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[Preached for the Chelsea National Schools.]
Ephesians v. 13. All things which are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever is made manifest is light.
This is a noble text, a royal text; one of those texts which forbid us to clip and cramp Scripture to suit any narrow notions of our own; which open before us boundless vistas of God's love, of human knowledge, of the future of mankind. There are many such texts, many more than we fancy; but this is one which is especially valuable at the present time; one especially fit for a sermon on education; for it is, as it were, the scriptural charter of the advocate of education. It enables him boldly to say, 'There is nothing I will refuse to teach; there is nothing which man shall forbid me to teach; there is nothing which God has made in heaven or earth about which I will not tell the truth boldly to the young.'
For light comes from God. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. And therefore He wishes to give light to His children. He willeth not that the least of them should be kept in darkness about any matter. Darkness is of the Devil; and he who keeps any human soul in darkness, let his pretences be as reverent and as religious as they may, is doing the Devil's work. Nothing, then, which God has made will we conceal from the young.
True, there are errors of which we will not speak to the young; but they are not made by God: they are the works of darkness. Our duty is to teach the young what God has made, what He has done, what He has ordained; to make them freely partakers of whatsoever light God has given us. Then, by means of that light, they will be able to reprove the works of darkness.
For whatsoever is made manifest is light. Our version says; 'Whatsoever makes manifest is light.' That is true, a noble truth; but I should not be honest, if I did not confess that that is not what St. Paul says here. He says, 'That which is made manifest is light.' On this the best commentators and scholars agree. Our old translators have made a mistake, though in grammar only, and have substituted one great truth for another equally great.
'Whatsoever is made manifest is light.' We should have expected this, if we are really Christians. If we have faith in God; if we believe that God is worthy of our faith--a God whom we can trust; in whom is neither caprice, deceit, nor darkness, but pure and perfect light;--if we believe that we are His children, and that He wishes us to be, like Himself, full of light, knowing what we are and what the world is, because we know who God is;--if we believe that He sent His Son into the world to reveal Him, to unveil Him, to draw aside the veil which dark superstition and ignorance had spread between man and God, and to show us the glory of God;--if we believe this, then we shall be ready to expect that whatsoever is made manifest would be light; for if God be light, all that He has made must be light also. Like must beget like, and therefore light must beget light, good beget good, love beget love; and therefore we ought to expect that as true and sound knowledge increases, our views of God will be more full of light.
Yes, my friends; under the influence of true science God will be no longer looked upon, as He was in those superstitions which we well call dark, as a proud, angry, capricious being, as a stern taskmaster, as one far removed from the sympathy of men: but as one of whom we may cheerfully say, Thy name be hallowed, for Thy name is Father; Thy kingdom come, for it is a Father's kingdom; Thy will be done, for it is a Father's will; and in doing Thy will alone men claim their true dignity of being the sons of God.
Our views of our fellow-men will be more cheerful also; more full of sympathy, comprehension, charity, hope; in one word, more full of light. If it be true (and it is true) that God loves all, then we should expect to find in all something worthy of our love. If it be true that God willeth that none should perish, we should expect to find in each man something which ought not to perish. If it be true that God stooped from heaven, yea stoops from heaven eternally, to seek and to save that which is lost, then we should have good hope that our efforts to seek to save that which is lost will not be in vain. We shall have hope in every good work we undertake, for we shall know that in it we are fellow-workers with God.
Our notions of the world--of God's whole universe, will become full of light likewise. Do we believe that this earth was made by Jesus Christ?--by Him who was full of grace and truth? Do we believe our Bibles, when they tell us, that He hath given all created things a law which cannot be broken; that they continue as at the beginning, for all things serve Him? Do we believe this? Then we must look on this earth, yea on the whole universe of God, as, like its Master, full of grace and truth; not as old monks and hermits fancied it, a dark, deceiving, evil earth, filled with snares and temptations; a world from which a man ought to hide himself in the wilderness, and find his own safety in ignorance. Not thus, but as the old Hebrews thought of it, as a glorious and a divine universe, in which the Spirit of God, the Lord and Giver of life, creates eternal melody, bringing for ever life out of death, light out of darkness, letting his breath go forth that new generations may be made, and herein renew the face of the earth.
And experience teaches us that this has been the case; that for near one thousand eight hundred years there has been a steady progress in the mind of the Christian race, and that this progress has been in the direction of light.
