THE PRODIGAL SON.
A PLAIN SERMON FOR POOR, PLAIN PEOPLE.
"I will arise and go to my Father."—LUKE
I TAKE the most thrilling words in the Parable of
the Prodigal Son for a text; but I mean that we shall have the whole
parable for our subject—nay, the whole chapter. You all
know how it begins—for we all know the 15th of Luke better than any other
chapter in the New Testament.
"Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners, for to hear Him. And the Pharisees and Scribes murmured—murmured—saying, This man receiveth sinners, and
eateth with them."
They murmured—did the self-righteous Pharisees—because they were so very
good—so very good—in their own estimation—and therefore they felt a
proud contempt for the
Publicans—those proverbial sinners. But, what right had they to denounce
the τελωυαι, or publicans? Who were these publicans? Don't, any of
that they were like some of the people who are called publicans in our
country:—sellers of strong drink, and not only sellers of strong drink,
but sellers of strong drink to drunkards. If such men were called
sellers of men's souls, it would only be a fit name for them—for they sell
thousands of men into moral ruin. And how some of them can sleep
quietly in their beds, is a wonder—for they have not only sold the man to
ruin, but have very often robbed his wife and children of bread and
clothing. I wonder that some of them do not fear the Old Lad will
fetch 'em before they awake in the morning.
The Publicans that we read about in the New Testament were
not sellers of strong drink, but collectors of the public revenue—of the
Roman taxes. The publican was a sort of tax-gatherer, custom-house
officer, and excise-officer rolled into one. Judea was a conquered
country. The stern all-conquering Romans held it in their iron
grasp; and so the Jews had to pay taxes to them. But the proud
Romans did not send their tax-gatherers round to men's houses to collect
the taxes. The publican "sat at the receipt of custom"—at the
receipt of the customs, or excise, or taxes. Men were expected to
take their payments to him.
Sometimes, he farmed the taxes, as the expression
goes: he agreed to pay so much money to the government, and receive
authority to collect the taxes for himself. Of course, if the man
were a grasper, he would make as much as he could out of the bargain, in
the way of profit. But all the publicans were not graspers.
There must have been some honest and upright men among them; and, perhaps,
some who had more real piety than the high-professing Pharisees who called
them sinners. Such must have been Matthew. He must have been
one of the pious souls who were waiting for the promised Messiah—looking
for the coming of the Redeemer—or Jesus would not have summoned him so
peremptorily, when he saw him "sitting at the receipt of custom": "Follow
Me!" Christ said—and Matthew instantly obeyed. Nor can Zaccheus have
been far from the kingdom of God. Christ must have known, too, how
he wanted to be right, and was praying with a lowly heart—a heart as lowly
as his stature—to be right; or Jesus would not have said so positively—"Zaccheus,
make haste and come down, for to-day I must abide at thy house."
I question if many of the publicans deserved the evil epithet
of sinners by pre-eminence, which the Pharisees dealt towards them. The
meaning—the real meaning of the Pharisees in using it seems to have been
that they were very guilty, being Jews, in collecting taxes for their
Pagan conquerors. But, who were the greater sinners—the men that collected
taxes, like the publicans—or the men that paid the taxes, like the
Pharisees? The sin of the Jews, as a nation, was that they had come into
such a condition as to have to pay taxes to Pagan conquerors.
"Whose is this image and superscription?" asked Jesus.
"Cæsar's," they answered. "Render
unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's,
and unto God the things which are God's." You know God is your
king—Christ meant, and you ought to have had nothing to do with earthly
sovereigns. But you deserted your Almighty and Heavenly King, and
now, you are the enslaved people of proud Pagan conquerors. There
lay the sin: not with the poor publicans. Surely, somebody
must collect the taxes from the conquered Jews, unless soldiers were to do
it, with violence, and perhaps, murder.
The Saviour knew all about these wicked murmurings of the
Pharisees—and how does He meet them? By following the custom of an
Oriental teacher—the way of instruction by parables. If you wish to
teach an Eastern man, you must condescend to tell him a story, a tale, an
imaginary narrative of some sort. You are sure to guide him most
effectually by appealing to his imagination. That would do little
good with a Western or Northern man: with a Scotsman, for instance.
"Dinna fash me with your stories, mon," he would say. "Lay doon your
propositions in a soond, common-sense way, and I'll listen to ye. I
want to ken the logic of it, sir!"
Our Lord knew his countrymen well; and so He speaks to them
story-fashion. And, mind ye,—He does not begin by denying that the
poor publicans are sinners; or denying that the Pharisees are as righteous
as they profess to be. He is not so unskilful as to offend their
prejudices when He wishes to convince them that He is right in receiving
poor sinners and eating with them. He sets about the work of
instructing them, so as to lead them to the conclusion that He is right
and they are wrong—if they are willing to be convinced.
What a Master the Saviour was in the art of instruction is
shown by the way in which He opens His lesson of instruction. He
lays hold of their worldliness and love of wealth, and compels their
attention irresistibly.—"What man of you having a hundred sheep, if he
lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness,
and go after that which is lost until he find it?" What man of
us?—the Pharisees would repeat to themselves—why, of course, every man of
us would do that: not, for a moment, having any suspicion of what the
Saviour was leading to.—"And, when he hath found it, he layeth it on his
shoulders rejoicing." Ay, no wonder at that—they would be
thinking—we all should do the like.—"And when he cometh home, he calleth
together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me,
for I have found my sheep which was lost."—Quite natural—they would
say—feeling He could not have said anything more consistent with human
nature and common-sense. But they were not expecting Christ to close
down the lesson upon their consciences so quickly and so powerfully.
"I say unto, you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one inner that
repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no
One feels sure that every Pharisee who stood on the borders
of the crowd would cease his murmuring at the commencement of Christ's
discourse; and when the lesson was thus pressed down upon the conscience,
so suddenly, would let his head fall upon his breast, and say, within
himself—"This was what He meant, then. And is there such joy in
heaven over one sinner that repenteth? We must be wrong then, in
murmuring against this Man. But He means, doubtless, to insinuate
that He goes to seek the lost sheep, and we do not."
There, perhaps, prejudice would spring up again; but the
Saviour checks it by presenting the same great truth of the value of the
sinner, to the mind of the Pharisee, in another form. "Either what
woman, having ten pieces of silver—(ten drachmas, each worth about 7.½d.)—if
she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek
diligently till she find it? And, when she hath found it, she
calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me,
for I have found the piece which I had lost." Yes, Christ means them
fully to understand it: the sinner is of great value, although they
have treated the sinner as if he were worthless.
They believed silver was of great value, and that lost piece
was well worth lighting a candle, and sweeping the house and seeking
diligently till it were found.—But Jesus repeats the truth that He means
should fasten on their hearts and minds—Likewise, I say unto you, there is
joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."
Some of these proud, self-righteous Pharisees must have powerfully felt
the application of the Saviour's words, and have begun to feel ashamed
that they had not shown joy at the return of poor sinners, and the finding
of the lost. And what must the poor publicans have felt? How
different were the words of the sweet Saviour from the silent contempt and
proud scorn they had, all along received from the self-righteous
Pharisees! Who can wonder that they flocked to hear Jesus, and heard
The plainness of this instruction seems one of the chief
points of its excellence. Christ meant to get at the heart and
conscience; and so the lesson is so clear that its meaning cannot be
mistaken. And there is not a sinner who hears the Gospel preached,
or who reads it for himself, but knows how plain it is. Jesus Christ
is the same yesterday, to-day, and always. He is still the Good
Shepherd that He declared Himself to be: and, still,
'He goes and seeks the one lost sheep,
And brings His wanderer home.'
There is not an unconverted man who hears the Gospel preached but knows
how true this is. Yes, my friend, Christ has often sought you, and
He seeks you still. He wants to bear you on His shoulders rejoicing
to the flock of His people—His own sheep, who hear His voice and follow
Him. He regards you as of great value: He knows that neither the
figure of the lost sheep, nor of the lost piece of silver can set forth
your real, your eternal value. Have you so little value for yourself
that you will not be found of Him? His own sheep,—His own
people—wander sometimes:—many of us have often wandered—but
'When like wandering sheep we strayed,
He brought us to His fold again'—
Blessed be His holy Name! Oh, that I could awaken in some heart
to-night the sense of deep and lasting repentance for all this wandering,
and the resolve to yield to the Good Shepherd, and seek to be made a true
member of His flock!—What joy there would be in heaven!
And is it really so? Does the King of Angels assure us
that there is joy among them, in heaven, over one sinner that repenteth?
Have they, then—those spiritual beings, who are so near the throne of God,
and who are the messengers of His will—have they, then, this sympathy with
us? What is called "Science," and is so pompously spoken of in our
time, discovers to us nothing of the future world; and our Men of Science,
whom some people regard; with so much wonder-stricken and foolish
admiration, can tell us nothing about it. Nay—because they know
nothing about it, they would, in their pride and arrogance, have us
believe that there is nothing to be known. But the Saviour knows all
about it; and He assures us that this sympathy of he angels with men
exists: that there is a great bond of sympathy of the higher orders of
God's moral and spiritual creation towards men.
What a grand opening for thought the Saviour's declaration
gives us! Jesus means us to understand that the great Moral
Government of God is one No wonder, then, that this beautiful bond of
sympathy is felt by the angels—and, doubtless, by departed saints too,—in
the conversion of sinners—in the spread of Christ's kingdom. Do not
let us undervalue ourselves. We are not mere matter—born simply to
live a few toilsome days here and then die like dogs and be no more.
The holy angels feel our conversion to be of value—for the King of Angels
declares it is so. Poor man—poor woman—who have not given your
hearts to the Saviour, do you not see what value Christ sets upon you?
Oh, come to Christ! Say, Lord, I am thy poor wandering sheep: lead
me to the fold of Thy people, and let the angels rejoice over me!
Perhaps, I am talking to some poor wanderer who has a father or mother in
heaven. Surely, if there be joy among the angels, there is joy in
the hearts of fathers and mothers who have gone home to heaven, over their
children that repent. Perhaps, I am talking to more than one husband
who has a wife in heaven—to more than one wife who has a husband in
heaven. Surely, if there be joy among the angels, there is richer
joy in the hearts of wives and husbands who have gone home to heaven, over
the repentance of those they dearly loved when on earth! Oh, you who
remember the prayers of those who loved you on earth, for your
conversion—will you let their prayers be lost, and refuse to join them in
heaven. God help you to yield your hearts to Him!
Has the Saviour finished His appeal to the hearts of the
proud, self-righteous Pharisees? Nay, He is not half-way through it,
yet. There are some of them with hearts untouched—hearts hard to
reach -feeling hardened scorn for poor publicans and sinners, and equal
scorn—nay, perhaps, wrath and hate for the Divine Teacher. But Jesus
does not mean to give them up. He knows that however powerful and
well-adapted what He has already said may have been to move worldly
minds—there are chords in the human heart which tremble still more
thrillingly, and yield, when touched by a Master hand. Stories of
the finding of a lost sheep, or piece of silver, have a certain influence
on the mind; but we all feel that it is a story of thorough human
interest—of human rectitude and human error—of human pain and human
pleasure—of human joy and human sorrow—which affects us most deeply.
So the Saviour leaves the story of the inanimate piece of silver, and of
the sheep, the mere animal, and begins a story of deep human interest: a
story of which the whole age of man, and of which all the pages of the
literature of the world, knows not such another: a story which has been
blessed to the salvation of thousands of poor sinners since Christ uttered
it. God grant it may be blessed to the salvation of some poor sinner
And how begins the matchless story? The words are
familiar to all our ears; but we are never weary of the sound of
them.—"And He said, A certain man had two sons."—Observe that there is
skilful personal point in these words. Christ is about to give a
portrait of the Pharisee and the Publican, in the close of the parable—but
He reserves it to the close. He does not let the Pharisee see His
intent, at first; but concentrates all the interest upon the younger
son—the Prodigal—the Publican. "A certain man had two sons, and the
younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods
that falleth to me." Just like the lads in our day, you know.
They ask for their father's money as if it were their own. "Give me
the portion of goods that falleth to me." How did he know that any
of his father's property would fall to him? Why, because it was his
father's, to be sure. No matter whether they have earned a penny of
the money, the lads always expect to have it, if it be their father's.
And if he be unwilling to give it to them, they will soon show him a piece
of their mind, and tell him to his face, that he is a stingy old
good-for-nothing, and ought to be ashamed of himself. And if he will
not give it, they will tell it abroad, that the world may know what he is.
Remonstrance and good advice? They don't want either:
they have had too much of both, already. So Christ does not tell us
how the father depictured here remonstrated with his younger son, and
said, as many a father says "My lad, you had better not have the money.
You know you are very green and inexperienced, and know very little of
human life. You may soon be led away by bad advisers, and lose the
money. You had much better let it remain in my hands and increase,
until you know how to take care of it." No: Christ does not tell us
of any expostulation or friendly remonstrance on the part of the
father—for such remonstrances, the Saviour knew, are usually vain—so He
simply tell us that "He divided unto them his living"—and the wilful
younger son is left to take his own way.
"He divided unto them his living." The words have a
good deal of solemnity about them, if you think upon them a little.
A youth brought up under the eye of a pious father, trained amidst family
prayer and all pious observances, and treated with the most loving and
tender care by his earthly parent, visited also, often, by the Holy
Spirit—listens to some evil lad whose companion he becomes, and soon grows
discontented, and demands money from his father, that he may go and try to
do the best for himself, as he says. Oh, how ruinous that day may
be, when his father yields to him and "divides to him the living"!
What a day of evil that may prove both for the soul and body of that
discontented and corrupt youth!
"He divided unto them his living." God often bears long
with those who will not serve Him and love Him. He sends His Holy
Spirit, for years, to strive with that sinful man, and to render him
uneasy on account of his sins—to render his pillow a pillow of thorns when
he places his guilty head upon it, at night—and to awake him with keen
pangs of the accusing conscience, in the morning. But the sinner, at
length, finds some other sinner more hardened than himself, and listening
to that hardened sinner's advice, resolves to try and stifle conscience.
And God gives him up to his own evil will—"He divided unto them his
living"—lets him go and find what sinful indulgence will do for him.
An awful day for the sinner, when the Holy Spirit gives him up to hardness
of heart, and ceases to strive with him! God grant it may never be
the case with any unconverted man or woman here!
"And he divided unto them his living. And, not many
days after"—it would not be many days after, for he was in a great hurry,
this wilful younger son—"not many days after, the younger son gathered all
together, and took his journey into a far country"—determined to be out of
his father's sight—to have no more leading-strings or governance; but to
set up for himself and be his own master—"a far country, and there wasted
his substance with riotous living"—had his fill of sin—sinned up to the
neck and wallowed in wickedness.—"And, when he had spent all"—he would not
be long doing that with "riotous living"—"when he had spent all, there
arose a mighty famine in that land, and he began to be in want." Ay,
ay, people who spend their money in riotous living, in our day, little
calculate that the mighty famine may come; but a good many have bitterly
proved it of late. God grant it may teach them wisdom!
