Project Canterbury

Churchmanship and Labour
Sermons on Social Subjects Preached at S. Stephen's Church, Walbrook.

Compiled by the Rev. W. Henry Hunt.

London: Skeffington and Son, 1906.

Sermon II. Misericordiam et Judicium. Psalm ci.

By the Rev. Canon H. Scott Holland, M.A., D.D.

WE tried to speak yesterday of all the vast horror outside, so that we lifted our souls in protest and in anger against the wickedness which is there in the world at large. We do from our hearts loathe, and can denounce with reality and justice, the great woe of the world. And we tried to bring that woe of the world into pressure on our own lives, recognising there this strange truth, that out of so much good that there is in the world so much evil emerges. There is the world, so vile, so hard, so cruel; and yet every individual you meet is so nice, and so good! You are surprised time after time at this, and when at last you think you really have come across a wicked man, how good he is after all! and there is so much good everywhere, such good intentions, so little desire to be base, and vile, and hard. And yet there it is; there is the result emerging and exhibiting itself before our eyes. There, somehow, through some cause or other, it is; and we must be the cause. We have produced it. These streets of London! we cannot disown them as our own; and all the savagery of London, we somehow have done it!

So we are turned back on ourselves, and we bring the pressure of that evil on our own lives, and say: Well, I will try what I can do; I will go a little more thoroughly into my life; I see that there are many motives there which seem to me fairly innocent, and not so bad, and yet which somehow go to the making up of this vast evil. I see how much I have passed over in mere forgetfulness, sloth and timidity, and have declined to look into. I will now go into my life. I will be a little stricter with myself, a little more austere; and this Lent I will try harder to do this. I am determined to battle with myself and see what I can find out, and what I can do.

And it is in this spirit of thoroughness, in this desire to be austere, that I have read you this Psalm.

Here is a man who is going to be in earnest; his song, he says, is going to be of "mercy and judgment." He wants and prays for this one thing, "understanding in the way of Godliness." He sees the wrong, and he says that if only he understands what it is that is wrong, he will put it right; he wants only "understanding." Tell me what is wrong, he cries, show me what to do, and I will do it. "O let me have understanding." There is a genuine desire here. He is going to be so much in earnest; if only God will show him, if only the light will come!

He therefore proposes first to walk in his house with an absolutely perfect heart. He is ready to say, "I will take no wicked thing in hand; I hate the sin of unfaithfulness; there shall no such cleave unto me. A froward heart shall depart from me: I will not touch or know a wicked person. I will cut myself right off from him; whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I destroy. As for me, my eyes shall be fixed upon the faithful in the land, those that are wholly good and true. I will have no servants in my house but those who are godly; I will move and walk simply in an atmosphere of good people and things. There shall no deceitful person dwell in my house; while as for a man that tells lies, out he goes, ' he shall not tarry in my sight' for one moment! Then I will go out into the world, and I will soon destroy all the wicked doers. If I have made my own house so strong and pure, and have banished all that is evil, what a force that will be in the world! The ungodly will soon be utterly destroyed."

So he says. But there is the old difficulty again. He seems to see his way so clearly, this man, he seems to know so well how it can be done. There is the man who tells lies. Well, but in our day, how is he going to be defined; how are you going to mark him down? Our difficulty is this, that we do not know who are the liars, who is the deceitful and who the self-deceived. How are we to know? that is our puzzle. There is the world all about us, and it is full of lies. Where are you going to begin, and, when you have begun, how are you going to end? A man says, "I am a business man, I live in a swarm of lies, they are round me night and day like flies--I rub shoulders with people who tell lies, and who must do it; what is the good of talking to me like this? Lies are all round us, in our politics, in our business, our profession, and it is no use to declare that they shall not tarry in our sight."

Well, it is no good, of course, in that sense; but what is the real message which this pure, child-like soul has to give us? He thinks he is going to do it straight off, and that cannot be done. But he has the truth, and what is it? This: the absolute sinlessness of human nature. He sees in the law of God's truth that the only true man, the only natural man is the man in whom sin is not. That is all. He proposes to live the life of a man, the true life that he sees in the law of God, in the way of understanding, to be the real natural life that he longs to live. If he could live that life, if he were free to put out his true manhood as it is in God's sight, then it would be a self that would not touch a lie, but would live absolutely free from sin. That is the true man, the natural man.

And we here, to-day, may be encouraged perhaps by the child-like faith of this soul, so confident long ago, and try to revive our own confidence in that creed which seems so impossible.

