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- The Water of Life and Other Sermons - 10/29 -
scepticism, which, under pretence of liberality and charity, believes that everything is a little true, everything is a little false--in one word, believes nothing at all? Or are we to degenerate into unmanly and faithless wailings, crying out that the flood of infidelity is irresistible, that the last days are come, and that Christ has deserted His Church?
Not if we will believe the text. The text tells us of something which cannot be moved, though all around it reel and crumble--of a firm standing-ground, which would endure, though the heavens should pass away as a scroll, and the earth should be removed, and cast into the midst of the sea.
We have a kingdom, the Scripture says, which cannot be moved, even the kingdom of Him whom it calls shortly after 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day and for ever.' An eternal and unchangeable kingdom, ruled by an eternal and unchangeable King. That is what cannot be moved.
Scripture does not say that we have an unchangeable cosmogony, an unchangeable theory of moral retribution, an unchangeable system of dogmatic propositions. Whether we have, or have not, it is not of them that Scripture reminds the Jews, when the heavens and the earth were shaken; when their own nation and worship were in their death- agony, and all the beliefs and practices of men were in a whirl of doubt and confusion, of decay and birth side by side, such as the world had never seen before. Not of them does it remind the Jews, but of the changeless kingdom, and the changeless King.
My friends, lay it seriously to heart, once and for all. Do you believe that you are subjects of that kingdom, and that Christ is the living, ruling, guiding King thereof? Whatsoever Scripture does not say, Scripture speaks of that, again and again, in the plainest terms. But do you believe it? These are days in which the preacher ought to ask every man whether he believes it, and bid him, of whatever else he repents of, to repent, at least, of not having believed this primary doctrine (I may almost say) of Scripture and of Christianity.
But if you do believe it, will it seem strange to you to believe this also,--That, considering who Christ is, the co-eternal and co-equal Son of God, He may be actually governing His kingdom; and if so, that He may know better how to govern it than such poor worms as we? That if the heavens and the earth be shaken, Christ Himself may be shaking them? if opinions be changing, Christ Himself may be changing them? If new truths and facts are being discovered, Christ Himself may be revealing them? That if those truths seem to contradict the truths which He has already taught us, they do not really contradict them, any more than those reasserted in the sixteenth century? That if our God be a consuming fire, He is now burning up (to use St. Paul's parable) the chaff and stubble which men have built on the one foundation of Christ, that, at last, nought but the pure gold may remain? Is it not possible? Is it not most probable, if we only believe that Christ is a real, living King, an active, practical King,--who, with boundless wisdom and skill, love and patience, is educating and guiding Christendom, and through Christendom the whole human race?
If men would but believe that, how different would be their attitude toward new facts, toward new opinions! They would receive them with grace; gracefully, courteously, fairly, charitably, and with that reverence and godly fear which the text tells us is the way to serve God acceptably. They would say: 'Christ (so the Scripture tells us) has been educating man through Abraham, through Moses, through David, through the Jewish prophets, through the Greeks, through the Romans; then through Himself, as man as well as God; and after His ascension, through His Apostles, especially through St. Paul, to an ever- increasing understanding of God, and the universe, and themselves. And even after their time He did not cease His education. Why should He? How could He, who said of Himself, "All power is given to me in heaven and earth;" "Lo, I am with you alway to the end of the world;" and again, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work?"
'At the Reformation in the sixteenth century He called on our forefathers to repent--that is, to change their minds--concerning opinions which had been undoubted for more than a thousand years. Why should He not be calling on us at this time likewise? And if any answer, that the Reformation was only a return to the primitive faith of the Apostles--Why should not this shaking of the hearts and minds of men issue in a still further return, in a further correction of errors, a further sweeping away of additions, which are not integral to the Christian creeds, but which were left behind, through natural and necessary human frailty, by our great Reformers? Wise they were,--good and great,--as giants on the earth, while we are but as dwarfs; but, as the hackneyed proverb tells us, the dwarf on the giant's shoulders may see further than the giant himself.'
