Part 2 out of 3
vanity and vexation of spirit. He had to flee from his father's
house; never to see his mother again; to wander over the deserts to
kinsmen who cheated him as he had cheated others; to serve Laban for
twenty-one years; to crouch miserably in fear and trembling, as a
petitioner for his life before Esau whom he had wronged, and to be
made more ashamed than ever, by finding that generous Esau had
forgiven and forgotten all. Then to see his daughter brought to
shame, his sons murderers, plotting against their own brother, his
favourite son; to see his grey hairs going down with sorrow to the
grave; to confess to Pharaoh, after one hundred and twenty years of
life, that few and evil had been the days of his pilgrimage.
Then did his faith in God win no reward? Not so. That was his
reward, to be chastened and punished, till his meanness was purged
out of him. He had taken God for his guide; and God did guide him
accordingly; though along a very different path from what he
expected. God accepted his faith, delivered his soul, gave him rest
and peace at last in his old age in Egypt, let him find his son
Joseph again in power and honour: but all along God punished his
own inventions--as he will punish yours and mine, my friends, all
the while that he may be accepting our faith and delivering our
souls, because we trust in him. So God rewarded Jacob by giving him
more light: by not leaving him to himself, and his own darkness and
meanness, but opening his eyes to understand the wondrous things of
God's law, and showing him how God's law is everlasting, righteous,
not to be escaped by any man; how every action brings forth its
appointed fruit; how those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.
Jacob's first notion was like the notion of the heathen in all
times, 'My God has a special favour for me, therefore I may do what
I like. He will prosper me in doing wrong; he will help me to cheat
my father.' But God showed him that that was just not what he would
do for him. He would help and protect him; but only while he was
doing RIGHT. God would not alter his moral laws for him or any man.
God would be just and righteous; and Jacob must be so likewise, till
he learnt to trust not merely in a God who happened to have a
special favour to him, but in the righteous God who loves justice,
and wishes to make men righteous even as he is righteous, and will
make them righteous, if they trust in him.
That was the reward of Jacob's faith--the best reward which any man
can have. He was taught to know God, whom truly to know is
everlasting life. And this, it seems to me, is the great revelation
concerning God which we learn from the history of Jacob and Esau.
That God, how much soever favour he may show to certain persons, is
still, essentially and always, a just God.
And now, my friends, if any of you are tempted to follow Jacob's
example, take warning betimes. You will be tempted. There are men
among you--there are in every congregation--who are, like Jacob,
sober, industrious, careful, prudent men, and fairly religious too;
men who have the good sense to see that Solomon's proverbs are true,
and that the way to wealth and prosperity is to fear God, and keep
May you prosper; may God's blessing be upon your labour; may you
succeed in life, and see your children well settled and thriving
round you, and go down to the grave in peace.
But never forget, my good friends, that you will be tempted as Jacob
was--to be dishonest. I cannot tell why; but professedly religious
men, in all countries, in all religions, are, and always have been,
tempted in that way--to be mean and cunning and false at times. It
is so, and there is no denying it: when all other sins are shut out
from them by their religious profession, and their care for their
own character, and their fear of hell, the sin of lying, for some
strange reason, is left open to them; and to it they are tempted to
give way. For God's sake--for the sake of Christ, who was full of
grace and truth--for your own sakes--struggle against that. Unless
you wish to say at last with poor old Jacob, 'Few and evil have been
the days of my pilgrimage;' struggle against that. If you fear God
and believe that he is with you, God will prosper your plans and
labour; but never make that an excuse for saying in your hearts,
like Jacob, 'God intends that I should have these good things;
therefore I may take them for myself by unfair means.' The
birthright is yours. It is you, the steady, prudent, God-fearing
ones, who will prosper on the earth, and not poor wild, hot-headed
Esau. But do not make that an excuse for robbing and cheating Esau,
because he is not as thoughtful as you are. The Lord made him as
well as you; and died for him as well as for you; and wills his
salvation as well as yours; and if you cheat him the Lord will
avenge him speedily. If you give way to meanness, covetousness,
falsehood, as Jacob did, you will rue it; the Lord will enter into
judgment with you quickly, and all the more quickly because he loves
you. Because there is some right in you--because you are on the
whole on the right road--the Lord will visit you with disappointment
and affliction, and make your own sins your punishment.
If you deceive other people, other people shall deceive you, as they
did Jacob. If you lay traps, you shall fall into them yourselves,
as Jacob did. If you fancy that because you trust in God, God will
overlook any sin in you, as Jacob did, you shall see, as Jacob did,
that your sin shall surely find you out. The Lord will be more
sharp and severe with you than with Esau. And why? Because he has
given you more, and requires more of you; and therefore he will
chastise you, and sift you like wheat, till he has parted the wheat
from the tares. The wheat is your faith, your belief that if you
trust in God he will prosper you, body and soul. That is God's good
seed, which he has sown in you. The tares are your fancies that you
may do wrong and mean things to help yourselves, because God has an
especial favour for you. That is the devil's sowing, which God will
burn out of you by the fire of affliction, as he did out of Jacob,
and keep your faith safe, as good seed in his garner, for the use of
your children after you, that you may teach them to walk in God's
commandments and serve him in spirit and in truth. For God is a God
of truth, and no liar shall stand in his sight, let him be never so
religious; he requires truth in the inward parts, and truth he will
have; and whom he loves he will chasten, as he chastened Jacob of
old, till he has made him understand that honesty is the best
policy; and that whatever false prophets may tell you, there is not
one law for the believer and another for the unbeliever; but
whatsoever a man sows, that shall he reap, and receive the due
reward of the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or evil.
SERMON VII. JOSEPH
(Preached on the Sunday before the Wedding of the Prince of Wales.
March 8th, third Sunday in Lent.)
GENESIS xxxix. 9. How can I do this great wickedness, and sin
The story of Joseph is one which will go home to all healthy hearts.
Every child can understand, every child can feel with it. It is a
story for all men and all times. Even if it had not been true, and
not real fact, but a romance of man's invention, it would have been
loved and admired by men; far more then, when we know that it is
true, that it actually did so happen; that is part and parcel of the
We all, surely, know the story--How Joseph's brethren envy him and
sell him for a slave into Egypt--how there for a while he prospers--
how his master's wife tempts him--how he is thrown into prison on
her slander--how there again he prospers--how he explains the dreams
of Pharaoh's servants--how he lies long forgotten in the prison--how
at last Pharaoh sends for him to interpret a dream for him, and how
he rises to power and great glory--how his brothers come down to
Egypt to buy corn, and how they find him lord of all the land--how
subtilly he tries them to see if they have repented of their old
sin--how his heart yearns over them in spite of all their wickedness
to him--how at last he reveals himself, and forgives them utterly,
and sends for his poor old father Jacob down into Egypt. Whosoever
does not delight in that story, simply as a story, whenever he hears
it read, cannot have a wholesome human heart in him.
But why was this story of Joseph put into Holy Scripture, and at
such length, too? It seems, at first sight, to be simply a family
history--the story of brothers and their father; it seems, at first
sight, to teach us nothing concerning our redemption and salvation;
it seems, at first sight, not to reveal anything fresh to us
concerning God; it seems, at first sight, not to be needed for the
general plan of the Bible history. It tells us, of course, how the
Israelites first came into Egypt; and that was necessary for us to
know. But the Bible might have told us that in ten verses. Why has
it spent upon the story of Joseph and his brethren, not ten verses,
but ten chapters?
Now we have a right to ask such questions as these, if we do not ask
them out of any carping, fault-finding spirit, trying to pick holes
in the Bible, from which God defend us and all Christian men. If we
ask such questions in faith and reverence--that is, believing and
taking for granted that the Bible is right, and respecting it, as
the Book of books, in which our own forefathers and all Christian
nations upon earth for many ages have found all things necessary for
their salvation--if, I say, we question over the Bible in that
child-like, simple, respectful spirit, which is the true spirit of
wisdom and understanding, by which our eyes will be truly opened to
see the wondrous things of God's law: then we may not only seek as
our Lord bade us, but we shall find, as our Lord prophesied that we
should. We shall find some good reason for this story of Joseph
being so long, and find that the story of Joseph, like all the rest
of the Bible, reveals a new lesson to us concerning God and the
character of God.
I said that the story of Joseph looks, at first sight, to be merely
a family history. But suppose that that were the very reason why it
is in the Bible, because it is a family history. Suppose that
families were very sacred things in the eyes of God. That the ties
of husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, were
appointed, not by man, but by God. Then would not Joseph's story be
worthy of being in the Bible? Would it not, as I said it would,
reveal something fresh to us concerning God and the character of
Consider now, my friends: Is it not one great difference--one of
the very greatest--between men and beasts, that men live in
families, and beasts do not? That men have the sacred family
feeling, and beasts have not? They have the beginnings of it, no
doubt. The mother, among beasts, feels love to her children, but
only for a while. God has implanted in her something of that
deepest, holiest, purest of all feelings--a mother's love. But as
soon as her young ones are able to take care of themselves, they are
nothing to her--among the lower animals, less than nothing. The
fish or the crocodile will take care of her eggs jealously, and as
soon as they are hatched, turn round and devour her own young.
The feeling of a FATHER to his child, again, you find is fainter
still among beasts. The father, as you all know, not only cares
little for his offspring, even if he sometimes helps to feed them at
first, but is often jealous of them, hates them, will try to kill
them when they grow up.
Husband and wife, again: there is no sacredness between them among
dumb animals. A lasting and an unselfish attachment, not merely in
youth, but through old age and beyond the grave--what is there like
this among the animals, except in the case of certain birds, like
the dove and the eagle, who keep the same mate year after year, and
have been always looked on with a sort of affection and respect by
men for that very reason?
But where, among beasts, do you ever find any trace of those two
sacred human feelings--the love of brother to brother, or of child
to father? Where do you find the notion that the tie between
husband and wife is a sacred thing, to be broken at no temptation,
but in man?
These are THE feelings which man has alone of all living animals.
These then, remember, are the very family feelings which come out in
the story of Joseph. He honours holy wedlock when he tells his
master's wife, 'How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against
God?' He honours his father, when he is not ashamed of him, wild
shepherd out of the desert though he might be, and an abomination to
the Egyptians, while he himself is now in power and wealth and
glory, as a prince in a civilized country. He honours the tie of
brother to brother, by forgiving and weeping over the very brothers
who have sold him into slavery.
