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Twenty-Five Village Sermons
by Charles Kingsley
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Believe this, my friends; believe that, because you are all fallen human creatures, there must go on in you this sore life-long battle between your spirit and your flesh—your spirit trying to be master and guide, as it ought to be, and your flesh rebelling, and trying to conquer your spirit and make you a mere animal, like a fox in cunning, a peacock in vanity, or a hog in greedy sloth. But believe, too, that it is your sin and your shame if your spirit does not conquer your flesh—for God has promised to help your spirits. Ask Him, and His Spirit will teach them—fill them with pure, noble hopes, with calm, clear thoughts, and with deep, unselfish love to God and man. He will strengthen your wills, that they may be able to refuse the evil and choose the good. Ask Him, and He will join them to His own Spirit—to the Spirit of Christ, your Master; for he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit with Him. Ask him, and He will give you the mind of Christ—teach you to see and feel all matters as Christ sees and feels them. Ask Him, and He will give you wisdom to listen to His Spirit when it teaches your spirit, and then you will be able to walk after the spirit, and not obey the lusts of the flesh; and you will be able to crucify the flesh with its passions and lusts, that is, to make it, what it ought to be, a dead thing—a dead tool for your spirit to work with manfully and godly, and not a live tyrant to lead you into brutishness and folly; and then you will find that the fruit of the spirit, of your spirit led by God's Spirit, is really, as St. Paul says, "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, honesty"—"whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honourable and of good report;" and instead of being the miserable slaves of your own passions, and of the opinions of your neighbours, you will find that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, true freedom, not only from your neighbours' sins, but, what is far better, freedom from your own.

These are large words, my friends, and promise mighty things. But I dare speak them to you, for God has spoken to you. These promises God made you at your baptism; these promises I, on the warrant of your baptism, dare make to you again. At your baptism, God gave you the right to call Him your loving Father, to call His Son your Saviour, His Spirit your Sanctifier. And He is not a man, that He should lie; nor the son of man, that He should repent! Try Him, and see whether He will not fulfil His word. Claim His promise, and though you have fallen lower than the brutes, He will make men and women of you. He will be faithful and just to forgive you your sins, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.



SERMON VII. RETRIBUTION



NUMBERS, xxxii. 23.

"Be sure your sin will find you out."

The full meaning of this text is, that every sin which a man commits is certain, sooner or later, to come home to him with fearful interest.

Moses gave this warning to two tribes of the Israelites,—to the Reubenites and Gadites, who had promised to go over Jordan, and help their countrymen in war against the heathen, on condition of being allowed to return and settle on the east bank of Jordan, where they then were; but if they broke their promise, and returned before the end of the war, they were to be certain that their sin would find them out; that God would avenge their falsehood on them in some way in their lifetime: in their lifetime, I say, for there is no mention made in this chapter, or in any part of the story, of heaven or hell, or any world to come. And the text has been always taken as a fair warning to all generations of men, that their sin also, even in their lifetimes, will be visited upon them.

Now, it is strange, at first sight, that these texts, which warn men that their sins will be punished in this life, are just the most unpleasant texts in the whole Bible; that men shrink from them more, and shut their eyes to them more than they do to those texts which threaten them with hell-fire and everlasting death. Strange!—that men should be more afraid of being punished in this life for a few years than in the life to come for ever and ever;—and yet not strange if we consider; for to worldly and sinful souls, that life after death and the flames of hell seem quite distant and dim— things of which they know little and believe less, while this world they DO know, they are quite certain that its good things are pleasant and its bad things unpleasant, and they are thoroughly afraid of losing THEM. Their hearts are where their treasure is, in this world; and a punishment which deprives them of this world's good things hits them home: but their treasure is NOT in heaven, and, therefore, about losing heaven they are by no means so much concerned. And thus they can face the dreadful news that "the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God;" while, as for the news that the wicked shall be recompensed on the earth, that their sins will surely find them out in this life, they cannot face that—they shut their ears to it,—they try to persuade themselves that sin will PAY them HERE, at all events; and as for hereafter, they shall get off somehow,—they neither know nor care much how.

Yet God's truth remains, and God's truth must be heard; and those who love this world so well must be told, whether they like or not, that every sin which they commit, every mean, every selfish, every foul deed, loses them so much enjoyment in this very present world of which they are so mighty fond. That is God's truth; and I will prove it true from common sense, from Holy Scripture, and FROM THE WITNESS of men's own hearts.

Take common sense. Does not common sense tell us that if God made this world, and governs it by righteous and God-like laws, this must be a world in which evil-doing cannot thrive? God made the world better than that, surely! He would be a bad law-giver who made such laws, that it was as well to break them as to keep them. You would call them bad laws, surely! No, God made the world, and not the devil; and the world works by God's laws, and not the devil's; and it inclines towards good, and not towards evil; and he who sins, even in the least, breaks God's laws, acts contrary to the rule and constitution of the world, and will surely find that God's laws will go on in spite of him, and grind him to powder, if he by sinning gets in the way of them. God has no need to go out of His way to punish our evil deeds. Let them alone, and they will punish themselves. Is it not so in every thing? If a tradesman trades badly, or a farmer farms badly, there is no need of lawyers to punish him; he will punish himself. Every mistake he makes will take money out of his pocket; every time he offends against the established rules of trade or agriculture, which are God's laws, he injures himself; and so, be sure, it is in the world at large,—in the world in which men and the souls of men live, and move, and have their being.

Next, to speak of Scripture. I might quote texts innumerable to prove that what I say Scripture says also. Consider but this one thing,—that there is a whole book in the Bible written to prove this one thing,—that our good and bad deeds are repaid us with interest in this life—the Proverbs of Solomon I mean—in which there is little or no mention of heaven or hell, or any world to come. It is all one noble, and awful, and yet cheering sermon on that one text, "The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth, much more the wicked and the sinner,"—put in a thousand different lights; brought home to us a thousand different roads, comes the same everlasting doom,—"Vain man, who thinkest that thou canst live in God's world and yet despise His will, know that, in every smiling, comfortable sin, thou art hatching an adder to sting thee in the days of old age, to poison thy cup of sinful joy, even when it is at thy lips; to haunt thy restless thoughts, and dog thee day and night; to rise up before thee, in the silent, sleepless hours of night, like an angry ghost! An awful foretaste of the doom that is to come; and yet a merciful foretaste, if thou wilt be but taught by the disappointment, the unsatisfied craving, the gnawing shame of a guilty conscience, to see the heinousness of sin, and would turn before it be too late."

What, my friends,—what will you make of such texts as this, "That he who soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption?" Do you not see that comes true far too often? Can it help ALWAYS coming true, seeing that God's apostle spoke it? What will you make of this, too, "That the wicked is snared by the working of his own hands;"—"That EVIL"—the evil which we do of its own self—"shall slay the wicked?" What says the whole noble 37th Psalm of David, but that same awful truth of God, that sin is its own punishment?

Why should I go on quoting texts? Look for yourselves, you who fancy that it is only on the other side of the grave that God will trouble Himself about you and your meanness, your profligacy, your falsehood. Look for yourselves in the book of God, and see if there be any writer there,—lawgiver, prophet, psalmist, apostle, up to Christ the Lord Himself,—who does not warn men again and again, that here, on earth, their sins will find them out. Our Saviour, indeed, when on earth, said less about this subject than any of the prophets before Him, or the apostles after Him, and for the best of reasons. The Jews had got rooted in their minds a superstitious notion, that all disease, all sorrow, was the punishment in each case of some particular sin; and thus, instead of looking with pity and loving awe upon the sick and the afflicted, they were accustomed, too often, to turn from them as sinners, smitten of God, bearing in their distress the token of His anger. The blessed One,— He who came to heal the sick and save the lost,—reproved that error more than once. When the disciples fancied a certain poor man's blindness to be a judgment from God, "Neither did he sin," said the Lord, "nor his parents, but that the glory of God might be made manifest in him." And yet, on the other hand, when He healed a certain man of an old infirmity at the pool of Bethesda, what were His words to him? "Go thy way, sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee;"—a clear and weighty warning that all his long misery of eight-and-thirty years had been the punishment of some sin of his, and that the sin repeated would bring on him a still severer judgment.

