Therefore be not anxious about the morrow. Do to-day's duty, fight to-day's temptation; and do not weaken and distract yourself by looking forward to things which you cannot see, and could not understand if you saw them. Enough for you that your Saviour for whom you fight is just and merciful; for he rewardeth every man according to his work. Enough for you that he has said, 'He that is faithful unto death, I will give him a crown of life.' Enough for you that if you be faithful over a few things, he will make you ruler over many things, and bring you into his joy for evermore.
But as for vain fears, leave them to those who will not believe God's message concerning himself—that he is love, and his mercy over all his works. Leave them for those who deny God's righteousness, by denying that he has had pity on this poor fallen world, but has left it to itself and its sins, without sending any one to save it. And for real fears, leave them for those who have no fears; for those who think they see, and yet are blind; who think themselves orthodox and infallible, and beyond making a mistake, every man his own Pope; who say that they see, and therefore their sin remaineth; for those who thank God that they are not as other men are, and who will find the publicans and harlots entering into the kingdom of heaven before them; and for those who continue in sin that grace may abound, and call themselves Christians, while they bring shame on the name of Christ by their own evil lives, by their worldliness and profligacy, or by their bitterness and quarrelsomeness; who make religious profession a by-word and a mockery in the mouths of the ungodly, and cause Christ's little ones to stumble. Let them be afraid, if they will; for it were better for them that a millstone were hanged about their neck, and they were drowned in the midst of the sea. But those who hate their sins, and long to leave their sins behind; those who distrust themselves—let them not be anxious about the morrow; for to-morrow, and to-day, and for ever, the Almighty Father is watching over them, the Lord Jesus guiding them wisely and tenderly, and the Holy Spirit inspiring them more and more to do all those good works which God has prepared for them to walk in, and to conquer in the life-long battle against sin, the world, and the devil.
SERMON XXXI. THE PENITENT THIEF
LUKE xxiii. 42, 43.
And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
The story of the penitent thief is a most beautiful and affecting one. Christians' hearts, in all times, have clung to it for comfort, not only for themselves, but for those whom they loved. Indeed, some people think that we are likely to be too fond of the story. They have been afraid lest people should build too much on it; lest they should fancy that it gives them licence to sin, and lead bad lives, all their days, provided only they repent at last; lest it should countenance too much what is called a death-bed repentance.
Now, God forbid that I should try to narrow Christ's Gospel. Who am I, to settle who shall be saved, and who shall not? When the disciples asked the Lord Jesus, 'Are there few that be saved?' he would not tell them. And what Christ did not choose to tell, I am not likely to know.
But I must say openly, that I cannot see what the story of the penitent thief has to do with a death-bed repentance; and for this plain reason, that the penitent thief did not die in his bed.
On the contrary, he received the due reward of his deeds. He was crucified; publicly executed, by the most shameful, painful, and lingering torture; and confessed that it was no more than he deserved.
Therefore, if any man say to himself—and I am afraid that some do say to themselves—'I know I am leading a bad life; and I have no mind to mend it yet; the penitent thief repented at the last, and was forgiven; so I dare say that I shall be;' one has a right to answer him—'Very well; but you must first put yourself in the penitent thief's place. Are you willing to be hanged, or worse than hanged, as a punishment for your sins in this world? For, till then, the penitent thief would certainly not be on the same footing as you.'
If a man says to himself, I will go on sinning now, on the chance of repenting at last, and 'making my peace with God,' he is not like the penitent thief, he is much more like a famous Emperor of Rome, who, though a Christian in name, put off his baptism till his death-bed, fancying that by it his sins would be washed away, once and for all, and made use of the meantime in murdering his eldest son and his nephew, and committing a thousand follies and cruelties. Whether his death-bed repentance, purposely put off in order to give him time to sin, was of any use to him, let your own consciences judge.
Has, then, this story of the penitent thief no comfort for us? God forbid! Why else was it put into Christ's Gospel of good news? Surely, there is comfort in it.
Only let us take the story honestly, and word for word as it stands. So we may hope to be taught by it what it was meant to teach us.
He was a robber. The word means, not a petty thief, but a robber; and his being put to such a terrible death shows the same thing. Most probably he had belonged to one of the bands of robbers which haunted the mountains of Judea in those days, as they used in old times to haunt the forests in England, and as they do now in Italy and Spain, and other waste and wild countries. Some of these robbers would, of course, be shameless and hardened ruffians; as that robber seems to have been who insulted our Lord upon the very cross. Others among them would not be lost to all sense of good. Young men who got into trouble ran away from home, and joined these robber-bands, and found pleasure in the wild and dangerous life.
There is a beautiful story told of such a young robber in the life of the blessed Apostle St. John. A young man at Ephesus who had become a Christian, and of whom St. John was very fond, got into trouble while St. John was away, and had to flee for his life into the mountains. There he joined a band of robbers, and was so daring and desperate that they soon chose him as their captain. St. John came back, and found the poor lad gone. St. John had stood at the foot of the cross years before, and heard his Lord pardon the penitent thief; and he knew how to deal with such wild souls. And what did he do? Give him up for lost? No! He set off, old as he was, by himself, straight for the mountains, in spite of the warnings of his friends that he would be murdered, and that this young man was the most desperate and bloodthirsty of all the robbers. At last he found the young robber. And what did the robber do? As soon as he saw St. John coming—before St. John could speak a word to him, he turned, and ran away for shame; and old St. John followed him, never saying a harsh word to him, but only crying after him, 'My son, my son, come back to your father!' and at last he found him, where he was hidden, and held him by his clothes, and embraced him, and pleaded with him so, that the poor fellow burst into tears, and let St. John lead him away; and so that blessed St. John went down again to Ephesus in joy and triumph, bringing his lost lamb with him.
Now, such a man one can well believe this penitent thief to have been. A man who, however bad he had been, had never lost the feeling that he was meant for better things; whose conscience had never died out in him. He may have been such a man. He MUST have been such a man. For such faith as he showed on the cross does not grow up in an hour or a day. I do not mean the feeling that he deserved his punishment (that might come to a man very suddenly) but the feeling that Christ was the Lord, and the King of the Jews. He must have bought that by terrible struggles of mind, by bitter shame and self- reproach. He had heard, I suppose, of Christ's miracles and mercy, of his teaching, of his being the friend of publicans and sinners, had admired the Lord Jesus, and thought him excellent and noble. But he could not have done that without the Holy Spirit of God. It was the Holy Spirit striving with his sinful heart, which convinced him of Christ's righteousness. But the Holy Spirit would have convinced him, too, of his own sin. The more he admired our Lord, the more he must have despised himself for being unlike our Lord; and, doubt it not, he had passed many bitter hours, perhaps bitter years, seeing what was right, and yet doing what was wrong from bad habits or bad company, before he came to his end upon the gallows-tree. And there while he hung in torture on the cross, the whole truth came to him at last. God's Spirit shone truly on him at last, and divided the light from the darkness in his poor wretched heart. All the good which had been in him came out once and for all. Christ's light had been shining in the darkness of his heart, and the darkness had been trying to take it in, and close over it, but it could not; and now the light had conquered the darkness, and all was clear to him at last. He never despised himself so much, he never admired Christ so much, as when they hung side by side in the same condemnation. Side by side they hung, scorned alike, crucified alike, seemingly come alike to open shame and ruin. And yet he could see that though he deserved all his misery, that the man who hung by him not only did not deserve it, but was his Lord, the Lord, the King of the Jews, and that—of course he knew not how—the cross would not destroy him; that he would come in his kingdom. How he found out that, no man can tell; the Spirit of God taught him, the Spirit of God alone, to see in that crucified man the Lord of glory, and to cast himself humbly before his love and power, in hope that there might be mercy even for him—'Lord, remember me when thou comest to thy kingdom.' There was faith indeed, and humility indeed; royal faith and royal humility coming out in that dying robber. And so, if you ask—How was that robber justified by his works? How could his going into Paradise be the receiving of the due reward of the deeds done in his body whether they be good or evil. I say he WAS justified by his works. He DID receive the due reward of his deeds. One great and noble deed, even that saying of his in his dying agony,—that showed that whatever his heart had been, it was now right with God. He could not only confess God's justice against sin in his own punishment, but he could see God's beauty, God's glory, yea, God himself in that man who hung by him, helpless like himself, scourged like himself, crucified like himself, like himself a scorn to men. He could know that Christ was Christ, even on the cross, and know that Christ would conquer yet, and come to his kingdom. That was indeed a faith in the merits of Christ enough to justify him or any man alive.
