"He shall not be afraid of any evil tidings: for his heart standeth fast, and believeth in the Lord."--Psalm cxii. 7.
PERHAPS, at the present day, what specially hinders us, dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, besides the direct temptation to unbelief, is a kind of nervousness, which is not good--and which ought not to be if people were really settled in the faith--a kind of nervousness that something will turn up to alter the position of the faith; that something will be discovered in physical science, or metaphysical, or philanthropical science that will startle them; or some new surprise will be sprung, like a mine, in what is called higher criticism, and so they half expect to find something each month when a new review comes out.
All this nervous restless fear is inconsistent if we realize our true position as members of the Catholic Church of Christ. Our position is described far better by this word in the Psalm I have given you. "He shall not be afraid of any evil tidings: for his heart standeth fast, and believeth in the Lord."
Now, all of us, some more, and some less, have gone through this in the moral sphere. More or less we have all of us done wrong, and in our young days have felt this kind of nervousness lest we should be found out, lest people should say something relating to the subject, which was to us evil tidings, and we were very nervous as to what would, or would not, turn up, and whether we should be exposed and punished.
But also in our experience we know of many times when God has treated us with undeserved goodness, of many things which might have turned up against us, and have not done so, when we were afraid and no fear was. God has protected us from falling further from Him, and so in the moral sphere we are more at rest and at peace. We are not so much afraid of evil tidings, for our heart is fixed in the desire to lead a good life. We are steadfast, and our experience is, thank God, that His grace is sufficient for us, and that as our day so shall our strength be.
If what has been said comes home at all to you, you know the first condition to be one of unrest, so you know the last condition referred to, to be one of peace. Now we will take a step on and say that it ought to be in the region of faith, as we have known it to be in the region of morals. Some of us have known the fear of unbelief, and the dread of having new mines sprung upon us. I am not ashamed to confess that I read the first volume of ----- on my knees, for the fear of what might be coming, but I have learnt to see the shallowness of modern criticism. But in our days it is not altogether a contemptible experience if we have to admit that, more or less, we have been afraid of "evil tidings."
These quiet clays year by year ought to be great helps, and an evidence of progress in spiritual things, and we may, by their help and other helps, as we have passed out of fear, in the moral sphere, to peace, pass out of what we may term theological fear to theological peace, and then, when that comes, it ought to be the basis of new strength to the moral life, and greater firmness and security, and give us new power to be aggressive for the good of others, and greater depth and sincerity wherewith to praise God.
If this line of thought means anything at all to you, if you are conscious in any degree of this kind of thing, if you are afraid of "evil tidings," not now in the moral sphere, but in the region of unbelief, let me say that I don't think you are altogether without ground for apprehension, in the present day at first sight. This is an age of wonderful discoveries. Railways and telegraphs have both been discovered during the memories of some of us. We know these things. The diamond fields and the gold diggings in Australia, all these things were not known to the generation before us. All these newly-discovered surprises produce wonderful changes. Then the intercommunication by steam is so wonderful, and why should not the next hundred years see just as much progress as the last hundred? There are constantly new fountains of refreshment bursting up; we do not live at one fixed level. Everywhere mines are being sprung at our feet for good and blessing. God has prepared a world for us far better than we knew, far richer with good things than we have yet found.
We are like a child, who, when he is old enough, inherits a property from his father and mother, and finds that they have taken far more care of it for him than he expected. So it is with our Heavenly Father. He has prepared for us a world far better than we have yet found out. It is not unreasonable for a man to say, "In all these things I find that mines have been sprung upon us. I find such changes, such advance, that it is not unreasonable to expect more." So in the Church of England again. If we go over England we see everywhere beautiful and efficient village schools, whereas if we go back a hundred years there was hardly one, and in the place of the old cottages, there are beautiful new buildings. And all this has had a wonderfully beneficial effect on the people. But all these surprises make it not unreasonable for us to say, "Perhaps there may be changes in religion, and in the spiritual sphere also."
Now I want to say a few words about that. Any following out of that line of thought is wrong--it is wrong. Any kind of suggestion that there can be any fundamental change in Christianity is wrong. Christianity is final--it is final. There is no other means to bring mankind back into union with God. No other, but the One Mediator, Jesus Christ our Lord, and no other means but the Church and the Sacraments. These are the only means of restoring man to communion with God. Christianity is final. Let me say that you ought to make this clear to yourselves. The finality of Christianity is bound up in the bonds of Christianity itself. It is inconsistent to say we are Christians at all if we do not believe Christianity is final. It is a very part of our creed that it is final. "There is none other name under heaven whereby we can be saved but the Name of Jesus." Here I must remind you that the finality of Christianity depends on revelation, as Christianity itself depends on revelation. If Christianity was the outcome of human cultivation, the result of intellectual and moral culture, then I grant you, there might be great fear and anxiety lest there should be a fundamental change in it, because if it is merely the outcome of human powers we only know what we know from evolution, and our only mode of guessing the future would be from our knowledge of the present and the past, and in that case there might be change, but in that case my faith would only be a belief in evolution.