Ah! that men would approach new truth in that spirit; in the spirit of godly fear, which is inspired by the thought that we are in the kingdom of God, and that the King thereof is Christ, both God and man, once crucified for us, now living for us for ever! Ah! that they would thus serve God, waiting, as servants before a lord, for the slightest sign which might intimate his will! Then they would look at new truths with caution; in that truly conservative spirit which is the duty of all Christians, and the especial strength of the Englishman. With caution,--lest in grasping eagerly after what is new, we throw away truth which we have already: but with awe and reverence; for Christ may have sent the new truth; and he who fights against it, may haply be found fighting against God. And so would they indeed obey the Apostolic injunction--Prove all things, hold fast that which is good,--that which is pure, fair, noble, tending to the elevation of men; to the improvement of knowledge, justice, mercy, well-being; to the extermination of ignorance, cruelty, and vice. That, at least, must come from Christ, unless the Pharisees were right when they said that evil spirits could be cast out by Beelzebub, prince of the devils.
How much more Christian, reverent, faithful, as well as more prudent, rational, and philosophical, would such a temper be than that which condemns all changes a priori, at the first hearing, or rather, too often, without any hearing at all, in rage and terror, like that of the animal who at the same moment barks at, and runs away from, every unknown object.
At least that temper of mind will give us calm; faith, patience, hope, charity, though the heavens and the earth are shaken around us. For we have received a kingdom which cannot be moved, and in the King thereof we have the most perfect trust: for us He stooped to earth, was born, and died on the cross; and can we not trust Him? Let Him do what He will; let Him teach us what He will; let Him lead us whither He will. Wherever He leads, we shall find pasture. Wherever He leads, must be the way of truth, and we will follow, and say, as Socrates of old used to say, Let us follow the Logos boldly, whithersoever it leadeth. If Socrates had courage to say it, how much more should we, who know what he, good man, knew not, that the Logos is not a mere argument, train of thought, necessity of logic, but a Person--perfect God and perfect man, even Jesus Christ, 'the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,' who promised of old, and therefore promises to us, and our children after us, to lead those who trust Him into all truth.
SERMON VII. THE BATTLE OF LIFE
GALATIANS v. 16, 17.
I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
A great poet speaks of 'Happiness, our being's end and aim;' and he has been reproved for so doing. Men have said, and wisely, the end and aim of our being is not happiness, but goodness. If goodness comes first, then happiness may come after. But if not, something better than happiness may come, even blessedness.
This it is, I believe, which our Lord may have meant when He said, 'He that saveth his life, or soul' (for the two words in Scripture mean exactly the same thing), 'shall lose it. And he that loseth his life, shall save it. For what is a man profited if he gain the whole world, and lose his own life?'
How is this? It is a hard saying. Difficult to believe, on account of the natural selfishness which lies deep in all of us. Difficult even to understand in these days, when religion itself is selfish, and men learn more and more to think that the end and aim of religion is not to make them good while they live, but merely to save their souls after they die.
But whether it be hard to understand or not, we must understand it, if we would be good men. And how to understand it, the Epistle for this day will teach us.
'Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.' The Spirit, which is the Spirit of God within our hearts and conscience, says--Be good. The flesh, the animal, savage nature, which we all have in common with the dumb animals, says--Be happy. Please yourself. Do what you like. Eat and drink, for to-morrow you die.
But, happily for us, the Spirit lusts against the flesh. It draws us the opposite way. It lifts us up, instead of dragging us down. It has nobler aims, higher longings. It, as St. Paul puts it, will not let us do the things that we would. It will not let us do just what we like, and please ourselves. It often makes us unhappy just when we try to be happy. It shames us, and cries in our hearts--You were not meant merely to please yourselves, and be as the beasts which perish.
But how few listen to that voice of God's Spirit within their hearts, though it be just the noblest thing of which they will ever be aware on earth!
How few listen to it, till the lusts of the flesh are worn out, and have worn them out likewise, and made them reap the fruit which they have sowed--sowing to the selfish flesh, and of the selfish flesh reaping corruption.
The young man says--I will be happy and do what I like; and runs after what he calls pleasure. The middle-aged man, grown more prudent, says--I will be happy yet, and runs after money, comfort, fame and power. But what do they gain? 'The works of the flesh,' the fruit of this selfish lusting after mere earthly happiness, 'are manifest, which are these:'--not merely that open vice and immorality into which the young man falls when he craves after mere animal pleasure, but 'hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife,
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