But what has all this to do with God?
Now man, as we know, is an animal with an immortal spirit in him.
He has, as St. Paul so carefully explains to us, a flesh and a
spirit--a flesh like the beasts which perish; a spirit which comes
Now the Bible teaches us that man did not get these family feelings
from his flesh, from the animal, brute part of him. They are not
carnal, but spiritual. He gets them from his spirit, and they are
inspired into him by the Spirit of God. They come not from the
earth below, but from the heaven above; from the image of God, in
which man alone of all living things was made.
For if it were not so, we should surely see some family feeling in
the beasts which are most like men. But we do not. In the apes,
which are, in their shape and fleshly nature, so strangely and
shockingly like human beings, there is not as much family feeling as
there is in many birds, or even insects. Nay, the wild negroes,
among whom they live, hold them in abhorrence, and believe that they
were once men like themselves, who were gradually changed into brute
beasts, by giving way to detestable sins; while these very negroes
themselves, heathens and savages as they are, HAVE the family
feeling--the feeling of husband for wife, father for child, brother
for brother; not, indeed, as strongly and purely as we, or at least
those of us who are really Christian and civilized, but still they
have it; and that makes between the lowest man and the highest brute
a difference which I hold is as wide as the space between heaven and
It is man alone, I say, who has the idea of family; and who has,
too, the strange, but most true belief that these family ties are
appointed by God--that they are a part of his religion--that in
breaking them, by being an unfaithful husband, a dishonest servant,
an unnatural son, a selfish brother, he sins, not only against man,
and man's order and laws, but against God.
Parent and child, brother and sister--those ties are not of the
earth earthy, but of the heaven of God, eternal. They may begin in
time; of what happened before we came into this world we know
nought. But having begun, they cannot end. Of what will happen
after we leave this world, that at least we know in part.
Parent and child; brother and sister; husband and wife likewise;
these are no ties of man's invention. They are ties of God's
binding; they are patterns and likenesses of his substance, and of
his being. Of the eternal Father, who says for ever to the eternal
Son, 'This day have I begotten THEE.' Of the Son who says for ever
to the Father, 'I come to do thy will, O God.' Of the Son of God,
Jesus Christ, who is not ashamed to call us his brethren; but like a
greater Joseph, was sent before by God to save our lives with a
great deliverance when our forefathers were but savages and
heathens. Husband and wife likewise--are not they two divine words-
-not human words at all? Has not God consecrated the state of
matrimony to such an excellent mystery, that in it is signified and
represented the mystical union between Christ and his Church? Are
not husbands to love their wives, and give themselves for them as
Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it? That, indeed, was
not revealed in the Old Testament, but it is revealed in the New;
and marriage, like all other human ties, is holy and divine, and
comes from God down to men.
Yes. These family ties are of God. It was to show us how sacred,
how Godlike they are--how eternal and necessary for all mankind--
that Joseph's story was written in Holy Scripture.
They are of God, I say. And he who despises them, despises not man
but God; who hath also given us his Holy Spirit to make us know how
sacred these bonds are.
He who looks lightly on the love of child to parent, or brother to
brother, or husband to wife, and bids each man please himself, each
man help himself, and shift for himself, would take away from men
the very thing which raises them above the beasts which perish, and
lower them again to the likeness of the flesh, that they may of the
flesh reap corruption.
They who, under whatever pretence of religion part asunder families;
or tell children, like the wicked Pharisees of old, that they may
say to their parents, Corban--'I have given to God the service and
help which, as your child, I should have given to you'--shall be
called, if not by men, at least by God himself, hypocrites, who draw
near to God with their mouths, and honour him with their lips, while
their heart is far from him.
I think now we may see that I was right when I said--Perhaps the
history of Joseph is in the Bible because it IS a family history.
For see, it is the history of a man who loved his family, who felt
that family life was holy and God-appointed; whom God rewarded with
honour and wealth, because he honoured family ties; because he
refused his master's wife; because he rewarded his brothers good for
evil; because he was not ashamed of his father, but succoured him in
his old age.
It is the history of a man who--more than four hundred years before
God gave the ten commandments on Sinai, saying,
Honour thy father and mother,
Thou shalt not commit adultery,
Thou shalt not kill in revenge,
Thou shalt not covet aught of thy neighbours--It is the history, I
say, of a man who had those laws of God written in his heart by the
Holy Spirit of God; and felt that to break them was to sin against
God. It is the history of a man who, sorely tempted and unjustly
persecuted, kept himself pure and true; who, while all around him,
beginning with his own brothers, were trampling under foot the laws
of family, felt that the laws were still there round him, girding
him in with everlasting bands, and saying to him, Thou shalt and
Thou shalt not; that he was not sent into the world to do just what
was pleasant for the moment, to indulge his own passions or his own
revenge; but that if he was indeed a man, he must prove himself a
man, by obeying Almighty God. It is the history of a man who kept
his heart pure and tender, and who thereby gained strange and deep
wisdom; that wisdom which comes only to the pure in heart; that
wisdom by which truly good men are enabled to see farther, and to be
of more use to their fellow-creatures than many a cunning and
crooked politician, whose eyes are blinded, because his heart is
defiled with sin.
And now, my friends, if we pray--as we are bound to pray--for that
great Prince who is just entering on the cares and the duties, as
well as the joys and blessings of family life--what better prayer
can we offer up for him, than that God would put into his heart that
spirit which he put into the heart of Joseph of old--the spirit to
see how divine and God-appointed is family life? God grant that
that spirit may dwell in him, and possess him more and more day by
day. That it may keep him true to his wife, true to his mother,
true to his family, true, like Joseph, to all with whom he has to
deal. That it may deliver him, as it delivered Joseph, from the
snares of wicked women, from selfish politicians, if they ever try
to sow distrust and opposition between him and his kindred, and from
all those temptations which can only be kept down by the Spirit of
God working in men's hearts, as he worked in the heart of Joseph.
For if that spirit be in the Prince--and I doubt not that that
spirit is in him already--then will his fate be that of Joseph; then
will he indeed be a blessing to us, and to our children after us;
then will he have riches more real, and power more vast, than any
which our English laws can give; then will he gain, like Joseph,
that moral wisdom, better than all worldly craft, which cometh from
above--first pure, then gentle, easy to be entreated, without
partiality, and without hypocrisy; then will he be able, like
Joseph, to deliver his people in times of perplexity and distress;
then will he by his example, as his noble mother has done before
him, keep healthy, pure, and strong, our English family life--and as
long as THAT endures, Old England will endure likewise.
SERMON VIII. THE BIBLE THE GREAT CIVILIZER
(Fourth Sunday in Lent.)
PHILIPPIANS iv. 8. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true,
whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever
things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are
of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,
think on these things.
It may not be easy to see what this text has to do with the story of
Joseph, which we have just been reading, or with the meaning of the
Bible of which I have been speaking to you of late.
Nevertheless, I think it has to do with them; as you will see if you
will look at the text with me.
Now the text does not say 'Do these things.' It only says 'THINK of
Of course St. Paul wished us to do them also; but he says first
THINK of them; not once in a way, but often and continually. Fill
your mind with good and pure and noble thoughts; and then you will
do good and pure and noble things.
For out of the abundance of a man's heart, not only does his mouth
speak, but his whole body and soul behave. The man whose mind is
filled with low and bad thoughts will be sure, when he is tempted,
to do low and bad things. The man whose mind is filled with lofty
and good thoughts will do lofty and good things.
For thoughts are the food of a man's mind; and as the mind feeds, so
will it grow. If it feeds on coarse and foul food, coarse and foul
it will grow. If it feeds on pure and refined food, pure and
refined it will grow.
There are those who do not believe this. Provided they are
tolerably attentive to the duties of religion, it does not matter
much, they fancy, what they think of out of church. Their souls
will be saved at last, they suppose, and that is all that they need
care for. Saved? They do not see that by giving way to foul, mean,
foolish thoughts all the week they are losing their souls,
destroying their souls, defiling their souls, lowering their souls,
and making them so coarse and mean and poor that they are not worth
saving, and are no loss to heaven or earth, whatever loss they may
be to the man himself. One man thinks of nothing but money--how he
shall save a penny here and a penny there. I do not mean men of
business; for them there are great excuses; for it is by continual
saving here and there that their profits are made. I speak rather
of people who have no excuse, people of fixed incomes--people often
wealthy and comfortable, who yet will lower their minds by
continually thinking over their money. But this I say, and this I
am sure that you will find, that when a man in business or out of
business accustoms himself, as very many do, to think of nothing but
money, money, money from Monday morning to Saturday night, he thinks
of money a great part of Sunday likewise. And so, after a while,
the man lowers his soul, and makes it mean and covetous. He forgets
all that is lovely and of good report. He forgets virtue--that is
manliness; and praise--that is the just respect and admiration of
his fellow-men; and so he forgets at last things true, honest, and
just likewise. He lowers his soul; and therefore when he is
tempted, he does things mean and false and unjust, for the sake of
money, which he has made his idol.
Take another case, too common among men and women of all ranks, high
How many there are who love gossip and scandal; who always talk
about people, and never about things--certainly not about things
pure and lovely and of good report, but rather about things foul and
ugly and of bad report; who do not talk, because they do not think
of virtue, but of vice; or of praise either, because they are always
finding fault with their neighbours. The man who loves a foul
story, or a coarse jest--the woman who gossips over every tittle
tattle of scandal which she can pick up against her neighbour--what
do these people do but defile their own souls afresh, after they
have been washed clean in the blood of Christ? Foul their souls
are, and therefore their thoughts are foul likewise, and the
foulness of them is evident to all men by their tongues. Out of
their hearts proceed evil thoughts about their neighbours, out of
the abundance of their hearts their mouths speak them. Now let such
people, if there be any such here, seriously consider the harm which
they are doing to their own characters. They may give way to the
habits of scandal, or of coarse talk, without any serious bad
intention; but they will surely lower their own souls thereby. They
will grow to the colour of what they feed on and become foul and
cruel, from talking cruelly and foully, till they lose all purity
and all charity, all faith and trust in their fellow-men, all power
of seeing good in any one, or doing anything but think evil; and so
lose the likeness of God and of Christ, for the likeness of some
foul carrion bird, which cares nothing for the perfume of all the
roses in the world, but if there be a carcase within miles of it,
will scent it out eagerly and fly to it ravenously.
