thing to you; that is trusting God to do the Devil's work; that is a blasphemous false trust, which will be utterly confounded in the Day of Judgment, and will cover you with double shame. The whole question for each of us is, 'Do we believe unto righteousness?' Is righteousness what we want? Is to be made good men what we want? If not, no confessing with the mouth will be unto salvation, for how can a man be saved in his sins? If an animal is diseased can it be saved from dying without curing the disease? If a tree be decayed, can it be saved from dying without curing the decay? If a man be bad and sinful, can he be saved from eternal death without curing his badness and sinfulness? How can a man be saved from his sins but by becoming sinless? As well ask, Can a man be saved from his sins without being saved from his sins? But if you wish really to be saved from your sins, and taken out of them, and cured of them, that you may be made good men, righteous men, useful men, just men, loving men, Godlike men;—then trust in God for that, and you will find that your trust will be unto righteousness, for you will become righteous men; and confess God with your mouth for that, saying, 'I believe in God my Father; I believe in Jesus Christ His Son, who died, and rose, and ascended on high for me; I believe in God's Holy Spirit, which is with me, to make me right;' and your confession will be unto salvation, for you will be saved from your sins.
Always say to yourself this one thing, 'Good I will become, whatever it cost me; and in God's goodness I trust to make me good, for I am sure He wishes to see me good, more than I do myself; and you will find that because you have confessed, in that best and most honest of ways, that God is good, and have so given Him real glory, and real honour, and real praise, He will save you from the sins which torment you: and that because you have really trusted in Him, you shall never come, either in this world, or the world to come, to that worst misery, the being ashamed of yourself.
SERMON XIX. FORGIVENESS
Psalm li. 16, 17. Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.
You all heard just now the story of Nathan and David, and you must have all felt how beautiful, and noble, and just it was; how it declares that there is but one everlasting God's law of justice, which is above all men, even the greatest; and that what is right for the poor man is right for the king upon his throne, for God is no respecter of persons.
And you must have admired, too, the frankness, and fulness, and humbleness of David's repentance, and liked and loved the man still, in spite of his sins, as much almost as you did when you heard of him as a shepherd boy slaying the giant, or a wanderer and an outlaw among the hills and forests of Judaea.
But did it now seem strange to you that David's repentance, which was so complete when it did come, should have come no sooner? Did he need Nathan to tell him that he had done wrong? He seduced another man's wife, and that man one of his most faithful servants, one of the most brave and loyal generals of his army; and then, over and above his adultery, he had plotted the man's death, and had had him killed and put out of the way in as base, and ungrateful, and treacherous a fashion as I ever heard of. His whole conduct in the matter had been simply villanous. There is no word too bad for it. And do you fancy that he had to wait the greater part of a year before the thought came into his head that that was not the fashion in which a man ought to behave, much more a king?—that God's blessing was not on such doings as those?—and after all not find out for himself that he was wrong, but have to be told of it by Nathan?
Surely, if he had any common sense, any feeling of right and wrong left in him, he must have known that he had done a bad thing; and his guilty conscience must have tormented him many a time and oft during those months, long before Nathan came to him. Now, that he had the feeling of right and wrong left in him, we cannot doubt; for when Nathan told him the parable of the rich man who spared all his own flocks and herds, and took the poor man's one ewe lamb, his heart told him that that was wrong and unjust, and he cried out, 'The man who has done this thing shall surely die.' And surely that feeling of right and wrong could not have been quite asleep in him all those months, and have been awakened then for the first time.
But more; if we look at two psalms which he wrote about that time, we shall find that his conscience had not been dead in him, but had been tormenting him bitterly; and that he had been trying to escape from it, and afterwards to repent—only in a wrong way.
If we look at the Thirty-second Psalm, we shall see there he had begun, by trying to deceive himself, to excuse himself before God. But that had only made him the more miserable. 'When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my daily complaining. For Thy hand was heavy on me night and day: my moisture was turned to the drought of summer.' Then he had tried sacrifices. He had fancied, I suppose, that he could make God pleased with him again by showing great devoutness, by offering bullocks and goats without number, as sin-offerings and peace-offerings; but that made him no happier. At last he found out that God required no sacrifice but a broken heart. That was what God wanted—a broken and a contrite heart; for David to be utterly ashamed of himself, utterly broken down and silenced, so that he had nothing left to plead—neither past good deeds, nor present devoutness, nor sacrifices: nothing but, 'O God, I deserve all Thou canst lay on me, and more. Have mercy on me—mercy is all I ask.'
There was nothing for him, you see, but to make a clean breast of it; to face his sin, and all its shame and abomination, and confess it all, and throw himself on God's mercy. And when he did that, there, then, and at once, as Nathan told him, God put away his sin. As David says himself, 'I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord, and so Thou forgavest the wickedness of my sin.'
As it is written, 'If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.'
And now, my friends, what lesson may we learn from this? It is easy to say, We have not sinned as deeply as David, and therefore his story has nothing to do with us. My friends, whether we have sinned as deeply as David or not, his story has to do with you, and me, and every soul in this church, and every soul in the whole world, or it would not be in the Bible. For no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation; that is, it does not only point at one man here and another there: but those who wrote it were moved by the Holy Ghost, who lays down the eternal universal laws of holiness, of right and good, which are right and good for you, and me, and all mankind; and therefore David's story has to do with you and me every time we do wrong, and know that we have done wrong.
Now, my friends, when you have done a wrong thing, you know your conscience torments you with it; you are uneasy, and discontented with yourselves, perhaps cross with those about you; you hardly know why: or rather, though you do know why, you do not like to tell yourself why.
The bad thing which you have done, or the bad tempers which you have given way to, or the person whom you have quarrelled with, hang in your mind, and darken all your thoughts: and you try not to remember them: but conscience makes you remember them, and will not let the dark thought fly away; till you can enjoy nothing, because your heart is not clean and clear; there is something in the background which makes you sad whenever you try to be happy. Then a man tries first to deceive himself. He says to himself, 'No, that sin is not what makes me unhappy—not that;' and he tries to find out any and every reason for his uncomfortable feelings, except the very thing which he knows all the while in the bottom of his heart is the real reason. He says, 'Well, perhaps I am unhappy because I have done something wrong: what wrong can I have done?' And so he sets to work to find out every sin except the sin which is the cause of all, because that one he does not like to face: it is too real, and ugly, and humbling to his proud spirit; and perhaps he is afraid of having to give it up. So I have known a man confess himself a sinner, a miserable sinner, freely enough, and then break out into a rage with you, if you dare to speak a word of the one sin which you know that he has actually committed. 'No, sir,' he will say, 'whatever I may be wrong in, I am right there. I have committed sins too many, I know: but you cannot charge me with that, at least;'—and all the more because he knows that everybody round is charging him with it, and that the thing is as notorious as the sun in heaven. But that makes him, in his pride, all the more determined not to confess himself in the wrong on that one point; and he will go and confess to God, and perhaps to man, all manner of secret sins, nay, even invent sins for himself out of things which are no sins, and confess himself humbly in the wrong where perhaps he is all right, just to drug his conscience, and be able to say, 'I have repented,'—repented, that is, of everything but what he and all the world know that he ought to repent of.
But still his conscience is not easy: he has no peace of mind: he is like David: 'While I held my peace, my bones waxed old through my daily complaining.' God's hand is heavy on him day and night, and his moisture is like the drought in summer: his heart feels hard and dry; he cannot enjoy himself; he is moody; he lies awake and frets at night, and goes listlessly and heavily about his business in the morning; his heart is not right with God, and he knows it; God and he are not at peace, and he knows it.
Then he tries to repent: but it is a false, useless sort of repentance. He says to Himself, as David did, 'Well, then, I will make my peace with God: I will please Him. I have done one wrong thing. I will do two right ones to make up for it.' If he is a rich man, he perhaps tries David's plan of burnt-offerings and sacrifices. He says, 'I will give away a great deal in charity; I will build a church; I will take a great deal of trouble about societies, and speak at religious meetings, and show God how much I really do care for Him after all, and what great sacrifices I can make for Him.'
Or, if he is a poor man, he will say, 'Well, then, I will try and be more religious; I will think more about my soul, and come to church as often as I can, and say my prayers regularly, and read good books; and perhaps that will make my peace with God. At all events, God shall see that I am not as bad as I look; not altogether bad; that I do care for Him, and for doing right.'
