SERMON XXIX. GOD'S CREATION
GENESIS i. 31.
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.
This is good news, and a gospel. The Bible was written to bring good news, and therefore with good news it begins, and with good news it ends.
But it is not so easy to believe. We want faith to believe; and that faith will be sometimes sorely tried.
Yes; we want faith. As St. Paul says: 'Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God; so that things which are seen were not made of things which appear.'
No one can prove to us that God made the world; yet we must believe it; and what is more, we DO believe it, and are certain of it. But all the proving and arguments in the world will not make us CERTAIN that God made the world; they will only make us feel that it is probable, that it is reasonable to think so. What, then, does make us CERTAIN that God made the world?--as certain as if we had seen him make it? FAITH, which is stronger than all arguments. Faith, which comes down from heaven to our hearts, and is the gift of God. Faith, which is the light with which Jesus Christ lights us. Faith, which comes by the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit.
So, again, when we have to believe not only that God made the world, but that all things which he has made are very good.
So it is, and you must believe it. God is good, the absolute and perfect good; and from good nothing can come but good: and therefore all which God has made is good, as he is; and therefore if anything in the world seems to be bad, one of two things must be true of it.
1. Either it is NOT bad, though it seems so to us; and God will bring good out of it in his good time, and justify himself to men, and show us that he is holy in all his works, and righteous in all his ways.
Or else--If the thing be really bad, then God did not make it. It must be a disease, a mistake, a failure, of man's making, or some person's making, but not of God's making. For all that he has made he sees eternally; and behold, it is very good.
Now, I can say that; and I believe it; and God grant I may never say anything else. And yet I cannot prove it to you by any argument. But I believe it; and I dare say many of you believe it (you all must believe it, before all is over), by something better than any argument. By faith--faith, which speaks to the very core and root of a man's heart and reason, and teaches him things surer and deeper than all sermons and books, all proofs and arguments.
May God, our Heavenly Father, fill our hearts with his Holy Spirit of faith, that we may believe utterly in his goodness, and therefore believe in the goodness of all that he has made.
For at times we shall need that faith very much indeed, not only about our neighbours, but about ourselves. We shall find it hard to believe that there is goodness in some of our neighbours; and the better we know ourselves, we shall find it very difficult to believe that there is goodness in us.
For surely this is a great puzzle.
'God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.' And God made you and me. Are we therefore very good? Or were we ever very good? Here is a great mystery. It would seem as if we must have been very good if God made us. For God can make nothing bad. Surely not. For he who makes bad things is a bad maker; he who makes bad houses is a bad builder; and he who makes bad men is a bad maker of men. But God cannot be a bad maker; for he is perfect and without fault in all his works. Yet men are bad.
Yet, on the other hand, if God made us, and the Bible be true, there must be good in us. When God said, Let that man be; when God first thought of us, if I may so speak, before the foundation of the world- -he thought of us as good. He created each of us good in his own mind, else he would not have created us at all. But why were we not good when we came on earth? Why do we come into this world sinful? Why does God's thought of us, God's purpose about us, seem to have failed? We do not know, and we need not know. St. Paul tells us that it came by Adam's fall; that by Adam's fall sin entered into the world, and each man, as he came into it, became sinful. How that was we cannot understand--we need not understand. Let us believe, and be silent; but let us believe this also, that St. Paul speaks truth not in this only but in that blessed and glorious news with which he follows up his sad and bad news. 'As by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men to justification of life.'
Yes; we may say boldly now, Whatever has been; whatever sin I inherited from Adam; however sinful I came into this world, God looks on me now, not as I am in Adam, but as I am in Christ. I am in Christ now, baptized into Christ, a new creature in Christ; to Christ I belong, and not to Adam at all; and God looks now, not on the old corrupt nature which I inherited from Adam, but on the new and good grace which God meant for me from all eternity, which Christ has given me now. It is that good and new grace in me which God cares for; it is that good and new grace which God is working on, to strengthen and perfect it, that I may grow in grace, and in the likeness of Christ, and become at last what God intended me to be, when he thought of me first before the foundation of all worlds, and said, 'Let us make man [not one man, but all men, male and female] in our image, after our likeness.'
This, again, is a great mystery. Yet our own hearts will tell us, if we will look at them, that it is true. Are there not, as it were, two different persons in us, fighting for the mastery? Are we not so different at different times, that we seem to ourselves, and to our neighbours, perhaps, to be two different people, according as we give way to the better nature or to the worse? Even as David--one year living a heroic and noble life by faith in God, writing Psalms which will live to the world's end, and the next committing adultery and murder. Were those two Davids the same David? Yes; and yet No. The good and noble David was David when he obeyed the grace of God. The base and foul David was David when he gave way to his fallen and corrupt nature.
Even so might we be. Even so, in a less degree, are we sometimes so unlike ourselves, so ashamed of ourselves, so torn asunder with passions and lusts, delighting in God's law and all that is good in our hearts, and yet finding another law in us which makes us slaves at moments to our basest passions--to anger, fear, spite, covetousness--that when we think of it we are ready to cry with St. Paul, 'Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?'
Who? Who but he of whom St. Paul tells us, gives the answer in the very next verse, 'I thank God, that God himself will, through Jesus Christ our Lord.'
Oh, my friends, whosoever of you have ever felt angry with yourselves, discontented with yourselves, ashamed of yourselves (and he that has not felt so knows no more about himself than a dumb animal does)--you that have felt so, listen to St. Paul's glorious news and take comfort. Do you wish to be right? Do you wish to be what God intended you to be before all worlds? Do you wish that of you the glorious words may come true, 'And God saw all that he had made, and behold it was very good?'
Then believe this. That all which is good in you God has made; and that he will take care of what he has made, for he loves it; that all which is bad in you, God has NOT made, and therefore he will destroy it; for he hates all that he has not made, and will not suffer it in his world; and that if you, your heart, your will, are enlisted on the good side, if you are wishing and trying that the good nature in you should conquer the bad, then you are on the side of God himself, and God himself is on your side; and 'if God be for you, who shall be against you?' Before all worlds, from eternity itself, God said, 'Let us make man in our own likeness;' and nothing can hinder God's word but the man himself. The word of God comes down, says the prophet, as the rain and the dew from heaven, and, like the rain and dew, returns not to him void, but prospers in the thing whereto he sends it; only if the ground be hard and barren, and determined to bring forth thorns and briars, rather than corn and fruit, is it cursed, and near to burning; and only if a man loves his fallen nature better than the noble, just, loving, generous grace of God, and gives himself willingly up to the likeness of the beasts which perish, can God's purpose towards him become of none effect.
Take courage, then. If thou dislikest thy sins, so does God. If thou art fighting against thy worse feelings, so is God. On thy side is God who made all, and Christ who died for all, and the Holy Spirit who alone gives wisdom, purity, nobleness. How canst thou fail when he is on thy side? On thy side are all spirits of just men made perfect, all wise and good souls and persons in earth and heaven, all good and wholesome influences, whether of nature or of grace, of matter or of mind. How canst thou fail if they are on thy side? God, I say, and all that God has made, are working together to bring true of thee the word of God--'And God saw all that he had made, and behold it was very good.' Believe, and endure to the end, and thou shalt be found in Christ at the last day; and, being in Christ, have thy share at last in the blessing which the Father pronounces everlastingly on Christ, and on the members of Christ, 'This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.' Amen.
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