Walter Farquhar Hook.

Doing with our might what our hand findeth to do : a sermon, preached in the Cathedral Church of Chichester, on Sunday, March 20, 1859 (Volume Talbot online

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Online LibraryWalter Farquhar HookDoing with our might what our hand findeth to do : a sermon, preached in the Cathedral Church of Chichester, on Sunday, March 20, 1859 (Volume Talbot → online text (page 1 of 1)
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Eccles. IX., 10.


In these words it is implied, in the first place, that
we must labour or exert ourselves ; and, in the
second place, that our work is assigned to us and
not left to our choice : and then comes the injunc-
tion as to the manner in which our appointed work
is to be performed, " Whatsoever thy hand findeth
to do, do it with thy might." To these three points
I propose to call your attention this day, and may
the Spirit of God be with us, to bless what shall now
be said to the edification and comfort of our souls,

I. Although some things which are attainable by
others, may be, for reasons to which I shall presently
allude, beyond our reach ; — although success does
not invariably attend our labours ; — although the
object of our wishes does sometimes come to us as

an unexpected boon ; — still it will be universally
admitted, for we intuitively perceive it, that the
rule is, that nothing worth having in this world can
be obtained without exertion and labour. This is
the constituted order of things. What we are
taught by revelation is this, that God has established
in heaven and upon earth a certain order of things,
a sequence of cause and effect, and this we call His
general Pro^^dence ; according to which order of
things divinely established, we find the rule to be
that success attends exertion, and that the conse-
quence of idleness is misery.

But we find from experience that this rule is not
without its exceptions ; so that in the verse follow-
ing our text, the wise man saith, " I returned and
saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the
wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding." (Eccles.
ix.) The nde is that the race is to the swift, and the
battle to the strong ; but it is not an invariable ride,
because, in ways unknown and by the interposition
of undiscoverable causes, God doss from time to
time interfere, and prevents the occurrence of the
expected result.

Now this we call His special Providence. And be-
cause we believe in His special Providence, — in His
interference and interposition, — we pray : this belief
in a special Providence is the ground of prayer, one
of the purposes of prayer being to impress our minds
more deeply with that faith in a special Providence
which it calls into action.

But further : when we refer to the general Provi-

dence of God, we find that we are benefited by tlie
exertions of otliers as well as by our own, and that
they, in their turn, may be assisted by friendly offices
performed by ourselves. Except for a mother's care,
the infant could not be reared ; and we should remain
uninstructed savages, except for the education we
have received from others.

Throughout life there is a reciprocation of good
offices between man and man, and the Scriptures
teach us that the same rule holds good when we
refer to the special Providence of God. As we can
benefit one another by our actions, we can also
assist one another by our prayers. The pious
mother not only rocks her sick babe to sleep, she
prays also for the preservation of its life; and the
sick man not only sends lor his physician, but
asks for the prayers of the Church. Exertion and
prayer must be combined, — exertion with reference
to the general Providence of God, — prayer with
reference to the special Providence of God.

But further still : we are called not only to the help
of our fellow-creatures, but to the help of the Lord God
Almighty Himself. You remember the curse upon
Meroz : " Curse ye Meroz, said the Angel of the
Lord ; curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof, be-
cause they came not to the help of the Lord, to the
help of the Lord against the mighty." (Judges v. 23.)
And what but a call to the help of the Lord, is
the commission which our Divine ]\Iaster has given
to His Church when He has directed us to preach
the Gospel to every creature. In the execution of
the Divine mandate St. Paul saith, — " We, then, as

workers together with God, beseech you that ye
receive not the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor. vi., 1) ;
remarking in another place, "We are hxbourers to-
gether with God." The assertion is at first startling,
but it is not in point of fact more mysterious than
the other two positions w^hich imply independent
action on the part of the creature, although his
actions will be rendered, by an overruling power,
conducive to the ends of the Creator.

