Then the Lord answers his doubts: 'Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.'
By his faith, plainly, in a just Ruler of the world,—in a God who avenges wrong, and makes inquisition for innocent blood. He who will keep his faith in that just God, will remain just himself. The sense of Justice will be kept alive in him; and the just will live by his Faith.
The prophet believes that message; and a mighty change passes over his spirit. In a burst of magnificent poetry, he proclaims woe to the unjust Chaldean conqueror. All his greatness is a bubble which will burst; a suicidal mistake, which will work out its own punishment, and make him a taunt and a mockery to all nations round. 'Woe to him who increaseth that which is not his, and ladeth himself with thick clay! Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, and be delivered from the power of evil! Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city with iniquity! Behold, is it not of the Lord of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity?' There is a true civilization for man; but not according to the unjust and cruel method of those Chaldeans. The Law of the true Civilization, the prophet says, is this: 'The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.'
But what is this to us? Are we like the Chaldeans? God forbid. But are we not tried by the same temptations to which they blindly yielded? A nation, strong, rich, luxurious, prosperous in industry at home, and aggressive (if not in theory, certainly in practice) to less civilized races abroad—are we not tempted daily to that habit of mind which the prophet calls—with that tremendous irony in which the Hebrew prophets surpass all writers—looking on men as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things which have no ruler over them, born to devour each other, and be caught and devoured in their turn, by a race more cunning than themselves? There are those among us in thousands, thank God, who nobly resist that temptation; and they are the very salt of the land, who keep it from decay. But for the many- -for the public—do not too many of them believe that the law of human society is, after all, only that internecine conflict of interests, that brute struggle for existence, which naturalists tell us (and truly) is the law of life for mere plants and animals? Are they not tempted to forget that men are not mere animals and things, but persons; that they have a Ruler over them, even God, who desires to educate them, to sanctify them, to develop their every faculty, that they may be His children, and not merely our tools; and do God's work in the world, and not merely their employer's work? Are they not—are we not all—tempted too often to forget this?
And, then, are we not tempted, all of us, to fall down like the Chaldeans and worship our own net, because by it our portion is fat, and our meat plenteous? Are we not tempted to say within ourselves, 'This present system of things, with all its anomalies and its defects, still is the right system, and the only system. It is the path pointed out by Providence for man. It is of the Lord; for we are comfortable under it. We grow rich under it; we keep rank and power under it: it suits us, pays us. What better proof that it is the perfect system of things, which cannot be amended?'
Meanwhile, we are sorry (for the English are a kindhearted people) for the victims of our luxury and our neglect. Sorry for the thousands whom we let die every year by preventible diseases, because we are either too busy or too comfortable to save their lives. Sorry for the savages whom we exterminate, by no deliberate evil intent, but by the mere weight of our heavy footstep. Sorry for the thousands who are used-up yearly in certain trades, in ministering to our comfort, even to our very luxuries and frivolities. Sorry for the Sheffield grinders, who go to work as to certain death; who count how many years they have left, and say, 'A short life and a merry one. Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.' Sorry for the people whose lower jaws decay away in lucifer-match factories. Sorry for all the miseries and wrongs which this Children's Employment Commission has revealed. Sorry for the diseases of artificial flower-makers. Sorry for the boys working in glass-houses whole days and nights on end without rest, 'labouring in the very fire, and wearying themselves with very vanity.'—Vanity, indeed, if after an amount of gallant toil which nothing but the indomitable courage of an Englishman could endure, they grow up animals and heathens. We are sorry for them all—as the giant is for the worm on which he treads. Alas! poor worm. But the giant must walk on. He is necessary to the universe, and the worm is not. So we are sorry—for half an hour; and glad too (for we are a kind-hearted people) to hear that charitable persons or the government are going to do something towards alleviating these miseries. And then we return, too many of us, each to his own ambition, or to his own luxury, comforting ourselves with the thought, that we did not make the world, and we are not responsible for it.
How shall we conquer this temptation to laziness, selfishness, heartlessness? By faith in God, such as the prophet had. By faith in God as the eternal enemy of evil, the eternal helper of those who try to overcome evil with good; the eternal avenger of all the wrong which is done on earth. By faith in God, as not only our Father, our Saviour, our Redeemer, our Protector: but the Father, Saviour, Redeemer, Protector, and if need be, Avenger, of every human being. By faith in God, which believes that His infinite heart yearns over every human soul, even the basest and the worst; that He wills that not one little one should perish, but that all should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.
We must believe that, if we wish that it should be true of us, that the just shall live by his faith. If we wish our faith to keep us just men, leading just lives, we must believe that God is just, and that He shows His justice by the only possible method—by doing justice, sooner or later, for all who are unjustly used.
If we lose that faith, we shall be in danger—in more than danger—of becoming unjust ourselves. As we fancy God to be, so shall we become ourselves. If we believe that God cares little for mankind, we shall care less and less for them ourselves. If we believe that God neglects them, we shall neglect them likewise.
And then the sense of justice—justice for its own sake, justice as the likeness and will of God—will die out in us, and our souls will surely not live, but die.
For there will die out in our hearts, just the most noble and God- like feelings which God has put into them. The instinct of chivalry; horror of cruelty and injustice; pity for the weak and ill-used; the longing to set right whatever is wrong; and, what is even more important, the Spirit of godly fear, of wholesome terror of God's wrath, which makes us say, when we hear of any great and general sin among us, 'If we do not do our best to set this right, then God, who does not make men like creeping things, will take the matter into His own hands, and punish us easy, luxurious people, for allowing such things to be done.'
And when a man loses that spirit of chivalry, he loses his own soul. For that spirit of chivalry, let worldlings say what they will, is the very spirit of our spirit, the salt which keeps our characters from utter decay—the very instinct which raises us above the selfishness of the brute. Yea, it is the Spirit of God Himself. For what is the feeling of horror at wrong, of pity for the wronged, of burning desire to set wrong right, save the Spirit of the Father and the Son, the Spirit which brought down the Lord Jesus out of the highest heaven, to stoop, to serve, to suffer and to die, that He might seek and save that which was lost?
Some say that the age of chivalry is past: that the spirit of romance is dead. The age of chivalry is never past, as long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth, and a man or woman left to say, 'I will redress that wrong, or spend my life in the attempt.'
The age of chivalry is never past, as long as men have faith enough in God to say, 'God will help me to redress that wrong; or if not me, surely he will help those that come after me. For His eternal will is, to overcome evil with good.'
The spirit of romance will never die, as long as there is a man left to see that the world might and can be better, happier, wiser, fairer in all things, than it is now. The spirit of romance will never die, as long as a man has faith in God to believe that the world will actually be better and fairer than it is now; as long as men have faith, however weak, to believe in the romance of all romances; in the wonder of all wonders; in that, of which all poets' dreams have been but childish hints, and dumb forefeelings—even
'That one far-off divine event Towards which the whole creation moves;'
that wonder of which prophets and apostles have told, each according to his light; that wonder which Habakkuk saw afar off, and foretold how that the earth should be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea; that wonder which Isaiah saw afar off, and sang how the Lord should judge among the nations, and rebuke among many people; and they should beat their swords into plough- shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation should not rise against nation, neither should they learn war any more; that wonder of which St Paul prophesied, and said that Christ should reign till He had put all His enemies under His feet; that wonder of which St. John prophesied; and said, 'I saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven. And the nations of them that are saved shall walk in the light of it, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and their honour unto it;' that wonder, finally, which our Lord Himself bade us pray for, as for our daily bread, and say, 'Father, thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
'Thy will be done on earth.' He who bade us ask that boon for generations yet unborn, was very God of very God. Do you think that He would have bidden us ask a blessing, which He knew would never come?
SERMON XIV. THE GREAT COMMANDMENT
MATT. xxii. 37, 32.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.
Some say, when they hear this,—It is a hard saying. Who can bear it? Who can expect us to do as much as that? If we are asked to be respectable and sober, to live and let live, not to harm our neighbours wilfully or spitefully, and to come to church tolerably regularly—we understand being asked to do that—it is fair. But to love the Lord our God with all our hearts. That must be meant only for very great saints; for a few exceedingly devout people here and there. And devout people have been too apt to say,—You are right. It is we who are to love God with all our hearts and souls, and give up the world, and marriage, and all the joys of life, and turn priests, monks, and nuns, while you need only be tolerably respectable, and attend to your religious duties from time to time, while we will pray for you. But, my friends, if we read our Bibles, we cannot allow that. 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,' was spoken not to monks and nuns (for there were none in those days), not to great saints only (for we read of none just then), not even to priests and clergymen only. It was said to all the Jews, high and low, free and slave, soldier and labourer, alike—'Thou, a man living in the world, and doing work in the world, with wife and family, farm and cattle, horse to ride, and weapon to wear—thou shalt love the Lord thy God.'
And therefore these words are said to you and me. We English are neither monks nor nuns, nor likely (thank God) to become so. We are in the world, with our own family ties and duties, our own worldly business. And to us, to you and me, as to those old Jews, the first and great commandment is, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.'
