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The Christian Life by Thomas Arnold

Part 3 out of 6

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and the end: those who so watch and pray as to escape out of this
critical period, not merely unharmed, but, as it were, set clearly on
their way to heaven, will, with God's grace, escape out of the things
which shall befal them afterwards, till they shall stand before the
Son of Man.

But the word is, "Watch and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy
to escape." We see the time with many of you come, or immediately
coming; out of your present state _a_ character will certainly be
formed; as surely as the innocence of childhood has perished, so surely
will the carelessness of boyhood perish too. _A_ character will be
formed, whether you watch and pray, or whether you do neither; but the
great point is what this character may be. If you do not watch the
process, it will surely be the character of death eternal. Thought and
inquiry will satisfy themselves very readily with an answer as far as
regards spiritual things: their whole vigour will be devoted to the
things of this world, to science or to business, or to public matters,
all alike hardening rather than softening to the mind, if its thoughts
do not go to something higher and deeper still. And as years pass on, we
may think on these our favourite or professional subjects more and more
earnestly; our views on them may be clearer and sounder, but there comes
again nothing like the first free burst of thought in youth; the
intellect in later life, if its tone was not rightly taken earlier,
becomes narrowed in proportion to its greater vigour; one thing it sees
clearly, but it is blind to all beside. It is in youth that the after
tone of the mind is happily formed, when that natural burst of thought
is sanctified and quickened by God's Spirit, and we set up within us to
love and adore, all our days, the one image of the truth of God, our
Saviour Jesus. Then, whatever else may befal us afterwards, it rarely
happens that our faith will fail; his image, implanted in us, preserves
us amid every change; we are counted worthy to escape all the things
which may come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.


* * * * *


_Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me
early, but they shall not find me_.

Christ's gospel gives out the forgiveness of sins; and as this is its
very essence, so also in what we read connected with Christ's gospel,
the tone of encouragement, of mercy, of loving-kindness to sinners, is
ever predominant. What was needed at the beginning of the gospel is no
less needed now; we cannot spare one jot or one tittle of this gracious
language; now, as ever, the free grace, that most seems to be without
the law, does most surely establish the law. But yet there is another
language, which is to be found alike in the Old Testament and in the
New; a language not indeed so common as the language of mercy, but yet
repeated many times; a language which we also need as fully as it was
ever needed, and of whose severity we can no more spare one tittle than
we can spare anything of the comfort of the other. And yet this language
has not, I think, been enforced so often as it should have been. Men
have rather shrunk from it, and seemed afraid of it; they have connected
it sometimes with certain foolish and presumptuous questions, which we,
indeed, do well to turn from; but they have not seen, that with such it
has no natural connexion, but belongs to a certain fact in the
constitution of our nature, and is most highly moral and practical.

The language to which. I allude is expressed, amongst other passages,
by the words of the text. They speak of men's calling upon God, and of
his refusing to hear them; of men's seeking God, and not finding him.
Remember, at the same time, our Lord's words, "Ask, and ye shall
receive; seek, and ye shall find." I purposely put together these
opposite passages, because the full character of God's Revelation is
thus seen more clearly. Do we doubt that our Lord's words are true, and
do we not prize them as some of the most precious which he has left us?
We do well to do so; but shall we doubt any more the truth of the words
of the text; and shall we not consider them as a warning no less needful
than the comfort in the other case? Indeed, as true as it is, that, if
we seek God, we shall find him; so true is it that we may seek him, and
yet not find him.

Now, then, how to explain this seeming contradiction? We can see at
once, that these things are not said of the same persons, or rather of
the same characters at the same time. They are said of the same persons:
that is, there is no one here assembled who is not concerned with both,
and to whom both may not be applicable. Only they are not and cannot be
both applicable to the same person at the very same time. If God will be
found by us, at any given moment, on our seeking him, it is impossible
that, at that same moment, he should also not be found. Thus far is
plain to every one.

And now, is it true of us, at this present time, that God will be found
by us if we seek him, or that he will not be found? If we say that he
will be found, then the words of the text are not applicable to us at
present, although at some future time they may be; and then we have that
well-known difficulty to encounter, to attempt to draw the mind's
attention to a future and only contingent evil. If we say that he will
not be found, then of what avail can it be to say any word more? Why sit
we in this place, to preach, or to listen to preaching, if God, after
all, will not be found? Or, again, should we say that there are some by
whom he will not be found, then who are they that are thus horribly
marked out from among their brethren? Can we dare to conceive of any one
amongst us that he is such an one; that there are some, nay, that there
is any one amongst us, to whom it is the same thing whether he will
hear, or whether he will forbear; who may close his ears as safely as
open them, because God has turned his face from him for ever? It were
indeed horrible to suppose that any one of us were in such a state; and
happily it is a thought of horror which the truth may allow us to repel.

But what, if I were to say, that now, at this very moment, the words of
the text are both applicable to us, and not applicable? Is this a
contradiction, and therefore impossible? Or is it but a seeming
contradiction only, and not only possible, but true? Let us see how the
case appears to be.

We should allow, I suppose, that the words of the text were at no time
in any man's earthly life so true as they will be at the day of
judgment. The hardest heart, the most obdurate in sin, the most closed
against all repentance, is yet more within the reach of grace, we should
imagine, whilst he is alive and in health, than he will be at the day of
the resurrection. We can admit, then, that the words of the text may be
true, in a greater or less degree; that they will be more entirely true
at the last day, than at any earlier period, but yet that they may be
substantially true, true almost beyond exception, in the life that now
is. Now carry this same principle a little farther, and we come to our
very own case. The words of the text will be more true at the day of
judgment, than they ever are on earth; and yet on earth they are often
true substantially and practically. And even so, they may be more true
to each of us a few years hence, than they are at this moment; and yet,
in a certain degree, they may be true at this moment; true, not
absolutely and entirely, but partially; so true as to give a most solemn
earnest, if we are not warned in time, of their more entire truth
hereafter,--first, in this earthly life; then most perfectly of all,
when we shall arise at the last day.

It may be, then, that the words of the text, although not applicable to
us in their full and most fatal sense, may yet be applicable to us in a
certain degree: the evil which they speak of may be, not wholly future
and contingent, and a thing to be feared, but present in part, actual,
and a matter of experience. This is not contradiction: it is not
impossible; it _may be_ our case. Let us see whether it really is so,
that is, whether it is in any degree true of us, that when we call upon
God he will not answer; that when we seek him, we shall in any manner be
unable to find him.

It is manifest that, in proportion as Christ's words "Seek, and ye shall
find," are true to any man, so are the words of the text less true to
him; and in proportion as Christ's words are less true to any one, so
are the words of the text more true to him. Now, is Christ's promise,
"Seek, and ye shall find," equally true to all of us? Conceive of
one--the thing is rare, but not impossible,--of one who had been so kept
from evil, and so happily led forward in good, that when arrived at
boyhood, his soul had scarcely more stain upon it than when it was first
fully cleansed, and forgiven, in baptism! Conceive him speaking truth,
without any effort, on all occasions; not greedy, not proud, not
violent, not selfish, not feeling conscious that he was living a life
of sin, and therefore glad to come to God, rather than shrinking away
from him! Conceive how completely to such an one would Christ's words be
fulfilled, "Seek, and ye shall find!" When would his prayers be
unblessed or unfruitful? When would he turn his thoughts to God without
feeling pleasure in doing so; without a lively consciousness of God's
love to him; without an assured sense of the reality of things not seen,
of redemption and grace and glory? Would not the communion with God,
enjoyed by one so untainted, come up to the full measure of those high
promises, "It shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer,
and while they are yet speaking, I will hear?" Would it not be plain,
that God was as truly found, by such a person, as he was sought in
sincerity and earnestness?

But now, take the most of us: suppose us not to have been kept carefully
from evil, nor led on steadily in good; suppose us to have reached
boyhood with bad dispositions, ready for the first temptation, with
habits of good uncultivated; suppose us to have no great horror of a
lie, when it can serve our turn; with much love of pleasure, and little
love of our duty; with much, selfishness, and little or no thought of
God: suppose such an one, so sadly altered from a state of baptismal
purity, to be saying his prayers as he had been taught to say them, and
saying them sometimes with a thought of their meaning and a wish that
God would hear them. But does God hear them? I ask of your own
consciences, whether you have had any sense that he has heard you?
whether death and judgment, Christ and Christ's service, have become
more real to you after such prayers? If not, then is it not manifest,
that you have sought God, and have not found him; that you have called
upon him and he has not heard? You know by experience, that you are not
as those true children who are ever with him, who listen to catch the
lightest whisper of his Spirit, for whom, he, too, vouchsafes to bless
the faintest breathing of their prayer.

Or, again, in trying to turn from evil to good, have you ever found your
resolutions give way, the ground which you had gained slide from under
your feet, till you fell back again to what you were at the beginning?
Has this ever happened to us? If it has, then in that case, also, we
sought God, but failed to find him; the victory was not yours, but the
enemy's; the Spirit of Christ did not help you so as to conquer.

Take another case yet again. Has it ever happened to any of you, to have
done a mischief to yourselves which you could not undo? It need not be
one of the very highest kind; but has it ever happened, that, by
neglect, you have lost ground in the society in which you are placed,
which you cannot recover; that your contemporaries have gained an
advance upon you, while you have not time left to overtake them? Does it
ever happen that, from neglecting some particular element of learning in
its proper season, and other things claiming your attention afterwards,
you go on with a disadvantage, which you would fain remove, but cannot?
Does it, in short, ever happen to any, that his complete success here is
become impossible; that whatever prospects of another kind may be open
to him elsewhere, yet that he cannot now be numbered amongst those who
have turned the particular advantages here afforded them to that end
which they might and ought to have done?

To whomsoever this has happened, the truth of the words of the text is
matter of experience, not in their full and most dreadful extent, but
yet quite enough to prove that they are true; and that just as he now
feels them in part, so, if he continues to be what he is, he will one
day feel them wholly. He feels that it is possible to seek God, and not
to find him; he has learnt by experience that neglected good, or
committed evil, may be beyond the power of after-regret to undo. It is
true, that as yet, to him, other prospects may be open: prospects which,
probably, he may deem no less fair than those which he has forfeited.
This may be so; but the point to observe is, that one prospect was lost
so irretrievably by his own fault, that afterwards, when he wished to
regain it, he could not. Now God gives him other prospects, which he may
realize: but as he forfeited his first prospect beyond recovery, so he
may do also with his last: and though ill-success at school may be made
up by success in another sphere, yet what is to make up for ill-success
in the great business of life, when that, too, has been forfeited as
irrecoverably; when his last chance is gone as hopelessly as his first?

Now, surely there is in all this an intelligible lesson. I am not at all
exaggerating the importance of the particular prospect forfeited here:
but I am pressing upon you, that this prospect may be, and often is,
forfeited irrecoverably; that when you wish to regain it, it is too
late, and you cannot. And I press this, because it is a true type of the
whole of human life; because it is just as possible to forfeit salvation
irrecoverably, as to forfeit that earthly good which is the prize of
well-doing here, with this infinite difference, that the last forfeit is
not only irretrievable, but fatal; it can no more be made up for, than
it can be regained. Here, then, your present condition is a type of the
complete truth of the text: but there are other points, to which I
alluded before, in which it is more than a type; it is the very truth
itself, although, happily, only in an imperfect measure. That unanswered
prayer, of which I spoke, those broken resolutions,--are they not
actually a calling on God, without his hearing us; a seeking him,
without finding him? We remember who it was that could say with truth to
his Father, "I know that thou nearest me always." We know what it is
that hinders God from hearing us always; because we are not thoroughly
one in his Son Christ Jesus. But this unanswered prayer is not properly
the State of Christ's redeemed: it is an enemy that hath brought us to
this; the same enemy who will, in time, make all our prayers to be
unanswered, as some are now; who will cause God, not only to be slow to
listen, but to refuse to listen for ever. Now we are not heard at once,
we must repeat our prayers, with more and more earnestness, that God, at
last, may hear, and may bless us. But if, instead of repeating them the
more, we do the very contrary, and repeat them the less; if, because we
have no comfort, and no seeming good from them, we give them up
altogether; then the time will surely come when all prayer will be but
the hopeless prayer of Esau, because it will be only the prayer of fear;
because it will be only the dread of destruction that will, or can, move
us:--the love of good will have gone beyond recall. Such prayer does but
ask for pardon without repentance; and this never is, or can
be, granted.

