Preached in St. Paul's Cathedral (at the Special Evening Service), on the Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 22, 1865.
OUR Lord had been foretelling His approaching sufferings; and St. Peter had ventured to take hold of His arm, or garment, to draw Him aside, and, in St. Matthew's words, to "rebuke" Him. "Have compassion on Thyself, Lord: this shall not so be unto Thee." Turning Himself round so that all might hear, our Lord met this rebuke with a sharp and, as it might seem, a severe anathema, "Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me." Beneath the thoughtless affectionateness of a warmhearted friend, the eye of the Redeemer of the world detects a snare of the great adversary. Jesus is again wrestling not merely with the promptings of flesh and blood, but with the subtlety and strength of principalities and powers. For our divine Lord, as being withal truly and intensely human, was throughout His life conscious of an inner shrinking from that baptism of death which, as He knew, was in the end awaiting Him. The mental sufferings of Jesus reached a climax in Gethsemane; they did not begin there. But here was His own warm-hearted but unreflecting Apostle doing unwittingly the very Tempter's work; appealing to the sensitiveness of Christ's human will, and making it harder to submit to the divine law of sacrifice, and to the supreme necessities of the world's Redemption. Surely the Apostle must have forgotten that the doctrine of the Cross was already a published law of the Christian life! Accordingly, St. Mark tells us that our Lord called together some groups of people who were near, and addressing them as well as His disciples, reasserted the principle which He had before laid down when He first sent forth His Apostles. He told them that any who would really follow Him must take up his Cross. This requirement is grounded upon the fact that the old, outward, sinful, selfish life of man is not his deepest, his true life. "He that loveth his life shall lose it;" he that loves merely the animal life shall forfeit the spiritual; while he that wills even to part with his natural life for the sake of Christ, shall find that a higher and more precious life survives: "he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it." Our Lord pauses, while His hearers decide upon the issue before them; and His next words assume that they have decided aright. There is a common sense of faith which differs from the common sense of mere "flesh and blood," because it proceeds upon different premises, and implies a larger knowledge of the real conditions and facts of human existence. After all, everything was not lost by taking up the Cross; everything was not gained by refusing it. Our Lord's hearers knew, as we know, that this world soon passes; and they believed that there was a world beyond the grave. Here, then, was a question of profit and loss. What, then, should it damage a man, though he should give up the whole world, if only his soul were saved? What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul in doing so?
A German commentator who is usually very diffuse, tersely and truly observes, with respect to this passage, "He who will understand it, does understand it." [Stier, in his Reden Jesu] There is no real room for doubt as to the meaning of our Lord's words. When our Lord speaks of losing the soul, "soul" means "soul." It does not mean bodily life. The same Greek word has that meaning in some passages of the New Testament, as, for instance, where our Lord bids His disciples "take no thought for their life." But it could not have such a meaning in the precept, "Fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the life;" or, as our version rightly renders it, the soul. So in the text our Lord means that which lives when bodily life has been sacrificed to truth or duty, but which may be lost if the lower life be loved too well. But may not "soul" mean moral or spiritual energy? We speak of a man of soul, meaning a man of heart and thought, and may not the text mean that these are more precious than the material interests to which they are often sacrificed? No; that at least is not the direct sense of our Lord's words. It would have been idle to advise a man to surrender his animal life in order to save his moral and spiritual life, if his personal soul, that which wills and loves, the seat and centre of his moral action, were destroyed by death. Moral life is but an unsubstantial idea apart from the personal soul which lives it; if the soul is destroyed, all is destroyed; you cannot really separate thought and love from the soul which loves and thinks. Besides which, the multitudes who heard our Lord speak would have understood by "soul," just as we do, the spiritual principle and seat of life which survives the body at death. Language ceases to be a sincere expression--a trustworthy vehicle of thought, if it is used in one sense and understood in another. All the Jews in our Lord's day (except the Sadducees) believed in the immortality of the soul; and the Sadducees were a small, although learned clique, who had no influence upon the faith of the people. Moreover, St. Luke, in reporting our Lord's words on this occasion, substitutes the word "himself" for "soul." Our Lord may have used an expression in the original Syro-Chaldee, of which the two Evangelists give two equally warrantable renderings, "his own soul" and "himself." The soul, then, which may be lost is the very inmost seat of being; that which thinks in each one of us, but is not thought; that which feels, but