In our Theological enquiries, we are to act on the
same principles which we adopt in our Scientific in-
vestigations. When a scientific man has been brought
to a certain point by a process of reasoning, he pauses
to ascertain w^hether his conclusions harmonize with
the facts of nature ; and if they do not, then he at
once perceives and admits that, in his conclusions,
there must be some undetected fallacy or concealed
error. In like manner, in our Theological enquiries,
we must test our conclusions by reference to the
facts revealed to us in the sacred Scriptures. There
is an appeal, in the one case, to the Book of God's
Works, — and in the other, to the Book of God's

AVe are not to argue in this w^ay : ' such and such
beino: the attributes of God, such and such must be
their inevitable consequence.' For, it frequently
occurs, that a revelation is made expressly to warn
us AGAINST some conclusion which would seem logi-
cally to foUow from a stated principle, — but which we
have no right to persevere in, when warned against
it, because with all the circumstances of the case we
have not been made acquainted. For example, God

is Omniscient, — but we are warned not to infer from
this that prayer is useless ; but, on the contrary, to
understand that although God knows what we want
before we ask, and is ready to give more than either
we desire or deserve, — yet, according to the order of
things which He hath established in the Universe,
there are some things which He will do upon our
asking, but which, in the absence of prayer, He will
withhold. Again, there is foreknowledge in God, —
but we are not therefore to infer that there is no
freedom of will in man ; for both facts are revealed
in Scripture, although we are not instructed how
the two facts are to be reconciled : all we know
is, that God certainly predestinates, and that, as
certainly, man within certain limits is free. The
leading idea of Christianity is the Atonement. —
But men have rejected this fundamental fact of our
religion, throuo;h false inferences deduced from
another fact — the Divine omnipotence and mercy.
God is Almighty, and all-merciful : but God, though
Almighty, could not pardon the human race until
an atonement had been offered, and a satisfaction
made to that law on the maintenance of which
depends the happiness not only of rational creatures
upon earth, but of all the hosts of heaven.

This is what God could not do.

There is no greater inconsistency in saying this,
than in saying that a good man cannot commit
robbery or wrong : as a man, of course, he has the
power to take what is not his own, or to place
another man's signature to a bond. But this, as an
honest man, he cannot do. Precisely so we say,

God could not pardon man when the human race by
transgression fell, because as our poet expresses it :

A God all mercy, is a God unjust.

His justice is shewn, in requiring an atonement before
issuing a pardoji ;— His infinite, His inconceivable
mercy is shewn, in Himself making the atonement,
■ — for God, we know, was in Christ reconciling the
world to Himself,

And now applying this principle to the case before
us : althoufifh the most High God does not stand in
need of our help, — although His will must eventually
prevail, though earth and hell be leagued together
against Him, — yet He honors men as well as augels
by employing them in His service. As He has
imparted to them reason, and given unto them free-
dom of will, so does He honor His holy ones by
calling them to His help, in the warfare which, for
a while. He permits to exist between Himself and
the powers of darkness. He hath ordained and
constituted the services of angels and men in a
wonderful order, — and it is through man that He
confers happiness upon man, even, in the Second
Person of the Godhead being Himself incarnate ;
that as by man came death, so by man should come
the resurrection of the dead.

n. But we are next to observe that the work
we are to do is not to be selected by our own judg-
ment : it is work assigned to us, — a vocation, a
calling : not what the head suggests, but what the
hand finds, — what comes to hand.


The worldly man, whether professing godliness or
not, asks the question, ' How can I be most useful f
■ — disguising, even from himself, the pride and am-
bition which the question implies. He places
himself among those who say, " We are the people
and wisdom will die with us." (Job. xii., 2.) He
becomes a busybody in other men's matters : — over
the laws of the land, and over the very principles of
the Gospel, he assumes for himself a dispensing
power, and while causing confusion in Church and
State, he despises what are called the minor duties
of life, until he finds at last that the world's applause
is no compensation for the reproaches of conscience,
and for the miseries resulting from a neglected home.

This grand mistake is committed by a forgetful-
ness of that truth to which I have already adverted,
that although God confers upon us the high honor
of employing His people in His service. He never-
theless does not stand in need of our assistance : that
although He calls us to His help, the vocation is not
for His advantage, but for ours. If we are His
servants, then we are to do, not what we think
most useful in the Master's cause, but what the
Master requires. What the master requires of his
servants, what the captain demands of his soldiers,
is obedience : and we, recollect, are the sworn ser-
vants and soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is not merely a question of pious feeling on
our part, or of right intention, — these are essential
to the Christian character, but they are not sufficient
as indicators of Christian duty. AVhat should w^e
think of the soldier, who, under the influence of


patriotic feeling and intention, should join the
British army, and on reaching the camp should say,
my business is to defeat the enemy, I shall do it
in my own way : as for your military discipline,
and your camp regulations, they may do well enough
for others, but I shall do what I think most
useful 1

The Commander-in-Chief of our Indian army, in
commendinir one of his Lieutenant-Generals, ex-
presses himself thus : — " He has the rare merit of
uniting the greatest boldness and a firm and correct
judgment, with the most scrupulous regard for his
orders and instructions." And this is the principle
upon which the soldier and servant of the Lord
Jesus Christ is to act ; this the principle upon
which Saint Paul, ever bold in action and firm in
judgment, was seen to act when he refused to stretch
himself beyond his measure.