So then, in conclusion, that very feeling of coldness, and unwillingness
to pray, because we have often prayed in vain, is surely working in us
that perfect death, which is the full truth of the words of the text. Of
all of us, those who the least like to pray, who have prayed with the
least benefit, have the most need to pray again. If they have sought
God, without finding him, let them take heed that this be not their case
for ever; that the truth, of which the seed is even now in them, may not
be ripened to their everlasting destruction, when all their seeking, and
all their prayer, will be as rejected by God, as, in part, it has
been already.


* * * * *

MARK xii. 34.

_Thou art not far from the kingdom of God_.

Whoever has gone up any hill of more than common height, may remember
the very different impression which the self-same point, whether bush,
or stone, or cliff, has made upon him as he viewed it from below and
from above. In going up it seemed so high, that we fancied, if we were
once arrived at it, we should be at the summit of our ascent; while,
when we had got beyond it, and looked down upon it, it seemed almost
sunk to the level of the common plain; and we wondered that it could
ever have appeared high to us.

What happens with any natural object according to the different points
from which we view it, happens also to any particular stage of
advancement in our moral characters. There is a goodness which appears
very exalted or very ordinary, according as it is much above or much
below our own level. And this is the case with the expression of our
Lord in the text, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." Does this
seem a great thing or a little thing to be said to us? Does it give us a
notion of a height which we should think it happiness to have readied;
or of a state so little advanced, that it would be misery to be forced
to go back to it? For, according as it seems to us the one or the other,
so we may judge of the greater or less progress which we have made in
ascending the holy mountain of our God.

But while I say this, it is necessary to distinguish between two several
senses, in which we may be said to be near to the kingdom of God, or
actually in it. These two are in respect of knowledge, and in respect of
feeling and practice. And our Lord's words seem to refer particularly to
knowledge. The scribe to whom he used them, had expressed so just a
sense of the true way of pleasing God, had so risen above the common
false notions of his age and country, that his understanding seemed to
be ripe for the truths of that kingdom of God, which was to make the
worship of God to consist in spirit and in truth. Now as far as the
knowledge of the kingdom of God is concerned, although, undoubtedly,
there are many amongst us who are deficient in it, yet it is true also,
that a great many of us are in possession of it; we are familiar enough
with the truths of the kingdom of God, and our understandings fully
approve them. But we may be near to or far from the kingdom of God, in
respect also of feeling and practice; and this is the great matter that
concerns us. It is here, then, that we should ask ourselves what we
think of our Lord's words in the text; and whether he to whom they were
spoken appears to us an object of envy or of compassion; one whom we
envy for having advanced so far, or pity for not being advanced further.

"Not far from the kingdom of God." Again, if we take the words Kingdom
of God in their highest sense, then the expression contains all that we
could desire to have said of us in this life; hope itself on this side
of the grave can go no higher. For as, in this sense, the kingdom of God
cannot be actually entered before our death; so the best thing that can
be said of us here, is, that we are not far from it; but we are in the
land of Beulah, so happily imagined in the Pilgrim's Progress; all of
our pilgrimage completed, save the last act of crossing the river; with
the city of God full in sight, and with hearts ready to enter into it.
In this sense, even St. Paul himself, when he wrote his last epistle
from Rome, could say no more, could hope for, could desire no more, than
to be not far from the kingdom of God.

Yet again, take the words "Kingdom of God" in their lowest sense, and
then it is woe to us all, if the expression in the text is all that can
be said of us; if, in this sense, we are only not far from the kingdom
of God. For take the kingdom of God as God's visible Church, and then,
if we are not Christians at all, but only not far from becoming so; if
we have not received Christ, but are not far from receiving him; this is
a state so imperfect, that he who is in it, has not yet reached to the
beginning of his Christian course; and we need not say how far he must
be from its end, if he have not yet come as far as its beginning.

Thus, in one sense, the words express something so high that nothing can
be higher; in another, something so low, that, to us, nothing can be
lower. We have yet to seek that sense, in which they may afford us a
useful criterion of our own several states, by appearing high, perhaps,
to some of us, and to others low.

The sense which we seek is given by our Lord, when he declares that the
kingdom of God is within us; or by St. Paul, when he tells us, that it
is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. And now it is no
more a thing which we cannot yet have reached, or, on the other hand,
which we all have reached: there is now a great difference in us, some
are far from it, some are near it, and some are in it; and thus it is,
that they who are near it, seem in it to those who are afar off, and
far from it to those who are in it.

Now, first, do they seem far from it? Then, indeed, ours is a happy
state, as many of us as can truly feel that they live so constantly in
holy and heavenly tempers, in such lively faith and love, so tasting all
the blessings of God's kingdom, its peace, and its hope, and its joy,
that they cannot bear to think of that time, when these blessings were
not enjoyed except in prospect; when they rather desired to have faith
and love, than could be said actually to have them; when their tempers
were not holy and heavenly, although they were fully alive to the
excellence of their being so, and had seen them already cleansed from
the opposites of such a state, from ill-nature, and passion, and pride.

If any such there be, in whom good resolutions have long since ripened
into good actions, and the continued good actions have now led to
confirmed good habits, how miserable will they think it to be only "not
far from the kingdom of God!" How ill could they bear to go over again
the struggle which used to accompany every action, when it was done in
defiance of habits of evil; or to be called back to that condition when
resolutions for good were formed over and over again, because they were
so often broken, but had as yet rarely led to any solid fruit! How
thankful will they be to have escaped from that season when they were
seeking, but had not yet found; when they were asking of God, but had
not yet received; when they were knocking, but the door had not yet been
opened! They were then, indeed, not far from the kingdom of God, but
they were still without its walls; they were still strangers, and not
citizens. It had held out to them a refuge, and they had fled to it as
suppliants to the sanctuary; but they had not yet had the word of peace
spoken, to bid them no more kneel without, as suppliants, but to enter
and go in and out freely; for that all things were theirs, because they
were Christ's.

I have dwelt purposely somewhat the longer upon this, because the more
that we can feel the truth of this picture, the more that we can put
ourselves into the position of those who are within the kingdom of God,
and who, living in the light of it, look back with pity upon those who
are only kneeling without its gates,--the more strongly we shall feel
what must be our condition, if those who are without its gates appear to
us to be objects of envy rather than pity, because they are so near to
that place from which we feel ourselves to be so distant. Or, to speak
without a figure, if we could but understand how persons advanced in
goodness would shrink from the thought of being now only resolving to be
good, then we shall perceive how very evil must be our condition, if
this very resolving to be good seems to us to be an advance so
desirable; if we are so far from being good actually, that the very
setting ourselves in earnest to seek for good strikes us as a point of
absolute proficiency in comparison of our present degradation.

Yet is not this the case with many of us? Do we not consider it a great
point gained, if we can be brought to think seriously, to pray in
earnest, to read the Bible, to begin to look to our own ways and lives?
We feel it for ourselves, and others also feel it for us: it is natural,
it is unavoidable, that we feel great joy, that we think a great deal is
done, if we see any of you, after leading a life of manifest
carelessness, and therefore of manifest sin, beginning to take more
pains with himself, and so becoming what is called somewhat more steady
and more serious. I know that the impression is apt to be too strong
upon us: we are but too apt to boast for him who putteth on his armour
as for him who putteth it off; because he who putteth on his armour at
least shows that he is preparing for the battle, which so many never do
at all. We observe some of these signs of seriousness: we see perhaps,
that a person begins to attend at the Communion; that he pays more
attention to his ordinary duties; that he becomes more regular. We see
this, and we are not only thankful for it,--this we ought to be,--but we
satisfy ourselves too readily that all is done: we reckon a person,
somewhat too hastily, to be already belonging to the kingdom of God,
because we have seen him turning towards it. Then, if he afterwards does
not appear to be entered into it; if we see that he is not what we
expected, that he is no longer serious, no longer attentive to his
common duties, we are overmuch disappointed; and, perhaps are tempted
too completely to despair for him. Is it not that we confounded together
the beginning and the end; the being good, and the trying to become so:
the resolution with the act; the act with the habit? Did we not forget
that he is not at once out of danger who begins to mend: that the first
softening of the dry burning skin, the first abating of the hard quick
pulse, is far removed from the coolness, and steadiness, and even vigour
of health restored, or never interrupted?

But what made us forget truths so obvious? What made us confound things
so different that the most ignorant ought to be able to distinguish
them? Cannot we tell why it is? Is it not because there are so many in
whom we cannot see even as good signs as these,--of whom we cannot but
feel that it would be a great advance for them, a matter of earnest
thankfulness, if we could only see that they were not far from the
kingdom of God,--nay, even that their steps were tending thither? Let us
look ever so earnestly, let us watch ever so carefully, let us hope
ever so charitably, we cannot see, we can scarcely fancy that we see,
even the desire to turn to God. We do not see gross wickedness; it is
well; we see much that is amiable; that is well also: but the desire to
turn to God, the tending of the steps towards the kingdom of
heaven,--that we cannot see. But this is a thing, it may be said, that
man cannot see: it may exist, although we cannot perceive it. Oh, that
it might and may be so! Yet, surely, as out of the abundance of the
heart the mouth speaketh, so a principle so mighty as the desire of
turning to God cannot leave itself without a witness: some symptoms must
be shown to those who are eagerly watching for them; some ground for
hope must be afforded where hope is so ready to kindle. If no sign of
life appears, can the life indeed be stirring? And if the life be not
stirring; if the disorder is going on in so many cases, raging, with no
symptom of abatement; is it not natural, that when we do see such
symptoms, we should rejoice even with over-measure, that we should
forget how much is yet to be done, when we see that something has
been done.

To such persons, it would be an enviable state, to be not far from the
kingdom of God. But what, then, must be their state actually? A hopeful
one, according to many standards of judgment; a state that promises
well, it may be, for a healthy and prosperous life, with many friends,
perhaps with much distinction. We know that all this prospect may be
blighted; still it exists at present;--the healthy constitution, the
easy fortune, the cheerful and good-humoured temper, the quickness and
power of understanding; all these, no doubt, are hopeful signs for a
period of forty, or fifty, or perhaps sixty years to come. But what is
to come then? what is the prospect for the next period, not of fifty, or
sixty, not of a hundred, not of a thousand, years; not of any number
that can be numbered, but of time everlasting? Is their actual state one
of hopeful promise for this period, for this life which no death shall
terminate? Nay, is it a state of any promise at all, of any chance at
all? Suppose, for a moment, one with a crippled body, full of the seeds
of hereditary disease, poor, friendless, irritable in temper, low in
understanding; suppose such an one just entering upon youth, and ask
yourselves, for what would you consent that his prospects should be
yours? What should you think would be your chance of happiness in life,
if you were beginning in such a condition? Yet, I tell you that poor,
diseased, irritable, friendless cripple has a far better prospect of
passing his fifty, or sixty, years, tolerably, than they who have not
begun to turn towards God have of a tolerable eternity. Much more
wretched is the promise of their life; much more justly should we be
tempted, concerning them, to breathe that fearful thought, that it were
good for them if they had never been born. And now if, as by miracle,
that cripple's limbs were to be at once made sound, if the seeds of
disease were to vanish, if some large fortune were left him, if his
temper sweetened, and his mind became vigorous, should not we be
excused, considering what he had been and what he now was, if we, for a
moment, forgot the uncertainty of the future; if we thought that a
promise so changed, was almost equivalent to performance? And may not
this same excuse be urged for some over-fondness of confidence for their
well-doing whom we see so near to the kingdom of God, when we consider
how utter is the misery, how hopeless the condition of those who do not
appear to have, as yet, stirred one single step towards it?