"And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country,
and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would
fain have stifled his hunger with the wild carobs that the swine did eat."
The young prodigal left his father's house to sow his wild oats; and he
finds, now, that he has sown them with a witness—for the sowing has
produced a crop of degradation and shame—a harvest of hunger and
wretchedness—and he would fain have shared the dinner of the swine, the
fruit or pods of the carob tree, which are so coarse that our old
translators have rendered the word "husks."
" And no man gave unto him." What! did not the young
roysterers, who had helped him to spend his fortune in riotous living,
come to his help? Not one of them! And, if any of you young
lads get a fortune and spend it, depend upon it, the young scapegraces who
help you to spend it, will be the last to think of helping you, or
relieving you. "Serve him right," they will say: "he was a great
fool to throw his money away in the way he did, we all knew that."
Serious writers tell us that there is another and more
recondite, but solemnly important meaning, in this part of the parable.
When it is said that in his destitution he went and joined himself to a
citizen of that country, it is meant that the sinner when he has brought
himself into deep trouble by his sin, often thinks he will give over
sinning. He tries to serve the moral Law—the "citizen of that
country"—but finds his attempt end in worse misery. For, so far from
enabling him to give over sinning, the Law shows him what a wretched
sinner he is. It sends him into the fields to feed swine.
Shows him he is utterly undone and cannot give over sinning, by his own
strength. That he is utterly helpless: "no man gave unto him" he can
neither get forgiveness, nor power over sin.
"And when he came to himself"—How striking the little words
of Scripture, sometimes, are!—"When he came to himself." We are not
ourselves while we are running on in sin. If there be any madness in
the world, it is sin. What can be so insane as for a poor worm of
the earth to defy his Maker and break God's laws? To show the Maker
that, Almighty as He is, we defy Him—that although He can smite us with
death in a moment we will defy Him; and, although He has never done
us evil, but always good, and is the best friend we ever had, we will
treat Him with scorn—I say, this is madness, and every sinner is really
mad. "When he came to himself"—came to his right mind—came to
understand how foolish he had been, how basely ungrateful and wicked—"he
said, How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare,
and I perish with hunger!"
This is the sinner seeing his madness and folly in the true
light. The prodigal thought it was a fine thing to leave his
father's house, and be independent—to go where he liked and do as he
liked, and spend his father's money in riot and wickedness; and now he
sees his madness has brought him to hunger and starvation, and memory
flies back to the home of plenty that he left, and to the thought that the
lowliest servant in that house has bread enough and to spare, and he
cries, "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I
have sinned against Heaven and before thee; and am no more worthy to be
called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants."
The prodigal son is thoroughly humbled and is a real
penitent. He will tell his father of his entire unworthiness—he will
ask to be employed in clearing out the stables and carrying fodder to the
cattle—he will crave to be employed in doing the meanest household work—he
feels that any humbling post is too good for him, and that he is so base
and undeserving. This is always the feeling of the true penitent.
The man who thinks he is not so very bad, is no true penitent. "I am
the chief of sinners," said holy Paul, and that is sure to be the feeling
of the man who is truly penitent. A good Quaker told me, once, how
he visited a sick neighbour and began to talk to the man about
soul-matters. Religion was all very good the poor sick man
acknowledged—but he could not see what need he had to concern himself
about it—for he had never done anybody any harm in his life. The
good Quaker tried to convince him that he had lived without hope and
without God in the world, and that he was not fit to die: that he had
neither prayed nor worshipped, nor read his Bible, nor trained up his
children in the fear of God, and he ought to feel himself a sinner in the
sight of his Maker. The good Quaker knelt and prayed with him, and
visited him again and again, and began to observe that the man gradually
forgot to boast of his innocence; and, at last, seemed to be growing very
tender—for he observed him in tears. At last, he could conceal his
state no longer, but burst out into weeping—"I am too great a sinner,"
said he; "there is no mercy for me!"
"Thank God!" said the good Quaker, "I have hope of thee now.
Let us pray once more, and see if there be no mercy for thee." The
Quaker prayed, and the poor sinner prayed; and before they gave over, the
sinner's soul was set free, and he rejoiced in the pardoning love of God.
Is there a poor sinner, here, who feels his vileness before
God? Whose heart is thoroughly stricken with the conviction that he
is a sinner and a great sinner? Then he is in the right way to find
for giveness for his sin. It must be thorough humility—for if we
really feel what we have done—how we have acted—towards the greatest and
best of beings, we shall never feel that we can be humbled enough for our
sin. We shall feel it to be an unspeakable mercy that we are
alive—that we are not utterly lost. We shall wonder at the goodness
of God in sparing us through years of rebellion, and own that if he were
to reject us, it would only be what we deserve.
But, did the Prodigal Son think his father would reject him?
Reject him! There is not such a thought in his mind. It was
confidence in his heart that his father would receive him that made him
cry, "I will arise, and go to my father." It is an exultant—not a
despairing cry. Is there some poor sinner here who is despairing of
finding forgiveness, and yet avowing that he deeply repents of his sin?
My dear fellow-sinner, you cannot entertain a thought more dishonouring to
God than that He will not forgive you. Despair is not true
repentance. The man who truly repents is he who feels heartbroken
because he has offended against the God and Father who loves him. He
knows that God loves him, and he cannot forgive himself because he has
offended against such matchless—such inexpressible love as God has
bestowed upon him. It was the thought of the goodness he had
experienced in his father's house, that made the prodigal feel his own
baseness and foolishness, his ingratitude and madness. And it was
his confidence in his father's heart of mercy—I repeat—that led him to
cry, so exultantly, "I will arise and go to my father."
Oh, poor sinner—you who are feeling your own base ingratitude
to God your Father—take up the prodigal's cry "I will arise and go to my
father." Say unto Him, as the prodigal said, "Father, I have sinned
against Heaven and before thee, and am not worthy to be called thy son."
Should not God's goodness to you, in the past, encourage you to come?
Has not your Heavenly Father done you good and not evil, all your life
long, although you have rendered Him evil in return? Are you
not—do you not feel that you are—a monument of His mercy? And do you
not feel that He has spared you, in order to save you? Are not all
His promises Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus, to every returning sinner?
Be resolved to say with the prodigal, "I will arise and go to my father."
Remember, that if the poor prodigal had cast away confidence
in his father's love, he must have perished. "No man gave unto him."
There was no other help for him. And if he had said, "I cannot go
back and acknowledge my sin and shame, and let even the hired servants
point the finger of scorn at me," he must have perished. Nay—nay—he
was truly repentant. He knew how basely he had acted, and he was
resolved to own it. And if he had doubted his father's love, and
said in his heart, "He will never forgive me," he must have perished.
My dear fellow-sinner, you must take up the poor prodigal's language with
all your heart, if you really mean to be saved. You must exert your
own will. God will not force you to be saved. He will not push
you by the shoulders into heaven. The resolve to be saved must be
your own. You will be guilty if you do not make the resolve; but, if
you try God will help you to make it. Take it up, cheerfully, my
dear fellow-sinner! Take it up, exultantly—"I will arise and go to
my father!"—The angels in heaven will rejoice—the Church of Christ will
rejoice—Christ Himself will rejoice when He sees of the travail of his
soul and is satisfied—The Holy Spirit will rejoice Who has striven with
thee so often and so long, poor stubborn-hearted sinner—God the Father
will rejoice at the return of His poor, wandering, sinful child—for look
how the Saviour affirms it!
Don't put off the resolve till another time. Look at the prodigal
and imitate him—"And he arose and came to his father." He did not
say he would consider of it. He did not say he would go next week.
If you put it off, my dear friend, the Holy Spirit may leave you.
Resolve just now, while He strives with you. Say the words with all
your heart, just now, "I will arise and go to my Father." Look at
the blessed encouragement the Saviour gives you—"When he was yet a great
way off, his father saw him, and had compassion and ran, and fell on his
neck and kissed him." Thou hast been a long way off, poor sinner,
but God has been looking for thy return. The prodigal's father had
gone out thinking, "Where is this poor lost lad of mine, I wonder!
Oh, what has become of him? He knew nothing of the world, and he may
have got into the hands of sharpers who have robbed him of his money, and
he may be now in rags." And yonder he saw him, at last, coming
miserably along the road, and in rags, sure enough; but the father "had
compassion, and ran and fell on his neck, and kissed him."
Thou art in the rags and wretchedness of sin, poor sinner,
but thy Heavenly Father's heart is filled with compassion towards
thee—only come: He is waiting to receive thee with joy and love.
"And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven and
before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make"—nay, the
father will not let him say those words, "make me as one of thy hired
servants"—the father will not let him utter them. "But the father
said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him, and
put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet"—Depend upon it, the poor
wilful prodigal was in a wretched shabby condition—ragged and shoeless
"and bring hither the fatted calf and kill it,"—Oh what words for the poor
hunger-bitten wandering lad to hear!" and let us eat, and be merry.
For this my son was dead, and is alive again: he was lost and is found.
And they began to be merry."
Oh, what a blessed picture has the Saviour thus drawn us of
His Father's heart of mercy and forgiveness! Surely, there is not a
heart here but will acknowledge such love and mercy—surely, we are all
disposed to be returning sinners, and come back to the Heavenly Father Who
thus loves us and is willing to receive us. Do not delay; you have
been wandering afar off. God waits to make you His regenerate
children. He will put the best robe on you—the robe of Christ's
righteousness. He will put a ring on your hand—for you shall be
married to Christ—united to Him and made His own. He will put shoes
on your feet. Your steps shall be ordered and sure. You shall
be no longer a wanderer, but walk before Him in holiness and new ness of
life. May God help every poor sinner in His presence to accept His
mercy, even at this moment!
Ah! but there is a sequel to this tale of mercy. Christ
has to apply the parable, now, to the murmurers. He has beheld their
excited looks during the time he has been telling them this wondrous
story; and perhaps, some of them have perceived that he was pointing to
the poor publicans and sinners while depicturing the prodigal. But
Christ means to give the scornful, self-righteous Pharisees their own
picture, now. He means to come down upon them, and in such a manner
as shall touch them to the quick, and make them feel ashamed of their
guilty pride and self-righteousness—if they can be moved to feel any shame
"Now, his elder son was in the field, and as he came and drew
nigh to the house, be heard music and dancing. And he called one of
the servants, and asked what these things meant."
His dignity is offended. What strangers can have
entered the house to make this rabble riot without his leave and his
knowledge? What does this unlicensed mirth mean?—he wants to know.
"And he (the servant) said unto him, Thy brother is come, and thy father
hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound."
The servant evidently thinks he will not only be surprised but feel
pleased. "Thy brother is come"—says the servant, meaning to touch
his heart and fill him with delight. But like many other elder
brothers in our own day, he had no wish to see the younger brother come
back. He would have been well content that he never came back.
Just so the self-righteous Pharisee cares nothing about poor sinners being
converted. "If they be wasting their money, the scamps!" he thinks,
"they will soon spend all they have, and then they will starve—and they
will deserve it." If he hears a common swearer pouring out oaths and
imprecations in the street, the Pharisee will wish some judgment may fall
upon him. And if he sees a poor drunkard fall in the street, he will
call him a brute beast and pass him in scorn. The truly religious
man will rather weep at what he hears and sees, and feel his heart melt
with pity, that his poor fellow-creatures should so sorely disgrace and
But this elder brother has no pity. He is none of your
tender-hearted brothers. "And he was angry and would not go in.
Therefore"—"Therefore" what? How did Christ treat these murmuring
Pharisees. I had one sceptical friend who was exceedingly sharp in
his observations on the character of the Saviour. "Jesus Christ was
not a gentleman," he would say; "He called the Pharisees and Scribes liars
and hypocrites; and that is not gentlemanly language." He called
them so, because they were so—I replied—for a true gentleman must
speak the truth." "He might have used more gentlemanly language and
less harshness," returned my sceptical friend.
But is the Saviour harsh with the Pharisees, in :he story
before us?" Therefore" it relates—"therefore, came his father out,
and entreated him." God entreats the self-righteous Pharisee!
Jesus is enforcing the lesson, and applying it to the murmuring Pharisees,
in order to convince them, if they will be convinced; and so far from
showing that they deserve harshness, He represents His Heavenly Father as
entreating them to put away their pride, and begin to care for poor
sinners. "Therefore came his father out and entreated him."
But the entreaty is all in vain. "And he, answering, said to his father,
Lo these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I, at any time,
thy commandment"—Hark, at the self-righteous Pharisee! How perfect
he is, in his own estimation!—"and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I
might make merry with my friends"—He has had his father's house at his
command and done as he liked in it—for he wondered that any one dared to
come thither without his leave—and yet the ungrateful wretch asserts he
has never had any real kindness from his father in his life—"and yet, thou
never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends"—he throws
his father's goodness in his teeth, and counts it worth nothing!
If the elder brother treats his father thus, what may we
expect he will say about his poor wandering younger brother? "But as
soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with
harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf." He vents all the
power of malicious feeling upon him, like a true Pharisee.
How did Christ treat the Pharisees? Does He use
harshness and nothing but harshness in dealing with them? Let the
rich closing words of the chapter answer. "And he said unto him,
Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine."—Poor
narrow-hearted Pharisee! there's enough for thee and all the sinners on
earth, in My mercy. "All that I have is thine"—enjoy it all—thou
canst never exhaust My mercy, or impoverish My goodness—"it was meet that
we should make merry, and be glad; for this thy brother"—see how
the father reminds him of the relationship: he had said in scorn "as soon
as this thy son was come"—refusing to acknowledge him as a
brother—"for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost,
and is found." What a lesson of mercy and goodness—of pity and love!
Surely, it reached the hearts of some of the Pharisees.
Surely, I have no cold, narrow-hearted Pharisee here, who
treats poor sinners with scorn. Oh, I think here is nothing which
ought to draw out our pity, so much as the sight of a man who is ruining
himself by sin. And if pity does not move us, we ought to remember
that it is only by God's mercy we differ from the sinner. Some of
you will call to mind the saying of one of the old martyrs—Praying
Bradford, as he was called: "I never see a man going to be hanged," he
used to say, "but I think there goes John Bradford, if it were not for the
grace of God!"
Oh, let none of us imagine that we are so much better than
other people. We are bad enough, every one of us. And have all
need to cry with the poor Publican that smote upon his breast, "God be
merciful to me a sinner!"
