SERMON XXX. TRUE PRUDENCE
MATTHEW vi. 34.
Take, therefore, no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Let me say a few words to you on this text. Be not anxious, it tells you. And why? Because you have to be prudent. In practice, fretting and anxiety help no man towards prudence. We must all be as prudent and industrious as we can; agreed. But does fretting make us the least more prudent? Does anxiety make us the least more industrious? On the contrary, I know nothing which cripples a man more, and hinders him working manfully, than anxiety. Look at the worst case of all--at a man who is melancholy, and fancies that all is going wrong with him, and that he must be ruined, and has a mind full of all sorts of dark, hopeless, fancies. Does he work any the more, or try to escape one of these dangers which he fancies are hanging over him? So far from it, he gives himself up to them without a struggle; he sits moping, helpless, and useless, and says, 'There is no use in struggling. If it will come, it must come.' He has lost spirit for work, and lost the mind for work, too. His mind is so full of these dark fears that he cannot turn it to laying any prudent plan to escape from the very things which he dreads.
And so, in a less degree, with people who fret and are anxious. They may be in a great bustle, but they do not get their work done. They run hither and thither, trying this and that, but leaving everything half done, to fly off to something else. Or else they spend time unprofitably in dreaming, and expecting, and complaining, which might be spent profitably in working. And they are always apt to lose their heads, and their tempers, just when they need them most; to do in their hurry the very last things which they ought to have done; to try so many roads that they choose the wrong road after all, from mere confusion, and run with open eyes into the very pit which they have been afraid of falling into. As we say here, they will go all through the wood to cut a straight stick, and bring out a crooked one at last. My friends, even in a mere worldly way, the men whom I have seen succeed best in life have always been cheerful and hopeful men, who went about their business with a smile on their faces, and took the changes and chances of this mortal life like men, facing rough and smooth alike as it came, and so found the truth of the old proverb, that 'Good times, and bad times, and all times pass over.' Of all men, perhaps, who have lived in our days, the most truly successful was the great Duke of Wellington; and one thing, I believe, which helped him most to become great, was that he was so wonderfully free from vain fretting and complaining, free from useless regrets about the past, from useless anxieties for the future. Though he had for years on his shoulders a responsibility which might have well broken down the spirit of any man; though the lives of thousands of brave men, and the welfare of great kingdoms-- ay, humanly speaking, the fate of all Europe--depended on his using his wisdom in the right place, and one mistake might have brought ruin and shame on him and on tens of thousands; yet no one ever saw him anxious, confused, terrified. Though for many years he was much tried and hampered, and unjustly and foolishly kept from doing his work as he knew it ought to be down, yet when the time came for work, his head was always clear, his spirit was always ready; and therefore he succeeded in the most marvellous way. Solomon says, 'Better is he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city.' Now the Great Duke had learnt in most things to rule his spirit, and therefore he was able not only to take cities, but to do better still, to deliver cities,--ay, and whole countries--out of the hand of armies often far stronger, humanly speaking, than his own.
And for an example of what I mean I will tell you a story of him which I know to be true. Some one once asked him what his secret was for winning battles. And he said that he had no secret; that he did not know how to win battles, and that no man knew. For all, he said, that man could do, was to look beforehand steadily at all the chances, and lay all possible plans beforehand: but from the moment the battle began, he said, no mortal prudence was of use, and no mortal man could know what the end would be. A thousand new accidents might spring up every hour, and scatter all his plaits to the winds; and all that man could do was to comfort himself with the thought that he had done his best, and to trust in God.
Now, my friends, learn a lesson from this, a lesson for the battle of life, which every one of us has to fight from our cradle to our grave--the battle against misery, poverty, misfortune, sickness; the battle against worse enemies even than they--the battle against our own weak hearts, and the sins which so easily beset us against laziness, dishonesty, profligacy, bad tempers, hard-heartedness, deserved disgrace, the contempt of our neighbours, and just punishment from Almighty God. Take a lesson, I say, from the Great Duke for the battle of life. Be not fretful and anxious about the morrow. Face things like men; count the chances like men; lay your plans like men: but remember, like men, that a fresh chance may any moment spoil all your plans; remember that there are thousand dangers round you from which your prudence cannot save you. Do your best; and then like the Great Duke, comfort yourselves with the thought that you have done your best; and like him, trust in God. Remember that God is really and in very truth your Father, and that without him not a sparrow falls to the ground; and are ye not of more value than many sparrows, O ye of little faith? Remember that he knows what you have need of before you ask him; that he gives you all day long of his own free generosity a thousand things for which you never dream of asking him; and believe that in all the chances and changes of this life, in bad luck as well as in good, in failure as well as success, in poverty as well as wealth, in sickness as well as health, he is giving you and me, and all mankind good gifts, which we in our ignorance, and our natural dread of what is unpleasant, should never dream of asking him for: but which are good for us nevertheless; like him from whom they come, the Father of lights, from whom comes every good and perfect gift; who is neither neglectful, capricious, or spiteful, for in him is neither variableness, nor shadow of turning, but who is always loving unto every man, and his mercy is over all his works.