* * * * *

MATTHEW xxii. 14.

_For many are called, but few are chosen_.

The truth here expressed is one of the most solemn in the world, and
would be one of the most overwhelming to us, if habit had not, in a
manner, blunted our painful perception of it. There is contained in it
matter of thought more than we could exhaust, and deeper than we could
ever fathom. But on this I will not attempt to enter. I will rather take
that view of the text which concerns us here; I will see in how many
senses it is true, and with what feeling we should regard it.

"Many are called, but few are chosen." The direct application of this
was to the parable of those invited to the supper; in which it had been
related, how a great multitude had been invited, but how one among
them--and the application as well as the fact in human life, require
that this _one_ should be taken only as a specimen of a great
number--had been found unworthy to enjoy the feast prepared for them.
They had not on the wedding garment; they had not done their part to fit
themselves for the offered blessing: therefore they were called, but not
chosen. God had willed to do them good, but they would not; and
therefore, though he had called them at the beginning, he, in the end,
cast them out.

We have to do, then, not with an arbitrary call and an arbitrary choice,
as if God called many in mockery, meaning to choose out of them only a
few, and making his choice independently of any exertion of theirs. The
picture is very different; it is a gracious call to us all, to come and
receive the blessing; it is a reluctant casting out the greatest part of
us, because we would not try to render ourselves fit for it.

I said, that we would take the words of the text in reference to
ourselves, for here, too, it is true, that many are called, but few are
chosen. It is a large number of you, which I see before me; and if we
add to it all those who, within my memory, have sat in the same places
before you, we shall have a number very considerable indeed. All these
have been called; they have been sent here to enjoy the same advantages
with each other; and those advantages have been put within their reach.
They have entered into a great society which, on the one hand, might
raise them forward, or, on the other, depress them. There has been a
sufficient field for emulation: there have been examples and
instructions for good; there have been results of credit and of real
improvement made attainable to them, which might have lasted all their
lives long. To this, they have been all, in their turns, called; and out
of those so called, have all, or nearly all, been chosen? I am not
speaking of those, who, I trust, would be a very small number, to whom
the trial has failed utterly, who could look back on their stay here
with no feelings but those of shame. But would there not be a very large
number, to whom their stay here has been a loss, compared with what it
might have been; who have reaped but a very small part of those
advantages to which they had been at first called? Are there not too
many who must look back on a part, at least, of their time here as
wasted; on the seeds of bad habits sown, which, if conquered by
after-care, yet, for a long time, were injurious to them? Are there not
too many who carry away from here, instead of good notions, to be
ripened and improved, evil notions, to be weeded out and destroyed? Are
there not, in short, a great number who, after having had a great
advantage put within their reach, and purchased for them by their
friends, at a great expense, have made such insufficient use of their
opportunities, to say nothing stronger, as to make it a question
afterwards, whether it might not have been better for them had they
never come here at all?

Thus far I have been speaking of what are called the advantages of this
place in our common language. That argument, which Butler has so nobly
handled, in one of the greatest works in our language, the resemblance,
namely, between the course of things earthly and that of things
spiritual, is one which we should never fail to notice. We can discern
the type, as it were, of the highest truth of our Lord's sayings in the
experience of our common life in worldly things. When he tells us,
speaking of things spiritual, that "many are called, but few are
chosen;" that "whoso hath, to him shall be given; but from him that hath
not shall be taken away even that which he hath,"--although the highest
truth contained in these words be yet, in part, matter of faith, for we
have not yet seen the end of God's dealings with us: yet what we do see,
the evident truth of the words, that is, in respect to God's dealings
with us in the course of his earthly providence, may reasonably assure
us of their truth no less in respect to those dealings of God which as
yet are future. I began, therefore, with reminding you of the truth of
the words of the text with regard to worldly advantages; that even here,
on this small scale, the general law holds good; that more things are
provided for us than we will consent to use; that, in short, "many are
called, but few are chosen."

But it were ill done to limit our view to this: we are called to much
more than worldly advantages; and what if here, too, we add one more
example to confirm our Lord's words, that "many are called, but few
chosen?" Now here, as I said, it is very true that God's choice is as
yet not a matter of sight or of certainty to us; we cannot yet say of
ourselves, or of any other set of living men, that "few are chosen." But
though the full truth is not yet revealed, still, as there is a type of
it in our worldly experience, so there is also a higher type, an
earnest, of it in our spiritual experience: there is a sense, and that a
very true and a very important one, in which we can say already, say
now, actually, in the life that now is; say, even in the early stage of
it, that some are, and some are not, "chosen."

We have all been called, in a Christian sense, inasmuch as we have been
all introduced into Christ's church by Baptism; and a very large
proportion of us have been called again, many of us not very long since,
at our Confirmation. We have been thus called to enter into Christ's
kingdom: we have been called to lead a life of holiness and happiness
from this time forth even for ever. Nothing can be stronger than the
language in which the Scripture speaks of the nature of our high
calling: "All things," says St. Paul to the Corinthians, "all things are
yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Peter, or the world, or life, or
death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours; and ye are
Christ's, and Christ is God's." Now, if this be the prize to which we
are called, who are they who are also chosen to it? In the first and
most complete sense, no doubt, those who have entered into their rest;
who are in no more danger, however slight; with whom the struggle is
altogether past, and the victory securely won. These are entered within
the veil, whither we can as yet penetrate only in hope. But hope, in
its highest degree, differs little from assurance; and even, as we
descend lower and lower, still, where hope is clearly predominant, there
is, if not assurance, yet a great encouragement; and the Scripture,
which delights to carry encouragement to the highest pitch to those who
are following God, allows of our saying of even these that they are
God's chosen. It gives them, as it were, the title beforehand, to make
them feel how doubly miserable it must be not only not to obtain it, but
to forfeit it after it had been already ours. So then, there are senses
in which we may say that some are chosen now; although, strictly
speaking, the term can by us be applied, in its full sense, to those
only who are passed beyond the reach of evil.

Those, then, we may call chosen, who, having heard their call, have
turned to obey it, and have gone on following it. Those we may call
chosen,--I do not say chosen irrevocably, but chosen now; chosen so that
we may be very thankful to God on their behalf, and they thankful for
themselves,--who, since their Confirmation, or since a period more
remote, have kept God before their face, and tried to do His will. Those
are, in the same way, chosen, who having found in themselves the sin
which did most easily beset them, have struggled with it, and wholly, or
in a great measure, have overcome it. Thus, they are chosen, who, having
lived either in the frequent practice of selfish, extravagance, or of
falsehood, or of idleness, or of excess in eating and drinking, have
turned away from these things, and, for Christ's sake, have renounced
them. They are chosen, I think, in yet a higher sense, who, having found
their besetting sin to be, not so much any one particular fault, as a
general ungodly carelessness, a lightness which for ever hindered them
from serving God, have struggled with this most fatal enemy; and, even
in youth, and health, and happiness, have learnt what it is to be
sober-minded, what it is to think. Now, such as these have, in a manner,
entered into their inheritance; they are not merely called, but chosen.
God and spiritual things are not mere names to them, they are a reality.
Such persons have tasted of the promises; they have known the
pleasure--and what pleasure is comparable to it?--of feeling the bonds
of evil passion or evil habit unwound from about their spirit; they have
learnt what is that glorious liberty of being able to abstain from the
things which we condemn, to do the things which we approve. They have
felt true sense of power succeed to that of weakness. It is a delightful
thing, after a long illness, after long helplessness, when our legs have
been unable to support our weight, when our arms could lift nothing, our
hands grasp nothing, when it was an effort to raise our head from the
pillow, and it tired us even to speak in a whisper,--it is a delightful
thing to feel every member restored to its proper strength; to find that
exercise of limb, of voice, of body, which had been so long a pain,
become now a source of perpetual pleasure. This is delightful; it pays
for many an hour of previous weakness. But it is infinitely more
delightful to feel the change from weakness to strength in our souls; to
feel the languor of selfishness changed for the vigour of benevolence;
to feel thought, hope, faith, love, which before were lying, as it were,
in helplessness, now bounding in vigorous activity; to find the soul,
which had been so long stretched as upon the sick bed of this earth, now
able to stand upright, and looking and moving steadily towards heaven.

These are chosen; and they to whom this description does in no degree
apply, they are not chosen. They are not chosen in any sense, they are
called only. And, now, what is the proportion between the one and the
other; are there as many chosen as there have been many called? Or do
Christ's words apply in our case no less than in others; that though
they who are called are many, yet they who are chosen are few?

This I dare not answer; there is a good as well as an evil which is
unseen to the world at large, unseen even by all but those who watch us
most nearly and most narrowly. All we can say is, that there are too
many, who we must fear are not chosen; there are too few, of whom we can
feel sure that they are. Yet hope is a wiser feeling than its opposite;
it were as wrong as it would be miserable to abandon it. How gladly
would we hope the best things of all those whom we saw this morning at
Christ's holy table! How gladly would we believe of all such, that they
were more than called merely; that they had listened to the call: that
they had obeyed it; that they had already gained some Christian
victories; that they were, in some sense, not called only, but chosen.
But this we may say; that hope which we so long to entertain, that hope
too happy to be at once indulged in, you may authorize us to feel it;
you may convert it into confidence. Do you ask how? By going on steadily
in good, by advancing from good to better, by not letting impressions
fade with time. Now, with many of you, your confirmation is little more
than three months distant; when we next meet at Christ's table, it will
have passed by nearly half-a-year. It may be, that, in that added
interval, it will have lost much of its force; that, from various
causes, evil may have abounded in you more than good; that then shame,
or a willing surrender of yourselves to carelessness, will keep away
from Christ's Communion, many who have this day joined in it. But, if
this were not to be so; if those, whom we have seen with joy this day
communicating with us in the pledges of Christian fellowship, should
continue to do so steadily; if, in the meantime, traits shall appear in
you in other things that our hope was well founded; if the hatred of
evil and the love of good were to be clearly manifest in you; if by
signs not to be mistaken by those who watch earnestly for them, we might
be assured that your part was taken, that you were striving with us in
that service of our common Master, in which we would fain live and die;
if evil was clearly lessened among us--not laughed at, but discouraged
and put down; if instead of those turning away, who have now been with
us at Christ's table, others, who have now turned away, should then be
added to the number; then we should say, not doubtingly, that you were
chosen: that you had tasted of the good things of Christ; that the good
work of God was clearly begun in you. We might not, indeed, be without
care, either for you or for ourselves: God forbid, that, in that sense,
any of us should deem that we were chosen, until the grave has put us
beyond temptation. But how happy were it to think of you as Christ's
chosen, in that sense which should be a constant encouragement to us
all: to think of you as going on towards God; to think of you as living
to him daily; to think of you as on his side against all his enemies; to
think of you as led by his Spirit, as living members of his holy and
glorious Church,--militant now, in heaven triumphant!


* * * * *

LUKE xi. 25.

_When he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished_.

JOHN v. 42.

_I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you_.

These passages, of which the first is taken from the gospel of this
morning's service, the other from the second lesson, differ in words,
but their meaning is very nearly the same. The house which was empty,
swept and garnished, was especially one empty of the love of God.
Whatever evil there may not have been in it; whatever good there may
have been in those of whom Christ spoke in the second passage: yet it
and they agreed in this; one thing they had not, which alone was worth,
all the rest besides; they had not the love of God.

And so it is still; many are the faults which we have not; many are the
good qualities which we have; but the life is wanting. What is so rare
as to find one who is not indifferent to God? What so rare, even rarer
than the other, as to find one who actually loves him?