Is there any poor sinner here to-night convinced that he is a
sinner, and who is desirous of leaving his sins? Let me entreat you
to cry with the Prodigal Son, "I will arise and go to my father!"
God help you so to cry—and if you do arise and go to Him, depend upon it,
the Father will meet you with compassion. You cannot have too great
confidence that God will save you, if you are resolved to leave sin.
Tell your Heavenly Father that you know all things are ready, in Christ,
and you are sure He will forgive you for Jesu's sake. Come just now,
to God. Remember, the Prodigal Son went at once. Don't throw a
moment away—for happiness awaits you, and there will be joy in heaven and
on earth at your return. God help you and save you for Christ's
THE BOLDNESS OF FAITH.
[A Discourse delivered in London and various parts of
"Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain
mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."—HEB.
WE commonly speak of the Epistle to the Hebrews as
an undoubted production of St. Paul, just as we speak of St. Paul's
Epistle to the Romans, or Corinthians. And, in the revised version,
as well as in our common translation, it is styled. 'The Epistle of
Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews.' Yet, this title is more than
questionable. Some of the early Fathers attributed the authorship of
this most eloquent and valuable letter to Clement of Rome; and one asserts
that although the thoughts may be Paul's, the language is Luke's.
But that must be a mistake, for there is no gorgeous eloquence, either in
St. Luke's Gospel, or in the Acts of the Apostles: in other words, there
is nothing in either comparable to the brilliant writing of this treatise.
Origen and Clement of Alexandria, in the third century, speak
of Paul as the author; but, in the same century, Tertullian says the
author was Barnabas; and all the Latin Fathers of the third century reject
the opinion that St. Paul is the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
So does Jerome, in the fourth century; and he is generally held to be the
most learned of all the ancient Fathers.
At the period of the Reformation, the great Greek scholar of
the time, Erasmus—the man who edited the first printed Greek
Testament—utterly denied the authorship of St. Paul for this Epistle; and
so did Luther and Calvin—and they were no mean scholars. But Luther
put forth a new opinion: an opinion, be it observed, which finds great
favour with many scholars of our own times. Martin Luther expressed
a belief that this most precious 'Epistle to the Hebrews' is the work of Apollos: that eloquent and learned Jew of Alexandria, who is described, in
the 18th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, as "mighty in the
Scriptures," and of whom it is related that he entered boldly into the
synagogue at Ephesus, and taught what he believed to be full Christian
truth, until Aquila and Priscilla, two of Paul's co-workers, instructed
him more perfectly. And that, afterwards, he passed from Ephesus,
the metropolis of the Lesser Asia, as it was called, to populous Corinth,
which was, at that time, the real capital of Greece; and that, in Corinth,
he "helped them much who had believed through grace—for he mightily
convinced the Jews, and that publicly, showing by the Scriptures, that
Jesus was Christ." Indeed his converts at Corinth seem to have
divided the Christian Church with the converts of St. Paul—for some said
"I am of Paul " and others said "I am of Apollos."
The wondrous power of expression, the magnificence of style
and richness of language, displayed in this Epistle, seem clearly to
denote that it is the composition—not of a logician, like St. Paul—but
of a first-rate orator, such as Apollos is described to have been.
This is perhaps the chief reason why many scholars and critics of the
present day have given in their opinion that Martin Luther is most
probably right, and that the Epistle to the Hebrews is, really, the work
of Apollos, the eloquent Jew of Alexandria.
Listen to the magnificent opening of the Epistle:—
"God, who, at sundry times, and in divers manners spake in time past unto
the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His
Son, Whom He hath appointed heir of all things;—by Whom, also, He made
the worlds;—Who being the effulgence of His glory, and the express image
of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He
had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty
on high;—being made so much better
than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name
"For unto which of the angels said He at any time, Thou art my Son, this
day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to Him a Father, and He
shall be to me a Son?
"And again, when He bringeth in the first-begotten into the world, He saith,
And let all the angels of God worship Him.
"And, of the angels He saith, Who maketh His angels spirits, and His
ministers a flame of fire.
"But, unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a
sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom."
I have ventured to repeat the whole of this most splendid exordium to you,
not only because it is the most eloquent opening of any book of the New
Testament; but, because one may really say that the British Public—if
they may, in general, be reckoned readers of the New Testament—seem
unaware of the fact that there is such a passage of eloquence in the book. For, who ever talks of the "splendid opening of the Epistle to the
Hebrews"? I never heard any one—either in the office of a preacher, or
any other person—denote that he knew that there was any measure of
eloquence to be found in that part of the New Testament.
And how does the eloquent Apollos—the man mighty in the
Scriptures—follow up this grand and stately introduction of one Whom he
thus shows us is a Divine Personage—"the effulgence of the Father's
glory, and the express image of His Person?" He boldly draws aside the
veil from before the eyes of his own people the Jews—for he is writing
expressly to them, remember—and shows them the clear and distinct fact
that Jesus has realised the principal figure in their great typical system
of sacrifice and atonement—the entry of the High Priest, once a year,
into the Holy of Holies, to sprinkle all things with blood, and make
atonement for the sins of the people.
Read the 16th chapter of Leviticus for yourselves—for it is too dry a
portion of the old economy for me to read, in the pulpit—and you will
learn how fully "the man mighty in the Scriptures" had comprehended the
spiritual bearing and meaning of the slaughter of the bullock for the
priest and his family—the killing of the goat and the sprinkling of his
blood on the scape-goat that was sent into the wilderness—and then the
thrilling and solemn entry of the High Priest within the Veil, and his
sprinkling of all things there—the altar of incense—even the
cherubim—with the typical blood of atonement.
So, he shows them Christ is entered into the Holy of Holies above, not
with the blood of bulls and goats, but with the virtue of His own
blood,—not entering thither once a year to make a new offering, but
abiding there as the great intercessor for sinners,
and therefore, being able to save sinners to the uttermost because he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
And that, in order to constitute Himself such a High Priest, He had to lay
aside His glory and majesty, and take upon Him our human nature, and
become acquainted with all its weaknesses and trials. And thus, Apollos
tells us, that, "in the days of His flesh" our great Atoning One "offered
up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears." Nay, he
assures us that our great High Priest became perfect through sufferings.
"Seeing then," says he, "that we have a great High Priest that has passed
into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For, we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of
our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without
sin. Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may
obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."
"Boldly!—boldly!"—"Is it not a mistranslation, or a mistake of some
kind, think you?" repeats some poor contrite penitent. "I'm sure I can
never come boldly to the throne of grace—such a guilty sinner as I am. Oh, when I look at my sins, I am frightened at the very remembrance of
them! I'm sure I can never presume to come boldly to the throne of grace."
Of course you cannot presume to come, my dear fellow-sinner; and it
is not the boldness of presumption with which God's word directs
you to come. In order to prevent our making any mistake in trying to
practise the boldness which is recommended in the text—
I. Let us consider what kind of boldness it is not, which we are to
II. What kind of boldness it is: and
III. What we are to gain by practising this Scriptural boldness.
You see I have made the divisions of my discourse as plain as any old
Puritan divine would have made them, two hundred years ago; and I humbly
think it would be better if we had more of the old Puritan plainness among
Then, I am to try to show all who have any concern for
their spiritual state what this Scriptural boldness with which we are to
come to the throne of grace—is not.
1. It is not, as I said before, the boldness of Presumption which the
writer is recommending. Terms of familiarity are sometimes employed in
prayer which, one would think, no rightly constituted mind could use. Terms which seem to imply a forgetfulness of the fact that we are all
sinners, and that God is the High and Holy One that inhabiteth eternity. It is an act of presumption to approach the Almighty and Infinite Creator
without the lowliest reverence. Even the commonplace tone in which public
prayer is sometimes uttered, and the haste with which the Lord's Prayer is
muttered, and the business-like way in which the "Grace" is despatched,
at table—seem to me all— all—all wrong. The slightest degree of
irreverence in the language and manner of poor, guilty sinners addressing
their Maker seems, to me, sorely out of place and character. Surely, it
should be remembered that it is a "throne" to which we are coming: that
is to say, it is the seat of a king. And, if the throne of an earthly king
should not be approached without homage and obeisance, surely the throne
of the King of kings—of the Lord and Giver of life—of the Being who made
all things and supports all things—of the dread Being of whom Isaiah
tells us that He "measures the waters in the hollow of His hand, and metes
out heaven with a span, and comprehends the dust of the earth in a
measure, and weighs the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance"—that, to Him "the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as
the small dust of the balance,"—and that He "taketh up the isles as a
very little thing"—I say assuredly, the throne of such a Being should be
approached by poor sinners with lowly hearts and lowly words, and never
with the boldness of presumption.
2. Neither should we dare to come to our Maker's throne with the boldness
of Ignorance. Our ignorance often leads us to Presumption. I believe there is far more wilful
ignorance—I say wilful ignorance—among men respecting God, than some
people suppose. I mean ignorance of the God of the Bible. For, as for the
God of Nature, we seldom hear of Him, now. The Philosophers of our day
have taught us to ignore His existence. And what real, wilful ignorance
there is among the men who call themselves "Secularists" about the Deity
as He is taught in the Bible. You will hear them make quotations which
refer to Him, in the most vulgar scoffing spirit, and put an
interpretation on the words which they know to be wilfully false. But, let
it be fully kept in mind, that we who believe the Bible, and profess to
have that knowledge of God which the Bible teaches, should endeavour to
spread it, so that all who come to the throne of grace may never dare to
approach it with the boldness of Ignorance.
3. Nor, again, should we dare to come to our Maker's footstool with the
boldness of Pomposity and conceit. Oh, I would sooner hear the prayer of
ignorance than of pomposity. I would rather listen to the prayer of a poor
uneducated man whose language verged on impropriety, than hear the
language of mock-homage: the prayer of a man Who tries to string a great
number of three- or four-syllabled sounding words together, in order to
compliment the Almighty on the greatness of His
attributes. Our Maker looks for none of our compliments. He knows,
millions of times better than we can tell Him, how great He is. We had,
far better try to feel our own littleness, than to express, in pompous
terms, His greatness.
4. Above all, we are not to come to the throne of grace with the boldness
of Self-righteousness. The way, you know, that the Pharisee came, in the
parable—"God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners,
unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I
give tythes of all that I possess." He seems to have thought that if he
gave back to God a few thimblefuls of all that God had given him, he ought
to be reckoned very good.
Oh no, it is not the boldness of self-righteousness that this valuable
writer is recommending. He knew that nothing can be more fatal to the
success of any petition that we present before God, than for us to present
it self-righteously. Nothing is so likely to harden the heart and render
it unsusceptible of God's mercy and grace, as a spirit of
self-righteousness. He that comes to the throne self-righteously, comes
boastingly. He does not feel that he needs anything. Holiness? he is not
seeking for holiness; he is holy already, in his own estimation. What can
he need who believes himself
to be already full of excellences? What can he need who is already
How blinding is self-righteousness!—nay its
blindness is the result of our fallen nature. We are
all prone to it. I have never found more than a few of the very best men
in the world who could conceal their good deeds. We all like to talk about
the good we think we have done, and to parade it, if it be but modestly. That practice of modest parade, however, will increase upon us, if we do
not take care, till it renders us objects of dislike to some, and of open
ridicule to others.
Self-righteousness is a hideous sin, if we see it in the right light. Paying our Maker for His goodness to us! Doing deeds of supererogation. So the Pharisee thought whom Christ describes: "I give tythes of all
that I possess": I pay Thee back, Lord, for Thy goodness! Oh no, it is
not the boldness of self-righteousness with which we are to come to the
throne of grace.
Let us hasten to consider, then, What kind of boldness it is with which we
are to come.
1. First and foremost, it is the boldness which arises from the sense of
our need. But, now, we meet the difficulty which confronts us when we
strive to awaken men to a sense of their need. Men sit under the sound of
the Gospel for long years, and never seem to awake up spiritually. They
remain in a dead sleep of sin, although they are told faithfully and
frequently of their sins. They can bear severe probings of conscience and
never wince. Their earthliness may be exposed, their selfishness, their
sensuality—but they are unmoved and remain unmoved.
Once get men to feel that they are sinners, and to feel it thoroughly, and
you will soon hear of it, and see it, too. Conviction for sin—deep,
heartfelt conviction of a man's guilt before God—is sure to make itself
known. It is that conviction of sin which men cannot conceal that proves
the reality of their conviction. And then comes the cry for mercy "Lord,
I'm a sinner—be merciful to me, or I shall be ruined!" "For shame!"
says the man's respectable self-righteous neighbour, who hears the
sinner's vehement prayer—"go into your chamber, and don't cry out in that
vulgar way; or wait till the evening and say your prayers at bed-time, as
other respectable people do." "Nay," says the needy soul, "I want mercy
now. I may die before bed-time. I've tried long enough to be respectable;
but it has not saved me, and it never will save me. So I'm coming boldly
to the throne of grace. I can't delay. I want deliverance!"
How is it that we hear so much respectable objection to men's crying out
for mercy when they feel they are sinners? A man in the midst of a storm,
on a wild heath, at midnight, if he sees a dim light tries to reach
it—and if it comes from a cottage window, he never thinks of knocking respectably at the door, but he knocks loudly and cries
out with all his might, "Let me in! I'm perishing!"
Why should not the hunger of the soul for the pardon of sin, compel me to
cry out, as does the hunger of the body for food? Turn to that thrilling
page of Carlyle's 'French Revolution,' and listen to the cry of thousands
in the streets of Paris, at midnight! "Pain!—pain!—pain!" they
shouted (Bread!—bread!—bread!). Oh how the trembling noblesse and
bourgeoisie woke up in terror—knowing the Revolution was come. Oh for a
cry like that for
the pardon of sin, in the streets of London! Do
you think it will never come? Are we perpetually
to go on in this poor, dreamy way? Nay, nay: it will come as surely as
the Holy Spirit reaches the heart of Man: it will come—the day when
thousands shall feel God's holy power, and be compelled to cry for mercy.
2. The soul that comes in this way soon learns to come with another kind
of boldness: the Boldness of Reliance on the Saviour's Invitations. He
hears Christ, so sweetly saying, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and
are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and
learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest to
your souls; for My yoke is easy and My burthen is light."
"Yes, Lord," says the earnest soul, "I know that Thy yoke is easy and Thy
burthen is light, and I
want to experience what it is to carry them; but I am laden with this
heavy yoke of my sin. Yet, as Thou hast invited me to come to Thee, I'll
try to come!" But, how often the poor labouring soul shrinks back in the
attempt to come to Christ! The old, troublesome thoughts come back again.
"Oh, I cannot presume to come—I'm not fit to come—I want a better
preparation and deeper repentance before I come."