But, rich or poor, the man finds out by bitter experience how truly David said, 'Thou requirest no sacrifice, else would I give it Thee. Thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.'
Not that they are not good and excellent; but that they are not good coming from him, because his heart is still unrepentant, because, instead of confessing his sin and throwing himself on God's mercy, he is trying to win God round to overlook his sin. So almsgiving, and ordinances, and prayer give the poor man no peace. He rises from his knees unrefreshed. He goes out of church with as heavy a heart as he went in, and he finds that for all his praying he does not become a better man, any more than a happier man. There is still that darkness over his soul, like a black cloud spread between him and God.
My friends, if any of you find yourselves in this sad case, the only remedy which I can give you, the only remedy which I ever found do me any good, or give me back my peace of mind, is David's remedy; the one which he found out at last, and which he spoke of in these blessed Psalms. Confess your sin to God. Bring it all out. Make a clean breast of it—whatever it may cost you, make a clean breast of it. Only be but honest with God, and all will come right at once. Say, not with your lips only, but from the very bottom of your heart, say, 'Oh, good God, Heavenly Father, I have nothing to say; I am wrong, and yet I do not know how wrong I am; but Thou knowest. Thou seest all my sin a thousand times more clearly than I do; and if I look black and foul to myself, oh God, how much more black and how foul must I look to Thee! I know not. All I know is, that I am utterly wrong, and Thou utterly right. I am shapen in sin, conceived in iniquity. My heart it is that is wrong. Not merely this or that wrong which I have done; but my heart, my temper, which will have its own way, which cares for itself, and not for Thee. I have nothing to plead; nothing to throw into the other scale. For if I have ever done right, it was Thou didst right in me, and not me myself, and only my sins are my own doing; so the good in me is all Thine, and the bad in me all my own, and in me dwells no good thing. And as for excusing myself by saying that I love Thee, I had better tell the truth, since Thou knowest it already—I do not love Thee. Oh God, I love myself, my pitiful, miserable self, well enough, and too well: but as for loving Thee—how many of my good deeds have been done for love of Thee? I have done right from fear of hell, from hope of heaven; or to win Thy blessings: but how often have I done right really and purely for Thy sake? I am ashamed to think! My only comfort, my only hope, is, that whether I love Thee or not, Thou lovest me, and hast sent Thy Son to seek and save me. Help me now. Save me now out of my sin, and darkness, and self-conceit. Show Thy love to me by setting this wrong heart of mine right. Give me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. If I be wrong myself, how can I make myself right? No; Thou must do it. Thou must purge me, or I shall never be clean; Thou must make me to understand wisdom in the secret depth of my heart, or I shall never see my way. Thou must, for I cannot; and base and bad as I am, I can believe that Thou wilt condescend to help me and teach me, because I know Thy love in Jesus Christ my Lord. And then Thou wilt be pleased with my sacrifices and oblations, because they come from a right heart—a truly humble, honest, penitent heart, which is not trying to deceive God, or plaster over its own baseness and weakness, but confesses all, and yet trusts in God's boundless love. Then my alms will rise as a sweet savour before Thee, oh God; then sacraments will strengthen me, ordinances will teach me, good books will speak to my soul, and my prayers will be answered by peace of mind, and a clear conscience, and the sweet and strengthening sense that I am in my Heavenly Father's house, about my Heavenly Father's business, and that His smile is over me, and His blessing on me, as long as I remain loyal to Him and to His laws.' Feel thus, my friends, and speak to God thus, and see if the dark stupefying cloud does not pass away from your heart—see if there and then does not come sunshine and strength, and the sweet assurance that you are indeed forgiven.
But how about this old sin, which caused the man all this trouble? He began by trying to forget it. I think, if he be a true penitent, he will not wish to forget it any more. He will not torment himself about it, for he knows that God has forgiven him. But the more he feels God has forgiven him, the less likely he will be to forgive himself. The more sure he feels of God's love and mercy, the more utterly ashamed of himself he will be. And what is more, it is not wise to forget our own sins, when God has not forgotten them. For God does not forget our sins, though He forgives them; and a very bad thing it would be for us if He did, my friends. For the wages of sin is death: and even if God does not slay us for our sins, He is certain to punish us for them in some way, lest we should forget that sin is sin, and fancy that God's mercy is only careless indulgence. So God did to David. He then told him that though he was forgiven he would still be punished, 'The Lord has put away thy sin; nevertheless, the child that shall be born unto thee shall surely die.' Punishment and forgiveness went together. Ay, if we will look at it rightly, David's being punished was the very sign that God had forgiven him. Oh, believe that, my friends; face it; thank God for it. I at least do, when I look back upon my past life, and see that for every wrong I have ever done, I have been punished: not punished a tenth part as much as I deserve; but still punished, more or less, and made to smart for my own folly, and to learn, by hard unmistakable experience, that it will not pay me, or any man, to break the least of God's laws; and I thank God for it. I tell you to thank God also, whensoever you are punished for your sins. It is a sign that God cares for you, that God loves you, that God is training and educating you, that God is your Father, and He is dealing with you as with His sons. For what son is there whom His Father does not chastise? It is a bitter lesson, no doubt; but we have deserved it: then let us bear it like men. No doubt it is bitter: but there is a blessing in it. No chastisement at first seems pleasant, says the Apostle, but rather grievous: yet afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who are exercised thereby. Be exercised by it, then. Let God teach you in His own way, even if it seem a harsh and painful way. We have had earthly fathers, says the Apostle, who corrected us, and we gave them reverence. Shall we not much rather be in subjection to God, the Father of Spirits, and live? For suffering and punishment is the way to Eternal Life—to that true Eternal Life which is knowing God and God's love, and becoming like God. As the Apostle says, God chastens us only for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. And as king Hezekiah says of affliction, 'Lord, by these things,' by sorrow and chastisement, 'men live; and in all these things is the life of the spirit.'
May God give to you, and me, and all mankind, as often as we do wrong, honest and good hearts to confess our sins thoroughly, and take our punishment meekly, and trust in God's boundless mercy, in order that if we humble ourselves under His rod, and learn His lessons faithfully in this life, we may not need a worse punishment in the life to come, but be accepted in the last great Day for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour.
SERMON XX. THE TRUE GENTLEMAN
1 Cor. xii. 31; xiii. 1. Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
My friends, let me say a few plain words this morning to young and old, rich and poor, upon this text.
Now you all, I suppose, think it a good thing to be gentlemen and ladies. All of you, I say. There is not a poor man in this church, perhaps, who has not before now said in his heart, 'Ah, if I were but a gentleman!' or a poor woman who has not said in her heart, 'Ah, if I were but a lady!' You see round you in the world thousands plotting and labouring all their lives long to make money and grow rich, that they may become (as they think) gentlemen, or, at least, their sons after them. And those here who are what the world calls gentlemen and ladies, know very well that those names are names which are very precious to them; and would sooner give up house, land, money, all the comforts upon earth, than give up being called gentlemen and ladies; and these last know, I trust, what some poor people do not know, and what no man knows who fancies that he can make a gentleman of himself merely by gaining money, and setting up a fine house, and a good table, and horses and carriages, and indulging the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life; for these last ought to know that the right to be called gentlemen and ladies is something which this world did not give, and cannot take away; so that if they were brought to utter poverty and rags, or forced to dig the ground for their own livelihood, they would be gentlemen and ladies still, if they ever had been really and truly such; and what is more, they would make every one who met them feel that they were gentlemen and ladies, in spite of all their poverty.
Now, people do not often understand clearly why this is. They feel, more or less, that so it is; but they cannot explain it. I could tell you why they cannot; but I will not take up your time. But if they cannot explain it, there are those who can. St. Paul explains it in the Epistle. The Lord Jesus Himself explains it in the Gospel. They tell us why money will not make a gentleman. They tell us why poverty will not unmake one: but they tell us more. They tell us the one only thing which makes a true gentleman. And they tell us more still. They tell us how every one of us, down to the poorest and most ignorant man and woman in this church, may become true gentlemen and ladies, in the sight of God and of all reasonable men; and that, not only in this life, but after death, for ever, and ever, and ever. And that is by charity, by love.
