This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus in the Son of God?
THERE is a kind of pause between Easter and Ascension Day, when we no longer think of our blessed Lord as continually with His Apostles as He was before His Passion, and yet before we contemplate Him as once again in His glorious Majesty at the right hand of the Father. The great forty days on which we have now entered, during which at intervals He was seen of those who before had been continually with Him in His temptations, and when He gave them the clearest proofs of His still being a man and still wearing that same body which they had seen nailed to and pierced on the Cross, seem especially given to us as a distinct proof of His resurrection, of the certainty of our own, we sharing in His glory, as He has shared in our humiliation. He seems thus to have desired especially to silence all doubts as to the Resurrection of the Body, and thus to have proved His victory over the world, and the grave, and the powers of evil. You may see that He gave His body powers that it had not before; thus He was evidently not recognised at once--as in the case of the two on the way to Emmaus--some even doubted when the eleven saw Him on that mountain in Galilee where He had foretold that He would meet them,--He entered the room where they were assembled when the doors were shut; but yet He evidently desired by word and action, as by reminding them by a second miraculous draught of fishes of their earliest call, asking for food and eating before them, to give them clear evidence that His resurrection in the same body was a reality and not a fancy--that it was He, the man Christ Jesus, who had overcome death and risen from the grave, and not a phantom taking His likeness, or a spirit which had no flesh or bones which they saw Him to have. And as our Easter comes to us year after year with the same stirring call to awake from our graves of carelessness or neglect, as it comes again and again with the same repeated reminder of our Lord's resurrection, the same repeated assurance of our own, so surely ought it to quicken in our sluggish hearts this sense of our Lord's victory, this realization that the battle against sin and death was then once for ever won by Him; and at the same time while year after year comes to sadden us by the removal of those we have loved, yet ought we more and more to be ready to dwell rather on the bright promise of the future Resurrection and the glorious life with Him, than only on the sadness which is thus continually forced on us that all out of Heaven must fade, that all of earth, whether earnestness, or genius, or love, is given to earth but for a time, is summoned hence when the work given to be done is accomplished, the time when God has need of it elsewhere come. Yes, it is the old, old story that our Easter has ever to bring before us, of the non-endurance of the things of the world, and the passing away of all that is bright and fair in it, of the permanence only of the things of Heaven, and of how all that is given us on earth is to be used so that when resigned here we may find it again there. And surely if death comes to us at Easter-tide, and saddens all our rejoicings, we have only the more reason to take to ourselves the consolation that the Resurrection brings with it; we have only to feel the more certainly that if every year brings our mortality more distinctly before us, and makes every one come to believe at length that he too will die, every Easter also only the more distinctly brings to us the assurance of our immortality; brings to us the certainty also that death has been overcome, and that we shall overcome it too in our own bodies; that, in short, in the Apostle's words, "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." And surely now the sight of the renewal of creation around us, in the new birth of all inanimate things in the spring-tide, brings the same idea present to our minds; as we see the seed planted to die now rising again in the fresh beauty of the blossom, we have always the thought of our own future life, after in the same way dying and becoming a prey to corruption. And thus Christianity has given a new meaning to all of the ordinary works of nature. It is very different to us from the feeling of the heathen poet who observes that the mallow and the twisted dill die in one year, but renew themselves in another, while man when he dies sleeps on his never-ending sleep. The Christian knows that his awaking will not be like theirs, to die again and have the same process repeated over again, but that he will awake to the never-ending life with his Creator,--will live again in such a shape and form as will be fitted for the work that Creator has for him to do in that higher state of existence for which this is a preparation.