Therefore it is that those who go in at the broad gate of destruction
are many, and those who go in at the narrow gate of life are few. For
destruction and life are but other terms for indifference to God on the
one hand, and love to him on the other. All who are indifferent to him,
die; a painless death of mere extinction, if, like the brute creation,
they have never been made capable of loving him; or a living death of
perpetual misery, if, like evil spirits and evil men, they might have
loved him and would not. And so all who love him, live a life, from
first to last, without sin and sorrow, if, like the holy angels, they
have loved him always; a life partaking at first of death, but
brightening more and more unto the perfect day, if, like Christians,
they were born in sin, but had been redeemed and sanctified to

Whoever has watched human character, whether in the young or the old,
must be well aware of the truth of this: he will know that the value of
any character is in proportion to the existence or to the absence of
this feeling, or rather, I should say, this principle. An exception may,
perhaps, be made for a small, a very small number of fanatics; an
apparent exception likewise exists in the case of many who seem to be
religious, but who really are not so. The few exceptions of the former
case are so very few, that we need not now stop to consider them, nor to
inquire how far even these would be exceptions if we could read the
heart as God reads it. The seeming exceptions being cases either of
hypocrisy, or of very common self-deceit, we need not regard either; for
they are, of course, no real objection to the truth of the general
statement. It remains true, then, generally, that the value of any
character is in proportion to the existence, or to the absence, in it of
the love of God.

But is there not another exception to be made for the case of children,
and of very young persons? Are they capable of loving God? and are not
their earthly relations, their parents especially, put to them, as it
were, in the place of God, as objects of trust, of love, of honour, of
obedience, till their minds can open to comprehend the love of their
Father who is in heaven? And does not the Scripture itself, in the few
places in which it seems directly to address children, content itself
with directing them to obey and honour their parents? Some notions of
this sort are allowed, I believe, to serve sometimes as an excuse, when
young persons are blamed for being utterly wanting in a sense of duty
to God.

The passages which direct children to obey their parents, are of the
same kind with those, directing slaves to obey their masters, and
masters to be kind to their slaves; like those, also, which John the
Baptist addressed to the soldiers and publicans: in none of all which
there is any command to love God, but merely a command to fulfil that
particular duty which most arose out of the particular relation, or
calling of the persons addressed. In fact, when parents are addressed,
they are directed only to do their duties to their children, just as
children are directed to do theirs to their parents; in both cases
alike, the common duty of parents and children to God is not dwelt upon,
because that is a duty which does not belong to them as parents, or as
children, but as human beings; and as such, it belongs to all alike. In
fact, the very language of St. Paul's command to children implies this;
for he says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is
right:" right, that is, in the sight of God: so that the very reason for
which children are to discharge their earthly duties is, because that
earthly duty is commanded by, or involved in, their heavenly duty; if
they do not do it, they will not please God. But it is manifest that, in
this respect, there is for all of us one only law, so soon as we are
able to understand it. The moment that a child becomes capable of
understanding anything about God and Christ,--and how early that is,
every parent can testify,--that moment the duty to love God and Christ
begins. It were absurd to say, that this duty has not begun at the age
of boyhood. A boy is able to understand the force of religious motives,
as well as he can that of earthly motives: he cannot understand either,
perhaps, so well as he will hereafter; but he understands both enough,
for the purposes of his salvation; enough, to condemn him before God, if
he neglects them; enough to make him derive the greatest benefit from
faithfully observing them.

And what can have been the purpose with which the only particular of our
Lord's early life has been handed down to us, if it were not to direct
our attention to this special truth, that our youth, no less than our
riper age, belongs to God? "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's
business?" were words spoken by our Lord when he was no more than twelve
years old. At twelve years old, he thought of preparing himself for the
duties of his after-life; and of preparing himself for them, because
they were God's will. He was to be about his Father's business. This is
Christ's example for the young; this, and scarcely anything more than
this, is recorded of his early years. Those are not like Christ who, at
that same age, or even older, never think at all of the business of
their future lives, still less would think of it, not as the means of
their own maintenance or advancement, but as the duty which they owe
to God.

Such as these are the very persons whose hearts are like the house in
the parable, empty, swept, and garnished. The house so described in the
parable is one out of which an evil spirit has just departed. In case of
the young, the evil spirit in this sense, that is, as representing some
one particular favourite sin, may perhaps have never entered it. That
empty, swept, and garnished house, how like is it to what I have seen,
to what I am seeing so continually, when a boy comes here with much
still remaining of the innocence of childhood! Evil spirit, in the sense
of any one particular vice, there is none to be found in that heart, nor
has there been any ever. It is empty, swept, and garnished: there is the
absence of evil; there are the various faculties, the furniture, as they
may be called, of the house of our spirits, which the spirit uses either
for evil or for good. There is innocence, then; there is, also, the
promise of power. God hath richly endowed the earthly house of our
tabernacle: various and wonderful is the furniture of body and mind with
which it is supplied. How can we help admiring that open and cheerful
brow which, as yet, no care or sin has furrowed; those light and active
limbs, full of health and vigour; the eye so quick; the ear so undulled;
the memory so ready; the young curiosity so eager to take in new
knowledge; the young feelings, not yet spoiled by over-excitement, ready
to admire, ready to love? There is the house, the house of God's
building, the house which must abide for ever; but where is the spirit
to inhabit it? Evil spirit there is none: is it, then, possessed by the
Spirit of God? Has the fire from heaven as yet descended upon that
house,--the living sign of God's presence, which alone can convert the
house of perishable clay into the everlasting temple?

Can that blessed Spirit of God be indeed there, and yet no sign of his
presence be manifest? It may be so, or to speak more truly, it might
have been supposed to be so, if God's word had not declared the
contrary. What God's secret workings are; in how many ways, to us
inscrutable, he may pervade all nature; in how many cases he may be near
us, and we know it not; may, perhaps, be amongst those real mysteries,
those truths revealed to none, nor to be revealed; those yet uncleared
forests, so to speak, of the world of nature, into which the light of
grace has not been permitted to penetrate. But all such mysteries are to
us as if they did not exist at all: we have nothing to do with them. God
has told us nothing of his unseen and undiscernible presence; when and
where he is so present, he is to us as if he were not present at all.
God was in the wilderness of Horeb before the bush was kindled; but he
was not there for Moses. God, in some sense discernible, it may be, to
other beings, may be in that house which, to us is empty; but God, our
own God, the Holy Spirit, into whose service we were baptized, where he
is, the house is not empty to us, but full of light. Invisible in
himself, the signs of his presence are most visible: where no works, no
fruits of the Holy Spirit are to be discerned, there, according to our
Lord's express declaration, there the Holy Spirit is not.

But the light which declares his presence may indeed be a little spark;
just to be seen, and no more. It may show that he has not abandoned all
his right to the house of our tabernacle as yet; that he would desire to
possess us fully. Such a little spark, such an evidence of the Holy
Spirit's presence, is to be found in the outward profession of
Christianity. They who call Jesus Lord, do it by the Holy Ghost; and,
therefore, it is quite true in this sense, that in every baptized
Christian, who has not utterly apostatized, there is that faint sign of
the Holy Spirit's still having a claim upon him; he is not yet utterly
cast off. This is true; but it is not to our present purpose; such a
feeble sign is a sign of God's yet unwearied mercy, but no sign of our
salvation. The presence with which the parable is concerned, is a far
more effectual presence than this; the house in which there is no more
than such a faint sign of a divine inhabitant, is, in the language of
the parable, empty. To no purpose of our salvation is the Spirit of God
present in the house, when the light of his presence does not flash
forth from every part of it, when it is not manifest, not only that he
has not quite cast it off to go to ruin, but that he has been pleased to
make it his temple.

In this sense, therefore, in this practical, scriptural, Christian
sense, those many young minds, which we have seen so often, may truly be
called empty. But will they remain so long? How often have I seen the
early innocence of boyhood overcast; the natural simplicity of boyhood,
its open truth, its confident affection, its honest shame, perverted,
blunted, hardened! How often have I seen the seven evil spirits enter in
and dwell there,--I know not, and never may know, whether to be cast out
again, or to abide for ever. But I have seen them enter, and, whilst the
person was yet within my view, I have not seen them depart. And why have
they entered; why have they marred that which was so beautiful? For one
only reason,--because the house was empty, because the Spirit of God was
not there: there was no love of God, no thought of God. Mere innocence
taints and spoils as surely before the influence of the world, as true
principle flourishes in spite of it, and strengthens. This, too, I have
seen, not once only: I have seen the innocence of early boyhood
sanctified by something better than innocence, which gave a promise of
abiding. I have seen, in other words, that the house was not empty; that
the Spirit of God was there. I have watched the effect of those
influences, which you know so well: the second half-year came, a period
when mere innocence is sure to be worn away, greatly tainted, if not
utterly gone; but still, in the cases which I am now alluding to, the
promise of good was not less, but greater, there was a more tried, and,
therefore, a stronger goodness. I have watched this, too, till it passed
on, out of my sight. I never saw the blessed Spirit of God depart from
the house which he had chosen: I well believe that he abides in it
still, and will abide in it even to the day of Jesus Christ.

This I have seen, and this I shall continue to see; for still the great
work of evil and of good is going on; still the house, at first empty,
is possessed by the spirits of evil, or by the Spirit of God. And if we
do not see the signs of the Spirit of God, we are but too sure that the
evil spirit is there. We know him by the manifold signs of folly,
coarseness, carelessness; even when we see not, as yet, his worse fruits
of falsehood and profligacy. We know him by the sign of an increased,
and increasing selfishness, the everlasting cry of the thousand passions
of our nature, all for ever calling out, "Give, give;" all for ever
impatient, complaining, when their gratification is withheld, when the
call of duty is set before them. We know him by pride and
self-importance, as if nothing was so great as self, as if our own
opinions, judgment, feelings were to be consulted in all things. We know
him by the deep ungodliness which he occasions--no thought of God, much
less any love of him; living utterly without him in the world, or, at
least, whilst health and prosperity continue. These are the fatal signs
which show that the house is no longer empty; that the evil spirits have
entered in, and dwell there, to make it theirs, as too often happens,
for time and for eternity.


* * * * *

MATHEW xi. 10.

_I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before

If it was part of God's dispensation, that there should be one to
prepare the way before Christ's first coming, it may be expected much
more, that there should be some to prepare the way before his second.
And so it is expressed in the collect for the third Sunday in Advent: "O
Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to
prepare thy way before thee; grant that the ministers and stewards of
thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning
the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy
second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in
thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
ever one God, world without end. Amen." NOW, in what does this preparing
for him consist; and what is its object? The Scripture will inform us as
to both. The object is, "Lest he come and smite the earth with a curse;"
lest, when he shall come, his coming, which should be our greatest joy
and happiness, should be our everlasting destruction; for there can
abide before him nothing that is evil. This is the object of preparing
for Christ's coming. Next, in what does the preparation consist? It
consists in teaching men to live above the common notions of their age
and country; to raise their standard higher; to live after what is right
in God's judgment, which often casts away, as faulty and bad, what men
were accustomed to think good. And as the people of Israel, although
they had God's revelation among them, had yet let their standard of good
and evil become low, even so it has been in the Christian Israel. We
have God's will in our hands, yet our judgments are not formed upon it;
and, therefore, they who would prepare us for Christ's coming, must set
before us a commandment which is new, although old: in one sense old, in
every generation, inasmuch as it is the same which we had from the
beginning; in another sense, in every generation more new, inasmuch, as
the habits opposed to it have become the more confirmed; and the longer
the night has lasted, the more strange to our eyes is the burst of the
returning light.