What, then, does it mean? Does it mean that we are to have the same love toward God as we have toward a wife or a husband?
Certainly not. But it means at least this—the love which we should bear toward a Father. All, my friends, turns on this. Do you look on God as your Father, or do you not? God is your Father, remember, already. You cannot (as some people seem to think) make Him your Father by believing that He is one; and you need not, thanks to His mercy. Neither can you make Him not your Father by forgetting Him. Be you wise or foolish, right or wrong, God is your Father in heaven; and you ought to feel towards Him as towards a father, not with any sentimental, fanciful, fanatical affection; but with a reverent, solemn, and rational affection; such as that which the good old Catechism bids us have, when it tells us our duty toward God.
'My duty towards God is to believe in Him, to fear Him, and to love Him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength; to worship Him, to give Him thanks, to put my whole trust in Him, to call upon Him, to honour His holy Name and His Word, and to serve Him truly all the days of my life.'
Now, I ask you—and what I ask you I ask myself,—Do we love the Lord our God thus? And if not, why not?
I do not ask you to tell me. I am not going to tell you what is in my heart; and I do not ask you to tell me what is in yours. We are free Englishmen, who keep ourselves to ourselves, and think for ourselves, each man in the depths of his own heart; and who are the stronger and the wiser for not talking about our feelings to any man, priest or layman.
But ask yourselves, each of you,—Do I love God? And if not, why not?
There are two reasons, I believe, which are, alas! very common. For one of them there are great excuses; for the other, there is no excuse whatsoever.
In the first place, too many find it difficult to love God, because they have not been taught that God is loveable, and worthy of their love. They have been taught dark and hard doctrines, which have made them afraid of God.
They have been taught—too many are taught still—not merely that God will punish the wicked, but that God will punish nine-tenths, or ninety-nine-hundredths of the human race. That He will send to endless torments not merely sinners who have rebelled against what they knew was right, and His command; who have stained themselves with crimes; who wilfully injured their fellow-creatures: but that He will do the same by little children, by innocent young girls, by honourable, respectable, moral men and women, because they are not what is called sensibly converted, or else what is called orthodox. They have been taught to look on God, not as a loving and merciful Father, but as a tyrant and a task-master, who watches to set down against them the slightest mishap or neglect; who is extreme to mark what is done amiss; who wills the death of a sinner. Often— strangest notion of all—they have been told that, though God intends to punish them, they must still love Him, or they will be punished— as if such a notion, so far from drawing them to God, could do anything but drive them from Him. And it is no wonder if persons who have been taught in their youth such notions concerning God, find it difficult to love Him. Who can be frightened or threatened into loving any being? How can we love any being who does not seem to us kind, merciful, amiable, loving? Our love must be called out by God's love. If we are to love God, it must be because He has first loved us.
But He has first loved us, my friends. The dark and cruel notions about God—which are too common, and have been too common in all ages—are not what the world about us teaches, nor what Scripture teaches us either.
Look out on the world around you. What witness does it bear concerning the God who made it? Who made the sunshine, and the flowers, and singing birds, and little children, and all that causes the joy of this life? Let Christ Himself speak, and His apostles. No one can say that their words are not true; that they were mistaken in their view of this earth, or of God who gave it to us that it might bear witness of Him. What said our Lord to the poor folk of Galilee, of whom the Scribes and the Pharisees, in their pride, said, 'This people, who knoweth not the law, is accursed.'—What said our Lord, very God of very God? He told them to look on the world around, and learn from it that they had in heaven not a tyrant, not a destroyer, but a Father; a Father in heaven who is perfect in this, that He causeth His sun to shine upon them, and is good to the unthankful and the evil.
What of Him did St. Paul say?—and that not to Christians, but to heathens—That God had not left Himself without a witness even to the heathen who knew Him not—and what sort of witness? The witness of His bounty and goodness. The simple, but perpetual witness of the yearly harvest—'In that He sends men rain and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness.'
This is St. Paul's witness. And what is St. James's? He tells men of a Father of lights, from whom comes down every good and perfect gift; who gives to all liberally, and upbraideth not, grudges not, stints not, but gives, and delights in giving,—the same God, in a word, of whom the old psalmists and prophets spoke, and said, 'Thou openest Thine hand, and fillest all things with good.'
And if natural religion tells us thus much, and bears witness of a Father who delights in the happiness of His creatures, what does revealed religion and the Gospel of Jesus Christ tell us?
Oh, my friends, dull indeed must be our hearts if we can feel no love for the God of whom the Gospel speaks! And perverse, indeed, must be our minds if we can twist the good news of Christ's salvation into the bad news of condemnation! What says St. Paul,—That God is against us? No. But—'If God be for us, who can be against us?
'Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for as.
'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
'As it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
'Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.
'For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
What says St. John? Does he say that God the Father desires to punish or slay us; and that our Lord Jesus Christ, or the Virgin Mary, or the saints, or any other being, loves us better than God, and will deliver us out of the hands of God? God forbid! 'We have known and believed,' he says, 'the love that God hath to us. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.'
My friends, if we could believe those blessed words—I do not say in all their fulness—we shall never do that, I believe, in this mortal life—but if we could only believe them a little, and know and believe even a little of the love that God has to us, then love to Him would spring up in our hearts, and we should feel for Him all that child ever felt for father. If we really believed that God who made heaven and earth was even now calling to each and every one of us, and beseeching us, by the sacrifice of His well-beloved Son, crucified for us, 'My son, give Me thy heart,' we could not help giving up our hearts to Him.
Provided—and there is that second reason why people do not love God, for which I said there was no excuse—provided only that we wish to be good, and to obey God. If we do not wish to do what God commands, we shall never love God. It must be so. There can be no real love of God which is not based upon a love of virtue and goodness, upon what our Lord calls a hunger and thirst after righteousness. 'If ye love Me, keep My commandments,' is our Lord's own rule and test. And it is the only one possible. If we habitually disobey any person, we shall cease to love that person. If a child is in the habit of disobeying its parents, dark and angry feelings towards those parents are sure to arise in its heart. The child tries to forget its parents, to keep out of their way. It tries to justify itself, to excuse itself by fancying that its parents are hard upon it, unjust, grudge it pleasure, or what not. If its parents' commandments are grievous to a child, it will try to make out that those commandments are unfair and unkind. And so shall we do by God's commandments. If God's commandments seem too grievous for us to obey, then we shall begin to fancy them unjust and unkind. And then, farewell to any real love to God. If we do not openly rebel against God, we shall still try to forget Him. The thought of God will seem dark, unpleasant, and forbidding to us; and we shall try, in our short- sighted folly, to live as far as we can without God in the world, and, like Adam after his fall, hide ourselves from the loving God, just because we know we have disobeyed Him.
But if, in spite of many bad habits, we desire to get rid of our bad habits; if, in spite of many faults, we still desire to be faultless and perfect; if, in spite of many weaknesses, we still desire to be strong; if, in one word, we still hunger and thirst after righteousness, and long to be good men; then, in due time, the love of God will be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
For that will happen to us which happens to all those who have the pure, true, and heroical love. If we really love a person, we shall first desire to please them, and therefore the thought of disobeying and paining them will seem more and more grievous unto us.
But more. We shall soon rise a step higher. The more we love them, and the more we see in them, in their characters, things worthy to be loved, the more we shall desire to be like them, to copy those parts of their characters which most delight us; and we shall copy them: though insensibly, perhaps, and unawares.
For no one can look up for any length of time with love and respect towards a person better, wiser, greater than themselves, without becoming more or less like that person in character and in habit of thought and feeling; and so it will be with us towards God.
If we really long to be good, it will grow more and more easy to us to love God. The more pure our hearts are, the more pleasant the thought of God will be to us; even as it is said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,'—in this life as well as in the life to come. We shall not shrink from God, because we shall know that we are not wilfully offending Him.
But more. The more we think of God, the more we shall long to be like Him. How admirable in our eyes will seem His goodness, how admirable His purity, His justice, and His bounty, His long- suffering, His magnanimity and greatness of heart. For how great must be that heart of God, of which it is written, that 'He hateth nothing that He hath made, but His mercy is over all His works;' 'that He willeth that none should perish, but that all should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.' Although He be infinitely high and far off and we cannot attain to Him, yet we shall feel it our duty and our joy to copy Him, however faintly, and however humbly; and our highest hope will be that we may behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, and be changed into His image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord; that so, whether in this world or in the world to come, we may at last be perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect, and, like Him, cause the sunlight of our love to slime upon the evil and on the good; the kindly showers of our good deeds to fall upon the just and on the unjust; and—like Him who sent His only begotten Son to save the world—be good to the unthankful and to the evil.
SERMON XV. THE EARTHQUAKE (Preached October 11, 1863.)
PSALM xlvi. 1, 2.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.
