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same way, that the strange anxiety which comes over us in sleepless
nights, comes from bodily causes. That is merely because, the
circulation of our blood being quickened, our brain becomes more
active; and because we are lying alone in the silent darkness, with
nothing to listen to or look at, we cannot turn our attention away
from the thoughts which get possession of us and torment us. That
is only bodily; and yet it may be very useful to our souls. As we
lie awake, our own past lives, our own past mistakes and sins, and
God's past blessings and mercies, too, may rise up before us with
clearness, and teach us more than a hundred sermons; and we may
find, with David, that our reins chasten us in the night-season.
'When I am in heaviness, I will think upon God; when my heart is
vexed, I will complain. Thou holdest mine eyes waking. . . . I have
considered the days of old, and the years that are past. I call to
remembrance my song, and in the night I commune with my own heart,
and search out my spirits. Will the Lord absent himself for ever,
and will he be no more intreated? Is his mercy clean gone for ever:
and is his promise come utterly to an end for evermore? Hath God
forgotten to be gracious: and will he shut up his loving-kindness
in displeasure? And I said it is mine own infirmity. But I will
remember the years of the right hand of the Most Highest.' These
sleepless hours taught the Psalmist somewhat; and they may teach us
likewise. And so, again, with these sad and fretful frames of mind.
Even if they do partly come from our bodies, they have a real
effect, which cannot be mistaken, on our souls; and they may have a
good effect on us, if we choose. I believe that we shall find, that
even if they do come from ill health and weak nerves, what starts
them is - that we are dissatisfied with ourselves. We feel something
wrong, not merely in our bodies, but in our souls, our characters;
and then we try to lay the blame on the world around us, and shift
it off ourselves; saying in our hearts, 'I should do very well, if
other people, and things about me, would only let me:' but the more
we try to shift off the blame, the less peace we have. Nothing
mends matters less than throwing the blame on others. That is
plain. Other people we cannot mend; they must mend themselves.
Circumstances about us we cannot mend; God must mend them. So, as
long as we throw the blame on them, we cannot return to a cheerful
and hopeful frame of mind. But the moment we throw the blame on
ourselves, that moment we can have hope, that moment we can become
cheerful again; for whatsoever else we cannot mend, we can at least
mend ourselves. Now a man may forget this in health. He may be put
out and unhappy for a while: but when his good spirits return, he
does not know why. Things have not improved; but, somehow, they do
not affect him as they did before. Now this is not wrong. God
forbid! In such a world as this, one is glad to see a man rid of
sadness by any means which is not wrong. Better anything than that
a poor soul should fret himself to death.

But it may be very good for a man now and then not to forget; to be
kept low, whether by ill health or by any other cause, till he faces
fairly his own state, and finds out honestly what does fret him and
torment him.

And then, I believe, his experience will generally be like David's. -
'As long as I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my groaning
all the day long.'

Think over these words, I beg you. I chose them for my text, just
because they seem to me to contain all that I wish you to
understand. As long as the Psalmist held his peace - as long as he
did not confess his sin to God - all seemed to go wrong with him. He
fretted his very heart away. The moment that he made a clean breast
to God, peace and cheerfulness came back to him.

This psalm may speak of some really great sin which he had
committed. But that makes all the more strongly for us. For if he
got forgiveness for a great sin, by merely confessing it, how much
more may we hope to be forgiven, for the comparatively little sins
of which I am now speaking? Surely there is forgiveness for them.
Surely we, Christians, are not worse off than the old Jews. God
forbid! What does the Bible tell us? If we confess our sins, he is
faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all
unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a
liar, and his word is not in us. And again, if we walk in the
light; that is, if we look honestly at our own hearts, and confess
honestly to God what we see wrong there; then we have fellowship one
with another; all our frettings and grudgings against our fellow-men
pass away; and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.
God forbid again! For what is the message of the Absolution,
whether general in the church, or private by the sick-bed, but this -
that there is continual forgiveness for those who really confess
and repent? God forbid again! For what is the message of the Holy
Communion, but that we really are forgiven, really helped by God not
to do the like again; that the stains and scars of our daily
misdoings are truly healed by God's grace; and power given us to
lead a healthier life, the longer we persevere in the struggle after
God.

