SERMON XXIV. THE CHARITY OF GOD
LUKE xviii. 31, 32, 33.
All things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge him and put him to death; and the third day he shall rise again.
This is a solemn text, a solemn Gospel; but it is not its solemnity which I wish to speak of this morning, but this--What has it to do with the Epistle, and with the Collect? The Epistle speaks of Charity; the Collect bids us pray for the Holy Spirit of Charity. What have they to do with the Gospel?
Let me try to show you.
The Epistle speaks of God's eternal charity. The Gospel tells us how that eternal charity was revealed, and shown plainly in flesh and blood on earth, in the life and death of Jesus Christ our Lord.
But you may ask, How does the Epistle talk of God's charity? It bids men be charitable; but the name of God is never mentioned in it. Not so, my friends. Look again at the Epistle, and you will see one word which shows us that this charity, which St. Paul says we must have, is God's charity.
For, he says, Charity never faileth; that though prophecies shall fail, tongues cease, knowledge vanish away, charity shall never fail. Now, if a thing never fail, it must be eternal. And if it be eternal, it must be in God. For, as I have reminded you before about other things, the Athanasian Creed tells us (and never was truer or wiser word written) there is but one eternal.
But if charity be not in God, there must be two eternals; God must be one eternal, and charity another eternal; which cannot be. Therefore charity must be in God, and of God, part of God's essence and being; and not only God's saints, but God himself--suffereth long, and is kind; envieth not, is not puffed up, seeketh not his own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
So St. Augustine believed, and the greatest fathers of old time. They believed, and they have taught us to believe, that before all things, above all things, beneath all things, is the divine charity, the love of God, infinite as God is infinite, everlasting as God is everlasting; the charity by which God made all worlds, all men, and all things, that they might be blest as he is blest, perfect as he is perfect, useful as he is useful; the charity which is God's essence and Holy Spirit, which might be content in itself, because it is perfectly at peace in itself; and yet CANNOT be content in itself, just because it is charity and love, and therefore must be going forth and proceeding everlastingly from the Father and the Son, upon errands of charity, love, and mercy, rewarding those whom it finds doing their work in their proper place, and seeking and saving those who are lost, and out of their proper place.
But what has this to do with the Gospel? Surely, my friends, it is not difficult to see. In Jesus Christ our Lord, the eternal charity of God was fully revealed. The veil was taken off it once for all, that men might see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and know that the glory of God is charity, and the Spirit of God is love.
There was a veil over that in old times; and the veil comes over it often enough now. It was difficult in old times to believe that God was charity; it is difficult sometimes now.
Sad and terrible things happen--Plague and famine, earthquake and war. All these things have happened in our times. Not two months ago, in Italy, an earthquake destroyed many thousands of people; and in India, this summer, things have happened of which I dare not speak, which have turned the hearts of women to water, and the hearts of men to fire: and when such things happen, it is difficult for the moment to believe that God is love, and that he is full of eternal, boundless, untiring charity toward the creatures whom he has made, and who yet perish so terribly, suddenly, strangely.
Well, then, we must fall back on the Gospel. We must not be afraid of the terror of such awful events, but sanctify the Lord God, in our hearts, and say, Whatever may happen I know that God is love; I know that his glory is charity; I know that his mercy is over all his works; for I know that Jesus Christ, who was full of perfect charity, is the express image of his Father's person, and the brightness of his Father's glory. I know (for the Gospel tells me), that he dared all things, endured all things, in the depth of his great love, for the sake of sinful men. I know that when he knew what was going to happen to him; when he knew that he should be mocked, scourged, crucified, he deliberately, calmly, faced all that shame, horror, agony, and went up willingly to Jerusalem to suffer and to die there; because he was full of the Spirit of God, the spirit of charity and love. I know that he was SO full of it, that as he went up on his fatal journey, with a horrible death staring him in the face, still, instead of thinking of himself, he was thinking of others, and could find time to stop and heal the poor blind man by the way side, who called 'Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.' And in him and his love will I trust, when there seems nothing else left to trust on earth.
Oh, my friends, believe this with your whole heart. Whatever happens to you or to your friends, happens out of the eternal charity of God, who cannot change, who cannot hate, who can be nothing but what he is and was, and ever will be--love.
And when St. Paul tells you, as he told you in the Epistle to-day, to have charity, to try for charity, because it is the most excellent way to please God, and the eternal virtue, which will abide for ever in heaven, when all wisdom and learning, even about spiritual things, which men have had on earth, shall seem to us when we look back such as a child's lessons do to a grown man;--when, I say, St. Paul tells you to try after charity, he tells you to be like God himself; to be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect; to bear and forbear because God does so: to give and forgive because God does so; to love all because God loves all, and willeth that none should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth.
How he will fulfil that; how he fulfilled it last summer with those poor souls in India, we know not, and never shall know in this life. Let it be enough for us that known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world, and that his charity embraces the whole universe.
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