SERMON XXVI. THE HEAVENLY FATHER
ACTS xvi. 24-28.
God that made the world, and all that therein is, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands . . . For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.
I told you last Sunday of the meaning of the days of the week; but one day I left out--namely, Tuesday. I did so on purpose. I wish to speak of that day by itself in this sermon.
I told you how our forefathers worshipped many gods, by fancying that various things in the world round them were gods--sun and moon, wind and thunder, spring and harvest.
But if that seems to you at times wrong and absurd, it seemed so to them also. They, like all heathens, had at times dreams of one God.
They thought to themselves--All heaven and earth must have had a beginning, and they cannot have grown out of nothing, for out of nothing nothing comes. They must have been made in some way. Perhaps they were made by some ONE.
The more they saw of this wonderful world, and all the order and contrivance in it, the more sure they were that one mind must have planned it, one will created it.
But men--they thought--persons, living souls--are not merely made; they are begotten; they must have a Father, whose sons they are. Perhaps, they thought, there is somewhere a great Father; a Father of all persons, from whom all souls come, who was before all things, and all persons, however great, however ancient they may be. And so, like the Greeks and Romans, and many other heathen nations, they had dim thoughts of an All-Father, as they called him; Father of gods and men; the Father of spirits.
They looked round them too, in this world, and saw that everything in it must die. The tree, though it stood for a thousand years, must decay at last; the very rocks and mountains crumbled to dust at last: and so they thought--truly and wisely enough--Everything which we see near us, perishes at last: why should not everything which we can see, however far off, however great, perish? Why should not this earth come to an end? Why should not sun and moon, wind and thunder, spring and harvest, end at last? And then will not these gods, who are mixed up with the world, and live in it, and govern it, die too? If the sun perishes, the sun-god will perish too. If the thunder ceases for ever, then there will be no more thunder-god. Yes, they thought--and wisely and truly too--everything which has a beginning must have an end. Everything which is born, must die. The sun and the earth, wind and thunder, will perish some day; the gods of sun and earth, wind and thunder, will die some day. And then what will be left? Will there be nothing and nowhere? That thought was too horrible. God's voice in their hearts, the word of the Lord Jesus Christ, who lights every man who comes into the world, made them feel that it was horrible, unreasonable; that it could not be.
But it was all dim to them, and uncertain. Of one thing only they were certain, that death reigned, and that death had passed upon all men, and things, and even gods. Evil beasts, evil gods, evil passions, were gnawing at the root of all things. A time would come of nothing but rage and wickedness, fury and destruction; the gods would fight and be slain, and earth and heaven would be sent back again into shapeless ruin: and after that they knew no more, though they longed to know. They dreamed, I say, at moments of a new and a better world, new men, new gods: but how were they to come? Who would live when all things died? Was there not somewhere an All- Father, who had eternal life?
Then they looked round upon the earth, those simple-hearted forefathers of ours, and said within themselves, Where is the All- Father, if All-Father there be? Not in this earth; for it will perish. Not in the sun, moon, or stars, for they will perish too. Where is He who abideth for ever?
Then they lifted up their eyes and saw, as they thought, beyond sun, and moon, and stars and all which changes and will change, the clear blue sky, the boundless firmament of heaven.
That never changed; that was always the same. The clouds and storms rolled far below it, and all the bustle of this noisy world; but there the sky was still, as bright and calm as ever. The All-Father must be there, unchangeable in the unchanging heaven; bright, and pure, and boundless like the heavens; and like the heavens too, silent, and afar off.
So they named him after the heaven, Tuith, Tuisco, Divisco--The God who lives in the clear heaven; and after him Tuesday is called: the day of Tuisco, the heavenly Father. He was the Father of gods and men; and man was the son of Tuisco and Hertha--heaven and earth.
That was all they knew; and even that they did not know; they contradicted themselves and each other about it. After a time they began to think that Odin, and not Tuisco, was the All-Father; all was dim and far off to them. They were feeling after him, as St. Paul says he had intended them to do: but they did not find him. They did not know the Father, because they did not know Jesus Christ the Son; as it is written, 'No man cometh to the Father, but through me;' and, 'No man hath seen God at any time; only the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.'
Many other heathens had the same thought and the same word; the old Greeks and Romans, for instance, who many thousand years ago spoke the same tongue as we did then, called him Zeus or Deus Pater; Jupiter; the heavenly Father, Father of gods and men; using the same word as our Tuisco, a little altered. And that same word, changed slightly, means God now, in Welsh, French, and Italian, and many languages in Europe and in Asia; and will do so till the end of time.
