Charles Kingsley.

Town and Country Sermons online

. (page 16 of 20)
Online LibraryCharles KingsleyTown and Country Sermons → online text (page 16 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


does peace, in the very essence of thine undivided, unmoved,
absolute, eternal Godhead, which no change nor decay of this created
world, nor sin or folly of men or devils, can ever alter; but which
abideth for ever what it is, in perfect rest, and perfect power, and
perfect love. O Father, give me thy peace. Soothe this restless,
greedy, fretful soul of mine, as a mother soothes a sick and
feverish child. How thou wilt do it I do not know. It passes all
understanding. But though the sick child cannot reach the mother,
the mother is at hand, and can reach it. Though the eagle, by
flying, cannot reach the sun, yet the sun is at hand, and can reach
all the earth, and pour its light and warmth over all things. And
thou art more than a mother: thou art the everlasting Father. Pour
thy love over me, that I may love as thou lovest. Thou art more
than the sun: thou art the light and the life of all things. Pour
thy light and thy life over me, that I may see as thou seest, and
live as thou livest, and be at peace with myself and all the world,
as thou art at peace with thyself and all the world. Again, I say,
I know not how; for it passes all understanding: but I hope that
thou wilt do it for me. I trust that thou wilt do it for me, for I
believe the good news of Christmas-day. I believe that thou art
love, and that thy mercy is over all thy works. I believe the
message of Christmas-day: that thou so lovest the world, that thou
hast sent thy Son to save the world, and me. I know not how; for
that, too, passes understanding: but I believe that thou wilt do
it; for I believe that thou art love; and that thy mercy is over all
thy works, even over me. I believe the message of Christmas-day,
that thy will is peace on earth, even peace to me, restless and
unquiet as I am; and goodwill to men, even to me, the chief of
sinners.



SERMON XXXII. THE LIFE OF THE SPIRIT



(First Sunday after Christmas.)

Isaiah xxxviii. 16. O Lord, by these things men live, and in all
these things is the life of my spirit.

These words are the words of Hezekiah, king of Judah; and they are
true words, words from God. But, if they are true words, they are
true words for every one - for you and me, for every one here in this
church this day: for they do not say, By these things certain men
live, one man here and another man there; but all men. Whosoever is
really alive, that is, has life in his spirit, his soul, his heart,
the life of a man and not a beast, the only life which is worthy to
be called life, then that life is kept up in him in the same way
that it was kept up in Hezekiah, and by the same means.

Let us see, then, what things they were which gave Hezekiah's spirit
life. Great joy, great honour, great success, wealth, health,
prosperity and pleasure? Was it by these things that Hezekiah found
men lived? Not so, but by great sorrow. 'In those days was
Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amos
came unto him and said, Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in
order; for thou shall die and not live. Then Hezekiah turned his
face towards the wall and prayed unto the Lord; and Hezekiah wept
sore.'

Trouble upon trouble came on Hezekiah; and that just when he might
have expected a little rest. The Lord had just delivered Hezekiah
and the Jews from a fearful danger, of which we read in the chapter
before. Hezekiah had believed God's promise by the mouth of Isaiah.
He held fast his faith in God when Sennacherib and his Assyrian army
were camping round Jerusalem; for God had said, 'I will defend this
city to save it for my own sake and for my servant David's sake.'
He defended his city bravely and nobly, and showed himself a true,
and valiant, and godly king. And perhaps Hezekiah expected to be
rewarded for his faith, and rewarded for having done his duty: but
it was not so. He had to wait, and to endure more. And now this
fresh trouble was come upon him. Isaiah told him he should die and
not live: and he must prepare himself to meet death.

