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- The Water of Life and Other Sermons - 21/29 -
house it will endure for ever; that if we buy a piece of land it will be called by our name long years hence; that if we amass wealth we shall hand it down safely to our children? Of course we think we shall prosper. We say to ourselves, To-morrow shall be as to-day, and yet more abundant.
Nothing can happen to England, is, I fear, the feeling of Englishmen. Carnal security is the national sin to which we are tempted, because we have not now for forty years felt anything like national distress; and Britain says, like Babylon of old, the lady of kingdoms to whom foreigners so often compare her,--'I shall be a lady for ever; I am, there is none beside me. I shall never sit as a widow, nor know the loss of children.'
What, too, if that same security and prosperity tempts us--as foreigners justly complain of us--to set our hearts on material wealth; to believe that our life, and the life of Britain, depends on the abundance of the things which she possesses? To say--Corn and cattle, coal and iron, house and land, shipping and rail-roads, these make up Great Britain. While she has these she will endure for ever.
Ah, my friends--to people in such a temptation, is it wonderful that a good God should send a warning unmistakeable, though only a warning; most terrible, though mercifully harmless; a warning which says, in a voice which the dullest can hear--Endure for ever? The solid ground on which you stand cannot do that. Safe? Nothing on earth is safe for a moment, save in the long-suffering and tender mercy of Him of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground. Is the wealth of Britain, then, what she can see and handle? The towns she builds, the roads she makes, the manufactures and goods she produces? One touch of the finger of God, and that might be all rolled into a heap of ruins, and the labour of years scattered in the dust. You trust in the sure solid earth? You shall feel it, if but for once, reel and quiver under your feet, and learn that it is not solid at all, or sure at all; that there is nothing solid, sure, or to be depended on, but the mercy of the living God; and that your solid-seeming earth on which you build is nothing less than a mine, which may bubble, and heave, and burst beneath your feet, charged for ever with an explosive force, as much more terrible than that gunpowder which you have invented to kill each other withal, as the works of God are greater than the works of man. Safe, truly! It is of God's mercy from day to day and hour to hour that we are not consumed.
This, surely, or something like this, is what the earthquake says to us. It speaks to us most gently, and yet most awfully, of a day in which the heavens may pass away with a great noise, and the elements may melt with fervent heat, and the earth and the works which are therein may be burnt up. It tells us that this is no impossible fancy: that the fires imprisoned below our feet can, and may, burst up and destroy mankind and the works of man in one great catastrophe, to which the earthquake of Lisbon in 1755--when 60,000 persons were killed, crushed, drowned, or swallowed up in a few minutes--would be a merely paltry accident.
And it bids us think, as St. Peter bids us: 'When therefore all these things are dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in holy conversation and godliness?'
What manner of persons?
Remember, that if an earthquake destroyed all England, or the whole world; if this earth on which we live crumbled to dust, and were blotted out of the number of the stars, there is one thing which earthquake, and fire, and all the forces of nature cannot destroy, and that is--the human race.
We should still be. We should still endure. Not, indeed, in flesh and blood: but in some state or other; each of us the same as now, our characters, our feelings, our goodness or our badness; our immortal spirits and very selves, unchanged, ready to receive, and certain to receive, the reward of the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or evil. Yes, we should still endure, and God and Christ would still endure. But as our Saviour, or as our Judge? That is a very awful thought.
One day or other, sooner or later, each of us shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, stripped of all we ever had, ever saw, ever touched, ever even imagined to ourselves, alone with our own consciences, alone with our own deserts. What shall we be saying to ourselves then?
Shall we be saying--I have lost all: The world is gone--the world, in which were set all my hopes, all my wishes; the world in which were all my pleasures, all my treasures; the world, which was the only thing I cared for, though it warned me not to trust in it, as it trembled beneath my feet? But the world is gone, and now I have nothing left!
