HotFreeBooks.com
The After-glow of a Great Reign - Four Addresses Delivered in St. Paul's Cathedral
by A. F. Winnington Ingram
Home - Random Browse

E-text prepared by Al Haines



THE AFTERGLOW OF A GREAT REIGN

Four Addresses Delivered in St. Paul's Cathedral

by the

RIGHT REV. A. F. WINNINGTON INGRAM, D.D. Bishop Suffragan of Stepney, and Canon of St. Paul's Cathedral



London Wells Gardner, Darton & Co. 3, Paternoster Buildings, E C 1901.



CONTENTS.

PAGE

I. HER TRUTHFULNESS II. HER MORAL COURAGE III. THE RAINBOW ROUND ABOUT THE THRONE IV. THE LAW OF KINDNESS



The After-glow of a Great Reign.

I.

HER TRUTHFULNESS.

"Behold, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts."—Psalm li. 6.

We stand to-day like men who have just watched a great sunset. On some beautiful summer evening we must all of us have watched a sunset, and we know how, first of all, we see the great orb slowly decline towards the horizon; then comes the sense of coming loss; then it sets amid a blaze of glory, and then it is buried, buried for ever so far as that day is concerned, to reappear as the leader of a new dawn. In exactly the same way have we for years been watching with loving interest the declining years of our Queen, years that declined so slowly towards the horizon that we almost persuaded ourselves we should have her with us for ever. Then came, but a few weeks ago, a sudden sense of coming loss, then her sun set in a blaze of glory, and yesterday she was buried, buried from our sight, to reappear, as we believe, as a bright particular star in another world. We do not grudge her her rest. Few words can express more beautifully the thoughts of thousands than these words just put into my hand—

"Leave her in peace, her time is fully come, Her empire's crown All day she bore, nor asked to lay it down, Now God has called her home.

Let sights and sounds of earth be all forgot, Her cares and tears She hath endured thro' her allotted years, Now they can touch her not.

From that fierce light which beats upon a throne Now has she passed Into God's stillness, cool and deep and vast, Let Heaven for earth atone.

All gifts but one He gave, but kept the best Till now in store; Now He doth add to all He gave before His perfect gift of rest." [1]

But, just as in the sunset a beautiful and tender after-glow remains long after the sun has set, so we are gathered to-day in the tender after-glow. And I propose that we should try and gather up one by one—to learn ourselves and to tell our children, and the generations yet unborn, as some explanation of the marvellous influence which she exercised—some of the qualities of the Queen whom we have lost.

And let us first fix our minds upon something which at first sight seems so simple, but yet seems to have struck every generation of statesmen as a thing almost supernatural—and that is her marvellous truthfulness. Said a great statesman, "She is the most perfectly truthful being I have ever met." "Perfect sincerity" is the description of another. Now what that must have meant to England, for generation after generation of statesmen to have had at the centre of the empire a truthful person, a person who never used intrigue, who never was plotting or planning, or working behind the backs of those who were responsible to advise her—to have had someone perfectly sincere to deal with in the great things of state—that is something which must be left for the historian who chronicles the Victorian era thoroughly to paint. No, my friends, our task now is far simpler: it is to ask what is the secret of this marvellous truthfulness, can we obtain it ourselves, and does God demand it?

Let us take the last question first, and we take it first because it is the question directly answered in our text. The answer is given by someone who understood human nature, by someone who had sinned, had been forgiven, had been roused out of the conventionalities of life by a great experience, who had looked out of the door of his being and had seen God. And he tells us, as the result of his experience, and as the basis of his repentance, these words "Behold, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts." It is one thing to say words which, understood in a certain sense, are true, it is one thing to avoid direct breaches in our action of the law of honour, but it is another thing to be in ourselves absolutely sincere, to look up into the eyes of God, as a truthful child looks up into the eyes of its mother, to possess our own hearts like a flawless gem, with nothing to hide, nothing to keep back, and nothing to be ashamed of—that is to have truth in the inward parts, and that is what God demands. It is what He found in Christ, one of the things which made Him say time after time, "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased"; He found ever reflecting back His Face as He looked down upon Him a perfectly sincere Person, true through and through. That was the secret of His marvellous influence, that was why little children came and crept under the ample folds of His love, that was why young men came and told Him their secrets, that was why everybody, except the bad, felt at home with Him, that was why women were at their best with Him, that was why Herod the worldly found he could not flatter Him, and Pilate the coward found Him devoid of fear; it was because right through, not only in His words and actions, but in His being He not only had, but He was, Truth in the inward parts. And it is because our Queen, with her simple and beautiful faith in her Saviour, caught from childhood this attribute of her Lord, because she worked it out into her character, made it the foundation of everything she did—it is for that reason she was able to keep the Court pure, and the heart of the country true, to get rid of flattery, meanness and intrigue, and to chase away the sycophant and the traitor.

Is it not a lesson which the country needs, is there any nobler monument that we could build to her than this—to incorporate into the character of the nation the first and great characteristic of her own character, and to try and plant in society, in trade, and in Christian work, truth in the inward parts?