Therefore, instead of proudly laying the blame of our unhappiness on
our fellow-men, much less on God and his providence, let us cast
ourselves, in every hour of shame or of sadness, on the boundless
love of him who hateth nothing that he hath made; who so loved the
world that he spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us
all. How shall he not with him freely give us all things? Let us
open our weary hearts to him who watches with tender interest, as of
a father watching the growth of his child, over every struggle of
ours from worse to better; and so we shall have our reward. The
more we trust to the love of God, the more shall we feel his love -
feel that we are pardoned - feel that we are at peace. We may not
grow more cheerful as we grow older; but we shall grow more
peaceful. Sadder men, it may be; but wiser men also; caring less
and less for pleasure; caring even less and less for mere happiness:
but finding a lasting comfort in the knowledge that we are doing our
life's work not altogether ill, under the smile of Almighty God;
aware more and more of our own weakness, and of our own failings:
but trusting that God will take the will for the deed, and forgive
us what we have left undone, and accept what we have done, for the
sake of Christ, in whom, and not in our own poor paltry selves, he
looks upon us as his adopted children.

Only let us remember to ask for pardon and to ask for peace, that we
may use them as the collect bids us; - To ask for pardon, not merely
that we may escape punishment; not even to escape punishment at all,
if punishment be wholesome for us, as it often is: but that we may
be cleansed from our sins; that we may not be left to our own
weakness and our own bad habits, to grow more and more useless, more
and more unhappy, day by day, but that we may be cleansed from them;
and grow purer, nobler, juster, stronger, more worthy of our place
in God's kingdom, as our years roll by. Let us remember to ask for
peace, not merely to get rid of unpleasant thoughts, or unpleasant
people, or unpleasant circumstances; and then sit down and say,
Soul, take thine ease, eat and drink, for thou hast much goods laid
up for many years: but let us ask for peace, that we may serve God
with a quiet mind; that we may get rid of the impatient, cowardly,
discontented, hopeless heart, which will not let a man go about his
business like a man; and get, instead of it, by the inspiration of
God's Holy Spirit, the calm, contented, brave, hopeful heart, in the
strength of which a man can work with a will wherever God may put
him, even amidst vexation, confusion, disappointment, slander, and
persecution; and, in his place and calling, serve the Lord, who
served him when he died for him, and who serves him, and all his
people, now and for ever in heaven.

So shall we have real pardon, and real peace. A pardon which will
make us really better; and a peace which will make us really more
useful. And to be good and to be useful were the two ends for which
God sent us into the world at all.



SERMON XXX. THE CENTRAL SUN



(Sunday after Ascension, Evening.)

Ephesians iv. 9. 10. Now that he ascended, what is it but that he
also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that
descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens,
that he might fill all things.

This is one of those very deep texts which we are not meant to think
about every day; only at such seasons as this, when we have to think
of Christ ascending into heaven, that he might send down his Spirit
at Whitsuntide. Of this the text speaks; and therefore, we may, I
hope, think a little of it to-day, but reverently, and cautiously,
like men who know a very little, and are afraid of saying more than
they know. These deep mysteries about heaven we must always meddle
with very humbly, lest we get out of our depth in haste and self-
conceit. As it is said,


Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.


For, if we are not very careful, we shall be apt to mistake the
meaning of Scripture, and make it say what we like, and twist it to
suit our own fancies, and our own ignorance. Therefore we must
never, with texts like this, say positively, 'It must mean this. It
can mean only this.' How can we tell that?

This world, which we do see, is far too wonderful for us to
understand. How much more wonderful must be the world which we do
not see? How much more wonderful must heaven be? How can we tell
what is there, or what is not there? We can tell of some things
that are not there, and those are sin, evil, disorder, harm of any
kind. Heaven is utterly good. Beyond that, we know nothing.
Therefore I dare not be positive about this text, for fear I should
try to explain it according to my own fancies. Wise fathers and
divines have differed very much as to what it means; how far any one
of them is right, I cannot tell you.