But, my dear fellow-sinner, Christ does not say you are not fit to come. His invitation is to all who labour and feel heavy laden with the weight
of their sins, and so you are the very person He calls. And He does not
say you need a better preparation and deeper repentance before you come to
Him. Where is it written that He says so? "Yes, yes, you are a sinner
sure enough; but you must weep more and be more sorrowful before I relieve
you. Don't think you are to have mercy just when you ask for it. How many
months have you spent in repentance? Get away into some solitary place
and cry for mercy until you feel you have no strength left to cry any
longer. Get away, I say, and sigh and weep and mortify yourself with
fasting, and pray whole nights—and think yourself well off if you find
mercy in a few years!"
My dear fellow-sinner, thank God! there is no such language as that in
the Bible! "Come!" is the language always; and it is never—Come,
when you are more fit—Come, next week—Come, next month—no, nor even,
Come to-morrow. Today, is always the tone of the invitation. Come, then,
all who need Christ with the Boldness of Reliance on His Own invitations.
3. Come, also, with the Boldness of Trust in God's Promises and Confidence
in His faithfulness. Do you not remember how it is written that He proclaimed Himself to Moses in the Mount, as "The Lord, the Lord God,
merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and
truth,—keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression,
and sin"? And the Psalmist declares that "The Lord is merciful and
gracious, slow to anger," and that He is "plenteous in mercy." Oh, if God
were not "plenteous in mercy," what would become of the human race? Think of the sin and wickedness God has had to look upon in this earth for
long ages! He sees all things, every moment ! And, if any good man could
see all the sin that is being committed on this earth at this moment, he
would shudder with horror at the sight. What then must the Holy Jehovah
feel, Who has beheld this sight of horror every moment since sin came into
the world? Yet He is still "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious,
long-suffering, and abundant in mercy and truth." He is still "plenteous
in mercy"! He still cries to the wicked, as He did in the time of His
prophet Isaiah, "Come, now,
and let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be
as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as
wool." "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I
am God, and there is none else." "I bring near My righteousness; it
shall not be far off, and My salvation shall not tarry." "Let the wicked
forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return
unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He
will abundantly pardon." Surely, with such declarations on God's part,
every poor contrite sinner ought to come to the throne of grace with the
boldness of Trust in God's Promises and confidence in His faithfulness.
Yea, such promises should surely encourage every penitent sinner to come
to the throne of grace with the boldness of Faith.
4. Ay, this is the most prevalent of all kinds of boldness at the throne
of grace: the Boldness of of Faith. But what, really, is Faith?—some are
asking. "In the 11th chapter of the superb treatise from which your text
is taken, we read, 'Faith is the substance of things hoped for'—but we
cannot see the meaning of that expression." And, my good souls, I tell
you, honestly, that I do not wonder at what you say. Please bear with me
and attend closely to me, while I attempt a little critical explanation.
First, understand that the translation is a true one—only, our good old
translators have used the word substance in its metaphysical, and not in
its vulgar sense. "There is some substance in this cloth," you say,
feeling a man's sleeve. But, you know that way of using the word substance
gives no meaning to the text. Listen ! I have, most likely, a Latin
scholar or two here. They will understand me when I say sub stans:
reverse the words and you have stans sub—that is to say, standing
under. Use the Greek word in the text
ΰπόστασις the same way,
stasis hypo, if you reverse the syllables as before; and you have again
standing under. Now, this is the great vital question men asked in old
time—"What is the standing under?" We want to get out of our puzzle. Solve the mystery of Nature for us. You present us with a board, and you
talk of mere phenomena, or appearances, for you say it has length and
breadth and thickness—but what really is the piece of board? "Matter,"
you reply; and think you have given an answer which ought to satisfy the
most critical inquirer. But it does not satisfy anybody who thinks. "But
what is Matter? what is the standing under in Nature? Tell us what is
the reality." "It is the standing under," you reply: "it is the only
answer I can give you." Thus, the word hypostasis has come to be employed
So, when the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews
says "Faith is the substance of things hoped for," does he mean
"assurance," as the new translators say? No: for the Christian Church
has knocked that word about, till they have made it mean anything, and we
had better leave off using it. No: the true, full, and right translation
of the important passage we are talking about is "Faith is the
realisation of things hoped for."
"It is Christ that I want," says the penitent soul; "all the promises are
Yea and Amen in Him. What am I waiting for?" asks the penitent soul, with
the boldness of Faith: "the Saviour offers me all I want. They are
His own blessed words: "God so loved the world that He gave His
only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but
have everlasting life." "Whosoever? Then I am the very
soul, and I will rest upon my Saviour's declaration, and I'll keep my hold
of it. None shall drive me from it, or argue, or cozen me, out of
it. I am to come boldly to the throne of grace, and I am coming with
the boldness of faith. Whosoever!—Thou hast said it, blessed Lord, and I believe it and will
"Ah," says some disconsolate soul, "I have tried so to believe, and have
supposed it was all right with me. But, in a day or two, I found I was
mistaken. I found I really did not believe."
My dear fellow-sinner, you have been playing at believing: trying it, to
see how it would succeed.
You will never get salvation that way. If you are always going back to
look at your sins instead of
your Saviour, you will never get right. Do remember that you are coming to
a throne of grace: not a
throne of indignation, or of abstract justice. Mark how that real penitent
and real believer finds deliverance. He is in an agony of sorrow and
almost in an agony of despair. But after wrestling with his doubts and
feeling terrified at the heinousness of his sins and their great demerit,
he resolves to perish believing, if he must perish, and he casts himself,
in desperation, on the mercy of God, through the atonement of Christ. And
so he succeeds. There is no other way; and he soon feels he has taken the
right way. His faith is indeed the realisation of things hoped for.
He took the Saviour at His word; and, in the same way any other poor
sinner who is present, to-night, and feels the burthen of sin and guilt to
be grievous, may be released from it. "Whosoever" is the word, remember,
in that precious declaration of the Saviour. Lay hold of it, with the
boldness of faith, and you will also find mercy and grace to help in your
time of need. Only believe with all your heart, in the Saviour, and you
are sure to feel that faith is the realisation of things hoped for—for by
the boldness of faith you will be able to realise the pardon of sin, and
glorify God for it.
Hark!—hush! From whom came that suppressed groan—that stifled sigh? Oh,
it was from
the heart of that poor backslider. "How can I come boldly to the throne
of grace?" he is saying "I that have crucified Christ afresh, and put
Him to open shame! Oh, no, there's no mercy or grace
for me. I have listened to the promises you have quoted from the
Bible—but they only serve to torture me, I have sinned away my day of
grace." Nay, nay, not while thou art alive and Christ lives to plead for
thee—not while God gives thee breath and offers mercy to the man who can
only cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Where, in the blessed Gospel,
is it ever said that Christ turned away any human soul that acknowledged
its sin? Where is it said, in the Gospel, that when the Saviour, after
His resurrection, gave His Apostles their commission to go and preach the
Gospel, that He charged them to preach it only to moderate sinners—to
small sinners—to sinners who only sinned in a whisper, and never did much
harm in the world?
Remember what St. Luke tells us in the close of his Gospel: that Christ
charged His disciples to "preach repentance and remission of sins among
all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." "Beginning at
Jerusalem"? Why, then, He meant that salvation should be offered to
the guiltiest of all sinners, first. It is as if the Saviour had said, "Go, and find out the
priestly traffickers in blood, who paid Judas the thirty pieces of silver
for betraying Me, and tell them that there's grace and mercy, even for
"Beginning at Jerusalem": go, and find out the unfeeling official who
smote Me on the face in the presence of the high-priest, Caïaphas, and
that there's grace and mercy, for him! "Beginning at Jerusalem": go,
and find out them who mocked and derided Me, as I hung upon the cross, and
say there's mercy and grace, for them! "Beginning at Jerusalem": go,
and find out the hardened Roman soldiers who spat upon Me, and blindfolded
and buffetted Me, and put on Me the purple robe, and in mockery bowed the
knee to Me, and tell them that there's mercy and grace, for them!"
Beginning at Jerusalem": go and find out the men who plaited the crown
of thorns, and thrust it upon My brow, and tell them there's grace and
mercy, for them! "Beginning at Jerusalem": go and find out the men who
drove the nails into My hands and feet, upon the cruel cross, and tell
them there's mercy and grace, even for them!
Oh, while it is recorded that Jesus directed His disciples to preach
remission of sins, in the very first act, to the vilest sinners of all,
canst thou despair, poor backslider? Oh, if thou hast defiled thy soul
with adultery and murder, since God pardoned David, cannot He pardon thee? If thou has denied thy Lord with oaths and curses, since God pardoned
Peter, cannot He pardon thee? Did He not assure the backsliding
Israelites, again and again, that if they would return unto Him, He would
backslidings, and love them freely? And dost thou forget that Jehovah is
the Unchangeable One?
Come!—this is thy time of need, backslider. Accept the invitation,
now—for I preach unto thee, at this moment, repentance and remission of
sins, in the Name of Him who died for thee—in the Name of Him who shed
His blood for thee. May the Lord help thee to feel that this is, indeed,
thy time of need, and help thee to come to the throne of grace and find
"Don't forget me!" says some poor, weak, trembling and fearing, and
sometimes stumbling child of God. " I almost think, sometimes, that I
shall have to give it up, and be classed with backsliders. For I get wrong
so often: I promise the Lord, so often, to be better, and then, instead,
I grow worse: I listen so often to the voice of temptation, although I
know it to be wrong, and I'm sure to get wrong, if I listen to it"—Stop,
stop, my poor weak brother, and look at one word in the text. "Let us,
therefore." "Therefore," sir! "Why that's a very insignificant word. A
lawyer's word, as we call it: therefore, and wherefore, and nevertheless
and notwithstanding, and a score of similar words. You know, the lawyers
ring changes upon them, when they make your Will, or a Deed of
Conveyance." Ay, ay, but a lawyer will show you that there is often a deal
of importance in what you call that insignificant word in the Will. Take
that you never throw away your "therefores" and "wherefores," whenever
you meet them in Scripture. They are often of more worth than you imagine. Think of that splendid "therefore," in the first verse of the 8th of
Romans. "There is, therefore, now, no condemnation to them which are in
Christ Jesus." Think of the miserable confession poor Paul has been making
of his state, in the 7th chapter—"I know that in me (that is, in my
flesh) dwelleth no good thing. For to will is present with me; but how to
perform that which is good, I find not. For the good that I would, I do
not; but the evil that I would not, that I do. . . . I find a law that
when I would do good, evil is present with me. . . . I see a law in my
members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity
to the law of sin. . . . O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me
from the body of this death?" And then, suddenly seeing the way of escape,
he exclaims, "I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!" And he takes a
running jump of faith, and clears the gap between the 7th chapter of
Romans and the 8th in a moment—for he lands, safe, on the other side, and
triumphantly exclaims, "There is, therefore, now, no condemnation to them
which are in Christ Jesus!"
Now, my dear tempted and tried brother, mark the word that leads in the
meaning of the text "Let us, therefore, come boldly"—but why? "For
we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our
infirmities but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without
sin." That is the therefore; and remember it, poor tried and tempted child
of God. You are full of infirmities. But "we have not a High Priest which
cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." Therefore, you are
to come boldly to the throne of grace. You are tempted. So was He.
Therefore, you are to come boldly to the throne of grace. "Ah !"
say you, "but I am so very much tempted!" Yea but He "was in all points
tempted like as we are?" Therefore, you are to come boldly to the throne
of grace. You are tempted to doubt that you are a child of God; and you
are even driven to fear that you will have to "give it up," as you say. Do you think Jesus was never tempted to give up His struggle for Man's
Christian believer! you who know by long experience that Faith is the
realisation of things hoped for, keep on believing to the end—for I must
now come to an end as soon as possible—the time being nearly gone. I must
say little on the third head.
What are we to gain by practising this Christian
grace to help us in the time of need." And does not that comprehend all
that we shall want as long as we are on earth? You have heard the text
preached from often, it may be; and you remember how the time of
need was described as the time of temporal difficulty—the time of
temptation—the time of sickness —the time of danger—the time of death. Think of all these, and expand them in your own thoughts when you get home; and God help you and help us all, ever to come boldly, through the
Saviour, to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace
to help us in the time of need.
THE ORIGIN OF MAN.
THIS is still the great philosophical moot-point of
the day. Of course, the party which, for the present, hold sway, is
the party of Evolution—the doctrine of Lamarck, and Hæckel,
and Darwin. But, there are a few distinguished men who refuse to
yield up their independence of thought, and join the "Popular" cry,
because it is called "popular." Among these is the profound and
intelligent linguist, Max Müller.
I mentioned, at page 154 of this volume, that "Darwin found the black
natives of Terra del Fuego—the extreme south of America—perfectly naked,
and sleeping on the ground without any covering." With very deep interest,
I have just now read a little paper, concerning these Fuegians, by the
Rev. W. R. Stevenson, in the March number of our little General Baptist
Magazine; and a most valuable statement concerning them, by Max Müller, in
the first number of the Nineteenth Century for the present year. I have
also procured Mr. Young's valuable missionary volume, entitled "Light in
of Darkness," and have read his statement with thankfulness.
To one who, like my poor self, has been, for the last ten years, doing all
that he can, by plain speaking, to stem the torrent of Scepticism in the
guise of Evolution, these several publications have given deep joy. For, I
have had many "stones in the other pocket," as we say in old Lincolnshire. A little time ago, after a lecture exposing the fallacy of Evolution, in
one of the chapels in Lancashire, a friend came to me and said that the
minister of another chapel was present, and told his mind to this friend
before he went home: "I would have defended Darwin's doctrine all the way
through," said he, "if the lecturer would have given me leave." "Thank
God," said I, "that he has gone home without asking me for leave to
"But is it Error?" is the pertinacious question asked me by scores of
young men, many of whom are members of Christian churches. And some of
their ministers, they tell me, are bold to maintain that a man may be a
good Christian, and yet hold the whole of Darwin's doctrines to be true.
Nay, I have been told by several credible witnesses, who have a high
admiration for one who may be called the leading Dissenting minister of
the Midlands, that he has openly and unreservedly declared his belief
before his congregation, that Man comes out of the Apes!
Let no one mock at an old man, when he tells them that all this causes him
grief. He fell into error in his past life, and therefore he cultivates no
unkindness towards them who fall into error; but he is thankful that his
common-sense has protected him from holding, even in any modified shape,
the absurd fallacy that Man is only an improved Ape.
But I leave this gossip—which I beg the reader to excuse—and proceed to
the point I have in view. In his very interesting book, entitled "A
Naturalist's Voyage round the World," Mr. Darwin thus gives us his
impressions of what, in 1832, he saw of the natives of Terra del Fuego":—
"It was without exception the most curious and interesting spectacle I
ever beheld. I could not have believed how wide was the difference between
the savage and civilized man: it is greater than between a wild and
domesticated animal, inasmuch as in man there is a greater power of
"The language of these people, according to our notions, scarcely deserves
to be called articulate. Captain Cook has compared it to a man clearing
his throat; but certainly no European ever cleared his throat with so
many hoarse, guttural, and clicking sounds.
