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Town and Country Sermons by Charles Kingsley

Part 5 out of 5

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gentleman had travelled among our forefathers; and when he returned
he wrote this book to shame his countrymen at Rome. In it he calls
us 'Germans;' but that was the Roman fashion. By Germans they meant
not only the people who now live in Germany, but the English and the
Danes, and the Swedes, and the Franks, who afterwards conquered
France. In fact he meant our own forefathers. And he said to the

'Look at these wild Germans. You despise them because they go half-
naked, and cannot read or write, and live in mud cottages; while you
go in silk and gold, and have all sorts of learning, and live in
great cities, palaces, and temples, in worldly pomp and glory. But
I tell you,' he said, 'that these wild Germans are better men than
you; for, while you are living in sin, in cheating and falsehood, in
covetousness, adultery, murder, and every horrible iniquity, they
are honest, chaste, truthful; they honour their fathers and mothers;
they are obedient and loyal to their kings and their laws; they shew
hospitality to strangers; they do not commit adultery, steal, bear
false witness, covet their neighbours' goods. And therefore,' this
Roman felt (and really it seems as if a spirit of prophecy from God
had come on him), 'something great and glorious will come out of
these wild Germans, while the Romans will rot away and perish in
their sins.' That was true enough. We see it true at this day.

For what happened? That great Roman empire, Babylon the great, as
St. John calls it in the Revelations, perished miserably and
horribly by its own sins; while our forefathers rose and conquered
it all, and live and thrive till this day. But it is curious that
they never throve really, though they made great conquests, and did
many wonderful deeds, till they became Christians: but as soon as
they became Christians, they began to thrive at once, and settled
down, and became that great family of nations, and kingdom of God,
which we call Christendom; England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany,
Sweden, and the other countries of Christian Europe; which God has
so prospered for his Son Jesus Christ's sake, in spite of many sins
and shortcomings, with wealth and numbers, skill, and learning, and
strength, that now the empire of the whole world depends upon these
few small Christian nations, which in our Lord's time were only
tribes of heathen savages: so that here again our Lord's great
parable was fulfilled.

The gospel seed which the apostle sowed in those rich, luxurious,
clever, learned, Romans, was like the seed which fell on thorny
ground; and the cares and pleasures of this life, and the
deceitfulness or riches, sprang up, and choked the word, and it
remained unfruitful. But the gospel seed which was sown among our
poor, wild, simple, ignorant forefathers, was the seed which fell on
an honest and good heart, and took root, and brought forth fruit,
some thirty, some fifty, and some one hundred fold. Epiphany came
late to us--not for three hundred years after our Lord's birth:
but, when it came, the light which it brought remained with us, and
lights us even now from our cradle to our grave: and so again was
fulfilled the Scripture, which says, that God chooses the weak
things of this world to confound the strong; the foolish to confound
the wise; yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought the
things which are, that no flesh should glory in his presence.

That no flesh should glory in his presence. For mind, my friends,
our business is not to be high-minded but to fear. And we English
are too apt to be high-minded now. We pride ourselves on our
English character, English cleverness, English courage, English
wealth. My friends, be not high-minded but fear. We have no right
to pride ourselves on being Englishmen, if we do the very things
which our forefathers were ashamed to do even when they were
heathens. They honoured their fathers and mothers. Do we? They
were loyal and obedient to law. Are we? They were chaste and clean
livers: adultery was seldom heard of among them; and, when it was,
they punished it in the most fearful way: while what astonished
that old Roman gentleman, of whom I spoke, most of all, was the pure
and respectable lives of the young men and women. Is it so now-a-
days among us, my friends? They were honest, too, and just in all
their dealings. Are we? They were true to their word; no men on
earth more true. Are we? They hated covetousness and overreaching.
Do we? They were generous, open-handed, hospitable. Are we? My
friends, this was the old English spirit, which God accepted in our
forefathers. Is it in us now? We must not pride ourselves on it,
unless we have it. Nay, more, what is it but a shame to us, if,
while our forefathers were good heathens, we are bad Christians?
They had but a small spark, a dim ray, as it were, of the light
which lighteth every man who comes into the world: but they were
more faithful to that little than many are now, who live in the full
sunshine of God's gospel, in the free dispensation of God's spirit,
with Christ's sacraments, Christ's Churches, means of grace and
hopes of glory, of which they never dreamed. May they not rise up
against some of us in the day of judgment, and condemn us, and say,--
'Are you our children? Do you boast of knowing God better than we
did, while you did things which we dared not do? We knew that God
hated such sins, and therefore we kept from them. You should know
that better than we; for you had seen God's horror of sin in the
death of his own Son Jesus Christ; and yet you went on committing
the very sins which crucified the Lord of Glory.'