Now what has all this to do with you or me living an easy, comfortable life in sin here, and hoping to die an easy, comfortable death after all, and get to heaven by having in a clergyman to read and pray a little with us; and saying a few words of formal repentance, when perhaps our body and our mind are so worn out and dulled by illness that we hardly know what we say? No, my friends, if our hearts be right, we shall not think of the penitent thief to give us comfort about our own souls; but we shall think of it and love it, to give us comfort about the souls of many a man or woman for whom we care.
How many men there are who are going wrong, very wrong; and yet whom we cannot help liking, even loving! In the midst of all their sins, there is something in them which will not let us give them up. Perhaps, kind-heartedness. Perhaps, an honest respect for good men, and for good and right conduct; loving the better, while they choose the worse. Perhaps, a real shame and sorrow when they have broken out and done wrong; and even though we know that they will go and do wrong again, we cannot help liking them, cannot give them up. Then let us believe that God will not give them up, any more than he gave up the penitent thief. If there be something in them that we love, let us believe that God loves it also; and what is more, that God put it into them, as he did into the penitent thief; and let us hope (we cannot of course be certain, but we may hope) that God will take care of it, and make it conquer, as he did in the penitent thief. Let us hope that God's light will conquer their darkness; God's strength conquer their weakness; God's peace, their violence; God's heavenly grace their earthly passions. Let us hope for them, I say.
When we hear, as we often hear, people say, 'What a noble-hearted man that is after all, and yet he is going to the devil!' let us remember the penitent thief and have hope. Who would have seemed to have gone to the devil more hopelessly than that poor thief when he hung upon the cross? And yet the devil did not have him. There was in him a seed of good, and of eternal life, which the devil had not trampled out; and that seed flowered and bore fruit upon the very cross in noble thoughts and words and deeds. Why may it not be so with others? True, they may receive the due reward of their deeds. They may end in shame and misery, like the penitent thief. Perhaps it may be good for them to do so. If a man will sow the wind, it may be good for him to reap the whirlwind, and so find out that sowing the wind will not prosper. The penitent thief did so. As the proverb is, he sowed the gallows-acorn, poor wretch, and he reaped the gallows-tree; but that gallows-tree taught him to confess God's justice, and his own sin, and so it may teach others.
Yes, let us hope; and when we see some one whom we love, and cannot help loving, bringing misery on himself by his own folly, let us hope and pray that the day may come to him when, in the midst of his misery, all that better nature in him shall come out once and for all, and he shall cry out of the deep to Christ, 'I only receive the due reward of my deeds; I have earned my shame; I have earned my sorrow. Lord, I have deserved it all. I look back on wasted time and wasted powers. I look round on ruined health, ruined fortune, ruined hopes, and confess that I deserve it all. But thou hast endured more than this for me, though thou hast deserved nothing, and hast done nothing amiss. Thou hast done nothing amiss by me. Thou hast been fair to me, and given me a fair chance; and more than that, thou hast endured all for me. For me thou didst suffer; for me thou hast been crucified; and me thou hast been trying to seek and to save all through the years of my vanity. Perhaps I have not wearied out thy love; perhaps I have not conquered thy patience. I will take the blessed chance. I will still cast myself upon thy love. Lord, I have deserved all my misery; yet, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
Oh, my friends, let us hope that that prayer will go up, even out of the wildest heart, in God's good time; and that it will not go up in vain.
SERMON XXXII. THE TEMPER OF CHRIST
PHILIPPIANS ii. 4.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.
What mind? What sort of mind and temper ought to be in us? St. Paul tells us in this chapter, very plainly and at length, what sort of temper he means; and how it showed itself in Christ; and how it ought to show itself in us.
'All of you,' he tells us, 'be like-minded, having the same love; being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory: but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.'
First, be like-minded, having the same love. Men cannot all be of exactly the same opinion on every point, simply because their characters are different; and the old proverb, 'Many men, many minds,' will stand true in one sense to the end of the world. But in another sense it need not. People may differ in little matters of opinion, without hating and despising, and speaking ill of each other on these points; they may agree to differ, and yet keep the same love toward God and toward each other; they may keep up a kindly feeling toward each other; and they will do so, if they have in their hearts the same love of God. If we really love God, and long to do good, and to work for God; if we really love our neighbours, and wish to help them, then we shall have no heart to quarrel—indeed, we shall have no time to quarrel—about HOW the good is to be done, provided IT IS done; and we shall remember our Lord's own words to St. John, when St. John said, 'Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: wilt thou therefore that we forbid him?'
And Jesus said, 'Forbid him NOT.'
'Forbid him not,' said Jesus himself. He that hath ears to hear his Saviour's words, let him hear.
'Therefore,' St. Paul says, 'let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory.' It is a very sad thing to think that the human heart is so corrupt, that we should be tempted to do good, and to show our piety, through strife or vain-glory. But so it is. Party spirit, pride, the wish to show the world how pious we are, the wish to make ourselves out better and more reverent than our neighbours, too often creep into our prayers and our worship, and turn our feasts of charity into feasts of uncharitableness, vanity, ambition.
So it was in St. Paul's time. Some, he says, preached Christ out of contention, hoping to add affliction to his bonds. Not that he hated them for it, or tried to stop them. Any way, he said, Christ was preached, whether out of party-spirit against him, or out of love to Christ; any way Christ was preached: and he would and did rejoice in that thought. Again I say, 'He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.'
'Esteem others better than ourselves?' God forgive us! which of us does that? Is not one's first feeling not 'Others are better than me,' but 'I am as good as my neighbour, and perhaps better too?' People say it, and act up to it also, every day. If we would but take St. Paul's advice, and be humble; if we would take more for granted that our neighbours have common sense as well as we, experience as well as we, the wish to do right as well as we—and perhaps more than we have; and therefore listen HUMBLY (that is St. Paul's word, bitter though it may be to our carnal pride), listen humbly to every one who is in earnest, or speaks of what he knows and feels! People are better than we fancy, and have more in them than we fancy; and if they do not show that they have, it is three times out of four our own fault. Instead of esteeming them better than ourselves, and asking their advice, and calling out their experience, we are too in such a hurry to show them that we are better than they, and to thrust our advice upon them, that we give them no encouragement to speak, often no time to speak; and so they are silent and think the more, and remain shut up in themselves, and often pass for stupider people and worse people than they really are. Because we will not begin by doing justice to our neighbours, we prevent them doing justice to themselves.
Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Ah, my friends, if we could but do that heartily and always, what a different world it would be, and what different people we should be! If, instead of saying to ourselves, as one is so apt to do, 'Will this suit my interest? will this help me?' we would recollect to say too, 'Will this suit my neighbours' interest? Will this harm my neighbours, though it may help me? For if it hurts them, I will have nothing to do with it.'
If, again, instead of saying to ourselves, as we are too apt to do, 'This is what I like, and done it shall be,' we would generously and courteously think more of what other people like; what will please them, instruct them, comfort them, soften for them the cares of life, and lighten the burden of mortality—how much happier would not only they be, but we also!
For this, my friends, is the very likeness of Christ, who pleased not himself; the very likeness of Christ, who sacrificed himself.