Take, first, society. It is a cheap sneer, which speaks perpetually of the hollowness of so-called society, as if rich people could not make and did not make as honest friendships as the poor and middle class; but, at the same time, few would deny how much of what would be such a good thing is disfigured by display and insincerity, that miserable attempting to be thought richer than we are, that pitiable struggle to get into a smarter set than happens to be ours, the unreal compliments, the insincere expressions, the sometimes hideous treachery. If society were purged from these, it would not be the dull thing which some people imagine, just as if this insincerity and frivolity and unreality constituted the brightness of it. No, it is these things which constitute the dulness and the stupidity. If they were done away with, then society would be a gathering of true men and women, true to themselves, true to one another, and true to God, and would be a society which God could bless.

Secondly, take trade and commerce. Speaking in the very centre of a city reared upon a basis of honourable commerce, it would be more than wicked to refuse to acknowledge the splendid honour and trust on which such commerce is based; but when we clergy, not once or twice, but constantly, get letters from those employed in firms and in business up and down the country, saying, "How can I live a Christian life, when I am obliged by my employer to do dishonest things in business, when I am told to tell lies, or I shall lose my place?" When we have, even within the last few months, terrible instances of breach of trust among those who have been entrusted with the most sacred interests by the widow and the orphan, must we not acknowledge that a second great monument which we might build to our Queen would be to restore to the trade and commerce of the country those principles of honour and integrity on which the great firms were built up, and to make it true again from end to end of the world that an Englishman's word is as good as his bond.

And so, again—would to God we had not to add it!—what a revolution would be worked in Christian work itself—Christian work that is supposed to demand from everyone who undertakes it perfect forgetfulness of self, and entire self-abnegation, to have as its workers men and women conspicuous for humility, for thinking of others before themselves, for being ready to bear the cross on the way to the crown. And yet can we deny—would God we could!—that in Christian work there is an amount of self-advertisement, of jealousy among workers, and of insincerity which lowers our cause, and damages the progress of Christianity? Think for a moment what it would be if all Christians were really united as Christ meant them to be, if they worked with one another, showing a common front to the world, one great society, as Christ conceived it, without jealousy, without conceit, without pride, but throwing themselves into one magnificent common cause. Why, nothing could stand before the Christian Church if it were like that. Can we not in this coming reign, and the century just begun, try and plant in the heart of every Christian worker truth in the inward parts?

How are we, then—that comes to be the last question—how are we to attain this wonderful gift, the secret of a strong character?

And, first of all, let us be perfectly clear as to the first essential. The first essential is detachment of mind. Oh! what cowards we are with regard to the opinion of others! You will find time after time men and women, who think themselves free, living under the most degrading tyranny of fear as to what will be thought of them by others. Not to care at all what anybody thinks is inhuman, but to be bound by a kind of trembling terror as to what people will say or think, is a degrading slavery. Bit by bit it creates in the character a habit of insincerity; little by little the question is in the heart and in the mind, "Will this be popular or not? Shall I be liked for this?" We speak or do something according to the reflection it will make in the thoughts of others. There may be some here who know that that is their temptation, who know that they are not true, that they are never themselves, they are always somebody else, or the reflection of the mind of somebody else. Let the example of our truthful Queen speak like a trumpet note the old words of the New Testament, "Stand upright on thy feet," and be a man.

And, if the first secret is detachment of mind, putting aside self-consciousness, which is very often other-people-consciousness, the second secret is an increasing consciousness of God. Is it not an extraordinary thing that when we are only here for a few fleeting years, and everybody around us is hurrying to his grave as fast as he can, and when the only person whose opinion matters the least is the eternal God, Who goes on generation after generation, and before Whom everyone must appear at the last—is it not an extraordinary thing how little we think of Him at all? How often during the past week have you thought of God? To actually acquire a continual sense of His presence, to be conscious that His eyes, the eyes of Him Who is from everlasting to everlasting, are always fixed upon us, to rise in the morning with the feeling, "One more day's work for God," and to go to bed in the evening with only one care, "How have we done it?"—that is to gradually foster in the character the second great thing which will produce truth in the inward parts—a consciousness and love of God.

And then, thirdly, learn truth like a lesson. If we did not learn it as the Queen did as a child, let us begin now. Watch every word. Are we in the habit of boasting, are we in the habit of lying, are we in the habit of being insincere? Not "What did we do?" but "Why did we do it?" is the real question. Why did we give that donation to something? For the good of the cause or to see our name in the paper? Why did we do this thing? Was it done from a true and pure motive? And if, as we try and learn truth like a lesson, step by step, in word and deed, we also pray continually, "Give me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me," then there shall emerge gradually something that will last beyond the grave—an image, which is also the pattern, the character of the child, slowly won, but which was the prototype to start with; and thus we may hope to be sincere, and without offence until the day of Christ.



[1] Lines by the Rev. W. H. Draper, Rector of Adel, Leeds.



II.

HER MORAL COURAGE.

"Why are ye fearful? O! ye of little faith."—St. Matthew viii. 26.

We saw last Sunday that we were like men who had just watched a great sunset, that we were standing, as it were, in the beautiful and tender after-glow, which so often follows a beautiful sunset, and we set ourselves to try and gather up and meditate upon some of the great qualities in the character of her whom we have lost, as some explanation, of the influence which made her reign so great.

And we have already contemplated together what it was to have truth in the inward parts. We thought over the truthfulness of one, of whom it was said by a great statesman, that she was the most truthful being he had ever met. And we saw what a revolution it would work in society, in commerce, and in Christian work, if every one of us had that downright sincerity and straightforwardness which characterized her.

