SERMON XXXV. GRACE AND GLORY
Chapel Royal, Whitehall. 1865. For the consumptive hospital.
St John ii. 11. "This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory."
This word glory, whether in its Greek or its Roman shape, had a very definite meaning in the days of the Apostles. It meant the admiration of men. The Greek word, as every scholar knows, is derived from a root signifying to seem, and expresses that which a man seems, and appears to his fellow men. The Latin word glory is expressly defined by Cicero to mean the love, trust, and admiration of the multitude; and a consequent opinion that the man is worthy of honour. Glory, in fact, is a relative word, and can be only used of any being in relation to other rational beings, and their opinion of him.
The glory of God, therefore, in Scripture, must needs mean that admiration which men feel, or ought to feel for God. There is a deeper, an altogether abysmal meaning for that word: "And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thy own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." But on that text, speaking of the majesty of the ever- blessed Trinity, I dare not attempt to comment; though, could I explain it, I should. When St. John says that Christ manifested forth His glory, and His disciples believed on Him, it is plain that He means by His glory that which produced admiration and satisfaction, not alone in the mind of God the Father, but in the minds of men.
Now, what the Romans thought glorious in their days is notorious enough. No one can look upon the picture of a Roman triumph without seeing that their idea of glory was force, power, brute force, self-willed dominion, selfish aggrandizement. But this was not the glory which St. John saw in Christ, for His glory was full of grace, which is incompatible with self- will and selfishness.
The Greek's meaning of glory is equally notorious. He called it wisdom. We call it craft--the glory of the sophist, who could prove or disprove anything for gain or display; the glory of the successful adventurer, whose shrewdness made its market out of the stupidity and vice of the barbarian. But this is not the glory of Christ, for St. John saw that it was full of truth.
Therefore, neither strength nor craft are the glory of Christ; and, therefore, they are not the glory of God. For the glory of Christ is the glory of God, and none other, because He is very God, of very God begotten. In Christ, man sees the unseen, and absolute, and eternal God as He is, was, and ever will be. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him:"--and that perfectly and utterly; for in Him dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, so that He Himself could say, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." This is the Catholic Faith. God grant that I may believe it with my whole heart. God grant that you may believe it with your whole hearts likewise, and not merely with your intellects and brains.
But, it may be said, though God be not glorious and admirable for selfish force, which it were blasphemous to attribute to Him, He is still admirable for His power. Though He be not glorious for craft, He is still glorious for His wisdom. I deny both. I deny that power is any object of admiration, unless it be used well for good ends. To admire power for its own sake is one of those errors, which has been well called Titanolatry, the worship of giants. Neither is wisdom an object of admiration, unless it be used for good ends. To worship it for its own sake is a common error enough--the idolatry of Intellect. But it is none the less an error, and a grievous one. God's power and wisdom are glorious only in as far as they are used (as they are utterly) for good ends; only, in plain words, as far as God is (as He is perfectly) good. And the true glory of God is that God is good. So says the Scripture; and so I bid you all remember, for it is a truth which you and I and all mankind are perpetually ready to forget.
Let me but ask you one question as a test whether or not I am right. If the Supreme Being used His power, as the Roman Caesar used his; if He used His wisdom as the Greek sophist used his, would He be glorious then and worthy of admiration? The old heathen AEschylus answered that question for mankind long ago on the Athenian stage. I should be ashamed to answer it again in a Christian pulpit. And when I say GOOD, I mean good, even as man can be, and ought to be, and is, more or less, good. The theory that because God's morality is absolute, it may, therefore, be different from man's morality, in KIND as well as in DEGREE, is equally contrary to the letter and to the spirit of Scripture. Man, according to Scripture, is made in God's moral image and likeness, and however fallen and degraded that image may be, still the ultimate standard of right and wrong is the same in God and in man. How else dare Abraham ask of God, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" How else has God's command to the old Jews any meaning, "Be ye holy, for I am holy?" How else have all the passages in the Psalms, Prophets, Evangelists, Apostles, which speak of God's justice, mercy, faithfulness, any honest or practical meaning to human beings? How else can they be aught but a mockery, a delusion, and a snare to the tens of thousands who have found in them hope and trust, that God would deliver them and the world from evil? What means the command to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect? What mean the words that we partake of a divine nature? How else is the command to love God anything but an arbitrary and impossible demand,--demanding love, which every writer of fiction tells you, and tells you truly, cannot be compelled--can only go forth toward a being who shows himself worthy of our love, by possessing those qualities which we admire in our fellow men? No. Against such a theory I must quote, as embodying all that I would say, and corroborating, on entirely independent ground, the Scriptural account of human morality--against such a theory, I say I must quote the words of our greatest living logician. "Language has no meaning for the words Just, Merciful, Benevolent" (he might have added truthful likewise) "save that in which we predicate them of our fellow creatures; and unless that is what we intend to express by them, we have no business to employ the words. If in affirming them of God we do not mean to affirm these very qualities, differing only as greater in degree, we are neither philosophically nor morally entitled to affirm them at all . . . What belongs to" God's goodness "as Infinite (or more properly Absolute) I do not pretend to know; but I know that infinite goodness must be goodness, and that what is not consistent with goodness is not consistent with infinite goodness. . . . Besides," he says--and to this sound reductio ad absurdum I call the attention of all who believe their Bibles--"unless I believe God to possess the same moral attributes which I find, in however inferior a degree, in a good man, what ground of assurance have I of God's veracity? All trust in a Revelation presupposes a conviction that God's attributes are the same, in all but degree, with the best human attributes. If, instead of the 'glad tidings' that there exists a Being in whom all the excellences which the highest human mind can conceive, exist in a degree inconceivable to us, I am informed that the world is ruled by a being whose attributes are infinite, but what they are we cannot learn, nor what are the principles of his government, except that 'the highest human morality which we are capable of conceiving' does not sanction them; convince me of it and I will bear my fate as I may. But when I am told that I must believe this, and at the same time call this being by the names which express and affirm the highest human morality, I say in plain terms that I will not. Whatever power such a being may have over me, there is one thing which he shall not do: he shall not compel me to worship him. I will call no being good, who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures."
