The Life of Duty
A YEAR'S PLAIN SERMONS
GOSPELS OR EPISTLES.
TRINITY TO ADVENT.
H. J. WILMOT-BUXTON, M.A.,
VICAR OF S. GILES-IN-THE-WOOD, N. DEVON.
AUTHOR OF "SUNDAY SERMONETTES FOR A YEAR." "MISSION SERMONS." "THE LIFE WORTH LIVING AND OTHER PLAIN SERMONS." "THE CHILDREN'S BREAD A SERIES OF SHORT SERMONS FOR CHILDREN." "THE LORD'S SONG SERMONS ON HYMNS," ETC.
SKEFFINGTON & SON, PICCADILLY, W.,
PUBLISHERS TO H.M. THE QUEEN AND TO H.R.H. THE PRINCE OF WALES.
MY DEAR MOTHER,
MY EARLIEST AND BEST TEACHER AND GUIDE, THESE SERMONS ARE DEDICATED.
THE OPEN DOOR (Trinity Sunday) REV. iv. 1. "A door was opened in Heaven."
THE CONTRAST (First Sunday after Trinity) S. LUKE xvi. 19, 20. "There was a certain rich man, . . . and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus."
THE WAY OF LIFE (Second Sunday after Trinity) 1 JOHN iii. 14. "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren."
MAN'S LIFE HIS MONUMENT (Third Sunday after Trinity) 1 S. PETER v. 10. "The God of all grace . . . make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you."
THE BLESSING OF MERCY (Fourth Sunday after Trinity) S. LUKE vi. 36. "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful."
THE WORDS OF OUR LIPS (Fifth Sunday after Trinity) 1 S. PETER iii. 10. "For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile."
ALIVE UNTO GOD (Sixth Sunday after Trinity) ROMANS vi. 11. "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
SERVANTS OF SIN (Seventh Sunday after Trinity) ROMANS vi. 20. "The servants of sin."
KNOWN BY THEIR FRUITS (Eighth Sunday after Trinity) S. MATT. vii. 16. "Ye shall know them by their fruits."
RENDERING OUR ACCOUNT (Ninth Sunday after Trinity) S. LUKE xvi. 2. "Give an account of thy stewardship."
THE TEARS OF CHRIST (Tenth Sunday after Trinity) S. LUKE xix. 41. "He beheld the city, and wept over it."
THE GRACE OF GOD (Eleventh Sunday after Trinity) 1 Cor. xv. 10. "By the Grace of God I am what I am."
DEAF EARS AND STAMMERING TONGUES (Twelfth Sunday after Trinity) S. MARK vii. 37. "He hath done all things well. He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak."
THE GOOD SAMARITAN (Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity) S. LUKE x. 30. "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves."
WALKING WITH GOD (Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity) GALATIANS v. 16. "Walk in the Spirit."
THE PREACHING OF NATURE (Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity) S. MATT. vi. 28. "Consider the lilies of the field."
PAST KNOWLEDGE (Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity) EPHESIANS iii. 19. "To know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge."
THE PRISON-HOUSE (Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity) EPHESIANS iv. 1. "The prisoner of the Lord."
FIRM TO THE END (Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity) 1 COR. i. 8. "Who also shall confirm you unto the end."
SCHOLARS OF CHRIST (Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity) EPHESIANS iv. 20. "Ye have not so learned Christ."
WARY WALKING (Twentieth Sunday after Trinity) EPHESIANS v. 15. "See then that ye walk circumspectly."
STRONG CHRISTIANS (Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity) EPHESIANS vi. 10. "My brethren, be strong in the Lord."
THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS (Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity) S. MATTHEW xviii. 28. "Pay me that thou owest."
THE FREEDOM OF THE CITY (Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity) PHIL. iii. 20. "Our conversation is in Heaven."
THANKFUL SERVICE (Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity) COL. i. 12. "Giving thanks."
GATHERING THE FRAGMENTS (Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity) S. JOHN vi. 12. "Gather up the fragments that remain."
WHAT THE FLOWERS SAY (Children's Flower Service) PSALM ciii. 15. "As a flower of the field, so he flourisheth."
DAILY BREAD (Harvest Thanksgiving) PSALM lxv. 9. "Thou preparest them corn."
GOD'S JEWELS (Schools) MALACHI iii. 17. "They shall be Mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels."
MUTUAL HELP (Female Friendly Society) S. MARK iii. 35. "Whosoever shall do the Will of God, the same is My brother, and My sister, and My Mother."
THE OPEN DOOR.
REV. iv. 1.
"A door was opened in Heaven."
When Dante had written his immortal poems on Hell and Purgatory, the people of Italy used to shrink back from him with awe, and whisper, "see the man who has looked upon Hell." To-day we can in fancy look on the face of the beloved Apostle, who saw Heaven opened, and the things which shall be hereafter. We have summed up the great story of the Gospel, and have trodden the path of salvation from Bethlehem to Calvary. We have seen Jesus, the only Son of God, dying for our sins, and rising again for our justification, and ascending into Heaven to plead for us as our eternal great High Priest. We have heard of the coming of God the Holy Ghost, the gift of the Father, sent in the name of the Son. To-day, the Festival of the Blessed Trinity, Three Persons, yet one God, we are permitted to gaze for a moment through the open door, on the Home of God, yes, and the Home of God's people, who are redeemed with the Precious Blood of Christ.
Now, there are many people who never think of Heaven at all, and many who think of it in a wrong way. When we were baptised, the door was opened for us in Heaven, and Jesus said to us, "Behold, I set before you an open door." From that day we were permitted to look with the eye of faith upon those good things which pass man's understanding. But some of us would not look up. We were like travellers going along a muddy road on a starlight night, and who look down on the foul, dirty path, and never upwards to the bright sky above. My brother, turn your eyes from this world's dirty ways, look away from your selfish work, and your selfish pleasure, look up from the things which are seen and are temporal, from the fashion of this world which passeth away, and gaze through the open door of Revelation at the things which shall be hereafter. I said that many people never think of Heaven at all. These are they who love this world too well to think of the world to come, they are of the earth, earthy. "As is the earthy, such are they that are earthy, and as is the Heavenly, such also are they that are Heavenly."
I said, too, that many think of Heaven in a wrong way, as did the lady of fashion, who fancied Heaven would be like the London season, only better, as there would be no disagreeable people. Now, if we are to think rightly of Heaven, we must do as S. John did. He heard a voice saying, "Come up hither, and I will show the things which shall be hereafter. And immediately he was in the Spirit." We must ask for the Holy Spirit to lift our hearts and minds to Heaven; we must try to go up higher in our thoughts, words, and works; we must try to get above the world, above ourselves, so shall we be able to look, though with bowed head and shaded eyes, through the open door. Let us reverently do so now, and see what we can learn of the things which shall be hereafter. First, I think we learn that Heaven and earth are not, as some people fancy, two very different places, very far apart. The Church of Christ is one family, bound together by one faith, one Baptism, one hope, acknowledging one God and Father of us all. This family has one Home; here in earth it dwells in a lower chamber, after death it passes into a higher room of God's great House. The Apostle, speaking of the Church, says, "Ye are come, (not ye will come,) unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn which are written in Heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel."
In a word, our Heavenly life should commence when we are baptised, day by day ought we to grow in grace, and when we have grown sufficiently, God takes us to the upper Room above. It is this mistake of separating Heaven and earth which makes people careless of their lives. If you want to dwell with God through all eternity, you must walk humbly with God all the days of your earthly life. Look again through the open door, and learn that in Heaven God is the central figure. So, if we are living here as Christ's people, God will be the central figure in our life, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of all our work, our wish, our plan. My brothers, if you feel that with you self is the chief object in your existence, be sure that you are not living the Heavenly life. You have put yourself in the place of God.
Again, as we look through the open door, we see the intense beauty of the Heavenly life. We see gates of pearl, and a throne on which sits one like a jasper and a sardine stone, and the rainbow round about the throne is in sight like unto an emerald. In all ages precious stones have been objects of the greatest value. We are told that Julius Caesar paid a hundred and twenty-five thousand crowns for one pearl, and monarchs have boasted of possessing a diamond of priceless value. You remember that God says of His redeemed ones, "they shall be Mine in that day that I make up My jewels." Well, I think we hear so much of precious stones in the description of Heaven, that we may learn that its great glory and beauty consists in the holiness of those who dwell there. They are the pure and precious pearls which build up the foundation, and they get their brightness from God, who sits enthroned among them, and who is to look upon as a jasper and a sardine stone. And these precious stones are of different colours, as they reflect the light from a different point. So is it with the people of God, they reflect the light from the face of God in various ways, and so have various virtues. One shines with fiery zeal, like the red ruby. Another glitters with the soft beauty of a humble spirit, like the pearl, whilst yet another sparkles with many graces, like the parti-coloured flashes of the diamond. Some lives which here are obscure and neglected, like the precious gem at the bottom of the ocean, shall one day glitter in Heaven, and be among the jewels of the Master.