Now, if you will look two or three chapters back, in the Epistle to the Corinthians—at the 11th and 12th chapters—you will see that these Corinthians were behaving to each other very much as people are apt to do in England now. They all wanted to rise in life, and they wanted to rise upon each other's shoulders. Each man and woman wanted to set themselves up above their neighbours, and to look down upon them. The rich looked down on the poor, and kept apart from them at the Lord's Supper; and no doubt the poor envied the rich heartily enough in return. And these Corinthians were very religious, and some of them, too, very clever. So those who, being poor, could not set themselves up above their neighbours on the score of wealth, wanted to set themselves up on the score of their spiritual gifts. One looked down on his neighbours because he was a deeper scholar than they; another, because he had the gift of tongues, and understood more languages than they; another could prophesy better than any of them, and so, because he was a very eloquent preacher, he tried to get power over his neighbours, and abuse the talents which God had given him, to pamper his own pride and vanity, and love of managing and ordering people, and of being run after by silly women (as St. Paul calls them), ever learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth. And of the rest, one party sided with one preacher, or one teacher, and another with another; and each party looked down on the other, and judged them harshly, and said bitter things of them, till, as St. Paul says, they were all split up by heresies, that is, by divisions, party spirit, envying, and grudging in the very Church of God, and at the very Table of The Lord.
Now says St. Paul, 'Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I you a more excellent way;' and that is charity; love. As much as to say, I do not complain of any of you for trying to be the best that you can, for trying to be as wise as you can be, as eloquent as you can be, as learned as you can be: I do not complain of you for trying to rise; but I do complain of you for trying to rise upon each other's shoulders. I do complain of you for each trying to set up himself, and trying to make use of his neighbours instead of helping them; and, when God gives you gifts to do good to others with, trying to do good only to yourselves with them.
For he says, you are all members of one body; and all the talents, gifts, understanding, power, money, which God has bestowed on you, He has given you only that you may help your neighbours with them. Of course there is no harm in longing and praying for great gifts, longing and praying to be very wise, or very eloquent; but only that you may do all the more good. And, after all, says St. Paul, there is something more worth longing for, not merely than money, but more worth longing for than the wisdom of a prophet, or the tongue of an angel; and that is charity. If you have that, you will be able to do as much good as God requires of you in your station; and if you have not that, you will not do what God requires of you, even though you spoke with the tongues of men and of angels. Even though you had the gift of prophecy, and understood all mysteries, and all knowledge; even though you had all faith, so that you could remove mountains; even though you had all good works, and gave all your goods to feed the poor, and your body to be burned as a martyr for the sake of religion, and had not charity, you would be nothing. Nothing, says St. Paul, but sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal—an empty vessel, which makes the more noise the less there is in it. If you have charity, says St. Paul, you will be able to do your share of good where God has put you, though you may be poor, and ignorant, and stupid, and weak; but if you have not charity, all the wisdom and learning, righteousness and eloquence in the world, will only give you greater power of doing harm.
Yes, he says, I show you a more excellent way to be really great; a way by which the poorest may be as great as the richest,—the simple cottager's wife as great as the most accomplished lady; and that is charity, which comes from the Spirit of God. Pray for that—try after that; and if you want to know what sort of a spirit it is that you are to pray for and try after, I will tell you. Charity is the very opposite of the selfish, covetous, ambitious, proud, grudging spirit of this world. Charity suffers long, and is kind: charity does not envy: charity does not boast, is not puffed up: does not behave itself unseemly; that is, is never rude, or overbearing, or careless about hurting people's feelings by hard words or looks: seeketh not its own; that is, is not always looking on its own rights, and thinking about itself, and trying to help itself; is not easily provoked: thinketh no evil, that is, is not suspicious, ready to make out the worst case against every one; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; that is, is not glad, as too many are, to see people do wrong, and to laugh and sneer over their failings: but rejoiceth in the truth, tries to find out the truth about every one, and judge them honestly, and make fair allowances for them: covereth all things; that is, tries to hide a neighbour's sins as far as is right, instead of gossiping over them, and blazoning them up and down, as too many do: believeth all things; that is, gives every one credit for meaning well as long as it can: hopeth all things; that is, never gives any one up as past mending: endureth all things, keeps its temper, and keeps its tongue; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but, on the contrary, blessing; and so overcomes evil with good.
In one word, while the spirit of the world thinks of itself, and helps itself, Charity, which is the Spirit of God, thinks of other people, and helps other people. And now:—to be always thinking of other people's feelings, and always caring for other people's comfort, what is that but the mark, and the only mark, of a true gentleman, and a true lady? There is none other, my friends, and there never will be. But the poorest man or woman can do that; the poorest man or woman can be courteous and tender, careful not to pain people, ready and willing to help every one to the best of their power; and therefore, the poorest man or woman can be a true gentleman or a true lady in the sight of God, by the inspiration of the Spirit of God, whose name is Charity.
They can be. And thanks be to the grace of God, they often are. I can say that I have seen among plain sailors and labouring men as perfect gentlemen (of God's sort) as man need see; but then they were always pious and God-fearing men; and so the Spirit of God had made up to them for any want of scholarship and rank. They were gentlemen, because God's Spirit had made them gentle. For recollect all, both rich and poor, what that word gentleman means. It is simply a man who is gentle; who, let him be as brave or as wise as he will, yet, as St. Paul says, 'suffers long and is kind; does not boast, does not behave himself unseemly; is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.'
And recollect, too, what that word lady means. Most of you perhaps do not know. I will tell you. It means, in the ancient English tongue, a person who gives away bread; who deals out loaves to the poor. I have often thought that most beautiful, and full of meaning, a very message from God to all ladies, to tell them what they ought to be; and not to them only, but to the poorest woman in the parish; for who is too poor to help her neighbours?
You see there is a difference between a Christian man's duty in this and a Christian woman's duty, though they both spring from the same spirit. The man, unless he be a clergyman, has not so much time as a woman for actually helping his neighbours by acts of charity. He must till the ground, sail the seas, attend to his business, fight the Queen's enemies; and the way in which the Holy Spirit of Charity will show in him will be more in his temper and his language; by making him patient, cheerful, respectful, condescending, courteous, reasonable, with every one whom he has to do with: but the woman has time to show acts of charity which the man has not. She can teach in the schools, sit by the sick bed, work with her hands for the suffering and the helpless, even though she cannot with her head. Above all, she can give those kind looks and kind words which comfort the broken heart better than money and bodily comforts can do. And she does do it, thank God! I do not merely mean in such noble instances of divine charity and self-sacrifice as those ladies who have gone out to nurse the wounded soldiers in the East—true ladies, indeed, of whom I fear more than one, ere they return, will be added to the noble army of martyrs, to receive in return for the great love which they have shown on earth, the full enjoyment of God's love in heaven:—not these only, but poor women—women who could not write their own names—women who had hardly clothes wherewith to keep themselves warm—women who were toiling all day long to feed and clothe their own children, till one wondered when in the twenty-four hours they could find five spare minutes for helping their neighbours;—such poor women have I seen, who in the midst of their own daily work and daily care, had still a heart open to hear every one's troubles; a head always planning little comforts and pleasures for others; and hands always busy in doing good. Instead of being made hard and selfish by their own troubles, they had been taught by them, as the Lord Jesus was, to feel for the troubles of all around them, and went about like ministering angels in the Spirit of God, which is peace on earth and goodwill towards men.
Oh, my friends, such poor women seemed to me most glorious, most honourable, most venerable! What was all rank or fashion, beauty or accomplishments, when compared with the great honour which the Lord Jesus Christ was putting upon those poor women, by transforming them thus into His own most blessed likeness, and giving them grace to go about, as He the Lord Jesus did, doing good, because God was with them!
Then I felt that such women, poor, and worn, and hard-handed as they were, were ladies in the sight of that Heavenly Father, who is no respecter of persons; and felt how truly a wise ancient has said,— 'It is virtue, yea, virtue, gentlemen, which maketh gentlemen; which maketh the poor rich, the strong weak, the simple wise, the base- born noble. This rank neither the whirling wheel of Fortune can destroy, nor the deceitful cavillings of worldlings separate; neither sickness abate, nor time abolish.' No; for it is written, that though prophecies shall fail, tongues cease, knowledge vanish away, and all that we now know is but in part, yet charity shall never fail those who are full of the Spirit of Love, but abide with them for ever and ever, bringing forth fruit through all eternity to everlasting life.