Bear this in mind, my friends, in all the troubles of life--that you have a Father in heaven who knows what you have need of before you ask him, and your infirmity in asking, and who is wont--is regularly accustomed all day long--to give you more than either you desire or deserve. And bear it in mind even more carefully, if you ever become anxious and troubled about your own soul, and the life to come.
Many people are troubled with such anxieties, and are continually asking, 'Shall I be saved or not?' In some this anxiety comes from bad teaching, and the hearing of false, cruel, and superstitious doctrine. In others it seems to be mere bodily disease, constitutional weakness and fearfulness, which prevents their fighting against dark and sad thoughts when they arise; but in both cases I think that it is the devil himself who tempts them, the devil himself who takes advantage of their bodily weakness, or of the false doctrines which they have heard, and begins whispering in their ears, 'You have no Father in heaven. God does not love you. His promises are not meant for you. He does not will your salvation, but your damnation, and there is no hope for you;' till the poor soul falls into what is called religious melancholy, and moping madness, and despair, and dread of the devil; and often believes that the devil has got complete power over him, and that he is the slave of Satan for ever, till, in some cases, the man is even driven to kill himself in the agony of his despair.
Now, my friends, the true answer to all such dark thoughts is, 'Your Heavenly Father knows what you have need of before you ask him; therefore be not anxious about the morrow, for the morrow shall take care for the things of itself; sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.'
For in the first place, my friends, the devil was a liar from the beginning, and therefore the chances are a million to one against his speaking the truth in any case; and if he tells you that you are going to be damned, I should take that for a fair sign that you were NOT going to be damned, simply because the devil says it, and therefore it CANNOT be true. No, my friends, the people who have real reason to be afraid are just those who are not afraid--the self- conceited, self-satisfied souls; for the devil attacks them too, as he does every one, by their weakest point, and has his lie ready for them, and whispers, 'You are all right; you are safe; you cannot fall; your salvation is sure.' Or else, 'You hold the right doctrine; you are orthodox, and perfectly right, and whoever differs from you must be wrong;' and so tempts them to vain confidence and unclean living, or else into pride, hardness of heart, self-willed and self-conceited quarrelling and slandering and lying for the sake of their own party in the Church. It is the self-confident ones who have reason to fear and tremble; for after pride comes a fall. They have reason to fear, lest while they are crying peace and safety, and thanking God that they are not as other men are, sudden destruction come on them; but you anxious, trembling souls, who are terrified at the sight of your own sins you who feel how weak you are, and ignorant, and confused, and unworthy to do aught but cry, 'God be merciful to me a sinner!' you are the very ones who have least reason to be afraid, just because you are most afraid: you are the true penitents over whom your Father in heaven rejoices; you are those of whom he has said, 'I am the High and Holy One who inhabiteth eternity; yet I dwell with him that is of an humble and contrite heart, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to comfort the soul of the contrite ones;' as he will revive and comfort you, if you will only have faith in God, and take your stand on your baptism, and from that safe ground defy the devil and all his dark imaginations, saying, 'I am God's child, and God is my father, and Christ's blood was shed for me, and the Holy Spirit of God is with me; and in the strength of my baptism, I will hope against hope; I trust in the Lord my God, who has called me into this state of salvation, that he will keep to the end the soul which I have committed to him through Jesus Christ my Lord.'
Yes. Be not anxious for the morrow, and much more, be not anxious for the life to come. Your Heavenly Father knew that you had need of salvation long before you asked him. Eighteen hundred years before you were born, he sent his Son into the world to die for you; when you were but an infant he called you to be baptized into his Church, and receive your share of his Spirit. Long before you thought of him, he thought of you; long before you loved him, he loved you; and if he so loved you, that he spared not his only begotten Son, but freely gave him for you, will he not with that Son freely give you all things? Therefore, fear not, little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
And be not anxious about the morrow; for the morrow shall be anxious about the things of itself. Be anxious about to-day, if you will; and 'work out your salvation with fear and trembling;' for it is God who works in you to will and to do of his good pleasure; and therefore you can do right; and therefore, again, it is your own fault if you do not do right. And yet, for that very reason, be not over anxious; for 'if God be with you, who can be against you?' If God, who is so mighty that he made all heaven and earth, be on our side, surely stronger is he that is with you than he that is against you. If God, who so loved you that he gave his only begotten Son for you, be on your side, surely you have a friend whom you can trust. 'What can part you from his love?' St. Paul asks you; from God's love, which is as boundless and eternal as God himself; nothing can part you from it, but your own sin.
