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- The Water of Life and Other Sermons - 20/29 -
just because we know we have disobeyed Him.
But if, in spite of many bad habits, we desire to get rid of our bad habits; if, in spite of many faults, we still desire to be faultless and perfect; if, in spite of many weaknesses, we still desire to be strong; if, in one word, we still hunger and thirst after righteousness, and long to be good men; then, in due time, the love of God will be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
For that will happen to us which happens to all those who have the pure, true, and heroical love. If we really love a person, we shall first desire to please them, and therefore the thought of disobeying and paining them will seem more and more grievous unto us.
But more. We shall soon rise a step higher. The more we love them, and the more we see in them, in their characters, things worthy to be loved, the more we shall desire to be like them, to copy those parts of their characters which most delight us; and we shall copy them: though insensibly, perhaps, and unawares.
For no one can look up for any length of time with love and respect towards a person better, wiser, greater than themselves, without becoming more or less like that person in character and in habit of thought and feeling; and so it will be with us towards God.
If we really long to be good, it will grow more and more easy to us to love God. The more pure our hearts are, the more pleasant the thought of God will be to us; even as it is said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,'--in this life as well as in the life to come. We shall not shrink from God, because we shall know that we are not wilfully offending Him.
But more. The more we think of God, the more we shall long to be like Him. How admirable in our eyes will seem His goodness, how admirable His purity, His justice, and His bounty, His long- suffering, His magnanimity and greatness of heart. For how great must be that heart of God, of which it is written, that 'He hateth nothing that He hath made, but His mercy is over all His works;' 'that He willeth that none should perish, but that all should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.' Although He be infinitely high and far off and we cannot attain to Him, yet we shall feel it our duty and our joy to copy Him, however faintly, and however humbly; and our highest hope will be that we may behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, and be changed into His image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord; that so, whether in this world or in the world to come, we may at last be perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect, and, like Him, cause the sunlight of our love to slime upon the evil and on the good; the kindly showers of our good deeds to fall upon the just and on the unjust; and--like Him who sent His only begotten Son to save the world--be good to the unthankful and to the evil.
SERMON XV. THE EARTHQUAKE (Preached October 11, 1863.)
PSALM xlvi. 1, 2.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.
No one, my friends, wishes less than I, to frighten you, or to take a dark and gloomy view of this world, or of God's dealings with men. But when God Himself speaks, men are bound to take heed, even though the message be an awful one. And last week's earthquake was an awful message, reminding all reasonable souls how frail man is, how frail his strongest works, how frail this seemingly solid earth on which we stand; what a thin crust there is between us and the nether fires, how utterly it depends on God's mercy that we do not, like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram of old, go down alive into the pit.
What do we know of earthquakes? We know that they are connected with burning mountains; that the eruption of a burning mountain is generally preceded by, and accompanied with, violent earthquakes. Indeed, the burning mountains seem to be outlets, by which the earthquake force is carried off. We know that these burning mountains give out immense volumes of steam. We know that the expanding power of steam is by far the strongest force in the world; and, therefore, it is supposed reasonably, that earthquakes are caused by steam underground.
We know concerning earthquakes two things: first, that they are quite uncertain in their effects; secondly, quite uncertain in their occurrence.
No one can tell what harm an earthquake will, or will not, do. There are three kinds. One which raises the ground up perpendicularly, and sets it down again--which is the least hurtful; one which sets it rolling in waves, like the waves of the sea--which is more hurtful; and one, the most terrible of all, which gives the ground a spinning motion, so that things thrown down by it fall twisted from right to left, or left to right. But what kind of earthquake will take place, no one can tell.
Moreover, a very slight earthquake may do fearful damage. People who only read of them, fancy that an earthquake, to destroy man and his works, must literally turn the earth upside down; that the ground must open, swallowing up houses, vomiting fire and water; that rocks must be cast into the sea, and hills rise where valleys were before. Such awful things have happened, and will happen again: but it does not need them to lay a land utterly waste. A very slight shock--a shock only a little stronger than was felt last Wednesday morning, might have--one hardly dare think of what it might have done in a country like this, where houses are thinly built because we have no fear of earthquakes. Every manufactory and mill throughout the iron districts (where the shock was felt most) might have toppled to the earth in a moment. Whole rows of houses, hastily and thinly built, might have crumbled down like packs of cards; and hundreds of thousands of sleeping human beings might have been buried in the ruins, without time for a prayer or a cry.