"These poor wretches were stunted in their growth; their hideous faces
were bedaubed with white paint, their skins filthy and greasy, their hair
entangled, their voices discordant, and their gestures
violent. Viewing such men, one can hardly make oneself believe that they
are fellow-creatures, and inhabitants of the same world. It is a common
subject of conjecture what pleasure in life some of the lower animals can
enjoy; how much more reasonably the same question may be asked with
respect to these barbarians.
"The different tribes when at war are cannibals. From the concurrent but
quite independent evidence of the boy taken by Mr. Low, and of Jemmy
Button (the chief of the tribe), it is certainly true that when pressed in
winter by hunger they kill and devour their old women before they kill
"I believe in this extreme part of America Man exists in a lower state of
improvement than in any other part of the world."
So much for the young philosopher's opinion of what he saw in 1832, and of
what he thought it proved. The idea that a few Christian missionaries
could improve these savages never seems to have entered his mind. And yet,
during that same voyage in the Beagle, he visited New Zealand, and
thus writes of what he saw there:—
"The lesson of the Missionary is the enchanter's wand. . . . To think that
this was the centre of the land of cannibalism, murder, and all atrocious
crimes! I took leave of the missionaries with thankfulness for their kind
welcome, and with
feelings of high respect for their gentlemanlike, useful, and upright
character. I think it would be difficult to find a body of men better
adapted for the high office which they fulfil."
It is gratifying to learn that the philosopher, in after-life, had the
pleasurable surprise of knowing that even Fuegian savages were not beyond
the transforming influences of Christianity. What missionaries endured
before they succeeded—how some perished of hunger—how others were
massacred by the clubs of the natives, I must leave the reader to learn
from Mr. Young's book. I can assure him that he will find he never read a
more heart-thrilling narrative in his life. They educated a few children
of these poor savages, and so, at length, learnt the language of some of
the Fuegians, and by perseverance of the most extraordinary character,
made their way clear. And now, what shall be said?—for I must cut the
story short—the Church of England has established a mission, and—
"In 1872, Bishop Stirling, assisted by Mr. Bridges, at one service
baptized thirty-six adults and children, and joined seven couples in
Christian marriage. It was a day to be remembered. The baptized organized
evening worship spontaneously, and met in each other's houses for prayer
"Since then the work has steadily progressed. There is now a Christian
village. Instead of the miserable wigwams, cottages have been erected,
gardens have been planted and fenced, roads have been made, cattle and
goats have been introduced; an orphanage containing twenty-six children,
clothed fed, and educated at the expense of friends in England, has been
erected; polygamy, witchcraft infanticide, wrecking, theft, and other
vices have been abolished.
"Mr. Bridges has compiled a grammar and an extensive vocabulary and
dictionary, and he has also completed a translation of the Gospel of St.
Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles, in the Yaghan language, five hundred
copies of the former having been printed and sent out. The baptismal
register at the close of 1881, showed a total of one hundred and
The concluding account given by Mr. Young will be startling to some of the
"On the occasion of the annual meeting of the South American Missionary
Society, 1881, Admiral Sir B. J. Sullivan, stated that he had informed
Darwin of the kindness shown to the crews of shipwrecked vessels on the
part of natives who had been more or less under the influence of the
mission, and had also communicated to him the fact, reported by Mr.
Bridges, of there being fowl-houses unlocked at the mission station, with
plenty of eggs, and that during all the years he had been there the
missionaries had not lost one fowl or one egg." In reply, the great
naturalist wrote, "He could
not have believed that all the missionaries in the world could ever have
made the Fuegians honest." The admiral also spoke of Darwin having long
maintained that "nothing could be done by means of mission work, that all
the pains bestowed on the natives would be thrown away, and that they
could never be civilized," and of his admitting afterwards that he was
wrong in this opinion, and writing to him in these terms—"I had always
thought that the civilisation of the Japanese is the most wonderful thing
in history, but I am now convinced that what the missionaries have done in
Terra del Fuego in civilising the natives is at least as wonderful." So
impressed indeed was Darwin with the greatness of the change thus wrought
by the mission, that he became a regular subscriber to the society's
After all, the frank avowal of his error by Charles Darwin ought not to
surprise us, for he was a real philosopher. He always talked of his
philosophy as "my theory." I have pointed that out a thousand times to my
audiences. He never said, "I have discovered an absolute and irrefragable
truth, and I'll knock the man down that denies it."
Let us now turn to noble Max Müller, who for "denying the gospel of the
day, that man is the offspring of a brute" is, as he says, under the
anathema of the dictatorial Evolution party. Being, at least, one of the
greatest linguists in the world, he is entitled to speak with decision on
question of Man's origin—for, as Man only can speak, language must be one
of the surest tests of his origin. Thus the great professor of
"As I look upon language neither as a ready-made gift of God, nor as a
natural growth of the human mind, but as, in the true sense of the word, a
work of human art, I must confess that nothing has surprised me so much as
the high art displayed in the languages of so-called savages. I do not
wish to exaggerate; and I know quite well that a great abundance of
grammatical forms, such as we find in these savages dialects, is by no
means a proof of high intellectual development. But if we consider how
small is the number of words and ideas in the ordinary vocabulary of an
English peasant, and if then we find that one dialect of the Fuegians, the
Tagan, consists of about 30,000 words, we certainly hesitate before
venturing to classify the possessors of so vast an inherited wealth as the
descendants of poor savages, more savage than themselves. Such facts
cannot be argued away. We cannot prevent people from despising religious
concepts different from their own, or from laughing at customs which they
themselves could never adopt. But such a treasure of conceptual thought as
is implied in the possession of a vocabulary of 30,000 entries, cannot be
ignored in our estimate of the antecedents of this Fuegian race. I select
Fuegians as a crucial test, simply because Darwin selected them as the
strongest proof of his own theory, and placed them almost below the level
reached by the most intelligent animals. I have always had a true regard
for Darwin, and what I admired in him more than anything else was his
fearlessness, his simple devotion to truth. I believe that if he had seen
that his own theories were wrong, he would have been the first to declare
it, whatever his followers might have said. But in spite of all that, no
man can resist the influence of his own convictions. When Darwin looked at
the Fuegians, he no doubt saw what he tells us; but then he saw it with
Professor Max Müller contends that Mr. Darwin was
mistaken in his estimate of the Fuegian language. He shows that some
tasteful judges of language have expressed their opinion in the contrary
direction; and then, he thus proceeds:—
"And, even if the sound of their language was as guttural as some of the
Swiss dialects, how shall we account for the wealth of their vocabulary? Every concept embodied in their language is the result of hard
intellectual labour; and although here again excessive wealth may be an
embarrassment, yet there remains enough to prove a past that must have
been very different from the present.
"The workman must at least have been as great as his work; and as the
ruins of Central America tell
us of architects greater than any that country could produce at present,
the magnificent ruins in the dialect, whether Fuegians, Mohawks, or
Hottentots, tell us of mental builders whom no one could match. at
present. Even in their religious beliefs there are here and there rays of
truth which could never have proceeded from the dark night of their actual
superstitions. The Fuegians, according to Captain FitzRoy, believe in a
just god, and a spirit moving about in forests and mountains. They may
believe in a great deal more, but people who believe in a great spirit in
forests and mountains, and in a just god, are not on the lowest step of
the ladder leading from earth to heaven.
"The Duke of Argyll, in examining the principal races that are commonly
called savage, has pointed out that degraded races generally inhabit the
extreme ends of continents or tracts of country almost unfit for human
habitation, or again whole islands difficult of access except under
exceptionally favourable conditions. He naturally concludes that they did
not go there of their own free will, but that they represent conquered
races, exiles, weaklings, cowards, criminals, who saved nothing but their
life in their flight before more vigorous conquerors, or in their exile
from countries that had thrown them off like poison. Instead of looking on
the inhabitants of Terra del Fuego as children of the soil, Autochthones,
or the immediate descendants of the mythical
Proanthropoi, the Duke points out that it is far more likely they may have
come from the north; that their ancestors may have participated in the
blessings of the soil and climate of Chili, Peru, Brazil, or Mexico,
possibly in the early civilisation of that part of the world; and that
the wretchedness of the country into which they were driven fully accounts
for their present degradation. Take away the wretchedness of their present
home, educate a baby, as Captain FitzRoy did, under the beneficent
influence of an English sky and of European civilisation, and in one
generation, as Mr. Darwin tells us, 'his intellect and disposition were
The concluding words of Max Müller, in the article which I have taken the
liberty to quote, in the first number for the present year, of the
Nineteenth Century, are very wise words. They are as
"Disappointing as it may sound, the fact must be faced, nevertheless,
that our reasoning faculties, wonderful as they are, break down completely
before all problems concerning the origin of things. We may imagine, we
may believe, anything we like about the first man; we can know absolutely
nothing. If we trace him back to a primeval cell, the primeval cell that
could become a man is more mysterious by far than the man that was evolved
from a cell. If we trace him back to a primeval pro-anthropos, the pro-anthropos
is more unintelligible to us than even the protanthropos would be. If we trace back the
whole solar system to a rotating nebula, that wonderful nebula, which by
evolution and revolution could become an inhabitable universe is, again,
far more mysterious than the universe itself.
"The lesson that there are limits to our knowledge is an old lesson, but
it has to be taught again and again. It was taught by Buddha, it was
taught by Socrates, and it was taught for the last time in the most
powerful manner by Kant. Philosophy has been called the knowledge of our
knowledge; it might be called more truly the knowledge of our ignorance,
or, to adopt the more moderate language of Kant, the knowledge of the
limits of our knowledge."
Let us hope we are not far from the time when the little people who so
fussily show us their collections of chipped flints, and desire so
earnestly, that we will mark how artistically they are chipped, proving,
they contend, that the flints must have been chipped by human beings—will
see that their reasoning cuts the other way: not that Man came out of the
Apes, but that he lost his civilisation, and had to resort to such
substitutes as he could invent, when he had wandered away from the land
where he had lived in a higher condition. And the fragments of bone, with
drawings upon them—so artistic! the exhibitors charge you to observe—do
they show also that Man was just rising out of the brute when he was able
to draw that figure of a deer, so artistically?
I freely confess that no flint, or bone, or ancient fragment of any kind,
has ever been shown to me, by the most enthusiastic Ape-theorist—and I
know here and there one—which proved or seemed likely to prove anything
more than that he who worked and formed the same was merely imitating the
convenient tool, or the more perfect drawing, he had possessed before he
wandered away from a higher condition in which he and his ancestors lived.
ON THE 'MESSIAH' OF HANDEL.
DID the musicians among our English working men and
lower middle classes who assisted in the occasional performance of the
Messiah fifty years ago, know what they were doing? Let none
of the intellectuals of the present day be surprised if I be so audacious
as to answer—No. For that is the true answer. It will be remembered by all
who have read my 'Life written by Myself' what an enthusiastic connection
I had with the Lincoln Choral Society, fifty years ago.
Now, the first time that a performance of the entire Messiah was announced
in our advertisements, we had, as is usual with such societies, a book of
the words sold to those who attended to hear. I had strongly suspected
that there was a profound degree of ignorance among people in general,
respecting the true character of the Messiah, since I found it to be so
common among musicians. So I drew up a plain description of what the
Messiah really is, and had it printed and prefixed to the book of words,
that every listener to the music might
know what it really was to which he was listening.
I do not think that a tenth part of the crowd of listeners read the
description—for I never heard any one of them mention it. But, judge of
my astonishment, on my first visit to our organist after the
performance—and, on my visit, the following day, to a clerical gentleman
who had the reputation of being the best pianist and the most accomplished
musician in Lincoln—both of whom, I found, were as ignorant as the crowd
of the real nature of Handel's priceless work!
"Pray, where did you find this excellent description of the Messiah?" I
"Oh, sir," said I, to the one and the other, "I drew it up hastily
myself—for I find people in general go to hear music without thinking
much of the nature of what is being performed."
In each case, the skilled musician gazed at me, incredulously, and said, "How can you have written it? I have gone through Handel's work hundreds
of times in my life, and I never understood the meaning of it before—but,
for a certainty, this is the meaning of it!"
The greater frequency of musical performances in England, and, I suppose
one may add, the improved musical taste of the people, have led, no doubt,
to a better estimate, arising from greater thoughtfulness, of the true
nature and value of great master-pieces
in music. I have no copy of the description I drew up to prefix to our
book of words: so I must take the liberty to give the reader a substitute
which embodies that description.
In my novel entitled 'The Family Feud'—now out of print—I have three
heroines: a plain country girl, a fine attractive lady, and a romantic
musical enthusiast. Now, when you are writing for bread—an experience
which many scores of men in London, will understand—you are ready to
snatch at almost any scrap of writing you have in your desk, and make use
of it, if you can. I remembered the "description" and so made use of it in
a dialogue between the musical enthusiast and the hero of the story. I
extract some part of the dialogue. It is as follows:—
"Handel failed—if it be not profane to say that such a giant could
fail," said Una, "in attempting to portray in music the vivid and
rapturous thoughts of 'Il Penseroso' and 'L'Allegro.' But, if he could
not translate Milton's own ineffable language into a higher, he transcends
Milton in his management of a great subject on which they have, each,
essayed his colossal genius independently."
"I do not exactly know to what you allude," said Wilfred.
"To the 'Messiah,' his great musical epic. It is the true 'Paradise
Regained': the proper sequel to the 'Paradise Lost."'
"There is glorious poetry in the 'Paradise
Regained'—glorious poetry "
"Such as none but our all-glorious Milton could write," interjected Una.
"Yet, I have always thought," continued Harlow, "that the attempts to
overthrow noble old Johnson's objection to it were unsuccessful. It is
founded on too narrow a basis: the theme required a wider platform for
full treatment than that afforded by the narrative of the temptation in
the wilderness. The stupendous event of Man's redemption demanded
a more lofty and plenary effort from Milton. But, does the 'Messiah'
fulfil the requisitions we might put forth for the treatment of such a
"All—all! " replied Una, with triumphant enthusiasm.
"I had understood it to be a grand, but hasty creation thrown together in
a hurry, and partly composed of adaptations from some of the great
master's early efforts: the anthems composed for Christmas, and other
festivals, in his youth. I remember reading, somewhere or other, something
to that effect: I think it was said to be so stated in a published
correspondence between Zelter and Goethe."