It is this knowledge that our Saviour has by His death overcome death that is the especial joy of Easter;--it is our faith in Him that enables us to share in His triumph, to feel assured that as we like Him shall all submit to death, so too like Him we may all triumph over death;--like Him pass through the world, and yet have victory over it; like Him so live that when the summons goes forth it may be with a feeling of thankfulness, sprung from faith and the knowledge that He is calling us to Himself. It is, in the Apostle's words, our faith in Jesus as the Son of God that overcomes the world in our lives, and it is equally our faith in Him that will do so in our deaths. The world bids us enjoy ourselves-r-to take our fill of its pleasures,--to live (we do not say viciously but) selfishly, making self the centre of all things, and caring for little out of ourselves but what reflects on our own comfort. To overcome the world we have to practise self-denial;--to give up its bright things and joyous things, to follow our Lord along the narrow way which may be hard and toilsome,--to forget self in the thought of what we can do for others, to employ all our powers not for our own advantage or convenience, but for the advancing of the work God gives us to do and the good of those about us and of those with whom we come in contact. The world would bid us never to go out of our way to help others, to do the least possible that gives us trouble that we can without actually losing its own esteem; would bid us if we are in any prominent position be careless of the little every-day gentlenesses and kindnesses that may be possible for us, and wrap ourselves up in our own fancied grandeur or dignity. To overcome the world we have to seek out where we can carry out our Lord's commands, to go out of our way, as it were, to find opportunities for serving Him, for benefiting His people, far less to neglect the immediate duties before us;--and by all whether publick or private duties, to act so that all about us should be the happier for what we do, to shew in all our smallest actions that we are always remembering of what spirit we are, Who is our Master and Whom we are called on to follow. And if it is so with life, is it not still more so with death? the world would bid us put off the thoughts of death as far as possible,--to sink all thoughts of the future in the immediate present, and to act as if we believed that this life ended all; he that would overcome the world here too must live with his death constantly before his thoughts, must live so that his every action shews that he does realize that all below is but the prelude to what is above, that all that is done here is done here only that it may fit him for the future life, done because God has given it to be done, because He requires all the powers He has given to be used, all the opportunities He has afforded to be seized for the end which He has intended each one to carry out. And it is the faith in our Lord as the Son of God that makes this possible, that will enable every one of us to do this;--to overcome the world in life and in death as He has done. God forbid that any one of us should carry away the dreadful idea that this is impossible for man,--that man must sin--that he must be so enveloped in the world's concerns that he cannot give himself to those of Heaven. The command would not have been given if it could not be obeyed. Remember that to disbelieve the Almighty's promises of help is to doubt Him;--to doubt His truth, that is, or to say that God could lie. Remember He has said that His strength is made perfect in our weakness;--remember that this is what our Lord lived and died to give us. Of what use would His life be, if the example were only of that which we could not follow? Of what use would His death be, if He had not by it overcome the powers of evil, and overcome them too for us so that we may overcome them too? Of what use His resurrection, unless we too rose then in Him--rose from all the miseries and weaknesses and sin of the world, and were by it enabled to live ever with Him, knowing that we can do all things through Him that strengthened us, that we can as risen with Him seek those things that are above, that what He requires us to do that He enables us to do; that in Him our victory over the world may be equally assured as His was, the power to follow Him here being what He won for us in His triumph over the cross and the grave. And have we not the proof of this in the work that the Church has done in all the ages since He left it to be the preserver of and witness to His truth? Has not the great band of confessors and martyrs and saints that in different ages have in different ways carried out their Lord's commands, and overcome the evil that in different forms has attacked the world, shewn what the power of faith has been in thus overcoming the world, in thus following the Saviour? Does not the course of the Church's history through all the ages prove to us these two things, how entirely and completely the Lord's promise to be with His people has been fulfilled;--how it has been possible to carry out His commands, to overcome, in every situation of life? Whether kings or priests or scholars, rich men or poor men, learned or unlearned, all have the means and the power given them to win their crowns;--of all classes we trust an innumerable number are now resting in the bosom of that Saviour, by Whose aid alone they were enabled to attain, but yet who thus did most certainly overcome in the strife--will most certainly share in His everlasting glory when the end of all things shall have been.
Though I have purposely, my brethren, spoken to you in these general terms of what will be the character of those here described by the Apostle, yet I think you will see how applicable it is to that of him whose loss the whole country, more especially we all in Cambridge, most of all you in S. Edward's parish, are mourning to-day. Our prophet is gone, and where shall we find his mantle? Where shall we find that deep and loving tenderness, that firm belief and trust in God, that depth of thought, that intense earnestness of purpose, that humility and distrust of self, that gentleness and purity of every word and thought? It is difficult for me, who have now for the last five years lived in close and affectionate intimacy with him, to speak; and I know how he would abhor anything like panegyrick or the fulsome praise that too often accompanies the dead. But I would try to sketch some of the leading points of his character, as far as could be seen by one who like myself only knew him well in his latter years. For it must not be that one, who may well be called "a prince and a great man" among us, should pass away without our seeing in what especial points he was an example to us;--it would not be right that one who has been so long and so prominently before the world, who has to so great an extent moulded the thoughts and influenced the careers of many of the foremost men of his generation, should have been with us for a time, and been now at God's will removed, without our trying to retain and take to ourselves something of the lessons his life and teaching have left us. And I feel that something of this kind is more appropriately said to the parishioners of S. Edward's parish, for whom he had so strong and affectionate a regard. His connexion with this parish was an especial happiness to him, and was one of the chief reasons why his latter years seemed so bright. His nature was one of those especially to react on minds cast in a different mould to his own; and he thus welcomed this charge, partly from its bringing him into connexion with a different class to what he had been accustomed," and partly because it gave him the experience of the charge of a parish, the cure of souls, which directly he had not had since the time when he first received Holy Orders--though few have probably had such influence over the souls of others as he, in the Working Men's College, in his Hospital or Lincoln's Inn preacher-ships, his London incumbency, or his Professorships in London or Cambridge.