But what sort of virtue? Do not mistake that. Not what the world calls virtue; not mere legal respectability, which says, I do unto others as they do unto me; which is often merely the whitening outside the sepulchre, and leaves the heart within unrenewed, unrighteous, full of pride and ambition, conceit, cunning, and envy, and unbelief in God: not that virtue, but the virtue which the Apostle tells us to add to our faith, the virtue from above, which is the same as the wisdom from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated; in one word, the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of Divine Love and Charity, which seeketh not its own, which St. Paul has described to us in this epistle; the Holy Spirit of God, with which the Lord Jesus was filled without measure, and which He manifested to all the world in His most blessed life and death.
Ah, my friends, this is not an easy lesson to learn. Christ's disciples and apostles could not learn it all at once. They tried to hinder little children from coming to Him. They rebuked the blind man who called after Him. How could the great Prophet of Nazareth stoop to trouble Himself about such poor insignificant people? They could not conceive, either, why the Lord Jesus should choose to die shamefully, when He might have lived in honour: it seemed unworthy of Him. They were shocked at His words. 'That be far from Thee, Lord,' said Peter. Afterwards, when they really understood what that word 'Lord,' meant, and what sort of a man a true and perfect Lord ought to be, then they saw how fit, and proper, and glorious, Christ's self-sacrifice was. When, too, they learnt to look on Him, not merely as a great prophet, but as the Son of the Living God, then they understood His conduct, and saw that it behoved an only-begotten Son of God to suffer all these things before He entered into His glory.
But the Scribes and Pharisees never understood it. To the last they were puzzled and angered by that very self-sacrifice of His: He must be a bad man, they thought, or He would not care so much for bad men. 'A friend of publicans and sinners,' they called Him, thinking that a shameful blame to Him, while it was really the very highest praise. But if they could not see the beauty of His conduct, can we? It is very difficult, I do not deny it, my friends, for the selfishness and pride of fallen man: it is difficult to see that the Cross was the most glorious throne that was even set up on earth, and that the crown of thorns was worth all the crowns of czars and emperors: difficult, indeed, not to stumble at the stumbling-block of the Cross, and to say, 'It cannot surely be more blessed to give than to receive:' difficult, not to say in our hearts, 'The way to be great is surely to rise above other men, not to stoop below them; to make use of them, and not to make ourselves slaves to them.' And yet the Lord Jesus Christ did so; He took on Himself the form of a slave, and made Himself of no reputation: and what was fit and good for Him, must surely be fit and good for us. But it is a hard lesson to the pride of fallen creatures: very hard. And nothing, I believe, but sorrow will teach it us: sorrow is teaching it some of us now. We surely are beginning to see, that to suffer patiently for conscience sake, is the most beautiful thing on earth or in heaven: we begin to see that those poor soldiers, dying by inches of cold and weariness, without a murmur, because it was their Duty, were doing a nobler work even than they did when they fought at Alma and Inkermann; and that those ladies who are drudging in the hospitals, far away from home, amid filth and pestilence, are doing, if possible, a nobler work still, a nobler work than if they were queens or empresses, because they have taken up the Cross and followed Christ; because they are not seeking their own good, but the good of others. And if we will not learn it from those glorious examples, God will force us to learn it, I trust, every one of us, by sorrow and disappointment. Ah, my friends, might one not learn it at once, if one would but open one's eyes and look at things as they are? Every one is longing for something; each has his little plan for himself, of what he would like to be, and like to do, and says to himself all day long, 'If I could but get that one thing, I should be happy: If I could but get that, then I should want no more!' Foolish man, self- deceived by his own lusts! Perhaps he cannot get what he wants, and therefore he cannot enjoy what he has, and is moody, discontented, peevish, a torment to himself, and perhaps a torment to his family. Or perhaps he does get what he wants: and is he happy after all? Not he. He is like the greedy Israelites of old, when they longed for the quails; and God sent the quails: but while the meat was yet in their mouths, they loathed it. So it is with a man's fancy. He gets what he fancies; and he plays with it for a day, as a child with a new toy, and most probably spoils it, and next day throws it away to run after some new pleasure, which will cheat him in just the same way as the last did; and so happiness flits away ahead before him; and he is like the simple boy in the parable, who was to find a crock of gold where the rainbow touched the ground: but as he moved on, the rainbow moved on too, and kept always a field off from him. You may smile: but just as foolish is every soul of us, who fancies that he will become happy by making himself great; admired, rich, comfortable, in short, by making himself anything whatsoever, or getting anything whatsoever for himself. Just as foolish is every poor soul, and just as unhappy, as long as he will go on thinking about himself, instead of copying the Lord Jesus Christ, and thinking about others; as long as he will keep to the pattern of the old selfish Adam, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, the longings and fancies which deceive a man into expecting to be happy when he will not be happy; instead of putting on the new man, which after God's likeness is created in righteousness and true holiness: and what is true holiness but that very charity of which St. Paul has been preaching to us, the spirit of love, and mercy, and gentleness, and condescension, and patience, and active benevolence?
Ah, my friends, do not forget what I said just now; that a man could not become happy by making himself anything. No. Not by making himself anything: but he may by letting God make him something. If he will let God make him a new creature in Jesus Christ, then he will be more than happy—he will be blessed: then he will be a blessing to himself, and a blessing to every one whom he meets: then all vain longing, and selfishness, and pride, and ambition, and covetousness, and peevishness and disappointment, will vanish out of his heart, and he will work manfully and contentedly where God has placed him—cheerful and open-hearted, civil and patient, always thinking about others, and not about himself; trying to be about his Master's business, which is doing good; and always finding too, that his Master Christ sets him some good work to do day by day, and gives him strength to do it. And how can a man get that blessed and noble state of mind? By prayer and practice. You must ask for strength from God: but then you must believe that He answers your prayer, and gives you that strength; and therefore you must try and use it. There is no more use in praying without practising than there is in practising without praying. You cannot learn to walk without walking: no more can you learn to do good without trying to do good.
Ask, then, of God, grace and help to do good: Pray to Him this very day to take all selfishness and meanness out of your hearts, and to give you instead His Holy Spirit of Love and Charity, which alone can make you noble in His sight; and try this day, try every day of your lives, to do some good to those around you. Oh make a rule, and pray to God to help you to keep it, never, if possible, to lie down at night without being able to say, 'I have made one human being at least a little wiser, or a little happier, or a little better this day.' You will find it easier than you think, and pleasanter: easier, because if you wish to do God's work, God will surely find you work to do; and pleasanter, because in return for the little trouble it may cost you, or the little choking of foolish vulgar pride it may cost you, you will have a peace of mind, a quiet of temper, a cheerfulness and hopefulness about yourself and all around you, such as you never felt before; and over and above that, if you look for a reward in the life to come, recollect this—what we have to hope for in the life to come is, to enter into the joy of our Lord. And how did He fulfil that joy, but by humbling Himself, and taking the form of a slave, and coming not to be ministered to but to minister, and to give His whole life, even to the death upon the cross, a ransom for many? Be sure, that unless you take up His cross, you will not share His crown. Be sure, that unless you follow in His footsteps, you will never reach the place where He is. If you wish to enter into the joy of your Lord, be sure that His joy is now, as it was in Judaea of old, over every sinner that repenteth, every mourner that is comforted, every hungry mouth that is fed, every poor soul, sick or in prison, who is visited.
That is the joy of your Lord—to show mercy; and that must be your joy too, if you wish to enter into His joy. Surely that is plain. You must rejoice in doing the same work that He rejoices in, and then His joy and yours will be the same; then you will enter into His joy, and He will enter into yours; then, as St. John says, you will dwell in Christ, and Christ in you, because you love the brethren; and you will hear through all eternity the blessed words, 'Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these little ones, ye did it unto Me.'
SERMON XXI. TOLERATION
[Preached at Bideford, 1854]
Philippians iii. 15, 16. And if in any thing ye shall be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.
My friends, allow me to speak a few plain and honest words, ere we part, on a matter which is near to, and probably important to, many of us here. We all know how the Christian Church has in all ages been torn in pieces by religious quarrels; we all know too well how painfully these religious quarrels have been brought home to our very doors and hearts of late.
Now, we all deplore, or profess to deplore, these differences and controversies. But we may do that in two ways: we may say, 'I am very sorry that all Christians do not think alike,' when all we mean is, 'I am very sorry that all Christians do not think just as I do, for I am right and infallible, whosoever else is wrong.' The fallen heart of man is too apt to say that, my friends, in its pride and narrowness, and while it cries out against the Pope of Rome, sets itself up as Pope in his stead.