No one, my friends, wishes less than I, to frighten you, or to take a dark and gloomy view of this world, or of God's dealings with men. But when God Himself speaks, men are bound to take heed, even though the message be an awful one. And last week's earthquake was an awful message, reminding all reasonable souls how frail man is, how frail his strongest works, how frail this seemingly solid earth on which we stand; what a thin crust there is between us and the nether fires, how utterly it depends on God's mercy that we do not, like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram of old, go down alive into the pit.
What do we know of earthquakes? We know that they are connected with burning mountains; that the eruption of a burning mountain is generally preceded by, and accompanied with, violent earthquakes. Indeed, the burning mountains seem to be outlets, by which the earthquake force is carried off. We know that these burning mountains give out immense volumes of steam. We know that the expanding power of steam is by far the strongest force in the world; and, therefore, it is supposed reasonably, that earthquakes are caused by steam underground.
We know concerning earthquakes two things: first, that they are quite uncertain in their effects; secondly, quite uncertain in their occurrence.
No one can tell what harm an earthquake will, or will not, do. There are three kinds. One which raises the ground up perpendicularly, and sets it down again—which is the least hurtful; one which sets it rolling in waves, like the waves of the sea—which is more hurtful; and one, the most terrible of all, which gives the ground a spinning motion, so that things thrown down by it fall twisted from right to left, or left to right. But what kind of earthquake will take place, no one can tell.
Moreover, a very slight earthquake may do fearful damage. People who only read of them, fancy that an earthquake, to destroy man and his works, must literally turn the earth upside down; that the ground must open, swallowing up houses, vomiting fire and water; that rocks must be cast into the sea, and hills rise where valleys were before. Such awful things have happened, and will happen again: but it does not need them to lay a land utterly waste. A very slight shock—a shock only a little stronger than was felt last Wednesday morning, might have—one hardly dare think of what it might have done in a country like this, where houses are thinly built because we have no fear of earthquakes. Every manufactory and mill throughout the iron districts (where the shock was felt most) might have toppled to the earth in a moment. Whole rows of houses, hastily and thinly built, might have crumbled down like packs of cards; and hundreds of thousands of sleeping human beings might have been buried in the ruins, without time for a prayer or a cry.
A little more—a very little more—and all that or more might have happened; millions' worth of property might have been destroyed in a few seconds, and the prosperity and civilization of England have been thrown back for a whole generation. There is absolutely no reason whatever, I tell you, save the mercy of God, why that, or worse, should not have happened; and it is only of the Lord's mercies that we were not consumed.
Next, earthquakes are utterly uncertain as to time. No one knows when they are coming. They give no warning. Even in those unhappy countries in which they are most common there may not be a shock for months or years; and then a sudden shock may hurl down whole towns. Or there may be many, thirty or forty a-day for weeks, as there happened in a part of South America a few years ago, when day after day, week after week, terrible shocks went on with a perpetual underground roar, as if brass and iron were crashing and clanging under the feet, till the people were half mad with the continual noise and continual anxiety, expecting every moment one shock, stronger than the rest, to swallow them up. It is impossible, I say, to calculate when they will come. They are altogether in the hand of God,—His messengers, whose time and place He alone knows, and He alone directs.
Our having had one last week is no reason for our not having another this week, or any day this week; and no reason, happily, against our having no more for one hundred years. It is in God's hands, and in God's hands we must leave it.
All we can say is, that when one comes, it is likely to be least severe in this part of England, and most severe (like this last) in the coal and iron districts of the west and north-west, where it is easy to see that earthquakes were once common, by the cracks, twists and settlements in the rocks, and the lava streams, poured out from fiery vents (probably under water) which pierce the rocks in many places. Beyond that we know nothing, and can only say,—It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed.
Why do I say these things? To frighten you? No, but to warn you. When you say to yourselves,—Earthquakes are so uncommon and so harmless in England that there is no need to think of them, you say on the whole what is true. It has been, as yet, God's will that earthquakes should be uncommon and slight in England; and therefore we have a reasonable ground of belief that such will be His will for the future. Certainly He does not wish us to fold our hands, and say, there is no use in building or improving the country, if an earthquake may come and destroy it at any moment. If there be an evil which man can neither prevent or foresee, then, if he be a wise man, he will go on as if that evil would never happen. We ever must work on in hope and in faith in God's goodness, without tormenting and weakening ourselves by fears about what may happen.
But when God gives to a whole country a distinct and solemn warning, especially after giving that country an enormous bounty in an abundant harvest, He surely means that country to take the warning. And, if I dare so judge, He means us perhaps to think of the earthquake, and somewhat in this way.
There is hardly any country in the world in which man's labour has been so successful as in England. Owing to our having no earthquakes, no really destructive storms,—and, thank God, no foreign invading armies,—the wealth of England has gone on increasing steadily and surely for centuries past, to a degree unexampled. We have never had to rebuild whole towns after an earthquake. We have never seen (except in small patches) whole districts of fertile land ruined by the sea or by floods. We have never seen every mill and house in a country blown down by a hurricane, and the crops mown off the ground by the mere force of the wind, as has happened again and again in our West India Islands. Most blessed of all, we have never seen a foreign army burning our villages, sacking our towns, carrying off our corn and cattle, and driving us into the woods to starve. From all these horrors, which have, one or other of them, fallen on almost every nation upon earth, God has of His great mercy preserved us. Ours is not the common lot of humanity. We English do not know the sorrows which average men and women go through, and have been going through, alas! ever since Adam fell. We have been an exception, a favoured and peculiar people, allowed to thrive and fatten quietly and safely for hundreds of years.
But what if that very security tempts us to forget God? Is it not so? Are we not—I am sure I am—too apt to take God's blessings for granted, without thanking Him for them, or remembering really that He gave them, and that He can take them away? Do we not take good fortune for granted? Do we not take for granted that if we build a house it will endure for ever; that if we buy a piece of land it will be called by our name long years hence; that if we amass wealth we shall hand it down safely to our children? Of course we think we shall prosper. We say to ourselves, To-morrow shall be as to-day, and yet more abundant.
Nothing can happen to England, is, I fear, the feeling of Englishmen. Carnal security is the national sin to which we are tempted, because we have not now for forty years felt anything like national distress; and Britain says, like Babylon of old, the lady of kingdoms to whom foreigners so often compare her,—'I shall be a lady for ever; I am, there is none beside me. I shall never sit as a widow, nor know the loss of children.'
What, too, if that same security and prosperity tempts us—as foreigners justly complain of us—to set our hearts on material wealth; to believe that our life, and the life of Britain, depends on the abundance of the things which she possesses? To say—Corn and cattle, coal and iron, house and land, shipping and rail-roads, these make up Great Britain. While she has these she will endure for ever.
Ah, my friends—to people in such a temptation, is it wonderful that a good God should send a warning unmistakeable, though only a warning; most terrible, though mercifully harmless; a warning which says, in a voice which the dullest can hear—Endure for ever? The solid ground on which you stand cannot do that. Safe? Nothing on earth is safe for a moment, save in the long-suffering and tender mercy of Him of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground. Is the wealth of Britain, then, what she can see and handle? The towns she builds, the roads she makes, the manufactures and goods she produces? One touch of the finger of God, and that might be all rolled into a heap of ruins, and the labour of years scattered in the dust. You trust in the sure solid earth? You shall feel it, if but for once, reel and quiver under your feet, and learn that it is not solid at all, or sure at all; that there is nothing solid, sure, or to be depended on, but the mercy of the living God; and that your solid-seeming earth on which you build is nothing less than a mine, which may bubble, and heave, and burst beneath your feet, charged for ever with an explosive force, as much more terrible than that gunpowder which you have invented to kill each other withal, as the works of God are greater than the works of man. Safe, truly! It is of God's mercy from day to day and hour to hour that we are not consumed.
This, surely, or something like this, is what the earthquake says to us. It speaks to us most gently, and yet most awfully, of a day in which the heavens may pass away with a great noise, and the elements may melt with fervent heat, and the earth and the works which are therein may be burnt up. It tells us that this is no impossible fancy: that the fires imprisoned below our feet can, and may, burst up and destroy mankind and the works of man in one great catastrophe, to which the earthquake of Lisbon in 1755—when 60,000 persons were killed, crushed, drowned, or swallowed up in a few minutes—would be a merely paltry accident.
And it bids us think, as St. Peter bids us: 'When therefore all these things are dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in holy conversation and godliness?'
What manner of persons?
Remember, that if an earthquake destroyed all England, or the whole world; if this earth on which we live crumbled to dust, and were blotted out of the number of the stars, there is one thing which earthquake, and fire, and all the forces of nature cannot destroy, and that is—the human race.
We should still be. We should still endure. Not, indeed, in flesh and blood: but in some state or other; each of us the same as now, our characters, our feelings, our goodness or our badness; our immortal spirits and very selves, unchanged, ready to receive, and certain to receive, the reward of the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or evil. Yes, we should still endure, and God and Christ would still endure. But as our Saviour, or as our Judge? That is a very awful thought.