But this is not the position of Christians, and I am speaking to Christians. Christianity rests on revelation. Christianity stands not on human culture, but on revelation. It does not contradict human culture, it enables us to reach higher; its ground is not on earth, but in heaven. It does not spring from the first Adam, who is of the earth, earthy, but from the second, Who is the Lord from heaven.
Then, if Christianity is based upon revelation, if it is the very A.B.C. of Christianity that God has revealed it to the world, and that we cannot evolve it out of the world, all that we have to do is to ask ourselves, "Is the finality of Christianity in the bond of revelation? "Can I accept Christianity, and yet say it is not final? for it is not in reason that we should accept one part of God's Word and not another, if we believe all to be the revelation of God. That is all I want you to try and do. In the middle of this upheaving of unbelief there has been something good--a settling down and coming back to the old doctrines of the Incarnation, and the Resurrection, and the Ascension; a restful growing knowledge that He is unchanged and unchangeable, and He has told us what Christianity is to be. I would suggest to you to look and see in the Bible what is revealed about this. Find out texts for yourself to prove what I say. It is easy--it is not difficult. In the Prophets, is it not a main part of prophecy that Christianity is to be final? Think of those beautiful verses in which we rejoice every Christmas, Isaiah ix. 6, "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given." We all know that, and are ready to burst out in this anthem of praise, and so far so good. But we have no right to stop there, we must go on. "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end."
And in the Revelation of S. John, our Lord speaks of Himself as having the keys of death and of hell. "I am the First and the Last." "I am He that liveth and was dead." "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth." "These things saith He that is holy, He that is true. He that hath the key of David, He that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth. I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." You see it is in the very bond of the thing. We have no right to take the soothing childlike joy of Christmas, and rejoice in the birth of that Child to us, and then stop short when we are told that He is not only a little Child, but the Son of God, and King of kings. This finality is bound up with the knowledge of Christianity.
Then look at the prophecy of Daniel. How we read of a series of kingdoms, one after another, and at last we come to the kingdom of the Son of Man. "His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." We rejoice in reading Daniel. We delight in this wonderful foretelling of the five dynasties, but if we accept this as God's revelation, we must not only accept the coming of Jesus Christ, but also, that His kingdom shall never be destroyed. And there are many, many, many other prophecies. Listen to the angel who brought the message of the Incarnation. "The Lord shall give unto Him the throne of His Father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end." We like to read the story of the angel coming into the simple cottage, but did he speak truth or a lie? Why are we to pick and choose? The angel said he had come to us on a mission from God, as an ambassador from God. It is a promise from God, and he said, "His kingdom shall have no end." The angels of the Ascension promised that we should see Him again. "He shall so come again in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven."
The finality of Christianity is bound up with the truth of our Lord Himself. We cannot say He was good, and amiable, and gentle, and self-denying, and reject the truth of what He said. We must not pick and choose. The finality of Christianity is taught in S. Matthew xiii., in that series of parables in which we are given a description of the kingdom of God, that is the Church of God. In the parable of the tares we are told that we need not be impatient, we need not be afraid, for, at the time of the harvest I shall be there. And I will say to the reapers, "Bind these in bundles and burn them, and gather these into My barn." Our Lord meant us to understand that the field would be His up to the end, and He had the power to say, these are to be burnt, and these are to be kept.
The same is taught us by the parable of the draw-net. The net contains good and bad fish, but never mind. It is only for a time. Have you ever seen this on one of our coasts? When the net is let down all sorts of fish swim into it, all sizes and kinds. All seems smooth, and there is not much confusion; but all the time the fish inside are being brought nearer and nearer to the shore. And when we come to the eternal shore, then the angels will come, and He will be there watching all that is done, and they will separate the good from the bad, and the bad will be thrown away. "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world." There can be no real doubt; it is so clearly based on revelation, and on the moral character of our Lord, that there can be no fundamental change, till the end. The same is taught in the Epistles. In I Cor. xv. we are told, "Then cometh the end, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; and God shall be all in all." "No one can pluck you out of His Hand." The Prince of this world cometh, but he will be beaten, "Fear not, little flock." These are words of great value, and they are very precious. "Fear not, little flock, no one can pluck you out of My Hand." His is the kingdom. "Unto us a Child is born." Yes, He is the little Child, but He is also the King of kings, "and of His government there shall be no end," for at the end He will not cease to be a King. The Church militant will be changed into the kingdom of glory. Some powers will be given up, but they will be exchanged for better. He will not any longer be our Prophet, for instead of prophecies we shall have, if by God's grace we persevere, the beatific vision. He will not any longer be our Priest, interceding for His people, because these perils will be past, and we shall have fruition. He will not any longer be a King defending His people from assault, for then we shall have passed all danger and have security.