My friends, I speak sober earnest. God grant that our old heathen
forefathers may not rise up against us in the day of judgment, and
condemn us. Let us turn to the Lord this day with all our hearts,
and come to this holy table, confessing all our sins and
unfaithfulness, and backslidings, that we may get there cleansing
from his most precious blood, strength from his most precious body,
life from his life, and spirit from his spirit; that so we may go
away to lead new lives, following the commandments of God, and
living up to our great light and knowledge, at least as well as our
forefathers lived up to their little light. And so we shall really
keep the feast of Epiphany in spirit and in truth: for Epiphany
means the shewing of Jesus Christ to us Gentiles; and the way to
prove that Jesus Christ has been shewn to us, and that we have seen
his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of
grace and truth, is to keep his commandments, and live lives like


Psalm cvii. 6. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and
he delivered them out of their distresses.

If I were asked to give a reason why I believed the Old Testament to
be an inspired and divine book, as well as the New, I could not do
better, I think, than to lay my hand on this 107th psalm, and say,--
This is my reason for believing the Old Testament to be inspired. I
have hundreds of others: but this one is enough--this one psalm.
It contains an account of God's dealings with men, such as the world
never heard before, and very seldom since, save from a very few men,
who really saw what the Bible meant, and honestly followed its
teaching. It gives a notion of the justice of God, and an
explanation of the chances and changes of this mortal life, such as
you will find nowhere else save in the Bible, and in the books of
Christian men who have been taught by the Bible. The man who wrote
that psalm knew so much more than other men, that he must have been
indeed inspired by the Spirit of Truth, and the Holy Ghost of God.

And, I should say, I have come to this opinion mainly by comparing
this psalm with the writings of heathens, even the wisest and the
best of them. For the heathens, like all men, used to have their
troubles, and to ask themselves, Who has sent this trouble? And why
has he sent it? And their answers remain to us in their writings,
some worse, some better, some very foolish, some tolerably wise.
But when one compares the heathen writings with this psalm, or with
any psalms or passages of the Old Testament which talk of God's
dealings with man, then we shall be altogether astonished at the
superiority of the Bible. The Bible will seem to us quite
infinitely wiser than heathen books, on this matter, as on others--
so much more simple, and yet so much more deep; so much more
rational also, and so much more true: agreeing so much more with
the facts which we see happen round us: agreeing so much more with
our own reason, experience, inward conscience, about what is just
and unjust:--that we shall begin to see as much difference between
heathen books and the Old Testament, as there is between the dim
dawn of morning, and the full blaze of noonday light.

One of the earliest heathen notions why troubles came was, it seems,
that the gods were offended with men, because they had not shown
them due honour, flattered them enough, or offered sacrifices enough
to them: or else they fancied that the gods envied men: grudged
their prosperity, did not like to see them too happy.

That dark and base notion gradually faded away, as men got higher
notions of right and wrong, and of the gods, as the judges and
avengers of wrong. Then they began to think these troubles were
punishments for doing wrong. The Gods, or God, punished sin;
inflicting so much pain for so much sin, very much as the heathens
are apt to punish their criminals still, and as Christian nations
used to punish theirs, namely, with shameful and horrible tortures;
before they began to find out that the end of punishment is not to
torment, but to reform, the criminal, wherever it is possible.