One day or other, sooner or later, each of us shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, stripped of all we ever had, ever saw, ever touched, ever even imagined to ourselves, alone with our own consciences, alone with our own deserts. What shall we be saying to ourselves then?
Shall we be saying—I have lost all: The world is gone—the world, in which were set all my hopes, all my wishes; the world in which were all my pleasures, all my treasures; the world, which was the only thing I cared for, though it warned me not to trust in it, as it trembled beneath my feet? But the world is gone, and now I have nothing left!
Or, shall we be saying,—The world is gone? Then let it go. It was not a home. I took its good things as thankfully as I could. I took its sorrows and troubles as patiently as I could. But I have not set my heart on the world. My treasure, my riches, were not of the world. My peace was a peace which the world did not give, and could not take away. And now the world is gone, I keep my peace, I keep my treasure still. My peace is where it was, in my own heart. My peace is what it was: my faith in God,—faith that my sins are forgiven me for Christ's sake: my faith that God my Father loves me, and cares for me; and that nothing,—height or depth, or time or space, or life or death, can part me from His love: my faith that I have not been quite useless in the world; that I have tried to do my duty in my place; and that the good which I have done, little as it has been, will not go forgotten by that merciful God, by whose help it was done, who rewards all men according to the works which He gives them heart to perform. And my treasure is where it was—in my heart; and what it was,—the Holy Spirit of God, the spirit of goodness, of faith and truth, of mercy and justice, of love to God and love to man, which is everlasting life itself. That I have. That time cannot abate, nor death abolish, nor the world, nor the destruction of the world, nor of all worlds, can take away.
Choose, my friends, which of these two frames of mind would you rather be in when the great day of the Lord comes, foretold by that earthquake, and by all earthquakes that ever were.
Will you be then like those whom St. John saw calling on the mountains to fall on them, and the hills to hide them from the wrath of Him that sat on the throne, and from the anger of the Lamb?
Or will you be like him who saith—God is my hope and strength, my present help in trouble. Therefore will I not fear, though the earth be shaken, and though the mountains be carried into the depth of the sea?
SERMON XVI. THE METEOR SHOWER (Preached at the Chapel Royal, St. James's, Nov. 26, 1866.)
ST. MATTHEW x. 29, 30.
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
It will be well for us to recollect, once for all, who spoke these words; even Jesus Christ, who declared that He was one with God the Father; Jesus Christ, whom His apostles declared to be the Creator of the universe. If we believe this, as Christian men, it will be well for us to take our Lord's account of a universe which He Himself created; and to believe that in the most minute occurrence of nature, there is a special providence, by which not a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father.
I confess that it is difficult to believe this heartily. It was never anything but difficult. In the earliest ages, those who first thought about the universe found it so difficult that they took refuge in the fancy of special providence which was administered by the planets above their heads, and believed that the affairs of men, and of the world on which they lived, were ruled by the aspects of the sun and moon, and the host of heaven.
Men found it so difficult in the Middle Age, that they took refuge in the fancy of a special providence administered by certain demi-gods whom they called 'The Saints;' and believed that each special disease, or accident, was warded off from mankind, from their cattle, or from their crops, by a special saint who overlooked their welfare.
Men find it so difficult now-a-days, that the great majority of civilized people believe in no special providence at all, and take refuge in the belief that the universe is ruled by something which they call law.
Therein, doubtless, they have hold of a great truth; but one which will be only half-true, and therefore injurious, unless it be combined with other truths; unless questions are answered which too many do not care to answer: as, for instance,—Can there be a law without a law-giver? Can a law work without one who administers the law? Are not the popular phrases of 'laws impressed on matter,' 'laws inherent in matter,' mere metaphors, dangerous, because inaccurate; confirmed as little by experience and reason, as by Scripture?
Does not all law imply a will? Does not an Almighty Will imply a special providence?
But these are questions for which most persons have neither time nor inclination. Indeed, the whole matter is unimportant to them. They have no special need of a special providence. Their lives and properties are very safe in this civilized country; and their secret belief is that, whatever influence God may have on the next world, He has little or no influence on this world; neither on the facts of nature, nor on the events of history, nor on the course of their own lives; and that a special providence seems to them—if they dare confess as much—an unnecessary superstition.
Only poor folk in cottages and garrets—and a few more who are, happily, poor in spirit, though not in purse—grinding amid the iron facts of life, and learning there by little sound science, it may be, but much sound theology—still believe that they have a Father in heaven, before whom the very hairs of their head are all numbered; and that if they had not, then this would not only be a bad world, but a mad world likewise; and that it were better for them that they had never been born.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe in the special providence of our Father in heaven. Difficult: though necessary. Just as it is difficult to believe that the earth moves round the sun. Contrary, like that fact, to a great deal of our seeming experience.
It is easy enough, of course, to believe that our Father sends what is plainly good. Not so easy to believe that He sends what at least seems evil.
Easy enough, when we see spring-time and harvest, sunshine and flowers, to say—Here are 'acts of God's providence.' Not so easy, when we see blight and pestilence, storm and earthquake, to say,— Here are 'acts of God's providence' likewise.
For this innumerable multitude of things, of which we now-a-days talk as if it were one thing, and had an organic unity of its own, or even as if it were one person, and had a will of its own, and call it Nature—a word which will one day be forgotten by philosophers, with the 'four elements,' and the 'animal spirits;'—this multitude of things, I say, which we miscall Nature, has its dark and ugly, as well as its bright and fair side. Nature, says some one, is like the spotted panther—most playful, and yet most treacherous; most beautiful, and yet most cruel. It acts at times after a fashion most terrible, undistinguishing, wholesale, seemingly pitiless. It seems to go on its own way, as in a storm or an earthquake, careless of what it crushes. Terrible enough Nature looks to the savage, who thinks it crushes him from mere caprice. More terrible still does Science make Nature look, when she tells us that it crushes, not by caprice, but by brute necessity; not by ill-will, but by inevitable law. Science frees us in many ways (and all thanks to her) from the bodily terror which the savage feels. But she replaces that, in the minds of many, by a moral terror which is far more overwhelming. Am I—a man is driven to ask—am I, and all I love, the victims of an organised tyranny, from which there can be no escape—for there is not even a tyrant from whom I may perhaps beg mercy? Are we only helpless particles, at best separate parts of the wheels of a vast machine, which will use us till it has worn us away, and ground us to powder? Are our bodies—and if so, why not our souls?—the puppets, yea, the creatures of necessary circumstances, and all our strivings and sorrows only vain beatings against the wires of our cage, cries of 'Why hast thou made me, then?' which are addressed to nothing? Tell us not that the world is governed by universal law; the news is not comfortable, but simply horrible, unless you can tell us, or allow others to tell us, that there is a loving giver, and a just administrator of that law.
Horrible, I say, and increasingly horrible, not merely to the sentimentalist, but to the man of sound reason and of sound conscience, must the scientific aspect of nature become, if a mere abstraction called law is to be the sole ruler of the universe; if— to quote the famous words of the German sage—'If, instead of the Divine Eye, there must glare on us an empty, black, bottomless eye- socket;' and the stars and galaxies of heaven, in spite of all their present seeming regularity, are but an 'everlasting storm which no man guides.'
It was but a few days ago that we, and this little planet on which we live, caught a strange and startling glimpse of that everlasting storm which—shall I say it?—no one guides.
We were swept helpless, astronomers tell us, through a cloud of fiery stones, to which all the cunning bolts which man invents to slay his fellow-man, are but slow and weak engines of destruction.
We were free from the superstitious terror with which that meteor- shower would have been regarded in old times. We could comfort ourselves, too, with the fact that heaven's artillery was not known as yet to have killed any one; and with the scientific explanation of that fact, namely, that most of the bolts were small enough to be melted and dissipated by their rush through our atmosphere.
But did the thought occur to none of us, how morally ghastly, in spite of all its physical beauty, was that grand sight, unless we were sure that behind it all, there was a living God? Unless we believed that not one of those bolts fell, or did not fall to the ground without our Father? That He had appointed the path, and the time, and the destiny, and the use of every atom of that matter, of which science could only tell us that it was rushing without a purpose, for ever through the homeless void?
We may believe that, mind, without denying scientific laws, or their permanence in any way. It is not a question, this, of a living God, whether He interferes with His own laws now and then, but whether interference is not the law of all laws itself. It is not a question of special providences here and there, in favour of this person or that; but whether the whole universe and its history is not one perpetual and innumerable series of special providences. Whether the God who ordained the laws is not so administering them, so making them interfere with, balance, and modify each other, as to cause them to work together perpetually for good; so that every minutest event (excepting always the sin and folly of rational beings) happens in the place, time, and manner, where it is specially needed. In one word, the question is not whether there be a God, but whether there be a living God, who is in any true and practical sense Master of the universe over which He presides; a King who is actually ruling His kingdom, or an Epicurean deity who lets his kingdom rule itself.