We now take another quality, and I suppose I shall carry most of you with me when I mention, as a second great quality for us to try and incorporate into our own characters, and so into the life of the nation for the new reign—her moral courage. She had plenty of physical courage. She was a fearless horsewoman in her youth, she was proud of being the daughter of a soldier, she loved her own soldiers and sailors, and marked to the very last day of her life their gallant deeds with delight. But there was throughout her life something more than physical courage, and that was her moral courage.

Take, first of all, the way in which she bore her own personal troubles. If there was anyone who could say with the Psalmist, "All Thy waves and storms have gone over me," it was our late Queen. What the loss of her husband was to her, you may gather from this beautiful letter published in Lord Selborne's Life, which she addressed to him years afterwards on the loss of his own wife: "To lose the loved companion of one's life is losing half one's own existence. From that time everything is different, every event seems to lose its effect; for joy, which cannot be shared by those who feel everything with you, is no joy, and sorrow is redoubled when it cannot be shared and soothed by the one who alone could do so. No children can replace a wife or a husband, may they be ever so good and devoted. One must bear one's burden alone. That our Heavenly Father may give you strength in this heavy affliction, and that your health may not suffer, is the sincere prayer of yours most truly, Victoria, R.I." [1] There could hardly have been penned, one would have thought, a more touching or more beautiful letter, and penned years after the loss of her husband. It revealed to the heart of the nation what that loss was to her. It was followed in the years afterwards by the loss of children and grandchildren. And the first thing, therefore, that strikes us is that, in the midst of this personal sorrow, one stroke following after another, with a moral courage which is an example to us all, she never gave up her work; without fainting or failing, that huge pile of documents, which, in a few days of cessation from her work, mounted up—a great statesman tells us—so high, was dealt with, those ceaseless interviews, that constant correspondence—were carried through up to the last by one who proved herself faithful unto death.

And, as with personal sorrow, so with public anxiety. It has become now common property that, in the dark days of December, 1899, the Queen was the one who refused to be depressed in her court; when disaster followed disaster it was the Queen who, by her moral courage, kept up the spirits of those around her, and who, with a perfect trust in her soldiers and sailors, and with an absolute confidence in the justice of her cause, went steadily, brightly, and cheerfully on with her work, upheld by the moral courage which I put before you and before myself as our example for to-day.

And so, once again, her moral courage took the form—a rare form, too, in these days—of the courage of her own opinions. One statesman has told us that he never differed from a matured opinion of his Sovereign without a great sense of responsibility; another, that when he once acted directly against it he found that he was wrong and she was right. Another has pointed out how we have lost among the crowned heads of Europe, in her personal influence among them, one of the strongest influences in Europe for peace and righteousness. And, therefore, when we think to ourselves of the difficulty of acting always constitutionally and yet strongly, and to know that our Queen, on all hands, is admitted to have done this through a long lifetime, we see a third aspect of the moral courage which we have to seek to emulate.

Now, the question is—for these sermons are meant in no sense to be mere panegyrics—In what way can we, gathered here on a Sunday afternoon, incorporate into our characters something of the moral courage which characterized the Queen?

And the first thing which strikes us is this: What a vast field it is on which we have to exercise it. To those who have to see a great deal of the sorrows of others, sometimes life simply seems one series of undeserved calamities. Take, for instance, that unhappy man who, recently, in this cathedral, shot himself, and by his own act passed into the other world. Look into his history, and you will find nothing specially wrong that he had done up to then. He had just been one of the unfortunates amongst us. He had been for years a steady workman, able to keep himself; then his joints got stiff, too stiff for work. "I cannot go on living on your husband's earnings, Rose," he said, on the morning that he died, and without, no doubt, a proper understanding of the guilt of self-murder, by his own act he passed—so he thought—out of trouble into rest. We do well to pray that we comfortable people in the world may be pardoned for any carelessness and selfishness on our part which makes the world so intolerable to many of our fellow creatures. But still, though we may soften by our pity the act which he did, and even for such an one we can only speak softly about the dead; though we know full well that some of the best men that ever lived, in a fit of insanity, or under depression quite impossible for them to control, have passed, by their own hand, out of this world, yet we cannot hide from ourselves that self-destruction is an act of cowardice, that where men and women break down is not in physical courage, but in moral courage, and that those lines penned long ago are true to-day:

"When all the blandishments of life are gone, The coward slinks to death, the brave live on!"

But we need not go to such an exceptional occurrence as that to find a field for this exercise of moral courage. Take all those incidents of life which happen day after day—the little child snatched from us in all its beauty and its innocence: the bright lad shot upon the field of battle in a moment, taken away with all his brightness, and his laughter, and his merriment; the man who loses in middle life his money and has to begin the hard struggle of saving all over again—how are we to explain it? What can we say to light up in any degree so vast a problem? There is, my dear brothers and sisters, I believe, no full explanation here, but there is a belief which comforts us, and that is, that these calamities of life are all being used for a great purpose; that when the Scripture says of God that "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver," it does give us some sort of clue which nerves us to bear what we have to bear. Those who pass from us, pass, we believe, into what has been called, "God's great Convalescent Home" in another world, but to us who have to suffer, who receive these strokes, the suffering is not useless; it is a furnace which has to fashion that heavenly tempered thing which we call "moral courage," and to produce it any suffering is worth bearing. Do think over that, you who may be going through the furnace now, do remember that you have not lost that lad, that child, for ever, that it is only a few years until you see him again; but, meanwhile, while he is prepared there, you are being prepared here. The character is everything, and if there can be produced in you and in me that moral courage which makes us like our Saviour, we shall not be sorry for it in the days to come.