And for this very reason St. Paul puts it the last of all his advices, because it is the greatest; the summing up of all; the fulfilment of the whole law, which says, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself;' and therefore after it he can give no more advice, for there is none better left to give: but he goes on at once to speak of Christ, who fulfilled that whole law of love, and more than fulfilled it; for instead of merely loving his neighbours AS he loved himself (which is all God asks of us), Christ loved his enemies better than himself, and died for them.
So says St. Paul.—'Look not every man on his own things, but on other people's interest and comfort also. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.' What mind? The mind which looks not merely on its own things, its own interest, its own reputation, its own opinions, likes, and dislikes, but on those of others, and has learnt to live and let live.
Yes, this, he says, is the mind of Christ. And this mind, and spirit, and temper, he showed before all heaven and earth, when, though he was in the form of God, and therefore, (as some interpret the text) would have done no robbery, no injustice, by remaining for ever equal with God (that is, in the co-equal and co-eternal glory which he had with the Father), yet made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a slave, and was obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
My friends, I beseech you, young and old, rich and poor, remember the full meaning of these glorious words, and of those which follow them.
'Wherefore God hath highly exalted him.' Why? What was it in Christ which was so precious, so glorious, in the eyes of the Almighty Father, that no reward seemed too great for him? What but this very spirit of fellow-feeling and tenderness, charity, self-sacrifice— even the Holy Spirit of God himself, with which Christ was filled without measure?
Because Christ utterly and perfectly looked not on his own things, but on the things of others: because he was pity itself, patience itself, love itself, in the soul and body of a human being; therefore his Father declared of him, 'This, this is my well-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' Therefore it was that he highly exalted him; therefore it was that he proclaimed him to be worthy of all honour and worship, the most perfect, lovely, admirable, and adorable of all beings in heaven and earth; not merely because he showed himself to be light of light, or wisdom of wisdom, or power of power; but because he showed himself to be love of love, and therefore very God of very God begotten, whom men and angels could not reverence, admire, adore, imitate too much, but were to see in him the perfection of all beauty, all virtue, all greatness, the likeness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person.
And therefore it is a very good and beautiful old custom to bow when the name of Jesus is mentioned; at least, when it is mentioned for the first time, or under any very solemn circumstances. It helps to remind us that he is really our King and Lord. It helps, too, to remind us that he is actually and really near us, standing by us, looking at us face to face, though we see him not; and I am willing to say for myself that whenever I recollect that he is looking at me (alas! that is not a hundredth part often enough), I cannot help bowing almost without any will of my own. But, remember, there is no commandment for it. It is just one of those things on which a Christian is free to do what he likes, and for which every Christian is forbidden to judge or blame another, according to St. Paul's rule, He that observeth the day, to the Lord he observeth it; and he that observeth it not, to the Lord he observeth it not. Who art thou that judgest another? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, and he shall stand, for God is able to make him stand. Beside, the text says, if we are to take it literally, as we always ought with Scripture, not that every HEAD shall bow at the name of Jesus, but every knee. And to kneel down every time we repeat that holy name would be impossible. While, on the other hand, we DO bow our knees, literally and in earnest, at the name of Jesus every time we kneel down in church, every time we kneel down to say our prayers. And if any man is content with that, no one has the least right to blame him.
Besides, my friends, there is, I know too well, a great danger in making too much of these little outward ceremonies, especially with children and young people. For the heart of man is just as fond as it ever was of idolatry, and superstition, and will-worship, and voluntary humility, and paying tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, while it neglects the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, and judgment: and, therefore, there is very great danger, if we make too much of these ceremonies, harmless and even good as many of them may be, of getting to rest in them, and thinking that God is pleased with them themselves. Whereas, what God looks at is the heart, the spirit, the soul; and whether it is right or wrong, proud or humble, hard or loving: and if we think so much of the outward and visible form, that we forget the inward and spiritual grace, for which it ought to stand, then we lay a snare for our own souls to turn them away from the worship of the living God, and break the second commandment. Much more, if we pride ourselves on being more reverent than our neighbours in these outward forms, and look down on, and grudge at, those who do not practise them; for then we turn our humility into pride, and our reverence to Christ into an insult to him; for the true way to honour Christ is to copy Christ. No one really honours and admires Christ's character who does not copy him; and to esteem ourselves better than others, to say in our hearts, 'Stand by, for I am holier than thou,' to offend and drive away Christ's little ones, and wound the consciences of weak brethren by insisting on things against which they have a prejudice, is to run exactly counter to Christ and the mind of Christ, and to be more like the Pharisees than the Lord Jesus. That is not surely esteeming others better than ourselves: that is not surely looking not merely on our own things, but also on the things of others; that is not fulfilling the law of love; that is not following St. Paul's example, who gave up, he says, doing many things which he thought right, because they offended weaker spirits than his own. 'All things,' he says, 'are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient.' 'Ay,' says he, 'I would eat no meat while the world standeth, if it cause my brother to offend.'
No, my dear friends, let us rather, in this coming Passion week, take the lesson which the services of the Church give us in this Epistle. Let us keep Passion week really and in spirit, by remembering that it means the week of suffering, in which Christ, instead of pleasing himself, conquered himself, and gave up himself, and let wicked men do with him whatsoever they would. Let us honour the holy name of Jesus in spirit and in truth, and bend not merely our necks or our knees, when we hear his name, but bend those stiff necks of our souls, and those stubborn knees of our hearts; let us conquer our self-will, self-opinion, self-conceit, self-interest, and take his yoke upon us, for he is meek and lowly of heart. This is the Passion week which he has chosen;—to distrust ourselves, and our own opinions, likings and fancies. This is the repentance, and this is the humiliation which he has chosen;—to entreat him (now and at once, lest by pride we give place to the devil, and fall while we think we stand) to forgive us every hard, and proud, and conceited, and self-willed thought, and word, and deed, to which we have given way since we were born; to pray to him for really new hearts, really tender hearts, really humble hearts, really broken and contrite hearts; to look at his beautiful tenderness, patience, sympathy, understanding, generosity, self-sacrifice; and then to look at ourselves, and be shocked, and ashamed, and confounded, at the difference between ourselves and him; and so really to honour the name of Jesus, who humbled himself, even to the death upon the cross.
I am not judging you, my friends; I am judging myself lest God judge me; and telling you how to judge yourselves, lest God judge you. Believe me, if you will but take his yoke on you, you will find it an easy yoke and a light burden; you will find yourselves happier, your duty simpler, your prospects clearer, your path through life smoother, your character higher and more amiable in the eyes of all, and you yourselves holy and fit to share on Easter day in the precious body and blood of him who gave himself up to death that he might draw all men to himself; and so draw them all to each other, as children of one common Father, and brothers of Jesus Christ your Lord.
SERMON XXXIII. THE FRIEND OF SINNERS
(Preached in London.)
MARK ii. 15, 16.
And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners they said onto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
We cannot wonder at the scribes and Pharisees asking this question. I think that we should most of us ask the same question now, if we saw the Lord Jesus, or even if we saw any very good or venerable man, going out of his way to eat and drink with publicans and sinners. We should be inclined to say, as the scribes and Pharisees no doubt said, Why go out of his way to make fellowship with them? to eat and drink with them? He might have taught them, preached to them, warned them of God's wrath against their sins when he could find them out in the street. Or, even if he could not do that, if he could not find them all together without going into their house, why sit down and eat and drink? Why not say, No—I am not going to join with you in that? I am come on a much more solemn and important errand than eating. I have no time to eat. I must preach to you, ere it be too late. And you would have no appetite to eat, if you knew the terrible danger in which your souls are. Besides, however anxious for your souls I am, you cannot expect me to treat you as friends, to make companions of you, and accept your hospitality, while you are living these bad lives. I shall always feel pity and sorrow for you: but I cannot be a table companion with you, till you begin to lead very different lives.