Ah! my brothers, are our lives such that we can ever hope to adore God's jewel-house above? Can these poor dull characters of ours ever shine as the stars for ever and ever? Think, what makes a gem flash and sparkle? Light. Well, then, let us walk as the children of light, let us look up, and catch the radiance from the face of Jesus, and reflect it in our lives; then will our light shine here before men, and one day shine yet brighter as we draw nearer to the source of all light. And think again that often the brightest and fairest forms come from the least likely materials. Of the same mould are the black coal, and the glittering diamond. The unsightly slag which is thrown away from the iron furnace forms beautiful crystals, and the very mud under foot can, as men of science tell us, be turned into gleaming metal, and sparkling gem. The fair colours which dye our clothing can be formed from defiling pitch, and some of the most exquisite perfumes are distilled from the foulest substances. My brother, the same God who brings beauty out of ugliness, and fair purity from corruption, can so change our vile nature, and our vile body, that they may be made like unto Him. The work of the Blessed Trinity, of the Creator, the Saviour, the Sanctifier, is day by day operating on the children of God, and making all things new in them. And remember that work is gradual. A man can make a sham diamond in a very short time, a real gem must lie for ages buried in the earth. So, if we are really and truly God's people, we must grow gradually, and bear all the cutting and polishing which God sees right, before we are fit for the royal treasury.
The same Divine Hand which changed Mary Magdalene to a loving penitent, and the dying thief to a trusting disciple, and lifted Augustine from the foul grave of lust to be a pillar of the Church, can likewise change us, and make us to shine with the light of a stone most precious. Once again, as we gaze through the open door, we hear of music in Heaven. Those who have wrong ideas of the life to come seem to imagine that the Heavenly existence consists in minstrelsy and nothing else. Surely the song of the redeemed, and the music of the golden harps, are a type of the perfect harmony of Heaven. This life is often full of discords, the life to come is perfectly in tune. Here on earth our lives are very like musical instruments. One plays nothing but dirges of sorrow and discontent. Another life is made up of frivolous dance music; another is hideous with the discord of "sweet bells jangled, out of tune, and harsh." The life to come is one of perfect harmony, for each servant will be in complete accord with the Master's will and pleasure. And I think the vision of those who play upon their harps, and sing their song before the throne, show us that the life to come is one of occupation. There will be, doubtless, growth, progress, experience, work in Heaven. But there we shall be able to do what we so seldom do here—all to the glory of God. Here we work so selfishly, there all work is worship. Here we struggle for the crown that we may wear it, there they cast down their crowns before the Throne of God. When we speak of resting from our labours after death, and being at peace, we cannot mean, we dare not hope, that we shall be idle. When a famous man of science died, his friends said one to another, "how busy he will be!" We are bidden to be workers together with God, and we may believe that He has new and higher tasks for us all, when we shall have passed through that door in Heaven which Jesus has opened for all believers.
(First Sunday after Trinity.)
S. LUKE xvi. 19, 20.
"There was a certain rich man, . . . and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus."
What was the rich man's sin? We are not told that he had committed any crime. He is not described as an extortioner or unjust. There is no word about his having been an adulterer, or a thief, or an unbeliever, or a Sabbath breaker. Surely there was no sin in his being rich, or wearing costly clothes if he could afford it. Certainly not: it is not money, but the love of money, which is the root of all evil. The sin of Dives is the sin of hundreds to-day. He lived for himself alone, and he lived only for this world. He had sunk all his capital in his gold and silver, and purple and fine linen. He had no treasure laid up in Heaven. So when the moth and rust had done their work, and death had broken through like a thief and stolen all his earthly goods, he had nothing left. This parable is full of sharp contrasts. First, there is the contrast in the life of these two men. The one rich, the other a beggar. The one clothed in purple and fine linen, the other almost naked, and covered with sores. The one fared sumptuously every day, the other lay at the gate starving, and longing for the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. The one had friends and acquaintances who ate of his meat and drank of his cup, the other was "a pauper whom nobody owns," and the dogs were his only earthly comforters. The rich man had great possessions, yet one thing he lacked, and that was the one thing needful. He had the good things of this life, yet he had not chosen the good part which could not be taken away from him. He had gold and silver, purple and fine linen, but he was without God in the world. Lazarus, the beggar, was after all the truly rich man, "as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." Next, there is a contrast in the death of these two men. One expired in a luxurious bed. No doubt there were learned physicians beside him, and perhaps friends and relatives, though, as a rule, selfish people have few true friends. The other died we know not where, perhaps in the hot dusty road at the rich man's gate. There were no doctors to minister to his wants, no kindly hands to sooth his burning brow, to moisten his parched lips, to close his glazing eyes. But the angels of God were about his bed, and about his path, and in their hands they bore him up, whom no man on earth had loved or cared for. And there is a contrast in the after time for these two men. The rich man was buried, doubtless, with great pomp. Some of us have seen such funerals. What extravagance and display take the place of reverent resignation and quiet grief! Of the beggar's burial place we know nothing. But the sharpest contrast of all is in the world beyond, from which for a moment Jesus draws back the veil. He who had pampered his body and neglected his soul is now in torment; he who never listened to the whisper of his conscience, is forced to hearken to its reproaches now; he who had great possessions is worse off than a beggar—he had gained the whole world and lost his own soul. And worst of all, he sees Paradise afar off, and Lazarus resting there, where he may never come. That beggar whom he had despised and neglected, to whose wants he had never ministered, is comforted now, and the rich man is tormented.
Oh! awful contrast! Dives in his misery of despair looks up, and for a moment sees—
"The Heavenly City, Built of bright and burnished gold, Lying in transcendent beauty, Stored with treasures all untold.
There he saw the meadows dewy Spread with lilies wondrous fair— Thousand thousand were the colours Of the waving flowers there.
There were forests ever blooming, Like our orchards here in May; There were gardens never fading, Which eternally are gay."
Saddest of all fates indeed must it be to gaze on Heaven and to live in Hell. Then Dives remembers his brethren in the world, who are living the old life which he lived in the flesh, spending his money perhaps; and, still selfish after death as before, he asks that the beggar may be sent from his rest and peace to warn them. The answer comes that they, like Dives himself, have Moses and the Prophets to teach them, if they neglect them nothing can avail them. And so the curtain drops over this dreadful scene. Let us, brethren, hearken to some of the lessons which come to us with a solemn sound from the world beyond the grave. In the first place, let us learn that being respectable is not a passport to Heaven. No doubt the rich man of the parable was very respectable. If he had lived in these days, and there are many of his family with us now, he would have worn glossy broadcloth instead of purple, and have held a responsible position in his town and parish. He would have gone to church sometimes, and have been very severe with the outcasts of the gutter and the back slums. And yet we find that all this outward respectability, these salutations in the market place, were no passport to Heaven. The man lived for himself—he was a lover of himself. He had no love for his brother whom he had seen, ay, every day, lying at his gate; and so he could have no love for God whom he had not seen. The sin of Dives, remember, was not that he was rich, it was that he was utterly selfish and worldly. A poor man may be just as sinful. The man who makes a god of his body and its pleasures, the man who makes a god of his work or his science, or of anything save the Lord God Almighty, the man who lives for himself and does nothing for the good of others, be he rich or poor, is in the same class with Dives in the parable. Next, there comes a thought of comfort from the story of the beggar Lazarus. There was no virtue in his being poor—but he loved his God, and he bore his sorrows patiently, and verily he had his reward. Jesus tells us that blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted; that all who have borne hunger and thirst, and persecution, or loss of friends for His sake, shall hereafter have a great reward. You, my brethren, who are any ways afflicted or distressed, who have to bear sickness or poverty, who have few friends and few prospects in this world, and yet are patient, and trustful, and believing, look beyond the veil, and be sure that there, if not here, you shall have your good things—such good things as pass man's understanding.