Man is made good, wholly good. There is nothing in his manhood which can be bad. Everything that is bad in him is a sin against his manhood, is something taken from outside of his manhood, which ought not to be there, which ought not to be inside him in any way whatever. There ought to be no poison or fever in his blood; there ought to be no lust in his love; no lies in his soul; there should be no wrong there at all. The true self, the inner self, the man as he was made, there behind all his sin, as he is in God's sight, in God's great faith in what a man can be, in Jesus Christ--that man is perfectly pure, perfectly sound, perfectly good; and there is no instinct or impulse in him which makes for wrong or which ought not to be there. Everything which is wrong there is an alien thing, an unnatural thing; and, being there, it has destroyed something which is natural; it is not his own. It is a false self which sins; the man himself, as made by God, in His image, is utterly and wholly good; and the conscience of humanity is all made so as to be good; and all of him, body, soul, and spirit, from the summit of his intellectual life down to the very lowest desires of his flesh, is designed to be good.

That is what we have to believe, and to assert. That is the ground-faith of the whole Bible from end to end. That is the ground of the gospel of Jesus Christ; and you cannot understand the first chapter of Genesis, or one single word of the gospel of our Lord unless you have grasped it. All that now, in man, denies or traverses this primal verity, is due to what we Christians call "a Fall," that is, a lapse from the true level, a betrayal of man's real nature.

If only we could assert that; if only we could live in the power of that creed; if only we could make a great act of faith in it; and deny all the falsities and treacheries which arc swarming round us in London to-day!

You know them all so well. They say, man is a mixture, he is neither wholly good, nor wholly bad. Everyone is saying that; every word we hear about the streets is a rehearsal of that. All the papers suppose it, everybody assumes it. Man is mixed, they say, we do not say he is all bad; the drama of his life is that there is always the mixture of good and evil in it; and it is this which makes him so interesting. Our novels are founded on this; our plays are written to bring this out, and to show that this is the natural man. We will try and draw out what is good, they say, but in drawing the good out you are leaving something behind; you must drop a little of his human nature; he won't be quite his natural self.

There is something in sin, they say, which belongs to his growth, and which cannot be developed without it. The experiences of sin are essential to his victory. If you can conceive a man who was shut up (as this Psalmist proposed to be shut up) in goodness, there would be so much of life outside which he would never have touched. Sin is there, and you cannot pass it over without loss to the man's growth.

We all know these arguments--arguments which say that sin, in some sense, belongs to man's development, his true self, and that good is only part of his nature, the best and highest part if you will, but still only part.

Well, that is the lie of lies, according to Jesus Christ and the Bible. That is the lie of lies against which we exist to protest. There is nothing in man, we say again, no experience possible which is a true experience for a man, which ought not to be good. All evil experiences are experiences against his nature; they are unnatural for him, false to his own inner being. He may learn through them; something good may come out of them; God works through bad; for there is nothing He will not do for us, and if there is bad in us, He will work even through that; and if we sin He will use even that for our development and growth. But because we may develop through evil, we may not, therefore, say that without the evil we could not have developed. God has turned our sin into an instrument of development, no doubt; but sin was not necessary to our growth. No, in ourselves we should be wholly good, wholly pure, and wholly true; and all this mixed life is a life which man is living below his true level.

Life below our true level!

That is, I suppose, what we mean by "the world." It is hard to define it exactly. But, in using the same, we are thinking of all the ordinary experience that we have of what man actually is. And man, as he is known to us, as we see him, is living below his true level. As so living, he makes "the world "what it is. But think what "the world" would be, what "the world" might be, if a man were himself! We have never seen such a world; for we live in a fallen world; and we ourselves creep along in this nondescript life; we live in the twilight and shades, always half good, and half bad, trying to avoid the worst, yet always expecting to find as much evil as good. So we steer a doubtful and hesitating course^ which does not take us quite straight to the pit of Hell; yet never makes without a check for Heaven. Leading such a life as this, we are "fallen"; we are false to ourselves. This life of apology and compromise, is an unnatural life.