What, again, does the apostle mean, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, when he tells us how God scourges every son whom he receives, and talks of His chastisements, whereof all are partakers. Why do we need chastising if we have nothing which needs mending? And though the innocent MAY sometimes be afflicted to make them strong as well as innocent, and the holy chastened to make them humble as well as holy, yet if the good cannot escape their share of affliction, how will the bad get off? "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" But what use in arguing when you know that my words are true? You KNOW that your sins will find you out. Look boldly and honestly into your own hearts. Look through the history of your past lives, and confess to God, at least, that the far greater number of your sorrows have been your own fault; that there is hardly a day's misery which you ever endured in your life of which you might not say, 'If I had listened to the voice of God in my conscience—if I had earnestly considered what my DUTY was—if I had prayed to God to determine my judgment right, I should have been spared this sorrow now?' Am I not right? Those who know most of God and their own souls will agree most with me; those who know little about God and their own souls will agree but hardly with me, for they provoke God's chastisements, and writhe under them for the time, and then go and do the same wrong again, as the wild beast will turn and bite the stone thrown at him without having the sense to see why it was thrown.

Think, again, of your past lives, and answer in God's sight, how many wrong things have you ever done which have SUCCEEDED, that is, how many sins which you would not be right glad were undone if you could but put back the wheels of Time? They may have succeeded OUTWARDLY; meanness will succeed so—lies—oppression—theft— adultery—drunkenness—godlessness—they are all pleasant enough while they last, I suppose; and a man may reap what he calls substantial benefits from them in money, and suchlike, and keep that safe enough; but has his sin succeeded? Has it not FOUND HIM OUT?— found him out never to lose him again? Is he the happier for it? Does he feel freer for it? Does he respect himself the more for it?—No! And even though he may prosper now, yet does there not run though all his selfish pleasure a certain fearful looking forward to a fiery judgment to which he would gladly shut his eyes, but cannot?

Cunning, fair-spoken oppressor of the poor, has not thy sin found thee out? Then be sure it will. In the shame of thine own heart it will find thee out;—in the curses of the poor it will find thee out;—in a friendless, restless, hopeless death-bed, thy covetousness and thy cruelty will glare before thee in their true colours, and thy sin will find thee out!

Profligate woman, who art now casting away thy honest name, thy self-respect, thy womanhood, thy baptism-vows, that thou mayest enjoy the foul pleasures of sin for a season, has not thy sin found thee out? Then be sure it will hereafter, when thou hast become disgusted at thyself and thine own infamy,—and youth, and health, and friends, are gone, and a shameful and despised old age creeps over thee, and death stalks nearer and nearer, and God vanishes further and further off, then thy sin will find thee out!

Foolish, improvident young man, who art wasting the noble strength of youth, and manly spirits which God has given thee on sin and folly, throwing away thine honest earnings in cards and drunkenness, instead of laying them by against a time of need—has not thy sin found thee out? Then be sure it will some day, when thou hast to bring home thy bride to a cheerless, unfurnished house, and there to live from hand to mouth,—without money to provide for her sickness,—without money to give her the means of keeping things neat and comfortable when she is well,—without a farthing laid by against distress, and illness, and old age:—THEN your sin will find you out: then, perhaps, my text,—my words—may come across you as you sigh in vain in your comfortless home, in your impoverished old age, for the money which you wasted in your youth! My friends, my friends, for your own sakes consider, and mend ere that day come, as else it surely will!

And, lastly, you who, without running into any especial sins, as those which the world calls sins, still live careless about religion, without loyalty to Christ the Lord, without any honest attempt, or even wish, to serve the God above you, or to rejoice in remembering that you are His children, working for Him and under Him,—be sure your sin will find you out. When affliction, or sickness, or disappointment come, as come they will, if God has not cast you off;—when the dark day dawns, and your fool's paradise of worldly prosperity is cut away from under your feet, then you will find out your folly—you will find that you have insulted the only Friend who can bring you out of affliction—cast off the only comfort which can strengthen you to bear affliction—forgotten the only knowledge which will enable you to be the wiser for affliction. Then, I say, the sin of your godlessness will find you out; if you do not intend to fall, soured and sickened merely by God's chastisements, either into stupid despair or peevish discontent, you will have to go back, to go back to God and cry, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son."

Go back at once before it be too late. Find out your sins and mend them—before they find you out, and break your hearts.



SERMON VIII. SELF-DESTRUCTION



1 KINGS, xxii. 23.

"The Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets."

The chapter from which my text is taken, which is the first lesson for this evening's service, is a very awful chapter, for it gives us an insight into the meaning of that most awful and terrible word— temptation. And yet it is a most comforting chapter, for it shews us how God is long-suffering and merciful, even to the most hardened sinner; how to the last He puts before him good and evil, to choose between them, and warns him to the last of his path, and the ruin to which it leads.

We read of Ahab in the first lesson this morning as a thoroughly wicked man,—mean and weak, cruel and ungodly, governed by his wife Jezebel, a heathen woman, in marrying whom he had broken God's law,— a woman so famous for cruelty and fierceness, vanity and wickedness, that her name is a by-word even here in England now—"as bad as Jezebel," we say to this day. We heard of Ahab in this morning's lesson letting Jezebel murder the righteous Naboth, by perjury and slander, to get possession of his vineyard; and then, instead of shrinking with abhorrence from his wife's iniquity, going down and taking possession of the land which he had gained by her sin. We read of God's curse on him, and yet of God's long-suffering and pardon to him on his repentance. Yet, neither God's curse nor God's mercy seem to have moved him. But he had been always the same. "He did evil," the Bible tells us, "in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him." He deserted the true God for his wife's idols and false gods; and in spite of Elijah's miracle at Carmel—of which you heard last Sunday—by which he proved by fire which was the true God, and in spite of the wonderful victory which God had given him, by means of one of God's prophets, over the Syrians, he still remained an idolater. He would not be taught, nor understand; neither God's threats nor mercies could move him; he went on sinning against light and knowledge; and now his cup was full—his days were numbered, and God's vengeance was ready at the door.

He consulted all his false prophets as to whether or not he should go to attack the Syrians at Ramoth-Gilead. They knew what to say— they knew that their business was to prophesy what would pay them— what would be pleasant to him. They did not care whether what they said was true or not—they lied for the sake of gain, for the Lord had put a lying spirit into their mouths. They were rogues and villains from the first. They had turned prophets, not to speak God's truth, but to make money, to flatter King Ahab, to get themselves a reputation. We do not hear that they were all heathens. Many of them may have believed in the true God. But they were cheats and liars, and so they had given place to the devil, the father of lies: and now he had taken possession of them in spite of themselves, and they lied to Ahab, and told him that he would prosper in the battle at Ramoth-Gilead. It was a dangerous thing for them to say; for if he had been defeated, and returned disappointed, his rage would have most probably fallen on them for deceiving them. And as in those Eastern countries kings do whatever they like without laws or parliaments, Ahab would have most likely put them all to a miserable death on the spot. But however dangerous it might be for them to lie, they could not help lying. A spirit of lies had seized them, and they who began by lying, because it paid them, now could not help doing so whether it paid them or not.