But then the thought would come--Why, after all, should God, if he
be just and merciful, punish my sin by pain and misery? How can it
profit God, how can it please God, to give me pain? Because it
satisfies his justice? How can it do that? It would not satisfy
mine. Suppose my child, or even my dog, disobeyed me, would it
satisfy my sense of justice to beat him? It might satisfy my
passion: but God has no passions. It would be base, blasphemous to
fancy that he takes pleasure in hurting me, as I take pleasure in
beating my dog when I lose my temper with it. God forbid! The old
prophets saw that, and cried--'Have I any pleasure in the death of
him, saith the Lord, and not rather that he should turn from his
wickedness, and live?'

Then, naturally, the thought would come into the mind of a wise and
serious man--I punish my child, or my dog, and God punishes me. May
he not punish me for the same reason that I punish them? I punish
them to correct them and make them better. Surely God punishes me,
to correct me, and make me better. I punish my child, because I
love him, and wish him good. God punishes me because he loves me
and desires that I may be a partaker of his holiness.

And as soon as that blessed thought had risen up in any man's mind,
by the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit, all the world would begin
to look bright and clear and full of hope. This earth, with all its
sorrows and sufferings, would look no longer to him as God's prison
house, where poor sinners sat tortured and wailing, fast bound in
misery and iron, till they should pay the uttermost farthing, which
they never could pay. No. It would look to him as God's school-
house, God's reformatory, in which he is training and chastening and
correcting the souls of men, that he may deliver them from the ruin
and misery which sin brings on them, both the original sin which is
born in them and the actual sin which they commit. Then God appears
to him a gracious and merciful father. He can see a blessed meaning
and a wholesome use in all human suffering; and he can break out, as
the Psalmist does in this glorious psalm, into praise and
thanksgiving, and call on mankind to give thanks to the Lord; for he
is gracious, and his mercy endureth for ever.

In every kind of human suffering, I say, he sees now a meaning and a

First, he takes, it seems, his own countrymen, the Jews, coming back
from Babylon into their own country after the seventy years'
captivity. They had been punished for their sins. But for what
purpose? That they might know (as Ezekiel said), that God was the
Lord. And when they cried unto him in their trouble, he delivered
them out of their distress.

Then he goes on to those who have brought themselves into poverty
and shame, and sit fast bound in misery and iron. It is their own
fault. They have brought it on themselves by rebelling against the
word of the Lord, and lightly regarding the counsel of the Most
Highest. But God does not hate them. God is not going to leave
them to the net which they have spread for their own feet. When
they cry unto the Lord in their troubles, he delivers them out of
their distress. God himself, by strange and unexpected ways, will
deliver them from their darkness of ignorance and sin, and from the
danger and misery which they have brought upon themselves.

Then he goes on to those who have injured their health by their own
folly, till their soul abhors all manner of food, and they are even
hard at death's door. Neither does God hate them. They, too, are
in God's school-house. And when they cry to the Lord in their
trouble, he will deliver them, too, out of their distress, and send
his word, and heal them, and save them from destruction.

Then he goes on to men who are exposed to danger, and terror, and
death in their lawful calling; and his instance is the seamen--those
who go on to the sea in ships, and occupy their business in great

The storms come up, they know not when or how: but they are not the
sport of a blind chance; they are not the victims of the wrath of
God. The wild sea, too, is his school-house, where they are to see
the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep; and so, by
strange dangers and strange deliverances, learn, as I have seen many
a seaman learn, a courage and endurance, a faith, a resignation,
which puts us comfortable landsmen to shame.

