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- The Good News of God - 6/43 -
by true faith in Christ, the man comes to have Christ's righteousness--that is, to be loving as Christ was. He believes that Christ's loving character is perfect beauty; that he must be the Son of God, if his character be like that. He believes that Christ can and will fill him with the same spirit of love; and as he believes, so is it with him, and in him those words are fulfilled, 'Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God;' and that 'If a man love me,' says the Lord, 'I and my Father will come to him, and take up our abode with him.' Those are wonderful words: but if you will recollect what I have just said, you may understand a little of them. St. John puts the same thing very simply, but very boldly. 'God is Love,' he says, 'and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.' Strange as it may seem, it must be so if God be love. Let us thank God that it is true, and keep in mind what awful and wonderful creatures we are, that God should dwell in us; what blessed and glorious creatures we may become in time, if we will only listen to the voice of God who speaks within our hearts.
And what does that voice say? The old commandment, my friends, which was from the beginning, 'Love one another.' Whatever thoughts or feeling in your hearts contradict that; whatever tempts you to despise your neighbour, to be angry with him, to suspect him, to fancy him shut out from God's love, that is not of God. No voice in our hearts is God's voice, but what says in some shape or other, 'Love thy neighbour as thyself. Care for him, bear with him long, and try to do him good.'
For love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. Still less can he who is not loving fulfil the law; for the law of God is the very pattern and picture of God's character; and if a man does not know what God is like, he will never know what God's law is like; and though he may read his Bible all day long, he will learn no more from it than a dumb animal will, unless his heart is full of love. For love is the light by which we see God, by which we understand his Bible; by which we understand our duty, and God's dealings, in the world. Love is the light by which we understand our own hearts; by which we understand our neighbours' hearts. So it is. If you hate any man, or have a spite against him, you will never know what is in that man's heart, never be able to form a just opinion of his character. If you want to understand human beings, or to do justice to their feelings, you must begin by loving them heartily and freely, and the more you like them the better you will understand them, and in general the better you will find them to be at heart, the more worthy of your trust, at least the more worthy of your compassion.
At least, so St. John says, 'He that saith he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness even till now, and knoweth not whither he goeth. But he that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is no occasion of stumbling in him.'
No occasion of stumbling. That is of making mistakes in our behaviour to our neighbours, which cause scandal, drive them from us, and make them suspect us, dislike us--and perhaps with too good reason. Just think for yourselves. What does half the misery, and all the quarrelling in the world come from, but from people's loving themselves better than their neighbours? Would children be disobedient and neglectful to their parents, if they did not love themselves better than their parents? Why does a man kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, covet his neighbour's goods, his neighbour's custom, his neighbour's rights, but because he loves his own pleasure or interest better than his neighbour's, loves himself better than the man whom he wrongs? Would a man take advantage of his neighbour if he loved him as well as himself? Would he be hard on his neighbour, and say, Pay me the uttermost farthing, if he loved him as he loves himself? Would he speak evil of his neighbour behind his back, if he loved him as himself? Would he cross his neighbour's temper, just because he WILL have his own way, right or wrong, if he loved him as himself? Judge for yourselves. What would the world become like this moment if every man loved his neighbour as himself, thought of his neighbour as much as he thinks of himself? Would it not become heaven on earth at once? There would be no need then for soldiers and policemen, lawyers, rates and taxes, my friends, and all the expensive and heavy machinery which is now needed to force people into keeping something of God's law. Ay, there would be no need of sermons, preachers and prophets to tell men of God's law, and warn them of the misery of breaking it. They would keep the law of their own free-will, by love. For love is the fulfilling of the law; and as St. Augustine says, 'Love you neighbour, and then do what you will--because you will be sure to will what is right.' So truly did our Lord say, that on this one commandment hung all the law and the prophets.