is not feeling; that which remembers and is conscious, but is neither consciousness nor memory; that depth, that abyss of life, which we so rarely explore, yet which is within each one of us, which we carry everywhere with us--the one mystery of which perhaps we know less than any other, and yet our very inmost self. "Soul" means here what it means when the Apostles are said to have confirmed the "souls of the disciples," or when false teachers are described as "beguiling unstable souls," or when the end of our faith is asserted to be the "salvation of our souls," or where our Lord is termed the "Shepherd and Bishop of souls," or where St. John sees under the altar "the souls of them that were slain." And when our Lord speaks of the soul being "lost," He does not mean "annihilated." Even matter, although it continually loses its form and beauty, is not, so far as we know, crushed out of being; it is transformed; it enters into new phases of existence; it passes from animal to animal, from vegetable to animal, from animal to vegetable again; it is analysed, decomposed, recombined; it never ceases to be. Much more is a simple immaterial essence like the soul indestructible; and it can only escape destruction by preserving what we term personality. The soul may be lost in the sense of being ruined; but it is never crushed or evaporated out of being; once endowed with the gift of life, it lives on, under whatever conditions, for ever. Our Lord then alludes to the terrible possibility of the soul's missing the true end and object of its being, of its becoming, after death, fixed in evil, and so forfeiting the presence of God for ever. "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
Remark, especially, the form of our Lord's appeal. His words have the tone and flavour, not of abstract, contemplative thought, but of practical and active human life. "What shall it profit a man?" Does any suppose that religion is a dreamy sentiment, a sublimated poetry, good (as the French saying has it) for women and children, and even to be toyed with, like the last production of the Laureate, by the busy, thoughtful father of the family, out of business hours, and in his softer moments? Does any think and speak of religious truth as of some antiquated theory, grateful perhaps to the recluse divine, but too fragile or too finespun to bear the action of the strong, masculine thought of a hard-headed layman in our own busy day? Let such listen to the words of the Redeemer of the world when He asks their attention to the problem of destiny. "What shall it profit?" He condescends with amazing love to the language of man's self-interest; He appeals to the business-like instinct of those whose every energy is devoted to gaining a livelihood or to making a fortune; (I had almost said a bold, I trust it may not be an irre-verent thing), He seems to address Himself, with pointed emphasis, to the very temper and instinct of us, the English people. "What shall it profit?" is a question which comes home to a race like ourselves, who are described in unfriendly phrase, yet with substantial accuracy, as "a nation of shopkeepers." My brethren, we need not wince under that description; we may accept the truth, even though we repudiate the soubriquet. Honest industry is always respectable; and the man who earns his bread is in reality quite as noble a being as the man who merely inherits it. But surely that which marks us English off among the nations of the earth is the practical temper which is not dazzled by high pretension and lofty sentiment, which is impatient of mere empty show, mere resultless talk, mere useless activity and bustle, which, while others are enthusiastic, sanguine, venturesome, asks doggedly again and again, "What shall it profit?" Not as the cynic might ask that question--not in scornful indifference to the answer--but with the earnestness of men who wish to ascertain the exact return to be looked for from a proposed action or effort, is it generally asked by our countrymen. On no other spot in God's earth is it asked so earnestly and so often as in this very city of London, the home and centre of the commerce of the world. Here, day by day, commerce projects new forms of enterprise; here she incessantly offers new investments to capital and new opportunities to labour; and not a ship leaves your river, not a railway thrusts itself across, or burrows beneath your thoroughfares, not a company is formed, nor a partnership even distantly hinted at, but a thousand voices ask in chorus, "What shall it profit?" That question is the most familiar idiom, the most universal language, of the busy throngs who live and die immediately around the walls of this cathedral; it represents an interest common to rich and poor, common to wholesale and to retail enterprise; it is asked in private and in public; it is asked by your smallest tradesmen and by your merchant princes; it is asked in your streets, in your committee rooms, and in your wharves and warehouses; it is asked hurriedly and roughly over the humblest counters: it is hinted gently but firmly in the palaces which are the stately creations of your wealth: and as the tide of enterprise rises and falls, and you, the ministers of this vast temple of commerce, move, in the mystery of your ceaseless restlessness, from its Banks to its Exchanges, from its treasures in specie to its treasures on paper, I read one question, one perpetual inquiry traced eloquently and ever upon your keen, anxious faces, as I walk along your thorough-fares; ay, though your lips be motionless, you