But when we thus speak of the common notions of our age and country
being deficient, and thus, in effect, commend notions which would be
singular, do we not hold a language inconsistent with our common
language and practice? Do we not commonly regard singularity as a fault,
and attach a considerable authority to the consent of men in general?
Nay, do we not often appeal to this consent as to a proof which a sane
mind must admit as decisive? Even in speaking of good and evil, have not
the very words gained their present sense because the common consent of
mankind has agreed to combine notions of self-satisfaction, of honour,
and of love, with what we call good, and the contrary with what we
call evil?

A short time may, perhaps, not be misapplied in endeavouring to explain
this matter; in showing where, and for what reasons, the common opinion
of our society is to be followed, where it is to be suspected, and
where it is absolutely to be shunned or trampled under foot, as clearly
and certainly evil.

I must begin with little things, in order to show the whole question
plainly. Take those tastes in us which most resemble the instincts of a
brute; and you will find that in these, as with instinct, common consent
becomes a sure rule. When I speak of those tastes which most resemble
instincts, I mean those in which nature, doing most for us at first,
leaves least for us to learn for ourselves. This seems the character of
instinct: it is far more complete than reason in its first stage, but it
admits of no after improvement; the brute in the thousandth generation
is no way advanced beyond the brute in the first. Of our tastes, even of
those belonging to our bodily senses, that which belongs to what are
called particularly our organs of taste is the one most resembling an
instinct: we have less to do for its improvement than in any other
instance. Men being here, then, upon an equality, with a faculty given
to all by nature, and improved particularly by none, those who differ
from the majority are likely to differ not from excellence but from
defect: not because they have a more advanced reason, but because they
have a less healthy instinct, than their neighbours. Thus, in those
matters which relate to the sense of taste--I am obliged to take this
almost trivial instance, because it so well illustrates the principle of
the whole question--we hold the consent of men in general to be a good
rule. If any one were to choose to feed upon what this common taste had
pronounced to be disgusting, we should not hesitate to say that such an
appetite was diseased and monstrous.

Now, let us take our senses of sight and hearing, and we shall find that
just in the proportion in which these less resemble instincts than the
sense of taste, so is common consent a less certain rule. Up to a
certain point they are instincts: there are certain sounds which, I
suppose, are naturally disagreeable to the ear; while, on the other
hand, bright and rich colours are, perhaps, naturally attractive to the
eye. But, then, sight and hearing are so connected with our minds that
they are susceptible of very great cultivation, and thus differ greatly
from instincts. As the mind opens, outward sights and sounds become
connected with a great number of associations, and thus we learn to
think the one or the other beautiful, for reasons which really depend
very much on the range of our own ideas. Consider, for a moment, the
beautiful in architecture. If the model of the leaning tower of Pisa
were generally adopted in our public buildings, all men's common sense
would cry out against it as a deformity, because a leaning wall would
convey to every mind the notion of insecurity, and every body would feel
that it was unpleasant to see a building look exactly as if it were
going to fall down. Now, what I have called common sense is, in a
manner, the instinct of our reason: it is that uniform level of reason
which all sane persons reach to, and the wisest in matters within its
province do not surpass. But go beyond this, and architecture is no
longer a matter of mere common sense, but of science, and of cultivated
taste. Here the standard of beauty is not fixed by common consent; but,
in the first instance, devised or discovered by the few: and, so far as
it is received by the many, received by them on the authority of the
few, and sanctioned, so to speak, not so much from real sympathy and
understanding, as from a reasonable trust and deference to those who are
believed the best judges.

Here, then, we suppose that the common judgment is right; but we
perceive a difference between this case and the one mentioned before,
inasmuch as in the first instance the right judgment of the mass of
mankind is their own; in the second instance, they have adopted it out
of deference to others. Not only, then, will men's common judgment be
right in matters of instinct and of common sense, but also in higher
matters, where, although they could not have discovered what was right,
yet they were perfectly willing to adopt it, when discovered by others.
And this opens a very wide field. For in all matters which come under
the dominion of fashion, where the avowed object is the convenience or
gratification of society, men listen to those who profess to teach them
with almost an excess of docility: they will adopt sometimes fashions
which are not convenient. But yet, as men can tell well enough by
experience whether they do find a thing convenient and agreeable or not,
so it is most likely that fashions which continue long and generally
prevalent are founded upon sound principles; because else men, being
well capable of knowing what convenience is, and being also well
disposed to follow it, would neither have been very long or very
generally mistaken in this matter; nor would have acquiesced in their
mistake contentedly.

We do perfectly right, then, to regard the common opinion as a rule in
all points of dress, in our houses and furniture, in those lighter
usages of society which come under the denomination of manners, as
distinguished from morals. In all these, if the mass of mankind could
not find out what would best suit them, yet they are quite ready to
adopt it when it is found out; and so they equally arrive at truth. But
take away this readiness, and the whole case is altered. If there be any
point in which men are not ready to adopt what is best for them; if they
are either indifferent, or still more, if they are averse to it; if
they thus have neither the power of discovering it for themselves, nor
the will to avail themselves of it, when discovered for them; then it is
clear that, in such a point, the common judgment will be of no value,
nay, there will even be a presumption that it is wrong.

Now as the common consent of mankind was most sure in matters where
their sense most resembled instinct, that is, where nature had done most
for them, and left them least to do for themselves; as here, therefore,
they who are sound are the great majority, and the exceptions are no
better than disease; so if there be any part of us which is the direct
opposite to instinct, a part in which nature has done next to nothing
for us, and all is to be done by ourselves; then, here the common
consent of mankind will be of the least value; here the majority will be
helpless and worthless; and they who are happy enough to be exceptions
to this majority, will be no other than Christ's redeemed.

Now, again, if this deficient part of our nature could be seen purely
distinct from every other; if it alone dictated our language, and
inspired our actions, then it would follow, that language which must
ever be fixed by the majority, would be, in fact, the language of the
world of infinite evil; and our actions those of mere devils. Then,
whoever of us would be saved, must needs begin by forswearing,
altogether, both the language and the actions of his fellow-men. But
this is not so; in almost every instance this deficient part of our
nature acts along with others that are not so corrupted; it mars their
work, undoubtedly; it often confuses and perverts our language; it
always taints our actions; but it does not wholly usurp either the one
or the other; and thus, by God's blessing, man's language yet affords a
high witness to divine truth, and even men's judgments and actions
testify, though with infinite imperfection, to the existence and
excellence of goodness.

And this it is which forms one of the great perplexities of life; for as
there is enough of what is right in men's judgments and conduct to
forbid us from saying, that we must take the very rule of contraries,
and think and do just the opposite to the opinions and practice of men
in general; so, on the other hand, there is always so much wrong in
them, that we may never dare to follow them as a standard, but shall
find, that if trusted to as such, they will inevitably betray us. So
that in points of greater moment than mere manners and fashion, it will
ever be true, that if we would be prepared for Christ's coming, we must
rise to a far higher standard than that of society in general; that in
the greatest concerns of human life, the practice of the majority,
though always containing something of good, is yet in its prevailing
character, as regards God, so evil, that they who are content to follow
it cannot be saved.

This is the explanation of the apparent difficulty in the general, and
thus, while acknowledging that there are points in which men, by common
consent, make out what is best; and others in which, although they do
not make it out, nor at first appreciate it, yet they are very willing
to adopt it upon trust, and so come by experience to value it; while,
therefore, there are a great many things in which singularity is either
a disease or a foolishness; so again there are other points in which men
in general have not the power to make out what is good, nor yet the
docility to adopt it; and, therefore, in these points, which relate to
the great matters of life, singularity is wisdom and salvation, and he
who does as others do, perishes. That is what is called the corruption
of human nature. I shall attempt, on another occasion, to go into some
further details, and show, by common examples, how strangely our
judgment and practice contain, with much that is right, just that one
taint or defect which, as a whole, spoils them. And this one defect will
be found to be, as the Scripture declares, a defect in our sense of our
relation towards God.


* * * * *


_We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is
of God_.

And, therefore, he goes on to say, our language is different from that
of others, and not always understood by them; the natural man receiveth
not the things of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he
know them, because they are spiritually discerned. That is, they are
discerned only by a faculty which he has not, namely, by the Spirit;
and, therefore, as beings devoid of reason cannot understand the truths
of science, or of man's wisdom, for they are without the faculty which
can discern them; so beings devoid of God's Spirit cannot understand the
truths of God.

Now, in order to turn this passage to our profit, we need not consider
those who are wholly without God's Spirit, or inquire whether, indeed,
there be any such; it is not that there are two broadly marked divisions
of all men, those who have not the Spirit of God at all, and those who
have it abundantly: if it were so, the separation of the great day of
judgment would be begun already, nor would it require, in order to
effect it rightly, the wisdom of Him who trieth the very hearts and
reins. No doubt there will be at last but two divisions of us all, the
saved and the lost; but now the divisions are infinite; so much so that
the great body of us offer much matter for hope as well as for fear. We
cannot say, that they are without the Spirit of God; yet neither can we
say that they are led by the Spirit, so as to be God's true servants. We
cannot say, that the things of God's are absolutely to them as
foolishness; yet certainly, we cannot say either, that they are to them
as the divinest wisdom.

And here we return to the subject on which I was speaking last Sunday.
It is because we are not led by the Spirit of God, but have within us
much of the spirit of the world, that our judgments of right and wrong
are so faulty; and that this faultiness is particularly seen in our
faint sense of our relations to God. These relations seem continually
foolishness to us, because they are spiritually discerned, and we have
so little of God's Spirit to enable us to discern them. And our
blindness here affects our whole souls; we have, in consequence of it, a
much fainter perception even of those truths which reason can discern by
herself; or, at any rate, if we do not doubt them, they have over us
much less influence.

Now we will first see how much of natural reason, and even of the Spirit
of God, does exist in our common judgments; for it is fair to see and to
allow what there is of right in our language and sentiments, as well as
to note what is wrong. Reason influences thus much, that we not only
commend good generally, and blame evil; but even, in particular cases,
we commend, I think, each separate virtue, and we blame each separate
vice. I never heard of justice, truth, kindness, self-denial, &c., being
other than approved of in themselves; or injustice, falsehood, malice,
and selfishness being other than condemned. And the Spirit of God
influences at least thus much, that we shrink from direct blasphemy and
profaneness; we cannot but respect those whom we believe to be living
sincerely in the fear of God; and further, if we thought our death
near, we should desire to hear of God, and to depart from this life
under his favour. No doubt, all such feelings, so far as they go, are
the work of God's Spirit: whatever is good and right in our minds
towards God, that proceeds not from the spirit of the world, but from
the Spirit of God.

Where, then, is the great defect which yet continually makes our
practical judgments quite wrong; which makes us, in fact, so often
countenance and support evil, and discountenance and discourage good?
First, it is owing to the spirit of carelessness. One of the most
emphatic terms by which a good man is expressed in the language of the
Greek philosophers, is that of [Greek: opdouiaos], "one who is in
earnest." To be in earnest is, indeed, with, most of us, the same as to
be good; it is not that we love evil, but that we are indifferent both
to it and to good. Now, many of us are very seldom in earnest. By this I
mean, that the highest part of our minds, and that which judges of the
highest things, is generally slumbering or but half awake. We may go
through, a very busy day, and yet not be, in this true sense, in earnest
at all; our best faculties may, as it were, be all the while sleeping or
playing. It is notorious how much this is so in the common intercourse
of society in the world. Light anecdotes; playful remarks; discussions,
it may be, about the affairs of the neighbourhood, or, in some
companies, on questions of science or party politics; all these may be
often heard; but we may talk on all these brilliantly and well, and yet
our best nature may not once be called to exert itself. So again, in
mere routine business, it is the same: the body may toil; the pen move
swiftly; the thoughts act in the particular matter before them
vigorously; and yet we our proper selves, beings understanding and
choosing between good and evil, have never bestirred ourselves at all.
It has been but a skirmishing at the outposts; not a sword had been
drawn in the main battle. Take younger persons, and the same thing is
the case even more palpably. Here there is less of business in the
common sense of the term; the mind is almost always unbraced and
resting. We pass through the good and evil of our daily life, and our
proper self scarcely ever is aroused to notice either the one or
the other.