Is there a living God in the universe, or is there none? That is the greatest of all questions. Has our Lord Jesus Christ answered it, or has He not? Easy, well-to-do people, who find this world pleasant, and whose chief concern is to live till they die, care little about that question. This world suits them well enough, whether there be a living God or not; and as for the next world, they will be sure to find some preacher or confessor who will set their minds easy about it.
Fanatics and bigots, of all denominations, care little about that question. For they say in their hearts—'God is our Father, whosesoever Father He is not. We are His people, and God performs acts of providence for us. But as for the people outside, who know not the law, nor the Gospel, either, they are accursed. It is not our concern to discuss whether God performs acts of providence for them.'
But here and there, among rich and poor, there are those whose heart and flesh—whose conscience and whose intellect—cry out for the living God, and will know no peace till they have found Him.
A living God; a true God; a real God; a God worthy of the name; a God who is working for ever, everywhere, and in all; who hates nothing that He has made, forgets nothing, neglects nothing; a God who satisfies not only their heads, but their hearts; not only their logical intellects, but their higher reason—that pure reason, which is one with the conscience and moral sense. For Him they cry out; Him they seek: and if they cannot find Him they know no rest. For then they can find no explanation of the three great human questions- -Where am I? Whither am I going? What must I do?
Men come to them and say, 'Of course there is a God.—He created the world long ago, and set it spinning ever since by unchangeable laws.' But they answer, 'That may be true; but I want more. I want the living God.'
Other men come to them and say, 'Of course there is a God; and when the universe is destroyed, He will save a certain number of the elect, or orthodox. Do you take care that you are among that number, and leave the rest to Him.' But they answer, 'That may be true; but I want more. I want the living God.'
They will say so very confusedly. They will often not be able to make men understand their meaning. Nay, they will say and do—driven by despair—very unwise things. They will even fall down and worship the Holy Bread in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, and say, 'The living God is in that. You have forbidden us, with your theories, to find the living God either in heaven or earth. But somewhere He must be. And in despair, we will fall back upon the old belief that He is in the wafer on the altar, and find there Him whom our souls must find, or be for ever without a home.' Strange and sad, that that should be the last outcome of the century of mechanical philosophy. But before we blame the doctrine as materialistic,—which, I fear, it too truly is,—we should remember that, for the last fifty years, the young have been taught more and more to be materialists; that they have been taught more and more to believe in a God who rules over Sundays, but not over week-day business; over the next world, but not over this; a God, in short, in whom men do not live, and move, and have their being. They have been brought up, I say, unconsciously, but surely, as practical materialists, who make their senses the ground of all their knowledge; and therefore, when a revulsion happens to them, they are awakened to look for the living God—they look for him instinctively in visible matter.
But for the living God thoughtful men will look more and more. Physical science is forcing on them the question, Do we live, and move, and have our being in God? Is there a real and perpetual communication between the visible and the invisible world, or is there not? Are all the beliefs of man, from the earliest ages, that such there was, dreams and nothing more? Is any religion whatsoever to be impossible henceforth? And to find an answer, men will go, either backward to superstition, or forward into pantheism; for in atheism, whether practical or theoretical, they cannot abide.
The Bible says that those old beliefs, however partial or childish, were no dreams, but instincts of an eternal truth; that there is such a communication between the universe and the living God. Prophets, Psalmists, Apostles, speak—like our Nicene Creed—of a Spirit of God, the Lord and Giver of Life, in words which are not pantheism, but are the very deliverance from pantheism, because they tell us that that Spirit proceeds, not merely from a Deity, not merely from a Creator, but from a Father in heaven, and from a Son who is His likeness and His Word.
And from this ground Natural Theology must start, if it is ever to revive again, instead of remaining, as now, an extinct science. It must begin from the keyword of the text, 'Your Father.' As long as Natural Theology begins from nature, and not from God Himself, it will inevitably drift into pantheism, as Pope drifted, in spite of himself, when he tried to look from nature up to nature's God. As long as men speculate on the dealings of a Deity or of a Creator, they will find out nothing, because they are searching under the wrong name, and therefore, as logicians will tell you, for the wrong thing.
But when they begin to seek under the right name—the name which our Lord revealed to the debased multitudes of Judaea, when He told them that not a sparrow fell to the ground without—not the Deity, not the Creator, but their Father; then, in God's good time, all may come clear once more.
This at least will come clear,—a doubt which often presents itself to the mind of scientific men.
This earth—we know now that it is not the centre, not the chief body, of the universe, but a tiny planet, a speck, an atom among millions of bodies far vaster than itself.
It was credible enough in old times, when the earth was held to be all but the whole universe, that God should descend on earth, and take on Him human nature, to save human beings. Is it credible now? This little corner of the systems and the galaxies? This paltry race which we call man? Are they worthy of the interposition, of the death, of Incarnate God—of the Maker of such a universe as Science has discovered?
Yes. If we will keep in mind that one word 'Father.' Then we dare say Yes, in full assurance of Faith. For then we have taken the question off the mere material ground of size and of power; to put it once and for ever on that spiritual ground of justice and love, which is implied in the one word—'Father.'
If God be a perfect Father, then there must be a perpetual intercourse of some kind between Him and His children; between Him and that planet, however small, on which He has set His children, that they may be educated into His likeness. If God be perfect justice, the wrong, and consequent misery of the universe, how ever small, must be intolerable to Him. If God be perfect love, there is no sacrifice—remember that great word—which He may not condescend to make, in order to right that wrong, and alleviate that misery. If God be the Father of our spirits, the spiritual welfare of His children may be more important to Him than the fate of the whole brute matter of the universe. Think not to frighten us with the idols of size and height. God is a Spirit, before whom all material things are equally great, and equally small. Let us think of Him as such, and not merely as a Being of physical power and inventive craft. Let us believe in our Father in heaven. For then that higher intellect,—that pure reason, which dwells not in the heads, but in the hearts of men, will tell them that if they have a Father in heaven, He must be exercising a special providence over the minutest affairs of their lives, by which He is striving to educate them into His likeness; a special providence over the fate of every atom in the universe, by which His laws shall work together for the moral improvement of every creature capable thereof; that not a sparrow can fall to the ground without his knowledge; and that not a hair of their head can be touched, unless suffering is needed for the education of their souls.
SERMON XVII. CHOLERA, 1866
LUKE vii. 16.
There came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.
You recollect to what the text refers? How the Lord visited His people? By raising to life a widow's son at Nain. That was the result of our Lord's visit to the little town of Nain. It is worth our while to think of that text, and of that word, 'visit,' just now. For we are praying to God to remove the cholera from this land. We are calling it a visitation of God; and saying that God is visiting our sins on us thereby. And we are saying the exact truth. We are using the right and scriptural word.
We know that this cholera comes by no miracle, but by natural causes. We can more or less foretell where it will break out. We know how to prevent its breaking out at all, save in a scattered case here and there. Of this there is no doubt whatsoever in the mind of any well- informed person.
But that does not prevent its being a visitation of God; yea, in most awful and literal earnest, a house-to-house visitation. God uses the powers of nature to do His work: of Him it is written, 'He maketh the winds His angels, and flames of fire His ministers.' And so this minute and invisible cholera-seed is the minister of God, by which He is visiting from house to house, searching out and punishing certain persons who have been guilty, knowingly or not, of the offence of dirt; of filthy and careless habits of living; and especially, as has long been known by well-informed men, of drinking poisoned water. Their sickness, their deaths, are God's judgment on that act of theirs, whereby God says to men,—You shall not drink water unfit for even dumb animals; and if you do, you shall die.
To this view there are two objections. First, the poor people themselves are not in fault, but those who supply poisoned water, and foul dwellings.
True: but only half true. If people demanded good water and good houses, there would soon be a supply of them. But there is not a sufficient supply; because too many of the labouring classes in towns, though they are earning very high wages, are contented to live in a condition unfit for civilized men; and of course, if they are contented so to do, there will be plenty of covetous or careless landlords who will supply the bad article with which they are satisfied; and they will be punished by disease for not having taken care of themselves.
But as for the owners of filthy houses, and the suppliers of poisoned water, be sure that, in His own way and His own time, God will visit them; that when He maketh inquisition for blood, He will assuredly requite upon the guilty persons, whoever they are, the blood of those five or six thousand of her Majesty's subjects who have been foully done to death by cholera in the last two months, as He requited the blood of Naboth, or of any other innocent victim of whom we read in Holy Writ. This outbreak of cholera in London, considering what we now know about it, and have known for twenty years past, is a national shame, scandal, and sin, which, if man cannot and will not punish, God can and will.
But there is another objection, which is far more important and difficult to answer. This cholera has not slain merely fathers and mothers of families, who were more or less responsible for the bad state of their dwellings; but little children, aged widows, and many other persons who cannot be blamed in the least.
True. And we must therefore believe that to them—indeed to all— this has been a visitation not of anger but of love. We must believe that they are taken away from some evil to come; that God permits the destruction of their bodies, to the saving of their souls. His laws are inexorable; and yet He hateth nothing that He hath made.