S. Augustine delighted to tell his catechumens, when he prepared them for Holy Baptism, that they would not always need to say the end of the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." We shall not always need to say that. But He is the same for ever and ever. We know it very well if we think over it quietly. "He shall reign for ever and ever."
So part of our creed is only for a time, till He comes to judge the quick and the dead, and then of His kingdom there shall be no end.
Christianity is to last to the end. It is final. If it is true and reasonable that we, as Christians, understanding Holy Scripture, ought not to be afraid of any evil tidings in the region of morals, it is also true in the region of faith. "Of His kingdom there shall be no end." Then away with all nervous, timid fears as to the existence of the faith. We believe and are sure. "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed." "His heart standeth fast, and believeth in the Lord."
Brethren, let me end by gathering up, very shortly, what has been said. I have ventured to speak to you of that which was in my own mind of the trials and troubles of unbelief. May I just conclude by saying a few things about your individual relation to unbelief. I hope I have not distressed you unduly, especially you, my sisters in Christ, or made you think that you must be always thinking and fighting about controversy. I do not think it necessary always to be studying evidences for the faith. I do not think it would be good for you. I should not do it myself, if I were you. Do not go on sifting and sifting if you are not troubled about these things. Be content and be at peace.
Then, secondly, I would venture to say, be careful to preserve proportion in the cultivation of the faculties you have. That does belong to you. The knowledge of scientific truth is arrived at by the evidence of the senses, and of the intellectual faculties. The culture of the hand, the eye, the ear, the measure, weight, and reason are all wonderful, and there is a great deal to do here in developing these. The true delights of colour to please the eye, the ear charmed with music, all this has to be developed by culture, and there is no reason why the West of London should enjoy all the pleasure of harmony, and the East know none of the refreshment of music--no reason whatever against cultivating one set of faculties for a kind end. But it is a theological truth, a religious truth, that the conscience, the affections, the will, also need cultivation. There comes the mistake. It is no wonder if you only cultivate one set of faculties and are blind to this truth, that you only stunt the other set. This does belong to you, dear sisters in Christ. You must preserve a due proportion in the cultivation of your faculties. Do not keep back the one set from culture, but be careful also to "exercise yourself unto godliness." You know the expression, "Holy things to holy persons." One is holy, even our Lord Jesus Christ; so come to Him, and we also are holy, not by nature, but by communion with Him, by discipline, by prayer, by constant cultivation of our spiritual faculties, by religious reading, by self-examination, meditation, prayer, confession when we want it: in these we shall find increasing power to hold on, and so we shall grow in restfulness and security. If you only exercise one set of faculties--your powers of hearing, sight, and thinking--you will be weak in religious faith. You must be careful to preserve due proportion in the cultivation of your separate sets of faculties.
And, thirdly, my sisters in Christ, while I would not, as I said before, make a habit of reading controversy, be careful to hand on the faith to the young.
Do not argue, but teach them the faith. It is like putting seed into the ground. Teach it to members of your own family first. Then, if you can, take a class in some school, or subscribe to the maintenance of some Church school. Our larger public schools do not teach the whole truth, they are too timid. It largely rests with mothers and sisters, and heads of families to teach the young to hand on the faith.
Fourthly and lastly, try, oh try, to realize for yourselves the privilege and blessedness of being members of the Catholic Church of Christ. The old saints looked on the Church as a Sacrament, as the means of communication of grace from the Head to the Body. We have lost much of this true and right feeling of confidence. We have lost sight of the blessings we ought to expect from being members of the Church. Try and think of it all as a reality--that by baptism we were made members of Christ, and that, as such, we have a share in the prayers of the saints, and that the Holy Spirit is interested in perfecting you, not only as an individual, but as a part of the Bride of Christ, that you may be without spot, or wrinkle, so that in it you may be present at the marriage supper of the Lamb, and so be with Him for ever and ever.
Thanks be to God, all these are our own privileges and glories, but we are very slow to see them, and are only now groping after them. Yet in time we shall find that it is true, by experience, as in the region of morals, so in the region of faith. We need "not be afraid of any evil tidings for our heart standeth fast and believeth in the Lord." Oh, let one of your antiphons of joy this Easter Day be "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed."
I do not wish to leave you with any feelings of excitement. It does not follow that we shall be free from trouble in the Church. We may and shall be troubled. She is still militant. But in all our difficulties, if we have thrown in our lot with the Church of Christ, we shall be prepared to face them, and can quietly wait. Look at the life of him of whom all our minds are full just now--General Gordon; he has set God always before him. He has been constantly exposed to danger, but that has not interfered with his fixed resolution, indeed, it has endowed him with a peculiar courage, for he feels that, if he dies, it only frees him from greater trouble.
So it should be with members of the Church. We are sure of those things in which we believe. We will hold on to the end, and continue in the faith till we see Him Who is our end.
We will end our quiet day with the words S. Paul used at the end of his sermon on the Resurrection. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
And the reason he gave them that their labour was not in vain was this, Because the Lord was risen indeed!