The ancient way of explaining this text was this. People believed
in old times that the earth was flat. Then, they held, hell was
below the earth, or inside it in some way: and the burning
mountains, out of which came fire and smoke, were the mouths of
hell. And when they believed that, it was easy for them to suppose
that St. Paul spoke of Christ's descending into hell. He went down,
says St. Paul, into the lower parts of the earth. What could those
lower parts be, they asked, but the hell which lay under the earth?

Now about that we know nothing. St. Paul himself never says that
hell is below the earth. Indeed (and this is a very noteworthy
thing) St. Paul never, in his epistles, mentions in plain words hell
at all; so what St. Paul thought about the matter, we can never
know. Whether by Christ's descending into the lower parts of the
earth, he meant descending into hell, or merely that our Lord came
down on this earth of ours, poor, humble, and despised, laying his
glory by for a while, this we cannot tell. Some wise men think one
thing, some another. Two of the wisest and best of the great old
fathers of the Church think that he meant only Christ's death and
burial. So how dare I give a positive opinion, where wiser men than
I differ?

But about the other half of the text, which says, that he ascended
high above all heavens, there is no such difficulty.

All agree as to what that means: though, perhaps, in old times they
would have put it in different words.

The old belief was, that as hell was below the flat earth, so heaven
was above it; and that there were many heavens, seven heavens, in
layers, as it were, one above the other; and that the seventh
heaven, which was the highest of all, was where God dwelt. Now,
whether St. Paul believed this, we cannot tell. He speaks of being
himself caught up into the third heaven, and here Christ is spoken
of as ascending above all heavens.

My own belief, though I say it very humbly, is, that St. Paul spoke
of these things only as a figure of speech, for the sake of the
ignorance of the people to whom he was writing. They talked in that
way; and he was forced now and then to talk in that way, too, to
make them understand him. I think that, when he spoke of being
caught up into the third heaven, he did not mean that he was lifted
bodily off the earth into the skies: but that his soul was raised
up and enlightened to understand high and wonderful heavenly
matters, though not the highest or most wonderful. If he had meant
that, he would have said, that he was caught up into the seventh
heaven. We know that our Lord, in the same way, continually used
parables; because, as he said, the ignorant people could not
understand the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; and he had,
therefore, to put them into parables, taken from the common country
matters, and country forms of speech, if by any means he might make
them understand. And so, I suppose, it was with St. Paul. He had
to speak in such a way that he could be understood; and no more.

But when he says that Christ ascended far above all heavens, we are
to believe this - that he ascended to God himself. So high that he
could go no higher; so far that he could go no farther.

We, now, do not believe that there are seven heavens above the
earth; and we need not. It is no doctrine of the Church, or of the
Creeds. We know that the earth is round, and not flat; and that the
heavens, if by that we mean the sky, is neither above it, nor below
it, but round it on every side. But some may say, whither, then,
did our Lord ascend? To what place did his body go up? And that is
a right question; for we must always bear in mind that not merely
Christ's godhead but his manhood, not merely Christ's soul but his
body also, ascended into heaven. If we do not believe that, we do
not hold the Catholic faith. Whither, then, did Christ ascend?

My friends, we know this. That this earth and the planets move
round the sun, which is in the centre of them. We know this, too;
that all the countless stars which spangle the sky are really suns
likewise, perhaps, with worlds which we cannot see, moving round
them, as we move round the sun. We know, too, that these fixed
stars, as they seem to be, are not really fixed, but have some
regular movements among themselves, which seem very slow and small
to us, from their immense distance, but which really are very great
and fast.