But the worst of it is, that this carelessness is not altogether
accidental: it is a carelessness which we do not wish to break. So long
as it lasts, we manage to get the activity and interest of life, without
a sense of its responsibility. We like exceedingly to lay the reins, as
it were, upon the neck of our inclinations, to go where they take us,
and to ask no questions whether we are in the right road or no.
Inclination is never slumbering: this gives us excitement enough to save
us from weariness, without the effort of awakening our conscience too.
Therefore society, expressing in its rules the feelings of its
individual members, prescribes exactly such a style of conversation as
may keep in exercise all other parts of our nature except that one which
should be sovereign of all, and whose exercise is employed on
things eternal.

Not being, then, properly in earnest,--that is, our conscience and our
choice of moral good and evil being in a state of repose,--our language
is happily contrived so as that it shall contain nothing to startle our
sleeping conscience, if her ears catch any of its sounds. We still
commend good and dispraise evil, both in the general and in the
particular. But as good and evil are mixed in every man, and in various
proportions, he who commends, the little good of a bad man, saying
nothing of his evil,--or he who condemns the little evil of a good man,
saying nothing of his good,--leads us evidently to a false practical
conclusion; he leads us to like the bad man and to dislike the good.
Again, the lesser good becomes an evil if it keeps out a greater good;
and, in the same way, the lesser evil becomes a good. If we have no
thought of comparing good things together, if our sovereign nature be
asleep, then we shall most estimate the good to which we are most
inclined; and where we find this we shall praise it, not observing that
it is taking up the place of a greater good which the case requires,
and, therefore, that it is in fact an evil. So that our moral judgments
may lead practically to great evil: we may join with bad men and despise
good; we may approve of qualities which, are, in fact, ruining a man;
and despise others which, in the particular case, are virtues; without
ever in plain words condemning virtue or approving vice.

But, farther, this habit of never being in earnest greatly lowers the
strength of our feelings even towards the good which we praise and
towards the evil which we condemn. It was an admirable definition of
that which excites laughter, that it was that which is out of rule, that
which is amiss, that which is unsightly, (these three ideas, and other
similar ones, are alike contained in the single Greek word [Greek:
aischron],) provided that it was unaccompanied by pain. This definition
accounts for the otherwise extraordinary fact, that there is something
in moral evil which, in some instances, affects the mind ludicrously.
That is to say, if moral evil affects us with no pain; if we see in it
nothing, so to speak, but its irregularity, its strange contrast with
what is beautiful, its jarring with the harmony of the system around us;
then it does acquire that character which is well defined as being
ridiculous. Thus it is notorious that trifling follies, and even gross
vices, are often so represented in works of fiction as to be
exceedingly ludicrous. It is enough, as an instance of what I mean, to
name the vice of drunkenness. Get rid for the moment of the notions of
vice or sin which, accompany it, and which give moral pain; get rid also
of those points in it which awaken physical disgust; retain merely the
notion of the incoherent language, and the strange capricious gait of
intoxication; and we have then an image merely ridiculous, as much, so
as the rambling talk and absurd gestures of the old buffoons.

Here, then, we have the secret of vice becoming laughable; and of things
which are really wicked, disgusting, hateful, being expressed by names
purely ludicrous. Where no great physical pain or distress is occasioned
by what is evil, our sense of its ludicrousness will be exactly in
proportion to the faintness of our sense of moral evil; or, in other
words, to our want of being in earnest. The evil that does not seriously
pain or inconvenience man, is very apt to be regarded with feelings
approaching to laughter, if we have no sense of pain at the notion of
its being an offence against God.

Thus, then, we have seen how, from the want of being in earnest, from
the habitual slumber of conscience, or that sovereign part of us which
looks upon our whole state with reference to its highest interests, and
passes judgment upon all our actions,--how, from the practical absence
of these, we may get to follow evil persons, and be indifferent to the
good; to admire qualities which, from usurping the place of better ones,
are actually ruinous; and, finally, to regard all common evil not so
much with deep abhorrence, as with a disposition to laugh at it. And
thus the practical judgment and influence of the society around us may
be fatally evil; while the society all the time shall contain, even in
its very perversion, various elements of truth and of good.

I have kept to general language, to general views, perhaps too much; but
all the time my mind has been fixed on the particular application of
this, which lies scarcely beneath the surface, but which I cannot well
bear more fully to unveil. But whoever has attended to what I have been
saying, will be able, I should trust, to make the application, for
himself, to those points in our society which most need correction. He
will be able to understand how it is that the influence of the place is
not better, while it undoubtedly contains so much of good; how the
public opinion of a Christian school may yet be, in many respects, very
unchristian. If he has attended at all to what I have said about our so
rarely being in earnest, he will see something of the mischief of some
of those publications, of those books, of that tone of conversation,
which, I suppose, are here, as elsewhere, in fashion. Utterly impossible
is it to lay down a rule for others in such matters: to say this book is
too light, or this is an excess of light reading, or this laugh was too
unrestrained, or that tone of trifling too perpetual. But, in these
things, we should all judge ourselves; and remember that you are so
little under outward restraint, your choice of reading is so free, your
intercourse with one another so wholly uncontrolled, that, enjoying thus
the full liberty of more advanced years, you incur also their
responsibility. There is, doubtless, an excess of light reading, both in
kind and in quantity; there is such a thing as a tone of conversation
and manner too entirely, and too frequently, trifling. And you must be
quite aware that we are placed here for something else than to indulge
such a temper as this. Cheerfulness and thoughtlessness have no
necessary connexion; the lightest spirits, which are indeed one of the
greatest of earthly blessings, often play around the most earnest
thought and the tenderest affection, and with far more grace than when
they are united with the shallowness and hardness of him who is, in the
sight of God, a fool. It were a strange notion, that we could never be
merry without intoxication, yet not stranger than to think that mirth is
the companion only of folly or of sin. But, setting God in Christ before
us, then the conscience is awake; then we are in earnest; then we
measure things rightly; then we feel them strongly; then we love those
that are good, and shun those that are evil; then we learn that sin is
no matter of laughter, that it ill deserves to be clothed under a
ludicrous name; for that thing which we laugh at, that which we so
miscall, is indeed the cause of infinite evil; for that Christ died; for
that there are some who die that death which lasts for ever.


* * * * *

GENESIS xxvii. 38.

_And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, my father?
Bless me, even me also, O my father_.

MATTHEW xv. 27.

_And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall
from their master's table_.

Of these two passages, the first, as we must all remember, is taken from
the first lesson of this morning's service; the second is from the
morning's gospel. Both speak the same language, and point out, I think,
that particular view of the story of Jacob obtaining the blessing which
is most capable of being turned to account; for, as to the conduct of
Jacob and his mother, it is manifestly no more capable of affording us
benefit, as a matter of example, than the conduct, in some respects
similar, of the unjust steward in our Lord's parable. The example,
indeed, is of the same kind as that. If the steward was so anxious about
his future worldly welfare, and Jacob about the worldly welfare of his
descendants, that they did not scruple to obtain their ends, the one by
dishonesty, the other by falsehood, much more should we be anxious about
the true welfare of ourselves and those belonging to us, which no such
unworthy means can be required to gain. But the point of the story to
which the text refers, and which is illustrated also by the words of
the Syrophoenician woman, is one which very directly concerns us all,
being no other than this,--what should be the effect upon our own minds
of witnessing others possessed of greater advantages than ourselves,
whether obtained by the immediate gift of God, through the course of his
ordinary providence, or acquired directly by some unjust or unlawful act
of those who are in possession of them?

Now, it is evident that, as equality is not the rule either of nature or
of human society, there must be many in every congregation who are so
far in the condition of Esau and of the Syrophoenician woman, as to be
inferior to others around them in some one or more advantages. The
inferiority may consist in what are called worldly advantages, or in
natural advantages, or in spiritual advantages, or in some or all of
these united. And it is not to be doubted that the sense of this
inferiority is a hard trial, both as respects our feelings towards God
and towards men. It is a hard trial; but yet, no trial overtakes us but
such as is common to man: and here, as in all other cases, God will,
with the trial, also make a way for us to escape, that we may be able
to bear it.

Let us consider, then, some of the most common cases in which this
inferiority exists amongst us. With regard to worldly advantages, the
peculiar nature of this congregation makes it less necessary than it
generally would be, to dwell upon inequality in these: in fact, speaking
generally, we are a very unusual example of equality in these respects;
the advantages of station and fortune are enjoyed not, literally, in an
equal degree by all of us, but equally as compared with, the lot of the
great mass of society; we all enjoy the necessaries, and most of the
comforts of life. What differences there are would, probably, appear in
instances seemingly trifling, if, indeed, any thing were really
trifling by which the temper and feelings, and through them the
principles, of any amongst us may be affected for good or for evil. It
may possibly happen that, in the indulgences, or means of indulgence,
given to you by your friends at home, there may be sometimes, such a
difference as to excite discontent or jealousy. It may be, that some are
apt to exult over others, by talking of the pleasures, or the liberty,
which they enjoy; and which the friends of others, either from necessity
or from a sense of duty, are obliged to withhold. If this be ever felt
by any of you as a trial; if it gall your pride, as well as restrict
your enjoyments; then remember, that here, even in this seemingly little
thing, the inferiority of which you complain may be either increased
ten-fold, or changed into a blessed superiority. Increased ten-fold,
even as from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he
hath, if by discontent, and evil passions towards God and man, you make
yourselves a hundred times more inferior spiritually than you were in
outward circumstances; but changed into a blessed superiority, if it be
borne with meekness, and patience, and thankfulness, even as it was said
of the Gentile centurion, that there had not been found faith equal to
his, no, not in Israel.

But turning from worldly advantages to those which are called natural,
and the inequality here is at once as great as elsewhere. In all
faculties of body and mind; in the vigour of the senses, of the limbs,
of the general constitution; in the greater or less liability to disease
generally, or to any particular form of it; or, again, in powers of
mind, in quickness, in memory, in imagination, in judgment; the
differences between different persons in this congregation must be
exceedingly wide. But, with regard to bodily powers, the trial is little
felt, till the inferiority is shown in actual suffering from pain or
from disease. So long as we are in health, our enjoyments are so many,
and we so easily accommodate our habits to our powers, that a mere
inferiority of strength, whether it be of limb or of constitution, is
not apt to make us dissatisfied. But if it comes to actual illness or to
pain, if we are deprived of the common enjoyments and occupations of our
age, then perhaps the trial begins to be severe; and when we look at
others who have taken the same liberties with their health as we have
done, and see them notwithstanding perfectly well and strong, while we
are disabled or suffering, we may think that God has dealt hardly with
us, and may be inclined to ask with Esau, "Hast thou but one blessing,
my Father? bless me, even me also, O my Father!" Now this language,
according to the sense in which we use it, is either blameable or
innocent. If we mean to say, "Hast thou health to give to others only
and not to me? give me this blessing also, as thou hast given it to my
brethren:" then it has in it somewhat of discontent and murmuring; it
implies a claim to which God never listens. But if we mean, "Hast thou
only one kind of blessing, my father? If thou hast blest others in one
way, I murmur not nor complain: but out of thine infinite store, give me
also such a blessing as may be convenient for me;" then God hears the
prayer, then he gives the blessing, and gives it so richly, and makes it
bear so evidently the mark of his love, that they who were last are
become first; if others have health, and we have sickness, yet the
spirit of patience and cheerful submission which God gives with it is so
great a blessing, and makes us so certainly happy, that the strongest
and healthiest of our friends have often far more reason to wish to
change places with us, than we with them.