Again, we learn that death does not deprive us of memory. One of old said wisely that they who cross the sea change their sky, but not their mind, and that no exile ever yet fled from himself; and even after we have exchanged this world for the unseen world to come, we do not escape ourselves, our thoughts and memories are with us. The rich man was bidden to remember his past life. It must have been a terrible picture as seen in the clear understanding of the spirit world. Once his life had appeared pleasant enough, harmless enough; now Dives saw it in its true colour, and understood the selfishness, the worldliness, the godlessness which had ruined his soul. He saw all the mistakes which he had made, and felt the terrible conviction that it was too late to repair them. "Four things," says the Eastern sage, "come not back again: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity."
My brothers, what fate can be more awful than that of having to look back upon a wasted life through all eternity? God has committed to you a precious trust in the life you have. Your position, your wealth, or poverty are nothing, whatever your life is it must be consecrated to God. You must live for Him, and by Him, and walk in the way of His commandments, if you are to be with Him through eternity. You can make your own choice: God or mammon, this world, or the world to come are before you, but both you cannot have. If you make your Heaven out of the world's materials, you cannot expect to find it again beyond the grave. Lastly, let us learn that the means of grace which we have are sufficient for our salvation. The brothers of the rich man had Moses and the Prophets, and further help was denied them. We have in God's Church, and Sacraments, in God's Word, and in Prayer, the means of drawing near to our Saviour, and saving our soul alive. We must not ask for some new revelation, some fresh Gospel, some sign or miracle. If we use not the means given us, neither shall we be persuaded though one rose from the dead. It is sometimes the fashion in these days to sneer at the preacher, or to listen with a polite contempt. God grant that those "who come to scoff, may remain to pray."
THE WAY OF LIFE.
(Second Sunday after Trinity.)
1 JOHN iii. 14.
"We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren."
The writings of S. John the Evangelist breathe forth love as a flower garden does sweetness. Here lies the secret of S. John's title, "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Love begets love, and the disciple was so near to the heart of his Master because he loved much. When the text was written he was a very old man, and Bishop of Ephesus. It was in that fair and famous city that men worshipped the goddess Diana, of the Ephesians, in a temple which was ranked among the seven wonders of the world. In the olden days there had been another temple to the goddess, which was burnt on the night when Alexander the Great was born. Two hundred and twenty years was the new temple in building, and each of its columns was the gift of a prince. All that the art of Greece could give was lavished upon the building. The hand of Praxiteles carved the altar, the magic pencil of Apelles adorned its walls with a picture of Alexander. Ephesus was also famous for its magic arts; and when the people had been turned to Christ by the preaching of S. Paul, they brought their books of conjuring and curious arts and burned them before him. Now the grass grows rank among the broken columns and few stones which mark the ruins of what was Ephesus.
It was in such a city, then in its full pride and beauty, that S. John, the aged, spent the last days of his long life. S. Jerome tells us how the old Bishop was almost too feeble to be carried into the church, where now was worshipped the true God; and how his trembling lips could only fashion the same words over and over again: "My little children, love one another." His hearers growing weary of this one text, asked S. John why he was ever repeating it, and the old man answered, "Because it is the teaching of the Lord; and if this alone be observed, it is sufficient." To be as little children, and to love one another, such is the whole duty of man. S. John had lived a long life, and had seen men and cities, and the one lesson which he had learnt above all others is that which he teaches above all others—love. I think, brothers, we can picture the old white-haired Bishop of Ephesus, borne day after day upon a litter into his church, and ever saying the same tender words, "little children, love one another." What a retrospect there was for S. John to look back along that stretch of years! What memories must have filled the old man's heart of those days when he was a sunny-haired stripling, working with his brothers in the fishing boat, and casting net, and pulling oar over the bright waters of Gennesareth. What memories must have come of that Gracious Presence which one day appeared among the fisher folks, and opened a new world and a new life to S. John and his companions. How every word and act of Him, who spake as never man spake, and went about doing good, must have been engraved on the memory of the beloved disciple! He had doubtless heard words spoken which no other ear had heard; he who was nearest to the heart of Jesus, must have listened to mysteries which the rest could not hear. Day by day as the old Bishop lies in the dim religious light of the minster, he looks back and sees, as in a vision, the story of the vanished years. What sees he? He looks in memory upon a marriage feast, far away in Cana of Galilee. He sees the giver of the feast anxious and troubled. The wine is exhausted. He hears the Master give the answer to the Virgin Mother's request, and His command to the servants. He recalls the astonishment of all present when "the conscious water saw its God, and blushed;" and he learns from that first miracle of the Master a lesson of love. Many another loving act of mercy comes back to his memory. He seems to see once more the impotent man, lying sadly at the pool of Bethesda. Again he looks on the multitude thronging the mountain by the Lake of Galilee; and in the broken bread which feeds the crowd, S. John sees a lesson of love. Once more he looks upon the trembling, sinful, sorrowful woman, whom the Jewish rulers drag to condemnation. Once more he sees the Master's hand-writing upon the ground, and hears this gentle sentence, "Go, and sin no more." Once more he hears the wondrous lessons of the Light of the World, and the True Vine, and the Good Shepherd, which his own hand had written from the Master's mouth. Once more he seems to stand beside the grave of dead Lazarus, and as he sees the dead alive again, he learns another lesson of love, and whispers, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." After all that lapse of ages, the old man seems to see the sparkle of Mary's tears, and to smell the perfume of her precious gift.
Then, too, there comes the memory of Palm Sunday, with its glad procession, its waving branches, its joyful shouts, in which S. John, then young and vigorous, had delighted to take part. Then the beginning of sorrow, the days of wonder, and of terror, and of gloom, begin to darken round the old man's sight. The night comes back to him when the dear Hands of Jesus washed his feet, and when, at that sad and solemn parting feast, he had lain close to the loving Heart of the Master. Once more he sees Judas go forth on his dark errand; once more he sees the gloomy shadows of Gethsemane, and hears the clash of arms as the soldiers enter, Then all the confusion and horror of that dreadful night come back to him. He hears S. Peter's denial, and marks his bitter tears. Presently he seems to stand again beneath the Cross, amid the awful gloom of Calvary, and anon he is leading the Virgin Mother tenderly to his own home. She has been buried long since in that very city of Ephesus, but the old days come back to him. He is running once more, young, and lithe, and active, to the garden sepulchre, and outrunning the older S. Peter. And in all these visions of the past, S. John sees one lesson—love, the love of Jesus teaching men to love each other. Still the beloved Apostle looks back along the ages, and thinks of that scene on the Mount, when Jesus ascended up, and appeared for the last time to nearly all eyes but his. He was to see the Master again, though in a very different place, and under widely different circumstances. Now his thoughts fly to the lonely, rock-bound isle of Patmos, whither the Roman tyrant had banished him. How often he had watched the sun rise and set in the purple sea; how often in his cavern cell he had pondered over the Master's teaching, and the lesson of love. And one day he saw a light brighter than the sun, and a door was opened in Heaven. S. John seemed to be no longer in lonely Patmos, but amid a great multitude which no man can number, with whom he was treading the shining streets of the Heavenly city. His eyes looked on the gates of pearl, and the sea of glass, he listened to the song of the elders and the angels, and he beheld the things which shall be hereafter. Once more he looked upon the Master's Face, and beheld the King in His beauty. And remembering these things, the old man murmurs to the crowd, "Little children, love one another. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." From death unto life! It is a strange expression! We all know of the passage from life unto death. We have all seen the loosening of the silver cord, and the breaking of the golden bowl. We have all marked the fading cheek, the shrinking limbs, the glazing eye, which mark the passage from life unto death. But that other change from death unto life cannot be seen, it is the invisible work of the Holy Spirit. Yet S. John says, we know that we have passed from death unto life. How? By our fruits. If the love of God is in our hearts, if we have passed from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness, if we are risen with Christ, if, in a word, we are truly Christian people, we shall show it by our love for our brethren. If we are selfish in our religion, trying to get all good things for ourselves, and caring nothing for others; if we pray only for ourselves, if we work only for ourselves, if we live only for ourselves, if we see others in want, yet shut up our compassion, how dwelleth the love of God in us? Away with such self-deception, my brothers, if any one of us seems to be religious, and yet stretches out no helping hand to his brother, that man's religion is vain. When we see a fellow man fallen among thieves, and lying by the wayside of life, what do we do? Do we pass by on the other side, without a thought or care, like the Priest? Or do we look on our fallen brother with curiosity, and leave him to his fate, like the Levite? Or do we give him a helping hand, pouring in the wine and oil of kind words, and gentle ministry, binding up the hurts which a cruel world has given him?