Hezekiah, you see, was horribly afraid of death. I do not mean that
he was afraid of going to hell, for he does not say so: but he
felt, to use his own words, 'The grave cannot praise thee, death
cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope
for thy truth.' And, therefore, death looked to him an ugly and an
evil thing - as it is; the Lord's enemy, and his last enemy, the one
with which he will have the longest and sorest fight. He conquered
death by rising from the dead: but nevertheless we die; and death
is an ugly, fearful, hateful thing in itself, and rightly called the
King of Terrors: for terrible it is to those who do not know that
Christ has conquered it. Hezekiah lived before the Lord Jesus came
into the flesh to bring life and immortality to light, by rising
from the dead; and, therefore, the life after death was not brought
to light to him, any more than it was to David, or any other Old
Testament Jew. He dreaded it, because he knew not what would come
after death. And, therefore, he prayed hard not to die. He did not
pray altogether in a right way: but still he prayed. 'Remember
now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth
and with a perfect heart, and have done that which was good in thy
sight.' And the Lord heard his prayer. 'Then came the word of the
Lord to Isaiah, saying, Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the
Lord, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears, behold I will
add unto thy days fifteen years.'

Then what was the use of God's warning to him? What was the use of
his sickness and his terror, if, after all, his prayer was heard,
and after the Lord had told him, Thou shall die and not live - that
did not come to pass: but the very contrary happened, that he
lived, and did not die?

Of what use to him was it? Of this use at least, that it taught him
that the Lord God would hear the prayers of mortal men. Oh my
friends, is not that worth knowing? Is not that worth going through
any misery to learn - that the Lord will hear us? That he is not a
cold, arbitrary tyrant, who goes his own way, never caring for our
cries and tears, too proud to turn out of his way to hear us: but
that he is very pitiful and of tender mercy, and repenting him of
the evil? Hezekiah did not pray rightly. He thought himself a
better man than he was. He said, 'Remember now, O Lord, I beseech
thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect
heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.' And Hezekiah
wept sore. But he did pray. He went to God, and told his story to
him, and wept sore; and the Lord God heard him, and taught him that
he was not as good as he fancied; taught him that, after all, he had
nothing to say for himself - no reason to shew why he should not die.
'What shall I say? He hath both spoken unto me, and himself hath
done it: I shall go softly all my years in the bitterness of my
soul.' And so he felt that, instead of justifying himself, he must
throw himself utterly on God's love and mercy; that God must
undertake for him. 'O Lord, I am oppressed, crushed - the heart is
beaten out of me. I have nothing to say for myself. Undertake for
me. I have nothing to say for myself, but I have plenty to say of
thee. Thou art good and just. Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.
I can say no more.'

And then he found that the Lord was ready to save him. That what
the Lord wished was, not to kill him, but to recover him, and make
him live - live more really, and fully, and wisely, and manfully - by
making him trust more utterly in God's goodness, and love, and
mercy; making him more certain that, good as he thought himself, and
perfect in heart, he was full of sins: and yet that the Lord had
cast all these sins of his behind his back, forgotten and forgiven
them, as soon as he had made him see that all that was good and
strong in him came from God, and all that was evil and weak from
himself. And then he says, 'O Lord, by these things men live, and
in all these things is the life of my spirit.' God meant all along
to receive me, and make me live. He chastened me, and brought me
low, to shew me that my own faith, my own righteousness, was no
reason for his saving me: but that his own love and mercy was a
good reason for saving me. 'Behold,' he goes on to say, 'for peace
I had great bitterness: but thou hast in love to my soul delivered
it from the pit of corruption: for thou hast cast all my sins
behind thy back.'

And, my dear friends, what Hezekiah saw but dimly, we ought to see
clearly. The blessed news of the Gospel ought to tell us it
clearly. For the blessed Gospel tells us that the same Lord who
chastened and taught, and then saved, Hezekiah, was made flesh, and
born a man of the substance of a mortal woman; that he might in his
own person bear all our sicknesses and carry our infirmities; that
he might understand all our temptations, and be touched with the
feeling of our infirmities, seeing that he himself was tempted in
all points likewise, yet without sin.

Oh hear this, you who have had sorrows in past times. Hear this,
you who expect sorrows in the times to come.