I suppose no one's whole life was ever more thoroughly given up to the carrying out completely the day's work which God gave him to do;--I suppose no one more thoroughly gave himself up to the doing with all his might whatever his hand found to do;--whether it were "to help the slender store, to mend the dwellings of the poor," to bring education to the workmen, to make all classes feel and realize the close bond of union that our common Christianity gives,--no one ever worked harder, few have accomplished more. There was an energy and a resolution displayed in all that he did that enabled him to accomplish so much, to see so much work actually done; while others, perhaps with equal desires to do what is right, have too often stopped short at the wish. This is scarcely the place to speak of his contributions to literature,--to the science of Theology and that of Metaphysicks, to which, especially of late, his chief powers and time were given. But the amount of work in this way actually accomplished, and evidenced by the number of volumes on such varied subjects that bear his name, affords a marvellous proof of what may be done by the regular systematick employment of time; while yet the author, so far from being a mere home-student, is continually among his fellow-creatures, and impressing them perhaps more by his personal influence than even by his published works. And I believe few men's works have been more the origin of thought in others;--if at times his arguments were somewhat hard to follow or wanted clearness of expression, they always suggested most valuable and important lines of thought; and I suppose no one ever rose from the perusal of any one of his books without having been forced to think, and to think more deeply of himself, and of life and its problems, than he had ever done before. But his books could only reach one class of minds--the educated;--it was his personal influence that made him what he was to so large a portion of the men of his time. Who that has heard them would ever forget the thrilling tones of that voice, that still seems to ring in our ears, though now silent for ever? Who forget the deep and intense earnestness with which he would reprove, exhort, console? No one could be in his company without feeling that he was in that of a holy man;--of one whose every action and every thought would correspond to his profession--whose heart might be laid bare to all and there would be nothing to be ashamed of. And what a hatred of all evil and scorn of all meanness accompanied this! You could not think of him and such things at the same time. There was a sternness about his face that was almost awful when he spoke of a thoroughly bad or cruel action. And yet with this there was the gentleness and loving-ness and tenderness of a childlike nature in the truest sense, rejoicing in the success of those he loved, sorrowing, and sorrowing in such a way as to shew that he made their griefs his own, in their troubles, and, what is perhaps a rarer gift than either, being able to receive trifling kindnesses done to himself with that simplicity and lovingness, that made the doer feel he was really doing himself pleasure. Any one of us can do a kindness; it is not every one that can thus receive one.
And another principal trait of his character was his humility. He never seemed to look upon himself as one of the marked men of his time, as one who had influenced so many whom no one else had influenced, or as one who had a long life of active usefulness and work accomplished to look back upon;--he seemed always to regard the work of others more valuable than his own,--even their opinion of more weight than his. It was very remarkable to see how he underrated what he could do himself, and how he seemed to look up to those who could do anything else, however really inferior, which he could not do. But there was never any shrinking from the responsibility that really belonged to him; and he was always ready to give advice or comfort or help to any who applied for it.
And I thank God to be able to say especially of him, how true and loyal a son of the Church of England he was; and to speak of the thorough grasp he had of all Catholick truth; of his faith in the Triune Godhead, in the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the efficacy of the grace of the Sacraments He left to be our helps in our struggles through life, in the presence of the Comforter in the soul of man, and the nearness which the Incarnation has brought about between God and man. He seemed rather to see and feel than only to trust and hope. Few have expressed more strongly than he has done the immense value of the Church's formularies and articles; where others have talked of bondage, he could see that this truly was real freedom; where others have tried to explain away or to undervalue, he received the Church's words in the Church's way. Born and brought up an alien from the Church, conviction brought him into her pale; and that doctrine which he then grasped, that which the Apostle in our text speaks of being the faith that overcometh the world, the belief in Jesus as the Son of God, was the deepest certainty of his soul. And in a time like the present, when the Creeds of the Church are threatened, and her formularies and articles scoffed at, it is at least something to be able to point at the firm faith of one whom no one could call a bigot, or a shallow thinker, or one who took his beliefs from his education without ever having realized them or made them his own, but one who commanded the respect even of the sceptick or the indifferent. He always lived as in the presence of God; it was after the knowledge of the truth of God that he was always endeavouring. He seemed to realize God's eye always upon him,--and his last words were a prayer that the knowledge of God might be with those he loved.
Brethren, it has been our privilege to have this great man among us;--God has now called him to his rest, now that his work here is done. Do not suppose it has been incomplete. We mourn his loss, but could we dare to wish him back? Ah, it is sad to think that we shall no more hear those earnest tones,--no more feel that loving hand,--no more have the sense of working for God in the same place with him,--no more have his sympathy in our daily sorrows or joys;--but we know him to be at rest now in the presence of that Saviour Whom he loved and served;--we feel that his example cannot be lost on any that have come under its influence. Remember that the Saints of God all beckon us on to the imitation of Jesus,--shewing us by their example what man may do, proving to us that if the way through life be hard and full of difficulties, there is a possibility to us to overcome all these difficulties; proving to us that there is a victory that overcometh the world, even faith in our Jesus, as the Son of God;--in Whom and by Whom we ourselves may if we will conquer.