My brethren, how many Good Samaritans are there among us? Our brothers lie wounded along life's highway in crowds. There are feeble folk who were never strong enough for the hard life battle; there are brave men who have fought, and failed; there are some crushed down by hard times, others who have "fallen on evil days and evil tongues;" some who were wounded by the stoning of harsh judgment and cruel sneers. Some have lost their health, others their money; some their faith, and others their friends. Sirs, we be brethren, shall we run from our neighbour because he is in trouble, as rats run from a falling house? Shall we turn away from a brother because the world speaks hardly of him? Shall we be ashamed of a man because he is unfortunate? Oh! if you would ever rest where S. John rested, on the bosom of Jesus, learn his lessons of love. Look around you and see if there is no Lazarus laid at your gate whom you may feed; no struggling toiler in the back street whom you may help to work; no sick sufferer whose couch you may make more easy; no broken heart which you may comfort. "Dwell in the land, and be doing good."
"If time be heavy on your hands, Are there no beggars at your gate, Nor any poor about your lands? Oh! teach the orphan boy to read Or teach the orphan girl to sew."
And you who are busy and cumbered with much serving, may find a thousand ways, in the midst of your active work, of showing your love to your brethren. Be unselfish, be gentle, be courteous, be pitiful. Never say a word which may wound another; never turn away when you can help a neighbour; never ask with the sneer of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?" "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren."
MAN'S LIFE HIS MONUMENT.
(Third Sunday after Trinity.)
1 S. PETER v. 10.
"The God of all grace . . . make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you."
Among the many monuments and epitaphs in S. Paul's Cathedral, there is a simple tablet to the memory of him who built it, and on the stone are engraved the words in Latin, "if you seek his monument, look around you!" And as you gaze upon the grandeur and beauty of the vast Cathedral, you feel that indeed the work of the architect is his best monument. He needs no sculptured tomb, no gorgeous trappings, no fulsome epitaph, to keep his memory green. The cunning hand has mouldered away this many a year, and the busy brain is still, as far as this world is concerned, but the work remains, and the builder cannot be forgotten. Now, this world is full of monuments raised by good and bad, some monuments of glory, others of shame. There have been monuments of human pride, like the tower of Babel, and the great city of Nebuchadnezzar, and God who resisteth the proud, has laid them even with the dust. There have been monuments of human wickedness, like Sodom, and like Pompeii, and God, who hateth sin, has buried them beneath the fiery tempest of His wrath. There have been monuments of human obstinacy and impenitence, like the deserted Temple of the Jews, where once God delighted to put His Name, and to receive worship. And again, the world is full of the monuments of the great, the gifted, and the good. We need not go farther than our own chief city, and its Churches. There we see carved in stone and marble the glories of Poet and Painter, King and Priest, Statesman and Warrior. But after all, my brothers, these are not the true monuments of these men. The stately Abbey may one day fall to ruin, the hand of violence may break and scatter those costly tombs, but the memory of those who sleep there cannot die, their lives are their true monuments. Shakespeare's tomb may perish, but Hamlet will live for ever. And men will honour Nelson by the memory of Trafalgar, and Wellington by the thought of Waterloo, though they may not recall one stone upon their sepulchres.
My brothers, when we die no one will raise a grand memorial over us; they will not carve our story upon marble tombs. And yet, I tell you, we shall have our monument, we have it now, and we are building it ourselves each day we live.
Yes, our life and our works are our monument, and it lasts for eternity. The good life stands like a fair carved memorial of white marble. The evil life stands too, like Lot's wife turned to a pillar of salt, a monument of sin and disobedience.
"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever; Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness."
And this is specially true of the beauty of holiness. The palace of Caesar, the ivory house of Ahab, the gorgeous home of Pilate, have perished, but the loving tenderness of Ruth, the sweet ministry of Mary, and the holy affection of S. John, stand as monuments before God which shall never perish or decay. Never mind, my brothers, what sort of tomb they give us, never mind what epitaph they write upon it, they cannot know the truth. But let us try so to live near to Christ that our life may be a monument of His love and pardoning grace, and of our poor endeavour to do right. If we want to make our life a good monument, we must ask God to help us in raising it. "Unless the Lord build the house their labour is but lost that build it." Each one of us needs the prayer of S. Peter in my text, "The God of all grace make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you." Yes, we must be stablished and settled, that is, we must have a good foundation to build on. We must raise our monument on the foundation of a firm, trusting, humble faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. On that basis we must strive each day to build the life of duty, by just doing what God puts before us with all our might. It matters not what our rank in life may be, whether we are princes or farm labourers, merchants or petty traders, artizans or cabinet ministers, officers in high command, or soldiers of the rank and file, one thing has to be done by all—our duty, in that state of life where God has placed us. Every piece of earnest work well done adds a something to our monument. No matter whether it be the building of a cathedral or a log hut, whether it be the making of a poem, or the making of a pair of boots, work well done leaves its mark, and builds our monument.
My brothers, we must not expect to find the life of duty always easy, or the narrow way strewn with roses. But it is not for us to ask whether a thing is pleasant, it is enough for us to know that it is right. The Duke of Wellington once sent this message to his troops, "Cindad Rodrigo must be taken to-night." And the answer of those troops was not to ask of the danger, or the difficulty of the task, but simply to say, "then we will do it." So when God puts our duty before us, we must not stay to ask if we like the work or no, but simply make answer, "then, by God's grace, we will do it." Come what may, let us do our duty. When the battle of the Alma was being fought, a message was brought to a general that the guards were falling fast before the enemy's fire, and suggesting that they should retire under shelter. And the general answered that it would be better that every man of the brigade of guards should fall, rather than that they should retire from the enemy.
Whatever hardship, sorrow, loss or trial it may please God to send us, let nothing turn us back from the path of duty. Remember, by our actions we are raising a monument which will last for ever, when every memorial of brass or marble has crumbled into dust. Every act of brave self-sacrifice adds a something to our monument. Some time ago a ship was wrecked upon the rocks within sight of shore. The captain ordered the crew to save themselves, whilst he kept his place on the deck. When all the men had gone, there crept forth trembling from his hiding-place a boy, a waif and stray of the streets, who had concealed himself on board as a stowaway. The boy begged the captain to save him. Looking across the wild water that lay between him and the shore, the captain muttered, "I can swim as far as that," and then unfastening the life-belt which he wore, he fixed it on the stowaway. Both sailor and child entered the waves, and the stowaway was kept afloat by the life-belt, and safely carried ashore. But the brave man who had saved him never reached land alive. Well says the writer of this true story, "words would be wasted in saying more of the perfect humanity, and noble self-forgetfulness of a man, who gave up his best chance of life without hesitation, 'for one of the least of these little ones' who stood helpless by his side, when man and boy were in the immediate presence of death. That captain unlashing his life-belt, with two miles of white water between himself and the shore, to tie it upon the little boy who had stolen a passage with him, is a figure which tells us with new and noble force, that manhood is stronger than storm, and love mightier than death." And it is not only such sublime acts of self-sacrifice as this which are acceptable to God. To live for others is sometimes as hard as to die for them. The patient nurse, the gentle sister of mercy, the humble priest, unknown outside his own parish, these, and thank God there are many such, have a place and a monument in God's great House of many mansions. It has been said that "the world knows nothing of its greatest men," and some of the best, and purest, and most unselfish souls live unknown, and die neglected, but they have their reward. The world gave them no monument, but God looks on the fair memorial of an unselfish life. Let this thought be ever before us, we are building, raising our monument, for eternity. The Turks carefully collect every scrap of paper which they find, because the Name of God may be written upon it. We ought to use every scrap of time to good purpose because it belongs to God, and we have to employ it for eternity. I have said that every honest work well done leaves its mark, and builds our monument. Never then be ashamed of your work, my brothers, however humble, if it be done well and rightly. If your calling be lowly, try to raise it and ennoble it by being strictly honest and faithful in following it. Never be ashamed of the source from which you spring, only be ashamed of doing wrong. If you were to visit the old city of Mayence, you would notice that for its coat of arms the city bears a white cartwheel. For many a century it has borne these arms, and their origin is this. Long ago, an Archbishop of Mayence was chosen for his piety and learning, but many remembered him as the wheelwright's son, who had once worked at his father's trade. As the Archbishop passed in stately procession to the Cathedral, some jeered him, and one jester had chalked white cartwheels on all the walls on either side of the procession. When the Archbishop was enthroned in the Cathedral, he saw, hanging above his head, a shield which was to bear his arms. The Archbishop was told that he might choose what blazonry he liked, and he at once ordered a painter to decorate the shield with a white cartwheel, that amid the great and noble people around him, he might never forget whence he sprang. After his death, the people of Mayence adopted his arms as those of the city, in memory of the wise and holy rule of the wheelwright's son.