That St. John would have assented to these bold and honest words, that such is St. John's conception of human and divine morality, the story in the text shows, to my mind, especially. It is, so to speak, a crucial experiment, by which the truth of the Scripture theory is verified. The difficulty in all ages about a standard of morality has been--How can we fix it? Even if we agree that man's goodness ought to be the counterpart of God's goodness, we know that in practice it is not, as mankind has differed in all ages and countries about what is right and wrong. The Hindoo thinks it right to burn widows, wrong to eat animal food; and between such extremes there are numberless minor differences. Hardly any act is conceivable which has not been thought by some man, somewhere, somehow, morally right or morally wrong. If all that we can do is, to choose out those instances of morality which seem to us most right, and impute them to God, shall we not have an ever-shifting, probably a merely conventional standard of right and wrong? And worse--shall we not be always in danger of deifying our own superstitions--perhaps our own vices: of making a God in our own image, because we cannot know that God in whose image we are made? Most true, unless "we believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ," "perfect God and perfect man." In Him, says the Bible, the perfect human morality is manifested, and shown by His life and conduct to be identical with the divine. He bids us be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect; and He only has a right--in the sense of a sound and fair reason--for so doing; because He can say, and has said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."
At least, such is the doctrine of St. John. He tells us that the Word, who was God, was made flesh, and dwelt in his land and neighbourhood; and that he and his fellows beheld His glory; and saw that it was the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. And then, in the next chapter, he goes on to tell us how that glory was first manifested forth--by turning water into wine at a marriage feast. On the truth of the story, I say simply, in passing, that I believe it fully and literally; as I do also St. John's assertions about our Lord's Divinity. But I only wish to point out to you why I called this miracle the crucial experiment, which proved God's goodness to be identical with that which we call (and rightly) goodness in man. It is by the seeming insignificance thereof, by the seeming non-necessity, by the seeming humbleness of its circumstances, by the seeming smallness of its results, issuing merely (as far as Scripture tells us, and therefore as far as we need know, or have a right to imagine) in the giving of a transitory and unnecessary physical pleasure. In short, by the very absence of that Dignus deo vindice nodus, that knot which only a God could untie, which heathens demanded ere a god was allowed to interfere in the plot of a tragedy; which too many who call themselves Christians demand before the living God is allowed to interfere in that world in which without Him not a sparrow falls to the ground. In a moral case of this kind, if you will consider, that which seems least is often the greatest. That which seems the lowest, because the simplest and meanest manifestation of a moral law, may be--probably is--the deepest, the highest, the most universal.
Life is made up of little things, say the practically wise, and they say true, for our Lord says so likewise. "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much." If you look on morality, virtue, goodness, holiness, sanctification--call it what you will--as merely the obligation of an EXTERNAL law, you will be tempted to say, "Let me be faithful to it in its greater and more important cases, and that is enough. The pettier ones must take care of themselves, I have not time enough to attend to them, and God will not, it may be, require them of me." But if the morality, goodness, holiness be in you what it was in Christ, without measure--a SPIRIT, even the spirit of God--a spirit within you, possessing you, and working on you, and in you--then that which seems most petty and unimportant will often be most important, the test of the soundness of your heart, of the reality of your feelings.