The truth is, my friends, that these souls of ours instead of being
pure and strong, are the very opposite; and the article speaks plain
truth when it says, that we are every one of us of our own nature
inclined to evil. That may seem a hard saying; but if we look at
our own thoughts we shall find it true. Are we NOT inclined to
take, at first, the worst view of everybody and of everything? Are
we NOT inclined to suspect harm of this person and of that? Are we
NOT inclined too often to be mean and cowardly? to be hard and
covetous? to be coarse and vulgar? to be silly and frivolous? Do we
not need to cool down, to think a second time, and a third time
likewise; to remember our duty, to remember Christ's example, before
we can take a just and kind and charitable view? Do we not want all
the help which we can get from every quarter, to keep ourselves
high-minded and refined; to keep ourselves from bad thoughts, mean
thoughts, silly thoughts, violent thoughts, cruel and hard thoughts?
If we have not found out that, we must have looked a very little way
into ourselves, and know little more about ourselves than a dumb
animal does of itself.
How then shall we keep off coarseness of soul? How shall we keep
our souls REFINED? that is, true and honest, pure, amiable, full of
virtue, that is, true manliness; and deserve praise, that is, the
respect and admiration of our fellow-men? By thinking of those very
things, says St. Paul. And in order to be able to think of them, by
reading of them.
There are very few who can easily think of these things of
themselves. Their daily business, the words and notions of the
people with whom they have to do, will run in their minds, and draw
them off from higher and better thoughts; that cannot be helped.
The only thing that most men can do, is to take care that they are
not drawn off entirely from high and good thoughts, by reading, were
it but for five minutes every day, something really worth thinking
of, something which will lift them above themselves.
Above all, it is wise, at night, after the care and bustle of the
day is over, to read, but for a few minutes, some book which will
compose and soothe the mind; which will bring us face to face with
the true facts of life, death, and eternity; which will make us
remember that man doth not live by bread alone; which will give us,
before we sleep, a few thoughts worthy of a Christian man, with an
immortal soul in him.
And, thank God, no one need go far to look for such books. I do not
mean merely religious books, excellent as they are in these days: I
mean any books which help to make us better and wiser and soberer,
and more charitable persons; any books which will teach us to
despise what is vulgar and mean, foul and cruel, and to love what is
noble and high-minded, pure and just. We need not go far for them.
In our own noble English language we may read by hundreds, books
which will tell us of all virtue and of all praise. The stories of
good and brave men and women; of gallant and heroic actions; of
deeds which we ourselves should be proud of doing; of persons whom
we feel, to be better, wiser, nobler than we are ourselves.
In our own language we may read the history of our own nation, and
whatsoever is just, honest and true. We may read of God's gracious
providences toward this land. How he has punished our sins and
rewarded our right and brave endeavours. How he put into our
forefathers the spirit of courage and freedom, the spirit of truth
and justice, the spirit of loyalty and order; and how, following the
leading of that spirit, in spite of many mistakes and failings, we
have risen to be the freest, the happiest, the most powerful people
on earth, a blessing and not a curse to the nations around.
In our own English tongue, too, we may read such poetry as there is
in no other language in the world; poetry which will make us indeed
see the beauty of whatsoever things are lovely and of good report.
Some people have still a dislike of what they call foolish poetry
books. If books are foolish, let us have nothing to do with them.
But poetry ought not to be foolish; for God sent it into the world
to teach men not foolishness, but the highest wisdom. He gave man
alone, of all living creatures, the power of writing poetry, that by
poetry he might understand, not only how necessary it was to do
right, but how beautiful and noble it was to do right. He sent it
into the world to soften men's rough hearts, and quiet their angry
passions, and make them love all which is tender and gentle, loving
and merciful, and yet to rouse them up to love all which is gallant
and honourable, loyal and patriotic, devout and heavenly. Therefore
whole books of the Bible--Job, for example, Isaiah, and the Psalms--
are neither more nor less than actual poetry, written in actual
verse, that their words might the better sink down into the ears and
hearts of the old Jews, and of us Christians after them. And
therefore also, we keep up still the good old custom of teaching
children in school as much as possible by poetry, that they may
learn not only to know, but to love and remember whatsoever things
are lovely and of good report.
Lastly, for those who cannot read, or have really no time to read,
there is one means left of putting themselves in mind of what every
one must remember, lest he sink back into an animal and a savage. I
mean by pictures; which, as St. Augustine said 1400 years ago, are
the books of the unlearned. I do not mean grand and expensive
pictures; I mean the very simplest prints, provided they represent
something holy, or noble, or tender, or lovely. A few such prints
upon a cottage-wall may teach the people who live therein much,
without their being aware of it. They see the prints, even when
they are not thinking of them; and so they have before their eyes a
continual remembrancer of something better and more beautiful than
what they are apt to find in their own daily life and thoughts.
True, to whom little is given, of them is little required. But it
must be said, that more--far more--is given to labouring men and
women now than was given to their forefathers. A hundred, or even
fifty years ago, when there was very little schooling; when the
books which were put even into the hands of noblemen's children were
far below what you will find now in any village school; when the
only pictures which a poor woman could buy to lay on her cottage-
wall were equally silly and ugly: then there were great excuses for
the poor, if they forgot whatsoever things were lovely and of good
report; if they were often coarse and brutal in their manners, and
cruel and profligate in their amusements.
But even in the rough old times there always were a few at least,
men and women, who were above the rest; who, though poor people like
the rest, were still true gentlemen and ladies of God's making.
People who kept themselves more or less unspotted from the world;
who thought of what was honest and pure and lovely and of good
report; and who lived a life of simple, manful, Christian virtue,
and received the praise and respect of their neighbours, even
although their neighbours did not copy them. There were always such
people, and there always will be--thank God for it, for they are the
salt of the earth.
But why have there always been such people? and why do I say
confidently, that there always will be?
Because they have had the Bible; and because, once having got the
Bible in a free country, no man can take it from them.
The Bible it is which has made gentlemen and ladies of many a poor
man and woman.
The Bible it is which has filled their minds with pure and noble,
ay, with heavenly and divine thoughts.
The Bible has been their whole library. The Bible has been their
only counsellor. The Bible has taught them all they know. But it
has taught them enough.
It has taught them what God is, and what Christ is. It has taught
them what man is, and what a Christian man should be. It has taught
them what a family means, and what a nation means. It has taught
them the meaning of law and duty, of loyalty and patriotism. It has
filled their minds with things honest and just and lovely and of
good report; with the histories of men and women like themselves,
who sinned and sorrowed and struggled like them in this hard battle
of life, but who conquered at last, by trusting and obeying God.
This one story of Joseph, which we have been reading again this
Sunday, I do not doubt that it has taught thousands who had no other
story-book to read--who could not even read themselves, but had to
listen to others' reading; that it has taught them to be good sons,
to be good brothers; that it has taught them to keep pure in
temptation, and patient and honest under oppression and wrong; that
it has stirred in them a noble ambition to raise themselves in life;
and taught them, at the same time, that the only safe and sure way
of rising is to fear God and keep his commandments; and so has
really done more to civilize and refine them--to make them truly
civilized men and gentlemen, and not vulgar savages--than if they
had known a smattering of a dozen sciences. I say that the Bible is
the book which civilizes and refines, and ennobles rich and poor,
high and low, and has been doing so for fifteen hundred years; and
that any man who tries to shake our faith in the Bible, is doing
what he can--though, thank God, he will not succeed--to make such
rough and coarse heathens of us again as our forefathers were five
hundred years ago.
And I tell you, labouring people, that if you want something which
will make up to you for the want of all the advantages which the
rich have--go to your Bibles and you will find it there.
There you will find, in the history of men like ourselves--and,
above all, in the history of a man unlike ourselves, the perfect
Man--perfect Man and perfect God together--whatsoever is true,
whatsoever is honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report; every
virtue, and every just cause of praise which mortal man can desire.
Read of them in your Bible, think of them in your hearts, feed on
them with your souls, that your souls may grow like what they feed
on; and above all, read and study the story and character of Jesus
Christ himself, our Lord, that beholding, as in a glass, the glory
of the Lord, you may be changed into his likeness, from grace to
grace, and virtue to virtue, and glory to glory.
And that change and that growth are as easy for the poor as for the
rich, and as necessary for the rich as for the poor.
SERMON IX. MOSES
(Fifth Sunday in Lent.)
EXODUS iii. 14. And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM.
And now, my friends, we are come, on this Sunday, to the most
beautiful, and the most important story of the whole Bible--
excepting of course, the story of our Lord Jesus Christ--the story
of how a family grew to be a great nation. You remember that I told
you that the history of the Jews, had been only, as yet, the history
of a family.
Now that family is grown to be a great tribe, a great herd of
people, but not yet a nation; one people, with its own God, its own
worship, its own laws; but such a mere tribe, or band of tribes as
the gipsies are among us now; a herd, but not a nation.
Then the Bible tells us how these tribes, being weak I suppose
because they had no laws, nor patriotism, nor fellow-feeling of
their own, became slaves, and suffered for hundreds of years under
crafty kings and cruel taskmasters.
Then it tells us how God delivered them out of their slavery, and
made them free men. And how God did that (for God in general works
by means), by the means of a man, a prophet and a hero, one great,
wise, and good man of their race--Moses.
It tells us, too, how God trained Moses, by a very strange
education, to be the fit man to deliver his people.
Let us go through the history of Moses; and we shall see how God
trained him to do the work for which God wanted him.
Let us read from the account of the Bible itself. I should be sorry
to spoil its noble simplicity by any words of my own: 'And the
children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and
multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with
them. Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not
Joseph. And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the
children of Israel are more and mightier than we: Come on, let us
deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass,
that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our
enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.
Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with
their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithon
and Raamses. . . . And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying,
Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every
daughter ye shall save alive. And there went a man of the house of
Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived
and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child,
she hid him three months. And when she could no longer hide him,
she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and
with pitch, and put the child therein: and she laid it in the flags
by the river's brink. And his sister stood afar off, to wit what
would be done to him. And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash
herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river's
side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to
fetch it. And when she had opened it, she saw the child; and behold
the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one
of the Hebrews' children. Then said his sister to Pharaoh's
daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women,
that she may nurse the child for thee? And Pharaoh's daughter said
to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child's mother. And
Pharaoh's daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it
for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the
child, and nursed it. And the child grew, and she brought him unto
Pharaoh's daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name
Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.'