But the good king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, had no faith in these flattering villains. He asked whether there was not another prophet of the Lord to inquire of? Ahab told him that there was one, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but that he hated him, because he only prophesied evil of him. What a thorough picture of a hardened sinner—a man who has become a slave to his own lusts, till he cares nothing for a thing being true, provided only it is pleasant! Thus the wilful sinner, like Ahab, becomes both fool and coward, afraid to look at things as they are; and when God's judgments stare him in the face, the wretched man shuts his eyes tight, and swears that the evil is not there, just because he does not choose to see it.

But the evil was there, ready for Ahab, and it found him. When he forced Micaiah to speak, Micaiah told him the whole truth. He told him a vision, or dream, which he had seen. "Hear thou therefore the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him. And the Lord said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead? And there came forth a spirit, and said, I will go forth, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the Lord said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee."

What warning could be more awful, and yet more plain? Ahab was told that he was listening to a lie. He had free choice to follow that lie or not, and he did follow it. After having put Micaiah into prison for speaking the truth to him, he went up to Ramoth-Gilead; and yet he felt he was not safe. He had his doubts and his fears. He would not go openly into the battle, but disguised himself, hoping that by this means he should keep himself safe from evil. Fool! God's vengeance could not be stopped by his paltry cunning. In spite of all his disguises, a chance shot struck him down between the joints of his armour. His chariot-driver carried him out of the battle, and "he was stayed up in his chariot against the Syrians, and died at even: and the blood ran out of his wound into the midst of the chariot. And one washed the chariot in the pool of Samaria; and the dogs licked up his blood there," according to the word of the Lord, which He spoke by the mouth of His prophet Elijah, saying, "In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, whom thou slewest, shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine."

And do not fancy, my friends, that because this is a miraculous story of ancient times, it has nothing to do with us. All these things were written for our example. This chapter tells us not merely how Ahab was tempted, but it tells us how WE are tempted, every one of us, here in England, in these very days. As it was with Ahab, so it is with us. Every wilful sin that we commit we give room to the devil. Every wrong step that we take knowingly, we give a handle to some evil spirit to lead us seven steps further wrong. And yet in every temptation God gives us a fair chance. He is no cruel tyrant who will deliver us over to the devil, to be led helpless and blindfold to our ruin. He did not give Ahab over to him so. He sent a lying spirit to deceive Ahab's prophets, that Ahab might go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead; but at the very same time, see, he sends a holy and a true man, a man whom Ahab could trust, and did trust at the bottom of his heart, to tell him that the lie was a lie, to warn him of his ruin, so that he might have no excuse for listening to those false prophets—no excuse for following his own pride, his own ambition, to his destruction. So you see, "Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God, for God tempteth no man, but every one is tempted when he is led away by his own lust and enticed." Ahab was led away by his own lust; his cowardly love of hearing what was pleasant and flattering to him, rather than what was true—rather than what he knew he deserved; that was what enticed him to listen to Zedekiah and the false prophets, rather than to Micaiah the son of Imlah. THAT is what entices us to sin—the lust of believing what is pleasant to us, what suits our own self-will—what is pleasant to our bodies— pleasant to our purses—pleasant to our pride and self-conceit. Then, when the lying spirit comes and whispers to us, by bad thoughts, by bad books, by bad men, that we shall prosper in our wickedness, does God leave us alone to listen to those evil voices without warning? No! He sends His prophets to us, as He sent Micaiah to Ahab, to tell us that the wages of sin is death—to tell us that those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind—to set before us at every turn good or evil, that we may choose between them, and live or die according to our choice. For do not fancy that there are no prophets in our days, unless the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is promised to all who believe, be a dream and a lie. There are prophets nowadays,—yea, I say unto you, and more than prophets. Is not the Bible a prophet? Is not every page in it a prophecy to us, foretelling God's mercies and God's punishments towards men. Is not every holy and wise book, every holy and wise preacher and writer, a prophet, expounding to us God's laws, foretelling to us God's opinions of our deeds, both good and evil? Ay, is not every man a prophet to himself? That "still small voice" in a man's heart, which warns him of what is evil—that feeling which makes him cheerful and free when he has done right, sad and ashamed when he has done wrong—is not that a prophecy in a man's own heart? Truly it is. It is the voice of God within us—it is the Spirit of God striving with our spirits, whether we will hear, or whether we will forbear—setting before us what is righteous, and noble, and pure, and what is manly and God-like—to see whether we will obey that voice, or whether we will obey our own selfish lusts, which tempt us to please ourselves—to pamper ourselves, our greediness, covetousness, ambition, or self-conceit. And again, I say, we have our prophets. Every preacher of righteousness is a prophet. Every good tract is a prophet. That Prayer-book, those Psalms, those Creeds, those Collects, which you take into your mouths every Sunday, what are they but written prophecies, crying unto us with the words of holy men of old, greater than Micaiah, or David, or Elijah, "Hear thou the word of the Lord?" The spirits of those who wrote that Prayer-book—the spirits of just men made perfect, filled with the Spirit of the Lord—they call to us to learn the wisdom which they knew, to avoid the temptations which they conquered, that we may share in the glory in which they shared round the throne of Christ for evermore.

And if you ask me how to try the spirits, how to know whether your own thoughts, whether the sermons which you hear, the books which you read, are speaking to you God's truth, or some lying spirit's falsehood, I can only answer you, "To the law and to the testimony"— to the Bible; if they speak not according to that word, there is no truth in them. But how to understand the Bible? for the fleshly man understands not the things of God. The fleshly man, he who cares only about pleasing himself, he who goes to the Bible full of self- conceit and selfishness, wanting the Bible to tell him only just what he likes to hear, will only find it a sealed book to him, and will very likely wrest the Scriptures to his own destruction. Take up your Bible humbly, praying to God to shew you its meaning, whether it be pleasant to you or not, and then you will find that God will shew you a blessed meaning in it; He will open your eyes, that you may understand the wondrous things of His law; He will shew you how to try the spirit of all you are taught, and to find out whether it comes from God.



SERMON IX. HELL ON EARTH



MATTHEW, viii. 29.

"And behold the evil spirits cried out, saying, What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God? Art Thou come hither to torment us before the time?"

This account of the man possessed with devils, and of his language to our Lord, of our Lord's casting the devils out of the poor sufferer, and His allowing them to enter into a herd of swine, is one that is well worth serious thought; and I think a few words on it will follow fitly after my last Sunday's sermon on Ahab and his temptations by evil spirits. In that sermon I shewed you what temper of mind it was which laid a man open to the cunning of evil spirits; I wish now to shew you something of what those evil spirits are. It is very little that we can know about them. We were intended to know very little, just as much as would enable us to guard against them, and no more. The accounts of them in the Scriptures are for our use, not to satisfy our curiosity. But we may find out a great deal about them from this very chapter, from this very story, which is repeated almost word for word in three different Gospels, as if to make us more certain of so curious and important a matter, by having three distinct and independent writers to witness for its truth. I advise all those who have Bibles to look for this story in the 8th chapter of St. Matthew, and follow me as I explain it. {1}

Now, first, we may learn from this account, that evil spirits are real persons. There is a notion got abroad that it is only a figure of speech to talk of evil spirits, that all the Bible means by them are certain bad habits, or bad qualities, or diseases. There are many who will say when they read this story, 'This poor man was only a madman. It was the fashion of the old Jews when a man was mad to say that he was possessed by evil spirits. All they meant was that the man's own spirit was in an evil diseased state, or that his brain and mind were out of order.'

When I hear such language—and it is very common—I cannot help thinking how pleased the devil must be to hear people talk in such a way. How can people help him better than by saying that there is no devil? A thief would be very glad to hear you say, 'There are no such things as thieves; it is all an old superstition, so I may leave my house open at night without danger;' and I believe, my friends, from the very bottom of my heart, that this new-fangled disbelief in evil spirits is put into men's hearts by the evil spirits themselves. As it was once said, 'The devil has tried every plan to catch men's souls, and now, as the last and most cunning trick of all, he is shamming dead.' These may seem homely words, but the homeliest words are very often the deepest. I advise you all to think seriously on them.