Now if the scribes and Pharisees had said that, should we have thought them very unreasonable? For whatsoever kinds of sinners the sinners were, these publicans were the very worst and lowest of company. They were not innkeepers, as the word means now; they were a kind of tax-gatherers: but not like ours in England. For first, these taxes were not taken by the Jewish government, but by the Romans—heathen foreigners who had conquered them, and kept them down by soldiery quartered in their country. So that these publicans, who gathered taxes and tribute for the heathen Caesar of Rome from their own countrymen, were traitors to their country, in league with their foreign tyrants, as it were devouring their own flesh and blood; and all the Jews looked on them (and really no wonder) with hatred and contempt. Beside, these publicans did not merely gather the taxes, as they do in free England; they farmed them, compounded for them with the Roman emperor; that is, they had each to bring in to the Romans a stated sum of money, each out of his own district, and to make their own profit out of the bargain by grinding out of the poor Jews all they could over and above; and most probably calling in the soldiery to help them if people would not pay. So this was a trade, as you may easily see, which could only prosper by all kinds of petty extortion, cruelty, and meanness; and, no doubt, these publicans were devourers of the poor, and as unjust and hard-hearted men as one could be. As for those 'sinners' who are so often mentioned with them, I suppose this is what the word means. These publicans making their money ill, spent it ill also, in a low profligate way, with the worst of women and of men. Moreover, all the other Jews shunned them, and would not eat or keep company with them; so they hung all together, and made company for themselves with bad people, who were fallen too low to be ashamed of them. The publicans and harlots are often mentioned together; and, I doubt not, they were often eating and drinking together, God help them!
And God did help them. The Son of God came and ate and drank with them. No doubt, he heard many words among them which pained his ears, saw many faces which shocked his eyes; faces of women who had lost all shame; faces of men hardened by cruelty, and greediness, and cunning, till God's image had been changed into the likeness of the fox and the serpent; and, worst of all, the greatest pain to him of all, he could see into their hearts, their immortal souls, and see all the foulness within them, all the meanness, all the hardness, all the unbelief in anything good or true. And yet he ate and drank with them. Make merry with them he could not: who could be merry in such company? but he certainly so behaved to them that they were glad to have him among them, though he was so unlike them in thought, and word, and look, and action.
And why? Because, though he was so unlike them in many things, he was like them at least in one thing. If he could do nothing else in common with them, he could at least eat and drink as they did, and eat and drink with them too. Yes. He was the Son of man, the man of all men, and what he wanted to make them understand was, that, fallen as low as they were, they were men and women still, who were made at first in God's likeness, and who could be redeemed back into God's likeness again.
The only way to do that was to begin with them in the very simplest way; to meet them on common human ground; to make them feel that, simply because they were men and women, he felt for them; that, simply because they were men and women, he loved them; that, simply because they were men and women, he could not turn his back upon them, for the sake of his Father and their Father in heaven. If he had left those poor wretches to themselves; if he had even merely kept apart from their common every-day life, and preached to them, they would never have felt that there was still hope for them, simply because they were men and women. They would have said in their hearts, 'See; he will talk to us: but he looks down on us all the time. We are fallen so low, we cannot rise; we cannot mend. What is there in us that can mend? We are nothing but brutes, perhaps; then brutes we must remain. Heaven is for people like him, perhaps; but not for such as us. We are cut off from men. We have no brothers upon earth, no Father in heaven.' 'Let us eat and drink, for to- morrow we die.'
Yes; they would have said this; for people like them will say it too often now, here in Christian England.
But when our Lord came to them, ate and drank with them, talked with them in a homely and simple way (for our Lord's words are always simple and homely, grand and deep and wonderful as they are), then do you not see how SELF-RESPECT would begin to rise in those poor sinners' hearts? Not that they would say, 'We are better men than we thought we were.' No; perhaps his kindness would make them all the more ashamed of themselves, and convince them of sin all the more deeply; for nothing, nothing melts the sinner's hard, proud heart, like a few unexpected words of kindness—ay, even a cordial shake of the hand from any one who he fancies looks down on him. To find a loving brother, where he expected only a threatening schoolmaster— that breaks the sinner's heart; and most of all when he finds that brother in Jesus his Saviour. That—the sight of God's boundless love to sinners, as it is revealed in the loving face of Jesus Christ our Lord—that, and that alone, breeds in the sinner the broken and the contrite heart which is in the sight of God of great price. And so, those publicans and sinners would not have begun to say, We are better than we thought: but, We can become better than we thought. He must see something in us which makes him care for us. Perhaps God may see something in us to care for. He does not turn his back on us. Perhaps God may not. He must have some hope of us. May we not have hope of ourselves? Surely there is a chance for us yet. Oh! if there were! We are miserable now in the midst of our drunkenness, and our covetousness, and our riotous pleasures. We are ashamed of ourselves: and our countrymen are ashamed of us: and though we try to brazen it off by impudence, we carry heavy hearts under bold foreheads. Oh, that we could be different! Oh, that we could be even like what we were when we were little children! Perhaps we may be yet. For he treats us as if we were men and women still, his brothers and sisters still. He thinks that we are not quite brute animals yet, it seems. Perhaps we are not; perhaps there is life in us yet, which may grow up to a new and better way of living. What shall we do to be saved?
O blessed charity, bond of peace and of all virtues; of brotherhood and fellow-feeling between man and man, as children of one common Father. Ay, bond of all virtues—of generosity and of justice, of counsel and of understanding. Charity, unknown on earth before the coming of the Son of man, who was content to be called gluttonous and a wine-bibber, because he was the friend of publicans and sinners!
My friends, let us try to follow his steps; let us remember all day long what it is to be MEN; that it is to have every one whom we meet for our brother in the sight of God; that it is this, never to meet any one, however bad he may be, for whom we cannot say, 'Christ died for that man, and Christ cares for him still. He is precious in God's eyes; he shall be precious in mine also.' Let us take the counsel of the Gospel for this day, and love one another, not in word merely—in doctrine, but in deed and in truth, really and actually; in our every-day lives and behaviour, words, looks—in all of them let us be cordial, feeling, pitiful, patient, courteous. Masters with your workmen, teachers with your pupils, parents with your children, be cordial, and kind, and patient; respect every one, whether below you or not in the world's eyes. Never do a thing to any human being which may lessen his self-respect; which may make him think that you look down upon him, and so make him look down upon himself in awkwardness and shyness; or else may make him start off from you, angry and proud, saying, 'I am as good as you; and if you keep apart from me, I will from you; if you can do without me, I can do without you. I want none of your condescension.' It is NOT so. You cannot do without each other. We can none of us do without the other; do not let us make any one fancy that he can, and tempt him to wrap himself up in pride and surliness, cutting himself off from the communion of saints, and the blessing of being a man among men.
And if any of you have a neighbour, or a relation fallen into sin, even into utter shame;—oh, for the sake of Him who ate and drank with publicans and sinners, never cast them off, never trample on them, never turn your back upon them. They are miserable enough already, doubt it not. Do not add one drop to their cup of bitterness. They are ashamed of themselves already, doubt it not. Do not you destroy in them what small grain of self-respect still remains. You fancy they are not so. They seem to you brazen-faced, proud, impenitent. So did the publicans and harlots seem to those proud, blind Pharisees. Those pompous, self-righteous fools did not know what terrible struggles were going on in those poor sin- tormented hearts. Their pride had blinded them, while they were saying all along, 'It is we alone who see. This people, which knoweth not the law, is accursed.' Then came the Lord Jesus, the Son of man, who knew what was in man; and he spoke to them gently, cordially, humanly; and they heard him, and justified God, and were baptized, confessing their sins; and so, as he said himself, the publicans and harlots went into the kingdom of God before those proud, self-conceited Pharisees.