Moses, the child of the water. St. Paul in the Epistle to the
Hebrews says that Moses was called the son of Pharaoh's daughter;
that is, adopted by her. We read elsewhere that he was learned in
all the wisdom of the Egyptians, of which there can be no doubt from
his own writings, especially that part called Moses' law.
So that Moses had from his youth vast advantages. Brought up in the
court of the greatest king of the world, in one of the greatest
cities of the world, among the most learned priesthood in the world,
he had learned, probably, all statesmanship, all religion, which man
could teach him in those old times.
But that would have been little for him. He might have become
merely an officer in Pharaoh's household, and we might never have
heard his name, and he might never have done any good to his own
people and to all mankind after them, as he has done, if there had
not been something better and nobler in him than all the learning
and statesmanship of the Egyptians.
For there was in Moses the spirit of God; the spirit which makes a
man believe in God, and trust God. 'And therefore,' says St. Paul,
'he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; esteeming
the reproach of CHRIST better than all the treasures in Egypt.'
And how did he do that? In this wise.
The spirit of God and of Christ is also the spirit of justice, the
spirit of freedom; the spirit which hates oppression and wrong;
which is moved with a noble and Divine indignation at seeing any
human being abused and trampled on.
And that spirit broke forth in Moses. 'And it came to pass in those
days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and
looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an
Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way,
and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid
him in the sand.'
If he cannot get justice for his people, he will do some sort of
rough justice for them himself, when he has an opportunity.
But he will see fair play among his people themselves. They are, as
slaves are likely to be, fallen and base; unjust and quarrelsome
'And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews
strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore
smitest thou thy fellow? And he said, Who made thee a prince and a
judge over us? intendest thou to kill me as thou killedst the
Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known.
Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But
Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of
Midian'--the wild desert between Egypt and the Holy Land.
So he bore the reproach of Christ; the reproach which is apt to fall
on men in bad times, when they try, like our Lord Jesus Christ, to
deliver the captive, and let the oppressed go free, and execute
righteous judgment in the earth. He had lost all, by trying to do
right. He had been powerful and honoured in Pharaoh's court. Now
he was an outcast and wanderer in the desert. He had made his first
trial, and failed. As St. Stephen said of him after, he supposed
that his brethren would have understood how God would deliver them
by his hand; but they understood not. Slavish, base, and stupid,
they were not fit yet for Moses and his deliverance.
And so forty years went on, and Moses was an old man of eighty years
of age. Yet God had not had mercy on his poor countrymen in Egypt.
It must have been a strange life for him, the adopted son of
Pharaoh's daughter; brought up in the court of the most powerful and
highly civilized country of the old world; learned in all the
learning of the Egyptians; and now married into a tribe of wild
Arabs, keeping flocks in the lonely desert, year after year: but,
no doubt, thinking, thinking, year after year, as he fed his flocks
alone. Thinking over all the learning which he had gained in Egypt,
and wondering whether it would ever be of any use to him. Thinking
over the misery of his people in Egypt, and wondering whether he
should ever be able to help them. Thinking, too, and more than all,
of God--of God's promise to Abraham and his children. Would that
ever come true? Would GOD help these wretched Jews, even if HE
could not? Was God faithful and true, just and merciful?
That Moses thought of God, that he never lost faith in God for that
forty years, there can be no doubt.
If he had not thought of God, God would not have revealed himself to
him. If he had lost faith in God, he would not have known that it
was God who spoke to him. If he had lost faith in God, he would not
have obeyed God at the risk of his life, and have gone on an errand
as desperate, dangerous, hopeless--and, humanly speaking, as wild as
ever man went upon.
But Moses never lost faith or patience. He believed, and he did not
make haste. He waited for God; and he did not wait in vain. No man
will wait in vain. When the time was ready; when the Jews were
ready; when Pharaoh was ready; when Moses himself, trained by forty
years' patient thought, was ready; then God came in his own good
And Moses led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to the
mountain of God, even to Horeb. And there he saw a bush--probably
one of the low copses of acacia--burning with fire; and behold the
bush was not consumed. Then out of the bush God spoke to Moses with
an audible voice as of a man; so the Bible says plainly, and I see
no reason to doubt that it is literally true.
'Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for
he was afraid to look upon God. And the Lord said, I have surely
seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard
their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;
and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians,
and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large,
unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the
Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites,
and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.'
Then followed a strange conversation. Moses was terrified at the
thought of what he had to do, and reasonably: moreover, the
Israelites in Egypt had forgotten God. 'And Moses said unto God,
Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto
them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall
say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God
said unto Moses, I Am that I Am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say
unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you.'
I Am; that was the new name by which God revealed himself to Moses.
That message of God to Moses was the greatest Gospel, and good news
which was spoken to men, before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ay, we are feeling now, in our daily life, in our laws and our
liberty, our religion and our morals, our peace and prosperity, in
the happiness of our homes, and I trust that of our consciences, the
blessed effects of that message, which God revealed to Moses in the
wilderness thousands of years ago.
And Moses took his wife, and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and
returned into the land of Egypt, to say to Pharaoh, 'Thus saith the
Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn, Let my son go that he may
serve me, and if thou let not my firstborn go, then I will slay thy
A strange man, on a strange errand. A poor man, eighty years old,
carrying all that he had in the world upon an ass's back, going down
to the great Pharaoh, the greatest king of the old world, the great
conqueror, the Child of the Sun (as his name means), one of the
greatest Pharaohs who ever sat on the throne of Egypt; in the midst
of all his princes and priests, and armies with which he had
conquered the nations far and wide; and his great cities, temples,
and palaces, on which men may see at this day (so we are told) the
face of that very Pharaoh painted again and again, as fresh, in that
rainless air, as on the day when the paint was laid on; with the
features of a man terrible, proud, and cruel, puffed up by power
till he thought himself, and till his people thought him a god on
And to that man was Moses going, to bid him set the children of
Israel free; while he himself was one of that very slave-race of the
Israelites, which was an abomination to the Egyptians, who held them
all as lepers and unclean, and would not eat with them; and an
outcast too, who had fled out of Egypt for his life, and who might
be killed on the spot, as Pharaoh's only answer to his bold request.
Certainly, if Moses had not had faith in God, his errand would have
seemed that of a madman. But Moses HAD faith in God; and of faith
it is said, that it can remove mountains, for all things are
possible to them who believe.
So by faith Moses went back into Egypt; how he fared there we shall
hear next Sunday.
And what sort of man was this great and wonderful Moses, whose name
will last as long as man is man? We know very little. We know from
the Bible and from the old traditions of the Jews that he was a very
handsome man; a man of a noble presence, as one can well believe; a
man of great bodily vigour; so that when he died at the age of one
hundred and twenty, his eye was not dim, nor his natural force
abated. We know, from his own words, that he was slow of speech;
that he had more thought in him than he could find words for--very
different from a good many loud talkers, who have more words than
thoughts, and who get a great character as politicians and
demagogues, simply because they have the art of stringing fine words
together, which Moses, the true demagogue, the leader of the people,
who led them indeed out of Egypt, had not. Beyond that we know
little. Of his character one thing only is said: but that is most
important. 'Now the man Moses was very meek.'
Meek: we know that that cannot mean that he was meek in the sense
that he was a poor, cowardly, abject sort of man, who dared not
speak his mind, dared not face the truth, and say the truth. We
have seen that that was just what he was not; brave, determined,
out-spoken, he seems to have been from his youth. Indeed, if his
had been that base sort of meekness, he never would have dared to
come before the great king Pharaoh. If he had been that sort of man
he never would have dared to lead the Jews through the Red Sea by
night, or out of Egypt at all. If he had been that sort of man,
indeed, the Jews would never have listened to him. No; he had--the
Bible tells us that he had--to say and do stern things again and
again; to act like the general of an army, or the commander of a
ship of war, who must be obeyed, even though men's lives be the
forfeit of disobedience.
But the man Moses was very meek. He had learned to keep his temper.
Indeed, the story seems to say that he never lost his temper really
but once; and for that God punished him. Never man was so tried,
save One, even our Lord Jesus Christ, as was Moses. And yet by
patience he conquered. Eighty years had he spent in learning to
keep his temper; and when he had learned to keep his temper, then,
and not till then, was he worthy to bring his people out of Egypt.
That was a long schooling, but it was a schooling worth having.
And if we, my friends, spend our whole lives, be they eighty years
long, in learning to keep our tempers, then will our lives have been
well spent. For meekness and calmness of temper need not interfere
with a man's courage or justice, or honest indignation against
wrong, or power of helping his fellow-men. Moses' meekness did not
make him a coward or a sluggard. It helped him to do his work
rightly instead of wrongly; it helped him to conquer the pride of
Pharaoh, and the faithlessness, cowardice, and rebellion of his
brethren, those miserable slavish Jews. And so meekness, an even
temper, and a gracious tongue, will help us to keep our place among
our fellow-men with true dignity and independence, and to govern our
households, and train our children in such a way that while they
obey us they will love and respect us at the same time.
SERMON X. THE PLAGUES OF EGYPT
EXODUS ix. 13, 14. Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my
people go, that they may serve me. For I will at this time send all
my plagues upon thine heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy
people; that thou mayest know that there is none like me in all the
You will understand, I think, the meaning of the ten plagues of
Egypt better, if I explain to you in a few words what kind of a
country Egypt is, what kind of people the Egyptians were. Some of
you, doubtless, know as well as I, but some here may not: it is for
them I speak.
Egypt is one of the strangest countries in the world; and yet one
which can be most simply described. One long straight strip of rich
flat land, many hundred miles long, but only a very few miles broad.
On either side of it, barren rocks and deserts of sand, and running
through it from end to end, the great river Nile--'The River' of
which the Bible speaks. This river the Egyptians looked on as
divine: they worshipped it as a god; for on it depended the whole
wealth of Egypt. Every year it overflows the whole country, leaving
behind it a rich coat of mud, which makes Egypt the most
inexhaustibly fertile land in the world; and made the Egyptians,
from very ancient times, the best farmers of the world, the fathers
of agriculture. Meanwhile, when not in flood, the river water is of
the purest in the world; the most delightful to drink; and was
supposed in old times to be a cure for all manner of diseases.
To worship this sacred river, the pride of their land, to drink it,
to bathe in it, to catch the fish which abound in it, and which
formed then, and forms still, the staple food of the Egyptians, was
their delight. And now I have told you enough to show you why the
plagues which God sent on Egypt began first by striking the river.