And so, again, take that awful trial which comes at times of having to suffer under a false accusation. I saw someone this week whom I believe to be lying under a most terrible accusation which is absolutely false. And, if anyone of you has ever been through that terrible trial of suffering under an imputation on your honour, which you know to be false, but cannot prove to be false, you realize what a field such a state as that presents for moral courage. What are we to say to anyone we see who is under that most terrible trial? What are we to say to ourselves if such a misfortune and trial comes to us? Why, we can only say this, and it is enough—that if it is true that a general places his bravest soldiers in the hottest part of the battle, if it is true that it is only certain strokes which can reach the most sensitive parts of our character, if it is true that this very trial came to Jesus Christ Himself, and He had it said of Him—"He works through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils," "He saved others, Himself He cannot save"—then, my brother, the secret of your strange punishment is out, it means that it is a special mark of favour, it is a Victoria Cross for service, it is Christ coming to you and bringing the very cup out of which He drank Himself, and saying, "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" Pray hard, pray with all your strength, for the moral courage to answer back, "I am able." "Therefore," as the poet so beautifully says:—

"Therefore gird up thyself, and come to stand Unflinching under the unfaltering hand That waits to prove thee to the uttermost.

It were not hard to suffer by His hand If thou could see His face; but in the dark! That is the one last trial—be it so; Christ was forsaken, so must thou be too: How couldst thou suffer but in seeming else?

Thou wilt not see the face, nor feel the hand, Only the cruel crushing of the feet, When, thro' the bitter night, the Lord comes down To tread the wine-press. Not by sight but faith, Endure, endure; be faithful to the end."

And so, once again, looking out upon our ordinary life, what shall we need to put backbone into life? What do we need to give a little more strength to it, to enable us to be braver and firmer and stronger? It is just that power of being able to take our own line against others; it is just that courage of our opinions; it is consistent with being perfectly humble, and ever ready to learn; it implies no conceit, and no contempt of others, but it enables this one in the workshop to stand up for the faith in which he believes, that one in the drawing-room to take a strong moral line when people are sneering at virtue; it nerves us to stand by our colours and to cry to the last,

"Faith of our fathers, living still, We will be true to thee till death."

How then are we to gain the secret? What is the secret of moral courage? And, in answering that question, let us be perfectly fair to those who, like the Stoics of old, showed a wonderful endurance with no knowledge whatever of Christ, and very little belief in another world; let us be perfectly honest and frank with regard to the virtue of those in our day who, having lost, to their infinite misfortune, their childish faith, still say to themselves: "I will cling to my morality, I will try and keep a clean hand and a pure heart"; let us give full allowance to what we have heard of this morning in this cathedral—the power and the influence of secondary motives, secondary motives allowed sometimes to save us for the time before the primary motive comes in—but still, making all allowance for that, what is the secret of the best moral courage? It is not the highest moral courage merely to endure, it is not the highest moral courage, like the old Roman, just to fold our toga round us and die. There has come a new thing into the world, a new kind of moral courage, and that moral courage is full of inspiration and full of cheerfulness: it does not merely bear the cross, it takes up the cross. It has in the midst of its own sorrow a force and a power which shake the world; it has in the midst of personal trouble,

"A heart at leisure from itself To soothe and sympathize."

And what is the secret of that? And I would dare anyone here, whatever may be their private belief, to doubt or to dispute this, that it is produced and shown by no one else but those who believe that Jesus is with them in the ship; and that when you see some woman going through the most terrible trouble, perfectly calm, quiet, brave and cheerful; when some man, over whom all the waves and storms are bursting, stands there brave, and cheerful, and happy in the hour of trial, it is because, unheard by the world, he hears a voice in his ear saying, "Why are ye fearful? O ye of little faith," because, unseen by the world, he sees Someone standing with His hand upon the tiller, Someone Whom he believes to have supreme power in the last resort over the waves, and Who he knows, at exactly the right moment when it is best for him, will say the word before which every billow and every storm sinks to rest, "Peace be still."

The trial is that Jesus often seems asleep; the trial is that when the ship of State labours on in the trough of the waves there seems no steersman in view; the trial is that when the Church seems overwhelmed by controversy, and about to be buried under its waves, Jesus makes no sign; the trial is that Lazarus actually dies and lies dead, and Jesus still stays two days in the same place where He was; but the magnificent truth which we Christians believe is this—that, though apparently asleep, He never is asleep; that He rises from time to time and shows His strength; that He rose once and burst into fragments the power of death. They thought He was quite asleep in the grave, but He rose with all His power, and broke for every mourner throughout the ages that were to come, the power of death for ever. He rises in the midst of the Church, He brings the Church in His own time into a peace and calm which seemed at one time impossible; He rises in our own personal life, and while the world thinks how that poor man or poor woman is overwhelmed with trouble, we know that we are in a wonderful and supernatural calm.

And, therefore, the whole question is this: Have we got, or do we believe we have got, Jesus in the ship with us? Do we hear His voice saying, "Be of good cheer; it is I, be not afraid?" As we watch, then, the moral courage produced in our Queen by her simple, but strong faith, I beg you with me to pray God to grant us a living faith in Jesus Christ, which is the secret of strength, and we shall find that it will give us moral courage, not of earth, which the world can neither give nor take away.



