Project Canterbury

Duty and Conscience
Addresses Given in Parochial Retreats
At St. Mary Magdalen's, Paddington

by Edward King, D.D.

Milwaukee: The Young Churchman Company, 1911.

Lent, 1883

IF we were right in saying that the circumstances of the Church of Thyatira and our own are similar, then it follows that we should thank God for the great blessings He has bestowed upon our country and our Church, and which He continues to give, enabling us to say with truth that our last works are greater than our first. Still, though there is this note of power, and life, and progress, yet there is growing up amongst us, this spirit of Jezebelism, which involves separation from the one true God, and the consequent breaking up of the marriage laws, and all the bonds of relationship in society. This being the case, we must have some rule for the guidance of our own personal life--it is our bounden duty to do all we can to check it, and to take home to ourselves the warning of the Great Head of the Church, that Jezebelism may exist alongside prosperous works of various kinds. We are bound to try and do all we can, and from the way in. which the Church of Thyatira was founded, by the devotion of one single woman, simply following her calling, we may learn this lesson: that one person, following in the line of duty may do great things for God.

If we are to take our part in this work it must be in some way which we can understand. We must know what we can do before we know how to act, and I want you to see how, by simply doing your duty, you are giving evidence for God. For, in the word duty, we admit that we know the difference between right and wrong; we acknowledge responsibility; we acknowledge our freedom; we acknowledge the dominion of conscience, and that she speaks not only of herself, but with a mysterious awe, which makes us afraid to go against her. So, while we can do as we choose, we know the warning she gives us--that she speaks from Another, greater than herself, that is God. So if we want to do our part to check this unbelief, we must, first of all, do our duty in our own station, and do all we can to encourage others to do the same. We must act, at all times, on a principle of duty. Now, we know very well, that young people, both men and women, do not always act on this principle. They do what pleases them, what they like! I don't like it! or I do like it! therefore I shall do it, or I shan't do it! Just as it pleases them. Now, without being over strict, I want you to do all you can to dislodge young people from such a faulty position. Not that they must always be prevented from doing what they like. Not so, but to enable them to enjoy all things with increasing pleasure. There are few things pleasanter than entering into all the merriment and good humoured fun of young people. But if it is only to be because we like it, we are likely to go wrong. We are acting on a dangerous principle. We must act, at all times, not because we like it, but because we ought. But beware of the morbid habit of mind, which always fears to do what is pleasant because it likes it, and always seeks to do what it does not like. That is not the spirit of duty. Life should be light, brilliant, cheerful. Flowers often grow along the pathway of duty. Only we must learn to act on this principle--because it is our duty. Not because we like it, but because we ought. Do try all you can to dislodge this idea from the young, and get them to take as the maxim of their life, as the rule of their daily conduct, that they must do what is right because it is their duty. They must bring their lives into close relation with conscience, and conscience is, as we have seen, more or less dimly, the Voice of God--so that will be living in close relation with God Himself! All their merry fun will be only the more joyful for being consciously brought into the Presence of God. So one thing you can do is to press home this simple truth. It is something you can all join in doing, and it will be a great thing towards suppressing unbelief in England. We should not think the worse of any one for being governed by duty. All our soldiers and sailors are ruled by this one idea, duty, and this has been as a crown of glory to millions. There is a saying that there is no one we can trust like an old soldier, and it is because he has an almost nervous sense of duty. He knows what it is, and it is his one desire to do it. If we cultivate this sense of duty in the young, it will not make their enjoyment less; they will enjoy themselves more heartily and far better. If we are to be strong in the midst of all this Jezebelism, this separation from God, it will be by understanding and holding on to some few such words as these--conscience, duty and God; ah, that one word more than all others, God.

Besides the evidence of conscience, there are particularly two other lines of thought, or of argument which lead us to God. One is, the wonders of the universe--they must come from somewhere. These are very old lines of argument. They have been considered again and again, but they are by no means worn out. There are three special lines of argument which point to the existence of God. Let us see some of the first considerations of these lines of thought.