think in public, your very thought is visible; it is always and everywhere, "What shall it profit?" And when from the great arteries of your industrial life I pass to the heart from which, and around which, all circulates incessantly; when I note how, with an eagerness unrivalled elsewhere, you ask the question, "What shall it profit?" in the corridors of your national Bank, or on the steps of your Royal Exchange, scrutinising as you do with intelligent severity all that can bear ever so remotely upon the answer; I cannot marvel that the statesmen of Europe study your money articles with scarcely less of respect and curiosity than might be due to some scroll of prophecy, since it naturally seems to them that you sit here with your practised hand laid upon the very pulse of history, and with your strained and privileged ear listening for the yet hidden revelations of Providence. Other nations may venture on reckless speculations, or on bold political experiments; other people may rejoice in the ceremonials of government, in the parade and majesty of power, in military display, or in military expeditions; others may go to war for an idea, and send their legions to a distant Syria or a yet more distant Mexico; but you, as you chronicle their failures or their victories, exhaust the resources of genuine sympathy or of refined irony, while you ask again and again, in every variety, under every disguise of language, "What shall it profit?" And while that question-is asked thus eagerly and persistently without these walls by the busy multitude of men, it is most solemnly asked within them by One Who has reared His throne here for many a century, that He might offer a sanctuary to each wearied soul, and whisper to those who will listen to Him the real secret of their destiny. Jesus Christ also asks, as of old on the hills of Galilee, so now and here in the heart of London, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" My brethren, I submit that His appeal is not only too plain to be misunderstood, it is too practical, too much in harmony with your own way of looking at matters of real importance, to be prudently disregarded.
Now, although the text suggests primarily the incomparable preciousness of the personal soul, we may fairly see in it the assertion of a truth of social and national life. A people may gain the whole world, and lose all those qualities of the head and heart which entitle them to possess it. May we not say of ancient Rome, that she gained the whole world and lost her soul? Just as the tale of her conquests was almost complete, yet ere the Roman eagles were firmly planted on the Euphrates and on the Danube, the soul of the old Republic had departed. The temperance, the courage, the justice, the patriotism of the earlier Romans had died out; and while, in the intoxication of her victories, Rome grasped with one hand the sceptre of the world, she surrendered the liberties and lives of her citizens to the lusts and tyranny of the Caesars with the other. A people may have been civilised, in the material sense of the word, for centuries, while it remains at heart and for ever barbarian. In ages when our ancestors were mere savages, living as savages live on the hillsides of Britain or in the forests of Germany, Chinese society was as highly organised, Chinese life as highly embellished, as at the present day. Yet no primitive race was ever capable of the extraordinary cruelties which are now of daily occurrence in China; and the dignity, and the rights of man are nowhere treated with such lofty scorn as in those tribunals which are presided over by the passionless scepticism of a Chinese mandarin. Without a ray of moral life, without a soul, that vast and ancient empire exists as if that it may exhibit to Christendom the worthlessness and feebleness of mere material progress. Yet Pagan empires are no measure of the degradation of which Christian peoples are capable when they sacrifice truth and goodness in an attempt to gain the world. Races which have been illuminated by our Redeemer's Gospel, and whom He has marked with His Sacraments, cannot in their fall be as others, 'who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,' since higher opportunities give scope for a deeper and more fatal corruption. When during the first French Revolution divine honours were paid to one of the daughters of shame throned on the high altar of the cathedral church of Paris, while the streets of that brilliant capital were deluged with the best blood of its citizens, men read God's doom upon a noble people, bent fiercely for the moment upon spiritual suicide, and upon material aggrandisement. And when we hear daily of the gigantic miseries inflicted and endured, by a nation which but yesterday was a British colony, we may reflect that there are dangers against which no institutions or races can be guaranteed, and that we ourselves have our weaknesses and our temptations. Yet how often do men speak as if commercial and industrial enterprises were a vast sacra-ment of regeneration, warranted to renew national life.
You, too, point to your navies, as they penetrate the most distant oceans, to your railways, as they carry you in a few hours to the most remote points of the country, to your telegraphs, as they flash your thought with the rapidity of lightning from city to city, from capital to capital, to your great thoroughfares, along which are displayed a wealth and luxury which would have astonished Tyriau or Babylonian capitalists, and you say to yourselves that, as a nation, you have gained the world.