But there is surely another and a better way of deploring these differences: and that is, to say to oneself, 'I am sorry, bitterly sorry, that Christians cannot differ without quarrelling and hating one another over and above.' And then comes the deeper home- thought, 'And how much more sorry I am that I myself cannot differ from my fellow-Christians without growing angry with them, suspecting them, despising them, treating them as if they were not my fellow-Christians at all.' Yes, my friends, this is what we have to do first when we think of religious controversies, to examine our own hearts and deeds and words; to see whether we too have not been making bitterness more bitter, and, as the old proverb says, 'stirring the fire with a sword;' and to repent humbly and utterly of every harsh word, hasty judgment, ungenerous suspicion, as sins, not only against men, but against God the Father of Lights, who worketh in each of His children to will and to do of His good pleasure.
But some will say, 'We cannot give up what we believe to be right and true.' God forbid that you should try to do so, my friends; for if you really believe it, you cannot, even if you try; and by trying you will only make yourselves dishonest. But does not that hold as good of the man who differs from you? God will not surely lay down one law for you, and another for him? 'But we are right, and he is wrong.' Be it so. You do not surely mean that you are quite right; perfect and infallible? You mean that you are right on the whole, and as far as you see. And how can you tell but that he is right on the whole, and as far as he sees? You will answer that both cannot be right; that yes and no cannot be both true; that a thing cannot be black and white also.
My friends, my friends—but where is the religious controversy, the two sides whereof are as clearly opposite to each other as yes and no, black and white? I know none now; I have hardly found one in the records of the Protestant Church since first Luther and our Reformers protested against Romish idolatry. On that last matter there should be no doubt, as long as the first two commandments stand in the Decalogue; but, with that exception, it would be difficult to find a dispute in which the truth lay altogether with one party. The truth rather lies, in general, not so much halfway between the two combatants, as in some third place, which neither of them sees; which perhaps God does not intend them to see in this life, while He leaves his servants each to work out some one side of Christian truth, dividing to every man severally as He will, according to the powers of each mind, and the needs of each situation.
True we have the infallible rule of Scripture: but are our own interpretations of it so sure to be infallible? Inspired, infinite, inexhaustible as it is, can we pretend to have fathomed all its abysses, to have comprehended all its boundless treasures? The pretence is folly. True, again, it contains all things necessary to salvation; and those so plainly set forth, that he who runs may read, and the wayfaring man, though poor, shall not err therein. And yet does it not contain things whereof even St. Paul himself said, that he only knew in part, and prophesied in part, and saw as through a glass darkly; and are we to suppose that they are among the truths necessary to salvation? Now are not the points about which there has been, and is still, most dispute, just of this very number? Do they belong to the simple fundamental truths of the Gospel? No. Are they such plain matters that the wayfaring man, though poor, can make up his mind on them for himself? No. Are they one of them laid down directly in Scripture, like the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, or the Creeds? No. They are every one, as it seems to me, whether they be right or wrong, abstruse deductions, delicate theories, built up on single and obscure texts. Surely, if they had been necessary for salvation, the Lord would have spoken on them in a tone and in words about which there should be no more mistake than about the thunders of Sinai, and the tables of stone fresh from the finger-mark of God. And He has spoken to us, my friends, on other matters, if not on these. His promises are clear enough, and short enough, though high as heaven and wide as the universe. There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God; and whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God; and if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins. And again, 'If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth liberally, and upbraideth not, and he shall receive it.' 'For if ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, much more shall your Heavenly Father give His Holy Spirit to them who ask Him.'
These are God's promises—simple and clear enough: and what are God's demands? Are they numerous, intricate, burdensome, a yoke which neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? God forbid again!—'He hath showed thee, oh man, what is good. And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?' And lest thou shouldest mistake in the least the meaning of these words, He hath showed thee all this, and more, by a living example fairer than all the sons of men, and through lips full of grace, in the blessed life and blessed death of His Son Jesus Christ, the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person. To this, at least, we have already attained. Let us walk by this rule, let us all mind this same thing, and if in anything else we are differently minded, God in His own good time will reveal even that to us.
Is not this enough, my friends? Then why should we bite and tear each other about that which is over and above this? If any man believes this, and acts on it, let us hail him as a brother. After all, let our differences be what they will, have we not one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all? If this is not bond enough between man and man, what bond would we have? Oh, my friends, when we consider this our little life, how full of ignorance it is and darkness; within us, rebellion, inconstancy, confusion, daily sins and shortcomings; and without us, disappointment, fear of loneliness, loss of friends, loss of all which makes life worth having,—who are we that we should deny proudly one single tie which binds us to any other human being? Who are we that we should refuse one hand stretched out to grasp our own? Who are we that we should say, 'Stand back, for I am holier than thou?' Who are we that we should judge another? to his own master let him stand or fall—'yea, and he shall stand,' says the Apostle, 'for God is able to make him stand.'
Think of those last words, my friends, they are strong and startling; but we must not shrink from them. They tell us that God may be as near those whom we heap with hard names, as He is near to us; that He may intend that they should triumph, not over us, but with us over evil. And if God be with them, who dare be against them? Shall we be more dainty than God? And therefore I have never been able to hear, without a shudder, words which I have heard, and from really Christian men too: 'I can wish well to a pious man of a different denomination from mine; I can honour and admire the fruits of God's Spirit in him; but I cannot co-operate with him.' When I hear such language from really good men, I confess I am puzzled. I have no doubt that their reasons seem to them very sound; but what they are I cannot conceive. I cannot conceive why I should not hold out the right hand of fellowship and brotherhood to every man who fears God and works righteousness, of whatsoever denomination he may be. We believe the Apostles' Creed, surely? Then think of the meaning of that one word, The Holy Spirit. To whom are we to attribute any man's good deeds, except to the Holy Spirit? We dare not say that he does them by an innate and natural virtue of his own, for that would be to fall at once into the Pelagian heresy; neither dare we attribute his good deeds to an evil spirit, and say, 'However good they may look, they must be bad, for he belongs to a denomination who cannot have God's Spirit.' We dare not; for that would be to approach fearfully near to the unpardonable sin itself, the sin against the Holy Ghost, the bigotry which says, 'He casteth out devils by the Prince of the devils.' Surely if we be Christians, and Churchmen, we confess (for the Bible and the Prayer- book declare) that every good deed of man comes down from the One Fountain of Good, from God, the Father of Lights, by the inspiration of His Holy Spirit.
Then think, my friends, think what words we have said. We confess that the great, absolute, almighty, eternal God, in whose hand suns and stars, ages and generations, hell and heaven, and all which is and has been, and ever will be, are but as a grain of sand; who has but to take away His breath, and the whole universe would become nothing and nowhere; the utterly holy and righteous God, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, who charges His angels with folly, and the heavens are not clean in His sight—we confess, I say, that this great God has condescended to visit that man's soul, and cherish it, and teach it, and shape it (be it ever so little) into His own likeness: and shall we dare to stand aloof from him from whom God does not stand aloof? Shall we refuse to walk with one who walks with God? Shall we refuse to work with one who is a fellow-worker with God, to love one whom God loves, to take by the hand one whose guest God has become? Shall we be more dainty than God? more fastidious than God? more righteous than God? more separate from sinners than God? Oh, my friends, let us pray that we may love God better, and know His likeness more clearly; that we may be more ready to recognise, and admire, and welcome every, even the smallest trace of that likeness in any human being, remembering that it is the likeness of Christ, who was not merely The Teacher of all in every nation who fear God and work righteousness, but the Saviour who ate and drank with publicans and sinners: and then we shall be more careful how we call unclean what God Himself has cleansed with His own presence, His own grace, His own quickening and renewing and sanctifying Spirit.
Be sure, be sure, my friends, that in proportion as we really love the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall love those who love Him, be it in never so clumsy or mistaken a fashion; and love those too whom He loved enough to die for them, and whom He loves now enough to teach and strengthen. We shall say to them, not 'Wherein do we differ?' but 'Wherein do we agree?' Not, 'Because I cannot worship with you, therefore I will not work with you;' but rather, 'I wish that I could worship with you; I will whenever and wherever I can, as far as you allow me, as far as the law allows me, as far as your worship is not in my eyes an actually sinful thing: but, be that as it may, we can at least do together something better even than worshipping, and that is, working. We can surely do good together. Together, let our denomination or party be what it may, we can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, reform the prisoner, humanize the degraded, save yearly the lives of thousands by labouring for the public health, and educate the minds and morals of the masses, though our religious differences (shame on us that it should be so!) force us to part when we begin to talk to them about the world to come.'