After a few preliminary remarks, defining the subject of the 'Messiah,'
Una showed that the Oratorio might be considered as composed of eight
sections. "The first," said she, "concluding with
the magnificent chorus, 'For unto us a Child is born,' has for its whole
subject the prophecies of the Old Testament directly prefiguring the
advent of Messiah. The second section narrates the birth of the Divine
Child. It commences with the Pastoral Symphony, and concludes with the
chorus of the angels, 'Glory to God in the highest!'"
"You have said that music has a positive language," interrupted Wilfred, "and I think I felt that it had, while you played the
on the organ last night. Does it not describe the sweet calm, the rest,
and peacefulness of night?"
"Yes: Night, so beautiful in the East—with the flocks at rest, and the
simple and happy shepherd watching them. That sweetest of symphonies
shows that music has a higher vocation than that of being the mere
handmaid to poetry. Handel has proved to us there the independent power of
music, and how rich it is in expression of its own. He would not degrade
his art by fitting the words 'There were shepherds,' etc., to an air. He
threw them carelessly into recitative, as not sufficiently poetical and
richly descriptive, though they are full of suggestion; and created, in
the independent language of his own Art, that lovely scene of the happy
night when the beneficence of Heaven was about to be realised for men."
"The third section," continued Una, "describes the Saviour's ministerial
life, commences with the air 'Rejoice greatly,' and concludes with the light, pleasing chorus
yoke is easy.' The fourth section depicting with unequalled pathetic power
the sufferings and death of Christ, commences with the chorus 'Behold the
Lamb of God,' and concludes with the recitative 'He was cut off out of
the land of the living.' The fifth has for its subject the resurrection
and ascension of the Saviour: it bursts suddenly, in tones of returning
joyousness on the ear, with the air 'But Thou didst not leave,' and ends
with the air 'Thou art gone up on high.'
"The sixth section, describing the spread and universal triumph of
Messiah's gospel, in spite of earthly opposition, begins with the
sprightly chorus 'The Lord gave the word,' and ends with the splendid
'Hallelujah Chorus.' The seventh portraying the Christian's steadfast
confidence in a resurrection, commences with the beautiful air 'I know
that my Redeemer liveth,' and concludes with the air 'If God be for us.' The last section completes the grand epic by describing the eternal
employment of the blessed in heaven: it contains two choruses—'Worthy is
the Lamb' and the 'Amen Chorus.' And the great master, as a consummating
proof of his devotion, has almost exhausted his science in the
construction of the last piece."
"Solve me one mystery before you finish your description," said Wilfred
Harlow: "you speak of the 'Amen Chorus' as a matchless piece of musical
science; but to me it is a puzzle. I heard it once, when, unlike the
'Pastoral Symphony,' it did speak
a positive language to me. I could not comprehend the meaning of the
variations on the one word 'Amen."'
"You would have comprehended the meaning of the fugue, if you had listened
to a performance of the whole Messiah thoughtfully. Handel is not saying
'Amen' in a whimsical way at the end of his lesson, like a quaint clerk
responding to the parson at the end of the prayers. He is expressing
eternity—the eternity of praise."
"I see it—I see it! " cried Wilfred,
"Take the first opportunity you may have for hearing a full performance of
the Messiah," said Una, earnestly, "and you will be wholly of my
persuasion that Handel's work is the true 'Paradise Regained': the only
worthy sequel to the transcendent 'Paradise Lost.'"
No doubt, as I have before said, there is a more widely
diffused and intelligent understanding of the worth and real meaning of
Handel's great work than there was, in England, fifty years ago; but I
have frequently seen, in some of the small periodicals, during the last
fifty years, a rash guess which shows great ignorance of what the writers
were naming. "The entire Oratorio was composed in a very few
days"—one has asserted. "It was struck off at a heat"—asserted
another, "and therefore ought to be regarded as one of the greatest triumphs of the human
mind." One wonders how any sensible man could either conceive or receive
such an idea. Does anybody ever try to befool us by telling us that "Hamlet" was "struck off at a heat"—or "Lear," or "Othello," or "Macbeth"?
That man must be a man of no thought who can imagine that any great
product of the human mind is ever "struck off at a heat." The seeds of
great thoughts are conceived in the mind by influences and causes we
cannot always trace; and they often are long in budding, and still longer
before they blossom. Undoubtedly there is truth in what one of the writers
relates in the correspondence between Zelter and Goethe: that Handel,
while only a young musician, composed anthems for the festivals of the
Protestant church, and remembered many of the beautiful passages in the
airs and choruses with which his wondrous genius began to teach men how to
celebrate Christmas and Easter. And when the first thought of a musical
epic which should embody the great subject of our redemption by Christ germed in his mind, he could not fail to remember many of the grandest and
most beautiful musical achievements of his youth, and to see their fitness
to form a part of his new project.
Perhaps he revolved that project for years in his mind, during the busy
life into which he plunged in his manhood. There was a great deal more religiousness in Handel than some people are willing to allow. A few
whimsical or grotesque anecdotes are not real tests of a man's character. That "First Part," as it is usually termed, of the
Messiah, from "Comfort ye my people" to the close of "For unto us a Child is born," is
very beautifully and strongly indicative of the fact that Handel's mind
frequently and deeply pondered the ancient Scriptures—doubtless with the
gradually developing thought, and then, the resolution, that he would one
day do something great with their inspiring aid.
Thus one may imagine that he did not read on to the fortieth chapter of
Isaiah, before he found what he judged to be a right commencement of his
great musical epic—without much reverent pondering over the earlier books
of the Old Testament. The giving of the Law from Sinai, however attractive
the awful theme might be for musical treatment, he perceived would not
form a suitable beginning for his Oratorio. The Plagues of Egypt and the
Passage of the Red Sea, most likely caused him to hesitate as to whether
he should enfold a lofty treatment of them into something like an
introduction. But he passed over them, one cannot help thinking, at an
early period, determining to try his genius upon them at a later date.
There was so much that was suitable for musical interpretation also in the
histories of Abraham and the other patriarchs, that he would, belike, have
to constrain himself to pass by them—for, the more he thought of the mode
by which he should introduce his great theme, the more powerfully the
sweet strains of Isaiah would lay hold of his heart and imagination, till
he saw clearly that the prophecies foregoing the birth of the Divine Child
were what he must first deal with. It was to be a revelation of Divine
love and beneficence to Man, that he was to deal with, and so it seemed
clearly right that the very starting note itself and all the introductory
part should be joyous: the two airs in this part which are not so, are
skilful contrasts to enhance the joy of the general introduction.
No musical critic that I remember has ever taken note of one fact in the
Messiah which is really a most noteworthy fact. That the glorious "Hallelujah Chorus" is the grandest effort and triumph of Handel's genius
is a universal opinion; and one never thinks of King George the Third,
small-minded and obstinate in wrong, as he was, without a lenient feeling,
when we call to mind that he instituted the custom of rising and
uncovering the head whenever the sublime chorus is performed before a
London audience: a custom now practised also in the country.
But what is the really noteworthy fact that I wish to impress on the mind
of the reader? Not that the great composer gave the world his grandest
chorus as a triumphant close to the period of prophecy—although "For unto us a Child is born" is one of his noblest choruses. Not that he conceived it right and good to give the world his
master-chorus as a conclusion to his work—although "Worthy is the Lamb"
and the "Amen Chorus" form a transcendent attempt to realise the rapturous
worship of the saints in heaven. It may cause a sneer with some irreverent
minds, but I must contend that there was a large measure of the missionary
spirit in the mind of Handel, or he would not have created his grandest
chorus to celebrate the spread of Christ's gospel all over the earth—in
fact, to celebrate the Millennium.
There must have been much religiousness in the heart and mind of Handel,
as I have before hinted. He was a literal believer in Christianity: not a
quibbler, in any degree. That simple story of what he said in his last
illness proves it: "I should like," said he, "to die on Good Friday,
that I might be in heaven with my dear Lord, on Easter Sunday." He died on
Good Friday, as the reader will no doubt remember. The wish which some
very wise people will deem childish, very likely, seems to me indicative
of a great and valuable truth: that the Bible and all it reveals—but
more especially the theme of Redemption—dwelt much in Handel's memory,
and in his heart and mind: that he grasped the statements of Christianity
as facts—facts as veritable as his own existence—and rejoiced with an
elevated joy in the belief that this Christianity would, one
day, fill the earth. It is this elevated joy of his own heart and soul,
that he strives to express, in the unequalled "Hallelujah"!
Let us thank God that ever He created such a soul as Milton's to give us
the "Paradise Lost"; and that He called into being such a soul as
Handel's to give us the true "Paradise Regained"—the Messiah!
ON THE MISUSE OF LANGUAGE IN CONVERSATION.
A FOREIGNER who was condemned to hear our daily speech
could not be deemed harsh, if he avowed his belief that English people
considered their native tongue as too beggarly for use—if he judged that
we believed the successive generations of our ancestors had left us heirs
to a speech too troublesome and untasteful for us to take it daily into
our mouths, and sound it in one another's ears. The poor, neglected
adjectives of our language, for instance—although so highly prized and
carefully treasured up in his memory by the Poet—seem to be commonly
regarded as worn out and worthless. I am not pointing to the practice of
the profanum vulgus: I am talking of the daily and hourly
conversation of thousands who are held unquestionably to be gentlefolks. They have fixed on the one small pitiable adjective,
nice ; and they
murder it, every day of their lives.
Thus we hear of a nice man, a nice fellow, a nice boy or girl, a nice
woman, and a nice lady, a nice gentleman, and his nice wife or daughter, a
nice pony, a nice chaise, a nice coat or waistcoat, a nice hat, a nice
pair of shoes or boots, a nice table or chair, a nice book, a nice
inkstand, a nice plate, a nice house, a nice garden, a nice flower or
tree, a nice dog, a nice cat, a nice bird, a nice cage, a nice pudding, a
nice tart, a nice apple or orange, a nice pear or plum, a nice glass, a
nice decanter, a nice mutton chop, a nice veal cutlet, a nice veil, a nice
bonnet, a nice handkerchief, a nice dress, a nice frill, a nice piece of
silk, lace, or muslin, a nice player on the piano, a nice singer, a nice
speaker, a nice tune, a nice song, nice music, nice wine, nice tea, nice
coffee, a nice place, a nice town, a nice street or square, a nice walk, a
nice sleep, a nice dinner, nice company, nice talk, a nice visit, a nice
drive, a nice sofa, a nice watch, a nice gold chain, a nice church or
chapel, a nice pew, and, even a nice minister! What is there that poor,
infatuated people, of so many grades, do not call nice?
If it be right and sensible to go on with this vulgar
practice, let editions be printed of dictionaries which have no adjectives
in them except this four-lettered thing—nice. As the
other adjectives are deemed not worth using, let them be abolished; and
let it be fineable for any person who can afford to pay a fine, to speak
of a good man, an agreeable
man, a courteous man, a kind man, a polite man, a pleasant man, a
well-disposed man, a clever manor a man of any description except a nice
And let there be equal dealing towards the gentler sex: they are to be
fined if they substitute any other adjective for nice. And, if there be
any working man so self-opinionated
and ill-mannered, that he will not,—say or threaten what you may,—use
the word nice, but will use adjectives which his conceit selects as more
appropriate—why, give him a
day's fasting on the tread-wheel, to teach him "manners." As to
enlisting people in a crusade against this murdering of the word nice—nobody
could be found to join it.
I see no remedy but to let the infatuation wear itself out, but that will
not be in my time.
Another word which has been for some years common among uneducated working
men, is now coming into use among what are called "the respectable
people." I mean
the poor little word lot. The use of it is often really disgusting. "Lots
of folks "—"lots of fun"—"lots of sheep and cattle"—"lots of pigs and
pigeons "—"lots of crows and
sparrows"—"lots of time: "we've an hour to spare yet"—"lots of rubbish"—"lots of butter and eggs in the market, to-day"—"lots of books"—"lots
of fiddlers and dancers"—"lots of
singers"—"lots of parsons"—"lots of chapels and churches"—I need not
go on: everything is vulgarized by being described consisting of lots!
I have tried a reforming experiment with some of these
friend," I have said, "do you
not know that a lot is a share? It is quite right to say "that piece of
ground is to be sold in lots of three or four acres each"; but it would
be wrong to say "that piece
of ground grows lots of thistles." Lot does not mean abundance: it means
a share, or
"divided portion." My listener, instead of being reformed, has usually
laughed at me, in derision, and walked away!
Other words are wrongly used, and their wrong use has a current
acceptation even among highly-cultured people—who never seem to suspect
that they are speaking
incorrectly. I may instance the word quantity, so commonly substituted for
"number." Addison commits the error in his first paper in the dear old
Spectator: he talks if a "quantity of people"; and I have heard Thomas Carlyle make the same
blunder, again and again—but I had not the courage to tell him of it. One
would think that it requires small culture to perceive that while it is
right to speak of a quantity of meal, or anything that can be measured—we
ought to use the word number
when we speak of what
can be counted.
Living as we do, in an age of exaggeration, we need not wonder at the
current use of such epithets as "splendid," "frightful," "awful," and
"terrific"; but in whatever violations of
rational speech sane people may choose to indulge—no one should be
allowed to establish a habit of daily corrupting our grammar, without
notice being taken of such a
Exceedingly few people among the classes which are not really
well-educated seem to know that they are speaking incorrectly by using the
word very in the way they
always use it. "I am very pleased to see you," they commonly say. I
venture, sometimes, to ask young ministers, or others, "Why do you say
you are very
pleased? Does not 'pleased' express what you mean without very? Do you
ever say 'I am very loved'—or 'I was very struck'—or 'I was very
adapted,' or 'very pledged,' or ' very watched,' or 'very pruned,' or 'very digged,' or 'very bathed,' or 'very washed,' or
No: the nature of the perfect participle—whether you know it to be one,
or not—has the mysterious effect of preventing you from joining it with a
wrong word. Instead of very,
you use "much," or "well," or "greatly": you must exaggerate, to be in
fashion: but, by instinct—for it may be by instinct only, and not by
knowledge: you, by instinct,
avoid the use of bad grammar.
I am sorry to say that this bad habit is growing. I heard a young preacher
say, the other day, that he was "very interested" in reading a certain
book; and a good lady say
she was "very distressed " on hearing that so many poor people were in
Let the critics know that I am aware of there
being a little difficulty in this case. We are so much in the habit of
converting perfect participles into what are called "participial
adjectives," that it is not a violation of
language to place the word "very" before a word which is so converted. The first word in our common version of the Psalms furnishes us with a
good instance, or example: "Blessed is the man," and so forth: we may correctly say of such a man,
"Yes: he is a very blessed man."
I will not say more about our common misuse of language in conversation. Some will, perchance, think I had better have said nothing about it. But,
surely, an old man
may be excused for trying to abolish errors of any kind, before he goes
out of this world of error.