My countrymen, I do not dispute your pre-eminence: you are unquestionably the princes of commerce, you reign without a rival over the realm of matter, but have you lost, or are you losing, that which is more precious than any acquisitions of your industry or of your genius? are you becoming the slaves of matter, instead of its masters? Take care; there is a law of assimilation, in virtue of which man becomes like that on which his attention is perpetually fixed: if he looks upward and Godward, his nature rises; if he looks always downward and earthward, his whole character sinks, and his thoughts, his tastes, his aims, his manner of life, his very speech and literature, are correspondingly degraded. To gain the world is one thing; to renew the heart is quite another. Beneath the surface of many an advanced civilisation the human brute crouches, he scarcely slumbers, with the old untamed ferocity of his savage nature; and not merely the accumulations of your capital, but the creations of your science, your new projectiles, your rifled cannon, and your iron-clad steam-vessels, may but enable the nation which has gained the world to prove one day how much she has really lost in gaining it.
Do not misunderstand me--Religion has no quarrel with material improvement; the Church looks with no jaundiced eye upon the wealth and power of the country. We do not forget that early command which bade the sons of men replenish the earth and subdue it; we do not lose sight of the divine injunction, which since the Fall has made labour man's duty, and the fruits of labour his right. Fay rather, Religion owes much to wealth and industry: Hiram of Tyre furnishes material for the Temple, and the Redeemer of the world will have His sacred Feet anointed from the alabaster box of ointment of spikenard, very precious. But if the heart and head of a great people be wholly or mainly given to material interests; if larger incomes, larger warehouses, larger investments, larger manufactories are practically viewed, not as a means to something beyond them, but as an end in themselves; if the production of wealth is looked upon, not as the legitimate result of man's intelligent toil, but as the supreme object of his existence--then, unless we His representatives would forget our Master's work and our Master's honour, we must perforce ask the question, What shall it profit a man, or a company, or a race of men, to gain the whole world, if that which is more precious than the whole world together be lost in gaining it?
After all, let us look at the hard facts before us. We commonly speak of a nation as if it were a living being, with a personal existence, and with a real and not merely a metaphorical soul. But what is a nation but a collection of individuals, who live under one government, and who act in their public capacity together? It might seem that individuals die off while the nation remains; but the truth, the real truth, is that the nation in time passes away, while the units who compose it live for ever. In the next world there will be no England: there will survive only the souls of Englishmen. Permit me to tell you, my brethren, that you yourselves are greater far than the greatest work of your hands; and the question of your individual destinies in eternity is infinitely more important than the largest material interests which may rightly kindle your wonder or command your honest exertions. So great, so precious are you, that it literally cannot profit you though you gain the whole world if your souls be lost.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, then, is the true Friend of man, Who resolutely points our attention to this simple truth, the priceless worth of each human soul. He Him-self warns us that the soul may be lost. Yet His gracious warning is the voice of One Who loves us; and every sincere soul must desire to know the truth, be it what it may--truth at all hazards, and with whatever accompaniments--truth, however startling and unwelcome, rather than a delusion, however soft and pleasing. Even the heathen poet could express a generous, human longing for light, "ay, though we should perish in it;" and the Gospel has stimulated and trained to the highest point the passion for truth, as truth, in the soul of man. When our Lord, then, pointing to the eternal future, asks us "What it shall profit us, though we should gain the whole world, and lose our own souls?" it is not for us to nourish a secret irritation as if this were a harsh, exaggerated, or extreme way of stating the problem which lies before each one of us. Surely this question is the very voice of Infinite Mercy which would penetrate our inmost being, and would fold us by one mighty embrace to the Heart of God. Surely if all around us is passing away, and the two realities which remain are the soul within each one of us and God in heaven, it is better that we should see the simple truth and act upon it. The traveller who crosses the Alps at night sees only a foot or two before him, and is as little alive to the extraordinary scene through which he is passing, to the beauties which encompass, or to the risks which beset his path, as if he were driving quietly along the level turnpike road from London to Cambridge. But as the early dawn breaks upon him, he becomes aware of those mountain pinnacles which tower above him till they dip their snow-capped summits in the clouds of heaven; he is startled at the sudden revelation of that precipice which yawns at his very feet, and at whose, to him, invisible base there rages a fierce torrent, of which the distant roar falls on his ear. He is moving amid sublimities and dangers of which he had not even caught the outline; and he is grateful to the morning light which certainly has discovered to him a vision of unsuspected beauty, and which possibly has saved him from an untimely death. And what is the question of our Blessed Lord in the text but the very light of heaven bringing out into sharp relief before the eye of our spirits the real conditions of our present existence? Above us are the heights of heaven, beneath us the depths of hell; what shall it profit us to have lived at all, if we do not gain the one and escape the other?