And we must believe that this cholera is an instance of the great law, which fulfils itself again and again, and will to the end of the world,—'It is expedient that one die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.'
For the same dirt which produces cholera now and then, is producing always, and all day long, stunted and diseased bodies, drunkenness, recklessness, misery, and sin of all kinds; and the cholera will be a blessing, a cheap price to have paid, for the abolition of the evil spirit of dirt.
And thus much for this very painful subject—of which some of you may say—'What is it to us? We cannot prevent cholera; and, blessed as we are with abundance of the purest water, there is little or no fear of cholera ever coming into our parish.'
That last is true, my friends, and you may thank God for it. Meanwhile, take this lesson at least home with you, and teach it your children day by day—that filthy, careless, and unwholesome habits of living are in the sight of Almighty God so terrible an offence, that He sometimes finds it necessary to visit them with a severity with which He visits hardly any sin; namely, by inflicting capital punishment on thousands of His beloved creatures.
But though we have not had the cholera among us, has God therefore not visited us? That would surely be evil news for us, according to Holy Scripture. For if God do not visit us, then He must be far from us. But the Psalmist cries, 'Go not far from me, O Lord.' His fear is, again and again, not that God should visit him, but that God should desert him. And more, the word which is translated 'to visit,' in Scripture has the sense of seeing to a man, overseeing him, being his bishop. If God do not see to, oversee us, and be our bishop, then He must turn His face from us, which is what the Psalmist beseeches Him again and again not to do; praying, 'Hide not Thy face from me, O Lord,' and crying out of the depths of anxiety and trouble, 'Put thy trust in God, for I shall yet give Him thanks for the light of His countenance;' and again, 'In Thy presence is'— not death, but—'life; at Thy right hand is fulness of days for evermore.' And again, the Psalmist prays to God to visit him, and visit his thoughts,—'Search me, O Lord, and try the ground of my heart. Search me, and examine my thoughts. Look well if there be any wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.' Shall we pray that prayer, my friends? Shall we, with the Psalmist, pray God to visit, and, if need be, chasten and correct what He sees wrong in us? Or shall we, with the superstitious, pray to God not to visit us? to keep away from us? to leave its alone? to forget us? If He did answer that foolish prayer, there would be an end of us and all created things; for in God they live and move and have their being— as it is written, 'When Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled; when Thou takest away their breath, they die, and are turned again to their dust.' But, happily for us, God will not answer that foolish prayer. For it is written, 'If I go up to heaven, Thou art there; if I go down to hell, Thou art there also.' Nowhither can we go from God's presence: nowhither can we flee from His Spirit.
This is the Scripture language. Is ours like it? Have we not got to think of a visitation of God as a simple calamity? If a man die suddenly and strangely, he has died by the visitation of God. But if he be saved from death strangely and suddenly, it does not occur to us to call that a visitation, and to say with Scripture, 'The Lord has visited the man with His salvation.' If the cholera comes, or the crops fail, we say,—God is visiting us. If we have an especially healthy year, or a glorious harvest, we never say with Scripture, 'The Lord has visited His people in giving them bread.' Yet Scripture, if it says, 'I will visit their transgressions,' says also that the Lord visited the children of Israel to deliver them out of Egypt. If it talks of death as the visitation of all men, it speaks of God visiting Sarah and Hannah to give them children. If it says, 'I will visit the blood shed in Jezreel,' it says also, 'Thy visitation hath preserved my spirit.' If it says, 'At the time they are visited they shall be cast down,' it says also, 'The Lord shall visit them, and turn away their captivity.'
If we look through Scripture, we find that the words 'visit' and 'visitation' are used about ninety times: that in about fifty of them the meaning of the words is chastisement of some kind or other: in about forty it is mercy and blessing: and that in the New Testament the words never mean anything but mercy and blessing, though we have begun of late years to use them only in the sense of punishment and a curse.
Now, how is this, my friends? How is it that we, who are not under the terrors of the Law, but under the Gospel of grace, have quite lost the Gospel meaning of this word 'visitation,' and take a darker view of it than did even the old Jews under the Law? Have we, whom God hath visited, indeed, in the person of His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, any right or reason to think worse of a visitation of God than had the Jews of old? God forbid. And yet we do so, I fear; and show daily that we do so by our use of the word: for out of the abundance of the heart man's mouth speaketh. By his words he is justified, and by his words he is condemned; and there is no surer sign of what a man's real belief is, than the sense in which lie naturally, as it were by instinct, uses certain words.
And what is the cause?
Shall I say it? If I do, I blame not you more than I blame myself, more than I blame this generation. But it seems to me that there is a little—or not a little—atheism among us now-a-days; that we are growing to be 'without God in the world.' We are ready enough to believe that God has to do with the next world: but we are not ready to believe that He has to do with this world. We, in this generation, do not believe that in God we live, and move, and have our being. Nay, some object to capital punishment, because (so they say) 'it hurries men into the presence of their Maker;' as if a human being could be in any better or safer place than the presence of his Maker; and as if his being there depended on us, or on any man, and not on God Almighty alone, who is surely not so much less powerful than an earthly monarch, that He cannot keep out of His presence or in it whomsoever He chooses. When we talk of being 'ushered into the presence of God,' we mean dying; as if we were not all in the presence of God at this moment, and all day long. When we say, 'Prepare to meet thy God,' we mean 'Prepare to die;' as if we did not meet our God every time we had the choice between doing a right thing and doing a wrong one—between yielding to our own lusts and tempers, and yielding to the Holy Spirit of God. For if the Holy Spirit of God be, as the Christian faith tells us, God indeed, do we not meet God every time a right, and true, and gracious thought arises in our hearts? But we have all forgotten this, and much more connected with this; and our notion of this world is not that of Holy Scripture—of that grand 104th Psalm, for instance, which sets forth the Spirit of God as the Lord and Giver of life to all creation: but our notion is this—that this world is a machine, which would go on very well by itself, if God would but leave it alone; that if the course of nature, as we atheistically call it, is not interfered with, then suns shine, crops grow, trade flourishes, and all is well, because God does not visit the earth. Ah! blind that we are; blind to the power and glory of God which is around us, giving life and breath to all things,—God, without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground,— God, who visiteth the earth, and maketh it very plenteous,—God, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not,—God, whose ever- creating and ever-sustaining Spirit is the source, not only of all goodness, virtue, knowledge, but of all life, health, order, fertility. We see not God's witness in His sending rain and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. And then comes the punishment. Because we will not keep up a wholesome and trustful belief in God in prosperity, we are awakened out of our dream of unbelief, to an unwholesome and mistrustful belief in Him in adversity. Because we will not believe in a God of love and order, we grow to believe in a God of anger and disorder. Because we will not fear a God who sends fruitful seasons, we are grown to dread a God who sends famine and pestilence. Because we will not believe in the Father in heaven, we grow to believe in a destroyer who visits from heaven. But we believe in Him only as the destroyer. We have forgotten that He is the Giver, the Creator, the Redeemer. We look on His visitations as something dark and ugly, instead of rejoicing in the thought of God's presence, as we should, if we had remembered that He was about our path and about our bed, and spying out all our ways, whether for joy or for sorrow. We shrink at the thought of His presence. We look on His visitations as things not to be understood; not to be searched out in childlike humility—and yet in childlike confidence—that we may understand why they are sent, and what useful lesson our Father means us to learn from them: but we look on them as things to be merely prayed against, if by any means God will, as soon as possible, cease to visit us, and leave us to ourselves, for we can earn our own bread comfortably enough, if it were not for His interference and visitations. We are too like the Gadarenes of old, to whom it mattered little that the Lord had restored the madman to health and reason, if He caused their swine to perish in the lake. They were uneasy and terrified at such visitations of God incarnate. He seemed to them a terrible and dangerous Being, and they besought Him to depart out of their coasts.
It would have been wiser, surely, in those Gadarenes, and better for them, had they cried—'Lord, what wilt Thou have us to do? We see that Thou art a Being of infinite power, for mercy, and for punishment likewise. And Thou art the very Being whom we want, to teach us our duty, and to make us do it. Tell us what we ought to do, and help us, and, if need be, compel us to do it, and so to prosper indeed.' And so should we pray in the case of this cholera. We may ask God to take it away: but we are bound to ask God also, why He has sent it. Till then we have no reason to suppose that He will take it away; we have no reason to suppose that it will be merciful in Him to take it away, till He has taught us why it was sent. This question of cholera has come now to a crisis, in which we must either learn why cholera comes, or incur, I hold, lasting disgrace and guilt. And—if I may dare to hint at the counsels of God—it seems as if the Almighty Lord had no mind to relieve us of that disgrace and guilt.