WHAT OUR MORAL NATURE PROVES.
[An Argument addressed to a small company of moral men,
who were professed Atheists: thirty years ago.]
NOTHING ever cost me more anxious thought than the
word "Duty." All of you who have heard me in this place and elsewhere,
for some years past, must
remember that it was a very frequent word with me: as frequent as the word
"Retribution." And you may also remember how often some of our young
friends attempted to get
up an opposition to my views of " Duty" and "Retribution." They did not
succeed in convincing me; nor, perhaps, did I succeed in convincing them. That very
opposition, however, served to make me think more deeply. I began to see
the reason why they did not like my notions of "Retribution"; and I
began to see that it
was also impossible they could receive my notions of "Duty."
This caused me to weigh very thoughtfully the arguments for and against
the Moral Nature of Man. And I came at length to the conviction that there
is no solid foundation for Morality, no certainty of securing moral
practice, without the clear perception and belief in an Infinite Moral
Governor of the Universe. And I no sooner
reached that conviction than I found it impossible to resist conscience,
and so began to teach it.
I have certainly not pleased my old friends in taking these steps—and it
is not very evident, I think, that I have made many new friends by taking
this course. But I have long
since learned that to obey conscience and speak truth, let the
consequences be what they may, is far nobler than to seek to please men by
telling them what they like, and
what meets their views.
To-night, I return to this great subject of Duty; and I must speak what I
believe to be the truth, from conviction. I impugn no other man's
conviction. I only entreat all to think,
and to think seriously upon the grounds of Duty.
And I must commence by saying that I hold it to be utterly impossible to
show any real ground for Duty, in a high and noble sense, if men deny the
existence of a Moral
Governor of the World and His endowment of Man with a moral nature and
attribute all existence to blind or unintelligent Necessity.
1. Man's first duty, with the conviction of God's existence, would be
submission to the will of God. I have no canting meaning: I mean nothing
I have a right to protest and resist oppression, for it
is contrary to God's will. The organic laws are violated by those who
oppress us; and submission to the will of God does not consist in
submitting to those who are not
guided by His Will.
Submission to the will of God ought at least to be general. There ought to
be no daring accusation of His wisdom and reckless denial of His goodness. "We don't want a
God: we can do without Him," some of you say. I do not say you all talk in
that manner. I hope some of you do want to believe in a God, and would
gladly believe if your
difficulties were removed. But from the signs of approval given to some
reckless speakers, in these discussions, it would seem that some of you
really like to hear an
oppositionist all the better the more coarsely and recklessly he talks.
Submission that God has done right in making Man what he is—that is,
human and not angelic; submission, to His Infinite Wisdom and perfect
goodness in making Man;
and confidence and trust that God had the most beneficent intent in thus
making Man: these form "submission to His Will, in general." But the Love
of God is no duty with
you who deny His existence. You ignore such a feeling. You will not allow
yourselves to admire His wisdom, and you deny His goodness—therefore how
can you love
Him? "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart," etc., words
which express what we must feel to be the highest of all
duties, when we believe in God: these words are unmeaning to you—or you
sneer at them.
Love God! you do not admit that there is one to love. You contend that if
there be one, He must rather deserve a grumbling hatred than a devout
love, because He has not
made the Universe right. And yet how cheerfully you can acquiesce in the
present condition of things, if you may be without God, and have for
worship your favourite
Necessity—blind, unintelligent Necessity. Then, it is all right—or it
will be right in time—for you believe in endless progression. You are the
only gods: there are no other.
Thus your Atheism is really a Polytheism.
But you will not like so much to be said about the passive duty:
submission to the will of God. And, perhaps, you will bear as impatiently
anything that can be said about the active duty which is binding on Man—namely,
2. Doing the will of God: I mean not merely submission, but doing it in
act, and word, and thought. I find a new language used of late, by some of
the professed disciples of
Atheism. The word "Duty" is very much used and insisted on by them. And
I am glad of this; because I am sure, if you will only use reflection,
that it will soon lead you and
me to a happy agreement. Active duties are commended, and you are
encouraged to perform them, from the inward satisfaction they will give
Pray how is it that you expect to take delight in benevolence and
self-denial and self-sacrifice? What makes you capable of such a feeling? Your nature is not
altogether of such despicable origin, then, as some of you profess to
Where did you get the nature to pity distress and to deny yourselves in
order to relieve it, or to feel that you ought to do so? Is it not a
proof that God has made you much
better than you profess to believe, while you are finding fault with the
nature He has given to Man? How came you to be capable of yearning over
the distressed and labouring
to relieve them, if all things spring from a blind Necessity—a Necessity
without mind and without will? Is it not very unaccountable that from
unthinking atoms this
creature Man should come to exist—filled with pity and love for his kind,
and capable of progressing in such feelings, by reflecting upon their
excellence and resolving to be
I tell you when lost amidst all the difficulties which surround these
great questions—baffled by vain attempts to get right in one direction
and another—and often feeling as if I
must give up the struggle and resign myself to a hopeless scepticism—this
was where light broke in upon me. The exalted moral nature of Man—his
aspirations after purity
and rectitude, notwithstanding his lapses into error and crime—and the
longing after that purity and
rectitude which only becomes more deep and fervent the more the aspiration
Now, I speak home to your own experience, believing you to be sincere men. I trust all of you—although I cannot read your hearts, and I have no
right to judge you evilly,—I
speak home to you, and I ask you if you do not know what it is to struggle
against bad passions and bad desires, and to breathe after a higher nature; to desire to be freed
from anger and pride and vindictiveness and unkind thoughts and
selfishness and unclean thoughts and all the daily imperfection of which
you are conscious? Whence
comes all this? If you owe your existence to a blind Necessity, if no
Great Power made you, if no Divine Power stirs in you, if this world has
no Great Moral Governor, and
you are only to live a few days here, and then die and be conscious no
more for ever—why have you these aspirations? Because God stirs within
you: for He is in you,
although you deny Him.
All this aspiration is inconsistent with your principles, as Atheists. A
blind Necessity: the world was not made by the Divine Intelligence. "Intelligence is no primary
principle," says our sincere little friend there—for no doubt he is
sincere. There has come to be, somehow or other, what is called "intelligence"—but it was not from
Intelligence: it was by unintelligent Necessity. And why all this mental
toil to acquire good dispositions and
good tempers and good thoughts, that we may be enabled to take delight in
doing good, and higher and still higher delight? It is no preparation for
another and a better state: it is only a bustle in the dust to which we shall soon return and be no
more conscious for ever! These are the principles of Atheistic Materialism
; and I contend that no "elevated morality" can spring from such principles.
There is no Divine Moral Governor, you contend; and so you are amenable to
none; and why, therefore, should you cherish the wish for purity of heart
and life? There is no
righteous judge to whom you are accountable for your words, either; and
therefore why should you be particular about the words you use—whether
they be true or false, vile
or noble, clean or unclean? And your thoughts? There is no All-Searching
Power Who is privy to every thought and Whose eye seeth in
secret—according to your belief; and
therefore why, since man cannot see your thoughts, should you be delicate
and nice about your thinkings—or be troubled and pained when evil
thoughts come into your mind? Aspire to think nobly and purely, and be pained when your thoughts are
low and grovelling!—why should you? Your principles proclaim that you
are made to
grovel, and your grovelling is simply to close with the grave. But you
cannot help being pained and disgusted with yourselves when low and
grovelling thoughts pester your
minds: no, because your principles do not tell the truth about your
nature. Try to show that it is not so, if you can.
If I may be allowed to tell you plainly,—and if you
will take no offence by my speaking plainly,—I think I can point you to
some examples of consistent Atheism: for you who
are aiming to subdue evil thoughts and passions and to live more purely
and morally, every day, are not consistent Atheists—you are living as if
you were really under the
Moral Government that you deny. I can easily point you to men who,
whatever their professions might be, were consistent and practical
Atheists: Cæsar, Napoleon the
Great, and Napoleon the Little. Our own George the Fourth, was a practical
Atheist, in another line. Men who amass riches by oppression of the poor,
are in the same
category; for they act as if God did not heed them, and would not call
them to account.
You will, doubtless, argue that this is a libel upon you; and you will
say there are two valid and impelling reasons why you should practise the
duties of benevolence to your
fellow-men, and act truthfully and uprightly. First, there is the
immediate reward in your own bosoms; and secondly, you are doing
something to mend the world, and to
make it happier for posterity.
1. But your first reason for the practice of moral duties only brings us
back to the question I have already put to you. Why does the practice of
goodness bring an immediate
reward to the bosom of him who practises goodness? How is it that our
natures are so constituted? You still have to show me how this springs
from a blind Necessity: for if there be only an unintelligent necessity in
all things, man really deserves neither praise nor blame—he can neither keep nor transgress a
moral law; for there is no Moral
And as there are only physical or organic laws, men practise kindness
organically, by necessity, like machines; or they practise unkindness,
like machines, and by
necessity. And neither deserves praise or blame: a rascal is one by
necessity, and you have no right to charge him with moral guilt: there is
no moral guilt according to
consistent Atheism and Materialism. You must free Napoleon the Little from
execration: he is only acting according to the mechanical necessity of
You talk of the reward virtue brings to a man's own bosom. But the culture
of virtue is a labour as well as a reward.
Remember how often we have spoken here of the difficulty of acquiring
habits for good, and of the ease with which we glide into habits of evil. You acquiesced in these
lessons at the time I taught them. You approved of the teaching. You knew
then, and you know now, that there is the utmost need for the repetition
of lessons of virtue, and
the oftener they are taught the better. So many and so strong are the
seductions of life, in whatever situation we are placed, that we are
perpetually liable to go wrong. It does
not seem, then, that the reward which we know we shall have in our own
bosoms is so very compelling and omnipotent in its operation upon us, as
to constrain us always to
And what elevated virtue or morality can there be without self-denial? Self-denial—which does not mean the giving something to another which we
can do as well without—but
parting with something which we really want, in order to relieve another
whose wants are, perhaps, greater. Why should an Atheist practice such
superfluous charity? There
is no praise, there is no blame: there is no merit, there is no demerit:
there is no right, there is no wrong: a man may do as he likes, and live
as he likes—and especially he
may do as he likes with his own: there is no Power to which he is
amenable for hardening his heart against a fellow-creature. Why should the
Atheist be soft-hearted and
pitiful and self-denying? Why should he not enjoy the little he can enjoy
of the world while he is
in it? He will not have to stay in it long; and there is no other world
for him, when he has done here.
But why is it that some of you who profess to be Atheists, do often deny
yourselves to relieve others? Not so often as you ought. You feel, as I
Paul spoke truth when he said, "When I would do good, evil is present
with me." It is too often so with us. We have none of us any cause to
boast of our excellence. The
longer we live and the more deeply we learn to watch our own hearts, the
more imperfect we see we are. But why is it that we can deny ourselves at
all to relieve others?
Because God has given us moral natures, hearts prone to pity, and open to
kindness. We may sin against God that is in our nature: we may yield to
selfish thoughts till our
hearts grow hard and callous to distress and suffering; but we are then
trampling down and stifling the moral nature that God has given us and
which we could not have
inherited from any blind Necessity.
2. But I observed that you would, doubtless, advance a second argument why
you should practise virtue—that you may mend the world and make it
happier for posterity.
Posterity, and the Future! why, what are they to the Atheist and
Materialist? Utter blanks. You believe in no future state: you are to
perish in the grave: you expect
no future and higher existence wherein the advancement of the world with
successive ages will be known to you, and add to your happiness.
The future amelioration of this world is nothing to you, for you are not
to live in it, or to be conscious of what is passing in it when you are
removed to a higher condition of
existence. And why should you try to mend the world, if all things work by
a blind Necessity?—if there be no Intelligent Providence superintending
the world and designing to bring harmony out of discord?—ultimate
happiness out of conflict?
We spoke of self-sacrifice, as well as self-denial. And there have been
great and glorious human beings who have laid down their lives in order to
mend the world, and with the full belief that by so laying down their
lives they would make it happier for posterity. But did you ever read of
any man in all history, ancient or modern, who was accused of Atheism,
tried for Atheism, and was offered pardon if he would give up his
Atheism—but who refused to give it up, and who went to death proclaiming
that he knew his death would bless the world? Not one. Not a single man. Men have been tried for Atheism and denied it—so was Socrates. Men have
been burnt for Atheism—so was Vanini—but he vehemently denied it.
But men have died for their consistent belief in God and refusal to
believe superstition, and have triumphed professing that their death would
benefit the world. Latimer was one.
Self-Sacrifice!—sacrifice his life—the only life he has, or believes he
ever shall have—to benefit posterity—why should the Atheist do that? What folly! No man
can be such a fool. It is not in human nature. We are
not such born fools.
True happiness is only to be obtained by devotedness to the will of God. Seeking the universal good—the highest good of all. Christ's teaching embodies
the will of God. Life can only be truly happy, not when we are in ecstasy,
but when we are doing right. Life can only be truly happy when we are
seeking to be purer and holier and better—every day and every hour. Can
it be thought, if God exists and is in us and with us, that He will not
assist all who breathe after Him, to become purer and holier and better? Oh, let us try it!
A SHORT SEQUEL, AND CONCLUSION.
A DOZEN years have passed since I wrote the last
word in my Autobiography: so my friends
urge me to give them some kind of a Sequel. It will be a short one, for,
although I have revisited every part of England, and some parts of it over
and over again, during
these twelve years, it has been to do the same kind of work as I had done
before. So I have nothing new to communicate in that direction.
I regret to add, that my work has been done more feebly, as my years have
increased. For the last six winters, I have been compelled to give up,
almost entirely, my
travelling and talking work, by the return of what is called Chronic
Bronchitis. I am very thankful when it leaves me—usually about May—and I
am able to get out again, and
travel and talk; and I am sad when I have to return home, in the latter
autumn, knowing it is to encounter a solitary winter by the fireside, with
less and less ability to read or
write. For, my left eye is no longer a working eye, and often prevents the
eye from working effectually: so that I have to shut my eyes, and sit and
think, or occupy my mind as well as I can devise.
In spite of these, and other disabilities, I have succeeded in book-making
during these last twelve years, by the help of my kind publishers. To a
man of fourscore, as I have
said, it is natural to look back on the past. And I am thinking, just now
how, in my youth, amid my repetitions of the 'Paradise Lost' and 'Hamlet'
and the Latin Accidence,
as I sat bending over the last, and wielding the awl, there were mingled
ambitious day-dreams of the life of authorship that was to come: how I
should reach London, with a
finished poem in a few years, and commence a literary career resembling
the literary lives of Johnson, Goldsmith, and others, and should rise to
But the bright vision—which so many have experienced—was never to be
realized. The schoolmaster life came instead—and the local-preacher
life—and the newspaper writer's
life—and the championship for the starving and oppressed—and the
demagogue life—and the prison life: all these had to be accomplished
before a book was produced that
had in it something which, I trusted, my country men "would not willingly
let die." I thought, when the Britannia and some other periodicals, gave
such a triumphant reception, the life of authorship, which had so often
been my day-dream,
was now fairly begun. But no! It was soon remembered that I was a
Chartist, and I was driven on the fatal sand-bank of trying to set up a
weekly periodical, which broke down
and plunged me into new debts; and I had to take to lecturing on
politics, history, etc., for a living.