But it is impossible surely to read this story without seeing that the Bible considers evil spirits as distinct persons, just as much as each one of us is a person, and that our Lord spoke to them and treated them as persons. "What have WE to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God? Art Thou come hither to torment US before the time?" And again, "If Thou cast US out, suffer us to go into the herd of swine." What can shew more plainly that there were some persons in that poor man, besides himself, his own spirit, his own person? and that HE knew it, and Jesus knew it too? and that He spoke to these spirits, these persons, who possessed that man, and not to the man himself? No doubt there was a terrible confusion in the poor madman's mind about these evil spirits, who were tormenting him, making him miserable, foul, and savage, in mind and body—a terrible confusion! We find, when Jesus asked him his name, he answers "LEGION," that is an army, a multitude, "for we are many," he says. Again, one gospel tells us that he says, "What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God?" While in another Gospel we are told that he said, "What have WE to do with Thee?" He seems not to have been able to distinguish between his own spirit, and these spirits who possessed him. They put the furious and despairing thoughts into his heart; they spoke through his mouth; they made a slave and a puppet of him. But though he could not distinguish between his own soul and the devils who were in it, Christ could and Christ did.

The man says to Him, or rather the devils make the man say to Him, "If Thou cast us out, suffer us to go into the herd of swine, and drive us not out into the deep." What did Christ answer him? Christ did not answer him as our so-called wise men in these days would, 'My good man, this is all a delusion and a fancy of your own, about your having evil spirits in you—more persons than one in you— for you are wrong in saying WE of yourself. You ought to say "I," as every one else does; and as for spirits going out of you, or going into a herd of swine, or anything else, that is all a superstition and a fancy. There is nothing to come out of you, there is nothing in you except yourself. All the evil in you is your own, the disease of your own brain, and the violent passions of your own heart. Your brain must be cured by medicine, and your violent passions tamed down by care and kindness, and then you will get rid of this foolish notion that you have evil spirits in you, and calling yourself a multitude, as if you had other persons in you besides yourself.'

Any one who spoke in this manner nowadays would be thought very reasonable and very kind. Why did not our Lord speak so to this man, for there was no outward difference between this man's conduct and that of many violent mad people whom we see continually in England? We read, that this man possessed with devils would wear no clothes; that he had extraordinary strength; that he would not keep company with other men, but abode day and night in the tombs, exceeding fierce, crying and cutting himself with stones, trying in blind rage, which he could not explain to himself, to hurt himself and all who came near him. And, above all, he had this notion, that evil spirits had got possession of him. Now every one of these habits and fancies you may see in many raging maniacs at this day.

But did our Lord treat this man as we treat such maniacs in these days? He took the man at his word, and more; the man could not distinguish clearly between himself and the evil spirits, but our Lord did. When the devils besought Him, saying, "If thou cast us out, suffer us to go into the herd of swine," our Lord answers "Go;" and "when they were cast out, they went into the herd of swine; and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters."

It was as if our Lord had meant to say to the bystanders,—ay and to us, and to all people in all times and in all countries, 'This poor possessed maniac's notion was a true one. There were other persons in him besides himself, tormenting him, body and soul: and, behold, I can drive these out of him and send them into something else, and leave the man uninjured, HIMSELF, and only himself, again in an instant, without any need of long education to cure him of his bad habits.' It will be but reasonable, then, for us to take this story of the man possessed by devils, as written for our example, as an instance of what MIGHT, and perhaps WOULD, happen to any one of us, were it not for God's mercy.

St. Peter tells us to be sober and watchful, because "the devil goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour;" and when we look at the world around, we may surely see that that stands as true now as it did in St. Peter's time. Why, again, did St. James tells us to resist the devil if the devil be not near us to resist? Why did St. Paul take for granted, as he did, that Christian men were, of course, not ignorant of Satan's devices, if it be quite a proof of enlightenment and superior knowledge to be ignorant of his devices,—if any dread, any thought even, about evil spirits, be beneath the attention of reasonable men? My friends, I say fairly, once for all, that that common notion, that there are no men now possessed by evil spirits, and that all those stories of the devil's power over men are only old, worn-out superstitions has come from this, that men do not like to retain God in their knowledge, and therefore, as a necessary consequence, do not like to retain the devil in their knowledge; because they would be very glad to believe in nothing but what they can see, and taste, and handle; and, therefore, the thought of unseen evil spirits, or good spirits either, is a painful thing to them. First, they do not really believe in angels—ministering spirits sent out to minister to the heirs of salvation; then they begin not to believe in evil spirits. The Bible plainly describes their vast numbers; but these people are wiser than the Bible, and only talk of ONE—of THE devil, as if there were not, as the text tells us, legions and armies of devils. Then they get rid of that one devil in their real desire to believe in as few spirits as possible. I am afraid many of them have gone on to the next step, and got rid of the one God out of their thoughts and their belief. I said I am afraid, I ought to have said I KNOW, that they have done so, and that thousands in this day who began by saying evil spirits only mean certain diseases and bad habits in men, have ended by saying, "God only means certain good habits in man. God is no more a person than the evil spirits are persons."

I warn you of all this, my friends, because if you go to live in large towns, as many of you will, you will hear talk enough of this sort before your hairs are grey, put cleverly and eloquently enough; for, as a wise man said, "The devil does not send fools on his errands." I pray God, that if you ever do hear doctrines of that kind, some of my words may rise in your mind and help to shew to you the evil path down which they lead.

We may believe, then, from the plain words of Scriptures, that there are vast numbers of evil spirits continually tempting men, each of them to some particular sin; to worldliness, for instance, for we read of the spirit of the evil world; to filthiness, for we read of unclean spirits; to falsehood, for we read of lying spirits and a spirit of lies; to pride, for we read of a spirit of pride;—in short, to all sins which a man CAN commit, to all evil passions to which a man can give way. We have a right to believe, from the plain words of Scripture, that these spirits are continually wandering up and down tempting men to sin. That wonderful story of Job's temptation, which you may all read for yourselves in the first chapter of the book of Job, is, I think, proof enough for any one.

But next, and I wish you to pay special attention to this point: We have no right to believe,—we have every right NOT to believe, that these evil spirits can make us sin in the smallest matter against our own wills. The devil cannot put a single sin into us; he can only flatter the sinfulness which is already in us. For, see; this pride, lust, covetousness, falsehood, and so on, to which the Bible tells us they tempt us, have roots already in our nature. Our fallen nature of itself is inclined to pride, to worldliness, and so on. These devils tempt us by putting in our way the occasion to sin, by suggesting to us tempting thoughts and arguments which lead to sin; so the serpent tempted Eve, not by making her ambitious and self-willed, but by using arguments to her which stirred up the ambition and self-will in her: "Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil," the devil said to her.