The river, we read, was turned into blood. What that means--whether
it was actual animal blood--what means God employed to work the
miracle--are just the questions about which we need not trouble our
minds. We never shall know: and we need not know. The plain fact
is, that the sacred river, pure and life-giving, became a detestable
mass of rottenness--and with it all their streams and pools, and
drinking water in vessels of wood and stone--for all, remember, came
from the Nile, carried by canals and dykes over the whole land.
'And the fish that were in the river died, and the river stunk, and
there was blood through all the land of Egypt.'
The slightest thought will show us what horror, confusion, and
actual want and misery, the loss of the river water, even for a few
days or even hours, would cause.
But there is more still in this miracle. These plagues are a battle
between Jehovah, the one true and only God Almighty, and the false
gods of Egypt, to prove which of them is master.
Pharaoh answers: 'Who is Jehovah (the Lord) that I should let
Israel go?' I know not the Jehovah. I have my own god, whom I
worship. He is my father, and I his child, and he will protect me.
If I obey any one it will be him.
Be it so, says Moses in the name of God. Thou shalt know that the
idols of Egypt are nothing, that they cannot deliver thee nor thy
Thus saith Jehovah, Thou shalt know which is master, I or they.
'Thou shalt know that I am the Lord.'
So the river was turned into blood. The sacred river was no god, as
they thought. Jehovah was the Lord and Master of the river on which
the very life of Egypt depended. He could turn it into blood. All
Egypt was at his mercy.
But Pharaoh would not believe that. 'The magicians did likewise
with their enchantments'--made, we may suppose, water seem to turn
to blood by some juggling trick at which the priests in Egypt were
but too well practised; and Pharaoh seemed to have made up his mind
that Moses' miracle was only a juggling trick too. For men will
make up their minds to anything, however absurd, when they choose to
do so: when their pride, and rage, and obstinacy, and covetousness,
draw them one way, no reason will draw them the other way. They
will find reasons, and make reasons to prove, if need be, that there
is no sun in the sky.
Then followed a series of plagues, of which we have all often heard.
Learned men have disputed how far these plagues were miracles. Some
of them are said not to be uncommon in Egypt, others to be almost
unknown. But whether they--whether the frogs, for instance, were
not produced by natural causes, just as other frogs are; and the
lice and the flies likewise; that I know not, my friends, neither
need I know. If they were not, they were miraculous; and if they
were, they were miraculous still. If they came as other vermin
come, they would have still been miraculous: God would still have
sent them; and it would be a miracle that God should make them come
at that particular time in that particular country, to work a truly
miraculous effect upon the souls of Pharaoh and the Egyptians on the
one hand, and of Moses and the Israelites on the other. But if they
came by some strange means as no vermin ever came before or since,
all I can say is--Why not?
And the Lord said unto Moses, 'Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod
and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout
all the land of Egypt.'
Whether that was meant only as a sign to the Egyptians, or whether
the dust did literally turn into lice, we do not know, and what is
more, we need not know; if God chose that it should be so, so it
would be. If you believe at all that God made the world, it is
folly to pretend to set any bounds to his power. As a wise man has
said, 'If you believe in any real God at all, you must believe that
miracles can happen.' He makes you and me and millions of living
things out of the dust of the ground continually by certain means.
Why can he not make lice, or anything else out of the dust of the
ground, without those means? I can give no reason, nor any one else
We know that God has given all things a law which they cannot break.
We know, too, that God will never break his own laws. But what are
God's laws by which he makes things? We do not know.
Miracles may be--indeed must be--only the effect of some higher and
deeper laws of God. We cannot prove that he breaks his law, or
disturbs his order by them. They may seem contrary to some of the
very very few laws of God's earth which we do know. But they need
not be contrary to the very many laws which we do not know. In
fact, we know nothing about the matter, and had best not talk of
things that we do not understand. As for these things being too
wonderful to be true--that is an argument which only deserves a
smile. There are so many wonders in the world round us already, all
day long, that the man of sense will feel that nothing is too
wonderful to be true.
The truth is, that, as a wise man says, CUSTOM is the great enemy of
Faith, and of Reason likewise; and one of the worst tricks which
custom plays us is, making us fancy that miraculous things cease to
be miraculous by becoming common.
What do I mean?
This: which every child in this church can understand.
You think it very wonderful that God should cause frogs to come upon
the whole land of Egypt in one day. But that God should cause frogs
to come up every spring in the ditches does not seem wonderful to
you at all. It happens every year; therefore, forsooth, there is
nothing wonderful in it.
Ah, my dear friends, it is custom which blinds our eyes to the
wisdom of God, and the wonders of God, and the power of God, and the
glory of God, and hinders us from believing the message with which
he speaks to us from every sunbeam and every shower, every blade of
grass and every standing pool. 'Is anything too hard for the Lord?'
If any man here says that anything is too hard for the Lord, let him
go this day to the nearest standing pool, and look at the frog-spawn
therein, and consider it till he confesses his blindness and
foolishness. That spawn seems to you a foul thing, the produce of
mean, ugly, contemptible creatures. Be it so. Yet it is to the
eyes of the wise man a yearly MIRACLE; a thing past understanding,
past explaining; one which will make him feel the truth of that
great 139th Psalm: 'Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid
thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is
high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit?
or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into
heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art
That every one of those little black spots should have in it LIFE--
What is life? How did it get into that black spot? or, to speak
more carefully, is the life IN the black spot at all? Is not the
life in the Spirit of God, who is working on that spot, as I
believe? How has that black spot the power of GROWING, and of
growing on a certain and fixed plan, merely by the quickening power
of the sun's heat, and then of feeding itself, and of changing its
shape, as you all know, again and again, till--and if that is not
wonderful, what is?--it turns into a frog, exactly like its parent,
utterly unlike the black dot at which it began? Is that no miracle?
Is it no miracle that not one of those black spots ever turns into
anything save a frog? Why should not some of them turn into toads
or efts? Why not even into fishes or serpents? Why not? The eggs
of all those animals, in their first and earliest stages are exactly
alike; the microscope shows no difference. Ay, even the mere animal
and the human being, strange and awful as it may be, SEEM, under the
microscope, to have the same beginning. And yet one becomes a mere
animal, and the other a member of Christ, a child of God, and an
inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. What causes this but the power
of God, making of the same clay one vessel to honour and another to
dishonour? And yet people will not believe in miracles! Why does
each kind turn into its kind? Answer that. Because it is a law of
nature? Not so! There are no laws OF nature. God is a law TO
nature. It is his WILL that things so should be; and when it is his
will they will not be so, but otherwise.
Not LAWS of nature, but the SPIRIT of God, as the Psalms truly say,
gives life and breath to all things. Of him and by him is all. As
the greatest chemist of our time says, 'Causes are the acts of God--
creation is the will of God.'
And he that is wise and strong enough to create frogs in one way in
every ditch at this moment, is he not wise and strong enough to
create frogs by some other way, if he should choose, whether in
Egypt of old, or now, here, this very day?
Whatsoever means, or no means at all, God used to produce those
vermin, the miracle remains the same. He sent them to do a work,
and they did it. He sent them to teach Egyptian and Israelite alike
that he was the Maker, and Lord, and Ruler of the world, and all
that therein is; that he would have his way, and that he COULD have
Intensely painful and disgusting these plagues must have been to the
Egyptians, for this reason, that they were the most cleanly of all
people. They had a dislike of dirt, which had become quite a
superstition to them. Their priests (magicians as the Bible calls
them) never wore any garments but linen, for fear of their
harbouring vermin of any kind. And this extreme cleanliness of
theirs the next plague struck at; they were covered with boils and
diseases of skin, and the magicians could not stand before Pharaoh
by reason of the boils. They became unclean and unfit for their
office; they could perform no religious ceremonies, and had to flee
away in disgrace.
After plagues of thunder, hail, and rain, which seldom or never
happen in that rainless land of Egypt; after a plague of locusts,
which are very rare there, and have to come many hundred miles if
they come at all; of darkness, seemingly impossible in a land where
the sun always shines: then came the last and most terrible plague
of all. After solemn warnings of what was coming, the angel of the
Lord passed through the land of Egypt, and smote all the first-born
in Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh upon his throne to the
first-born of the captive in the dungeon; and there arose a great
cry in Egypt, for there was not a house in which there was not one
dead. A terrible and heart-rending calamity in any case, enough to
break the heart of all Egypt; and it did break the heart of Egypt,
and the proud heart of Pharaoh himself, and they let the people go.
But this was a RELIGIOUS affliction too. Most of these first-born
children--probably all the first-born of the priests and nobles, and
of Pharaoh himself--were consecrated to some god. They bore the
name of the god to whom they belonged; that god was to prosper and
protect them, and behold, he could not. The Lord Jehovah, the God
of the Hebrews, was stronger than all the gods of Egypt; none of
them could deliver their servants out of his hand. He was the only
Lord of life and death; he had given them life, and he could take it
away, in spite of all and every one of the gods of the Egyptians.
So the Lord God showed himself to be the Master and Lord of all
things. The Lord of the sacred river Nile; the Lord of the meanest
vermin which crept on the earth; the Lord of the weather--able to
bring thunder and hail into a land where thunder and hail was never
seen before; the Lord of the locust swarms--able to bring them over
the desert and over the sea to devour up every green thing in the
land, and then to send a wind off the Mediterranean Sea, and drive
the locusts away to the eastward; the Lord of light--who could
darken, even in that cloudless land, the very sun, whom Pharaoh
worshipped as his god and his ancestor; and lastly, the Lord of
human life and death--able to kill whom he chose, when he chose, and
as he chose. The Lord of the earth and all that therein is; before
whom all men, even proud Pharaoh, must bow and confess, 'Is anything
too hard for the Lord?'
And now, I always tell you that each fresh portion of the Old
Testament reveals to men something fresh concerning the character of
God. You may say, These plagues of Egypt reveal God's mighty power,
but what do they reveal of his character? They reveal this: that
there is in God that which, for want of a better word, we must call
anger; a quite awful sternness and severity; not only a power to
punish, but a determination to punish, if men will not take his
warnings--if men will not obey his will.