Has it not been so in our notions of God? What has the history of theology been for near one thousand eight hundred years? Has it not been a gradual justification of God, a gradual vindication of His character from those dark and horrid notions of the Deity which were borrowed from the Pagans, and from the Jewish Rabbis? a gradual return to the perfect good news of a good God, which was preached by St. John and by St. Paul?--In one word, a gradual manifestation of God; and a gradual discovery that when God is manifested, behold, God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all?
That progress, alas! is not yet perfect. We still see through a glass darkly, and we are still too apt to impute to God Himself the darkness of those very hearts of ours in which He is so dimly mirrored. And there are men still, even in Protestant England, who love darkness rather than light, and teach men that God is dark, and in Him are only scattered spots of light, and those visible only to a favoured few; men who, whether from ignorance, or covetousness, or lust of power, preach such a deity as the old Pharisees worshipped, when they crucified the Lord of Glory, and offer to deliver men, forsooth, out of the hands of this dreadful phantom of their own dark imaginations.
Let them be. Let the dead bury their dead, and let us follow Christ. Believe indeed that He is the likeness of God's glory, and the express image of God's person, and you will be safe from the dark dreams with which they ensnare diseased and superstitious consciences. Let them be. Light is stronger than darkness; Love stronger than cruelty. Perfect God stronger than fallen man; and the day shall come when all shall be light in the Lord; when all mankind shall know God, from the least unto the greatest, and lifting up free foreheads to Him who made them, and redeemed them by His Son, shall in spirit and in truth, worship The Father.
Does not experience again show us that in the case of our fellow- men, whatsoever is made manifest, is light?
How easy it was, a thousand years ago--a hundred years ago even, to have dark thoughts about our fellow-men, simply because we did not know them! Easy it was, while the nations were kept apart by war, even by mere difficulty of travelling, for Christians to curse Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Heretics, and believe that God willed their eternal perdition, even though the glorious collect for Good Friday gave their inhumanity the lie. Easy to persecute those to whose opinions we could not, or would not, take the trouble to give a fair hearing. Easy to condemn the negro to perpetual slavery, when we knew nothing of him but his black face; or to hang by hundreds the ragged street-boys, while we disdained to inquire into the circumstances which had degraded them; or to treat madmen as wild beasts, instead of taming them by wise and gentle sympathy.
But with a closer knowledge of our fellow-creatures has come toleration, pity, sympathy. And as that sympathy has been freely obeyed, it has justified itself more and more. The more we have tried to help our fellow-men, the more easy we have found it to help them. The more we have trusted them, the more trustworthy we have found them. The more we have treated them as human beings, the more humanity we have found in them. And thus man, in proportion as he becomes manifest to man, is seen, in spite of all defects and sins, to be hallowed with a light from God who made him.
And if it has been thus, in the case of God and of humanity, has it not been equally so in the case of the physical world? Where are now all those unnatural superstitions--the monkish contempt for marriage and social life, the ghosts and devils; the astrology, the magic, and other dreams of which I will not speak here, which made this world, in the eyes of our forefathers, a doleful and dreadful puzzle; and which made man the sport of arbitrary powers, of cruel beings, who could torment and destroy us, but over whom we could have no righteous power in return? Where are all those dark dreams gone which maddened our forefathers into witch-hunting panics, and which on the Continent created a priestly science of witch-finding and witch-destroying, the literature whereof (and it is a large one) presents perhaps the most hideous instance known of human cruelty, cowardice, and cunning? Where, I ask, are those dreams now? So utterly vanished, that very few people in this church know what a great part they played in the thoughts of our forefathers; how ghosts, devils, witches, magic, and astrology, filled the minds, not only of the ignorant, but of the most learned, for centuries.
And now, behold, nature being made manifest, is light. Science has taught men to admire where they used to dread; to rule where they used to obey; to employ for harmless uses what they were once afraid to touch; and, where they once saw only fiends, to see the orderly and beneficent laws of the all-good and almighty God. Everywhere, as the work of nature is unfolded to our eyes, we see beauty, order, mutual use, the offspring of perfect Love as well as perfect Wisdom. Everywhere we are finding means to employ the secret forces of nature for our own benefit, or to ward off physical evils which seemed to our forefathers as inevitable, supernatural; and even the pestilence, instead of being, as was once fancied, the capricious and miraculous infliction of some demon--the pestilence itself is found to be an orderly result of the same laws by which the sun shines and the herb grows; a product of nature; and therefore subject to man, to be prevented and extirpated by him, if he will.