And there are other monuments which are built up in the home circle, and by the fireside. The good wife and mother, be she high or low, who fills the home with the sweet-smelling savour of holiness and love, precious in the Lord's sight as Mary's ointment; who leads her children in the right way, by the gentle ministry of a good example; who is alike cheerful and resigned in bright days and dark, "making a sunshine in a shady place," such an one has a monument fair and stately, on which God's own finger writes, "She hath done what she could."
THE BLESSING OF MERCY,
(Fourth Sunday after Trinity.)
S. LUKE vi. 36.
"Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful."
"Mercy" is the one great cry of human nature. We dare not ask for justice, we can only plead for mercy. David, after his great sins, could utter nothing but the mournful cry, the model for all penitent sinners, "Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness." The publican standing afar off, and looking at his faults, and not at his virtues, offers the pattern prayer for all men, "Lord, be merciful to me a sinner." The blind man by the wayside, the leper filled with loathsome disease, speak in the same strain, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy upon us." And so now from ten thousand altars, from bedsides wet with tears, from stately mansion and humble cottage, there rises one cry to Heaven, "O Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us." And we know to our comfort that "to the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against Him."
But there is something more to think of beside our need of mercy. We, who want so much mercy from God, must learn to show mercy to our fellow men. We are bidden to be merciful, even as our Father is merciful. We are all ready enough to talk of the mercies and lovingkindnesses of God to us and to all men, but what mercy, what lovingkindness, do we show to our brethren here in the world? And yet an exceeding bitter cry is being heard amongst us. The poor cry to the rich, the starving to the well fed, the sorrowful to the prosperous, the weak to the strong. All along life's highway lie those who have fallen among thieves, who are wounded and stripped, who are friendless and fallen, and they cry not only to God, but to man for mercy. Think, my brothers, you who have this world's good, how often have you answered the cry? Have you ever stayed by the fallen traveller when others passed by; have you ever poured in the wine of help, and the soothing oil of sympathy; have you ever tried to bind up the wounds of one injured by the cruel tongues of this hard world? Or did you pass by with the crowd on the other side, saying how sad a sight it was, but still no affair of yours?
O brethren, for whom Christ died, for whose sake He went about with sad eyes, and weary feet, seeking to save the lost, how can we look to Him for mercy if we never show mercy, how can we ask forgiveness unless we forgive? The earthly life of Jesus is, in every respect, the model for our life. He came to seek and to save, to search for the lost sheep, to call home the prodigals, to bind up the broken-hearted, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, to assist the weary and heavy-laden to find rest. As Christ's disciples, we are bidden in a humbler way to go and do likewise. This world is full of sorrow and sickness, doubt and anxiety. All around us there are brethren with broken fortunes, or breaking hearts; there are those whose house is left unto them desolate, and over whose threshold has fallen the shadow of death. There are prodigals who only need a kind word to bring them home, wandering sheep who only want a loving hand to turn them back to the fold. And God bids us do what we can to help these our brethren, saying that inasmuch as we have done it unto the least of them, we have done it unto Him. We are all fellow-pilgrims through this world, and we must help one another. We are all dwelling in a world of sorrow and sin, and we must strengthen each other to bear their troubles. "We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." Even "the dumb, driven cattle" have their share of suffering, and look at us with beseeching eyes, asking for mercy. And if we refuse mercy to them, our humbler brethren, or if we refuse it to our fellow men, how dare we look for mercy on the day of Christ's appearing? We are distinctly told that as we do unto others, so shall it be done unto us. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged. Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned. Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured unto you again."
Let us think, then, of some of the ways in which we can show mercy. First, we must shew mercy and lovingkindness practically, by deeds, not words. To cry over a starving man, and to leave him to starve, is of no use. To sigh over the sins and miseries of our fellow men, without trying to mend them, is mere waste of time. Practical mercy and kindness can be shown in a thousand different ways. Try to make the lives of others happy. We are always seeking our own happiness, let us try rather to make the lives of others brighter, helping our neighbour, and happiness will come to us. We often see people who are neglected and uncared for in life, and when they die men scatter flowers upon their coffin, and write their praises on their tomb.
My brethren, let us not keep our flowers for our neighbour's coffin, but send them to him now, to brighten and bless his life. Mary did not reserve her alabaster box of perfume till her Lord was dead, she filled the whole house with sweetness where the living Jesus was. Let us do likewise. If we have an alabaster box of love and tenderness, let us not keep it sealed till our friends are dead. Pour forth the sweetness of loving words and kindly thoughts now, make their lives happy, you cannot "charm the dull, cold ear of death" with your praises. When we die we have done with the troubles of this world, and its flowers, and its pleasant things concern us not. But now that we are alive, and have to bear many hours of suffering and sorrow, kind, loving words, and the touch of gentle hands, and the help of strong arms, cheer and strengthen us like the sight of flowers, or the perfume of Mary's gift. Scatter your choicest blossoms upon men's lives, instead of on their coffins. Blessed are they whose lives are like the violets, making the homes and lives of others sweet and fragrant.
"There be fair violet lives that bloom unseen In dewy shade, unvext by any care; And they who live them wear the flower-like face Of simple pureness, which, amid the crowd Of haggard brows, strikes like a sweet perfume Upon the jaded sense."
This world would be far more like Paradise, and less like the howling wilderness which it is to so many, if men would show love and mercy to their fellow men. Nothing opens the heart to angels' visits, and shuts them against the attacks of Satan, like love. Truly it has been said, "the heart of him who loves, is a Paradise on earth; he hath God in himself, for God is love."
We are sent into the world to make each other happy, by showing mercy and kindness. "Some men move through life as a band of music moves down a street, flinging out pleasure on every side through the air, to every one, far and near, who can listen. Some men fill the air with their presence and sweetness, as orchards in October days fill the air with perfume of ripe fruit. Some women cling to their own homes like the honeysuckle over the door, yet, like it, sweeten all the region with the subtle fragrance of their goodness. There are trees of righteousness which are ever dropping precious fruit around them." Blessed are those lives which make others better and happier, purer, and stronger, verily they have their reward.
Again, we can show mercy by forgiving those who injure us. Few things are more talked of, and less practised, than the duty of forgiveness. This world is darkened by the stinging hail of spite, and vindictive bitterness, just because people who have been wronged by others will not be reconciled, will not forgive. If you believe in prayer, you ask God for pardon every day, but is not that something like mockery, if you from your hearts do not forgive another's trespasses? And remember also that forgiveness does not mean merely abstaining from injuring one who has wronged us. We must try to do such an one good if we can. Once, after a great battle, an English officer, accompanied by his orderly, was examining the wounded on the field. He came to one of the enemy who was badly hurt. "Give him a drink of water," said the officer. As he turned aside, the wounded man raised his rifle and fired at the officer, the bullet just missing him. "Give him the water all the same," was the order of the brave man who knew how to forgive.
Time would fail me to speak of the many ways in which we may show mercy. Kind judgment of another's motives, patient bearing with another's temper, gentle sympathy with another's weakness, noble self-sacrifice for another's good, all these are signs of the life of mercy. Let me tell you, in ending, that mercy ever brings its sweet reward. Each act of lovingkindness comes back to us with abundant interest. "Good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over."
Once, a farmer, out on the Western Prairies of America, started for a distant town, to receive some money due to him. As he left his house, his only child, a little girl, clung lovingly to him, and reminded him of his promise to bring her home a present. Late on the same night the farmer left the town on his way home. The night was very dark and stormy, and he was yet far from his home, and in the wildest part of the road, when he heard the cry of a child. The farmer thought that it might be the device of some robber, as he was known to carry money with him. He was weary and wet with his journey, and inclined to hasten on, but again the cry reached him. The farmer determined that whatever happened he must search for the child, if child there were. Groping in the darkness, at last he found a little figure, drenched with rain, and shivering with cold. Wrapping his cloak about the child, he rode homewards as fast as possible, but when he reached his house, he found it full of neighbours, standing round his weeping wife. One said to another, "do not tell him, it will drive him mad." Then, the farmer set down his bundle, and his wife with a cry of joy saw that it was their own lost child. The little one had set forth to meet her father, and had missed her way. The man had, without knowing it, saved his own daughter. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
THE WORDS OF OUR LIPS.
(Fifth Sunday after Trinity.)
1 S. PETER iii. 10.
"For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile."