For months past we have been praying that this cholera should not enter England, and our prayers have not been heard. In spite of them the cholera has come; and has slain thousands, and seems likely to slay thousands more. What plainer proof can there be to those who believe in the providence of God, and the rule of Jesus Christ our Lord, than that we are meant to learn some wholesome lesson from it, which we have not learnt yet? It cannot be that God means us to learn the physical cause of cholera, for that we have known these twenty years. Foul lodging, foul food, and, above all, natural and physical, foul water; there is no doubt of the cause. But why cannot we save English people from the curse and destruction which all this foulness brings? That is the question. That is our national scandal, shame, and sin at this moment. Perhaps the Lord wills that we should learn that; learn what is the moral and spiritual cause of our own miserable weakness, negligence, hardness of heart, which, sinning against light and knowledge, has caused the death of thousands of innocent souls. God grant that we may learn that lesson. God grant that He may put into the hearts and minds of some man or men, the wisdom and courage to deliver us from such scandals for the future.
But I have little hope that that will happen, till we get rid of our secret atheism; till we give up the notion that God only visits now and then, to disorder and destroy His own handiwork, and take back the old scriptural notion, that God is visiting all day long for ever, to give order and life to His own work, to set it right whenever it goes wrong, and re-create it whenever it decays. Till then we can expect only explanations of cholera and of God's other visitations of affliction, which are so superstitious, so irrational, so little connected with the matter in hand, that they would be ridiculous, were they not somewhat blasphemous. But when men arise in this land who believe truly in an ever-present God of order, revealed in His Son Jesus Christ; when men shall arise in this land, who will believe that faith with their whole hearts, and will live and die for it and by it; acting as if they really believed that in God we live, and move, and have our being; as if they really believed that they were in the kingdom and rule of Christ,—a rule of awful severity, and yet of perfect love,—a rule, meanwhile, which men can understand, and are meant to understand, that they may not only obey the laws of God, but know the mind of God, and copy the dealings of God, and do the will of God; and when men arise in this land, who have that holy faith in their hearts, and courage to act upon it, then cholera will vanish away, and the physical and moral causes of a hundred other evils which torment poor human beings through no anger of God, but simply through their own folly, and greediness, and ignorance.
All these shall vanish away, in the day when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the land, and men shall say, in spirit and in truth, as Christ their Lord has said before,—'Sacrifice and burnt-offering thou wouldest not. Then said I, Lo, I come. In the volume of the book it is written of Me, that I should do the will of God.' And in those days shall be fulfilled once more, the text which says,—'That the people glorified God, saying, A great Prophet, even Christ the Lord Himself, hath risen up among us, and God hath visited His people.'
SERMON XVIII. THE WICKED SERVANT
ST. MATTHEW xviii. 23.
The kingdom of heaven is likened to a certain king, which would take account of his servants.
This parable, which you heard in the Gospel for this day, you all know. And I doubt not that all you who know it, understand it well enough. It is so human and so humane; it is told with such simplicity, and yet with such force and brilliancy that—if one dare praise our Lord's words as we praise the words of men—all must see its meaning at once, though it speaks of a state of society different from anything which we have ever seen, or, thank God, ever shall see.
The Eastern despotic king who has no law but his own will; who puts his servant—literally his slave—into a post of such trust and honour, that the slave can misappropriate and make away with the enormous sum of ten thousand talents; who commands, not only him, but his wife and children to be sold to pay the debt; who then forgives him all out of a sudden burst of pity, and again, when the wretched man has shown himself base and cruel, unworthy of that pity, revokes his pardon, and delivers him to the tormentors till he shall pay all- -all this is a state of things impossible in a free country, though it is possible enough still in many countries of the East, which are governed in this very despotic fashion; and justice, and very often injustice likewise, is done in this rough, uncertain way, by the will of the king alone.
But, however different the circumstances, yet there is a lesson in this story which is universal and eternal, true for all men, and true for ever. The same human nature, for good and for evil, is in us, as was in that Eastern king and his slave. The same kingdom of heaven is over us as was over them, its laws punishing sinners by their own sins; the same Spirit of God which strove with their hearts is striving with ours. If it was not so, the parable would mean nothing to us. It would be a story of men who belonged to another moral world, and were under another moral law, not to be judged by our rules of right and wrong; and therefore a story of men whom we need not copy.
But it is not so. If the parable be—as I take for granted it is—a true story; then it was Christ, the Light who lights every man who cometh into the world, who put into that king's heart the divine feeling of mercy, and inspired him to forgive, freely and utterly, the wretched slave who worshipped him, kneeling with his forehead to the ground, and promising, in his terror, what he probably knew he could not perform—'Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.'
And it was Christ, the Light of men, who inspired that king with the feeling, not of mere revenge, but of just retribution; who taught him that, when the slave was unworthy of his mercy, he had a right, in a noble and divine indignation, to withdraw his mercy; and not to waste his favours on a bad man, who would only turn them to fresh bad account, but to keep them for those who had justice and honour enough in their hearts to forgive others, when their Lord had forgiven them.
We must bear in mind, that the king must have been right, and acting (whether he knew it or not) by the Spirit of God; else his conduct would never have been likened to the kingdom of heaven: that is, to the laws by which God governs both this world and the world to come.
The kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God—Would that men would believe in them a little more! It seems, at times, as if all belief in them was dying out; as if men, throughout all civilized and Christian countries, had made up their minds to say—There is no kingdom of God or of heaven. There will be one hereafter, in the next world. This world is the kingdom of men, and of what they can do for themselves without God's help, and without God's laws.
My friends, the Jewish rulers of old said so, and cried, 'We have no king but Caesar.' And they remain an example to all time, of what happens to those who deny the kingdom of God. Christ came to tell them that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and the kingdom of God was among them. But they would have none of it. And what said our Lord of them and their notion? 'The prince of this world,' said He, 'cometh, and hath nothing in me. This is your hour and the power of darkness.' Yes; the hour in which men had determined to manage the world in their way, and not in Christ's, was also the hour of the power of darkness. That was what they had gained by having their own way; by saying—The kingdom is ours, and not God's. They had fallen under the power of darkness, not of light. The very light within them was darkness. They utterly mistook their road on earth. At the very moment that they were trying to make peace with the Roman governor, by denying that Christ was their King, and demanding that He should be crucified,—at that very moment the things which belonged to their peace were hid from their eyes. Never men made so fatal a mistake, when they thought themselves most politic and prudent. They said among themselves—'Unless we put down this man, the Romans will come and take away our place,' i.e. our privileges, and power, and our nation. And what followed? That the Romans did come and take away their place and nation, with horrible massacre and ruin: and so they lost both the kingdom of this world, and the kingdom of God likewise. Never, I say, did men make a more fatal mistake in the things of this world than those Jews to whom the kingdom of God came, and they rejected it.
And so shall we, my friends, if we forget that, whether we like it or not, the kingdom of God is within us, and we within it likewise.
1. The kingdom of God is within us. Every gracious motive, every noble, just, and merciful instinct within us, is a sign to us that the kingdom of God is come to us; that we are not as the brutes which perish; not as the heathen who are too often past feeling, being alienated from the life of God by reason of the ignorance which is in them: but, that we are God's children, inheritors of the kingdom of heaven; and that God's Spirit is teaching us the laws of that kingdom; so that in every child who is baptized, educated, and civilized, is fulfilled the promise, 'I will write my laws upon their hearts, and I will be to them a Father.'
God's Spirit is teaching our hearts as He taught the heart of that old Eastern king. It may be, it ought to be, that He is teaching us far deeper lessons than He ever taught that king.
2. We are in the kingdom of God. It is worth our while to remember that steadfastly just now. Many people are ready to agree that the kingdom of God is within them. They will readily confess that religion is a spiritual matter, and a matter of the heart: but their fancy is that therefore religion, and all just and noble and beautiful instincts and aspirations, are very good things for those who have them: but that, if any one has them not, it does not much matter.
They do not see that there are not only such things as feelings about God; but that there are also such things as laws of God; and that God can enforce those laws, and does enforce them, sometimes in a very terrible manner. They do not believe enough in a living God, an acting God, a God who will not merely write His laws in our hearts, if we will let Him, but may also destroy us off the face of the earth, if we would not let Him. They fancy that God either cannot, or will not, enforce His own laws, but leaves a man free to accept them, or reject as he will. There is no greater mistake. Be not deceived; God is not mocked. As a man sows, so shall he reap. God says to us, to all men,—Copy Me. Do as I do, and be My children, and be blest. But if we will not; if, after all God's care and love, the tree brings forth no fruit, then, soon or late, the sentence goes forth against it in God's kingdom, 'Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?'
There is a saying now-a-days, that nations and tribes who will not live reasonable lives, and behave as men should to their fellow-men, must be civilized off the face of the earth. The words are false, if they mean that we, or any other men, have a right to exterminate their fellow-creatures. But they are true, and more true than the people who use them fancy, if they are spoken not of man, but of God. For if men will not obey the laws of God's kingdom, God does actually civilize them off the face of the earth. Great nations, learned churches, powerful aristocracies, ancient institutions, has God civilized off the face of the earth before now. Because they would not acknowledge God for their King, and obey the laws of His kingdom, in which alone are life, and wealth, and health, God has taken His kingdom away from them, and given it to others who would bring forth the fruits thereof. The Jews are the most awful and famous example of that terrible judgment of God, but they are not the only ones. It has happened again and again. It may happen to you or me, as well as to this whole nation of England, if we forget that we are in God's kingdom, and that only by living according to God's laws can we keep our place therein.
