SERMON XXIII. HUMAN NATURE
GENESIS i. 27.
So God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
On this Sunday the Church bids us to begin to read the book of Genesis, and hear how the world was made, and how man was made, and what the world is, and who man is.
To prepare us, I think, for Lent, and Passion week, Good Friday, and Easter day.
For you must know what a thing ought to be, before you can know what it ought not to be; you must know what health is, before you can know what disease is; you must know how and why a good man is good, before you can know how and why a bad man is bad. You must know what man fell from, before you can know what man has fallen to; and so you must hear of man's creation, before you can understand man's fall.
Now in Lent we lament and humble ourselves for man's fall. In Passion week we remember the death and suffering of our blessed Lord, by which he redeemed us from the fall. On Easter day we give him thanks and glory for having conquered death and sin, and rising up as the new Adam, of whom St. Paul writes, 'As in Adam all died, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.'
And therefore to prepare us for Lent and Passion week, and Easter day, we begin this Sunday to read who the first man was, and what he was like when he came into the world.
Now we all say that man was created good, righteous, innocent, holy. But do you fancy that man had any goodness or righteousness of his own, so that he could stand up and say, I am good; I can take care of myself; I can do what is right in my own strength?
If you fancy so, you fancy wrong. The book of Genesis, and the text, tell us that it was not so. It tells us that man could not be good by himself; that the Lord God had to tell him what to do, and what not to do; that the Lord God visited him and spoke to him: so that he could only do right by faith: by trusting the Lord, and believing him, and believing that what the Lord told him was the right thing for him; and it tells us that he fell for want of faith, by not believing the Lord and not believing that what the Lord told him was right for him. So he was holy, and stood safe, only as long as he did not stand alone: but the moment that he tried to stand alone he fell. So that it was with Adam as it is with you and me. The just man can only live by faith.
And St. John explains this more fully, when he tells us that the voice of the Lord, the Word of God whom Adam heard walking among the trees of the garden, was our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, who was the life of Adam and all men, and the light of Adam and all men. All death and misery, and all ignorance and darkness, come at first from forgetting the Lord Jesus Christ, and forgetting that he is about our path and about our bed, and spying out all our ways; as St. John says, that Christ's light is always shining in the darkness of this world, but the darkness comprehendeth it not; that he came to his own, but his own received him not; but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, as he gave to man at first; for St. Luke says, that Adam was the Son of God. But a son must depend on his father; and therefore man was sent into the world to depend on God. So do not fancy that man before he fell could do without God's grace, though he cannot now. If man had never fallen, he would have been just as much in need of God's grace to keep him from falling. To deny that is the root of what is called the Pelagian heresy. Therefore the Church has generally said, and said most truly, that 'Adam stood by grace in Paradise;' and had a 'supernatural gift;' and that as long as he used that gift, he was safe, and only so long.
Now what does supernatural mean?
It means 'above nature.'
Adam had a human nature: but he wanted something to keep him above that nature, lest he should die, as all natural things on earth must. Trees and flowers, birds and beasts, yea, the great earth itself must die, and have an end in time, because it has had a beginning.
Man had and has still a human nature; the most beautiful, noble, and perfect nature in the world; high above the highest animals in rank, beauty, understanding, and feelings. Human nature is made, so the Bible tells us, in some mysterious way, after the likeness of God; of Christ, the eternal Son of man, who is in heaven; for the Bible speaks of the Word or Voice of God as appearing to man in something of a human voice: reasoning with him as man reasons with man; and feeling toward him human feelings. That is the doctrine of the Bible; of David and the prophets, just as much as of Genesis or of St. Paul.
That is a great mystery and a great glory: but that alone could not make man good, could not even keep him alive.
For God made man for something more noble and blessed than to follow even his own lofty human nature. God made the animals to follow their natures each after its kind, and to do each what it liked, without sin. But he made man to do more than that; to do more than what he LIKES; namely, to do what he OUGHT. God made man to love him, to obey him, to copy him, by doing God's will, and living God's life, lovingly, joyfully, and of his own free will, as a son follows the father whose will he delights to do.
All animals God made to live and multiply, each after their kind: and man likewise: but the animals he made to die again, and fresh generations, ay, and fresh kinds of animals to take their place, and do their work, as we know has happened again and again, both before and since man came upon the earth. But of man the Bible says, that he was not meant to die: that into him God breathed the breath, or spirit, of life: of that life of men who is Jesus Christ the Lord; that in Christ man might be the Son of God. To man he gave the life of the soul, the moral and spiritual life, which is--to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with his God; the life which is always tending upward to the source from which it came, and longing to return to God who gave it, and to find rest in him. For in God alone, in the assurance of God's love to us, and in the knowledge that we are living the life of God, can a man's spirit find rest. So St. Augustine found, through so many bitter experiences, when (as he tells us) he tried to find rest and comfort in all God's creatures one after another, and yet never found them till he found God, or rather was found by God, and illuminated (so he says himself) with that grace which by the fall he lost.