Among the scientific wonders of the day, one of the most remarkable is the telephone, by which we can hear each other's words at a considerable distance. By means of that instrument the sermon of the preacher, the music of the singer, the weighty words of the wise, and the silly babble of the foolish, can be carried over a great space. Have you ever thought, brethren, that if a telephone could be invented sufficiently large to convey the words uttered in one day in one of our great cities, or even in this place, what a babel of strange discordant sounds would come to our ears? What a mixture of wisdom and folly, love and hate, selfishness and self-denial, would be heard! Few of us would be the happier for hearing all the talk of their town or parish for one day. Now, God does hear every word spoken throughout the world. All that men say, good or bad, wise or foolish, is known to that God to whom all hearts are open, and from whom no secrets are hid. And more than this, these words of ours are noted in God's Book of Remembrance, from which we shall one day be judged. When a man is taken into custody on suspicion of having committed some crime, he is always warned that whatever he may say will be used in evidence against him. Such a man is very careful to keep a curb upon his tongue. My brothers, we have all need to remember that for every idle word we must give account, and that what we say every day of our life will be used as evidence against us, since "by our words we shall be justified, and by our words we shall be condemned."
I have read of one of old time who, being unable to read, came to a Priest, and asked to be taught a Psalm. Having learnt the verse, "I said I will take heed to my ways, that I offend not with my tongue," he went away, saying that was enough if it were carried out practically. Six months later he was asked why he had not come to learn another Psalm, and he answered simply that he had not yet been able to master what he had learned already.
Most important, then, and most necessary among Christian duties, is control of the tongue, and yet it is much neglected. Many, who would hesitate to do a foolish or wicked thing, do not scruple to say what is both unwise and wrong. There are men living respectable and clean lives who yet love to tell an unclean story. There are those who sing God's praises in Church, and pray earnestly, and with the same tongue swear and use bad language when their temper is ruffled. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. There are some good mothers, perhaps, who would shudder at a bad word, or an immodest story, who yet habitually sin with their tongue. They shoot out their arrows, even bitter words, which wound a sister's reputation, and leave scars which never pass away. Truly says a well-known writer, "Heaven keep us from the destroying power of words. There are words which sever hearts more than sharp swords do; there are words, the points of which sting the heart through the course of a whole life."
My brothers, we all, like a deadly serpent, carry a fearful weapon in our tongue, and woe unto our happiness, and that of others, if the poison of asps is under our lips. No one has learnt aright the lessons of Christianity unless he can curb his tongue. We dare not call ourselves followers of Him who went about doing good, and spake as never man spake, if we go about with lies, with cruel speeches, with the sneering sarcasm which maddens, and the unjust judgment which kills. Let us put this matter before ourselves very practically, and think of some words from which we must restrain our mouth as it were with a bridle. First, let us guard against the unkind word of every class. This world is full of sunshine, and flowers, and singing birds, because God is full of kindness. So, if we would find sunshine in our life, and flowers about our path, we must be kindly affectioned one to another, pitiful, courteous, in our words. The man who goes through life saying cruel things is like a musical instrument out of tune, whose only sounds are discord. It is the kindly tongue which makes "the music of men's lives." Think what an unkind word can do! It can, and has, parted husband and wife, parent and child, for ever. It has driven a man from the Paradise of home, to the cold, outer world of lonely misery. It has blighted a young life as a cruel frost kills the budding may. It has embittered a parent's declining years, and brought down grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. Of all miseries, surely one of the greatest must be to stand by the open grave of some friend, and to feel that the poor heart, lying cold and still beneath us, has been wounded by our cruel and unkindly words. O sons and daughters, take heed to your words, lest when you lay father or mother in the grave there comes the sad accusing whisper, "my angry temper, and my thoughtless tongue, saddened my parent's last days on earth." A great English writer said sadly, "What would I give to call my mother back to earth for one day, to ask her pardon upon my knees for all those things by which I gave her gentle spirit pain." Watch and pray against unkind words, they never did, or can do, good. They never softened a hard heart, or convinced an unbeliever, or converted a sinner. You cannot shape lives into beauty by hard words, as you can a stone by hard blows. Say a kindly word whenever you have the opportunity, and you will be like one sowing the seed of a fragrant flower, which will bring sweetness to others, and most surely to yourself. One of the best lessons we can learn is to be silent at the right time. One of the greatest of the old Greek philosophers condemned each of his pupils to five years' silence, that he might learn self-control; and Holy Writ tells us plainly that a man full of words shall not prosper upon the earth.
Another which we must guard against is the discontented word. Everywhere around we hear people murmuring, and finding fault. Nearly everyone whom we meet has some complaint. It is almost a miracle to find a man who says, "I am well, very happy, and quite contented." Let the skies be ever so blue, the eyes of the murmurer can discover a rising cloud. Let to-day be ever so bright and prosperous, the discontented forsees trouble to-morrow. The greatest and the best of men appear in his eyes to be full of faults and weaknesses. Everyone has his price, he says, no man serves God for nought. In a word, he can see no good in God's world, no beauty in God's creatures, no blessings in his own life. He can tell you all his misfortunes, but ask him what good things God has done for him, and he cannot remember. My brothers, guard against the discontented tongue. It is a grievous sin against God, and it makes its owner and all around him wretched. Let the praises of God be in your mouth, and the two-edged sword of faith in your hand, and you will make your way through all difficulties, and triumph over all troubles. Count up God's mercies and blessings every day, and you cannot murmur. Sing the Te Deum oftener, and you will have no time for the miserable ditties of the discontented. Imitate the bees, who gather sweetness from the common things of life. Look up to God's bright sky, and not down into the gloomy cavern of your own heart. Pray to be lifted out of self, and filled with thoughts of God's love and mercy, then you will be able to say—
"My heart leaps up when I behold The rainbow in the sky! So was it when my life began; So is it now I am a man; So be it when I shall grow old, Or let me die."
And next, let us guard against the untruthful word of every kind. There are hundreds of ways in which men sin against the truth, and yet the world does not call them by the terrible name, the most shameful of all names—a liar. The world is very fond of giving wrong names to certain sins. A man appears in the morning with pale face, and shaking hand, and lack-lustre eye, and the world says he has been spending a festive evening, whereas the truth is he has been drunk. The man who leads an unclean life is pleasantly styled by the world a fast man. God in the Bible calls him by a very different name.
Let us learn to call things by their right names. If what we say is not quite true it is a lie, neither more nor less. If we go about with idle tales of our neighbour, tales which have some truth in them, but not all the truth, then we are verily guilty concerning our brother; since the truths which are only half truths "are ever the worst of lies." If in our business we say more than the truth, or less than the truth, we are verily guilty. A lie is no less a lie because it is printed in a prospectus, or written up in a shop window. A tradesman who sells a pair of boots which fall to pieces, or a garment which will not wear, and tells us that they are good and genuine articles, is just as false as Ananias himself. I have heard traders declare that they cannot afford to be honest. This is an utter mistake. Every Christian man is bound by the vows of his Baptism both to speak and act the truth. Well says a preacher of our day, "we have dethroned the Most High in the realm of commerce, and in the place of the Heavenly Majesty have erected unclean and pestiferous idols; we have put into the holy place the foul little gods, named Trickery and Cunning. We have tried to lock God up in the Church, and have shut upon Him the iron gates of the marketplace."
My brothers, if you would prosper you must have God with you in your business, guiding your plough, blessing your farm, ruling your trade. You must have God with you behind the counter of your shop, or your office, and if God is to be there you must speak the truth. A Christian man must have nothing to do with an unjust balance, or a false weight. He must refuse to adulterate his wares, for these things are lies. The Chinese are in the habit of adulterating some of their tea for the market, but they are honest enough to call it in their language lie tea. I only wish our traders would do the same when they offer us false articles under the name of genuine wares. The time would fail me to tell one quarter of the ways in which God's law of truth is broken. I may not stay to speak of the false advertisement, of the highly-coloured description, of the quack medicine, which we are solemnly told will cure any kind of disease. I would only say, take the matter home to your own hearts. Whoever you are, make up your mind that as Christians you must speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And may the God of all truth give your strength.
ALIVE UNTO GOD.
(Sixth Sunday after Trinity.)
ROMANS vi. 11.
"Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Every baptised person belongs to God. He is His absolute property, marked with the sign of the great King. As the broad arrow is the mark that certain property belongs to the British Government, so the Cross of Holy Baptism is the sign and pledge that we are God's. Think of that, my brothers, you are not free to choose your own way, your own masters; you belong absolutely to Jesus Christ. He made you His property by taking your flesh, by suffering in it, by dying in it, by rising with it in triumph. In Baptism you are made partakers of all these benefits. You are baptised into the Death of Christ that your old sinful nature may die and be buried. You are baptised too in His Resurrection, that you may after Baptism begin a new and higher life, with Jesus as your Ruler and Guide. From this fact come two others; first that we are not free to sin, because if we do wrong, we sin not against ourselves, but against Jesus Christ, "whose we are, and whom we serve." I do not say that sin will not come in our way, will not tempt us. We must, in passing through the world, encounter foul smells, hideous sights, dirty roads. But we can turn away from the foul smell, we can shut our eyes to the bad sight, we can pick our way carefully over the dirty road. So if sin meets us, we must turn aside from it, we must stop our eyes and our ears to the evil sight, or sound, we must try to keep in a clean path. The strength which our Master, Jesus, gives us in the Sacraments will be sufficient for us. And the second fact is that, as baptised people, we are never alone, never forsaken. A great part of our life, and our work, must be solitary, and yet we are not alone, for God is with us. We must do our work alone. No one can tread the path of duty for us, or fight the good fight on our behalf. Like the solitary sower in the fields, we are all sent into this world to sow some seed, to do some work, alone. There may be crowds around us, and yet each of us has his thoughts, and hopes, and feelings, with which others cannot intermingle; no two men think or feel exactly in the same way, each of us is alone. We know that we must fight the battle of life and duty alone, we know that we bear our sorrows and bereavements alone, we know that alone we must die, and be judged, and yet, as Christians, we know that Jesus will never leave us, nor forsake us, that He is with us even unto the end of the world, and that when most solitary we are alone with God.
It is this thought that has strengthened the bravest and best of God's people in their hour of trial. It was this which enabled Abraham to leave home and friends, and to seek a land of strangers; he was not alone, for God was with him. It was this which comforted Joseph in the Egyptian prison, and enabled him to feel as many another captive has felt—
"Stone walls do not a prison make, Nor iron bars a cage; Minds innocent and quiet take That for a hermitage."
It was this which nerved Daniel to dare the den of lions, and Shadrach and his brethren to brave the fiery furnace; they were not alone, for God was with them. This cheered David when he walked through the valley of the shadow in his deep repentance; this gave courage to S. Peter, and S. Paul, and all the noble army of martyrs, to speak boldly in Christ's Name, and to meet death with a smiling face. This carried Moses through the desert, and Columbus to the new world, the thought that in their loneliest hour God was with them.
Yes, and it was the same thought which supported the dead hero, for whom all England weeps. Day after day passed over Gordon in his lonely exile far away. Day after day he saw the sunrise flash on the white walls and fair palm trees of Khartoum, and the sunset redden the desert sand. Cut off from home, and comrades, and countrymen, far from the sound of English voices, and of English prayers; there is no more lonely figure than that of the martyr of duty. Day by day he strained his eyes to see the rescue which never came, and yet in all this lonely waiting we cannot believe that the heart of Gordon failed, for he could say to his God, "I am not alone, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."
Thus, in one sense, every man must stand alone, and yet the Christian man knows that he is a child of God, and that his Father will never forsake him. Every one of us must labour alone in the great workshop of the world. Each of us has his corner where God has placed him to weave in his little bit of the pattern of this world's history, to add his little portion of colour to the picture called Life. For each of us there is the day's work, wherein we can labour, or idle, as we choose, and for each there comes the night when no man can work. And what we have to do we must do alone. The majority of men who live the life of duty do so unnoticed and uncared for. They are like those stars which our eyes never see, but they shine all the same. Such men work and suffer, and wait till their time comes to join
"The crowd untold of men, By the cause they served unknown, Who moulder in myriad graves of old, Never a story, never a stone."
But such men have the comfort of knowing that they have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain; they have lived unto God in this world, and if solitary, they have been alone with God. Again, we must all suffer alone. However kind and sympathetic our friends may be, they cannot enter into our pains and agonies. They can be sorry for us, but they cannot feel as we feel. When the body is racked by severe pangs of suffering, even the presence of friends is too much for us. We want to be alone, alone with God. And this is specially true of the sorrows of the mind. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness." No one, not even our nearest and dearest, can go with us to the Gethsemane, where we suffer, or the Calvary, where we endure our cross. But it is in these hours of bitterest suffering that the Christian feels that he is not forsaken. He remembers that his Master, Jesus, trod the winepress of sorrow alone, and that of the people there was none with Him. He knows that he is permitted to walk the same lonely path as Jesus trod before him. He knows that as he kneels in the darkened room with his solitary sorrow, with his breaking heart, with his sinful soul bowed down in penitence, that Jesus is with him—he is alone with God. And again, we must all die alone. The moment of death is the most solitary of all our life. The Prince, with his armies, and crowds of friends and courtiers, is, at his death, as much alone as the beggar who drops and dies by the roadside. Loving hands may clasp ours fondly, but we must let them go. Husband, mother, wife, or child may cling to us in close embrace, but they cannot detain us, or go with us, we must die alone. And yet in that most solitary moment the Christian who is dead unto sin, and living unto God, knows that he is not alone. He knows that when he has heard the sound of the last voice on earth, he shall hearken to other voices, never listened to before. When the last farewell is spoken, and the last hand clasped on earth, there will come the meeting with a new and glorious company, and the touch of those dear Hands once wounded for our transgressions. Be sure that God, who is with us in life, is specially with us in the moment of death; we die alone, but we are alone with God. My brothers, we are tempted sometimes to murmur because our life and its work are dull, monotonous and solitary. Let this thought help us to check the rebellious sigh, the thought that if we are trying to do our duty, God is with us, and He that seeth in secret, shall Himself reward us openly. We may be tempted to cry sometimes in our darkest hours, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me;" but the loving Hand has not gone from us, though we cannot feel its touch. Those dark hours often bring out the light of Christ's great love most clearly. I have seen a famous picture of the Crucifixion, which shows its sad beauty best when the window is darkened. Then there seems to shine a light of hope and splendour behind the Cross, and the face of the Saviour beams with tenderest love. So when the windows of our life are darkened, when bereavement, or ill-health, or disappointment come upon us, let us turn our eyes to the Crucified, and see a new light, a new meaning in our Saviour's sorrow, and our own. Let us learn that the trouble has come to lead us apart from the world and its selfish ways, that we may be alone—alone with God.
SERVANTS OF SIN.
(Seventh Sunday after Trinity.)
ROMANS vi. 20.
"The servants of sin."
There is no existence in the world so sad as that of a slave; and there is no slavery so hard as that of sin, no taskmaster so bitter as the devil. There was a tyrant in the old times who ordered one of his subjects to make an iron chain of a certain length, in a given time. The man brought the work, and the tyrant bade him make it longer still. And he continued to add link to link, till at length the cruel taskmaster ordered his servants to bind the worker with his own chain, and cast him into the fire. That hardest of tyrants, the devil, treats his slaves in like manner. At first the chain of sin is light, and could easily be cast off. But day by day Satan bids his victims add another link. The servant of sin grows more hardened, more daring, more reckless in his evil way. He adds sin to sin, link to link, and then the end comes, and the tyrant binds him hand and foot with his own chain, and casts him into outer darkness, where there is weeping, and gnashing of teeth. Very often the slaves of sin do not know that they are slaves. They talk about their freedom from restraint, they tell us they are their own masters, they would have us believe that the godly, who try to keep the commandments, and walk in the narrow way, are slaves, but they are free! Oh! fools, and slow of heart! As well might a prisoner cover his irons with a cloak, and try to pass as a free man. We can hear the clank of the chains. So is it with the slave of sin. Once I visited a madhouse, and talked with some of the poor patients. Some had one delusion, some another. One thought he was a king, another fancied himself the heir to a fortune. But one thing they all believed, that they were in their right minds.