For are we not brothers after all? Has not God made us of one blood, English men, with English hearts? Has not Christ redeemed us with one and the same sacrifice? Has not the Holy Spirit given us one and the same desire of doing good? And shall we not use that spirit hand in hand? Look, look at the opportunities of doing good which are around you; look at God's field of good works, white already to the harvest; and the labourers are few. Shall these few, instead of going manfully to work, stand idly quarrelling about the shape of their instruments, and their favourite modes of using them? God forbid! True, there are errors against which we are bound to protest to the uttermost; but how few? The one real enemy we have all to fight is sin—evil-doing. If any man or doctrine makes men worse—makes men do worse deeds, protest then, if you will, and spare not, and shrink not: for sin must be of the Devil, whatever else is not. And therefore we are bound to protest against any doctrine which parts man from God, and, under whatsoever pretence of reverence or purity, draws again the veil between him and his Heavenly Father, and denies him free access to the Throne of Grace, and the feet of Jesus, that he may carry thither his own sins, his own doubts, his own sorrows, and speak (wondrous condescension of redeeming grace!) speak with God face to face, and yet live. For this we must protest; for this we must die, if needs be; for if we lose this, we lose all which our reforming forefathers won for us at the stake, ay, we lose our own souls; for we lose righteousness and strength, and the power to do the will of God.
For to shut a man out from free access to God and Christ is to make him certainly false, dishonest, cowardly, degraded, slavish, and sinful; as modern Popery has made, and always will make, those over whom it really gains power. This is the root of our hereditary protest against Popery; not merely because we do not agree with certain of its doctrines, but because we know from experience, that as now taught by the Jesuits, with whom it has identified itself, its general tendency is to make men bad men, ignorant, dishonest, rebellious; unworthy citizens of a free and loyal state.
And there are practices against which congregations have a right to protest, not only as Christians, but as free Englishmen. Congregations have a right to protest against any minister who introduces obsolete ceremonies which empty his church and drive away his people. Those ceremonies may be quite harmless in themselves, as I really believe most of them are; many of them may be beautiful, and, if properly understood, useful, as I think they are; but a thing may be good in itself, and yet become bad by being used at a wrong time, and in a way which produces harm. And it is shocking, to say the least, to see churches emptied and parishes thrown into war for the sake of such matters. The lightest word which can be used for such conduct is, pedantry; but I fear at times lest the Lord in heaven should be using a far more awful word, and when He sees weak brethren driven from the fold of the Church by the self- will and obstinacy of the very men who profess to desire to bring all into the Church, as the only place where salvation is to be found,—I fear, I say, when I see such deeds, lest the Lord should repeat against them His own awful words: 'If any man scandalize one of these little ones who believeth on Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.' What sadder mistake? Those who have sworn to seek out Christ's lambs scattered up and down this wicked world, shall they be the very ones to frighten those lambs out of the fold, instead of alluring them back into it? Shall the shepherd play the part, not even of the hireling who flees and leaves the sheep to themselves, but of the very wolf who scatters the flock? God forbid! The Church, like the Sabbath, was made for man, my friends: not man for the Church; and the Son of Man, as He is Lord of the Sabbath, is Lord of the Church, and will have mercy in its dealings rather than sacrifice. The minister, my friends, was made for the people: and not the people for the minister. What else does the very name 'minister' mean? Not a lord who has dominion, but a servant, a servant to all, who must give up again and again his private notions of what he thinks best in itself for the sake of what will be best for his flock; who must be, like St. Paul, a Jew to the Jews; under the law to those who are still under the law; and yet again without law to those who are without law (though not without law to God, but under the law to Christ); weak with the weak; strong with the strong; that he may gain men of all sorts of opinions and characters by agreeing with them as far as he honestly can, and showing his sympathy with each as much as he can; and so become all things to all men, that he may by all means save some. Oh, my friends, who can read honestly that glorious First Epistle to the Corinthians and not see how a man may have the most intense earnestness, the strongest doctrinal certainty, and yet at the same time the greatest freedom, and charity, and liberality about minor matters of ceremonies and Church arrangements, and practical methods of usefulness; glad even that Christ be preached by his enemies, and out of spite to him, because any way Christ is preached?
But, my friends, if it is the right of free Englishmen to protest against such doings, how shall it be done? Surely in gentleness, calmness, reverence, as by men who know that they are standing on holy ground, and dealing with sacred things, before the Throne of God, and beneath the eye of Jesus Christ. Not surely, as it has been too often done, in bitterness, and wrath, and clamour, and evil-speaking, with really unjust suspicions, exaggerations, slanders, (and those, too, anonymous,) in the columns of the public prints. My friends, these are not God's weapons. Not such is Ithuriel's magic spear, the very touch of which unmasks falsehood. This is to try to cast out Satan by Satan, to make evil worse by fighting it with fresh evil. Oh, my friends, if there is one counsel which I would press on all here more earnestly than another, it is this—never, never, howsoever great may be the temptation, to indulge in anonymous attacks on any human being. No man has a right to do it who prays daily to his Father in heaven, Lead us not into temptation. For it is to lead oneself into temptation, and that too sore to resist; into the temptation to say something which one dare not say, and ought not to say, were one's name known; the temptation to forget not only the charity of Christians, but even the courtesies of civilized life; and to shoot, from behind the safe hedge of anonymousness, coward and envenomed shafts, of which we should be ashamed, did the world know that they were ours; of which we shall surely be ashamed in that great day, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed. I speak strongly: but only because I know by bitter experience the terrible truth of my own words.
And consider, my friends, can any good result come from handling sacred matters with such harsh and fierce hands as they have been handled of late? For ourselves, such evil tempers only excite, irritate, blind us: they prevent our doing justice to the opposite side—(I speak of all parties)—they put us into an unwholesome state of suspicion, and tempt us to pass harsh judgments upon men as righteous, and perhaps far more righteous, than ourselves: they stir up our pride to special plead our case, to make the best of our own side, and the worst of our opponents': they defile our very prayers; till, when we ought to be praying God to bless all mankind, we catch ourselves unawares calling on Him to curse our enemies.
For those who are without—for the infidel, the profligate, the careless—oh, what a scandal to them! What an excuse for them to blaspheme the holy name whereby we are called, and ask, as of old, 'Is this then the Gospel of Peace? See how these Christians hate one another!'
While for the young, oh, my friends, what a scandal, again, to them! If you had seen (as I have) pious parents destroying in their own childrens' minds all faith, all reverence for holy things, by mixing themselves up in religious controversies, and indulging by their own firesides in fierce denunciations of men no worse than themselves;— if you will watch (as you may) young people taking refuge, some in utter frivolity, saying, 'What am I to believe? When religionists have settled what religion is, it will be time enough for me to think of it: meanwhile, let me eat and drink, for to-morrow I die;'—and others, the children of strong Protestant parents, taking refuge in the apostate Church of Rome, and saying, 'If Englishmen do not know what to believe, Rome does; if I cannot find certainty in Protestantism, I can in Popery;'—if you will consider honestly and earnestly these sad tragedies, you will look on it as a sacred duty to the children whom God has given you, to keep aloof as much as possible from all those points on which Christians differ, and make your children feel from their earliest years that there are points, and those the great, vital root points, on which all more or less agree, which many members of the Romish Church have held, and, I doubt not, now hold, as firmly as Protestants,—adoption by one common Father, justification by the blood of one common Saviour, sanctification by one common Holy Spirit.