Hence the question of the humble-minded Christian
is, — not. How can I be most useful '? — but, What is
my duty 1 What are the commands of my heavenly
King 1 And he is enabled to answer this question
by his fiuth in the special Providence of God.

He traces the circumstances under which he is
placed, not to chance, — but to the decree of God.
Whether we are to earn our livelihood by manual or
intellectual labour, — that is to say, in a profession
or a trade, in this station of life or in that, depends
upon a variety of circumstances over which we have
no control ; on the circumstances, for example, of our
birth and the antecedents of our parents. We did
not choose our parents or our social position ; and


though we have some freedom of choice when we
commence life, as to the precise trade or profession
we shall adopt, — the choice is again limited by
circumstances : the peasant cannot choose to be a
peer, or a peer to be a prince : and if by labour we
improve our circumstances, this is still only within
a limited range ; the tradesman may rise to be a
Magistrate, — the soldier from a subaltern to a
General, — the la\^yer from a pleader to a Judge, —
but tradesmen, soldiers, lawyers, they still remain.

But if such be the force of circumstances, and if
circumstances be assigned to us not by chance but
by God, then the Christian man will hear in the
circumstances under which he is placed, the voice of
the Lord saying, ' In performing the duties of thy
station, thou art performing the duties to which I
call thee ; thou art obeying My command.' This,
it is, which gives dignity to the huml)lest office.
It matters not what our work may be : to sit on
a throne, or to kneel a petitioner before it ; — to be
waited upon as a master, or to serve as a menial ; —
to repel the enemies of our country, or to conduct
its affairs ; — to fight the battle, or to watch the
stuff ; — to command, or to obey ; — to manage an
estate, or to cultivate a farm ; — to conduct a com-
mercial firm, or to serve in the shop, or to labour
in the mill ; — to give the mind to a profession, or
the hand to a trade ; — to relieve distress, or to resist
oppression ; — to plead as an advocate, or to sit as a
judge ; — to argue, or to decide ; — to write, or to
read ; — to sweep the street, or to walk in it ; — to
preach the gospel, or to hear it ; — to administer the


sacraments, or to receive them : — the single question
relates as to the principle upon which the action
is done ; and all actions, however insignificant in
themselves, are raised to the same elevation, when
what is done, is done simply because it is God's
command, — the marching orders of the great Captain
of our salvation.

III. And now, my Brethren, to apply these ob-
servations to our own case and circumstances, when
I am speaking to you, for the first time, from this

If the inhabitants of this ancient City, and of the
Diocese in general, shall do the work which their
hands find to do, by co-operating with the Chapter
to carry into full effect the wishes of my revered and
much-loved predecessor, indicated in his noble be-
quest (in addition to 3,000 pounds spent upon this
Cathedral in his life time) of 2,000 pounds to
be expended, wholly or in part, in rendering this
Cathedral Church more available for the purposes of
public worship ; — if by their generosity this Church
shall be prepared for an evening service, and the
nave opened to the masses of the people, as in the
case of the Metropolitan and other Cathedrals ; — if
in the progress of events these things should happen
— we should not have to urge it upon our Brethren
of the Clergy, to volunteer their services for the
pulpit. This would be to us a labour of joy as well
as of love, for we know that the primary duty of a
Minister of Christ is to preach the gospel to the
poor, — to proclaim the tidings of salvation to lost,
perishing sinners, Avherever a door may be opened


to us by the Providence of God. No ; tliis would
be unnecessary. But mark, my Brethren, the point at
which the injunction of our text emphatically aims.
The greater duties of life every conscientious man
will endeavour to perform with energy and zeal :
but even conscientious men require to be reminded
occasionally that they are not to despise the day of
small thino;s, and that nothino; is beneath our care
which God in his Providence allots to us as a duty,
or briuo;s to hand.

Let me, then, briefly advert to those duties which,
despised too often by the world, are imposed
upon us as members of a Cathedral Church. The
duty of prayer as well as of action devolves, as we
have already seen, on each individual man; — and so
is it also with reo-ard to that ao;2;reo;ate of individuals
who are incorporated under the title of The Nation.
As we act nationally, so are we to pray nationally.
As the nation appoints some to conduct the national
councils, and others to maintain the nation's cause
in the field of battle, — so are we appointed to invoke
a blessing on all that the nation does. This duty
we are to perform with our might ; but this duty
can only be properly discharged by those, whose
hearts, renewed by grace, are under the sanctifying
influence of the Holy Ghost, and therefore, my
brethren, it is by the study of Scripture and by
much and earnest private prayer, that we must
prepare our souls for the solemn and devout per-
formance of a public duty, the careless and indevout
performance of which may be detrimental to the
church and realm in which it is tolerated, — and will


infallibly bring down the Divine curse upon our
own souls.