[1] "Memorials: Personal and Political of the Earl of Selborne." Vol. IV., 161.



III.

THE RAINBOW ROUND ABOUT THE THRONE.

"And there was a rainbow round about the throne."—Rev. iv. 3.

We are taking, you will remember, one by one—picturing ourselves in the after-glow which succeeds a great sunset—the qualities which made the influence of the Queen that we have lost so great, and we have taken them, not as constituting a prolonged panegyric, but as practical lessons, and much-needed lessons, for ourselves. And we first contemplated the truthfulness of one of whom it has been said, that she was the most truthful being that the speaker—a great statesman—had ever met. Then we traced in trouble, in public anxiety, amid a multitude of advisers, the effect and the power of moral courage. We saw that moral courage is only strong enough to stand up against overwhelming trouble, when anxieties and difficulties are thick around us, if we really believe that our Lord Jesus Christ is with us in the ship, and that we hear His voice say to us, "Why are ye so fearful, O ye of little faith?"

And yet, as we go on, we become more and more aware that we have not yet penetrated to the central secret of her power; nor shall we. Can any man name the real secret of influence, or analyse the strength of personality? But, if we cannot hope to penetrate to the central secret, we can, with firm and reverent gaze, gather more than we have yet done of how it was that the Court of Queen Victoria was the purest Court in the world, and why her influence was so unique among all civilized nations. And, as we take our third glance, we find that round her throne, so far as it is possible for human things to copy the divine, there was a reflection of what the inspired Seer, with open eyes, saw round the throne of God—a rainbow round about the throne.

What do we understand by a rainbow? Four things, at least. First, the colours of the rainbow, beautiful and various as they are, blend into the purest white; secondly, a rainbow, even for the most careless, and those most untouched by natural beauty, is one of the most inherently attractive things in the world; thirdly—a rainbow is God's appointed sign of hope, hope founded on the faithfulness of God: "While the earth remaineth, winter and summer, seed time and harvest shall not cease"; and, fourthly—strange paradox at first, but true—a rainbow is one of the most awful things in the world, because it reminds us that what has created it is the terrible light which, without the atmosphere, would scorch to nothingness; for, while the sun, through the medium of the atmosphere, blesses, let its flames, mountains high, touch a planet that has drifted from its course, and it scorches to death.

With those four thoughts in our minds, let us first contemplate the rainbow round the throne of God. And we shall now understand that the first thing which we can learn is, that there is around the throne of God a circle of unblemished purity. We might have known it; we have been told it over and over again. "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." "With the clean thou must be clean, and with the holy thou must learn holiness." We know it, yet where we fail is in not realizing the awful bearing which it has upon our lives. A rainbow of perfect purity bars the way of entrance to the throne of God, except for the pure.

And then, secondly, to temper, as it were, the awfulness of the first revelation, we find that the light of God is brought us through a medium; the glory, grace, and truth of God are shown us in the face of Jesus Christ.

And, as we follow Him during these coming six weeks, let us remember that we are watching the rainbow, that we are watching the medium through which the light of God reaches us in all its inherent attractiveness. If the heavenly rainbow is not produced by the light shining upon the tears of human penitence, where is hope for the world? But because it is so produced, the rainbow round the throne of God wins us to God. "Come unto Me," it seems to signify, "all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Thirdly, the rainbow round the throne of God speaks of hope. Just as the husbandman, getting anxious about his harvest, troubled by the variableness of the season, looks up on some showery day and sees the rainbow in the sky, and it reminds him of the faithfulness of God, and His promise that seed time and harvest shall not cease, so the father with his son snatched suddenly from him in the battle, so the soul waiting so long year after year, for something to come which does not come, so the tempted one at home or at work, looks upon the rainbow round the throne of God, and that rainbow speaks of God's faithfulness. "His righteousness standeth," that is what the rainbow says, "like the strong mountains, and His judgments are like the great deep." And, founded on the faithfulness of God, we can hope.

And yet, in spite of the attractiveness and in spite of the hope, the rainbow round the throne of God is still awful, for it reminds us of what, in our soft age, we are apt to forget—that "our God is a consuming fire," that never, from generation to generation, does He lower His standard for a moment, that not because in one age or another sins are condoned or thought lightly of does He vary for an instant the standard of holiness He demands, because He has appointed a day when He will judge the world by the standard of that Man Whom He has ordained.

And when, therefore, we turn from the prototype in Heaven to the copy of it which we have been lately seeing on earth, we are not surprised to find the same mingled elements of attractiveness and awfulness in the rainbow which encircled the throne of the empire for three and sixty years.

In the first place, we find it a rainbow of unsullied purity. No one could go down, even for a few hours, to preach at the Court, without being struck by the goodness of the men, as well as the goodness of the women, who surrounded the Queen. There was an atmosphere of goodness, of innocence, of pure home life, which constituted a beautiful rainbow round the throne. It had what we should expect—an attractive power throughout the world. Everyone felt, for that reason, at home with their Queen, because they were conscious that, at her home, there were just the very qualities, and the very characteristics, of a pure, and true, and good home. It gave an impulse of hope to the whole empire. Young mothers in Canada, Australia, and the islands of the sea, mothers of grown-up sons and daughters who found it difficult to keep the standard high in their own homes, thousands of them, without knowing it, were helped and inspired and enlightened by the sight of the far-away rainbow round about the throne at the centre of the empire. "She did it, she has managed it; in the midst of Court life, in the midst of all difficulties and duties, her home is pure: mine shall be pure; the Queen, God bless her!" That was the thought of thousands of hearts, and the inspiration of thousands of homes throughout the empire. And yet, who shall deny that there was an awe about it all? The man or woman was not born who dared to take a liberty in the presence of Queen Victoria. And can we wonder that the awful purity which shone round the throne chased away, as evil birds are chased away by the light, all things bad, all things loathsome, and all things even questionable!

