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Sermon XX: The God of Nature

(Preached during a wet harvest.)

PSALM cxlvii. 7-9.

Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God: who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.

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There is no reason why those who wrote this Psalm, and the one which follows it, should have looked more cheerfully on the world about them than we have a right to do. The country and climate of Judea is not much superior to ours. If we suffer at times from excess of rain and wind, Judea suffers from excess of drought and sunshine. It suffers, too, at times, from that most terrible of earthly calamities, from which we are free--namely, from earthquakes. The sea, moreover, instead of being loved, as it is by us, as the highway of our commerce, and the producer of vast stores of food--the sea, I say, was almost feared by the old Jews, who were no sailors. They looked on it as a dangerous waste; and were thankful to God that, though the waves roared, He had set them a bound which they could not pass.

So that there is no reason why the old Jews should think and speak more cheerfully about the world than we here in England ought. They had, too, the same human afflictions, sicknesses, dangers, disappointments, losses and chastisements as we have. They had their full share of all the ills to which flesh is heir. Yet look, I beg you, at the cheerfulness of these two Psalms, the 147th and 148th. In truth, it is more than cheerfulness; it is joy, rejoicing which can only express itself in a song.

These Psalms are songs, to be sung to music, and even in our translation they are songs still, sounding like poetry, and not like prose.

And why is this? Because the men who wrote these Psalms had faith in God.

They trusted God. They saw that He was worthy of their trust. They saw that He was to be honoured, not merely for His boundless wisdom and His boundless power: for a being might have them, and yet make a bad use of them. But He was to be trusted, because He was a good God. He was to be honoured, not for anything which men might get out of Him (as the heathen fancied) by flattering Him, and begging of Him: but He was to be honoured for His own sake, for what He was in Himself--a just, merciful, kind, generous, magnanimous, and utterly noble and perfect, moral Being, worthy of all admiration, praise, honour, and glory.

The Psalmist saw that God was good, and worthy to be praised. But he saw, too, that he and his forefathers would never have found out that for themselves. It was too great a discovery for man to make. God must have showed it to them. God had showed His word to Jacob, His statutes and ordinances to Israel.

He had not done so to any other nation, neither had the heathen knowledge of His laws. And, therefore, they did not trust God; they did not consider Him a good God, and so they worshipped Baalim, the sun and moon and stars, with silly and foul ceremonies, to procure from them good harvests; and burnt their children in the fire to Moloch, the fire-king, to keep off the earthquakes and the floods. God had not taught them what He had taught Israel--to trust in Him, and in His word which ran very swiftly, and in His laws, which could not be broken: a faith which, my friends, we must do our best to keep up in ourselves, and in our children after us. For it is very easy to lose it, this faith in God. We are tempted to lose it, all our lives long.

Our forefathers, in the days of Popery, lost it; and because they did not trust in God as a good God, who took good care of the world which He had made, they fell to believing that the devil, and witches, the servants of the devil, could raise storms, blight crops, strike cattle and human beings with disease. And they began, too, to pray, not to God, but to certain saints in heaven, to protect them against bodily ills.

One saint could cure one disease, and one another; one saint protected the cattle, another kept off thunder, and so forth--I will not tell you more, lest I should tempt you to smile in this holy place; and tempt you, too, to look down on your forefathers, who (though they made these mistakes) were just as honest and virtuous men as we.

And even lately, up to this very time, there are those who have not full faith in God; though they be good and pious persons, and good Protestants too, who would shrink with horror from worshipping saints, or any being save God alone. But they are apt to shut their eyes to the beauty and order of God's world, and to the glory of God set forth therein, and to excuse themselves by quoting unfairly texts of Scripture. They say that this world is all out of joint; corrupt, and cursed for Adam's sin: yet, where it is out of joint, and where it is corrupt, they cannot show. And, as for its being cursed for Adam's sin, that is a dream which is contradicted by Holy Scripture itself. For see. We read in Genesis iii. 17, 'Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.'

Now, that the ground does not now bring forth thorns and thistles to us, we know. For it brings forth whatsoever fair flower, or useful herb, we plant therein, according to the laws of nature, which are the laws of God. Neither do men eat thereof in sorrow; but, as Solomon says, 'eat their bread in joyfulness of heart.' And so did they in the Psalmist's days; who never speak of the tillage of the land without some expression of faith and confidence, and thankfulness to that God who crowns the year with His goodness, and His clouds drop fatness; while the hills rejoice on every side, and the valleys stand so thick with corn, that they laugh and sing--of faith, I say, and gratitude toward that God who brings forth the grass for the cattle, and green herb for the service of men; who brings food out of the earth, and wine to make glad the heart of man, and oil to give him a cheerful countenance, and bread to strengthen man's heart. Those well-known words are in the 104th Psalm; and I ask any reasonable person to read that Psalm through--the Psalm which contains the Jewish natural theology, the Jew's view of this world, and of God's will and dealings with it--and then say, could a man have written it who thought that there was any curse upon this earth on account of man's sin?