That, I say, was all they knew of their Father in heaven, till missionaries came and preached the Gospel to them, and told them what St. Paul told the Greeks in my text.
Now, what did St. Paul tell the Greeks? He came, we read, to Athens in Greece, and found the city wholly given to idolatry, worshipping all manner of false gods, and images of them. And yet they were not content with their false gods. They felt, as our forefathers felt, that there must be a greater, better, more mighty, more faithful God than all: and they thought, 'We will worship him too: for we are sure that he is, though we know nothing about him.' So they set up, beside all the altars and temples of the false gods 'To the Unknown God.' And St. Paul passed by and saw it; and his heart was stirred within him with pity and compassion; and he rose up and preached them a sermon--the first and the best missionary sermon which ever was preached on earth, the model of all missionary sermons; and said, 'That God whom you ignorantly worship, Him I will declare unto you.'
Now, here was a Gospel; here was good news. St. Paul told them--as the missionaries afterwards told our forefathers--that one, at least, of their heathen fancies was not wrong. There was a heavenly Father. Mankind was not an orphan, come into the world he knew not whence, and going, when he died, he knew not whither. No, man was not an orphan. From God he came; to God, if he chose, he might return. The heathen poet had spoken truth when he said, 'For we are the offspring of God.'
But where was the heavenly Father? Far away in the clear sky, in the highest heaven beyond all suns and stars? Silent and idle, caring for no one on earth, content in himself, and leaving sinful man to himself to go to ruin as he chose?
'No,' says St. Paul, 'He is not far off from any one of us; for in him we live, and move, and have our being.'
Wonderful words! Eighteen hundred years have past since then, and we have not spelt out half the meaning of them. It is such good news, such blessed news, and yet such awful news, that we are afraid to believe it fully. That the Almighty God should be so near us, sinful men; that we, in spite of all our sins, should live, and move, and have our being in God. How can it be true?
My friends, it would not be true, if something more was not true. We should have no right to say, 'I believe in God the Father Almighty,' unless we said also, 'I believe in Jesus Christ,. his only Son, our Lord.' St. Paul, after he had told them of a Father in heaven, went on to tell them of A MAN whom that Father had sent to judge the world, having raised him from the dead.--And there his sermon stopped. Those foolish Greeks laughed at him; they would not receive the news of Jesus Christ the Son; and therefore they lost the good news of their Father in heaven. We can guess from St. Paul's Epistle what he was going on to tell them. How, by believing in Jesus Christ the Son, and claiming their share in him, and being baptized into his name, they might become once more God's children, and take their place again as new men and true men in Jesus Christ. But they would not hear his message.
Our forefathers did hear that message, and believed it; they had been feeling after the heavenly Father, and at last they found him, and claimed their share in Christ as sons of the heavenly Father; and therefore we are Christian men this day, baptized into God's family, and thriving as God's family must thrive, as long as it remembers that God dwelleth not in temples made with hands, and needs nothing from man, seeing that he gives to all life and breath and all things; and is not far from any one of us, seeing that in him we live, and move, and have our being, and are the offspring, the children of God.
Bear that in mind. Bear it in mind, I say, that in God you live, and move, and have your being. Day and night, going out and coming in, say to yourselves, 'I am with God my Father, and God my Father is with me. There is not a good feeling in my heart, but my heavenly Father has put it there: ay, I have not a power which he has not given, a thought which he does not know; even the very hairs of my head are all numbered. Whither shall I go then from his presence? Whither shall I flee from his Spirit? For he filleth all things. If my eyes were opened, I should see at every moment God's love, God's power, God's wisdom, working alike in sun and moon, in every growing blade and ripening grain, and in the training and schooling of every human being, and every nation, to whom he has appointed their times, and the bounds of their habitation, if haply they may seek after the Lord, and find him in whom they live, and move, and have their being. Everywhere I should see life going forth to all created things from God the Father, of whom are all things, and God the Son, by whom are all things, and God the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of that life.'
A little of that glorious sight we may see in this life, if our hearts and reasons are purified by the Spirit of God, to see God in all things, and all things in God: and more in that life whereof it is written, 'Beloved, we are now the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but this we know, that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.' To that life may he in his mercy bring us all. Amen.
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