Therefore, I say, never hurt any one's self-respect. Never trample on any soul, though it may be lying in the veriest mire; for that last spark of self-respect is as its only hope, its only chance; the last seed of a new and better life; the voice of God which still whispers to it, 'You are not what you ought to be, and you are not what you can be. You are still God's child, still an immortal soul: you may rise yet, and fight a good fight yet, and conquer yet, and be a man once more, after the likeness of God who made you, and Christ who died for you!' Oh, why crush that voice in any heart? If you do, the poor creature is lost, and lies where he or she falls, and never tries to rise again. Rather bear and forbear; hope all things, believe all things, endure all things; so you will, as St. John tells you in the Epistle, know that you are of the truth, in the true and right road, and will assure your hearts before God. For this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and believe really that he is now what he always was, the friend of publicans and sinners, and love one another as he gave us commandment. That was Christ's spirit; the fairest, the noblest spirit upon earth; the spirit of God whose mercy is over all his works; and hereby shall we know that Christ abideth in us, by his having given us the same spirit of pity, charity, fellow-feeling and love for every human being round us.
And now, I will also give you one lesson to carry home with you—a lesson which if we all could really believe and obey, the world would begin to mend from to-morrow, and every other good work on earth would prosper and multiply tenfold, a hundredfold—ay, beyond all our fairest dreams. And my lesson is this. When you go out from this church into those crowded streets, remember that there is not a soul in them who is not as precious in God's eyes as you are; not a little dirty ragged child whom Jesus, were he again on earth, would not take up in his arms and bless; not a publican or a harlot with whom, if they but asked him, he would not eat and drink—now, here, in London on this Sunday, the 8th of June, 1856, as certainly as he did in Jewry beyond the seas, eighteen hundred years ago. Therefore do to all who are in want of your help as Jesus would do to them if he were here; as Jesus is doing to them already: for he is here among us now, and for ever seeking and saving that which was lost; and all we have to do is to believe that, and work on, sure that he is working at our head, and that though we cannot see him, he sees us; and then all will prosper at last, for this brave old earth whereon we are living now, and for that far braver new heaven and new earth whereon we shall live hereafter.
SERMON XXXIV. THE SEA OF GLASS
REVELATION iv. 9, 10, 11.
And when those beasts give glory, and honour, and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
The Church bids us read this morning the first chapter of Genesis, which tells us of the creation of the world. Not merely on account of that most important text, which, according to some divines, seems to speak of the ever-blessed Trinity, and brings in God as saying, 'Let US make man in OUR image;' not, Let me make man in my image; but, Let US, in OUR image.—Not merely for this reason is Gen. i. a fit lesson for Trinity Sunday: but because it tells us of the whole world, and all that is therein, and who made it, and how. It does not tell us why God made the world; but the Revelations do, and the text does. And therefore perhaps it is a good thing for us that Trinity Sunday comes always in the sweet spring time, when all nature is breaking out into new life, when leaves are budding, flowers blossoming, birds building, and countless insects springing up to their short and happy life. This wonderful world in which we live has awakened again from its winter's sleep. How are we to think of it, and of all the strange and beautiful things in it? Trinity Sunday tells us; for Trinity Sunday bids us think of and believe a matter which we cannot understand—a glorious and unspeakable God, who is at the same time One and Three. We cannot understand that. No more can we understand anything else. We cannot understand how the grass grows beneath our feet. We cannot understand how the egg becomes a bird. We cannot understand how the butterfly is the very same creature which last autumn was a crawling caterpillar. We cannot understand how an atom of our food is changed within our bodies into a drop of living blood. We cannot understand how this mortal life of ours depends on that same blood. We do not know even what life is. We do not know what our own souls are. We do not know what our own bodies are. We know nothing. We know no more about ourselves and this wonderful world than we do of the mystery of the ever-blessed Trinity. That, of course, is the greatest wonder of all. For, as I shall try to show you presently, God himself must be more wonderful than all things which he has made. But all that he has made is wonderful; and all that we can say of it is, to take up the heavenly hymn which this chapter in the Revelations puts into our mouths, and join with the elders of heaven, and all the powers of nature, in saying, 'Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.'
Let us do this. Let us open our eyes, and see honestly what a wonderful world we live in; and go about all our days in wonder and humbleness of heart, confessing that we know nothing, and that we cannot know; confessing that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that our soul knows right well; but that beyond we know nothing; though God knows all; for in his book were all our members written, which day by day were fashioned, while as yet there were none of them. 'How great are thy counsels, O God! they are more than I am able to express,' said David of old, who knew not a tenth part of the natural wonders which we know; 'more in number than the hairs of my head, if I were to speak of them.'
This will keep us from that proud and yet shallow temper of mind which people are apt to fall into, especially young men who are clever and self-educated, and those who live in great towns, and so lose the sight of the wonderful works of God in the fields and woods, and see hardly anything but what man has made; and therefore forget how weak and ignorant even the wisest man is, and how little he understands of this great and glorious world.
Such people are apt to fancy men are clever enough to understand anything. Then they say, 'Why am I to believe anything I cannot understand?' And then they laugh at the mysteries of faith, and say, 'Three Persons in one God! I cannot understand that! Why am I expected to believe it?'
Now, here is the plain answer to such unwise speech (for unwise it is, let it be dressed up in all fine long words, and show of wisdom), whether the doctrine be true or not, your not understanding the matter is no reason against it. Here is the answer: 'You DO believe all day long a hundred things which you do not understand; which quite surpass your reason. You believe that you are alive: but you do not understand how you live. You believe that, though you are made up of so many different faculties and powers, you are one person: but you cannot understand how. You believe that though your body and your mind too have gone through so many changes since you were born, yet you are still one and the same person, and nobody else but yourself; but you cannot understand that either. You know it is so; but how and why it is so, you cannot explain; and the greatest philosopher would not be foolish enough to try to explain; because, if he is a really great scholar, he knows that it cannot be explained. You lift your hand to your head: but how you do it, neither you nor any mortal man knows; and true philosophers tell you that we shall probably never know. True philosophers tell you that in the simplest movement of your body, in the growth of the meanest blade of grass, let them examine it with the microscope, let them think over it till their brains are weary, there is always some mystery, some wonder over and above, which neither their glasses nor their brains can explain, or even find and see, much less give a name to. They know that there is more in the matter, in the simplest matter, than man can find out; and they are content to leave the wonder in the hands of God who made it; and when they have found out all they can, confess, that the more they know, the less they find they know.
I tell you frankly, my friends, if you were to see through the microscope a few of the wonderful things which are going on round you now in every leaf, and every gnat which dances in the sunbeam; if you were to learn even the very little which is known about them, you would see wonders which would surpass your powers of reasoning, just as much as that far greater wonder of the ever-blessed Trinity; things which you would not believe, if your own eyes did not show them you.
And what if it be strange? What is there to surprise us in that? If the world be so wonderful, how much more wonderful must that great God be who made the world, and keeps it always living? If the smallest blade of grass be past our understanding, how much more past our understanding must be the Absolute, Eternal, Almighty God? Do you not see that common sense and reason lead us to expect that God should be the most wonderful of all beings and things; that there must be some mystery and wonder in him which is greater than all mysteries and wonders upon earth, just as much as HE is greater than all heaven and earth? Which must be most wonderful, the maker or the thing made? Thou art man, made in the likeness of God. Thou canst not understand thyself. How much less canst thou understand God, in whose likeness thou art made!
For my part, instead of keeping people from learning, lest they should grow proud, and despise the mysteries of faith, I would make them learn, and entreat them to learn, and look seriously and patiently at all the wonderful things which are going on round them all day long; for I am sure that they would be so much astonished with what they saw on earth, that they would not be astonished, much less staggered, at anything they heard of in heaven; and least of all astonished at being told that the name of Almighty God was too deep for the little brain of mortal man; and that they would learn more and more to take humbly, like little children, every hint which the experience of wise and good men of old time gives us of the everlasting mystery of mysteries, the glory of the Triune God, which St. John saw in the spirit.