Our lesson, then, is this: How can we keep in the nation, in the home, in the individual soul, a rainbow round the throne; how can we incorporate into the national life, and home life, and the individual life, the spotless purity that we saw in the Queen whom we have lost?

And, first of all, believe in the possibility of it. Those men who, in their clubs, or before younger men, talk as if virtue and purity were impossible; those women who allow into their drawing-rooms, or into the society of those they love, men known to be bad, are doing all that lies in their power to make the rainbow impossible; they are doing all in their power to make it impossible for us to have in the nation, in the home, or in the individual life, purity at all. Those who look out upon scenes which disgrace our social system, and our city, and, with a shrug of the shoulders, lead people to believe they constitute a necessary evil which cannot be faced, are not only unconsciously believing in the blasphemy that God made His physical laws so that they could not obey His moral laws; they are not only condoning the most unblushing cruelty which is going on in our midst to-day, but, also, they are not realizing that Jesus Christ came with the very purpose among others of proving that the pure life was a possible one. What is the Incarnation but the taking of a human body, with all its passions, with all its impulses, a real Human body, and wearing it perfectly untarnished to the end? We must take hold, by meditation and by prayer, of the teaching of the Incarnation, that we may live as children of the Incarnation. We were sent into the world with a rainbow round our souls.

"Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory, do we come, From God, Who is our home."

And we may be perfectly certain that God does not send us into this world with a rainbow round our souls if it is impossible to preserve the brightness and the purity of that rainbow in the world to which He sent us.

Having realized the possibility of it, the next thing to realize is that it is absolutely essential. No one without that rainbow can pass to the throne of God. There are many here, perhaps, who say, "Ah! it is too late to teach me that now; my rainbow, if I ever had one, faded from round my brow long ago." My brother or sister, did we not see that a rainbow was made by the light shining upon rain, and do we not believe that, if any single one here brings the tears of real penitence, that there shall be round him again, or round her, the most beautiful rainbow, the rainbow of the light of forgiveness shining upon penitence? During these six weeks, let us then look into our own souls, and ask ourselves in the light of God, "Where are we! how about our thoughts? how about our words? how about our characters? where is the pristine purity of youth? what about our lives today?" If such questions draw us on to our knees, with tears of penitence, to beg God again of His mercy to make a rainbow shine around us, there shall still be a rainbow round the throne in our hearts.

And, while we look into our own hearts, and remember the rigorous demand of God for the pure heart, lastly, let us safeguard our children. "Whoso shall cast a stumbling block in the way of one of these little ones, it were better that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea." Why? Because it robs them of the joy of the rainbow, because that subtle suggestion, that careless talk, that stumbling block placed in the way, dims the children's view of Heaven, "where their angels do always behold the face of our Father Which is in Heaven." I pray you, then, my friends, safeguard the rainbow for your children, as well as for yourselves. Many careful writers, among others the Head Master of Haileybury, recommend, as a great safeguard, the teaching to children, before knowledge is conveyed to them from impure sources, the simple facts of life. "They are innocent," says the latter writer, "of impurity, indescribably eager for wholesome knowledge, perfectly trustful of their parents, and, though self-absorbed, are capable of being easily trained to a tone of mind to which sympathy is congenial and cruelty abhorrent. Such a description is literally true of the great majority of quite young children, and we believe that qualities such as these elicited the great saying, 'Of such is the kingdom of Heaven.'" He goes on to say that "such a trustful, innocent frame of mind is the very frame of mind to receive from the father and mother this simple instruction in the facts of life which would save many a fall and many a misery in the days to come; and is far," he says, "from sullying the purity of the child's mind." "People sometimes speak of the indescribable beauty of the children's innocence, and insist that there is nothing which calls for more constant thanksgiving than their influence on mankind, but I will venture to say that no one quite knows what it is who has foregone the privilege of being the first to set before them the true meaning of life and birth, and the mystery of their own being. Not only do we fail to build up sound knowledge in them, but we put away from ourselves the chance of learning something that must be divine." [1] God help us, then, for ourselves, in our home, in the nation, and, above all, among the children, to secure that in the coming reign, and through the coming century, there may be a rainbow round about the throne.



[1] Rev. E. Lyttelton, "Training of the Young in Laws of Sex," pp. 16, 17, 109.



IV.

THE LAW OF KINDNESS.

"In her tongue is the law of kindness."—Prov. xxxi. 26.