And yet, my brethren, I scarcely anticipate your thoughts when I say that we have already been drifted by the current of this discourse into the presence of an objection which is too frequently urged, and too considerable, to be safely passed over.
"What are you advocating," the objector cries, "but the creed of pure selfishness? Is it true, then, that a Christian is to act simply from motives of personal interest? Is not selfishness the antagonist of love; and is not love--that is, self-forgetfulness, the very essence of the religion of the Redeemer? Surely duty is a higher principle than the pursuit of happiness or the fear of misery? Surely I am to believe what is true, because it is true; to do what is right, because it is right? Do not consecrate here, in the temple of the Infinite Charity, that worship of self which is the bane of man and the ruin of virtue. Do not bribe me to the homage which I already owe to truth and righteousness by dangling before my eyes the hope of heaven and the fear of hell."
It might suffice to remind ourselves, when pressed by this objection, that it is Jesus Christ Himself Who asks the question, "What shall it profit a man, though he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Are we, then, listening to a higher morality than that of the Gospel? does this very refined objection proceed from a loftier disinterestedness than His, Who abandoned the glories of heaven for the manger of Bethlehem, and Who voluntarily chose to die in agony, as a victim for the sins of the whole world, upon the Cross of Calvary? Certainly the school of Jesus Christ has not hitherto been supposed, even by His enemies, to be the school of selfishness. Their criticism for eighteen hundred years has been this: that He prescribes a self-surrender too absolute, too sublime, to be really practicable. . . . And yet, assuredly, it is a true and generous impulse which aims first not at happiness but at duty; which loves goodness for its own sake, not for the sake of whatever may be got by it; which feels that in the true sense of the word it would not love at all if it loved only for the sake of being happy. Love is necessarily an unmercenary thing; and now, as ever in the Church, the words of the great missionary [St. Francis Xavier] express the true self-forgetful love of the soul, bending in adora-tion before the throne of the Redeemer:
"Ah! why, O blessed Jesus Christ,
Should I not love Thee well?
Not for the sake of winning heaven
Or of escaping hell;
Not for the sake of gaining aught,
Not seeking a reward;
But as Thyself hast loved me,
O Ever-loving Lord.
E'en so I love Thee, and will love,
And to Thy praise will sing,
Solely because Thou art my God
And my Eternal King."
Yet think you that he who sang thus was other than anxious for the salvation of his soul? Why, as a matter of fact, it was the question of our Lord in the text of this evening which led him to give up the world for God. Or do you suppose that deep anxiety about the eternal weal of the soul is in fact separable at all from the love of the Author of goodness and truth? No; as St. Augustine says, "God has for ever joined the true happiness of us men to His own highest glory." In earthly concerns self-love is one thing and the love of God and of men is another. In the things of heaven, the highest love of self is one and the same thing with the most absolute self-sacrifice. We cannot seek God truly without saving ourselves; we cannot seek to save ourselves without being ready to give up all for God. Certainly, if the bliss of heaven were to be but a continuation of the self-seeking life of men on earth, it might be true that to desire the eternal weal of the soul would be a distinctly lower thing than the desire of goodness for its own sake. As it is, the two things are, while separate in idea, inseparable in fact. In desiring our own salvation, we aim at God's highest glory; in desiring to live for and possess God, because He is what He is, we desire our own eternal "profit." And our Saviour appeals to our highest capacities for sacrifice, no less than to our one legitimate and ineradicable sense of self-interest, when He asks, "What shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
Therefore, in these searching words of Christ we have a first principle--a main-spring--of sincere personal religion. We live in a day when earnestness is welcomed for its own sake; the cold indifferentism which reigned everywhere in the society of the last century, and which even went far to paralyse the Church, is now, thank God, at a discount. When Goethe said that "earnestness is life," his genius discerned one of the watchwords of the opening nineteenth century, even if his heart did not prompt the utterance. But we cannot be earnest merely because we admire earnestness as an abstract quality. We cannot lash ourselves into a sincere enthusiasm because we feel, and truly, that a man who is enthusiastic about nothing is much to be pitied. To be earnest, we need a definite conviction. Given an object, a motive power, which commands the love, the interest, of the soul, and earnestness, genuine earnestness, will follow. Now I can conceive nothing more calculated to make a man thoroughly earnest about religion than daily repetition to himself--daily reflection on the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the text. I would venture to advise each person in this vast congregation to ask himself, each morning and each evening for one month, this question: "What shall it profit me, if I should gain the whole world, and lose my own soul?" We read the Gospel nowadays too superficially: we glance at the surface of discourse and narrative; we forget the inexhaustible depths of strength and tenderness which underlie each of the words of Christ. We have no true conception of the vast powers of action and resistance which are dormant in every human soul--in our souls--till we open upon ourselves the play, the penetrating, rousing, controlling force of one mighty soul-absorbing motive. And such a motive there is in that view of our eternal destiny which is suggested by the question of the text.