And what did St. John see? Something beyond even an apostle's understanding. Something which he could only see himself dimly, and describe to us in figures and pictures, as it were, to help us to imagine that great wonder.
He was in the spirit, he says, when he saw it. That is, he did not see it with his bodily eyes, but with his soul, his heart and mind. Not with his bodily eyes (for no man hath seen God at any time), but with his mind's eye, which God had enlightened by his Holy Spirit.
He sees a throne in heaven, and one sitting on it, bright and pure as richest precious stone; and round his throne a rainbow like an emerald, the sign to us of hope, and faithfulness, mercy and truth, which he himself appointed after the flood, to comfort the fearful hearts of men. Around him are elders crowned; men like ourselves, but men who have fought the good fight, and conquered, and are now at rest; pure, as their white garments tell us; and victorious, as their golden crowns tell us. And from the throne come thunderings, and lightnings, and voices, as they did when he spoke to the Jews of old- -signs of his terrible power, as judge, and lawgiver, and avenger of all the wrong which is done on earth. And there are there, too, seven burning lamps, the seven spirits of God, which give light and life to all created things, and most of all to righteous hearts. And before the throne is a sea of glass; the same sea which St. John saw in another vision, with us human beings standing on it, and behold it was mingled with fire;—the sea of time, and space, and mortal life, on which we all have our little day; the brittle and dangerous sea of earthly life; for it may crack any moment beneath our feet, and drop us into eternity, and the nether fire, unless we have his hand holding us, who conquered time, and life, and death, and hell itself.
It seems to us to be a great thing now, time, and space, and the world; and yet it looked small enough to St. John, as it lies in heaven, before the throne of Christ; and he passes it by in a few words. For what are all suns and stars, and what are all ages and generations, and millions and millions of years, compared with eternity; with God's eternal heaven, and God whom not even heaven can contain?—One drop of water in comparison with all the rain clouds of the western sea.
But there is one comfort for us in St. John's vision; that brittle, and uncertain, and dangerous as life may be, yet it is before the throne of God, and before the feet of Christ. St. John saw it lying there in heaven, for a sign that in God we live, and move, and have our being. Let us be content, and hope on, and trust on; for God is with us, and we with God.
But St. John saw another wonder. Four beasts—one like a man, one like a calf, one like an eagle, one like a lion, with six wings each.
What those living creatures mean, I can hardly tell you. Some wise and learned men say they mean the four Evangelists: but, though there is much to be said for it, I hardly think that; for St. John, who saw them, was one of the four Evangelists himself. Others think they mean great and glorious archangels; and that may be so. But certainly the Bible always speaks of angels as shaped like men, like human beings, only more beautiful and glorious. The two angels, for instance, who appeared to the three men at our Lord's tomb, are plainly called in one place, young men. I think, rather, that these four living creatures mean the powers and talents which God has given to men, that they may replenish the earth, and subdue it. For we read of these same living creatures in the book of the prophet Ezekiel; and we see them also on those ancient Assyrian sculptures which are now in the British Museum; and we have good reason to think that is what they mean there. The creature with the man's head means reason; the beast with the lion's head, kingly power and government; with the eagle's head, and his piercing eye, prudence and foresight; with the ox's head, labour, and cultivation of the earth, and successful industry. But whatsoever those living creatures mean, it is more important to see what they do. They give glory, and honour, and thanks to him who sits upon the throne. They confess that all power, all wisdom, all prudence, all success in men or angels, in earth or heaven, comes from God, and is God's gift, of which he will require a strict account; for he is Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty; and all things are of him, and by him, and for him, for ever and ever.
But who is he who sits upon the throne? Who but the Lord Jesus Christ? Who but the Babe of Bethlehem? Who but the Friend of publicans and sinners? Who but he who went about doing good to suffering mortal man? Who but he who died on the cross? Who but he on whose bosom St. John leaned at supper, and now saw him highly exalted, having a name above every name?
Oh, blest St. John, to see that sight! To see his dear Master in his glory, after having seen him in his humiliation! God grant us so to follow in St. John's steps, that we may see the same sight, unworthy though we are, in God's good time.
And where is God the Father? Yes, where? The heaven, and the heaven of heavens, cannot contain him, whom no man hath seen, or can see; who dwells in the light, whom no man can approach unto. Only the only begotten Son, who dwells in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him, and shown to men in his own perfect loveliness and goodness, what their heavenly Father is. That was enough for St. John; let it be enough for us. He who has seen Christ has seen the Father, as far as any created being can see him. The Son Christ is merciful: therefore the Father is merciful. The Son is just: therefore the Father is just. The Son is faithful and true: therefore the Father is faithful and true. The Son is almighty to save: therefore the Father is almighty to save. Let that be enough for you and me.
But where is the Holy Spirit? There is no WHERE for spirits. All that we can say is, that the Holy Spirit is proceeding for ever from the Father and the Son; going forth for ever, to bring light and life, righteousness and love, to all worlds, and to all hearts who will receive him. The lamps of fire which St. John saw, the dove which came down at Christ's baptism, the cloven tongues of fire which sat on the Apostles—these were signs and tokens of the Spirit; but they were not the Spirit itself. Of him it is written, 'He bloweth where he listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence he cometh or whither he goeth.'
It is enough for us that he is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Holy Father, and of the Holy Son; like them eternal, like them incomprehensible, like them almighty, like them all-wise, all-just, all-loving, merciful, faithful, and true for ever.
This is what St. John saw—Christ the crucified, Christ the Babe of Bethlehem, in the glory which he had before all worlds, and shall have for ever; with all the powers of this wondrous world crying to him for ever, 'Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come; and the souls of just men made perfect answering those mystic animals, and joining their hymns of praise to the hymn which goes up for ever from sun and stars, from earth and sea,—when they find out the deepest of all wisdom—the lesson which all the wonders of this earth, and all which ever has happened, or will happen, in space and time, is meant to teach us
'Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created.'
This is all that I can tell you. It may be a very little: but is it not enough? What says Solomon the wise? 'Knowest thou how the bones grow in the womb?' Not thou. How, then, wilt thou know God, who made all things? Thou art fearfully and wonderfully made, though thou art but a poor mortal man. And is not God more fearfully and wonderfully made than thou art? It is a strange thing, and a mystery, how we ever got into this world: a stranger thing still to me, how we shall ever get out of this world again. Yet they are common things enough—birth and death. 'Every moment dies a man, every moment one is born:' and yet you do not know what is the meaning of birth or death either: and I do not know; and no man knows. How, then, can we know the mystery of God, in whose hand are the issues of life and death?—God to whom all live for ever, living and dead, born and unborn, in heaven and in hell?
So it is in small things as well as great, in great as well as small; and so it ever will be. 'All things begin in some wonder, and in some wonder all things end,' said Saint Augustine, wisest in his day of all mortal men; and all that great scholars have discovered since prove more and more that Saint Augustine's words were true, and that the wisest are only, as a great philosopher once said, and one, too, who discovered more of God's works than any man for many a hundred years, even Sir Isaac Newton himself: 'The wisest of us is but like a child picking up a few shells and pebbles on the shore of a boundless sea.'
The shells and pebbles are the little scraps of knowledge which God vouchsafes to us, his sinful children; knowledge, of which at best St. Paul says, that we know only in part, and prophesy in part, and think as children; and that knowledge shall vanish away, and tongues shall cease, and prophecies shall fail.
And the boundless sea is the great ocean of time—of God's created universe, above which his Spirit broods over, perfect in love, and wisdom, and almighty power, as at the beginning, moving above the face of the waters of time, giving life to all things, for ever blessing, and for ever blest.
God grant us all to see the day when we shall have passed safely across that sea of time, up to the sure land of eternity; and shall no more think as children, or know in part; but shall see God face to face, and know him even as we are known; and find him, the nearer we draw to him, more wonderful, and more glorious, and more good than ever;—'Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.' And meanwhile, take comfort, and recollect however little you and I may know, God knows: he knows himself, and you, and me, and all things; and his mercy is over all his works.