We have reached our last lesson from the life and character of Queen Victoria. Some will be surprised that this lesson should have been kept for the last one, as the kindness and sympathy of the late Queen was a proverb among her people. But, if we come to think of it, it is far best to have kept it to the last. Mere kindness, apart from sincerity, apart from moral courage, without the rainbow of purity, counts low among the virtues. We have known kind people, have we not, who were weak, who were fickle, who were even treacherous, and there is a sad truth in that half-cynical statement that it is the province of the wise to remedy the mistakes of the good. But what captivated the whole Empire in the sympathy of Queen Victoria was its strength; that one so strong should be so kind; that one so fearless should have so much sympathy; that one whose moral standard was so high should be full of mercy and gentleness. It was that which gave a force to those many stories which came to us about the visits to the little lonely cottages in the Highlands; the telegrams to the women huddled by the pit-mouth in their misery; the letter to the mother of the young officer who had died for his country—what gave force to it all was its strength, the fact that it was no passing impulse, but the deep beating of a true mother's heart, that it was the outcome of character; and that, as is so beautifully said in this description of the virtuous woman in the Book of Proverbs: "In her tongue was the law of kindness." And when we turn from the pattern to the prototype—and never, for a moment, during Lent, can we afford to take our eyes off Jesus Christ Himself—when we turn from the Queen to the Saviour, in Whom she had so simple and so touching a faith, the first thing we find to our comfort is that He, too, felt the need of sympathy. Is there any picture in the whole of the New Testament more touching than that which shows us how He goes just before His greatest trial to seek sympathy from His followers, how He, the Head, the Leader, does not disdain to turn to the very followers who trusted in Him for sympathy? "Couldst thou not watch with Me one hour?" And the picture is so comforting, because it tells us that that craving for sympathy, which all of us feel at times, is a true human instinct, that there is nothing wrong in it, that one of the things that we can do for one another is to be like comrades on a night march, when one or another is stricken down, to stand over him, and be ready, at any moment, with the cup of sympathy to give him. And when Jesus goes to His own disciples to ask them for sympathy, it is a lesson that the need for sympathy is a true need, and the desire for it a true instinct of the human heart.

But, then, remember, the sympathy He looks for is the sympathy which He always gave, something as tender and gentle as the touch of a good surgeon's hand upon a wounded limb, but also something as strong, and as firm, and as helpful. Why sympathy gets discredited, why people speak of "a morbid craving for sympathy," is because so much sympathy is sympathy of the wrong sort. There is some sympathy which enervates instead of strengthening. It thinks of itself, it thinks of the happiness of having to itself the object of its sympathy, it seeks merely to soothe. But the true sympathy goes far beyond that; the true sympathy never thinks of itself at all. It is simply concentrated upon one thought—how can I, in this trial-time, when my brother or my sister is stricken down by my side, how can I nerve and strengthen him or her to rise to the glorious vocation to which God has called him or called her, to strengthen them to be what God would have them be? And that was the sympathy, was it not, that Christ gave perpetually. It was within Him like a spring working by law, a spring which had all the regularity, as well as the spontaneity, of some beautiful spring among the hills, and it was at the service of every sufferer that came to Him; but He never hurt people when He tried to comfort them, because He gave them the nerving and strengthening sympathy of love. And then, again, notice how constant it was with Him. He was never too tired to be kind. He might be disappointed forty-nine times, but the fiftieth time found Him perfectly ready still. Wake Him up from His sleep, and He is ready to do an act of mercy. Place Him, tired, by the well, and He is ready there to try and help a sinful soul. Let Him have a little quiet time far away but the multitude find Him out, and then sympathy for them is ready to spring to His lips, for "He had compassion on the multitude," we are told, and in His tongue was the law of kindness.

Therefore, among the virtues which we set ourselves to acquire during Lent, let us set ourselves, with the help of God, and by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to see if we cannot acquire in our characters, as part of them, this power of sympathy; and, as we test ourselves, one by one, by the laws which ought to govern our lives during these six weeks, let us test ourselves by that law which more than any other goes to the root of our characters—the law of kindness.

We ought to obey this law, first, in our own home lives; secondly, in our private charities; and, thirdly, in our public responsibilities. And, first of all, have we got such a perpetual spring of sympathy in our hearts ready for emergencies, ready for every sufferer, ready for every sinner who comes to us? Have we such a perpetual spring within us, ready and accessible for use in our home lives? It seems that the one thing a Christian should never be without is this spring of sympathy. "The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up to everlasting life." It is hard to see what good a Christian is doing in the world at all if this primary function of his Christianity is undischarged. If he fails in that, he is failing in his primary duty. This, then, is the first question I would press upon everyone, as I would press it upon myself: Have I at the disposal of the brother who needs me the sympathy he wants, and if not, of what use am I in the world? Think what some lives are in the home circle; all the other members of the family have to devote themselves to keeping some one in a good humour. The children are anxious lest the father or perhaps the mother should be ill-tempered to-day. This so-called Christian, with the primary duty of being loving, sympathetic, considerate, is a creature of moods; father is ill-tempered to-day, and the whole house is miserable; or mother, for some reason unexplained to the children of the family, for days together allows herself to be under a cloud of gloom. And you see in a family—who has not seen it?—an amount of restless, anxious, watching, to try and prevent the ill-temper creeping over this one whose temper is of such importance to the whole family circle. And do we not constantly see that most unjust tyranny which the ill-tempered or ill-controlled member of the family has over the rest? Is such a one seated among us in this church to-day? Let him go down on his knees, and pray to be forgiven for failing in the primary duty of life, the duty of being loving and sympathetic at home. There are many courteous enough and popular enough outside, who yet at home utterly break every day of their lives the law of kindness. Let us face it on our knees, if it is so, and pray to be forgiven. It is self that does it, that miserable self which stops and chokes, as it were, the spring from working. We are so anxious to have a little more credit or a little more comfort. And it is because our eyes are fixed upon ourselves that we do not see that wounded man in front of us, and do not hear his cry for aid. It is a first condition of having sympathy to have a heart "at leisure from itself to soothe and sympathize." There are some whose lives are confined to their home circle; some girl, perhaps, who longs to go outside, but is thought too young to work for others, and thus she can do nothing in her home that seems worthy of being done for her Saviour. I would say to such, what an aim to be in the home circle, the most unselfish girl there! What an inspiration to have brothers and sisters say what a brother that one is! what a sister that one is! he or she never fails us in our hour of need.