But more. The Book of Genesis says that there is none; for, after it has said in the third chapter, 'Cursed is the ground for thy sake,' it says again, in the eighth chapter, verse 21, 'And the Lord said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground for man's sake. While the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, shall not cease.'

Can any words be plainer? Whatever the curse in Adam's days may have been, does not the Book of Genesis represent it as being formally abrogated and taken away in the days of Noah, that the regular course of nature, fruitful and beneficent, might endure thenceforth?

Accordingly, we hear no more in the Bible anywhere of this same curse. We hear instead the very opposite; for one says, in the 119th Psalm, speaking indeed of God, 'O Lord, Thy word endureth for ever in heaven. Thy truth also remaineth from one generation to another. Thou hast laid the foundation of the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to Thine ordinance: for all things serve Thee.' And so in the 148th Psalm, another speaks by the Spirit of God; 'Let all things praise the name of the Lord: for He commanded, and they were created. He hath also established them for ever and ever: He hath given them a law which shall not be broken.'

Yes, my friends, God's law shall not be broken, and it is not broken. And that faith, that the laws which govern the whole material universe, cannot be broken, will be to us faith full of hope, and joy, and confidence, if we will remember, with the Psalmist, that they are the laws of the living God, and of the good God.

They are the laws of the living God: not the laws of nature, or fate, or necessity--all three words which mean little or nothing--but of a living God in whom we live, and move, and have our being; whose word--the creating, organizing, inspiring word--runneth very swiftly, making all things to obey God, and not themselves.

And they are the laws of a good God; of a moral God; of a generous, loving, just, and merciful God, who, as the Psalmist reminds us (and that is the reason of his confidence and his joy), while He telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names, condescends at the same time to heal those who are broken in heart; of a God who, while He giveth fodder to the cattle, and feedeth the young ravens who call on Him, at the same time careth for those who fear Him, and put their trust in His mercy; of a God who, while His power is great and His wisdom infinite, at the same time sets up the meek, and brings the ungodly down to the ground; of a Father in heaven who is perfect in this--that He sends His sun and rain alike on the just and the unjust, and is good to the unthankful and the evil; of a Father, lastly, who so loved the world, that He spared not His only-begotten Son, but freely gave Him for us, and has committed to that Son all power in heaven and earth;--all power over the material world, which we call nature, as well as over the moral world, which is the hearts and spirits of men--to that Word of God who runneth very swiftly, who is sharper than a two-edged sword, and yet more tender than the love of woman; even Jesus Christ the Saviour, the Word of God, who was in the beginning with God, and was God; by whom all things were made; who is the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world, if by any means he will receive the light of God, and see thereby the true and wise laws of Nature and of Spirit.

This is our God. This is He who sends food and wealth, rain and sunshine. Shall we not trust Him? If we thank Him for plenty, and fine weather, which we see to be blessings without doubt, shall we not trust Him for scarcity and bad weather, which do not seem to us to be blessings, and yet may be blessings nevertheless? Shall we not believe that His very chastisements are mercies? Shall we not accept them in faith, as the child takes from its parent's hand bitter medicine, the use of which it cannot see; but takes it in faith that its parent knows best, and that its parent's purpose is only love and benevolence? Shall we not say with Job--Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him? He cannot mean my harm; He must mean my good, and the good of all mankind. He must--even by such seeming calamities as great rains, or failure of crops--even by them He must be benefiting mankind. Recollect, as a single instance, that the great rains of 1860, which terrified so many, are proved now to have saved some thousands of lives in England from fever and similar diseases. Take courage; and have, as the old Psalmist had, faith in God. Believe that nothing goes wrong in this world, save through the sin, and folly, and ignorance of man; that God is always right, always wise, always benevolent: and be sure that you, each and all, are -

'Safe in the hand of one disposing Power, Or in the natal, or the mortal hour, All nature is but art, unknown to thee; All chance, discretion which thou can it not see. All discord, harmony not understood; All partial evil, universal good; And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite, One truth is clear--whatever is, is right.'

And pray to God that He may fill you with His Spirit, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of knowledge and grace of the Lord, and show to you, as He showed to the Jews of old, His laws and judgments, and so teach you how to see that the only thing on earth which is not right, is--the sin of man.

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Charles Kingsley