My brothers, the slaves of sin are like these poor mad folk, they do not understand that what they call freedom is slavery, that what they style pleasure is misery, that instead of being the clever, reckless, free people they think themselves, they are only mad people possessed of the devil. First, then, we have seen that the servants of sin do not know that they are slaves. The tyrant, Satan, blinds their eyes before he binds them in the fetters of his prison house, even as the Philistines blinded the strong man of old. Next, the servants of sin bear about the marks of their master I have seen gangs of convicts working on Dartmoor. You could not mistake them for anything else if they were dressed in the best of clothing. The word convict is stamped upon every grey face, as plainly as the Government mark is stamped upon their clothing. The servants of sin have their marks also. Look at the shifty eyes, and downward glance of the knave and the false man; mark the flushed brow and cruel eyes of the angry man; see the weak lips and trembling hand of the drunkard; they bear the marks of their slavery very plainly. So, too, the sensualist who lives for his body, the impure man, the slave of lust, the criminal, haunted by a guilty secret, the selfish worldling, who cares only for this life; these all bear the traces of their sin upon them, these show whose they are, and whom they serve. Again, the servants of sin have their so-called enjoyments, these are the baits with which the tyrant gets them into his power. For a time the way of transgressors is made easy and pleasant. The broad road is shaded, and edged with fair fruits and flowers. The down-hill path is strewn with glittering jewels, the booths of vanity fair are fitted with all manner of delights, and the poor slave goes on, scarce feeling his chains, or knowing of his slavery, till the day of reckoning comes. "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." A saint of old once saw a man leading a herd of swine, which followed him willingly. The saint asked whither he was taking them, and he answered, to the slaughter. When the saint marvelled that the swine should go so readily to their death, the man showed him that they followed him for the sake of the sweet food in his hand, and knew not whither they were going. My brothers, the servants of sin follow Satan for the sake of the sweet things which he offers, and know not that they are going to their death, even the living death of a lost soul. Some of you remember the old German legend of doctor Faustus. It is a terrible parable of the fate of all those who become the slave of sin. Faustus is represented as a man of great learning, who used his knowledge for evil instead of good. Being filled with pride, he refused to bow down to God, and made a bargain with Satan that he was to have his own way, and every wish gratified for a certain term of years, and then he was to pay the price—his own soul. During those years he had all the health and strength of youth, he enjoyed all the pleasures of the body, the world, the flesh, and the devil were his servants. But one thing he lacked, he had not God, and so he had no hope. There were times when he thought of the horrible bargain which he had made. He desired to see Paradise and Hell, and he was shown a glimpse of both. His servants found him in deep sorrow, and asked him what he had seen, and what the sorrows of Hell were like. But he answered that he remembered not, one thing only he recalled, the peace and beauty of that Paradise which he had forfeited for ever. This is the story of every slave of sin.
My brothers, there are many who have bargained with Satan, offering the price of their own souls. When the Tempter came to the Saviour in the wilderness, he offered Him the glory and splendour of the world if Jesus would fall down and worship him. It is the same with us. Satan offers us this world instead of the world to come. He offers us our own way, so dear to all of us. He offers us the pleasures of the body, "let us eat and drink." He offers us self-indulgence in all the lusts of the flesh. He offers us all the flash and glitter of the world, but he does not let us see the foulness and rottenness which they cover. To the man of science he comes, as to Faustus in the legend, and tries to induce him to set up his knowledge against the All-wise, and to drive God out of His own fair universe. He does not show him how sad life must be without the knowledge of God: how miserable death must be without a Saviour. He comes to the man of business, and shows him visions of vast wealth. He whispers, "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." And that implies false dealing, sharp practice, trickery, knavery. It implies loss of self-respect, loss of honour, the reproaches of an ever-accusing conscience. The tempter comes to the young man or woman, and shows them all the delights of a life of pleasure. They see the sparkle of the wine cup, the glitter of the ball room, the pomp and vanities of this wicked world. But they do not see the other side of the picture. They do not see the grey, cold morning of sorrow which follows the night of dissipation and sin. The young woman looks on the tempting dress, the flash of jewels, the gay company. She does not see the price she must pay. She cannot see herself disgraced and ruined, and cast aside like a broken toy. She can hear the music of the revel, but not the reproaches of a broken-hearted dying mother. The young man sees only the bright side of the picture, Satan keeps the dark side hidden. He fancies himself his own master, free from the restraints of home and parents, walking in his own way, in the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Ah! brother, the way seems very charming now—it will be hard enough one day. The cup of pleasure seems very sweet now, the dregs thereof will be bitter enough one day: as for the ungodly, they shall drink them and suck them up. The food which the world offers seems as honey and the honeycomb now: the day is coming when it will be as ashes. You will come one day to the husks—the sick room, the dying bed,—and you will know that you gained this world and lost the world to come: like the rich man, you will in this life have had your good things, but you will have paid the price. And those old words will have a terrible meaning for you then, "What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Yes, the servants of sin must fulfil their contract and receive their wages, and the wages of sin is death. Ah! brethren, be serious; are these things nothing to you? Are there none of you who know that you are the slaves of some besetting sin? Look into your lives, see whose marks are upon you, whose servants you are. Are you still tied and bound with the chain of your sins? If so, turn you to Him who can alone set you free; to Him who drove the strong man armed from his palace; to Him who conquered Satan in the wilderness, in the garden, on the cross; to Him who can make the weakest strong, the most sorely tempted able to triumph; Who can wash the foulest life till it shall be whiter than snow. Brothers, dare we turn away and carry our chain of slavery longer? No, let us make a struggle to be free, and let our prayer be, "O God, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive, receive our humble petitions; and though we be tied and bound with the chain of our sins, yet let the pitifulness of Thy great mercy loose us, for the honour of Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Advocate."
KNOWN BY THEIR FRUITS.
(Eighth Sunday after Trinity.)
S. MATT. vii. 16.
"Ye shall know them by their fruits."
The religion of Jesus Christ is one of deeds, not words; a life of action, not of dreaming. Our Lord warns us to beware of any form of religion, in ourselves or others, which does not bring forth good fruit. God does not look for the leaves of profession, or the blossoms of promise, He looks for fruit unto holiness. We may profess to believe in Jesus Christ, we may say the Creed without a mistake, we may read our Bible, and say our prayers, and yet, if our lives are bad, all our religion is vain. If we would know whether we are being led by the Holy Spirit, we must see if we are bringing forth fruits of the Spirit. If we would discover if the works of a clock are right, we look at the hands. So, by our words and deeds we shall show whether our hearts are right with God. A religion of the lips is worth nothing. We may cry, "Lord, Lord," in our place in Church, we may repeat the words which speak of the Will of God, and utter pious wishes when we sing chant or hymn, and all the while we may be far off from the Kingdom of Heaven, because we are not in our lives doing the will of our Father which is in Heaven. If we are selfish, self-willed, proud, lovers of our own selves, our religion is but the sheep's clothing covering the wolfish heart, or the white paint hiding the corruption of the sepulchre. It is easy enough to assume the character and manner of a Christian, but to live the Christian life is not so easy. A man can make a sham diamond in a very short time, but the real gem must lie for ages in the earth before it can sparkle with perfect purity. We have far too many of these quickly made Christians amongst us, who have never brought forth fruits meet for repentance, nor gone through the fire of trial, and sorrow, and self-sacrifice. Do not trust to feelings, or words, in yourselves or others, look at your life; a real and a false diamond are very much alike, and yet there is all the difference in the world in their value.
"If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." My brothers, who is our leader and guide, the Holy Spirit, or our own will? How shall we know? By our fruits. They tell us that whenever the holy saint David, of Wales, stood up to preach, there came a milk-white dove, and sat upon his shoulder. It is a serious question for you and me, for preacher and people, does the White Dove perch on my shoulder as I preach? Does the Holy Ghost descend like a dove on you who hear? Men of business, anxious workers, is the White Dove with you in your factory, your farm, your office? Mothers and fathers, young men and maidens, is there a place in your home where the Holy Spirit may come, and continually dwell?
Let us look into our lives very closely, and see whether we are mistaking outward form for true religion, words and professions for holiness, leaves for fruit. What are some of the fruits which God looks for in the life of a Christian? At the head of all, I think, we must place love. Ah! you will say to me,—I only wish I could love God more. It is so hard to love One whom we cannot see. I worship God, I try to keep His commandments, but I am not sure that I love God. My brother, my sister, let not your heart be troubled. If you really try to do God's Will it is a proof of your love. "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. We know that we do know Him if we keep His commandments." You can show your love to God by showing love and kindness to your brethren. By kindly judgments of another's fault; by gentle words of comfort, of pity, or of warning; by tender hands stretched out to bring back the wandering sheep; by loving acts of charity to the sick and suffering; by care for the poor bruised reeds of this rough world, you can show your love for God, who is the source of all love. If we love God we shall try to lead others to Him. A true Christian cannot be selfish. Think of the example you set to others. Is it a good one, a strong one, a light shining before men so that they can see your good works? At the battle of Tel-el-Keber our troops had no sufficient plans of the ground. The General therefore ordered a young naval officer to lead the Highland Brigade by the light of the stars to their destined post. When the fight began the Highlanders were ready, and among the first to fall was their young leader. The victory was gained, and the General hastened to the tent of his wounded officer. The dying man smiled as he raised his trembling hand to his commander, and looking him in the face said, "General, didn't I lead them straight?" My brothers, we are leading our fellow men by the example of our lives, the question is, are we leading them straight?