And this is closely connected with another duty
■which pertains to those who are members of a
Cathedral establishment : I allude to the duty of
setting an example to all the Churches in the Dio-
cese, of regularity, reverence, and decorum in the
performance of the sacred offices of the Church.
What oiu' hand findeth to do is to carry out the
Liturgy in all the simple grandeur which our
Reformers designed, and which has won for it the
admiration of ages, — neither adding to nor detract-
ing from its ceremonial. It is thus that the Liturgy
becomes to the soul, as the wave to the ship, not
adding to its intrinsic value, not being confounded
with the unseen wind which fills the sail, nor with
the Divine pilot who stands at the helm, but never-
theless heaving it upwards towards heaven, and
assisting to waft it on its way.

But in this Cathedral Church, although it is
proper to allude to these circumstances, it is
unnecessary to dw^ell upon them, — for this Church
has been distinguished, under my predecessor, among
the Cathedrals of England, for the decorous obser-
vance of the capitular statutes, and the reverential
tone in which the services have been conducted.
I only desire therefore, in conclusion, to remark,
that in acting on the principle now enforced, we
are following the example of our dear Lord and
Master Jesus Christ Himself.

We delight to dweU on His wondrous works :
and to refer to the wisdom He uttered when He


spake as never man spake : we love to think of our
clear Lord and Master giving sight to the blind
and causing the lame to walk, — of His cleansing
the leper and causing the deaf to hear, of His
raising the dead and of His preaching the Gospel
to the poor. We dwell with feelings of adoration and
love upon His precious death, — upon His glorious
resurrection, — upon His triumphant Ascension, — we
worship Him as our Prophet, Priest, and King —
the true Melchizedek.

But, my brethren, with reference to our present
subject, — let us recollect that He did not take
this honor upon Himself ; — He commenced not His
ministry until He received an outward appointment
or call at His baptism, — and at that time, saith St.
Luke, "Jesus began to be about thirty years of
age." And where was He during those previous
nine and twenty years 1 Where was He, (endowed
with powers which might have shaken the world,
which might have caused oppression to tremble
on its throne and vice to hide its diminished head)
where was He to whom the Spirit was given not by
measure 1 We read not of a single miracle, not of
one mighty work, not of a discourse, scarcely of a
speech, during all those nine and twenty years. For
nine and twenty years He was labouring, a poor
man, earning His daily bread in a carpenter s shop :
His innate greatness discernible not even to His
nearest of kin, — His brethren according to the flesh
being among the last to believe in Him, when His
ministry commenced. He did not say, the hammer
and the chisel and the saw are beneath the consi-


deration of one conscious of miraculous power ; He
did not enquire wliether He could not be more useful
in debating witli the Pharisees, or in seeking to
conduct the councils of the Sanhedrim, — than in the
carpenter's shop, — no, what His hand found to do,
He did Avith His might.

And in doing this was He doing nothing for our
salvation 1

Such a question will not be asked by those who
remembCE' what our Lord came to do 1 He came to
magnify the law by His obedience to it, the obedience
of Him who on becoming man, did not cease to be
God, before relaxing its penalties on our behalf. —
Lo ! I come, He said, in the volume of the. book
it is written of me, in the everlasting covenant of
redemption it is recorded, to do thy will, God.

It is by His obedience that we are saved, aD.d in
every act of obedience on His part, there is atoning
virtue visible to the eye of faith. He obeyed, though
exposed to the temptations of Satan and the perse-
cutions of diabolical men : He obeyed when in His
agony, He drank the cup of spiritual destitution :
He obeyed even unto death, and His death being the
consummation of His obedience is the atonement
for our sins.

And, my brethren. He obeyed, — His was a life of
obedience, during those nine and twenty years of
obscurity, when, with a heart bleeding in pity to
mankind, — He stirred not from His obscure abode,
but did with His might, what, in Joseph's shop, His
hand found to do.






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Online LibraryWalter Farquhar HookDoing with our might what our hand findeth to do : a sermon, preached in the Cathedral Church of Chichester, on Sunday, March 20, 1859 (Volume Talbot → online text (page 1 of 1)