So Satan, the prince of the evil spirits, tempted our Lord. And as the prince of the devils tempted Christ, so do HIS servants tempt US, Christ's servants. Our tempers, our longings, our fancies, are not evil spirits; they are, as old divines well describe them, like greedy and foolish fish, who rise at the baits which evil spirits hold out to us. If we resist those baits—if we put ourselves under God's protection—if we claim strength from Him who conquered the devil and all His temptations, then we shall be able to turn our wills away from those tempting baits, and to resign our wills into our Father's hand, and He will take care of them, and strengthen them with His will; and we shall find out that if we resist the devil, he will flee from us. But if we yield to temptations whenever they come in our way, we shall find ourselves less and less able to resist them, for we shall learn to hate the evil spirits less and less; I mean we shall shrink less from the evil thoughts they hold out to us. We shall give place to the devil, as the Scripture tells us we shall; for instance, by indulging in habitual passionate tempers, or rooted spite and malice, letting the sun go down upon our wrath: and so a man may become more and more the slave of his own nature, of his own lusts and passions, and therefore of the devils, who are continually pampering and maddening those lusts and passions, till a man may end in COMPLETE POSSESSION; not in common madness, which may be mere disease, but as a savage and a raging maniac, such as, thank God, are rare in Christian countries, though they were common among our own forefathers before they were converted to Christianity,—men like the demoniac of whom the text speaks, tormented by devils, given up to blind rage and malice against himself and all around, to lust and blasphemy, to confusion of mind and misery of body, God's image gone, and the image of the devil, the destroyer and the corrupter, arisen in its place. Few men can arrive at this pitch of wretchedness in a civilised country. It would not answer the evil spirit's purpose to let them do so. It suits HIS spirits best in such a land as this to walk about dressed up as angels of light. Few men in England would be fools enough to indulge the gross and fierce part of their nature till they became mere savages, like the demoniac whom Christ cured; so it is to respectable vices that the devil mostly tempts us,—to covetousness, to party spirit, to a hard heart and a narrow mind; to cruelty, that shall clothe itself under the name of law; to filthiness, which excuses itself by saying, "It is a man's nature, he cannot help it;" to idleness, which excuses itself on the score of wealth; to meanness and unfairness in trade, and in political and religious disputes—these are the devils which haunt us Englishmen— sleek, prim, respectable fiends enough; and, truly, THEIR name is Legion! And the man who gives himself up to them, though he may not become a raving savage, is just as truly possessed by devils, to his own misery and ruin, that he may sow the wind and reap the whirlwind; that though men may speak well of him, and posterity praise his saying, and speak good of the covetous whom God abhorreth, yet he may go for ever unto his own, to the evil spirits to whom his own wicked will gave him up for a prey. I beseech you, my friends, consider my words; they are not mine, but the Bible's. Think of them with fear;—and yet with confidence, for we are baptised into the name of Him who conquered all devils; you may claim a share in that Spirit which is opposite to all evil spirits,— whose presence makes the agony and misery of evil spirits, and drives them out as water drives out fire. If He is on your side, why should you be afraid of any spirit? Greater is He that is in you than he that is against you; and He, Christ Himself, is with every man, every child, who struggles, however blindly and weakly, against temptation. When temptation comes, when evil looks pleasant, and arguments rise up in your mind, that seem to make it look right and reasonable, as well as pleasant, THEN, out of the very depths of your hearts, cry after Him who died for you. Say to yourselves, 'How can I do this thing, and offend against Him who bought me with His blood?' Say to Him, 'I am weak, I am confused; I do not see right from wrong; I cannot find my way; I cannot answer the devil; I cannot conquer these cunning thoughts; I know in the bottom of my heart that they are wrong, mere temptations, and yet they look so reasonable. Blessed Saviour, THOU must shew me where they are wrong. Thou didst answer the devil Thyself out of God's Word, put into MY mind some answer out of God's Word to these temptations; or, at least, give me spirit to toss them off—strength of will to thrust the whole temptation out of my head, and say, I will parley no longer with the devil; I will put the whole matter out of my head for a time. I don't know whether it is right or wrong for me to do this particular thing, but there are twenty other things which I DO know are right. I'll go and do THEM, and let this wait awhile.'

Believe me, my friends, you CAN do this—you can resist these evil spirits which tempt us all; else why did our Lord bid us pray, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil?" Why? Because our Father in heaven, if we ask Him, will NOT lead us INTO temptation, but THROUGH it safe. Tempted we MUST be, else we should not be men; but here is our comfort and our strength—that we have a King in heaven, who has fought out and conquered all temptations, and a Father in heaven, who has promised that He will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, but will, with the temptation, make a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it.

Again, I say, draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.



SERMON X. NOAH'S JUSTICE



GENESIS, vi. 9.

"Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God."

I intend, my friends, according as God shall help me, to preach to you, between this time and Christmas, a few sermons on some of the saints and worthies of the Old Testament; and I will begin this day with Noah.

Now you must bear in mind that the histories of these ancient men were, as St. Paul says, written for our example. If these men in old times had been different from us, they would not be examples to us; but they were like us—men of like passions, says St. James, as ourselves; they had each of them in them a corrupt NATURE, which was continually ready to drag them down, and make beasts of them, and make them slaves to their own lusts—slaves to eating and drinking, and covetousness, and cowardice, and laziness, and love for the things which they could see and handle—just such a nature, in short, as we have. And they had also a spirit in each of them which was longing to be free, and strong, and holy, and wise—such a spirit as we have. And to them, just as to us, God was revealing himself; God was saying to their consciences, as He does to ours, 'This is right, that is wrong; do this, and be free and clear- hearted; do that, and be dark and discontented, and afraid of thy own thoughts.' And they too, like us, had to live by faith, by continual belief that they owed a DUTY to the great God whom they could not see, by continual belief that He loved them, and was guiding and leading them through every thing which happened, good or ill.

This is faith in God, by which alone we, or any man, can live worthily,—by which these old heroes lived. We read, in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, that it was by faith these elders obtained a good report; and the whole history of the Old-Testament saints is the history of God speaking to the hearts of one man after another, teaching them each more and more about Himself, and the history also of these men listening to the voice of God in their hearts, and BELIEVING that voice, and acting faithfully upon it, into whatever strange circumstances or deeds it might lead them. "By faith," we read in this same chapter,—"by faith Noah, being warned of God, prepared an ark to the saving of his house, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith."

Now, to understand this last sentence, you must remember that Noah was not under the law of Moses. St. Paul has a whole chapter (the third chapter of Galatians) to shew that these old saints had nothing to do with Moses' law any more than we have, that it was given to the Jews many hundred years afterwards. So these histories of the Old-Testament saints are, in fact, histories of men who conquered by faith—histories of the power which faith in God has to conquer temptation, and doubt, and false appearances, and fear, and danger, and all which besets us and keeps us down from being free and holy, and children of the day, walking cheerfully forward on our heavenward road in the light of our Father's loving smile.

Noah, we read, "was a just man, and perfect in his generations;" and why? Because he was a faithful man—faithful to God, as it is written, "The just shall live by his faith;" not by trusting in what he does himself, in his own works or deservings, but trusting in God who made him, believing that God is perfectly righteous, perfectly wise, perfectly loving; and that, because He is perfectly loving, He will accept and save sinful man when He sees in sinful man the earnest wish to be His faithful, obedient servant, and to give himself up to the rule and guidance of God. This, then, was Noah's justice in God's sight, as it was Abraham's. They believed God, and so became heirs of the righteousness which is by faith; not their own righteousness, not growing out of their own character, but given them by God, who puts His righteous Spirit into those who trust in Him.

But, moreover, we read that Noah "was perfect in his generations;" that is, he was perfect in all the relations and duties of life,—a good son, a good husband, a good father: these were the fruits of his faith. He believed that the unseen God had given him these ties, had given him his parents, his children, and that to love them was to love God, to do his duty to them was to do his duty to God. This was part of his walking with God, continually under his great Taskmaster's eye,—walking about his daily business with the belief that a great loving Father was above him, whatever he did; ready to strengthen, and guide, and bless him if he did well, ready to avenge Himself on him if he did ill. These were the fruits of Noah's faith.