And believe me, my friends, that just in proportion as you delight in, and live by, these great doctrines, all controversies will become less and less important in your eyes. The more you value the living body of Christianity, the less you will think of its temporary garments; the more you feel the power of God's Spirit, the less scrupulous will you be about the peculiar form in which He may manifest Himself. Personal trust in Christ Jesus, personal love to Christ Jesus, personal belief that He and He only, is governing this poor diseased and confused world; that He is really fighting against all evil in it; that He really rules all nations, and fashions the hearts of all of them, and understands all their works, and has appointed them their times and the bounds of their habitation, if haply they may feel after Him and find Him: personal and living belief that the just and loving Lord Christ reigneth, be the peoples never so unquiet;—this, this will keep your minds clear, and sober, and charitable, and will make you turn with disgust from platform squabbles and newspaper controversies, to do the duty which lies nearest you; to walk soberly and righteously with your God, and train up your children in His faith and fear, not merely to be scholars, not merely to be devotees, but to be Christian Englishmen; courteous and gentle, and yet manful and self-restraining; fearing God and regarding man; growing up healthy under that solemn sense of national duty which is the only safeguard of national freedom.
And, meanwhile, you will leave all who differ from you in the hands of a God who wills their salvation far more than you can do; who accepts, in every nation, those who fear Him and work righteousness; who is merciful in this—that He rewards every man according to his work; and who, if our brothers be otherwise minded from us, will reveal even that to them, if we be right: or, again, to us, if they be right. For we may have to learn from them, as well as they from us; and both have to learn much from God, in the day when all controversies and doubts shall vanish like a cloud; when we shall see no longer in part, and through a glass darkly, but face to face; while all things shall be bright in the sunshine of God's presence and of the countenance of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
SERMON XXII. PUBLIC SPIRIT
(Preached at Bideford, 1855.)
1 Corinthians xii. 25, 26. That there should be no division in the body; but that the members should have the same care, one of another. And whether one member suffer, all suffer with it; or whether one member be honoured, all rejoice with it.
I have been asked to preach in behalf of the Provident Society of this town. I shall begin by asking you to think over with me a matter which may seem at first sight to have very little to do with you or with a provident society, but which, nevertheless, I believe has very much to do with both, and is full of wholesome spiritual instruction for us all.
Did it ever happen to any of you, to see a mob of several thousands put to instant flight by a mere handful of soldiers? And did you ever ask yourself how that apparent miracle could come to pass? The first answer which occurred to you, perhaps, was, that the soldiers were well armed, and the mob was not: but soon, I am sure, you felt that you were doing the soldiers an injustice; that they would have behaved just as bravely if every man in that mob had been as well armed as they, and have resisted till they were overpowered by mere numbers. You felt, I am sure, that there was something in the hearts and spirits of those soldiers which there was not in the hearts of the mob; that though the mob might be boiling over with the greediest passions, the fiercest fury, while the soldiers were calm, cheerful, and caring for nothing but doing their duty, yet that there was a thought within them which was stronger than all the rage and greediness of the thousands whom they faced; that, in short, the seeming miracle was a moral and a spiritual miracle.
What, then, is this wonder-working thought which makes the soldier strong?
Courage, you answer, and the sense of duty. True; but what has called out the sense of duty? What has inspired the courage? There was a time, perhaps, when each of those soldiers was no braver or more steady than the mob in front of them. Has it never happened to you to know some young country lad, both before and after he has become a soldier? Look at him in his native village (if you will let me draw for you the sketch of a history, which, alas! is the history of thousands), perhaps one of the worst and idlest lads in it—unwilling to work steadily, haunting the public-house and the worst of company; wandering out at night to poach and caring for nothing but satisfying his gross animal appetites; afraid to look you in the face, hardly able to give an intelligible, certainly not a civil answer; his countenance expressing only vacancy, sensuality, cunning, suspicion, utter want of self-respect.
It is a sad sight, but how common a sight, even in this favoured land!
At last he vanishes; he has been engaged in some drunken affray, or in some low intrigue, and has fled for fear of the law, and enlisted as a soldier.
A year or two passes, and you meet the same lad again—if indeed he is the same. For a strange change has come over him: he walks erect, he speaks clearly, he looks you boldly in the face, with eyes full of intelligence and self-respect; he is become civil and courteous now; he touches his cap to you 'like a soldier;' he can afford now to be respectful to others, because he respects himself, and expects you to respect him. You talk to him, and find that the change is not merely outward, but inward; not owing to mere mechanical drill but to something which has been going on in his heart; and ten to one, the first thing that he begins to talk to you about, with honest pride, is his regiment. His regiment. Yes, there is the secret which has worked these wonders; there is the talisman which has humanized and civilized and raised from the mire the once savage boor. He belongs to a regiment; in one word, he has become the member of a body.
The member of a body, in which if one member suffers, all suffer with it; if one member be honoured, all rejoice with it. A body, which has a life of its own, and a government of its own, a duty of its own, a history of its own, an allegiance to a sovereign, all which are now his life, his duty, his history, his allegiance; he does not now merely serve himself and his own selfish lusts: he serves the Queen. His nature is not changed, but the thought that he is the member of an honourable body has raised him above his nature. If he forgets that, and thinks only of himself, he will become selfish sluttish, drunken, cowardly, a bad soldier; as long as he remembers it, he is a hero. He can face mobs now, and worse than mobs: he can face hunger and thirst, fatigue, danger, death itself, because he is the member of a body. For those know little, little of human nature and its weakness, who fancy that mere brute courage, as of an angry lion, will ever avail, or availed a few short weeks ago, to spur our thousands up the steeps of Alma, or across the fatal plain of Balaklava, athwart the corpses of their comrades, upon the deadly throats of Russian guns. A nobler feeling, a more heavenly thought was needed (and when needed, thanks to God, it came!) to keep each raw lad, nursed in the lap of peace, true to his country and his Queen through the valley of the shadow of death. Not mere animal fierceness: but that tattered rag which floated above his head, inscribed with the glorious names of Egypt or Corunna, Toulouse or Waterloo, that it was which raised him into a hero: he had seen those victories; the men who conquered there were dead long since: but the regiment still lived, its history still lived, its honour lived, and that history, that honour were his, as well as those old dead warriors': he had fought side by side with them in spirit, though not in the flesh; and now his turn was come, and he must do as they did, and for their sakes, and count his own life a worthless thing for the sake of the body which he belonged to: he, but two years ago the idle, selfish country lad, now stumbling cheerful on in the teeth of the iron hail, across ground slippery with his comrades' blood, not knowing whether the next moment his own blood might not swell the ghastly stream. What matter? They might kill him, but they could not kill the regiment: it would live on and conquer; ay, and should conquer, if his life could help on its victory; and then its honour would be his, its reward be his, even when his corpse lay pierced with wounds, stiffening beneath a foreign sky.
Here, my friends, is one example of the blessed power of fellow feeling, public spirit, the sense of belonging to a body whose members have not merely a common interest, but a common duty, a common honour.
This Christian country, thank God! gives daily many another example of the same: and every place, and every station affords to each one of us opportunities,—more, alas, I fear, than we shall ever take full advantage of: but I have chosen the case of the soldier, not merely because it is perhaps the most striking and affecting, but because I wish to see, and trust in God that I shall see, those who remain at home in safety emulating the public spirit and self- sacrifice which our soldiers are showing abroad; and by sacrifices more peaceful and easy, but still well-pleasing unto God, showing that they too have been raised above selfishness, by the glorious thought that they are members of a body.
For, are we not members of a body, my friends? Are we not members of the Body of bodies, members of Christ, children of God, inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven? Members of Christ—we, and the poor for whom I plead, as well as we; perhaps, considering their many trials and our few trials, more faithfully and loyally by far than we are. There are some here, I doubt not, to whom that word, that argument, is enough: to whom it is enough to say, Remember that the Lord whom you love loves that shivering, starving wretch as well as He loves you, to open and exhaust at once their heart, their purse, their labour of love. God's blessing be upon all such! But it would be hypocrisy in me, my friends, to speak to this, or any congregation, as if all were of that temper of mind. It is not one in ten, alas! in the present divided state of religious parties, who feels the mere name of Christ enough of a bond to make him sacrifice himself for his fellow Christians, as a soldier does for his fellow soldiers. Not one in ten, alas! feels that he owes the same allegiance to Christ as the soldier does to his Queen; that the honour of Christianity is his honour, the history of Christianity his history, the life of Christianity his life. Would that it were so: but it is not so. And I must appeal to feelings in you less wide, honourable and righteous though they are: I must appeal to your public spirit as townsmen of this place.