He who made, he who lightens, every man who comes into the world; he
who gave you every right thought and wholesome feeling that you ever
had in your lives: he counts your tears; he knows your sorrows; he
is able and willing to save you to the uttermost. Therefore do not
be afraid of your own afflictions. Face them like men. Think over
them. Ask him to help you out of them: or if that is not to be, at
least to tell you what he means by them. Be sure that what he must
mean by them is good to you: a lesson to you, that in some way or
other they are meant to make you wiser, stronger, hardier, more sure
of God's love, more ready to do God's work, whithersoever it may
lead you. Do not be afraid of the dark day of affliction, I say.
It may teach you more than the bright prosperous one. Many a man
can see clearly in the cloudy day, who would be dazzled in the
sunlight. The dull weather, they say, is the best weather for
battle; and sorrow is the best time for seeing through and
conquering one's own self. Therefore do not be afraid, I say, of
sorrow. All the clouds in the sky cannot move the sun a foot
further off; and all the sorrow in the world cannot move God any
further off. God is there still, where he always was; near you, and
below you, and above you, and around you; for in him you live and
move and have your being, and are the offspring and children of God.
Nay, he is nearer you, if possible, in sorrow, than in joy. He is
informing you, and guiding you with his eye, and, like a father,
teaching you the right way which you should go. He is searching and
purging your hearts, and cleansing you from your secret faults, and
teaching you to know who you are and to know who he is - your Father,
the knowledge of whom is life eternal. By these things, my friends -
by being brought low and made helpless, till ashamed of ourselves,
and weary of ourselves, we lift up eyes and heart to God who made
us, like lost children crying after a Father - by these things, I
say, we live, and in all these things is the life of our spirit.



SERMON XXXIII. THE UNCHANGEABLE ONE



Psalm cxix. 89-96. For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.
Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the
earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to thine
ordinances: for all are thy servants. Unless thy law had been my
delight, I should then have perished in mine affliction. I will
never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me. I
am thine, save me; for I have sought thy precepts. The wicked have
waited for me to destroy me: but I will consider thy testimonies.
I have seen an end of all perfection; but thy commandment is
exceeding broad.

The Psalmist is in great trouble. He does not know whom to trust,
what to expect next, whom to look to. Everything seems failing and
changing round him. His psalm was most probably written during the
Babylonish captivity, at a time when all the countries and kingdoms
of the east were being destroyed by the Chaldean armies.

Then, he says, Be it so. If everything else changes, God cannot.
If everything else fails, God's plans cannot. He can rest on the
thought of God; of his goodness, his faithfulness, order,
providence. God is governing the world righteously and orderly.
Whatever disorder there is on earth, there is none in heaven. God's
word endures for ever there.

Then he looks on the world round him; all is well ordered - seasons,
animals, sun, and stars abide. They continue this day according to
God's ordinances. The unchangeableness of nature is a comfort to
him; for it is a token of the unchangeablenes of God who made it.

Now, I do beg you to think carefully over this verse; because it is
quite against the very common notion that, because the earth was
cursed for Adam's sake, therefore it is cursed now; that because it
was said to him, Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee,
therefore that holds good now. It is not so, my friends; neither is
there, as far as I know, in any part whatsoever of Scripture, any
mention of Adam's curse continuing to our day. St. John, in the
Revelations, certainly says, 'And there shall be no more curse.'
But if you will read the Revelation, you will find that what he
plainly refers to is to the fearful curses, the plagues, the vials
of wrath, as he calls them, which were to be poured out on the
earth; and then to cease when the New Jerusalem came down from
heaven.

St. Paul, again, knows nothing about any such curse upon the earth.
He says that death came into the world by Adam's sin: but that must
be understood only of man, and the world of man; and for this simple
reason, that we know, without the possibility of doubt, that animals
died in this world just as they do now, not only thousands, but
hundreds of thousands of years before man appeared on earth.

What St. Paul says of the creation, in one of his most glorious
passages, is this - not that it is cursed, but that it groans and
travails continually in the pangs of labour, trying to bring forth;
trying to bring forth something better than itself; to develop, and
rise from good to better, and from that to better still; till all
things become perfect in a way which we cannot conceive, but which
God has ordained before the foundation of the world.