'But I do sin,' you say, 'again and again, and that is what makes me fearful. I try to do better, but I fall and I fail all day long. I try not to be covetous and worldly, but poverty tempts me, and I fall; I try to keep my temper, but people upset me, and I say things of which I am bitterly ashamed the next minute. Can God love such a one as me?' My answer is, If God loved the whole world when it was dead in trespasses and sins, and NOT trying to be better, much more will he love you who are not dead in trespasses and sins, and are trying to be better. If he were not still helping you; if his Spirit were not with you, you would care no more to become better than a dog or an ox cares. And if you fall--why, arise again. Get up, and go on. You may be sorely bruised, and soiled with your fall, but is that any reason for lying still, and giving up the struggle cowardly? In the name of Jesus Christ, arise and walk. He will wash you, and you shall be clean. He will heal you, and you shall be strong again. What else can a traveller expect who is going over rough ground in the dark, but to fall and bruise himself, and to miss his way too many a time: but is that any reason for his sitting down in the middle of the moor, and saying, 'I shall never get to my journey's end?' What else can a soldier expect, but wounds, and defeat, too, often; but is that any reason for his running away, and crying, 'We shall never take the place?' If our brave men at Sebastopol had done so, and lost heart each time they were beaten back, not only would they have never taken the place, but the Russians would have driven them long ago into the sea, and perhaps not a man of them would have escaped. And, be sure of it, your battle is like theirs. Every one of us has to fight for the everlasting life of his soul against all the devils of hell, and there is no use in running away from them; they will come after us stronger than ever, unless we go to face them. As with our men at Sebastopol, unless we beat the enemy, the enemy will destroy us; and our only hope is to fight to-day's battle like men, in the strength which God gives us, and trust him to give us strength to fight to-morrow's battle too, when it comes. For here again, as it was at Sebastopol, so it is with our souls. Let our men be as prudent as they might, they never knew what to-morrow's battle would be like, or where the enemy might come upon them; and no more do we. They in general could not see the very enemy who was close on them; and no more can we see our enemy, near to us though he is. To- morrow's temptations may be quite different from to-day's. To-day we may be tempted to be dishonest, to-morrow to lose our tempers, the day afterwards to be vain and conceited, and a hundred other things. Let the morrow be anxious about the things of itself, then; and face to-day's enemy, and do the duty which lies nearest you. Our brave men did so. They kept themselves watchful, and took all the precautions they could in a general way, just as we ought to do each in his own habits and temper; but the great business was, to go steadily on at their work, and do each day what they could do, instead of giving way to vain fears and fancies about what they might have to do some day, which would have only put them out of heart, and confused and distracted them. And so it came to pass, that as their day so their strength was; that each day they got forward somewhat, and had strength and courage left besides to drive back each new assault as it came; and so at last, after many mistakes and many failures, through sickness and weakness, thirst and hunger, and every misery except fear which can fall on man, they conquered suddenly, and beyond their highest hopes:- as every one will conquer suddenly, and beyond his highest hope, who fights on manfully under Christ's banner against sin; against the sin in himself, and in his neighbours, and in his parish, and faces the devil and his works wheresoever he may meet them, sure that the devil and his works must be conquered at the last, because God's wrath is gone out against them, and Christ, who executes God's wrath, will never sheath his sword till he has put all enemies under his feet, and death be swallowed up in victory.
Therefore be not anxious about the morrow. Do to-day's duty, fight to-day's temptation; and do not weaken and distract yourself by looking forward to things which you cannot see, and could not understand if you saw them. Enough for you that your Saviour for whom you fight is just and merciful; for he rewardeth every man according to his work. Enough for you that he has said, 'He that is faithful unto death, I will give him a crown of life.' Enough for you that if you be faithful over a few things, he will make you ruler over many things, and bring you into his joy for evermore.
But as for vain fears, leave them to those who will not believe God's message concerning himself--that he is love, and his mercy over all his works. Leave them for those who deny God's righteousness, by denying that he has had pity on this poor fallen world, but has left it to itself and its sins, without sending any one to save it. And for real fears, leave them for those who have no fears; for those who think they see, and yet are blind; who think themselves orthodox and infallible, and beyond making a mistake, every man his own Pope; who say that they see, and therefore their sin remaineth; for those who thank God that they are not as other men are, and who will find the publicans and harlots entering into the kingdom of heaven before them; and for those who continue in sin that grace may abound, and call themselves Christians, while they bring shame on the name of Christ by their own evil lives, by their worldliness and profligacy, or by their bitterness and quarrelsomeness; who make religious profession a by-word and a mockery in the mouths of the ungodly, and cause Christ's little ones to stumble. Let them be afraid, if they will; for it were better for them that a millstone were hanged about their neck, and they were drowned in the midst of the sea. But those who hate their sins, and long to leave their sins behind; those who distrust themselves--let them not be anxious about the morrow; for to-morrow, and to-day, and for ever, the Almighty Father is watching over them, the Lord Jesus guiding them wisely and tenderly, and the Holy Spirit inspiring them more and more to do all those good works which God has prepared for them to walk in, and to conquer in the life-long battle against sin, the world, and the devil.
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