SERMON XXXV. A GOD IN PAIN
HEBREWS ii. 9, 50.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
What are we met together to think of this day? God in pain: God sorrowing; God dying for man, as far as God could die. Now it is this;—the blessed news that God suffered pain, God sorrowed, God died, as far as God could die—which makes the Gospel different from all other religions in the world; and it is this, too, which makes the Gospel so strong to conquer men's hearts, and soften them, and bring them back to God and righteousness in a way no other religion ever has done. It is the good news of this good day, well called Good Friday, which wins souls to Christ, and will win them as long as men are men.
The heathen, you will find, always thought of their gods as happy. The gods, they thought, always abide in bliss, far above all the chances and changes of mortal life; always young, strong, beautiful, needing no help, needing no pity; and therefore, my friends, never calling out our love. The heathens never LOVED their gods: they admired them, thanked them when they thought they helped them; or they were afraid of them when they thought they were offended.
But as far as I can find, they never really loved their gods. Love to God was a new feeling, which first came into the world with the good news that God had suffered and that God had died upon the cross. That was a God to be loved, indeed; and all good hearts loved him, and will love him still.
For you cannot really love any one who is quite different from you; who has never been through what you have. You do not think that he can understand you; you expect him to despise you, laugh at you. You say, as I have heard a poor woman say of a rich one, 'How can she feel for me? She does not know what poor people go through.'
Now it is just that feeling which mankind had about God till Christ died.
God, or the gods, were beautiful, strong, happy, self-sufficient, up in the skies; and men on earth were full of sorrow and trouble, disease, accidents, death; and sin, too; quarrelling and killing, hateful and hating each other. How could the gods love men? And then men had a sense of sin; they felt they were doing wrong. Surely the gods hated them for doing wrong. Surely all the sorrows and troubles which came on them were punishments for doing wrong. How miserable they were! But the gods sat happy up in heaven, and cared not for them. Or, if the gods did care, they cared only for special favourites. If any man was very good, or strong, or handsome, or clever, or rich, or prosperous, the gods cared for him—he was a favourite. But what did they care for poor, ugly, deformed, unfortunate, foolish wretches? Surely the gods despised them, and had sent them into the world to be miserable. There was no sympathy, no fellow-feeling between gods and men. The gods did not love men as men. Why should men love them? And so men did not love them.
And as there was no love to God before Good Friday, so there was no love to men.
If God despised the poor, the deformed, the helpless, the ignorant, the crazy, why should not man? If God was hard on them, why should not man oppress and ill-use them? And so you will find that there was no charity in the world.
Among some of the Eastern nations—the Hindoos, for instance—when they were much better men than now, charity did spring up for a while here and there, in a very beautiful shape; but among Greeks and Romans there was simply no charity; and you will find little or none among the Jews themselves.
The Pharisees gave alms to save their own souls, and feed their own pride of being good; but had no charity—'This people, who knoweth not the law, is accursed.' As for poor, diseased people, they were born in sin: either they or their parents had sinned. We may see that the poor of Judea, as well as Galilee, were in a miserable, neglected, despised state; and the worst thing that the Pharisees could say of our Lord Jesus was, that he ate and drank with publicans and sinners. Because there was no love to God, there was no love to man. There was a great gulf fixed between every man and his neighbour.
But Christ came; God came; and became man. And with the blood of his cross was bridged over for ever the gulf between God and man, and the gulf between man and man.
Good Friday showed that there was sympathy, there was fellow-feeling between God and man; that God would do all for man, endure all for man; that God so desired to make man like God, that he would stoop to be made like man. There was nothing God would not do to justify himself to man, to show men that he did care for them, that he did love the creatures whom he had made. Yes; God had not forgotten man; God had not made man in vain. God had not sent man into the world to be wicked and miserable here, and to perish for ever hereafter. Wickedness and misery were here; but God had not put them here, and he would not leave them here. He would conquer them by enduring them. Sin and misery tormented men; then they should torment the Son of God too. Sin and misery killed men; then they should kill the Son of God, too: he would taste death for every man, that men might live by him. He would be made perfect by sufferings: not made perfectly good (for that he was already), but perfectly able to feel for men, to understand them, to help them; because he had been tempted in all things like as they.
And so on Good Friday did God bridge over the gulf between God and men. No man can say now, Why has God sent man into the world to be miserable, while he is happy? For God in Christ was miserable once. No man can say, God makes me go through pain, and torture, and death, while he goes through none of such things: for God in Christ endured pain, torture, death, to the uttermost. And so God is a being which man can love, admire, have fellow-feeling for; cling to God with all the noble feelings of his heart, with admiration, gratitude, and tenderness, even on this day with pity.—As Christ himself said, 'When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to me.'
And no man can say now, What has God to do with sufferers—sick, weak, deformed wretches? If he had cared for them, would he have made them thus? For we can answer, However sick, or weak they may be, God in Christ has been as weak as they. God has shared their sufferings, and has been made perfect by sufferings, that they might be made perfect also. God has sanctified suffering, pain, and sorrow upon his cross, and made them holy; as holy as health, and strength, and happiness are. And so on Good Friday God bridged over the gulf between man and man. He has shown that God is charity and love; and that the way to live for ever in God is to live for ever in that charity and love to all mankind which God showed this day upon the cross.
And, therefore, all CHARITY is rightly called CHRISTIAN charity; for it is Christ, and the news of Good Friday, which first taught men to have charity; to look on the poor, the afflicted, the weak, the orphan, with love, pity, respect. By the sight of a suffering and dying God, God has touched the hearts of men, that they might learn to love and respect suffering and dying men; and in the face of every mourner, see the face of Christ, who died for them. Because Christ the sufferer is their elder brother, all sufferers are their brothers likewise. Because Christ tasted pain, shame, misery, death for all men, therefore we are bound this day to pray for all men, that they may have their share in the blessings of Christ's death; not to look on them any longer as aliens, strangers, enemies, parted from us and each other and God; but whether wise or foolish, sick or well, happy or unhappy, alive or dead, as brothers. We are bound to pray for his Holy Church as one family of brothers; for all ranks of men in it, that each of them may learn to give up their own will and pleasure for the sake of doing their duty in their calling, as Christ did; to pray for Jews, Turks, Heathens, and Infidels; as for God's lost children, and our lost brothers, that God would bring them home to his flock, and touch their hearts by the news of his sufferings for them; that they may taste the inestimable comfort of knowing that God so loved them as to suffer, to groan, to die for them and all mankind.
SERMON XXXVI. ON THE FALL
GENESIS iii. 12.
And the man said, The woman, whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
This morning we read the history of Adam's fall in the first Lesson. Now does this story seem strange to you, my friends? Do you say to yourselves, If I had been in Adam's place, I should never have been so foolish as Adam was? If you do say so, you cannot have looked at the story carefully enough. For if you do look at it carefully, I believe you will find enough in it to show you that it is a very NATURAL story, that we have the same nature in us that Adam had; that we are indeed Adam's children; and that the Bible speaks truth when it says, 'Adam begat a son after his own likeness.'
Now, let us see how Adam fell, and what he did when he fell.
Adam, we find, was not content to be in the image of God. He wanted, he and his wife, to be as gods, knowing good and evil. Now do, I beseech you, think a moment carefully, and see what that means.
Adam was not content to be in the likeness of God; to copy God by obeying God. He wanted to be a little god himself; to know what was good for him, and what was evil for him; whereas God had told him, as it were, You do NOT know what is good for you, and what is evil for you. I know; and I tell you to obey me; not to eat of a certain tree in the garden.
But pride and self-will rose up in Adam's heart. He wanted to show that he DID know what was good for him. He wanted to be independent, and show that he could do what he liked, and take care of himself; and so he ate the fruit which he was forbidden to eat, partly because it was fair and well-tasted, but still more to show his own independence.