But you may think this nothing very wonderful. Many a man in England does this every day, and yet no one ever hears of him; he attends to all his family ties, doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, like one who knows he is redeemed by Christ's blood; he lives, he dies, he is buried, and out of his own parish his name is never known; while Noah has earned for himself a worldwide fame; for four thousand years his name has been spreading over the whole earth as one of the greatest men who ever lived. Mighty nations have worshipped Noah as a God; many heathen nations worship him under strange and confused names and traditions to this day; and the wisest and holiest men among Christians now reverence Noah, write of him, preach on him, thank God for him, look up to him as, next to Abraham, their greatest example in the Old Testament.

Well, my friends, to understand what made Noah so great, we must understand in what times Noah lived. "The wickedness of men was great in the earth in those days, and every imagination of the thoughts of their heart was only evil continually, and the earth was filled with violence through them." And we must remember that the wickedness of men before the flood was not outwardly like wickedness now; it was not petty, mean, contemptible wickedness of silly and stupid men, such as could be despised and laughed down; it was like the wickedness of fallen angels. Men were then strong and beautiful, cunning and active, to a degree of which we can form no conception. Their enormous length of life (six, seven, and eight hundred years commonly) must have given them an experience and daring far beyond any man in these days. Their bodily size and strength were in many cases enormous. We read that "there were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown." Their powers of invention seem to have been proportionably great. We read, in the fourth chapter of Genesis, how, within a few years after Adam was driven out of Paradise, they had learned to build cities, to tame the wild beasts, and live upon their milk and flesh; that they had invented all sorts of music and musical instruments; that they had discovered the art of working in metals. We read among them of Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every workman in brass and iron; and the old traditions in the East, where these men dwelt, are full of strange and awful tales of their power.

Again, we must remember that there was no law in Noah's days before the flood, no Bible to guide them, no constitutions and acts of parliament to bind men in the beaten track by the awful majesty of law, whether they will or no, as we have.

This is the picture which the Bible gives us of the old world before the flood—a world of men mighty in body and mind, fierce and busy, conquering the world round them, in continual war and turmoil; with all the wild passions of youth, and yet all the cunning and experience of enormous old age; with the strength and the courage of young men to carry out the iniquity of old ones; every one guided only by self-will, having cast off God and conscience, and doing every man that which was right in the sight of his own eyes. And amidst all this, while men, as wise, as old, as strong, as great as himself, whirled away round him in this raging sea of sin, Noah was stedfast; he, at least, knew his way,—"he walked with God, a just man, and perfect in his generations."

To Noah, living in such a world as this, among temptation, and violence, and insult, no doubt, there came this command from God: "The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is filled with violence through them, and I will destroy them with the earth. And behold I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh wherein is the breath of life; but with thee will I establish my covenant, and thou shalt make thee an ark of wood after the fashion which I tell thee; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou and thy family, and of every living thing, two of every sort, male and female, shalt thou bring into the ark, and keep them alive with thee; and take thou of all food that is eaten into the ark, for thee and for them." What a message, my friends! If we wish to see a little of the greatness of Noah's faith, conceive such a message coming from God to one of us! Should we believe it—much less act upon it? But NOAH believed God, says the Scripture; and "according as God commanded him, so did he." Now, in whatever way this command came from God to Noah, it is equally wonderful. Some of you, perhaps, will say in your hearts, 'No! when God spoke to him, how could he help obeying Him?' But, my friends, ask yourselves seriously,—for, believe me, it is a most important question for the soul and inner life of you and me, and every man— how did Noah know that it was God who spoke to him? It is easy to say God appeared to him; but no man hath seen God at any time. It is easy, again, to say that an angel appeared to him, or that God appeared to him in the form of a man; but still the same question is left to be answered, how did he know that this appearance came from God, and that its words were true? Why should not Noah have said, 'This was an evil spirit which appeared to me, trying to frighten and ruin me, and stir up all my neighbours to mock me, perhaps to murder me?' Or, again; suppose that you or I saw some glorious apparition this day, which told us on such and such a day such and such a town will be destroyed, what should WE think of it? Should we not say, I must have been dreaming—I must have been ill, and so my brain and eyes must have been disordered, and treat the whole thing as a mere fancy of ill-health; now why did not Noah do the same?

Why do I say this? To shew you, my friends, that it is not apparitions and visions which can make a man believe. As it is written, "If they believe not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe though one rose from the dead." No; a man must have faith in his heart already. A man must first be accustomed to discern right from wrong—to listen to and to obey the voice of God within him; THAT word of God of which it is said, "the word is nigh thee, in thy heart, and in thy mind," before he can hear God's word from without; else he will only explain away miracles, and call visions and apparitions sick men's dreams.

But there was something yet more wonderful and divine in Noah's faith,—I mean his patience. He knew that a flood was to come—he set to work in faith to build his ark—and that ark was in building for one hundred and twenty years,—one hundred and twenty years! It seems at first past all belief. For all that time he built; and all the while the world went on just as usual; and, before he had finished, old men had died, and children grown into years; and great cities had sprung up perhaps where there was not a cottage before; and trees which were but a yard high when that ark was begun had grown into mighty forest-timber; and men had multiplied and spread, and yet Noah built and built on stedfastly, believing that what God had said would surely one day or other come to pass. For one hundred and twenty years he saw the world go on as usual, and yet he never forgot that it was a doomed world. He endured the laughter and mockery of all his neighbours, and every fresh child who was born grew up to laugh at the foolish old man who had been toiling for a hundred years past on his mad scheme, as they thought it; and yet Noah never lost faith, and he never lost LOVE either—for all those years, we read, he preached righteousness to the very men who mocked him, and preached in vain—one hundred and twenty years he warned those sinners of God's wrath, of righteousness and judgment to come, and no man listened to him! That, I believe, must have been, after all, the hardest of all his trials.

And, doubtless, Noah had his inward temptation many a time; no doubt he was ready now and then to believe God's message all a dream—to laugh at himself for his fears of a flood which seemed never coming, but in his heart was "the still small voice" of God, warning him that God was not a man that he should lie, or repent, or deceive those who walked faithfully with him; and around him he saw men growing and growing in iniquity, filling up the cup of their own damnation; and he said to himself, 'Verily there is a God who judgeth the earth—for all this a reckoning day will surely come;' and he worked stedfastly on, and the ark was finished. And then at last there came a second call from God, "Come thou and all thy house into the ark, for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. Yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth, and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the earth." And Noah entered into the ark, and seven days he waited; and louder than ever laughed the scoffers round him, at the old man and his family shut into his ark safe on dry land, while day and night went on as quietly as ever, and the world ran its usual round; for seven days more their mad game lasted—they ate, they drank, they married, they gave in marriage, they planted, they builded; and on the seventh day it came—the rain fell day after day, and week after week—and the windows of heaven were opened, and the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the flood arose, and swept them all away!



SERMON XI. THE NOACHIC COVENANT



GEN, ix. 8, 9.

"And God spake unto Noah, and his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you."

In my last sermon on Noah I spoke of the flood and of Noah's faith before the flood; I now go on to speak of the covenant which God made with Noah after the flood. Now, Noah stood on that newly-dried earth as the head of mankind; he and his family, in all eight souls, saved by God's mercy from the general ruin, were the only human beings left alive, and had laid on them the wonderful and glorious duty of renewing the race of man, and replenishing the vast world around them. From that little knot of human beings were to spring all the nations of the earth.

And because this calling and destiny of theirs was a great and all- important one—because so much of the happiness or misery of the new race of mankind depended on the teaching which they would get from their forefathers, the sons of Noah, therefore God thought fit to make with Noah and his sons a solemn covenant, as soon as they came out of the ark.

Let us solemnly consider this covenant, for it stands good now as much as ever. God made it "with Noah, and his seed after him," for perpetual generations. And WE are the seed of Noah; every man, woman, and child of us here were in the loins of Noah when the great absolute God gave him that pledge and promise. We must earnestly consider that covenant, for in it lies the very ground and meaning of man's life and business on this earth.