Are there in this congregation any who have lived hitherto for time, and for the things of time, but who are drawn by the secret guidance of the Eternal Spirit, and by the converging providences of God, towards His love and His service? Do you yearn to give yourselves to Him? Do you indeed perceive that the best and purest aspirations of your hearts are absolutely in harmony with the verdict of your intelligence and common-sense when you allow yourselves to look the fact of life, in all its height and depth, in all its loveliness and awfulness, fairly in the face? Do you know and feel that to live except for God, to live in forgetfulness of the endless future which awaits the soul, is a vast folly, a mistake so gigantic, that no other mistake in life can rival it? Yet still something holds you back: habits, friendships, cherished plans, great ambitions, or petty ambitions; and you halt, as if on the summit of Pisgah, wistfully gazing at the land of promise, but almost resigning yourselves to die beyond the Jordan--almost persuaded, like Agrippa, yet shrinking from the full persuasion which is within your reach. What shall it profit--that delay, that clinging to what you have already condemned--what shall it profit when for you time is no more, and you have entered on eternity? One verse of the Epistle to the Romans decided the conversion of St. Augustine; and surely the answer, the only possible answer to our Lord's question might avail to break the thraldom of a soul at the crisis of its destiny, and while crowning its responsibilities by a flood of light, "to guide its feet into the way of peace," and to the Cross of the Redeemer.
Is any here, serving God, yet conscious of being from time to time exposed to a great and, for him, a dangerous temptation--a temptation, we will suppose, which appeals powerfully to the secret sympathies of his character, or to tastes and inclinations which were fostered by old habits of sin, and which have never been perfectly eradicated, or to intellectual difficulties, which he sees through when he kneels in prayer, but which he easily exaggerates when the forbidden fruit is tempting, and Satan asks, "Yea, hath God said, ye shall not eat?" What is that temptation but the flower which grows just over the edge of the precipice? It is possible that you may pick it, and yet recover your footing; it is also possible, nay probable, that in the attempt to gather it you will perish in the abyss below. At such a time it is well to meet the tempter with a single motive of tried power--one stone from the brook may suffice to conquer the champion of the Philistines. Ere you yield to that strong ambition, ere you tell that profitable lie, ere you gratify that vehement passion, ere you drug your conscience that you may form that acquaintance or that friendship so certain to improve your social position, so likely to be fatal to the sincerity and the consistency which is due to our Tender and Gracious Friend in heaven--look well down into the depths of the eternity which is before you, and ask the question, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" What shall it profit him, too, if he gain, not the whole world, but something which he will fling to the winds five minutes after gaining it? We do not escape the tremendous issue of our decisions because our temptations are trifles. Eternity is out of all proportion to the things of time. A soul may be sold and sacrificed by the enormous crimes which enable some gigantic ambition to mount an imperial throne and to found an imperial dynasty, but a soul may also be sacrificed by the petty, but conscious dishonesty which looks God full in the Face and then asks a halfpenny too much for a pound of sugar.