We all know--every writer of fiction, at least, should know--how true this is in the case of love between man and woman, between parent and child: how the little kindnesses, the half-unconscious gestures, the petty labours of love, of which their object will never be aware, the scrupulousness which is able "to greatly find quarrel in a straw, when honour is at stake,"--how these are the very things which show that the affection is neither the offspring of dry and legal duty, nor of selfish enjoyment, but lies far down in the unconscious abysses of the heart and being itself:--as Christ--to compare (for He Himself permits, nay commands, us to do so in His parables) our littleness with His immensity--as Christ, I say, showed, when He chose first to manifest His glory--the glory of His grace and truth--by increasing for a short hour the pleasures of a village feast.
I might say much more on the point; how He showed these by His truth; how He proved that He, and therefore His Father and your Father, was not that Deus quidam deceptor, whom some suppose Him, mocking the intellect of His creatures by the FACTS of nature which He has created, tempting the souls of His creatures by the very faculties and desires which He Himself has given them.
But I wish now to draw your minds rather to that one word GRACE--Grace, what it means, and how it is a manifestation of glory. Few Scriptural expressions have suffered more that this word Grace from the storms of theological controversy. Springing flesh in the minds of Apostles, as did many other noble words in that heaven-enriched soil, the only adequate expressions of an idea which till then had never fully possessed the mind of man, it meant more than we can now imagine; perhaps more that we shall ever imagine again. We, alas! only know the word with its fragrance battered out, its hues rubbed off, its very life anatomized out of it by the battles of rival divines, till its mere skeleton is left, and all that grace means to most of us is simply and dryly a certain spiritual gift of God. Doubtless it means that; but if it meant nothing more at first, why was not the plain word Gift enough for the Apostles? Why did they use Grace? Why did they use, too, in the sense of giving and gifts, nouns and verbs derived from that root-word, CHARIS, grace, which plainly signified so much to them? A word, the root-meaning of which was neither more nor less than a certain heathen goddess, or goddesses--the inspirer of beauty in art, the impersonation of all that is pure, charming, winning, bountiful--in one word, of all that is graceful and gracious in the human character. The fact is strange, but the fact is there; and being there, we must face it and explain it. Of course, the Apostles use the word grace in a far deeper and loftier meaning; raise it, mathematically speaking, to a far higher power. There is no need to remind you of that. But why did they choose and use the word at all--a word whose old meaning every heathen knew--unless for some innate fitness in it to express something in the character of God? To tell men that there was in God a graciousness, as of the most gracious of all human beings, which gave to His character a moral beauty, a charm, a winningness, which, as even the old Jewish prophet, before the Incarnation, could perceive and boldly declare, drew them with the cords of a man and with the bands of love, attracting them by the very human character of its graciousness.
"The glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace." Meditate on those words. "Full of grace,"--of that spirit which we, like the old heathens, consider rather a feminine than a masculine excellence; the spirit, which, as St. James says of God the Father, gives simply and upbraideth not; gives gracefully, as we ourselves say--in the right and happy use of the adverb; does not spoil its gifts by throwing them in the teeth of the giver, but gives for mere giving's sake; pleases where it can be done, without sin or harm, for mere pleasing's sake; most human and humane when it is most divine; the spirit by which Christ turned the water into wine at the marriage feast, and so manifested forth His absolute and eternal glory. And how? How?
Thus, if you will receive it; if you will believe a truth which is too often hidden from the wise and prudent, and yet revealed unto babes; which will never be understood by the proud Pharisee, the sour fanatic, the ascetic who dreads and distrusts his Father in heaven; but which is clear and simple enough to many a clear and simple heart, honest and single-eyed, sunny itself, and bringing sunshine wherever it comes, because it is inspired by the gracious spirit of God, and delights to show kindness for kindness' sake, and to make happy for happiness' sake, taking no merit to itself for doing that, which is as instinctive as its very breath.
This,--that the graciousness which Christ showed at that marriage feast is neither more nor less than the boundless love of God, who could not live alone in the abyss, but must needs, out of His own Divine Charity, create the universe, that He might have somewhat beside Himself whereon to pour out the ocean of His love, which finds its own happiness in giving happiness to all created things, from the loftiest of rational beings down to the gnat which dances in the sun, and for aught we know, to the very lichen which nestles in the Alpine rock.
This is the character of God, unless Scripture be a dream of man's imagination. Thus far you may know God; thus far you may see God as He is; and know and see that He is just with the justice of a man, only more just; merciful with the mercy of a man, only more merciful; truthful with the truthfulness of a man, only more truthful; gracious with the graciousness of a man, only more gracious; and loving? That we dare not say: for if we say so much, the Scripture commands us to say more. The Scripture tells us that the whole absolute morality of God is summed up-- as our own human morality ought to be--in His Love. That love is the fulfilment of the Moral Law in Him as in us; that it is the root and cause and spirit of His justice, mercy, truth, and graciousness; that it belongs not to His attributes, as they may be said to be, but to His essence and His spirit; that we must not, if we be careful of our words, say, God is loving, because we are bidden to say, "God is Love."