Let us now take inequality in powers of mind. And here, undoubtedly, the
difference is apt to be a trial. Not that, probably, it excites
discontent or murmuring against God; nor jealousy against those whose
faculties are better than our own: the trial is of another kind; we are
tempted to make our inferiority an excuse for neglect; because we cannot
do so much nor so easily as others, we do far less than we might do. But
the parable shows us plainly, that if one talent only has been given us,
while others have ten, yet that the one, no less than the ten, must be
made to yield its increase. Here is the feeling expressed so earnestly
by the woman entreating Christ to heal her daughter. "The dogs eat of
the crumbs which fall from their master's table." Small as may be the
portion of power given us, when compared with the plenty vouchsafed to
others, still it is capable of nourishing us if we make use of it; still
it shows that we too have our blessing. And if using it with
thankfulness, if doing our very best with it, knowing that "a man is
accepted according to what he hath, and not according to what he hath
not," we labour humbly and diligently; then, not only does the talent
itself become increased, so that our Lord, when he comes to reckon with
us, may receive his own with usury: but a blessing of another kind is
added to our labours, again, as in the former case, making those who
were last to become first. For if there be one thing on earth which is
truly admirable, it is to see God's wisdom blessing an inferiority of
natural powers, when they have been honestly, humbly, and zealously
cultivated. From how many pains are they delivered, to which great
natural talents are continually exposed; irritation, jealousy, a morbid
and nervous activity, bearing fruits not of peace, but of gall! With
what blessings are they crowned, to which, the most powerful natural
understanding is a stranger! the love of truth gratified, without the
fear that truth will demand the sacrifice of personal vanity; the line
of duty clearly discerned, because those mists of passion and
selfishness which obscure it so often from the view of the keenest
natural perception, have been dispersed by the spirit of humility and
love; imperfect knowledge patiently endured, because whatever knowledge
is enjoyed is known to be God's gift, and what he gives, or what he
withholds, is alike welcome. This is the blessing of those who having
had inferior natural powers, have so laboured to improve them according
to God's will, that on all there has been grafted, as it were, some
better power of grace, to yield a fruit most precious both for earth
and heaven.

But I spoke of an equality of spiritual advantages also, and this is
perhaps the hardest trial of all. Oh, how great is this inequality in
truth, when it seems to be so little! All of you, the children of
Christian parents; all members of the Christian Church; all partaking
here of the same worship, the same prayers, the same word of God, the
same sacrament; are you not all the Israel of God, and not, like Esau,
or the Syrophoenician woman, strangers to the covenant of blessing? Yet
your real condition is, notwithstanding, very unequal. How unlike are
your friends at home; how, unlike, also, are your friends here! Are
there not some to whom their homes, both by direct precept and by
example, are a far greater help than to others? Are there not some,
whose immediate companions here may encourage them in all good far more
than may be the case with, others? So, then, there may be some to whom
this great blessing has been denied, whilst others enjoy it. What then?
Shall we say, that, because we have it not, we will refuse to go in to
our Father's house; that we will not walk as our brother walks, unless
we have his advantages? Then must we remain cast out; vessels fashioned
to dishonour; rejected of God, and cursed. Nay rather let us put a
Christian sense on Esau's prayer, and cry, "'Hast thou but one blessing,
my Father? bless me, even me also, O my Father.' If thou hast given to
others earthly helps, which thou hast denied to me, give me thyself and
thy own Spirit the more! If father and mother forsake my most precious
interest, do thou take me up. If my nearest friends will not walk with
me in the house of God, be thou my friend, and abide with, me always,
making my house as thine. Outward and earthly means thou givest or
takest away at thy pleasure; but give me help according to my need, that
I yet may not lose thee."

How naturally are we interested at the thought of any one so
circumstanced, and uttering such a prayer! How earnestly do we wish to
help him, to show our respect and true love for a faith so tried and so
enduring! And think we that God cares for it less than we do? or have we
not already the record of his love towards it, when Christ answered the
Syrophoenician woman, "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even
as thou wilt?" He may not, indeed, see fit to give the very same
blessing which was in the first instance denied: we may still have fewer
spiritual advantages than others, as far as human helps are concerned;
fewer good and earnest friends; fewer examples of holiness around us;
fewer to join with us in our prayers and in our struggles against evil.
But though this particular blessing may be denied,--as Esau could not
gain that blessing which had been given to Jacob,--yet there is a
blessing for us also, which may prove, in the end, even better than our
brother's. He who serves God steadily, amidst many disadvantages, enjoys
the blessing of a more confirmed and hardier faith; he has gone through
trials, and been found conqueror; and for him that overcometh is
reserved a more abundant measure of glory.

But on the other side, we who, like Jacob, or Jacob's posterity, have
the blessing,--whether it be natural, worldly, or spiritual,--let us
consider what became of it when it was not improved. What was the sin
of Esau,--speaking not of the individual, but of the less favoured
people of Edom,--compared with the sin of Jacob? Nay, not of Edom only;
but it shall be more tolerable for Sodom, in the day of judgment, than
for the unbelieving cities of Israel. So it is, not only with the
literal, but with the Christian Israel; so it is, not only with the
Church as a whole compared with heathens, but with all those individuals
amongst us, who enjoy in any larger measure than others any of God's
blessings. They are blessings; but they may be made fatal curses. This
holds true with blessings of every kind: with station and wealth, with
bodily health and vigour, with, great powers of mind, with large means
of spiritual improvement. To whom much is given, of him shall be much,
required. It is required of us to enjoy our blessings by using them: so
will they be blessings indeed. So it is with money and influence, with
health, with talents, with spiritual knowledge, and good friends and
parents. There are first who shall be last; that is, those who began
their course with advantages which set them before their brethren, if
they do not exert themselves, will fall grievously behind them: for the
blessing denied may be, in effect, a blessing given; and the blessing
given, in like manner, becomes too often a blessing taken away.


* * * * *

MATTHEW xxii. 32.

_God is not the God of the dead, but of the living_.

We hear these words as a part of our Lord's answer to the Sadducees;
and, as their question was put in evident profaneness, and the answer to
it is one which to our minds is quite obvious and natural, so we are apt
to think that in this particular story there is less than usual that
particularly concerns us. But it so happens, that our Lord, in answering
the Sadducees, has brought in one of the most universal and most solemn
of all truths,--which is indeed implied in many parts of the Old
Testament, but which the Gospel has revealed to us in all its
fulness,--the truth contained in the words of the text, that "God is not
the God of the dead, but of the living."

I would wish to unfold a little what is contained in these words, which
we often hear even, perhaps, without quite understanding them; and many
times oftener without fully entering into them. And we may take them,
first, in their first part, where they say that "God is not the God of
the dead."

The word "dead," we know, is constantly used in Scripture in a double
sense, as meaning those who are dead spiritually, as well as those who
are dead naturally. And, in either sense, the words are alike
applicable: "God is not the God of the dead."

God's not being the God of the dead signifies two things: that they who
are without him are dead, as well as that they who are dead are also
without him. So far as our knowledge goes respecting inferior animals,
they appear to be examples of this truth. They appear to us to have no
knowledge of God; and we are not told that they have any other life than
the short one of which our senses inform us. I am well aware that our
ignorance of their condition is so great that, we may not dare to say
anything of them positively; there may be a hundred things true
respecting them which we neither know nor imagine. I would only say
that, according to that most imperfect light in which we see them, the
two points of which I have been speaking appear to meet in them: we
believe that they have no consciousness of God, and we believe that they
will die. And so far, therefore, they afford an example of the
agreement, if I may so speak, between these two points; and were
intended, perhaps, to be to our view a continual image of it. But we had
far better speak of ourselves. And here, too, it is the case that "God
is not the God of the dead." If we are without him we are dead; and if
we are dead we are without him: in other words, the two ideas of death
and absence from God are in fact synonymous.

Thus, in the account given of the fall of man, the sentence of death and
of being cast out of Eden go together; and if any one compares the
description of the second Eden in the Revelation, and recollects how
especially it is there said, that God dwells in the midst of it, and is
its light by day and night, he will see that the banishment from the
first Eden means a banishment from the presence of God. And thus, in the
day that Adam sinned, he died; for he was cast out of Eden immediately,
however long he may have moved about afterwards upon the earth where
God was not. And how very strong to the same point are the words of
Hezekiah's prayer, "The grave cannot praise thee, Death cannot celebrate
thee; they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth;" words
which express completely the feeling that God is not the God of the
dead. This, too, appears to be the sense generally of the expression
used in various parts of the Old Testament, "Thou shalt surely die." It
is, no doubt, left purposely obscure; nor are we ever told, in so many
words, all that is meant by death; but, surely, it always implies a
separation from God, and the being--whatever the notion may extend
to--the being dead to him. Thus, when David had committed his great sin,
and had expressed his repentance for it, Nathan tells him, "The Lord
also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die:" which means, most
expressively, thou shalt not die to God. In one sense, David died, as
all men die; nor was he, by any means, freed from the punishment of his
sin: he was not, in that sense, forgiven; but he was allowed still to
regard God as his God; and, therefore, his punishments were but fatherly
chastisements from God's hand, designed for his profit, that he might be
partaker of God's holiness. And thus although Saul was sentenced to lose
his kingdom, and although he was killed with his sons on Mount Gilboa,
yet I do not think that we find the sentence passed upon him, "Thou
shalt surely die;" and, therefore, we have no right to say that God had
ceased to be his God, although be visited him with severe chastisements,
and would not allow him to hand down to his sons the crown of Israel.
Observe, also, the language of the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel, where
the expressions occur so often, "He shall surely live," and "He shall
surely die." We have no right to refer these to a mere extension, on the
one hand, or a cutting short, on the other, of the term of earthly
existence. The promise of living long in the land, or, as in Hezekiah's
case, of adding to his days fifteen years, is very different from the
full and unreserved blessing, "Thou shalt surely live." And we know,
undoubtedly, that both the good and the bad to whom Ezekiel spoke, died
alike the natural death of the body. But the peculiar force of the
promise, and of the threat, was, in the one case, Thou shalt belong to
God; in the other, Thou shalt cease to belong to him; although the veil
was not yet drawn up which concealed the full import of those terms,
"belonging to God," and "ceasing to belong to him:" nay, can we venture
to affirm that it is fully drawn aside even now?

I have dwelt on this at some length, because it really seems to place
the common state of the minds of too many amongst us in a light which is
exceedingly awful; for if it be true, as I think the Scripture implies,
that to be dead, and to be without God, are precisely the same thing,
then can it be denied, that the symptoms of death are strongly marked
upon many of us? Are there not many who never think of God, or care
about his service? Are there not many who live, to all appearance, as
unconscious of his existence as we fancy the inferior animals to be? And
is it not quite clear, that to such persons, God cannot be said to be
their God? He may be the God of heaven and earth, the God of the
universe, the God of Christ's church; but he is not their God, for they
feel to have nothing at all to do with him; and, therefore, as he is not
their God, they are, and must be, according to the Scripture, reckoned
among the dead.

But God is the God "of the living." That is, as before, all who are
alive, live unto him; all who live unto him, are alive. "God said, I am
the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;" and,
therefore, says our Lord, "Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, are not and
cannot be dead." They cannot be dead, because God owns them: he is not
ashamed to be called their God; therefore, they are not cast out from
him; therefore, by necessity, they live. Wonderful, indeed, is the truth
here implied, in exact agreement, as we have seen, with the general
language of Scripture; that, as she who but touched the hem of Christ's
garment was, in a moment, relieved from her infirmity, so great was the
virtue which went out from him; so they who are not cast out from God,
but have any thing whatever to do with him, feel the virtue of his
gracious presence penetrating their whole nature; because he lives, they
must live also.