Besides, as a fact, the earth does not bring forth thorns and
thistles to us, but good grain, and fruitful crops, and an abundant
return for our labour, if we choose to till the ground.

And wise men, who study God's works, can find no curse at all upon
the earth, nor sign of a curse, neither in plants nor beasts, no,
nor in the smallest gnat in the air. The more they look into the
wonders of God's world, the more they find it true that there is
order everywhere, beauty everywhere, fruitfulness everywhere,
usefulness everywhere - that all things continue as at the beginning;
that, as the psalmist says in another place, God has made them fast
for ever and ever, and given them a law which cannot be broken. And
if you will look at Genesis viii. 21, 22, you will find from the
plain words of Scripture itself, that Adam's curse, whatever it was,
was taken off after the flood, 'And the Lord smelled a sweet savour:
and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground
any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil
from his youth; neither will I again smite any more everything
living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seed-time and
harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night
shall not cease.'

Therefore, my friends, open your eyes and your hearts freely to the
message which God is sending you, in summer and winter, in seed-time
and in harvest, in sunshine and in storm; that God is not a hard
God, a revengeful God, a God of curses, who is extreme to mark what
is done amiss, and keepeth his anger for ever. No: but that he is
your Father in heaven, who hateth nothing that he has made, and
whose mercy is over all his works; who made heaven and earth, the
sea, and all that therein is; who keepeth truth for ever; who
helpeth them to right that suffer wrong; who feedeth the hungry; a
God who feeds the birds of the air, though they sow not, neither do
they reap, nor gather into barns; and who clothes the grass of the
field, which toils not, neither doth it spin; and who will much much
more clothe and feed you, to whom he has given reason,
understanding, and the power of learning his laws, the rules by
which this world of his is made and works, and of turning them to
your own profit in rational and honest labour.

And think, my friends, if the old Psalmist, before Christ came,
could believe all this, and find comfort in it, much more ought we.
Shame to us if we do not. I had almost said, we deny Christ, if we
do not. For who said those last words concerning the birds of the
air, and the grass of the field? Who told us that we have not
merely a Master or a Judge in heaven, but a Father in heaven? Who
but that very Word of God, whom the Psalmist saw dimly and afar off?
He knew that the Word of God abode for ever in heaven: but he knew
not, as far as we can tell, that that same Word would condescend to
be made flesh, and dwell among men that we might see his glory, full
of grace and truth. The old Psalmist knew that God's word was full
of truth, and that gave him comfort in the wild and sad times in
which he lived; but he did not know - none of the Old Testament
prophets knew, - how full God's word was of grace also. That he was
so full of love, condescension, pity, generosity, so full of longing
to seek and save all that was lost, to set right all that was wrong,
in one word again, so full of grace, that he would condescend to be
born of the Virgin Mary, suffer under Pontius Pilate, to be
crucified, dead and buried, that he might become a faithful High
Priest for us, full of understanding, fellow-feeling, pity, love,
because he has been tempted in all things like as we are, yet
without sin.

My friends, was not the old Psalmist a Jew, and are not we Christian
men? Then, if the old Psalmist could trust God, how much more
should we? If he could find comfort in the thought of God's order,
how much more should we? If he could find comfort in the thought of
his justice, how much more should we? If he could find comfort in
the thought of his love, how much more should we? Yes; let us be
full of troubles, doubts, sorrows; let times be uncertain, dark, and
dangerous; let strange new truths be discovered, which we cannot, at
first sight, fit into what we know to be true already: we can still
say, 'I will not fear, though the earth be moved, and the hills be
carried into the midst of the sea.' For the word of God abideth for
ever in heaven, even Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the world and
the Life of men. To him all power is given in heaven and earth. He
is set on the throne, judging right, and ministering true judgment
among the people. All things, as the Psalmist says, come to an end.
All men's plans, men's notions, men's systems, men's doctrines, grow
old, wear out, and perish.


The old order changes, giving place to the new:
But God fulfils himself in many ways.