Thus, the commands, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God--and thy neighbour as thyself, are shown to be not arbitrary and impossible demands, miscalled moral obligations, while they are merely legal and external ones; but true moral obligations, in the moral sense, to which heart and spirit can answer, "I rejoice to do thy will, O God; Thy law is within my heart." You ought to love God, because He is supremely loveable and worthy of your love. You can love God, because you can appreciate and know God; for you are His child, made in His moral likeness, and capable of seeing Him as He is morally, and of seeing in Him the full perfection of all that attracts your moral sense, when it is manifested in any human being. And you can love your neighbour as yourselves, because, and in as far as you have in you the Spirit of God, the spirit of universal love, which proceedeth out for ever both from the Father and the Son to all beings and things which They have made.
And of one thing I am sure, that in proportion as you are led and inspired by that Spirit of God which showed in our Lord, in the very deepest and truest sense, as the spirit of humanity, just so you will feel a genial and hearty pleasure in lessening all human suffering, however slight; in increasing all harmless human pleasure, however transitory; and in copying Him who, at the marriage feast, gracefully and graciously turned the water into wine. I do not, of course, mean that you are to do no more than that; to prefer sentiment to duty, to amuse and glorify yourselves by paying tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. But I do mean that you are not to distrust your own sentiments, not to crush your own instinctive sympathies. The very lowest of them--that which makes you shrink at the sight of pain, and rejoice in the sight of pleasure, is not natural, and common to you with the animals; it is supernatural and divine. It is a schoolmaster to bring you to Christ, to that higher inspiration of His, which tells your heart to alleviate the unseen woes which will never come into painful contact with your sensibilities, to bestow pleasures in which you yourself have no immediate share. It will tell your hearts especially in the case of this very Hospital for Consumption not to be slack in giving, because so much of what you will give--it is painful to recollect how much--will be spent, not in prevention, not even in cure, but in mere alleviation, mere increased bodily ease, mere savoury food, even mere passing amusements for wearied minds. Be it so. If (which God forbid) we could do nothing SAVE alleviate; if (which God forbid) permanent cure, even lengthening of life, were impossible, I should say just as much, Give. Give money to alleviate; give, even though what you give were, in the strictly economic sense, WASTED. We are ready enough, most of us, to waste upon ourselves. It is well for us to taste once in a way the luxury of wasting on others; though I have yet to learn that anything can be called wasted which lessens, even for a moment, the amount of human suffering. A plan, for instance, is on foot for sending twenty of the patients to Madeira for the winter. The British Consul, to his honour, guarantees their maintenance, if the Hospital will pay their passage out and home. Some may say--An unnecessary expense--a problematical benefit. Be it so. I believe that it will not be such; that it may save many lives--they may revive: but were it not so, I would still say Give. Let them go, even if every soul in that ship were doomed. Let them go. Let them drink the fresh sea breeze before they die; let them see the green tropic world; let them forget their sorrow for a while; let them feel springing up afresh in them the celestial fount of hope. We let the guilty criminal eat and drink well the morn ere he is led forth to die--shall we not do as much by those who are innocent?
But especially would I say, try to lessen such suffering as that for which I plead to-day, because it is undeserved in the true sense of that word--not earned by any act of their own. These poor souls suffer for no sins of their own; they have done nothing to bring on themselves a disease which attacks too often the fairest, the seemingly strongest and healthiest, the most temperate and most pure. They suffer, some it may be for the sins of their forefathers, some from causes of disease which science cannot as yet control, cannot even discover. They are objects of unmixed pity and sympathy: they should be so to us; for they are so to Him who made them. On this disease God does bestow a special alleviation--a special mark of His pity, of His tenderness, in a word of His grace. That unclouded intellect, that unruffled temper, that cheerful resignation, that brave and yet calm facing of the inevitable future, that ever-fresh hope, which is no delusion but a token that God Himself has taken away the sting of death and the victory of the grave, till the very thought of death has vanished, or is looked on merely as the gate to a life of health, and strength, and peace, and joy:--all these symptoms, so common, so normal, all but universal--this Euthanasia which God has provided for those who, humanly speaking, are innocent, yet must, for the general good of humanity, leave this world for another;-- what are they but the voice of God to us, telling that He loves, that He pities, that He alleviates; and bidding us go and do likewise? God has alleviated where we cannot. He has bidden us thereby, if His likeness and spirit be indeed in us, to alleviate where we can; and believe that by every additional comfort, however petty, which we provide, we are copying the Ideal Man, who, because He was very God of very God, could condescend, at the marriage feast, to turn the water into wine.
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