Behold, then, life and death set before us; not remote, (if a few years
be, indeed, to be called remote,) but even now present before us; even
now suffered or enjoyed. Even now, we are alive unto God, or dead unto
God; and, as we are either the one or the other, so we are, in the
highest possible sense of the terms, alive or dead. In the highest
possible sense of the terms; but who can tell what that highest possible
sense of the terms is? So much has, indeed, been revealed to us, that we
know now that death means a conscious and perpetual death, as life means
a conscious and perpetual life. But greatly, indeed, do we deceive
ourselves, if we fancy that, by having thus much told us, we have also
risen to the infinite heights, or descended to the infinite depths,
contained in those little words, life and death. They are far higher,
and far deeper, than ever thought or fancy of man has reached to. But,
even on the first edge of either, at the visible beginnings of that
infinite ascent or descent, there is surely something which may give us
a foretaste of what is beyond. Even to us in this moral state, even to
you advanced but so short a way on your very earthly journey, life and
death have a meaning: to be dead unto God, or to be alive to him, are
things perceptibly different.

For, let me ask of those who think least of God, who are most separate
from him, and most without him, whether there is not now actually,
perceptibly, in their state, something of the coldness, the loneliness,
the fearfulness of death? I do not ask them whether they are made
unhappy by the fear of God's anger; of course they are not: for they who
fear God are not dead to him, nor he to them. The thought of him gives
them no disquiet at all; this is the very point we start from. But I
would ask them whether they know what it is to feel God's blessing. For
instance: we all of us have our troubles of some sort or other, our
disappointments, if not our sorrows. In these troubles, in these
disappointments,--I care not how small they may be,--have they known
what it is to feel that God's hand is over them; that these little
annoyances are but his fatherly correction; that he is all the time
loving us, and supporting us? In seasons of joy, such, as they taste
very often, have they known what it is to feel that they are tasting the
kindness of their heavenly Father, that their good things come from his
hand, and are but an infinitely slight foretaste of his love? Sickness,
danger,--I know that they come to many of us but rarely; but if we have
known them, or at least sickness, even in its lighter form, if not in
its graver,--have we felt what it is to know that we are in our Father's
hands, that he is with us, and will be with us to the end; that nothing
can hurt those whom he loves? Surely, then, if we have never tasted
anything of this: if in trouble, or in joy, or in sickness, we are left
wholly to ourselves, to bear as we can, and enjoy as we can; if there is
no voice that ever speaks out of the heights and the depths around us,
to give any answer to our own; if we are thus left to ourselves in this
vast world,--there is in this a coldness and a loneliness; and whenever
we come to be, of necessity, driven to be with our own hearts alone, the
coldness and the loneliness must be felt. But consider that the things
which, we see around us cannot remain with us, nor we with them. The
coldness and loneliness of the world, without God, must be felt more and
more as life wears on: in every change of our own state, in every
separation from or loss of a friend, in every more sensible weakness of
our own bodies, in every additional experience of the uncertainty of our
own counsels,--the deathlike feeling will come upon us more and more
strongly: we shall gain more of that fearful knowledge which tells us
that "God is not the God of the dead."

And so, also, the blessed knowledge that he is the God "of the living"
grows upon those who are truly alive. Surely he "is not far from every
one of us." No occasion of life fails to remind those who live unto him,
that he is their God, and that they are his children. On light occasions
or on grave ones, in sorrow and in joy, still the warmth of his love is
spread, as it were, all through the atmosphere of their lives: they for
ever feel his blessing. And if it fills them with joy unspeakable even
now, when they so often feel how little they deserve it; if they delight
still in being with God, and in living to him, let them be sure that
they have in themselves the unerring witness of life eternal: God is the
God of the living, and all who are with him must live.

Hard it is, I well know, to bring this home, in any degree, to the minds
of those who are dead: for it is of the very nature of the dead that
they can hear no words of life. But it has happened that, even whilst
writing what I have just been uttering to you, the news reached me that
one, who two months ago was one of your number, who this very half-year
has shared in all the business and amusements of this place, is passed
already into that state where the meanings of the terms life and death
are become fully revealed. He knows what it is to live unto God, and
what it is to die to him. Those things which are to us unfathomable
mysteries, are to him all plain: and yet but two months ago he might
have thought himself as far from attaining this knowledge as any of us
can do. Wherefore it is clear, that these things, life and death, may
hurry their lesson upon us sooner than we deem of, sooner than we are
prepared to receive it. And that were indeed awful, if, being dead to
God, and yet little feeling it, because of the enjoyments of our worldly
life, those enjoyments were on a sudden to be struck away from us, and
we should find then that to be dead to God was death, indeed, a death
from which there is no waking, and in which there is no sleeping
for ever.


* * * * *

EZEKIEL xiii. 22.

_With lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not
made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not
return from his wicked way, by promising him life_.

The verses which immediately precede this, require explanation, but
perhaps our knowledge is hardly sufficient to enable us to give it
fully. There are allusions to customs,--to fashions rather,--common
amongst the Israelites at the time, which we can now scarcely do more
than guess at; but we may observe, that there was a general practice,
which even God's own prophets were directed often to comply with, of
enforcing what was said in word by some corresponding outward action, in
which the speaker made himself, as it were, a living image of the idea
which he meant to convey. Thus, when Zedekiah, the son of Chenaanah, was
assuring Ahab, that he should drive the Syrians before him, he made
himself horns of iron, and said, "With these shalt thou push the
Syrians, until thou have consumed them." In the same way, it is imagined
that the false prophetesses spoken of in the text were in the habit of
wearing pillows, or cushions, fastened to their arms, and directed those
who came to consult them to do the same, as a sign of rest and peace;
that they who trusted to them had nothing to fear, but might lie down
and enjoy themselves at their feasts, or in sleep, with entire security.
Or, again, if we connect what is said of the pillows with what
immediately follows about the kerchiefs put upon the head, we may
suppose that both are but parts of a fantastic dress, such as was often
worn by pretended prophets and fortune-tellers, and which they may have
made those wear, also, who came before them. We know that the covering
on the head was, for instance, a part of the ceremonial law of the Roman
augurs, when they began their divinations. But, however this be, the
exact understanding of these particular points is not necessary to our
deriving the lesson of the passage in general. I know that there is
something naturally painful to an active mind in being obliged to
content itself with an indistinct notion, or still more, with no notion
at all, of the meaning of any words presented to it. But, whilst we
should highly value this sensitiveness, as, indeed, few qualities are
more essential in the pursuit of truth, yet we must be careful not to
let our disappointment carry us too far, so as to pass over a whole
passage, or portion, of Scripture, as if in despair, because we cannot
understand every part of it. Much of the supposed obscurity of the
prophets arises from this cause--that we find in them particular
expressions and allusions, which, whether from a, fault in the
translation, or from our imperfect knowledge of the times of which the
prophets speak, and of the language in which they wrote, are certainly
quite unintelligible. But these are only a few expressions, occurring
here and there; and it is a great evil to fancy that their writings, in
general, are not to be understood, because of the difficulty of
particular passages in them. Thus, with the very chapter of which we are
now speaking, the expression to which I have alluded can only be
uncertainly interpreted, yet the lesson of the chapter, as a whole, is
perfectly clear, notwithstanding. The dress, or fashions, or particular
rites, of the false prophets of Jerusalem and their votaries, may offer
no distinct image to our minds; but the evil of their doings, how they
deceived others, and were themselves deceived; the points, that is,
which alone concern us practically, these are set before us plainly.
"With their lies they made the heart of the righteous sad, whom God had
not made sad; and they strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he
should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life." Where the
way of life was broad, they strove to make it narrow; and where it was
narrow, they strove to make it broad: by their solemn and superstitious
lies, they frightened and perplexed the good, while, by their lives of
ungodliness, they emboldened and encouraged the wicked.

It may not, at first sight, seem necessary that these two things should
go together; there might be, it seems, either the fault of making the
heart of the righteous sad, without that of strengthening the hands of
the wicked: or there might be the strengthening of the hands of the
wicked, without making sad the heart of the righteous. And so it
sometimes has been: there has been a wickedness which has not tried to
keep up superstition: there has been a superstition, the supporters of
which have not wilfully encouraged wickedness. Yet, although this has
been so, with respect to the intention of the parties concerned, yet in
their own nature, the tendency of either evil to produce the other is
sure and universal. We cannot exist without some influences of fear and
restraint, on the one hand, and without some indulgence of freedom, on
the other. God has provided for both these wants, so to speak, of our
nature; he has told us whom we should fear, and where we should be
restrained, and where, also, we may be safely in freedom: there is the
fruit forbidden, and the fruit which we may eat freely. But if the
restraint and the liberty be either of them put in the wrong place, the
double evil is sure to follow. Restrained in his lawful liberty,
debarred from the good and wholesome fruit of the garden, man breaks out
into a liberty which is unlawful; he eats of the forbidden fruit, whose
taste is death; or, surfeited with an unholy freedom, and let to run
wild in a space far too vast for his strength to compass, he turns
cravingly for that support to his weariness which a narrowed range would
afford him; and he limits himself on that very quarter in which alone he
might expatiate freely. Superstition, in fact, is the rest of
wickedness, and wickedness is the breaking loose of superstition.

But, however true this may be, are we concerned in it? First of all,
when we find an evil dwelt upon often in the Prophets, and find it dwelt
upon again by our Lord and his Apostles with no less earnestness, there
is, at least, a strong presumption, that an evil of this sort is nothing
local or passing, but that it is fixed in man's nature, and is apt to
grow up in all times, and in all countries. Now, the double evil spoken
of in the text, occurs again in the gospel; there we find men spoken of,
who, in like manner, insisted upon what was trifling, and were careless
of what was important; and in the epistles, we find, again, the same
characters holding up as righteous others than those who worked
righteousness: men, who spoke lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience
seared with a hot iron. We may presume, therefore, that this evil is of
an enduring character; but if we look back to the history of the
Christian Church, or look around us, the presumption becomes the sad
conviction of experience.

Nor is the evil merely one which exists in the country at large; a thing
which might be fully dwelt upon any where but here. On the contrary, I
hardly know of an age more exposed to it than youth. There exist in
youth, in a very high degree, those opposite feelings of our nature,
which I have before spoken of; a tendency to respect, to follow, to be
led, on the one hand; and on the other, a lively desire for independence
and freedom. These feelings often exist in the greatest strength in the
same individual; and when they are not each turned in their proper
direction, ruin is the consequence. Nothing is more common than to see
great narrowness of mind, great prejudices, and great disorderliness of
conduct, united in the same person. Nothing is more common than to see
the same mind utterly prostrated before some idol of its own, and
supporting that idol with the most furious zeal, and at the same time
utterly rebellious to Christ, and rejecting with scorn the enlightening,
the purifying, and the loving influences of Christ's Spirit.

The idols of various minds are infinitely various, some seducing the
loftiest natures and some the vilest. But of this we may be sure, that
every one of us has a tendency to some one idol or other, if not to
many; and our business is especially each to watch, ourselves, lest we
be enslaved to our peculiar idol. I will now, however, speak of those
which, tempt the highest minds; which, by their show of sacredness and
excellence, make us fancy, that while following them we are following
Christ. And let none be surprised, if I rank among idols many things,
which, in themselves and in their proper use and order, are indeed to be
loved and reverenced. It was most right to respect the Apostle Peter,
and listen to his word; but that great Apostle would have been ruin to
Cornelius, and not salvation, if he had suffered him, without reproof,
to fall down before him, and render to him the service due to Christ
alone. How many good and pious feelings must have been awakened from age
to age in many minds, at the sight of the brazen serpent on the pole,
the memorial of their fathers' deliverance in the wilderness! But when
this awakening, this solemn memorial was corrupted into an idol, when
men bowed down before it in superstition, it was the part of true piety
to do as Hezekiah did, to dash it, notwithstanding all its solemn
associations, into a thousand pieces.

Thus things good, things noble, things sacred, may all become idols. To
some minds truth is an idol, to others justice, to others charity or
benevolence; and others are beguiled by objects of a different sort of
sacredness: some have made Christ's mother their idol; some, Christ's
servants; some, again, Christ's sacraments, and Christ's own body, the
Church. If these may all be idols, where can we find a name so holy, as

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