I have a right as a clergyman to do so: I have a duty as a clergyman to do so. For your being townsmen of this place is not a mere material accident depending on your living in one house instead of another. It is a spiritual matter; it is a question of eternity. Your souls and spirits influence each other; your tastes, opinions, tempers, habits, make those of your neighbours better or worse; you feel it in yourselves daily. Look at it as a proof that, whether you will or not, you are one body, of which all the members must more or less suffer and rejoice together; that you have a common weal, a common interest; that God has knit you together; that you cannot part yourselves even if you will; and that you can be happy and prosperous only by acknowledging each other as brothers, and by doing to each other as you would they should do unto you.
It may be hard at times to bring this thought home to our minds: but it is none the less true because we forget it; and if we do not choose to bring it home to our own minds, it will be sooner or later brought home to them whether we choose or not.
For bear in mind, that St. Paul does not say, if one member suffers, all the rest ought to suffer with it: he says that they do suffer with it. He does not say merely, that we ought to feel for our fellow townsmen; he says, that God has so tempered the body together as to force one member to have the same care of the others as of itself; that if we do not care to feel for them, we shall be made to feel with them. One limb cannot choose whether or not it will feel the disease of another limb. If one limb be in pain, the whole body must be uneasy, whether it will or not. And if one class in a town, or parish, or county, be degraded, or in want, the whole town, or parish, or county, must be the worse for it. St. Paul is not preaching up sentimental sympathy: he is telling you of a plain fact. He is not saying, 'It is a very fine and saintly thing, and will increase your chance of heaven, to help the poor.' He is saying, 'If you neglect the poor, you neglect yourself; if you degrade the poor, you degrade yourself. His poverty, his carelessness, his immorality, his dirt, his ill-health, will punish you; for you and he are members of the same body, knit together inextricably for weal or woe, by the eternal laws according to which the Lord Jesus Christ has constituted human society; and if you break those laws, they will avenge themselves.'—My friends, do we not see them avenge themselves daily? The slave-holder refuses to acknowledge that his slave is a member of the same body as himself; but he does not go unpunished: the degradation to which he has brought his slave degrades him, by throwing open to him. the downward path of lust, laziness, ungoverned and tyrannous tempers, and the other sins which have in all ages, slowly but surely, worked the just ruin of slave-holding states. The sinner is his own tempter, and the sinner is his own executioner: he lies in wait for his own life (says Solomon) when he lies in wait for his brother's. Do you see the same law working in our own free country? If you leave the poor careless and filthy, you can obtain no good servants: if you leave them profligate, they make your sons profligate also: if you leave them tempted by want, your property is unsafe: if you leave them uneducated, reckless, improvident, you cannot get your work properly done, and have to waste time and money in watching your workmen instead of trusting them. Why, what are all poor-rates and county-rates, if you will consider, but God's plain proof to us, that the poor are members of the same body as ourselves; and that if we will not help them of our own free will, we shall find it necessary to help them against our will: that if we will not pay a little to prevent them becoming pauperized or criminal, we must pay a great deal to keep them when they have become so? We may draw a lesson—and a most instructive one it is—from the city of Liverpool, in which it was lately proved that crime—and especially the crime of uneducated boys and girls—had cost, in the last few years, the city many times more than it would cost to educate, civilize, and depauperize the whole rising generation of that city, and had been a tax upon the capital and industry of Liverpool, so enormous that they would have submitted to it from no Government on earth; and yet they had been blindly inflicting it upon themselves for years, simply because they chose to forget that they were their brothers' keepers.
Look again at preventible epidemics, like cholera. All the great towns of England have discovered, what you I fear are discovering also, that the expense of a pestilence, and of the widows and orphans which it creates, is far greater than the expense of putting a town into such a state of cleanliness as would defy the entrance of the disease. So it is throughout the world. Nothing is more expensive than penuriousness; nothing more anxious than carelessness; and every duty which is bidden to wait, returns with seven fresh duties at its back.
Yes, my friends, we are members of a body; and we must realize that fact by painful experience, if we refuse to realize it in public spirit and brotherly kindness, and the approval of a good conscience, and the knowledge that we are living like our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, who laboured for all but Himself, cared for all but Himself; who counted not His own life dear to Himself that by laying it down He might redeem into His own likeness the beings whom He had made; and who has placed us on this earth, each in his own station, each in his own parish, that we might follow in His footsteps, and live by His Spirit, which is the spirit of love and fellow-feeling, that new and risen life of His, which is the life of duty, honour, and self-sacrifice.
Yes. Let us look rather at this brighter side of the question, my friends, than at the darker. I will preach the Gospel to you rather than the Law. I will appeal to your higher feelings rather than to your lower; to your love rather than your fear; to your honour rather than your self-interest. It will be pleasanter for me: it will meet with a more cordial response, I doubt not, from you.
Some dislike appeals to honour. I cannot, as long as St. Paul himself appeals to it so often, both in the individual and in bodies. His whole Epistle to Philemon is an appeal, most delicate and graceful, to Philemon's sense of honour—to the thought of what he owed Paul, of what Paul wished him to repay, not with money, but with generosity.
And his appeal to the Corinthians is a direct appeal to their honour: not to fears of any punishment, or wrath of God, but to the respect which they owed to themselves as members of a body, the Church of Corinth; and to the respect which they owed to that body as a whole, and which they had disgraced by allowing an open scandal in it.
And his appeal was successful: they took it just as it was meant; and he rejoices in the thought that they did so. 'For this, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what revenge! In all things you have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter,'
Noble words, and nobly answered. My friends, you, too, are members of a body: go, and do likewise in the matter of this Society's failing funds.
* * * * *
May I boldly ask you to alter this to-day? This, remember, is no common day. It is a day of thankfulness. The thankfulness which you professed, and I doubt not many of you felt, on Thursday night, has not evaporated, I trust, by Sunday morning. You have not yet forgotten—I trust that there is many a one who will never forget— what you owe as townsmen of this place, to God who has preserved you safe through the dangers and sorrows of the past autumn. You owe more than one debt to God. You owe, all England owes, thanks to Him for the late bounteous harvest, thanks to Him for the present prosperous seed-time: think what our state might have been with scarcity, as well as war, upon us, and pay part of your debt this day. You owe a thank-offering for the cessation of the cholera; a thank-offering for the sparing of your own lives;—pay it now. You owe a thank-offering for the glorious victories of our armies:—pay it now. You belong, too, to an honourable body, which has a noble history, and sets you many a noble example; show yourselves worthy of that body, that history, those examples, now.
And what fitter place than this very church to awaken within you the thought of duty and of public spirit?—this church which stands as God's own sign that you are the townsmen, the representatives, ay, some of you the very descendants, of many a noble spirit of old time?—this church, in which God's blessing has been invoked on deeds of patriotism and enterprise, of which the whole world now bears the fruit?—these walls, in which Elizabeth's heroes, your ancestors, have prayed before sailing against the Spanish Armada,— these walls, which saw the baptism of the first red Indian convert, and the gathering in, as it were, of the firstfruits of the heathen,—these walls, in which the early settlers of Virginia have invoked God's blessing on those tiny ventures which were destined to become the seeds of a mighty nation, and the starting-point of the United States,—these walls, which still bear the monument of your heroic townsman Strange, who expended for his plague-stricken brethren, talents, time, wealth, and at last life itself. For, to return, and to apply, I hope, to your consciences, the example of the soldier with which I began this Sermon:—shall it be only on the battle-field that the power of fellow-feeling is shown forth? Shall public spirit be only strong when it has to destroy, and not when it has to save and comfort? God forbid! Surely you here have a common corporate life, common history, common allegiance, common interest, which should inspire you to do your duty, whatsoever it may be, for the good of your native place, and to show that you feel an honourable self-respect in the thought that you belong to an ancient and once famous town, which though it may be outstripped awhile in the race of commerce, need never be outstripped, if you will be worthy sons of your worthy ancestors, in that race to which St. Paul exhorts us; the race of justice and benevolence, the noble rivalry of noble deeds.
Oh, look, I beseech you, upon this church as its old worshippers, the forefathers of many of you who sit here this day, were wont to look on it. Remember that this church is the sign that you are one town, one parish, one body; that century after century, this church has stood to witness to your fathers, and your fathers' fathers, that all who kneel within these walls are brothers, rich or poor; that all are children of one Father, redeemed by one Saviour, taught by one Spirit. This, this is the blessed truth of which the parish church is token, as nought else can be—that you are one body, members one of another, and that God's blessing is on your union and fellow-feeling; that God smiles on your bearing each other's burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Christ. Look on this church, and do to others as this church witnesses that God has done for you.