Firstly, the Universe. It must have had some original beginning. There is so much design in everything; there must be some reason why; there is so little effort in everything. Darwin says as much about the orchids and other flowers. One must be singularly incredulous to be able to think they all come by chance! That they are only like a throw of the dice and happened to turn up so! There must be some reason why. This is called the argument from design, and it is a very powerful one with those who study nature. They can really find out so little about her.

Then, secondly, there is the testimony of mankind, who, through all ages, have had some vague notions of God.

Thirdly, there is conscience, the moral law. Why do we think of this? May not these thoughts be a great practical comfort to us now? Many say something like this, in these days, "I hold on to this belief in God, but I don't exactly know why. It is a very slender inexpressible sort of holding on, and I can't give a reason for doing it!" Your still holding on is the result of this, and this only, that God has given you enough power to hold on. It may seem a very fragile thread, but He Who gave you this belief, has power enough to hold you on in the belief. Don't be so much afraid of being carried off your feet by this great wave of atheism, because your arguments have so little hold on paper. Be content to say, I do not know what to answer, but I hold on because God has given me the power to hold on. Do not have too much fear that because you cannot prove your position to your neighbour by argument, that therefore you will slip off from your hold on God. Not so. God is your Father, and He holds you firmly. Think of a mother, carrying a child across a stream on a plank. The child may get frightened and let g§ its hold, but that does not mean that the mother is going to drop her child. Your Father has a very firm hold on you. God holds you. You are held by God, known by God, and some day you will know as you are known. He gives you a little strength. What you have got to do is to say, "I'll keep it." It may be well to reflect on the weak hold we have on God, but it is well to remember, too, that it is enough for His purposes.

But I am very anxious that you should not stop there. This sense of duty, is, as we have seen, of Divine origin, and brings us close to God, but I am very anxious for you to realize that it is perfectly true of us, that as moral beings, we are free; but, though we are free, it does not follow that we are independent. All moral beings are free. They are free to do the wrong, if they choose. They can lie, or steal, if they choose, and take the consequences. But, while free to do right or wrong, as they like, they are not independent. They want help to do right, and by using the help given them they will get more. If only they use the means provided for them, they will get as much help as they require, depend upon that!

We have, all of us, to depend upon others for help. The little child depends upon its parents, and then on its schoolmaster, to develop its faculties. It wants help, teaching; it has the power, and the will, but it wants help. So we give it education. It is free, but not independent. It requires means to develop its capacities. "No man liveth to himself." If we have help we can do our duty. We have capacities to believe in God. We want help. We can fight against atheism, but we want help. We are not independent. We cannot get on without help.

The visible things of God help us to understand what is invisible. That is, by consideration of the universe, we shall come to understand something about the existence of God, and yet we are told, in I Corinthians I. 21, "The world by wisdom knew not God." To make it short, it comes practically to this--history shows us clearly that man wants revelation to help him in his search after God. That is what the history of the human race teaches us. Sin entered into the world at the fall, and, after that, man could only get glimpses at God. He was not able to take firm hold of Him without help, the help of the revelation of God. All these things are brought out more clearly by this pressure of unbelief, and, above all, the preciousness of the Bible.

Look round the western world at the time of our Lord's death. Pilate is the mouth-piece of the whole Roman world when he asks "What is truth?" They can't find out for themselves. What did the Greek world know of God? The inscription on the altar at Athens tells us "To the unknown God." So all was indefinite in the western world, and in the cultured world of Athens, though there was an undercurrent, a sort of substate of belief in a vague god, there was no definite true belief in the One Personal God Who made all out of nothing. Some of the nations worshipped many gods, and if so, no god. If we come to the great religion of Buddha, it was more like this--that a man lost himself, rather than found God, either in extinction, or by absorption, he lost himself rather than found God. S. Paul says the heathen were without God in the world. There was only one nation who had a knowledge of the one true God, and that was Israel.