A little more--a very little more--and all that or more might have happened; millions' worth of property might have been destroyed in a few seconds, and the prosperity and civilization of England have been thrown back for a whole generation. There is absolutely no reason whatever, I tell you, save the mercy of God, why that, or worse, should not have happened; and it is only of the Lord's mercies that we were not consumed.
Next, earthquakes are utterly uncertain as to time. No one knows when they are coming. They give no warning. Even in those unhappy countries in which they are most common there may not be a shock for months or years; and then a sudden shock may hurl down whole towns. Or there may be many, thirty or forty a-day for weeks, as there happened in a part of South America a few years ago, when day after day, week after week, terrible shocks went on with a perpetual underground roar, as if brass and iron were crashing and clanging under the feet, till the people were half mad with the continual noise and continual anxiety, expecting every moment one shock, stronger than the rest, to swallow them up. It is impossible, I say, to calculate when they will come. They are altogether in the hand of God,--His messengers, whose time and place He alone knows, and He alone directs.
Our having had one last week is no reason for our not having another this week, or any day this week; and no reason, happily, against our having no more for one hundred years. It is in God's hands, and in God's hands we must leave it.
All we can say is, that when one comes, it is likely to be least severe in this part of England, and most severe (like this last) in the coal and iron districts of the west and north-west, where it is easy to see that earthquakes were once common, by the cracks, twists and settlements in the rocks, and the lava streams, poured out from fiery vents (probably under water) which pierce the rocks in many places. Beyond that we know nothing, and can only say,--It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed.
Why do I say these things? To frighten you? No, but to warn you. When you say to yourselves,--Earthquakes are so uncommon and so harmless in England that there is no need to think of them, you say on the whole what is true. It has been, as yet, God's will that earthquakes should be uncommon and slight in England; and therefore we have a reasonable ground of belief that such will be His will for the future. Certainly He does not wish us to fold our hands, and say, there is no use in building or improving the country, if an earthquake may come and destroy it at any moment. If there be an evil which man can neither prevent or foresee, then, if he be a wise man, he will go on as if that evil would never happen. We ever must work on in hope and in faith in God's goodness, without tormenting and weakening ourselves by fears about what may happen.
But when God gives to a whole country a distinct and solemn warning, especially after giving that country an enormous bounty in an abundant harvest, He surely means that country to take the warning. And, if I dare so judge, He means us perhaps to think of the earthquake, and somewhat in this way.
There is hardly any country in the world in which man's labour has been so successful as in England. Owing to our having no earthquakes, no really destructive storms,--and, thank God, no foreign invading armies,--the wealth of England has gone on increasing steadily and surely for centuries past, to a degree unexampled. We have never had to rebuild whole towns after an earthquake. We have never seen (except in small patches) whole districts of fertile land ruined by the sea or by floods. We have never seen every mill and house in a country blown down by a hurricane, and the crops mown off the ground by the mere force of the wind, as has happened again and again in our West India Islands. Most blessed of all, we have never seen a foreign army burning our villages, sacking our towns, carrying off our corn and cattle, and driving us into the woods to starve. From all these horrors, which have, one or other of them, fallen on almost every nation upon earth, God has of His great mercy preserved us. Ours is not the common lot of humanity. We English do not know the sorrows which average men and women go through, and have been going through, alas! ever since Adam fell. We have been an exception, a favoured and peculiar people, allowed to thrive and fatten quietly and safely for hundreds of years.
But what if that very security tempts us to forget God? Is it not so? Are we not--I am sure I am--too apt to take God's blessings for granted, without thanking Him for them, or remembering really that He gave them, and that He can take them away? Do we not take good fortune for granted? Do we not take for granted that if we build a
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