Now all these suns and stars, it is reasonable to believe, most
probably have a centre. There must be order among them; and they
most probably move round one thing, one place, one central sun, as
it were, which is the very heart of all the worlds, and the whole
universe. Where that place is, or what it is like, we know not, and
cannot know. Only this we may believe, that it is glorious beyond
all that eye hath seen, and ear heard, or hath entered into the
heart of man to conceive. If this world be beautiful, how beautiful
must that world of all worlds be. If the sun be glorious, how
glorious must the sun of all suns be. If the heaven over us be
grand, how grand must that heaven of heavens be. We will not talk
of it; for we cannot imagine it: and if we tried to, we should only
lower it to our own low fancies. But is it not reasonable to
suppose, that there God the Father does, perhaps, in some
unspeakable way, shew forth his glory? That there, in the heart of
all the worlds, Cherubim and Seraphim continually adore him, crying
day and night, 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth: Heaven and
earth are full of the majesty of thy glory!' before his throne from
which goes forth light, and power, and life, to all worlds and all
created things.

And is it not reasonable to believe, that there Christ is, in the
bosom of the Father, and at the right hand of God? We know that
those, too, are only figures. That God is a Spirit, everywhere and
nowhere; and has not hands as we have. But it is only by such
figures that the Bible can make us understand the truth, that Christ
is the highest being in all heavens and worlds; equal with God the
Father, and sharer of his kingdom, and power, and glory, God blessed
for ever. Amen.

What then does St. Paul mean, when he says, 'That he may fill all
things?' I do not know. And I will take care not to lessen and
spoil St. Paul's words, by any ignorant words of my own. But one
thing I know it will mean one day, for St. Paul says so. That
Christ reigns, and will reign, triumphant over sin, and death, and
hell, till he have put all enemies under his feet, and the last
enemy that shall be destroyed is death. Then shall he deliver up
the kingdom to God, even the Father; that God may be all in all.
What that means I do not know. But this I can say, and you can say.
We can pray that God will finish the number of his elect and hasten
his kingdom, that we, with all that are departed in the true faith,
may have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul,
in his eternal kingdom. And this I can say, that it means now, for
you and me; for Whitsuntide tells me: - that whatever else Christ can
or cannot fill, he can at least fill our hearts, because he is in
the bosom of the Father himself; and therefore from him, as from the
Father, proceeds the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life. That
Spirit will proceed even to us, if we will have him. He will fill
our hearts with himself; with the Spirit of goodness, which proceeds
out of the heaven of heavens, and out of the bosom of God himself;
with love, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness; with truth,
honour, duty, earnestness, and all that is the likeness of Christ
and of God. Oh let us pray for that Spirit; the Spirit of truth,
which Christ promised us when he ascended up into the heaven of
heavens, to keep us sound in our most holy faith; and the Spirit of
goodness, to give us strength to live the good lives of good
Christian men.

And then it will matter little what opinions we hold about deep
things, which the wisest man can never put into words. And it will
matter little, whether what I have been telling you to-day about the
heaven of heavens be exactly true or not; for what says St. Paul of
such deep matters? That we know in part, and prophesy in part; and
that prophecies shall fail, and knowledge vanish away: but charity,
love, and right feeling, and right doing, which is the very Holy
Spirit of God, shall abide for ever. And if that Spirit be with us,
he will guide us in due time into all truth; teach us all we need to
know, and enable us to practise all we ought to do. Amen.



SERMON XXXI. CHRISTMAS PEACE



(Sunday before Christmas.)

Phil. iv. 4. Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.

This is a glorious text, and one fit to be the key-note of
Christmas-day. If we will take it to heart, it will tell us how to
keep Christmas-day. St. Paul has been speaking of two good women,
who seem to have had some difference; and he beseeches them to make
up their difference, and be of the same mind in the Lord. And then
he goes on to tell them, and all Christian people, why they should
make up their differences.

And for that reason, I suppose, the Church has chosen it for the
epistle before Christmas-day, on which all men are to make friends
with each other, and rejoice in the Lord. Let your moderation, he
says, be known to all men. The Greek word signifies forbearance,
reasonable dealing, consideration for one another, readiness to give
way, not standing too severely on one's own rights. Now this is
just the temper in which we ought to meet our friends at Christmas -
forbearance. They may not have always behaved well to us. Be it
so. No more have we to them. Let us, once in the year at least,
forget old grudges. Let us do as we would be done by; give and
forgive; live and let live; bury our past quarrels, and shake hands
over their graves.