And this is what the parable teaches us. The king tries to teach the servant one of the laws of his kingdom—that he rules according to boundless mercy and generosity. God wishes to teach us the same. The king does so, not by word, but by deed, by actually forgiving the man his debt. So does God forgive us freely in Jesus Christ our Lord.
But more than this, he wishes the servant to understand that he is to copy his king; that if his king has behaved to him like a father to his child, he must behave as a brother to his fellow-servants. So does God wish to teach us.
But he does not tell the man so, in so many words. He does not say to him, I command thee to forgive thy debtors as I have forgiven thee. He leaves the man to his own sense of honour and good feeling. It is a question not of the law, but of the heart. So does God with us. He educates us, not as children or slaves, but as free men, as moral agents. He leaves us to our own reason and conscience, to reap the fruit which we ourselves have sown. Therefore, about a thousand matters in life He lays on us no special command. He leaves us to act according to our good feeling, to our own sense of honour. It is a matter, I say, of the heart. If God's law be written in our hearts, our hearts will lead us to do the right thing. If God's law be not in our hearts, then mere outward commands will not make us do right, for what we do will not be really right and good, because it will not be done heartily and of our own will.
But the servant does not follow his lord's example.
Fresh from his lord's presence, he takes his fellow-servant by the throat, saying—Pay me that thou owest. His heart has not been touched. His lord's example has not softened him. He does not see how beautiful, how noble, how divine, generosity and mercy are. He is a hard-hearted, worldly man. The heavenly kingdom, which is justice and love, is not within him. Then, if the kingdom of heaven is not in him, he shall find out that he is in it; and that in a very terrible way:- 'Thou wicked servant, unworthy of my pity, because there is no goodness in thine own heart. Thou wilt not take into thy heart my law, which tells thee, Be merciful as I am merciful. Then thou shalt feel another and an equally universal law of mine. As thou doest so shalt thou be done by. If thou art merciful, thou shalt find mercy. If thou wilt have nothing but retribution, then nothing but retribution thou shalt have. If thou must needs do justice thyself, I will do justice likewise. Because I am merciful, dost thou think me careless? Because I sit still, that I am patient? Dost thou think me such a one as thyself?' And his lord delivered him to the tormentors till he should pay all that was due unto him.
My dear friends, this is an awful story. Let us lay it to heart. And to do that, let us pray God to lay it to our hearts; to write His laws in our hearts, that we may not only fear them, but love them; not only see their profitableness, but their fitness; that we may obey them, not grudgingly or of necessity, but obey them because they look to us just, and true, and beautiful, and as they are—Godlike. Let us pray, I say, that God would make us love what He commands, lest we should neglect and despise what He commands, and find it some day unexpectedly alive and terrible after all. Let us pray to God to keep alive His kingdom of grace within us, lest His kingdom of retribution outside us should fall upon us, and grind us to powder.
SERMON XIX. CIVILIZED BARBARISM (Preached for the Bishop of London's Fund, at St. John's Church, Notting Hill, June 1866.)
ST. MATTHEW ix. 12.
They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
I have been honoured by an invitation to preach on behalf of the Bishop of London's Fund for providing for the spiritual wants of this metropolis. By the bishop, and a large number of landowners, employers of labour, and others who were aware of the increasing heathendom of the richest and happiest city of the world, it was agreed that, if possible, a million sterling should be raised during the next ten years, to do what money could do in wiping out this national disgrace. It is a noble plan; and it has been as yet—and I doubt not will be to the end—nobly responded to by the rich laity of this metropolis.
More than 100,000l. was contributed during the first six months; nearly 60,000l. in the ensuing year; beside subscriptions which are promised for the whole, or part of the ten years. The money, therefore, does not flow in as rapidly as was desired: but there is as yet no falling off. And I believe that there will be, on the contrary, a gradual increase in the subscriptions as the objects of this fund are better understood, and as its benefits are practically felt.
Now, it is unnecessary—it would be almost an impertinence—to enlarge on a spiritual destitution of which you are already well aware. There are, we shall all agree, many thousands in London who are palpably sick of spiritual disease, and need the physician. But I have special reasons for not pressing this point. If I attempted to draw subscriptions from you by painting tragical and revolting pictures of the vice, heathendom, and misery of this metropolis, I might make you fancy that it was an altogether vicious, heathen, and miserable spot: than which there can be no greater mistake. These evils are not the rule, but the exceptions. Were they not the exceptions, then not merely the society of London, and the industry of London, and the wealth of London, but the very buildings of London, the brick and the mortar, would crumble to the ground by natural and inevitable decay. The unprecedentedly rapid increase of London is, I firmly believe, a sure sign that things in it are done on the whole not ill, but well; that God's blessing is on the place; that, because it is on the whole obeying the eternal laws of God, therefore it is increasing, and multiplying, and replenishing the earth, and subduing it. And I do not hesitate to say, that I have read of no spot of like size upon this earth, on which there have ever been congregated so many human beings, who are getting their bread so peaceably, happily, loyally, and virtuously; and doing their duty—ill enough, no doubt, as we all do it—but still doing it more or less, by man and God.
I am well aware that many will differ from me; that many men and many women—holy, devoted, spending their lives in noble and unselfish labours—persons whose shoes' latchet I am not worthy to unloose— take a far darker view of the state of this metropolis. But the fact is, that they are naturally brought in contact chiefly with its darker side. Their first duty is to seek out cases of misery: and even if they do not, the miserable will, of their own accord, come to them. It is their first duty too—if they be clergymen—to rebuke, and if possible, to cure, open vice, open heathendom, as well as to relieve present want and wretchedness: and may God's blessing be on all who do that work. But in doing it they are dealing daily—and ought to deal, and must deal—with the exceptional, and not with the normal; with cases of palpable and shocking disease, and not with cases of at least seeming health. They see that, into London, as into a vast sewer, gravitates yearly all manner of vice, ignorance, weakness, poverty: but they are apt to forget, at times—and God knows I do not blame them for it in the least—that there gravitates into London, not as into a sewer, but as into a wholesome and fruitful garden, a far greater amount of health, strength, intellect, honesty, industry, virtue, which makes London; which composes, I verily believe, four-fifths of the population of London. For if it did not, as I have said already, London would decay and die, and not grow and live.
Am I denying the spiritual destitution of this metropolis? Am I arguing against the necessity of the Bishop of London's Fund? Am I trying to cool your generosity towards it? Am I raising against it the text—'They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick?' Am I trying to prove that the sick are fewer than was fancied, the healthy more numerous; and, therefore, the physician less needed? Would to heaven that I dare so do. Would to heaven that I could prove this fund unnecessary and superfluous. But instead thereof, I fear that I must say—that the average of that health, strength, intellect, honesty, industry, virtue, which makes London—that the average of all that, I verily believe, is to be counted (though it knows it not) among the sick, and not among the sound. It is sick, over and above those personal sins which are common to all classes; it is sick of a great social disease; of a disease which is very dangerous for the nation to which we belong; which will increase more and more, and become more and more dangerous, unless it is stopped wholesale, by some such wholesale measure as this. That disease is (paradoxical as it may seem) Want of Civilization; Barbarism, which is the child of ungodliness. And that can, I verily believe again, be cured only (as far as we in the nineteenth century have discovered) by an extension of the parochial system.
And yet—let us beware of that expression—Parochial System. It seems to imply that the parish is a mere system; an artificial arrangement of man's invention. Now that is just what the parish is not. It is founded on local ties; and they are not a system, but a fact. You do not assemble men into parishes: you find them already assembled by fact, which is the will of God. You take your stand upon the merest physical ground of their living next door to each other; their being likely to witness each other's sayings and doings; to help each other and like each other, or to debauch each other and hate each other; upon the fact that their children play in the same street, and teach each other harm or good, thereby influencing generations yet unborn; upon the fact that if one takes cholera or fever, the man who lives next door is liable to take it too—in short, on the broad fact that they are members of each other, for good or evil. You take your stand on this physical ground of mere neighbourhood; and say—This bond of neighbourhood is, after all, one of the most human—yea, of the most Divine—of all bonds. Every man you meet is your brother, and must be, for good or evil: you cannot live without him; you must help, or you must injure, each other. And, therefore, you must choose whether you will be a horde of isolated barbarians—your living in brick and mortar, instead of huts and tents, being a mere accident—barbarians, I say, at continual war with each other: or whether you will go on to become civilized men; that is, fellow-citizens, members of the same body, confessing and exercising duties to each other which are not self-chosen, not self- invented, but real; which encompass you whether you know them or not; laid on you by Almighty God, by the mere fact of your being men and women living in contact with each other.