Then he goes on to even a deeper matter--to those terrible changes
in nature, so common in the East, in which whole districts, by
earthquake or drought, are rendered worthless and barren. They too,
he says, are God's lessons, though sharp ones enough. 'He turneth
the rivers into a wilderness, and the water-springs into dry ground;
a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that
dwell therein. Again, he turneth the wilderness into a standing
water, and dry ground into water-springs. And there he maketh the
hungry to dwell, that they may prepare a city for habitation; and
sow the fields, and plant vineyards, which may yield fruits of

Lastly, he goes on to political changes, which bring a whole nation
low, into oppression and misery. 'They are minished and brought low
through oppression, affliction and sorrow. He poureth contempt upon
princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there
is no way. Yet setteth he the poor on high from affliction, and
maketh him families like a flock. The righteous shall see it, and
rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth. Whoso is wise, and
will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-
kindness of the Lord.'

And so, in all the changes of this mortal life, he sees no real
chance, no real change, but the orderly education of a just and
loving Father, whose mercy endureth for ever; who chastens men as a
father chastens his children, for their profit, that they may be
partakers of his holiness, in which alone is life and joy, health
and wealth.

Surely, here is a Gospel, and good news;--news so good, that it
turns what seems to the superstitious the worst of news, into the
very best. For it seems at first sight the worst of news that which
the ninth Article tells us, that our original sin, in every person
born into this world, deserves God's wrath and damnation. And so it
would be the worst of news, if God were merely a judge, inflicting
so much pain and misery for so much sin, without any wish to mend us
and save us. But if we remember only the blessed message of this
psalm; if we will remember that God is our Father; that God is
educating us; that God hath neither parts nor passions; and that,
therefore, God's wrath is not different or contrary to his love, but
that God's wrath is his love in another shape, punishing men just
because he loves men;--then the ninth Article will bring us the very
best of news. We shall see that it is the best thing that can
possibly befall us, that our sin deserves God's wrath and damnation,
and that it would have been the worst thing which could possibly
have befallen us, if our sin had not deserved God's wrath and
damnation. For if our sin had not deserved God's anger, then he
would not have been angry with it; and then he would have left it
alone, instead of condemning it, and dooming it to everlasting
destruction as he has done; and then, if our sin had been left
alone, we should have been left alone to sin and sin on, growing
continually more wicked, till our sin became our ruin. But now God
hates our sin, and loves us; and therefore he desires above all
things to deliver us from sin, and burn our sin up in his
unquenchable fire, that we ourselves may not be burned up therein.
For if our sins live, we shall surely die: but if our sins die,
then, and then only, shall we live.

Do these words seem strange to some of you? I doubt not that they
will: but if they do, that will be only a fresh proof to me, that
the Bible is inspired by the Holy Ghost. Yes, nothing shews me how
wide, how deep, how wise, how heavenly the Bible is, as to see how
far average Christians are behind the Bible in their way of
thinking; how the salvation which it offers is too free for them,
the love which it proclaims too wide for them, the God whom it
reveals too good for them: so that they shrink from taking the
Bible and trusting the Bible, in its fulness; and are perpetually
falling back on heathen notions--the very old heathen notions from
which this psalm delivers us--concerning what God's anger means, and
what God's punishment means; because they are afraid of taking the
words of Scripture literally and fully, and believing honestly the
blessed news, that God is Love.

They try to make God's ways as their ways, and God's thoughts as
their thoughts. But do not you do so. Receive the Bible in its
fulness. Believe that it tells you infinitely more of God's
character and dealings, than you can ever tell yourselves; that
God's ways are not as your ways, nor God's thoughts as your
thoughts, even at their best: but that God's ways are always wider
and deeper than yours, were you the most learned of men; God's
thoughts are always more loving and just than yours, were you the
most holy of men, and that when you have learned all that you can
learn, or that any man can learn, out of the Bible, there will be
still left behind treasures beside, which you have not yet found
out. For the riches of Christ are unsearchable; like the depth of
the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God, whose only-begotten
son, and perfect likeness, he is; and the man who reads the
Scripture with a single eye, and an humble heart, will see that the
more he finds in the Bible, the more he has yet to find; and that if
he studied it to all eternity, he would have fresh and fresh cause
for ever to cry with the Psalmist, 'Oh give thanks to the Lord; for
he is gracious, and his mercy endureth for ever!'


{328} Plutarch.

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