For men are not ruling the world. Christ is ruling the world, and
his commandment is exceeding broad. His laws are broad enough for
all people, all countries, all ages; and strangely as they may seem
to work, in the eyes of us short-sighted timorous human beings,
still all is going well, and all will go well; for Christ reigns,
and will reign, till he has put all enemies under his feet, and God
be all in all.



SERMON XXXIV. [GREEK: EN TOYTO NIKA]



(Good Friday, 1860.)

1 Corinthians i. 23-25. But we preach Christ crucified, unto the
Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto
them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of
God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser
than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The foolishness of God? The weakness of God? These are strange
words. But they are St. Paul's words, not mine. If he had not said
them first, I should not dare to say them now.

But what do they mean? Can God be weak? Can God be foolish? No,
says St. Paul. Nothing less. For so strong is God, that his very
weakness, if he seems weak, is stronger than all mankind. So wise
is God, that his very foolishness, if he seems foolish, is wiser
than all mankind.

Why then talk of the weakness of God, of the foolishness of God, if
he be neither weak nor foolish? Why use words which seem
blasphemous, if they are not true?

I do not say these ugly words for myself. St. Paul did not say
these ugly words for himself. But men have said them; too many men,
and too often. The Jews, who sought after a sign, said them in St.
Paul's time. The Corinthian Greeks, who sought after wisdom, said
them also. There are men who say them now. We all are tempted at
times to say them in our hearts. As often as we forget Good Friday,
and what Good Friday means, and what Good Friday brought to all
mankind, we do say them in our hearts; and charge God - though we
should not like to confess it even to ourselves - with weakness and
with folly.

Now, how is this? Let us consider, first, how it was with these
Jews and Greeks.

Why did the cross of Christ, and the message of Good Friday, seem to
them weakness and folly? Why did they answer St. Paul, 'Your Christ
cannot be God, or he would never have allowed himself to be
crucified?'

The Jews required a sign; a sign from heaven; a sign of God's power.
Thunder and earthquakes, armies of angels, taking vengeance on the
heathen; these were the signs of Christ which they expected. A
Christ who came in such awful glory as that, they would accept, and
follow, and look to him to lead them against the Romans, that they
might conquer them, and all the nations upon earth. And all that
St. Paul gave them, was a sign of Christ's weakness. 'He was
despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with
grief. . . . He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows, yet
we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. He was
oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is
brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her
shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.' Then said the Jews -
This is no Christ for us, this weak, despised, crucified Christ.
Then answered St. Paul - Weak? I tell you that what seems to you
weakness, is the very power of God. You Jews wish to conquer all
mankind: and behold, instead, you yourselves are rushing to ruin
and destruction: but what you cannot do, Christ on his cross can
do. Weak, shamed, despised, dying man as he seemed, he is still
conqueror; and he will conquer all mankind at last, and draw all men
to himself. Know that what seems to you weakness, is the very power
of God; the power of doing good, and of suffering all things, that
he may do good: and that _that_ will conquer the world, when riches
and glory, and armies, aye, the very thunder and the earthquake,
have failed utterly.

The Greeks, again, sought after wisdom. If St. Paul was (as he
said) the apostle of God, then they expected him to argue with them
on cunning points of philosophy; about the being of God, the nature
of the world and of the soul; about finite and infinite, cause and
effect, being and not being, and all those dark questions with which
they astonished simple people, and gained power over them, and set
up for wise men and teachers to their own profit and glory,
pampering their own luxury and self-conceit. And all St. Paul gave
them, seemed to them mere foolishness. He could have argued with
these Greeks on those deep matters; for he was a great scholar, and
a true philosopher, and could speak wisdom among those who were
perfect: but he would not. He determined to know nothing among
them but Jesus Christ, and him crucified; and he told them, You
disputers of this world, while you are deceiving simple souls with
enticing words of man's wisdom and philosophy, falsely so called,
you are trifling away your own souls and your hearers' into hell.
What you need, and what they need, is not philosophy, but a new
heart and a right spirit. Sin is your disease; and you know that it


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 16 18 19 20

Online LibraryCharles KingsleyTown and Country Sermons → online text (page 16 of 20)