Are any here who have felt the attraction, for generous souls the strong attraction, of self-sacrifice for God? Such there have been in our day, who, yearning like the first Apostles to abandon all for Christ, have been more earnest in their desire to serve Him than cautious in their inquiry how He may best be served. It has been a relief to them to leave home and friends; to trample upon their education and their prospects; to count all earthly things but dung, that they might taste the sweetness of unreserved self-sacrifice; to persuade themselves that they were as yet without the Holy Fold, that they might copy, ay to the very letter, the self-denial which was preached and practised of old in the cities of Galilee. We may have known such who, to their loss and to ours, have wandered from the fold of the English Church. But while it is impossible for us, who know that here we have a certain and well-authenticated place within the walls of the City of God, to act or speak as if we were outside Her, let us honour, let us cherish, let us copy, in lawful ways, the example of self-sacrifice. Every station in life offers opportunities of giving thought, or time, or personal labour, or income in some shape or other, to the care of the souls and to the cause of God. At this very moment,--to take one instance out of many--there are crowded hospitals in this great city, where the sick and suffering are tended by devoted women who have been bred in refinement and luxury but who have renounced all that woman holds dear that they might find their one and sufficient reward in the eternal smile of their Lord and Master. And there are others who gaze at this spectacle of sacrifice and who long to copy it, but who, while ignorance and sin and wretchedness fester beneath the polished surface of society into new and more threatening forms of corruption and of death, are withheld from self-consecration by some taste, some anticipation, some object or motive which will count for nothing in the light of eternity. It is for such to ask themselves, "What shall it profit a man, or a woman, if the world be gained or retained, and that highest conception of duty, which is the brightest light of conscience, and the very voice of God, be forfeited?"
Lastly, let us look at our Lord's words under the light which is thrown upon them by two events equally certain--one past and one future: one, the moment of our own death agony, the other, the death-scene of our crucified Lord Himself.
An aged Christian once met a young man who was entering business and laying out his plans for life. "You are settled in business, I understand?" "Yes." "And what do you intend next?" "I shall marry." "And what then?" "I shall make a fortune." "And what then?" "I shall enter public life." "And what then?" "I shall make a family reputation." "And what then?" "Well, I suppose I shall get old." "And what then?" "Well, in time, of course, I shall die." "And what then?" The young man was silent: he had never looked so far ahead.
We know that we--each one of us--must die. Here there is entire agreement between the voice of faith and the voice of experience. Of all that will precede death we are ignorant. Will it be a long illness, or an unforeseen occurrence that will kill us? Will death come to us many years hence, or this year, this month, this night? Shall we die in our beds, or at our daily work? at home and among friends, or on a journey and among strange faces? in the time of sleep, or in. time of prayer? Shall we be the victims of an epidemic, or of a railway accident, or of a desperate act of violence? We know not. God has veiled this future, in His mercy, from our eyes; but one fact He has announced to us, and it receives the greater prominence from our ignorance of everything around and beside it--we are sure that we must die. No precautions, no medicines, no physicians, no watering-places, no affectionate care of friends, no strong masterful clinging to life in ourselves, can obtain a reprieve of our sentence. We must die. And at the moment of death whenever it be, or wherever it be, if the soul be granted one moment of consciousness it will have no difficulty in answering the question of the text. Departing soul! when all here is fading from the sight of thy glazing eye, and when the clouds are rolling away, which have hidden from thy view the realities of the eternal world, say, what shall it profit thee, if thou hast gained wealth, or reputation, or power on earth, while thou thyself art lost? The dying, we know, have before now prayed for one hour of reprieve--only one; but the prudence of faith does not wait until death to ask the question, "What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" And He Who alone can help the dying teaches by His own death the meaning, the responsibility, of life. Before your eyes, as of old in Galatia, "Jesus Christ is evidently set forth crucified." Faith spans at a bound the interval of eighteen centuries, and lives on Calvary. There He hangs between earth and heaven--the Divine Friend of sinners--His Head crowned with thorns, His Eyes reddened with weeping, His Feet, His Hands, His Side pierced and torn. There He offers to the Eternal Father "a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, propitiation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world;" while from His open Wounds there flows forth a plenteous Stream of life, that It may give power to His Sacraments, and freedom and strength and beauty to the souls of His redeemed. It is at the foot of the Cross that we learn the cost, and withal the true duty, the real interest, of the human soul. Brethren, let us be wise, while yet we may. There are prizes on earth and treasures in heaven more pre-cious and enduring than the things of time and sense . . . yet it is as the children of time that we take our measures for eternity; and while time is short, eternity is long.