Yes, my friends, let us teach these things to our children, to all children. Let us tell them to go to the Light, and see their Heavenly Father's works manifested, and know that they are, as He is, Light. I say, let us teach our children freely and boldly to know these things, and grow up in the light of them. Let us leave those to sneer at the triumphs of modern science, who trade upon the ignorance and the cowardice of mankind, and who say, 'Provided you make a child religious, what matter if he does fancy the sun goes round the earth? Why occupy his head, perhaps disturb his simple faith, by giving him a smattering of secular science?'
Specious enough is that argument: but shortsighted more than enough. It is of a piece with the wisdom which shrinks from telling children that God is love, lest they should not be sufficiently afraid of Him; which forbids their young hearts to expand freely towards their fellow-creatures: which puts into their mouths the watchwords of sects and parties, and thinks to keep them purer Christians by making them Pharisees from the cradle.
My friends, we may try to train up children as Pharisees: but we shall discover, after twenty years of mistaken labour, that we have only made them Sadducees. The path to infidelity in manhood is superstition in youth. You may tell the child never to mind whether the sun moves round the earth or not: but the day will come when he will mind in spite of you; and if he then finds that you have deceived him, that you have even left him in wilful ignorance, all your moral influence over him is gone, and all your religious lessons probably gone also. So true is it, that lies are by their very nature self-destructive. For all truth is of God; and no lie is of the truth, and therefore no lie can possibly help God or God's work in any human soul. For as the child ceases to respect his teachers he ceases to respect what they believe. His innate instinct of truth and honour, his innate longing to believe, to look up to some one better than himself, have been shocked and shaken once and for all; and it may require long years, and sad years, to bring him back to the faith of his childhood. Again I say it, we must not fear to tell the children the whole truth; in these days above all others which the world has yet seen. You cannot prevent their finding out the truth: then for our own sake, let us, their authorized teachers, be the first to tell it them. Let them in after life connect the thought of their clergyman, their schoolmaster, their church, with their first lessons in the free and right use of their God-given faculties, with their first glimpses into the boundless mysteries of art and science. Let them learn from us to regard all their powers as their Heavenly Father's gift; all art, all science, all discoveries, as their Heavenly Father's revelation to men. Let them learn from us not to shrink from the light, not to peep at it by stealth, but to claim it as their birthright; to welcome it, to live and grow in it to the full stature of men--rational, free, Christian English men. This, I believe, must be the method of a truly Protestant education.
I said Protestant--I say it again. What is the watchword of Protestantism? It is this. That no lie is of the truth. There are those who complain of us English that we attach too high a value to TRUTH. They say that falsehood is an evil: but not so great a one as we fancy. We accept the imputation. We answer boldly that there can be no greater evil than falsehood, no greater blessing than truth; and that by God's help we will teach the same to our children, and to our children's children. Free inquiry, religious as well as civil liberty--this is the spirit of Protestantism. This our fathers have bequeathed to us; this we will bequeath to our children;--to know that all truth is of God, that no lie is of the truth. Our enemies may call us heretics, unbelievers, rebellious, political squabblers. They may say in scorn, You Protestants know not whither you are going; you have broken yourselves off from the old Catholic tree, and now, in the wild exercise of your own private judgment, you are losing all that standard of doctrine, all unity of belief. Our answer will be--It is not so: but even if it were so-- even if we did not know whither we were going--we should go forward still. For though we know not, God knows. We have committed ourselves to God, the living God; and He has led us; and we believe that He will lead us. He has taught us; and we believe that He will teach us still. He has prospered us, and we believe that He will prosper us still: and therefore we will train up our children after us to go on the path which has brought us hither, freely to use their minds, boldly to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good; manfully to go forward, following Truth whithersoever she may lead them; trusting in God, the Father of Lights, asking Him for wisdom, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given them.
I have been asked to preach this day for the National Schools of this parish. I do so willingly, because I believe that in them this course of education is pursued, that conjoined with a sound teaching in the principles of our Protestant church, and a wholesome and kindly moral training, there is free and full secular instruction as far as the ages of the children will allow. Were it not the case, I could not plead for these schools; above all at this time, when the battle between ancient superstition and modern enlightenment in this land seems fast coming to a crisis and a death struggle. I could not ask you to help any school on earth in which I had not fair proof that the teachers taught, on physical and human as well as on moral subjects, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help them God.
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