There is no use trying to hide from ourselves that awful truth--God
is not weakly indulgent. Our God can be, if he will, a consuming
fire. Upon the sinner he will surely rain fire and brimstone, storm
and tempest of some kind or other. This shall be their portion too
surely. Vengeance is his, and vengeance he will take. But upon
whom? On the proud and the tyrannical, on the cruel, the false, the
unjust. So say the Psalms again and again, and so says the history
of these plagues of Egypt. Therefore his anger is a loving anger, a
just auger, a merciful anger, a useful anger, an anger exercised for
the good of mankind. See in this case why did God destroy the crops
of Egypt--even the first-born of Egypt? Merely for the pleasure of
destroying? God forbid. It was to deliver the poor Israelites from
their cruel taskmasters; to force these Egyptians by terrible
lessons, since they were deaf to the voice of justice and humanity--
to force them, I say--to have mercy on their fellow-creatures, and
let the oppressed go free. Therefore God was, even in Egypt, a God
of love, who desired the good of man, who would do justice for those
who were unjustly treated, even though it cost his love a pang; for
none can believe that God is pleased at having to punish, pleased at
having to destroy the works of his own hands, or the creatures which
he has made. No; the Lord was a God of love even when he sent his
sore plagues on Egypt, and therefore we may believe what the Bible
tells us, that that same Lord showed, as on this day, a still
greater proof of his love, when, as on this day, he entered into
Jerusalem, meek and lowly, sitting on an ass, and going, as he well
knew, to certain death. Before the week was over he would be
betrayed, mocked, scourged, crucified by the very people whom he
came to save; and yet he did it, he endured it. Instead of pouring
out on them, as on the Egyptians of old, the cup of wrath and
misery, he put out his hand, took the cup of wrath and misery to
himself, and drank it to its very dregs. Was not that, too, a
miracle? Ay, a greater miracle than all the plagues of Egypt. They
were physical miracles; this a moral miracle. They were miracles of
nature; this of grace. They were miracles of the Lord's power;
these of the Lord's love. Think of that miracle of miracles which
was worked in this Passion Week--the miracle of the Lord Jehovah
stooping to die for sinful man, and say after that there is anything
too hard for the Lord.
SERMON XI. THE GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT IS THE GOD OF THE NEW
Exodus ix. 14. I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine
heart, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, that thou mayest
know that there is none like me in all the earth.
We are now beginning Passion Week, the week of the whole year which
ought to teach us most theology; that is, most concerning God, his
character and his spirit.
For in this Passion Week God did that which utterly and perfectly
showed forth his glory, as it never has been shown forth before or
since. In this week Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, died on the
cross for man, and showed that his name, his character, his glory
was love--love without bound or end.
It was to teach us this that the special services, lessons,
collects, epistles, and gospels of this week were chosen.
The second lesson, the collects, the epistles, the gospel for to-
day, all set before us the patience of Christ, the humility of
Christ, the love of Christ, the self-sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb
without spot, enduring all things that he might save sinful man.
But if so, what does this first lesson--the chapter of Exodus from
which my text is taken--what does it teach us concerning God? Does
it teach us that his name is love?
At first sight you would think that it did not. At first sight you
would fancy that it spoke of God in quite a different tone from the
In the second lesson, the words of Jesus the Son of God are all
gentleness, patience, tenderness. A quiet sadness hangs over them
all. They are the words of one who is come (as he said himself),
not to destroy men's lives, but to save them; not to punish sins,
but to wash them away by his own most precious blood.
But in the first lesson how differently he seems to speak. His
words there are the words of a stern and awful judge, who can, and
who will destroy whatsoever interferes with his will and his
'I will at this time send all my plagues upon thine heart, and on
thy servants, and all thy people, that thou mayest know that there
is none like me in all the earth.' The cattle and sheep shall be
destroyed with murrain; man and beast shall be tormented with boils
and blains; the crops shall be smitten with hail; the locusts shall
eat up every green thing in the land; and at last all the first-born
of Egypt shall die in one night, and the land be filled with
mourning, horror, and desolation, before the anger of this terrible
God, who will destroy and destroy till he makes himself obeyed.
Can this be he who rode into Jerusalem, as on this day, meek and
lowly, upon an ass's colt; who on the night that he was betrayed
washed his disciples' feet, even the feet of Judas who betrayed him?
Who prayed for his murderers as he hung upon the cross, 'Father,
forgive them, for they know not what they do?'
Can these two be the same?
Is the Lord Jehovah of the Old Testament the Lord Jesus of the New?
They are the same, my friends. He who laid waste the land of Egypt
is he who came to seek and to save that which was lost.
He who slew the children in Egypt is he who took little children up
in his arms and blessed them.
He who spoke the awful words of the text is he who was brought as a
lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before the shearers is dumb,
so he opened not his mouth.
This is very wonderful. But why should it NOT be wonderful? What
can God be but wonderful? His character, just because it is
perfect, must contain in itself all other characters, all forms of
spiritual life which are without sin. And yet again it is not so
very wonderful. Have we not seen--I have often--in the same mortal
man these two different characters at once? Have we not seen
soldiers and sailors, brave men, stern men, men who have fought in
many a bloody battle, to whom it is a light thing to kill their
fellow-men, or to be killed themselves in the cause of duty; and yet
most full of tenderness, as gentle as lambs to little children and
to weak women; nursing the sick lovingly and carefully with the same
hand which would not shrink from firing the fatal cannon to blast a
whole company into eternity, or sink a ship with all its crew? I
have seen such men, brave as the lion and gentle as the lamb, and I
saw in them the likeness of Christ--the Lion of Judah; and yet the
Lamb of God.
Christ is the Lamb of God; and in him there are the innocence of the
lamb, the gentleness of the lamb, the patience of the lamb: but
there is more. What words are these which St. John speaks in the
'And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together, and
every mountain and island were moved out of their places; and the
kings of the earth, and the great, and the rich, and the chief
captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman and every freeman
hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and
said to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from
the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of
the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be
able to stand?'
Yes, look at that awful book of Revelation with which the Bible
ends, and see if the Bible does not end as it began, by revealing a
God who, however loving and merciful, long-suffering, and of great
goodness, still wages war eternally against all sin and
unrighteousness of man, and who will by no means clear the guilty; a
God of whom the apostle St. Paul, who knew most of his mercy and
forgiveness to sinners, could nevertheless say, just as Moses had
said ages before him, 'Our God is a consuming fire.'
Now I think it most necessary to recollect this in Passion Week; ay,
and to do more--to remember it all our lives long.
For it is too much the fashion now, and has often been so before, to
think only of one side of our Lord's character, of the side which
seems more pleasant and less awful. People please themselves in
hymns which talk of the meek and lowly Jesus, and in pictures which
represent him with a sad, weary, delicate, almost feminine face.
Now I do not say that this is wrong. He is the same yesterday, to-
day, and for ever; as tender, as compassionate now as when he was on
earth; and it is good that little children and innocent young people
should think of him as an altogether gentle, gracious, loveable
being; for with the meek he will be meek; but again, with the
froward, the violent, and self-willed, he will be froward. He will
show the violent that he is the stronger of the two, and the self-
willed that he will have his will and not theirs done.
So it is good that the widow and the orphan, the weary and the
distressed, should think of Jesus as utterly tender and true,
compassionate and merciful, and rest their broken hearts upon him,
the everlasting rock. But while it is written, that whosoever shall
fall on that rock he shall be broken, it is written too, that on
whomsoever that rock shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
It is good that those who wish to be gracious themselves, loving
themselves, should remember that Christ is gracious, Christ is
loving. But it is good also, that those who do NOT wish to be
gracious and loving themselves, but to be proud and self-willed,
unjust and cruel, should remember that the gracious and loving
Christ is also the most terrible and awful of all beings; sharper
than a two-edged sword, piercing asunder the very joints and marrow,
discerning the most secret thoughts and intents of the heart; a
righteous judge, strong and patient, who is provoked every day: but
if a man WILL not turn he will whet his sword. He hath bent his bow
and made it ready, and laid his arrows in order against the
persecutors. What Christ's countenance, my friends, was like when
on earth, we do NOT know; but what his countenance is like now, we
all may know; for what says St. John, and how did Christ appear to
him, who had been on earth his private and beloved friend?
'His head and his hair were white as snow, and his eyes were like a
flame of fire, and his voice like the sound of many waters; and out
of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and his countenance was
as the sun when he shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I
fell at his feet as dead.'
That is the likeness of Christ, my friends; and we must remember
that it is his likeness, and fall at his feet, and humble ourselves
before his unspeakable majesty, if we wish that he should do to us
at the last day as he did to St. John--lay his hand upon us, saying,
'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and behold, I am alive for
evermore, Amen. I have the keys of death and hell.'
Yes, it is good that we should all remember this. For if we do not,
we may fall, as thousands fall, into a very unwholesome and immoral
notion about religion. We may get to fancy, as thousands do, rich
and poor, that because Christ the Lord is meek and gentle, patient
and long-suffering, that he is therefore easy, indulgent, careless
about our doing wrong; and that we can, in plain English, trifle
with Christ, and take liberties with his everlasting laws of right
and wrong; and so fancy, that provided we talk of the meek and lowly
Jesus, and of his blood washing away all our sins, that we are free
to behave very much as if Jesus had never come into the world to
teach men their duty, and free to commit almost any sin which does
not disgrace us among our neighbours, or render us punishable by the
My friends, it is NOT SO. And those who fancy that it is so, will
find out their mistake bitterly enough. Infinite love and
forgiveness to those who repent and amend and do right; but infinite
rigour and punishment to those who will not amend and do right.
This is the everlasting law of God's universe; and every soul of man
will find it out at last, and find that the Lord Jesus Christ is not
a Being to be trifled with, and that the precious blood which he
shed on the cross is of no avail to those who are not minded to be
righteous even as he is righteous.
'But Christ is so loving, so tender-hearted that he surely will not
punish us for our sins.' This is the confused notion that too many
people have about him. And the answer to it is, that just BECAUSE
Christ is so loving, so tender-hearted, therefore he MUST punish us
for our sins, unless we utterly give up our sins, and do right
instead of wrong.
That false notion springs out of men's selfishness. They think of
sin as something which only hurts themselves; when they do wrong
they think merely, 'What punishment will God inflict on ME for doing
wrong?' They are wrapt up in themselves. They forget that their
sins are not merely a matter between them and Christ, but between
them and their neighbours; that every wrong action they commit,
every wrong word they speak, every wrong habit in which they indulge
themselves, sooner or later, more or less hurts their neighbours--
ay, hurts all mankind.