"And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth; and the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every living creature. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you, even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof shall ye not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of men; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man."

Now, to understand this covenant, consider what thoughts would have been likely to grow up in the mind of Noah's children after the flood. Would they not have been something of this kind: 'God does not love men; He has drowned all but us, and we are men of like passions with the world who perished, may we not expect the like ruin at any moment? Then what use to plough and sow, and build and plant, and work for those who shall come after us?' 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.'

And again, they would have been ready to say, 'This God, whom our forefather Noah said sent floods, we cannot see Him; but the floods themselves we can see. All these clouds and tempests, lightning, sun, and stars, are we STRONGER than them? No! They may crush us, drown us, strike us dead at any moment. They seem, too, to go by certain wonderful rules and laws; perhaps they have a will and understanding in them. Instead of praying to a God whom we never saw, why not pray to the thunderclouds not to strike us dead, and to the seas and rivers not to sweep us away? For this great, wonderful, awful world in which we are, however beautiful may be its flowers, and its fruits, and its sunshine, there is no trusting it; we are sitting upon a painted sepulchre, a beautiful monster, a gulf of flood and fire, which may burst up any moment, and sweep us away, as it did our forefathers.'

Again, Noah's children would have begun to say, 'These beasts here round us, they are so many of them larger than us, stronger than us, able to tear us to atoms, eat us up as they would eat a lamb. They are self-sufficient, too; they want no clothes, nor houses, nor fire, like us poor, weak, naked, soft human creatures. They can run faster than we, see farther than we; their scent, too, what a wonderful, mysterious power that is, like a miracle to us! And, besides all their cunning ways of getting food and building nests, they never do WRONG; they never do horrible things contrary to their nature; they all abide as God has made them, obeying the law of their kind. Are not these beasts, then, much wiser and better than we? We will honour them, and pray to them not to devour us—to make us cunning and powerful as they are themselves. And if they are no better than us, surely they are no worse than us. After all, what difference is there between a man and a beast? The flood which drowned the beasts drowned the men too. A beast is flesh and blood, what more is a man? If you kill him, he dies, just as a beast dies; and why should not a man's carcase be just as good to eat as a beast's, and better?' And so there would have been a free opening at once into all the horrors of cannibalism!

Again, Noah's descendants would have said, 'Our forefathers offered sacrifices to the unseen God, as a sign that all they had belonged to Him, and that they had forfeited their own souls by sin, and were therefore ready to give up the most precious things they had—their cattle, as a sign that they owed all to that very God whom they had offended. But are not human creatures much more precious than cattle? Will it not be a much greater sign of repentance and willingness to give up all to God if we offer Him the best things which we have—human creatures? If we kill and sacrifice to Him our most beautiful and innocent things—little children—noble young men—beautiful young girls?'

My friends, these are very strange and shocking thoughts, but they have been in the hearts and minds of all nations. The heathens do such things now. Our own forefathers used to do such things once; they were tempted to worship the sun and the moon, and the rivers, and the thunder, and to look with superstitious terror at the bears, and the wolves, and the snakes, round them, and to kill their young children and maidens, and offer them up as sacrifices to the dark powers of this world, which they thought were ready to swallow them up. And God is my witness, my friends, when one goes through some parts of England now, and sees the mine-children and factory- children, and all the sin and misery, and the people wearying themselves in the fire for very vanity, we seem not to be so very far from the same dark superstition now, though we may call it by a different name. England has been sacrificing her sons and her daughters to the devil of covetousness of late years, just as much as our forefathers offered theirs to the devil of selfish and cowardly superstition.

But see, now, how this covenant which God made with Noah was intended just to remedy every one of those temptations which I just mentioned, into which Noah's children's children would have been certain to fall, and into which so many of them did fall. They might have become reckless, I said, from fear of a flood at any moment. God promises them—and confirms it with the sign of the rainbow—never again to destroy the earth by water. They would have been likely to take to praying to the rain and the thunder, the sun and the stars; God declares in this covenant that it is HE alone who sends the rain and thunder, that He brings the clouds over the earth, that He rules the great, awful world; that men are to look up and believe in God as a loving and thinking PERSON, who has a will of His own, and that a faithful, and true, and loving, and merciful will; that their lives and safety depend not on blind chance, or the stern necessity of certain laws of nature, but on the covenant of an almighty and all-loving person.

Again, I said, that Noah's sons would have been ready to fear, and, at last, to worship the dumb beasts; God's covenant says, "No; these beasts are not your equals—they are your slaves—you may freely kill them for your food; the fear of you shall be upon them. The huge elephant and the swift horse shall become your obedient servants; the lion and the tiger shall tremble and flee before you. Only claim your rights as men; believe that the invisible God who made the earth is your strength and your protector, and that He to whom the earth belongs has made you lords of the earth and all that therein is. But," said God's covenant to Noah's sons, "you did not MAKE these beasts—you did not give them life, therefore I forbid you to eat their blood wherein their life lies; that you may never forget that all the power you have over these beasts was given you by God, who made and preserves that wonderful, mysterious, holy thing called life, which you can never imitate." Again, I said, that Noah's children, having been accustomed to the violence and bloodshed on the earth before the flood, might hold man's life cheap; that, having seen in the flood men perish just like the beasts around them, they might have begun to think that man's life was not more precious than the beasts'. They might have all gone on at last, as some of them did, to those horrors of cannibalism and human sacrifice of which I just now spoke. Now, here, again comes in God's covenant, "Surely the blood of your lives will I require. At the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of every man's brother will I require it. Whoso sheddeth man's blood by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man." This, then, is the covenant which God made with Noah for perpetual generations, and therefore with us, the children of Noah. In this covenant you see certain truths come out into light; some, of which you read nothing before in the Bible, and other truths which, though they were given to Adam, yet had been utterly lost sight of before the flood. This has been God's method, we find from the Bible, ever since the creation,—to lead man step by step up into more and more light, up to this very day, and to make each sin and each madness of men an occasion for revealing to Him more and more of truth and of the living God. And so each and every chapter in the Bible is built upon all that has gone before it; and he that neglects to understand what has gone before will never come to the understanding of what follows after. Why do I say this? Because men are continually picking out those scraps of the Bible which suit their own fancy, and pinning their whole faith on them, and trying to make them serve to explain every thing in heaven and earth; whereas no man can understand the Epistles unless he first understand the Gospels. No man will understand the New Testament unless he first understands the pith and marrow of the Old. No man will understand the Psalms and the Prophets unless he first understands the first ten chapters of Genesis; and, lastly, no one will ever understand any thing about the Bible at all, who, instead of taking it simply as it is written, is always trying to twist it into proofs of his own favourite doctrines, and make Abraham a high Calvinist, or Noah a member of the Church of England. Why do I say this? To make you all think seriously that this covenant on which I have been preaching is your covenant; that as sure as the rainbow stands in heaven, as sure as you and I are sprung out of the loins of Noah, so surely this covenant which binds us is part of our Christian covenant, and woe to us if we break it!