Or, shall we be saying,--The world is gone? Then let it go. It was not a home. I took its good things as thankfully as I could. I took its sorrows and troubles as patiently as I could. But I have not set my heart on the world. My treasure, my riches, were not of the world. My peace was a peace which the world did not give, and could not take away. And now the world is gone, I keep my peace, I keep my treasure still. My peace is where it was, in my own heart. My peace is what it was: my faith in God,--faith that my sins are forgiven me for Christ's sake: my faith that God my Father loves me, and cares for me; and that nothing,--height or depth, or time or space, or life or death, can part me from His love: my faith that I have not been quite useless in the world; that I have tried to do my duty in my place; and that the good which I have done, little as it has been, will not go forgotten by that merciful God, by whose help it was done, who rewards all men according to the works which He gives them heart to perform. And my treasure is where it was--in my heart; and what it was,--the Holy Spirit of God, the spirit of goodness, of faith and truth, of mercy and justice, of love to God and love to man, which is everlasting life itself. That I have. That time cannot abate, nor death abolish, nor the world, nor the destruction of the world, nor of all worlds, can take away.
Choose, my friends, which of these two frames of mind would you rather be in when the great day of the Lord comes, foretold by that earthquake, and by all earthquakes that ever were.
Will you be then like those whom St. John saw calling on the mountains to fall on them, and the hills to hide them from the wrath of Him that sat on the throne, and from the anger of the Lamb?
Or will you be like him who saith--God is my hope and strength, my present help in trouble. Therefore will I not fear, though the earth be shaken, and though the mountains be carried into the depth of the sea?
SERMON XVI. THE METEOR SHOWER (Preached at the Chapel Royal, St. James's, Nov. 26, 1866.)
ST. MATTHEW x. 29, 30.
Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
It will be well for us to recollect, once for all, who spoke these words; even Jesus Christ, who declared that He was one with God the Father; Jesus Christ, whom His apostles declared to be the Creator of the universe. If we believe this, as Christian men, it will be well for us to take our Lord's account of a universe which He Himself created; and to believe that in the most minute occurrence of nature, there is a special providence, by which not a sparrow falls to the ground without our Father.
I confess that it is difficult to believe this heartily. It was never anything but difficult. In the earliest ages, those who first thought about the universe found it so difficult that they took refuge in the fancy of special providence which was administered by the planets above their heads, and believed that the affairs of men, and of the world on which they lived, were ruled by the aspects of the sun and moon, and the host of heaven.
Men found it so difficult in the Middle Age, that they took refuge in the fancy of a special providence administered by certain demi-gods whom they called 'The Saints;' and believed that each special disease, or accident, was warded off from mankind, from their cattle, or from their crops, by a special saint who overlooked their welfare.
Men find it so difficult now-a-days, that the great majority of civilized people believe in no special providence at all, and take refuge in the belief that the universe is ruled by something which they call law.
Therein, doubtless, they have hold of a great truth; but one which will be only half-true, and therefore injurious, unless it be combined with other truths; unless questions are answered which too many do not care to answer: as, for instance,--Can there be a law without a law-giver? Can a law work without one who administers the law? Are not the popular phrases of 'laws impressed on matter,' 'laws inherent in matter,' mere metaphors, dangerous, because inaccurate; confirmed as little by experience and reason, as by Scripture?
Does not all law imply a will? Does not an Almighty Will imply a special providence?
But these are questions for which most persons have neither time nor inclination. Indeed, the whole matter is unimportant to them. They have no special need of a special providence. Their lives and properties are very safe in this civilized country; and their secret belief is that, whatever influence God may have on the next world, He has little or no influence on this world; neither on the facts of nature, nor on the events of history, nor on the course of their own lives; and that a special providence seems to them--if they dare confess as much--an unnecessary superstition.
Only poor folk in cottages and garrets--and a few more who are, happily, poor in spirit, though not in purse--grinding amid the iron facts of life, and learning there by little sound science, it may be, but much sound theology--still believe that they have a Father in heaven, before whom the very hairs of their head are all numbered; and that if they had not, then this would not only be a bad world, but a mad world likewise; and that it were better for them that they had never been born.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe in the special providence of our Father in heaven. Difficult: though necessary. Just as it is
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