And does Christ care only for THEM? Does he not care for their
neighbours? Has he not all mankind to provide for, and govern and
guide? And can he allow bad men to go on making this world worse,
without punishing them, any more than a gardener can allow weeds to
hurt his flowers, and not root them up? What would you say of a man
who was so merciful to the weeds that he let them choke the flowers?
What would you say of a shepherd who was so merciful to the wolves
that he let them eat his sheep? What would you say of a magistrate
who was so merciful to thieves that he let them rob the honest men?
And do you fancy that Christ is a less careful and just governor of
the world than the magistrate who punishes the thief that honest men
may live in safety?
Not so. Not only will Christ punish the wolves who devour his
sheep, but he will punish his sheep themselves if they hurt each
other, torment each other, lead each other astray, or in any way
interfere with the just and equal rule of his kingdom; and this, not
out of spite or cruelty, but simply because he is perfect love.
Go, therefore, and think of Christ this Passion Week as he was, and
is, and ever will be. Think of the whole Christ, and not of some
part of his character which may specially please your fancy. Think
of him as the patient and forgiving Christ, who prayed for his
murderers, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'
But remember that, in this very Passion Week, there came out of
those most gentle lips--the lips which blessed little children, and
cried to all who were weary and heavy laden, to come to him and he
would give them rest--that out of those most gentle lips, I say, in
this very Passion Week, there went forth the most awful threats
which ever were uttered, 'Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape
the damnation of hell?' Think of him as the Lamb who offered
himself freely on the cross for sinners. But think of him, too, as
the Lamb who shall one day come in glory to judge all men according
to their works. Think of him as full of boundless tenderness and
humanity, boundless long-suffering and mercy. But remember that
beneath that boundless sweetness and tenderness there burns a
consuming fire; a fire of divine scorn and indignation against all
who sin, like Pharaoh, out of cruelty and pride; against all which
is foul and brutal, mean and base, false and hypocritical, cruel and
unjust; a fire which burns, and will burn against all the wickedness
which is done on earth, and all the misery and sorrow which is
suffered on earth, till the Lord has burned it up for ever, and
there is nothing but love and justice, order and usefulness, peace
and happiness, left in the universe of God.
Oh, think of these things, and cast away your sins betimes, at the
foot of his everlasting cross, lest you be consumed with your sins
in his everlasting fire!
SERMON XII. THE BIRTHNIGHT OF FREEDOM
Exodus xii. 42. This is a night to be much observed unto the Lord,
for bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt.
To be much observed unto the Lord by the children of Israel. And by
us, too, my friends; and by all nations who call themselves FREE.
There are many and good ways of looking at Easter Day. Let us look
at it in this way for once.
It is the day on which God himself set men FREE.
Consider the story. These Israelites, the children of Abraham, the
brave, wild patriarch of the desert, have been settled for hundreds
of years in the rich lowlands of Egypt. There they have been eating
and drinking their fill, and growing more weak, slavish, luxurious,
fonder and fonder of the flesh-pots of Egypt; fattening literally
for the slaughter, like beasts in a stall. They are spiritually
dead--dead in trespasses and sins. They do not want to be free, to
be a nation. They are content to be slaves and idolaters, if they
can only fill their stomachs. This is the spiritual death of a
I say, they do not want to be free. When they are oppressed, they
cry out--as an animal cries when you beat him. But after they are
free, when they get into danger, or miss their meat, they cry out
too, and are willing enough to return to slavery; as the dog which
has run away for fear of the whip, will go back to his kennel for
the sake of his food. 'Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast
thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou
dealt thus with us to carry us out of Egypt?' And again, 'Would God
we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, where we
did sit by the flesh-pots, and eat meat to the full!' BRUTALIZED,
in one word, were these poor children of Israel.
Then God took their cause into his own hand; I say emphatically into
his own hand. If that part of the story be not true, I care nothing
for the rest. If God did not personally and actually interfere on
behalf of those poor slaves; if the plagues of Egypt are not TRUE--
the passage of the Red Sea be not TRUE--the story tells me and you
nothing; gives us no hope for ourselves, no hope for mankind.
For see. One says, and truly, God is good; God is love; God is
just; God hates oppression and wrong.
BUT if God be love, he must surely show his love by doing loving
If God be just, he must show his justice by doing just things.
If God hates oppression, then he must free the oppressed.
If God hates wrong, then he must set the wrong right.
For what would you think of a man who professed to be loving and
just, and to hate oppression and wrong, and yet never took the
trouble to do a good action, or to put down wrong, when he had the
power? You would call him a hypocrite; you would think his love and
justice very much on his tongue, and not in his heart.
And will you believe that God is like that man? God forbid!
Comfortable scholars and luxurious ladies may content themselves
with a DEAD God, who does not interfere to help the oppressed, to
right the wrong, to bind up the broken-hearted; but men and women
who work, who sorrow, who suffer, who partake of all the ills which
flesh is heir to--they want a LIVING God, an acting God, a God who
WILL interfere to right the wrong. Yes--they want a living God.
And they have a living God--even the God who interfered to bring the
Israelites out of Egypt with signs and wonders, and a mighty hand
and an outstretched arm, and executed judgment upon Pharaoh and his
proud and cruel hosts. And when they read in the Bible of that God,
when they read in their Bibles the story of the Exodus, their hearts
answer, THIS is right. This is the God whom we need. This is what
ought to have happened. This is true: for it must be true. Let
comfortable folks who know no sorrow trouble their brains as to
whether sixty or six hundred thousand fighting men came out of Egypt
with Moses. We care not for numbers. What we care for is, not how
many came out, but who brought them out, and that he who brought
them out was GOD. And the book which tells us that, we will cling
to, will love, will reverence above all the books on earth, because
it tells of a living God, who works and acts and interferes for men;
who not only hates wrong, but rights wrong; not only hates
oppression, but puts oppressors down; not only pities the oppressed,
but sets the oppressed free; a God who not only wills that man
should have freedom, but sent freedom down to him from heaven.
Scholars have said that the old Greeks were the fathers of freedom;
and there have been other peoples in the world's history who have
made glorious and successful struggles to throw off their tyrants
and be free. And they have said, We are the fathers of freedom;
liberty was born with us. Not so, my friends! Liberty is of a far
older and far nobler house; Liberty was born, if you will receive
it, on the first Easter night, on the night to be much remembered
among the children of Israel--ay, among all mankind--when God
himself stooped from heaven to set the oppressed free. Then was
freedom born. Not in the counsels of men, however wise; or in the
battles of men, however brave: but in the counsels of God, and the
battle of God--amid human agony and terror, and the shaking of the
heaven and the earth; amid the great cry throughout Egypt when a
first-born son lay dead in every house; and the tempest which swept
aside the Red Sea waves; and the pillar of cloud by day, and the
pillar of fire by night; and the Red Sea shore covered with the
corpses of the Egyptians; and the thunderings and lightnings and
earthquakes of Sinai; and the sound as of a trumpet waxing loud and
long; and the voice, most human and most divine, which spake from
off the lonely mountain peak to that vast horde of coward and
degenerate slaves, and said, 'I am the Lord thy God who brought thee
out of the land of Egypt. Thou shalt obey my laws, and keep my
commandments to do them.' Oh! the man who would rob his suffering
fellow-creatures of that story--he knows not how deep and bitter are
the needs of man.
Then was freedom born: but not of man; not of the will of the
flesh, nor of the will of man, but of the will of God, from whom all
good things come; and of Christ, who is the life and the light of
men and of nations, and of the whole world, and of all worlds, past,
present, and to come.
From God came freedom. To be used as his gift, according to his
laws; for he gave, and he can take away; as it is written, 'He shall
take the kingdom of God from you, and give it to a people bringing
forth the fruits thereof.' 'For there be many first that shall be
last; and last that shall be first.' It is this which makes the
Jews indeed a peculiar people: the thought that the living God had
actually and really done for them what they could not do for
themselves; that he had made them a nation, and not they themselves.
It is this which makes the Old Testament an utterly different book,
with an utterly different lesson, to the written history of any
other nation in the world.
And yet it is this which makes the history of the Jews the key to
every other history in the world. For in it Jesus Christ our Lord,
the living God who makes history, who governs all nations, reveals
and unveils himself, and teaches not the Jews only, but us and all
nations, that it is he who hath made us, and not we ourselves; that
we got not the land in possession by our own sword, nor was it our
own strength that helped us, but thou, O Lord, because thou hadst a
favour unto us; that not to us, not to us is the praise of any
national greatness or glory, but to God, from whom it comes as
surely a free gift as the gift of liberty to the Jews of old.
I say, the history of the Jews is the history of the whole Church,
and of every nation in Christendom.
As with the Jews, so with the nations of Europe; whenever they have
trusted in themselves, their own power and wisdom, they have ended
in weakness and folly. Whenever they have trusted in Christ the
living God, and said, 'It is he that hath made us, and not we
ourselves,' they have risen to strength and wisdom. When they have
forgotten the living God, national life and patriotism have died in
them, as they died in the Jews. When they have remembered that the
most high God was their Redeemer, then in them, as in the Jews, have
national life and patriotism revived.
And as it was with the Jews in the wilderness, so it has been with
them since Christ's resurrection. They fancied that they were going
at once into the promised land. So did the first Christians. But
the Jews had to wander forty years in the wilderness; and
Christendom has had to wander too, in strange and bloodstained
paths, for one thousand eight hundred years and more. For why? The
Israelites were not worthy to enter at once into rest; no more have
the nation of Christ's Church been worthy. The Israelites brought
out of Egypt base and slavish passions, which had to be purged out
of them; so have we out of heathendom. They brought out, too,
heathen superstitions, and mixed them up with the worship of God,
bearing about in the wilderness the tabernacle of Moloch and the
image of their god Remphan, and making the calf in Horeb; and so,
alas! again and again, has the Church of Christ.
Nay, the whole generation, save two, who came out of Egypt, had to
die in the wilderness, and leave their bones scattered far and wide.
And so has mankind been dying, by war and by disease, and by many
fearful scourges besides what is called now-a-days, natural decay.
But all the while a new generation was springing up, trained in the
wilderness to be bold and hardy; trained, too, under Moses' stern
law, to the fear of God; to reverence, and discipline, and
obedience, without which freedom is merely brutal license, and a
nation is no nation, but a mere flock of sheep or a herd of wolves.