Now, surely this is natural enough. Have we not all done the very same thing in our time, nay, over and over again? When we were children, were we never forbidden to do something which we wished to do? Were we never forbidden, just as Adam was, to take an apple— something pleasant to the eye, and good for food? And did we not long for it, and determine to have it all the more, because it was forbidden, just as Adam and Eve did; so that we wished for it much more than we should if our parents had given it to us? Did we not in our hearts accuse our parents of grudging it to us, and listen to the voice of the tempter, as Eve did, when the serpent tried to make out that God was niggardly to her, and envious of her, and did not want her to be wise, lest she should be too like God?
Have we not said in our heart, Why should my father grudge me that nice thing when he takes it himself?
He wants to keep it all to himself. Why should not I have a share of it? He says it will hurt me. How does he know that? It does not hurt him. I must be the best judge of whether it will hurt me. I do not believe that it will: but at least it is but fair that I should try. I will try for myself. I will run the chance. Why should I be kept like a baby, as if I had no sense or will of my own? I will know the right and the wrong of it for myself. I will know the good and evil of it myself.
Have we not said that, every one of us, in our hearts, when we were young?—And is not that just what the Bible says Adam and Eve said?
And then, because we were Adam's children, with his fallen nature in us, and original sin, which we inherited from him, we could not help longing more and more after what our parents had forbidden; we could think, perhaps, of nothing else; cared for no pleasure, no pay, because we could not get that one thing which our parents had told us not to touch. And at last we fell, and sinned, and took the thing on the sly.
Did it not happen to us, as it did to Adam, that a feeling of shame and guiltiness came over us at once? Yes; of shame. We intended to feed our own pride: but instead of pride came shame and fear too; so instead of rising, we had fallen and felt that we had fallen. Just so it was with Adam. Instead of feeling all the prouder and grander when he had sinned, he became ashamed of himself at once, he hardly knew why. We had intended to set ourselves up against our parents; but instead, we became afraid of them. We were always fancying that they would find us out. We were afraid of looking them in the face. Just so it was with Adam. He heard the word of the Lord God, Jesus Christ, walking in the garden. Did he go to meet him; thank him for that pleasant life, pleasant earth, for the mere blessing of existence? No. He hid himself among the trees of the garden. But why hide himself? Even if he had given up being thankful to God; even if he had learned from the devil to believe that God grudged him, envied him, had deceived him, about that fruit, why run away and hide? He wanted to be as God, wise, knowing good and evil for himself. Why did he not stand out boldly when he heard the voice of the Lord God and say, I am wise now; I am as a God now, knowing good and evil; I am no longer to be led like a child, and kept strictly by rules which I do not understand; I have a right to judge for myself, and choose for myself; and I have done it, and you have no right to complain of me?
Perhaps Adam had intended, when he ate the fruit, to stand up for himself, with some such fine words; as children intend when they disobey.
But when it came to the point, away went all Adam's self-confidence, all Adam's pride, all Adam's fine notions of what he had a right to do; and he hides himself miserably, like a naughty and disobedient child. And then, like a mean and cowardly one, when he is called out and forced to answer for himself, he begins to make pitiful excuses. He has not a word to say for himself. He throws the blame on his wife; it was all the woman's fault now—indeed, God's fault. 'The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.'
My dear friends, if we want a proof that the Bible is a true, divine, inspired book, we need go no further than this one story. For, my friends, have we never said the same? When we felt that we had done wrong; when the voice of God and of Christ in our hearts was rebuking us and convincing us of sin, have we never tried to shift the blame off our own shoulders, and lay it on God himself, and the blessings which he has given us? on one's wife—on one's family—on money—on one's youth, and health, and high spirits?—in a word, on the good things which God has given us?
Ah, my friends, we are indeed Adam's children; and have learned his lesson, and inherited his nature only too fearfully well. For what Adam did but once, we have done a hundred times; and the mean excuse which Adam made but once, we make again and again.
But the loving Lord has patience with us, as he had with Adam, and does not take us at our word. He did not say to Adam, You lay the blame upon your wife; then I will take her from you, and you shall see then where the blame lies. Ungrateful to me! you shall live henceforth alone. And he does not say to us, You make all the blessings which I have given you an excuse for sinning! Then I will take them from you, and leave you miserable, and pour out my wrath upon you to the uttermost!
Not so. Our God is not such a God as that. He is full of compassion and long-suffering, and of tender mercy. He knows our frame, and remembers that we are but dust. He sends us out into the world, as he sent Adam, to learn experience by hard lessons; to eat our bread in the sweat of our brow, till we have found out our own weakness and ignorance, and have learned that we cannot stand alone, that pride and self-dependence will only lead us to guilt, and misery, and shame, and meanness; and that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved from them, but only the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He is the woman's seed, who, so God promised, was to bruise the head of the serpent. And he has bruised it. He is the woman's seed—a man, as we are men, with a human nature, but one without spot of sin, to make us free from sin.
Let us look up to him as often as we find our nature dragging us down, making us proud and self-willed, greedy and discontented, longing after this and that. Let us trust in him, ask him, for his grace day by day; ask him to shape and change us into his likeness, that we may become daily more and more free; free from sin; free from this miserable longing after one thing and another; free from our bad habits, and the sin which does so easily beset us; free from guilty fear, and coward dread of God. Let us ask him, I say, to change, and purify, and renew us day by day, till we come to his likeness; to the stature of perfect men, free men, men who are not slaves to their own nature, slaves to their own pride, slaves to their own vanity, slaves of their own bad tempers, slaves to their own greediness and foul lusts: but free, as the Lord Christ was free; able to keep their bodies in subjection, and rise above nature by the eternal grace of God; able to use this world without abusing it; able to thank God for all the BLESSINGS of this life, and learn from them precious lessons; able to thank God for all the SORROWS of this life, and learn from them wholesome discipline: but yet able to rise above them all, and say, 'As long as I hold fast to Christ the King of men, this world cannot harm me. My life, my real human life, does not depend on my being comfortable or uncomfortable here below for a few short years. My real life is hid in God with Jesus Christ, who, after he had redeemed human nature by his perfect obedience, and washed it pure again in the blood of his cross, for ever sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; that so, being lifted up, he might draw all men unto himself—even as many as will come to him, that they may have eternal life.
SERMON XXXVII. THE WORTHY COMMUNICANT
LUKE xviii. 14.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.
Which of these two men was the more fit to come to the Communion? Most of you will answer, The publican: for he was more justified, our Lord himself says, than the Pharisee. True: but would you have said so of your own accord, if the Lord had not said so? Which of the two men do you really think was the better man, the Pharisee or the publican? Which of the two do you think had his soul in the safer state? Which of the two would you rather be, if you were going to die? Which of the two would you rather be, if you were going to the Communion? For mind, one could not have REFUSED the Pharisee, if he had come to the Communion. He was in no open sin: I may say, no outward sin at all. You must not fancy that he was a hypocrite, in the sense in which we usually employ that word. I mean, he was not a man who was leading a wicked life secretly, while he kept up a show of religion. He was really a religious man in his own way, scrupulous, and over-scrupulous to perform every duty to the letter. He went to his church to worship; and he was no lip-worshipper, repeating a form of words by rote, but prayed there honestly, concerning the things which were in his heart. He did not say, either, that he had made himself good. If he was wrong on some points, he was not on that. He knew where his goodness, such as it was, came from. 'God, I thank thee,' he says, 'that I am what I am.' What have we in this man? one would ask at first sight. What reason for him to stay away from the Sacrament? He would not have thought himself that there was any reason. He would, probably, have thought- -'If I am not fit, who is? Repent me truly of my former sins? Certainly. If I have done the least harm to any one, I shall be happy to restore it fourfold. If I have neglected one, the least of God's services, I shall be only too glad to keep it all the more strictly for the future.