We are only true to ourselves when we live another life altogether. I suppose there is not a man in this church but has known, at one time in his life, the truth of which we speak. There have been moments, gleams, flashes, when we have known what it is to be surrendered to the white honour of an absolutely pure desire, have had a sheer joy in what is perfectly good. We have had it in our young days in the face of Nature, shall we say? we have perhaps seen that most glorious sight up there on the Alpine snows, when the sun has risen over the white solitudes, and we have been committed to a great exaltation; or we have watched the great moon rise over the swelling waters of an autumn sea; or the lights and shades chase each other in the laughing winds over English downs; and at these moments it has seemed as if an ecstasy had possessed us, and we have surrendered ourselves to that pure passion of beauty which had no wrong or evil in it; self had gone, and we were out in the great world of God, a world of glory and beauty and splendour, and our souls were allied with God. We knew then what it was to be what the Psalmist describes.

We have known it again at home. There, where there are all sweet and tender memories around us, we are in an atmosphere of sweetness and purity, and our hearts expand; we are absolutely good, we are at home. And we sing the great song which this Psalm sings. And we think that if only we could always remain like that our life would no longer be a painful or a dismal thing, it would be a song; we should be always singing for sheer joy; if only we could always walk in our house, in our home, with a perfect heart; if only we did not know the sins of unfaithfulness.

Take a man who is in love, Well, he may sneer at it afterwards, perhaps, but for a moment he, too, knew what it was to be willing to pour out his whole life, to surrender "himself altogether to a good impulse, just in the service of her whom he adores. Such love was perfectly good, perfectly holy, without a spot of evil in it.

Or look again at that mother and father bending over the cradle of that little life, and feeling that there is nothing on earth they would not do for it, even though in after years that child may repay all that devotion with cursing. Still there is love, there is tenderness, there is truth and goodness, going out in sheer good impulse.

In moments such as these, we have the revelation, the vision that man is good, that he is most alive when he is good, and most rich and full in his life when he is perfectly good, when there is not a tinge of deceit or evil about him; then he is a man.

Our Lord stood on this earth, and preached the Sermon on the Mount just to announce this very thing to us. Do you want to be real? He asked; do you want to be wholly yourselves, and wholly alive? I will tell you how. You must be absolutely good; you must expel every bit of evil. A man must not look on a woman to lust after her; your heart must not send up so much as a note of anger against your brother; that is the true life, and I am here to show it to you. A true man is wholly, body and soul, good.

There is no experience of human nature which is not our Lord's. And yet He is good, and yet He is wholly free from sin. By virtue of His sinlessness, He covers and embraces all the full integrity of manhood.

And this life is not to be a starved life. Our Lord tells us that if only we will surrender ourselves to these good motives, far from our life being a starved one, the whole wealth of the world will be showered upon it, and we shall be as the lilies of the field, which have more of beauty and glory than all the glories of Solomon. That is the life which comes from an austere denial of evil; it is a life of sheer unmitigated joy.

Well, now! What are we to do? First of all we have to declare our creed. We have to lift up this belief in goodness, and defy the world and its facts; and assert and reassert this truth in the face of Jesus Christ, for He stands there as our pledge that it is true. We could not possibly believe it without Him; looking into our own lives we could not believe it for a single moment. But we turn our eyes to Him and we say, "There is the Man, that is the true Man, that is Humanity as it ought to he; that is the fulness and richness of human nature; it is all there in Jesus Christ; I must confess that; and He is perfectly good."

Let us hold that creed and cling to it with a power that comes from the memory of those moments of which I have spoken. At times we have seen and known in a flash that it is true; it has been true for us; and what has been true in those moments may be true altogether hereafter, may be true again here. We know that if we could only expand that one moment when we saw it so clearly, life would be all different. That will come hereafter; and meanwhile we will live in the faith of those moments and gleams till we come to that hereafter, when every evil will have gone, when we shall indeed hate the sins of unfaithfulness, when we shall be ourselves.

And just now, just at this moment, this Lent, is there not that old sin which has been in me so long, with which I have compromised, just keeping it under, seeing how near" I can shave my way along by the edge of it? Is it not there always maiming me, and which I know need not be there; which by the grace of Jesus Christ I could be free from, and cast it out altogether? I see that it could go, I could leave it behind instead of merely carrying on a truce and alliance with it. Why should it not be purged out of my being? Why should I not be free, now this Lent? If only I would be true, just there, in that one point where I can see that it is possible! I have prayed for understanding, and it has been given to me, I see what to do there; why should I not act on it? So there might be one spot, at least, in which I should know the joy of living in the freedom of God; then I should know what it was to sing of "mercy and judgment;" then I should know what it might be to have my whole life a song going up into the music of heaven. I should know the song sung out of the pure and perfect heart, the song sung by a body that has lost all evil passion, the song sung by the spirit that knows no shadow of deceit, but lives before God in joy and health and gladness!

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