And then in our private charity, is not this the secret of the worthlessness of so much so-called charity that constantly we give not really to help the sufferer, but to save ourselves? That careless gift to the beggar in the street, or to someone who asks us for a gift—is it not constantly, not really to help that person, but to ease our own minds and consciences? It is really given to ourselves. No; what we must practise—and God knows it is hard enough in this crowded city and in this crowded life we live—what we must practise is getting down by our brother's side. We must save him from the temptation which is a curse to him; from the temptation to drink, it may be, that is ruining him. Get down by his character, look at him as Christ would look at him. What does he need? How can we help him, that poor wounded man brought across our path? We must try and give him, in the name of Christ, the very thing he needs, the character which he lacks.

And so, again, with our public responsibilities. There are three figures very prominently before our eyes just now. There is, first, the overcrowded dweller in our slums—poor men and women and boys and girls, dwelling as they do nine and ten and even more in a room—that room the only place for them to eat and sleep in. It is astonishing how good and pure the boys and girls come out of such homes; but there the evil is, and it is not getting better, it is getting worse; every year makes it worse. And as we face it what are we to do? I do sometimes think, my friends, you who come from comfortable homes, you who belong to the better class, and are going from this Church to beautiful homes of your own, do not realize what it is to those brothers and sisters of yours to have only one little room to live in, what immorality it must lead to, and does lead to, what terribly stunted frames among the children, and what stunted characters. We have been, some of us, for weeks past, considering, in conference, the great problem. One of the best experts, who has studied the question for years, has made up his mind that the most hopeful remedy is to have from the centre of our great city, to every part of the great circumference of London, underground and overground means of transit to whirl away from the centre to something which may be called home the poor people who work for us. Others are still in favour of building in the slums better buildings at a cheap rate, which, as a Conservative paper this week advocated, should be helped by the State. But the point is this: Whatever plan is fixed upon by the experts and those responsible, are we ready to rise to it? Does the law of kindness touch us in our municipal work? Are we prepared, as a great Christian city, to rise to the self-sacrifice which it involves? We believe that all these schemes eventually will pay, but undoubtedly at the first there may be a call upon the self-sacrifice of Londoners to carry them out. And I would ask you to put it to your consciences whether we should gauge the rates only according to their amount. We have to watch carefully whether our public money is wasted, we have to take our share in deciding what shall be done, but we have also to consider when we are called upon as Christian citizens, to pay a little more towards a well-considered scheme to cure one of the most terrible evils in our midst, whether the law of kindness does not bid us do so. Let us send this week on to our central Council—by whatever party name they call themselves—men who have the time and the brains, and, above all, the heart, to deal with these great problems.

Then we have before us prominently one we miscall the Hooligan. And we must freely admit when street ruffianism has reached a certain point, there is but one thing to do, and that is to bring in firmly and strongly the arm of the law. But can we as Christian citizens be content with the arm of the law? Is there no other arm, no other law that we are bound to try before these young lads grow up indeed ruffians who must be dealt with by the law? Are we so hopeless and helpless as to have no other power to bring in upon them? Can we not transform them as boys? Must we be content to transport them as men? And so on Friday there was inaugurated at the Mansion House a scheme for dealing with the roughest lads of our town in such a way as experience has shown does transform them from the possibility of becoming young ruffians into respectable and honest men; in other words, to apply to them in their youth the law of kindness, and so make it unnecessary to apply to them for their discipline the penalty for the breach of any other law throughout their lives. I ask you whether you as Christian citizens cannot rise to a great scheme like this to plant down in every little slum some place beside the public-house into which the lads so lovable and so full of good and so open to influence, if you will only take them in time, may come to in the evening to be trained and disciplined and taught, and so be changed that their lives may be more worthy of children of God. You cannot all personally help, but we shall be asking some of you young men to give up one evening a week and go and work these clubs. The older ones can give money; we want from you your personal help. Will you give it?

And lastly, we have to-day before us the untaught child. After all is said and done, these schemes for dealing with Hooligans would be unnecessary if we really had from the very beginning an efficient scheme for teaching the young Christian principles. You are asked today to give your alms to the National Society. It is a grand thing for us of the Church of England to think that we have given for the education of the people for the last eighty years more than 10,000 pounds a week. And yet the work is failing. In God's name, because we are interested in a new scheme, let us not forsake or starve the old. And a liberal contribution to the National Society is a true response to the law of kindness.

Let us take home, then, these four great lessons from the character of our late Queen—Truth in the inward parts, Moral courage throughout life, The rainbow of purity round the throne of the heart, and In the tongue the law of kindness. May God send them home to us and incorporate them into the national character, and then we shall have with us for years to come the after-glow of a great reign.

THE END

Home - Random Browse