Now, if you ask me how you can help against Jezebelism in England, and England's Church, I say first, Do your duty, and next I say, Value and read your Bible. Look and see. All history will tell you. You cannot hold on to the belief in God without help. You cannot hold on to the full belief in the personal, eternal existence of man without help. Revelation brought both these doctrines to light. When we put these two doctrines out of sight, the existence of God, and the immortality of the soul, then the crime of suicide increases. It is largely increasing now. It is not now considered to be the deed only of fools, or of madmen, but of philosophers, who have a recognized position. They do not believe in God, and when life becomes unbearably disagreeable, they consider half a moment's sharp pain better than facing life any longer. And if there is no God, and no after-life, I confess I don't know the answer to that! If they don't believe in God, or in the future life, what are we to say if they had rather be out of it? All this is what we want to check. How are we to do it? Acknowledge the help given us from above in the Bible; there we shall find life and immortality.

We were taught in the old-fashioned way to read our Bibles when we were children. Let us teach young people to reverence it in the same way. Then we shall be sure of our belief in God, and the personal, eternal existence of the soul. Then I can endure all the pain that comes to me, for I know that God is my Father, and He will not send me more than is good for me. Everything I feel is, I know, a matter of consideration to Him. As He said to Ananias when He sent him to S. Paul, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My Name's sake." I will regulate all according to My love--and we know that hereafter, in heaven, our place will be given us in accordance with the way we bear these sufferings now. And when weakness and old age come to us, and we seem to some to be losing the race, it is not so! We are only getting nearer success, nearer the goal. The grave is not the mark of a wrecked life. The grave of a good man is the mark of something which has gone up higher. The old are not now looked on as those who fail, but as those who succeed, if only we firmly hold our belief in the future life. But I don't know what to say to all this, if there is no future life!

Now, I have only time to go over the rest of my ground very briefly with you, dear people. Duty, God, conscience, revelation. These four words are the outcome of what has been said. And what is the end of revelation? Christ. Christ is the end of the law. Christ is the story of the Gospel. If you read the Bible all through, it is only to tell you of Christ, how He came to die and to rise again for us. Read it honestly, and see the end of revelation is to bring you to Christ.

One thing more. You will find Christ in His Church. He founded it. It is the society to hand down His succession, and doctrine, and tradition. There you will find Christ--in His Church.

I will leave for your consideration the Second Psalm. "Why do the heathen so furiously rage together: and why do the people imagine a vain thing?" What do Jezebelism and unbelief say, and all these mighty ones? "Let us break their bonds asunder: and cast away their cords from us. The kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers take counsel together: against the Lord, and against His Anointed." Or, as we have it in the New Testament, Herod and Pontius Pilate, and the rulers of the Jews took counsel together, and did--what? "Whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done." They all rose up, Herod and Pontius Pilate, and the rulers of the Jews, and they were all overruled to do what God had ordained. So, afterwards, when they came to Pilate and said, "This Deceiver said, After three days I will rise again," Pilate answered with deep irony, "Ye have a watch; make it as sure as ye can!" "Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion." Then comes the conclusion. "Kiss the Son lest He be angry, and so ye perish from the right way." There is the end of it all. "Kiss the Son lest He be angry," One of the dangers of the present day is to try and stand in the right way, without accepting the whole truth. Beware of trying to live a moral life without God, or trying to believe in God, without the help of revelation, or trying to accept the Bible without Christ, or trying to accept Christ without the Church He has appointed, or trying to accept the Church without the Sacraments. "Kiss the Son lest He be angry."

Just these few simple words, then, will keep you straight. Duty. Yes, I know what that is. Conscience. Yes, I know what that is. The Bible. Yes, I have the Bible. The Church, the Sacraments. Yes, I hold to these. I have a full, strong hold on these words. That is the right way to repel Jezebelism and unbelief.

In the path of duty, looking up to God, following the voice of conscience, reading the Bible in the light of Christ, fed by the Sacraments supplied in the Church, and thus growing in the strength of Christ, so you find truth on which to rest your head, holiness on which to rest your will, love on which to rest your heart, and above all peace, which will give you rest altogether!

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