And so, for these one thousand eight hundred years have the
generations of Christendom, by the training of the Church and the
light of the Gospel, been growing in wisdom and knowledge; growing
in morality and humanity, in that true discipline and loyalty which
are the yoke-fellows of freedom and independence, to make them fit
for that higher state, that heavenly Canaan, of which we know not
WHEN it will come, nor whether its place will be on this earth or
elsewhere; but of which it is written, 'And I John saw the holy
city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as
a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of
heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he
will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself
shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all
tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither
sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the
former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne
said, Behold, I make all things new.
'And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the
Lamb are the temple of it. And the city had no need of the sun,
neither of the moon to shine in it: for the glory of God did
lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of
them which are saved shall walk in the light of it; and the kings of
the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of
it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night
there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations
into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that
defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie:
but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life.'
That, the perfect Easter Day, seems far enough off as yet; but it
will come. As the Lord liveth, it will come; and to it may Christ
in his mercy bring us all, and our children's children after us.
SERMON XIII. KORAH, DATHAN, AND ABIRAM
(First Sunday after Easter, 1863.)
Numbers xvi. 32-35. And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed
them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto
Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them,
went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and
they perished from among the congregation. And all Israel that were
round about them fled at the cry of them: for they said, Lest the
earth swallow us up also. And there came out a fire from the Lord,
and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense.
I will begin by saying that there are several things in this chapter
which I do not understand, and cannot explain to you. Be it so.
That is no reason why we should not look at the parts of the chapter
which we can understand and can explain.
There are matters without end in the world round us, and in our own
hearts, and in the life of every one, which we cannot explain; and
therefore we need not be surprised to find things which we cannot
explain in the life and history of the most remarkable nation upon
earth--the nation whose business it has been to teach all other
nations the knowledge of the true God, and who was specially and
curiously trained for that work.
But the one broad common-sense lesson of this chapter, it seems to
me, is one which is on the very surface of it; one which every true
Englishman at least will see, and see to be true, when he hears the
chapter read; and that is, the necessity of DISCIPLINE.
God has brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and set them free. One
of the first lessons which they have to learn is, that freedom does
not mean license and discord--does not mean every one doing that
which is right in the sight of his own eyes. From that springs
self-will, division, quarrels, revolt, civil war, weakness,
profligacy, and ruin to the whole people. Without order,
discipline, obedience to law, there can be no true and lasting
freedom; and, therefore, order must be kept at all risks, the law
obeyed, and rebellion punished.
Now rebellion may be and ought to be punished far more severely in
some cases than in others. If men rebel here, in Great Britain or
Ireland, we smile at them, and let them off with a slight
imprisonment, because we are not afraid of them. They can do no
But there are cases in which rebellion must be punished with a swift
and sharp hand. On board a ship at sea, for instance, where the
safety of the whole ship, the lives of the whole crew, depend on
instant obedience, mutiny may be punished by death on the spot.
Many a commander has ere now, and rightly too, struck down the rebel
without trial or argument, and ended him and his mutiny on the spot;
by the sound rule that it is expedient that one man die for the
people, and that the whole nation perish not.
And so it was with the Israelites in the desert. All depended on
their obedience. God had given them a law--a constitution, as we
should say now--perfectly fitted, no doubt, for them. If they once
began to rebel and mutiny against that law, all was over with them.
That great, foolish, ignorant multitude would have broken up,
probably fought among themselves--certainly parted company, and
either starved in the desert, or have been destroyed piecemeal by
the wild warlike tribes, Midianites, Moabites, Amalekites--who were
ready enough for slaughter and plunder. They would never have
reached Canaan. They would never have become a great nation. So
they had to be, by necessity, under martial law. The word must be,
Obey or die. As for any cruelty in putting Korah, Dathan, and
Abiram to death, it was worth the death of a hundred such--or a
thousand--to preserve the great and glorious nation of the Jews to
be the teachers of the world.
Now this Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebel. They rebel against Moses
about a question of the priesthood. It really matters little to us
what that question was--it was a question of Moses' law, which, of
course, is now done away. Only remember this, that these men were
princes--great feudal noblemen, as we should say; and that they
rebelled on the strength of their rank and their rights as noblemen
to make laws for themselves and for the people; and that the mob of
their dependents seem to have been inclined to support them.
Surely if Moses had executed martial law on them with his own hand,
he would have been as perfectly justified as a captain of a ship of
war or a general of an army would be now.
But he did not do so. And why? Because MOSES did not bring the
people out of Egypt. Moses was not their king. GOD brought them
out of Egypt. God was their king. That was the lesson which they
had to learn, and to teach other nations also. They have rebelled,
not against Moses, but against God; and not Moses, but God must
punish, and show that he is not a dead God, but a living God, one
who can defend himself, and enforce his own laws, and execute
judgment--and, if need be, vengeance--without needing any man to
fight his battles for him.
And God does so. The powers of Nature--the earthquake and the
nether fire--shall punish these rebels; and so they do.
'And Moses said, Hereby ye shall know that the Lord hath sent me to
do all these works; for I have not done them of mine own mind. If
these men die the common death of all men, or if they be visited
after the visitation of all men; then the Lord hath not sent me.
But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth and
swallow them up, with all that appertain to them and they go down
quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have
provoked the Lord.'
Men have thought differently of the story; but I call it a righteous
story, and a noble story, and one which agrees with my conscience,
and my reason, and my notion of what ought to be, and my experience
also of what is--of the way in which God's world is governed unto
What then are we to think of the earth opening and swallowing them
up? What are we to think of a fire coming out from the Lord, and
consuming two hundred and fifty men that offered incense?
This first. That discipline and order are so absolutely necessary
for the well-being of a nation that they must be kept at all risks,
and enforced by the most terrible punishments.
It seems to me (to speak with all reverence) as if God had said to
the Jews, 'I have set you free. I will make of you a great nation;
I will lead you into a good land and large. But if you are to be a
great nation, if you are to conquer that good land and large, you
must obey: and you shall obey. The earthquake and the fire shall
teach you to obey, and make you an example to the rest of the
Israelites, and to all nations after you.' But how hard, some may
think, that the wives and the children should suffer for their
My friends, we do not know that a single woman or child died then
for whom it was not better that he or she should die. That is one
of the deep things which we must leave to the perfect justice and
mercy of God.
And next--what is it after all, but what we see going on round us
all the day long? God does visit the sins of the fathers on the
children. There is no denying it. Wives do suffer for their
husbands' sins; children and children's children for whole
generations after generations suffer for their parents' sins, and
become unhealthy, or superstitious, or profligate, or poor, or
slavish, because their parents sinned, and dragged down their
children with them in their fall. It is a law of the world; and
therefore it is a law of God. And it is reasonable to be believed
that God might choose to teach the Israelites, once and for all,
that it WAS a law of his world. For by swallowing up those women
and children with the men, God said to the Israelites, it seems to
me in a way which could not be mistaken, 'This is the consequence of
lawlessness and disorder--that you not only injure yourselves, but
your children after you, and involve your families in the same ruin
But there was another lesson, and a deep lesson, in the earthquake
and in the fire. And what was this? that the earthquake and the
fire came out from the Lord.
Earthquakes have swallowed up not hundreds merely, but many
thousands, in many countries, and at many times.
Fire has come forth, and still comes forth from the ground, from the
clouds, from the consequences of man's own carelessness, and
destroys beast and man, and the works of man's hands. Then men ask
in terror and doubt, 'Who sends the earthquake and the fire? Do
they come from the devil--the destroyer? Do they come by chance,
from some brute and blind powers of nature?'
This chapter answers, 'No. They come from the Lord, from whom all
good things do come; from the Lord who delivered the Israelites out
of Egypt; who so loved the world that he spared not his only
begotten Son, but freely gave him for us.'
Now I say that is a gospel, and good news, which we want now as much
as ever men did; which the children of Israel wanted then, though
not one whit more than we.
Many hundreds of years had these Israelites been in Egypt. Storm,
lightning, earthquake, the fires of the burning mountains, were
things unknown to them. They were going into Canaan--a good land
and fruitful, but a land of storms and thunders; a land, too, of
earthquakes and subterranean fires. The deepest earthquake-crack in
the world is the valley of the Jordan, ending in the Dead Sea--a
long valley, through which at different points the nether fires of
the earth even now burst up at times. In Abraham's time they had
destroyed the five cities of the plain. The prophets mention them,
especially Isaiah and Micah, as breaking out again in their own
times; and in our own lifetime earthquake and fire have done fearful
destruction in the north part of the Holy Land.
Now what was to prevent the Israelites worshipping the earthquake
and the fire as gods?
Nothing. Conceive the terror and horror of the Jews coming out of
that quiet land of Egypt, the first time they felt the ground
rocking and rolling; the first time they heard the roar of the
earthquake beneath their feet; the first time they saw, in the
magnificent words of Micah, the mountains molten and the valleys
cleft as wax before the fire, like water poured down a steep place;
and discovered that beneath their very feet was Tophet, the pit of
fire and brimstone, ready to burst up and overwhelm them they knew
What could they do, but what the Canaanites did who dwelt already in
that land? What but to say, 'The fire is king. The fire is the
great and dreadful God, and to him we must pray, lest he devour us
up.' For so did the Canaanites. They called the fire Moloch, which
means simply the king; and they worshipped this fire-king, and made
idols of him, and offered human sacrifices to him. They had idols
of metal, before which an everlasting fire burned; and on the arms
of the idol the priests laid the children who were to be sacrificed,
that they might roll down into the fire and be burnt alive. That is
actual fact. In one case, which we know of well, hundreds of years
after Moses' time, the Carthaginians offered two hundred boys of
their best families to Moloch in one day. This is that making the
children pass through the fire to Moloch--burning them in the fire
to Moloch--of which we read several times in the Old Testament; as
ugly and accursed a superstition as men ever invented.
What deliverance was there for them from these abominable
superstitions, except to know that the fire-kingdom was God's
kingdom, and not Moloch's at all; to know with Micah and with David
that the hills were molten like wax BEFORE THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD;
that it was the blast of his breath which discovered the foundations
of the world; that it was HE who made the sea flee and drove back
the Jordan stream; that it was before HIM that the mountains skipped
like rams and the little hills like young sheep; that the battles of
shaking were God's battles, with which he could fight for his
people; that it was he who ordained Tophet, and whose spirit kindled
it. That it was he--and that too in mercy as well as anger--who
visited the land in Isaiah's time with thunder and earthquake, and
great noise, and storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire.
That the earth opened and swallowed up those whom God chose, and no