This lasted till I abandoned the errors into which I had fallen through
reading Miss Evans's translation of Strauss's 'Leben Jesu,' and lecturing
upon it. The readers of my
Autobiography know all about that struggle, and how it ended in my happy
return to Christianity, and a determination to spend the remnant of my
life in expounding and
teaching the Christian Evidences. And, so fully I became absorbed in my
right work—for such I soon perceived it to be—that all thoughts of
authorship were abandoned, and I
thought they would never return, but that I should live, henceforth, a
life of travel, visiting every region in Great Britain where I thought I
could successfully sow the seeds of
The incessant urgency of friends, on all sides, almost compelled me, at
last, to publish my 'Bridge of History over the Gulf of Time.' The little
book is now in its twenty-fifth
thousand; and, thank God, has done unquestionable good, by its simple and
plain, and yet full relation of the veritable historical evidence for the
truth of Christianity. During
succeeding years, I have added four other small volumes on the Christian
Evidences. 'God, the
Soul, and a Future State ' embodies my lectures on the Design Argument and
the Argument à priori for God's existence; and the argument for a
Future State. Two little
volumes entitled 'The Verity and Value of the Miracles' and 'The Verity
of Christ's Resurrection from the Dead' contain what I have advanced on
these Christian truths in my
itinerant course. The fifth volume of what I may call my 'Christian
Evidence Series' is entitled 'Evolution, the Stone Book, and the Mosaic
Record of Creation.' It contains
what I said to my audiences in the beginning, rather than in the end, of
my talk about Darwinism. A short lecture on Geology is included in the
volume because I found it
necessary to teach many of my hearers something about that science before
they could understand what I had to say about Evolution. The reader must
refer to the little
book itself to learn what is my theory as it respects the Mosaic Record.
I may add, that following up the volume called 'Plain Pulpit Talk,' I have
published a volume of the same size, entitled 'The Atonement, and other
Discourses.' The two
volumes contain plain sermons delivered on the Lord's Day, in the chapels
of evangelical denominations, in almost every part of the country. As the
by Mr. How, in 1845, were out of print, I have republished them, with a
few additions, under the title of 'Old Fashioned Stories.' Lastly, my
for me, eight years ago, a portly volume entitled 'Poetical Works.' It
contains my 'Purgatory of Suicides,' 'Paradise of Martyrs,' and 'Minor
Poems.' I should observe that I
only completed a part of my purposed 'Paradise of Martyrs,' and the 'Minor Poems' are only a selection from other rhymes that I have
written—for I thought the world had
had quite enough of 'Minor Poems,' and I would not add to the overplus. And so concludes the catalogue of my literary labour—such as it has been: something very different
from what I dreamt it would be, in my youth; but yet, I hope, containing
something which may do good to some of my fellow-men.
The most afflictive event I have to record as having fallen to my
experience during these twelve years, is the the death of my beloved wife. She died on the first of
February, 1870, at the age of nearly seventy-nine. She had been my gentle,
loving, and intelligent life-companion for forty-six years. The sight and
hearing of the intense
suffering she endured during the latter part of her life—together with
her own earnest desire to depart and be with Christ—reconciled me to the
fact of her death. She came to
the habitation where I now reside, to lodge with her sister when she could
no longer travel with me. Her sister died, and she died seven months
after, leaving me
tenant here—where I purpose remaining each winter so long as I live.
I look from my room window upon the spot (now part of the Great Northern
Railway yard) where stood the little cottage we lived in when we were
married, and I also look out
on the little church of St. Mary-le-Wigford, where we were joined in holy
wedlock. My beloved one is buried in the southern cemetery of the old
city, and I have bought myself
ground for a grave near to her.
The decease of many of my deeply-beloved friends and benefactors, is often
the subject of sorrowful reflection with me. The death of my dearest
friend, the Rev. Dr. Jobson,
Wesleyan minister, to whom I inscribed my Autobiography, is my greatest
loss. We had been friends for fifty years; and for many years, until his
mind and body began to
fail, we corresponded nearly every week of our lives. He was my junior by
nearly seven years, so I had no anticipation that I should lose the
precious benefit of his
friendship, by his dying before me. The great age of my good and kind
friend, Thomas Carlyle, rendered his death no surprise to me, though it
was a source of mournful
feeling; but this feeling is mingled with thankfulness that ever I
enjoyed a friendship so illustrious. The decease of dear Charles
Kingsley—too early for the world that
he helped to make better—was a real grief to me; and so was the death of
my kind friend and benefactor, Tom Taylor. James Harvey of London bore no
but I had not a human friend in existence
whose kindly help was ever more ready, more hearty, more unwearied.
I must not forget to record that I have lost my old playmate, Thomas
Miller. Such are the vicissitudes of a literary life, in too many
instances, that although he had written
nearly fifty books of light literature, he fell into the deepest poverty
in his last days. Mr. Disraeli compassionately sent him £100 from the
Treasury, while he was on his
death-bed; but it came nearly too late. Two orphans survive him; and
they are the heirs of his poverty.
This volume must not come to a close without some registry of my
convictions as to the work in which I have employed myself during the last
thirty years of my life. Surely,
the Author of all good does not suffer any effort wholly to fail, however
feeble it may be, if it be made with the sincere intent to draw men away
from sin and error, and to lead
them to Christ and His truth. And I must inform the reader that as my
labour has been solitary, it has not been mighty. Letters expressing
gratitude, and testimonials given to
me verbally, that I have been made instrumental, through the mercy and
condescension of God, in doing good, have cheered me, often. But I have
sometimes felt sad that no
determined band of young men fitted for maintaining and defending the
Evidences of their Saviour's religion has yet arisen.
I do not lose the hope and confidence that such a band will, one day,
arise, and pledge themselves to God and one another to pursue their work
till death—despising poverty
and difficulty and opposition and indifference on the part of those who
ought to be their foremost helpers.
No doubt the marvellous rapidity with which Darwinism and Evolution have
spread in all directions and among all classes, and the haughty assertion
on the parts of
Evolutionists that they "are the people, and wisdom shall die with them,"
have an intimidating effect on the minds of such as do desire to belong to
an army of defence for
religion. Many who are called "Scientists," when you come to learn
something about their acquirements, prove to be only small men—and yet
they hold their heads very high.
There is not the cause to dread them that some good Christians imagine to
exist; and I wish I could get young men who wish to devote themselves to
Christ's work to think
There is, however, a strong apprehension among some highly-intelligent
men, that it would be no easy work to encounter sceptical working men
successfully—for the works of
Darwin and Spencer have come into their hands, and they have so thoroughly
digested the arguments found in these books as to have become thoroughly
fortified against all
possible ways of trying to bring them out of their errors.
Last month (February) I received a letter from a highly-intelligent
resident in a large manufacturing town in Lancashire, and will extract
some part of it, to elucidate what I am
"The Secularists are very active here, just now, and, although I believe
that the leaders in the movement are neither intellectually nor morally
fit to be leaders in any
progressive or constructive movement, yet their assertions are, without
doubt, helping men's worse selves in the destruction of what little faith
"I am of opinion that thousands of men of all classes really believe the
assertions of such blind leaders—which assertions, broadly stated, are
"1. That Science has clearly overthrown Revelation; and, that the leading
thinkers and scholars of the age have given up Christianity as untenable.
"2. That Religion, or any kind of belief in the Supernatural, is
"3. That, on the whole, Christianity has done more harm than good in the
"I say nothing either of the fact that these men consistently put forward
rather the fancies of sections of those professing Christianity, than the
plain statements of the Bible,
as being Christianity,—or of the fallacy underlying their notion of
liberty either of thought or action, because I believe that at the root,
the cause of their hatred of Christianity is
not intellectual, but moral: certainly, I believe it to be so in the
Now, the letter from which I have taken this extract, comes from a town in
which I have lectured more than twenty times within the last fourteen
years. I never heard that the
town was more thickly crowded with sceptics than other great towns of the
County Palatine; and I cannot help thinking that Secularism is, chiefly,
of late growth in it.
Besides, it should be noted that Secularism is spasmodic in its activity. I have sometimes visited a town where, a few years ago, it was
rampant—but now, it was
comparatively silent and quiescent; and so I found it remained until
something occurred to give it new life and vigour. This may serve to allay
the fears of the good friend who
sent me the letter from which I have taken an extract. The great champion
of Secularism had just then visited the town, and £75 had been taken, in
sixpenny and threepenny
admissions to his lectures.
One serious thought, however, arises out of this fact: that not only the
working men in great numbers listened to this champion, but there must
have been a considerable
number of the middle class among his hearers. Let us charitably hope that
curiosity was the main motive which led many of them to listen, and that
they came away
disgusted, rather than charmed, with what he said.
When I urge, again, the formation of a band of young men devoted to the
defence of religion, I cannot promise them glittering rewards such as this
champion of Secularism reaps. What I said, while urging the same plea, in
my Autobiography, I say now: "Let all come in to hear you free. Sell no
take no moneys for admission, have no practices that may leave a hair's
breadth of room for Christ's enemies to charge you with selfishness. Have
a collection at the
end of your discourse, on the ground that you cannot live on the air, and
pay expenses of lodging, and travelling, and printing, from an empty
pocket. Make this simple
appeal to your countrymen, and they will not fail to respond to it,
To such a band of young men, I would say—Suppose, sometimes, you do not
get enough to pay your expenses, do not be discouraged, do not give up
your trust in Him for
whom you are working—and never let the fact of the small collection slip
out, so that the poor people who have given you the collection may get to
hear of it. Never hurt the
minds of the poor, by finding fault with what they have done in their
But, to whom am I really appealing, at the present time? Twelve years ago,
my appeal was intended for working men; but the work is now become too
difficult for them. They
have not the preparation of mind, nor the time, for mastering—as they
ought to master—the works of Darwin and Spencer and Tyndall and Huxley,
and their helpers. I appeal,
at once, to the young men of our Universities and high schools. I would say to them—Do you imagine that to
display true heroism you must enter either the army or the navy? Suppose
you cannot grow
famous, or attain high rank by it, is not the enterprize truly glorious,
of going forth to face all difficulties, to encounter scorn and mockery
and malice, and yet to persevere in
the championship for Christ's truth? If you can acquire no worldly wealth
by such a championship, you will be laying up treasures in heaven.
I am addressing you because you have been schooled in thought and
language, and you have, I make no doubt, become acquainted with Evolution
and all that is so
positively asserted in its favour. Do not fear that you will find all
thinking men against you. However confident Sceptics may feel that
Christianity is "done for," and that all
real scholars and thinkers have "given it up"—you will find that they
are mistaken. Many true scholars and sterling thinkers in our own land are
determined foes of the
new doctrines. And, on the Continent, not a few leading scholars and
thinkers have declared their dissent from the prevailing views which are
so adverse to Christianity.
I have just met the following paragraph in the Leeds Mercury, one of our
best-conducted local newspapers:—"The English admirers of Mr. Herbert
Spencer will be astonished
at the wholesale condemnation of his writings by M. Adolphe Franck, in his
Essais de Critique Philosophique, just issued by Hachette & Co.
The-well-known Parisian professor avows that he experiences a veritable
humiliation when he recalls the
exceptional celebrity secured for the school of Mr. Spencer. It would be
difficult, he believes, in the entire history of philosophy to find so
many arbitrary affirmations,
chimerical hypotheses, sophistical reasonings, contradictory conclusions,
such contempt for history, reason, the moral sense, and the religious
sense of humanity, as are to
be found in the innumerable, ill-digested, and prolix volumes of Mr.
Spencer and his auxiliaries."
M. Franck's estimate of the intelligence of Herbert Spencer is evidently
unlike that of Mr. Darwin, who was accustomed to call him "our great
philosopher," and that of
Professor Tyndall, who described him as "the apostle of the
understanding." But all that was in the gay days of the "Mutual
Admiration Society," as Wendell Holmes
smartly named the new philosophers—when they were new, and mightily
addicted to the habit of publicly paying each other fine compliments.
There is another point on which, I think, I ought to say a little. I laid
aside Discussion, and the putting of questions at the end of my lectures,
a dozen years ago, or more. I
was shown that they did no good, and I followed the advice to go on simply
delivering my lectures, and allowing no discussion or putting of
inviting all who wished to tell me of their doubts to call at my lodgings
that I might converse with them. Not a dozen persons have called on me, in
so many years, to tell
me of their doubts. This is clearly significant of the fact that when the
Secularists demand discussion, it is for the excitement of a public
encounter and not with the strong
desire to be right.
And I found that when I sturdily refused all attempts to draw me into
discussion, the Secularist working men began to fall off in their
attendance on my discourses. From that
time I bent all my endeavours on preventing young Christian men from
falling in to the Secularist snare; and in this, I trust, I may
thankfully affirm that I have been blessed
Christian readers, however, will see that my championship might have been
successful in another and desirable direction, if I had yielded to the
Secularist demand for
discussion. And if a band of young men should respond to my appeal, and
unite to labour as the defenders of Christian truth, I would advise that
some of them who are
physically strong and mentally ready, should willingly enter into debate
I the more willingly gave up all discussion, because I formerly was in the
habit of lecturing for two hours at a time ; and I found that I could no
longer sustain the acrimony and
worry of debate.
In my later years I dare not exhaust nature either by giving long lectures
or entering into discussion. One great gain for young lecturers who are
fitted for discussion, will be
the larger attendance of Secularists, and therefore, the greater
possibility of doing them good.
Regarding this as my last appearance in print, I trust I may be forgiven
if I record one little fact. The lowly Christian Church of General
Baptists in this city—where their
predecessors, more than two hundred years ago, were stoned and imprisoned
for preaching and practising immersion baptism—and who have continued to
be a poor, and, I
had almost said, a despised people—have lately taken courage and set
about building a new and more commodious chapel and schools—and have
determined to name the
new place of worship "The Thomas Cooper Memorial Chapel." I am utterly
undeserving of the honour they put upon me; but they insist upon it that
the name will have the
desirable effect of inducing many who are not Baptists to subscribe
towards their Building Fund. I most heartily wish it may, and will most
cordially thank all who send help
to the lowly Christian people who so greatly need it.
Printed by Hazell, Watson, & Viney, Limited, London and