What then does holy baptism mean? It means that God lifts us up again to that honour from whence Adam fell. That as Adam lost the honour of being God's son, so Jesus Christ restores to us that honour. That as Adam lost the supernatural grace in which he stood, so God for Christ's sake freely gives us back that grace, that we may stand by faith in that Christ, the Word of God, whom Adam disbelieved and fell away.
Baptism says, You are not true and right men by nature; you are only fallen men--men in your wrong place: but by grace you become men indeed, true men; men living as man was meant to live, by faith, which is the gift of God. For without grace man is like a stream when the fountain head is stopped; it stops too--lies in foul puddles, decays, and at last dries up: to keep the stream pure and living and flowing, the fountain above must flow, and feed it for ever.
And so it is with man. Man is the stream, Christ is the fountain of life. Parted from him mankind becomes foul and stagnant in sin and ignorance, and at last dries up and perishes, because there is no life in them. Joined to him in holy baptism, mankind lives, spreads, grows, becomes stronger, better, wiser year by year, each generation of his church teaching the one which comes after, as our Lord says, not only, 'If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink;' but also, 'He that believeth in me, out of him shall flow rivers of living water.'
Yes, my brethren, if you want to see what man is, you must not look at the heathens, who are in a state of fallen and corrupt nature, but at Christians, who are in a state of grace; for they only (those of them, I mean, who are true to God and themselves), give us any true notion of what man can be and should be.
Heathendom is the foul and stagnant pool, parted from Christ, the Fount of life. Christendom, in spite of all its sins and short- comings, is the stream always fed from the heavenly Fountain. And holy baptism is the river of the water of life, which St. John saw in the Revelations, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, the trees of which are for the healing of the nations. And when that river shall have spread over the world, there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in the city of God; and the nations of them that are saved shall grow to glory and blessedness, such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath entered into the heart of man to conceive, but God hath prepared for those who love him.
Oh, may God hasten that day! May he accomplish the number of his elect and hasten his kingdom, and the day when there shall not be a heathen soul on earth, but all shall know him from the least to the greatest, and the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea!
Then--when all men are brought into the fold of Christ's holy Church- -then will they be men indeed; men not after nature, but after grace, and the likeness of Christ, and the stature of perfect men: and then what shall happen to this earth matters little; no, not if the earth and all the works therein, beautiful though they be, be burned up; for though this world perish, man would still have his portion sure in the city of God which is eternal in the heavens, and before the face of the Son of man who is in heaven.
Oh, my friends, think of this. Think of what you say when you say, 'I am a man.' Remember that you are claiming for yourselves the very highest honour--an honour too great to make you proud; an honour so great that, if you understand it rightly, it must fill you with awe, and trembling, and the spirit of godly fear, lest, when God has put you up so high, you should fall shamefully again. For the higher the place, the deeper the fall; and the greater the honour, the greater the shame of losing it. But be sure that it was an honour before Adam fell. That ever since Christ has taken the manhood into God, it is an honour now to be a man. Do not let the devil or bad men ever tempt you to say, I am only a man, and therefore you cannot expect me to do right. I am but a man, and therefore I cannot help being mean, and sinful, and covetous, and quarrelsome, and foul: for that is the devil's doctrine, though it is common enough. I have heard a story of a man in America--where very few, I am sorry to say, have heard the true doctrine of the Catholic Church, and therefore do not know really that God made man in his own image, and redeemed him again into his own image by Jesus Christ--and this man was rebuked for being a drunkard; and what do you fancy his excuse was? 'Ah,' he said, 'you should remember that there is a great deal of human nature in a man.' That was his excuse. He had been so ill-taught by his Calvinist preachers, that he had learnt to look on human nature as actually a bad thing; as if the devil, and not God, had made human nature, and as if Christ had not redeemed human nature. Because he was a man, he thought he was excused in being a bad man; because he had a human nature in him, he was to be a drunkard and a brute.
My friends, I trust that you have not so learned Christ. And if you have, it is from no teaching of your Bible, of your Catechism, or your Prayer-book; and, I say boldly, from no teaching of mine. The Church bids you say, Yes; I have a human nature in me; and what nature is that but the nature which the Son of God took on himself, and redeemed, and justified it, and glorified it, sitting for ever now in his human nature at the right hand of God, the Son of man who is in heaven? Yes, I am a man; and what is it to be a man, but to be the image and glory of God? What is it to be a man? To belong to that race whose Head is the co-equal and co-eternal Son of God. True, it is not enough to have only a human nature which may sin, will sin, must sin, if left to itself a moment. But you have, unless the Holy Spirit has left you, and your baptism is of none effect, more than human nature in you: you have divine grace--that supernatural grace and Spirit of God by which man stood in Paradise, and by neglecting which he fell.
Obey that Spirit; from him comes every right judgment of your minds, every good desire of your hearts, every thought and feeling in you which raises you up, instead of dragging you down; which bids you do your duty, and live the life of God and Christ, instead of living the mere death-in-life of selfish pleasure and covetousness. Obey that Spirit, and be men: men indeed, that you may not come to shame in the day when Christ the Son of Man shall take account of you, how you have used your manhood, body, soul, and spirit.
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