But though that blessed state of things will not come to the whole world till the day when Christ shall reign in that new heaven and new earth, in which Righteousness shall dwell, still it may come here, now, on earth, to each and every one of us, if we will but ask from God the blessed gift; to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
And then, my friends, whether we be rich or poor, fortunate or unfortunate, still that spirit of Love which is the Spirit of God, will be its exceeding great reward.
I say, its own reward.
For what is to be our reward, if we do our duty earnestly, however imperfectly? 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.'
And what is the joy of our Lord? What is the joy of Christ? The joy and delight which springs for ever in his great heart, from feeling that he is for ever doing good; from loving all, and living for all; from knowing that if not all, yet millions on millions are grateful to him, and will be for ever.
My friends, if you have ever done a kind action; if you have ever helped any one in distress, or given up a pleasure for the sake of others--do you not know that that deed gave you a peace, a self- content, a joy for the moment at least, which nothing in this world could give, or take away? And if the person whom you helped thanked you; if you felt that you had made that man your friend; that he trusted you now, looked on you now as a brother--did not that double the pleasure? I ask you, is there any pleasure in the world like that of doing good, and being thanked for it? Then that is the joy of your Lord. That is the joy of Christ rising up in you, as often as you do good; the love which is in you rejoicing in itself, because it has found a loving thing to do, and has called out the love of a human being in return.
Yes, if you will receive it, that is the joy of Christ--the glorious knowledge that he is doing endless good, and calling out endless love to himself and to the Father, till the day when he shall give up to his Father the kingdom which he has won back from sin and death, and God shall be all in all.
That is the joy of your Lord. If you wish for any different sort of joy after you die, you must not ask me to tell you of it; for I know nothing about the matter save what I find written in the Holy Scripture.
SERMON VI. WORSHIP
ISAIAH i. 12, 13.
When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
This is a very awful text; one of those which terrify us--or at least ought to terrify us--and set us on asking ourselves seriously and honestly--'What do I believe after all? What manner of man am I after all? What sort of show should I make after all, if the people round me knew my heart and all my secret thoughts? What sort of show, then, do I already make, in the sight of Almighty God, who sees every man exactly as he is?'
I say, such texts as this ought to terrify us. It is good to be terrified now and then; to be startled, and called to account, and set thinking, and sobered, as it were, now and then, that we may look at ourselves honestly anti bravely, and see, if we can, what sort of men we are.
And therefore, perhaps, it is that this chapter is chosen for the first Advent Lesson; to prepare us for Christmas; to frighten us somewhat; at least to set us thinking seriously, and to make us fit to keep Christmas in spirit and in truth.
For whom does this text speak of?
It speaks of religious people, and of a religious nation; and of a fearful mistake which they were making, and a fearful danger into which they had fallen. Now we are religious people, and England is a religious nation; and therefore we may possibly make the same mistake, and fall into the same danger, as these old Jews.
I do not say that we have done so; but we may; for human nature is just the same now as it was then; and therefore it is as well for us to look round--at least once now and then, and see whether we too are in danger of falling, while we think that we are standing safe.
What does Isaiah, then, tell the religious Jews of his day?
That their worship of God, their church-going, their sabbaths, and their appointed feasts were a weariness and an abomination to him. That God loathed them, and would not listen to the prayers which were made in them. That the whole matter was a mockery and a lie in his sight.
These are awful words enough--that God should hate and loathe what he himself had appointed; that what would be, one would think, one of the most natural and most pleasant sights to a loving Father in heaven--namely, his own children worshipping, blessing, and praising him--should be horrible in his sight. There is something very shocking in that; at least to Church people like us. If we were Dissenters, who go to chapel chiefly to hear sermons, it would be easy for us to say--'Of course, forms and ceremonies and appointed feasts are nothing to begin with; they are man's invention at best, and may therefore be easily enough an abomination to God.' But we know that they are not so; that forms and ceremonies and appointed feasts are good things as long as they have spirit and truth in them; that whether or not they be of man's invention, they spring out of the most simple, wholesome wants of our human nature, which is a good
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