For the Lord is at hand. Close to all of us: watching all we do,
and setting the right value on it. He cannot mistake. He sees both
sides of a matter, and all sides - a thousand sides which we cannot
see. He can judge better than we. Let him judge. Why do I say,
Let him judge? He has judged already, weeks, months ago, as soon as
each quarrel happened: and, perhaps, he found us in the wrong as
well as our neighbours; and, if so, the least said the soonest
mended. Let us forgive and forget, lest we be neither forgotten nor
forgiven.

And, because the Lord is at hand, be anxious about nothing. The
word here is the same as in the Sermon on the Mount. It means do
not fret; do not terrify yourselves; for the Lord is at hand; he
knows what you want: and will he not give it? Is not Christmas-day
a sign that he will give it - a pledge of his love? What did he do
on the first Christmas-day? What did he shew himself to be on the
first Christmas-day? Now, here is the root of the whole matter, and
a deep root it is; as deep as the beginning of all things which are,
or ever were, or ever will be. And yet if we will believe our
Bibles, it is a root which we all may find. What did the angels say
the first Christmas night? Peace on earth, and goodwill to men.
That is what God proclaimed. That is what he said that he had, and
would give.

Now, says the apostle, if you will believe the latter half of this
same Christmas message, then the first half of it will come true to
you. If you will believe that God's will is a good will to you,
then you will have peace on earth. For believe in Christmas-day;
believe that the Lord is at hand; that he has been made man for ever
and ever; and that to the Man Christ Jesus all power is given in
heaven and earth: and then, if you want aught, instead of grudging
or grinding your neighbours, ask him. In everything let your
requests be made known unto God: and then the peace of God will
keep your hearts through Christ Jesus.

You will feel at peace with God through Christ Jesus, because you
have found out that God is at peace with you; that God is not
against you, but for you; that God does not hate you, but love you;
and if God is at peace with you, what cause have you to be at war
with him? And so the message of Christmas-day will bring you peace.

You will be at peace with your neighbours, through Christ Jesus.
When you see God stooping to make peace with sinful men, you will be
ashamed to be quarrelling with them. When you see God full of love,
you will be ashamed to keep up peevishness, grudging, and spite.
When you see God's heaven full of light, you will be ashamed to be
dark yourselves; your hearts will go out freely to your fellow-
creatures; you will long to be friends with every one you meet; and
you will find in that the highest pleasure which you ever felt in
life. But mind one thing - what sort of a peace this peace of God
is. It passes all understanding; the very loftiest understanding.
The cleverest and most learned men that ever lived could not have
found it - we know they did not find it - by their own cleverness and
learning. No more will you find God's peace, if you seek for it
with your understanding. Thinking will not bring you peace, think
as shrewdly as you may. Reading will not bring it, read as deeply
as you may. Some people think otherwise; that they can get the
peace of God by understanding. If they could but understand more,
their minds would be at rest. So they weary themselves with
reading, and thinking, and arguing, perhaps trying to understand
predestination, election, assurance; perhaps trying to understand
which is the true Church. What do they get thereby? Certainly not
the peace of God. They certainly do not set their minds at rest.
They cannot. Books cannot give a live soul rest. Understanding
cannot. Nothing can give you or me rest, save God himself. The
peace is God's; and he must give it himself, with his own hand, or
we shall never get it. Go then to God himself. Thou art his child,
as Christmas-day declares: be not afraid to go unto thy Father.
Pray to him; tell him what thou wantest: say, Father, I am not
moderate, reasonable, forbearing. I fear I cannot keep Christmas-
day aright, for I have not a peaceful Christmas spirit in me; and I
know that I shall never get it by thinking, and reading, and
understanding; for it passes all that, and lies far away beyond it,


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