This covenant tells us that we are made in God's likeness, and, therefore, that all sin is unworthy of us and unnatural to us. It tells us that God means us bravely and industriously to subdue the earth and the living things upon it; that we are to be the masters of the pleasant things about us, and not their slaves, as sots and idlers are; that we are stewards and tenants of this world for the great God who made it, to whom we are to look up in confidence for help and protection. It tells us that our family relationships, the blessed duties of a husband and a father, are sacred things; that God has created them, that the great God of heaven Himself respects them, that the covenant which He makes with the father He makes with the children; that He commands marriage, and that He blesses it with fruitfulness; that it is He who has told us "Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth;" that the tie of brotherhood is His making also; that HE will require the blood of the murdered man AT HIS BROTHER'S HAND; that a man's brothers, his nearest relations, are bound to protect and right him if he is injured; so that we all are to be, in the deepest sense of the word, what Cain refused to be, our BROTHERS' KEEPERS, and each member of a family is more or less answerable for the welfare and safety of all his relations. Herein lies the ground of all religion and of all society—in the covenant which God made with Noah; and just as it is in vain for a man to pretend to be a scholar when he does not even know his letters, so it is mockery for a man to pretend to be a converted Christian man who knows not even so much as was commanded to Noah and his sons. He who has not learnt to love, honour, and succour his own family—he who has not learnt to work in honest and manful industry—he who has not learnt to look beyond this earth, and its chance, and its customs, and its glittering outside, and see and trust in a great, wise, loving God, by whose will every tree grows and every shower falls, what is Christianity to him? He has to learn the first principles which were delivered to Noah, and which not even the heathen and the savage have utterly forgotten.



SERMON XII. ABRAHAM'S FAITH



HEBREWS, xi. 9, 10.

"By faith Abraham sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked for a city, which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God."

In the last sermon which I preached in this church, I said that the Bible is the history of God's ways with mankind, how He has schooled and brought them up until the coming of Christ; that if we read the Bible histories, one after another, in the same order in which God has put them in the Bible, we shall see that they are all regular steps in a line, that each fresh story depends on the story which went before it; and yet, in each fresh history, we shall find God telling men something new—something which they did not know before. And that so the whole Bible, from beginning to end, is one glorious, methodic, and organic tree of life, every part growing out of the others and depending on the others, from the root—that foundation, other than which no man can lay, which is Christ, revealing Himself, though not by name, in that wonderful first chapter of Genesis,—up to the FRUIT, which is the kingdom of Christ, and Gospel of Christ, and the salvation in which we here now stand. I told you that the lesson which God has been teaching men in all ages is faith in God— that the saints of old were just the men who learnt this lesson of faith. Now this, as we all know, was the secret of Abraham's greatness, that he had faith in God to leave his own country at God's bidding, and become a stranger and a pilgrim on the earth, wandering on in full trust that God would give him another country instead of that which he had left—"a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." This was what Abraham looked for. Something of what it means we shall see presently.

You remember the story of the tower of Babel? How certain of Noah's family forgot the covenant which God had made with Noah, forgot that God had commanded them to go forth in every direction and fill the earth with human beings, solemnly promising to protect and bless them, and took on themselves to do the very opposite—set up a kingdom of their own fashion, and herded together for selfish safety, instead of going forth to all the quarters of the world in a natural way, according to their families, in their tribes, after their nations, as the eleventh chapter of Genesis says they ought to have done. "Let us build us a city and a tower, and make us a name, lest," they said, "we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole world." Here was one act of disobedience to God's order. But besides this they had fallen into a slavish dread of the powers of nature—they were afraid of another flood. They set to to build a tower, on which they might worship the sun and stars, and the host of heaven, and pray to them to send no more floods and tempests. They thus fell into a slavish fear of the powers of nature, as well as into a selfish and artificial civilisation. In short, they utterly broke the covenant which God had made with Noah. But by miraculously confounding their language, God drove them forth over the face of the whole earth, and so forced them to do that which they ought to have done willingly at first.

Now, we must remember that all this happened in the very country in which Abraham lived. He must have heard of it all—for aught we know he had seen the tower of Babel. So that, for good or for evil, the whole Babel event must have produced a strong effect on the mind of a thoughtful man like Abraham, and raised many strange questionings in his heart, which God alone could answer for him, OR FOR US. Now, what did God mean to teach Abraham by calling him out of his country, and telling him, "I will make of thee a great nation?" I think He meant to shew him, for one thing, that that Babel plan of society was utterly absurd and accursed, certain to come to naught, and so to lead him on to hope for a city which had foundations, and to see that ITS builder and maker must be, not the selfishness or the ambition of men, but the will, and the wisdom, and providence of God.

Let us see how God led Abraham on to understand this—to look for a city which had foundations; in short, to understand what a State and a nation means and ought to be. First, God taught him that he was not to cling coward-like to the place where he was born, but to go out boldly to colonise and subdue the earth, for the great God of heaven would protect and guide him. "Get thee out of thy country and from thy father's house unto a land which I will shew thee. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee." Again; God taught him what a nation was: "I will make of thee a great nation." As much as to say, 'Never fancy, as those fools at Babel did, that a nation only means a great crowd of people—never fancy that men can make themselves into a nation just by feeding altogether, and breeding altogether, and fighting altogether, as the herds of wild cattle and sheep do, while there is no real union between them.' For what brought those Babel men together? Just what keeps a herd of cattle together—selfishness and fear. Each man thought he would be SAFER, forsooth, in company. Each man thought that if he was in company, he could use his neighbours' wits as well as his own, and have the benefit of his neighbours' strength as well as his own. And that is all true enough; but that does not make a nation. Selfishness can join nothing; it may join a set of men for a time, each for his own ends, just as a joint-stock company is made up; but it will soon split them up again. Each man, in a merely selfish community, will begin, after a time, to play on his own account as well as work on his own account—to oppress and overreach for his own ends as well as to be honest and benevolent for his own ends, for he will find ill-doing far easier, and more natural, in one sense, and a plan that brings in quicker profits, than well-doing; and so this godless, loveless, every-man-for- himself nation, or sham nation rather, this joint-stock company, in which fools expect that universal selfishness will do the work of universal benevolence, will quarrel and break up, crumble to dust again, as Babel did. "But," says God to Abraham, "I will make of thee a great nation. I make nations, and not they themselves." So it is, my friends: this is the lesson which God taught Abraham, the lesson which we English must learn nowadays over again, or smart for it bitterly—that God makes nations. He is King of kings; "by Him kings reign and princes decree judgment." He judges all nations: He nurtureth the nations. This is throughout the teaching of the Psalms. "It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture;" for this I take to be the true bearing of that glorious national hymn the 100th Psalm, and not merely the old truism that men did not create themselves, when it exhorts ALL nations to praise God because it is He that hath made them nations, and not they themselves. The Psalms set forth the Son of God as the King of all nations. In Him, my friends,—in Him all the nations of the earth are truly blessed.

He the Saviour of a few individual souls only? God forbid! To Him ALL POWER is given in heaven and earth; by Him were all things created, whether in heaven or earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions, or principalities or powers;—all national life, all forms of government, whether hero-despotisms, republics, or monarchies, aristocracies of birth, or of wealth, or of talent,—all were created by Him and for Him, and He is before all things, and by Him all things CONSIST and hold together. Every thing or institution on earth which has systematic and organic life in it—by HIM it consists—by Him, the Life and the Light who lighteneth every man that cometh into the world. From Him come law, and order, and spiritual energy, and loving fellow-feeling, and patriotism, the spirit of wisdom, and understanding, and prudence— all, in short, by which a nation consists and holds together. It is not constitutions, and acts of parliament, and social contracts, and rights of the people, and rights of kings, and so on, which make us a nation. These are but the effects, and not the consequences, of the national life. THAT is the one spirit which is shed abroad upon a country, whose builder and maker is God, and which comes down from above—comes down from Christ the King of kings, who has given each nation its peculiar work on this earth, its peculiar circumstances and history to mould and educate it for its work, and its peculiar spirit and national character, wherewith to fulfil the destiny which Christ has appointed for it.

Believe me, my friends, it takes long years, too, and much training from God and from Christ, the King of kings, to make a nation. Everything which is most precious and great is also most slow in growing, and so is a nation. The Scripture compares it everywhere to a tree; and as the tree grows, a people must grow, from small beginnings, perhaps from a single family, increasing on, according to the fixed laws of God's world, for years and hundreds of years, till it becomes a mighty nation, with one Lord, one faith, one work, one Spirit.

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