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.

"The City of God"

Sermon XXIII. Building for Eternity.

By the Rev. Conrad Noel.

"Until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of God and of His Christ." Rev. xi. 15.

TO-DAY I would say to you in conclusion, do not be afraid of studies however dry and secular and this-worldly they may appear. Remember this, that our Lord Himself hardly ever mentioned the future life. Once only He mentioned it of His own free will to His disciples. Twice or three times a mention of it was dragged from Him by His opponents. There is quite enough in His teaching to assure us of the fact that He taught the future life, but there is absolutely nothing (and I want you not to take my word for it, but to examine the New Testament for yourselves and see if it is not true), there is absolutely nothing, no passage in the whole of the New Testament, where the future life, that is the life beyond the grave, is held up as an ideal or an object to be aimed at; not a single word. Not that He did not believe in it, not that He did not think it important, but He felt that here was the arena of our activities, that our eyes were to be fixed on this world, and yet in our hearts was to be the ideal of the Kingdom of Heaven, so that we might actualise and make real our work here.

It was not a future heaven that we were to seek, or primarily to seek, but to establish the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth in our midst. He taught that if men fought valiantly during this life to bring about that kingdom of justice between man and man, to bring about that kingdom which is centred in the very Will of God Himself, then, if they had taken care of the pennies of this present life, God would take care of the gold in the next life, but that was not to be the object for which people worked.

And as we realise more and more that heaven is not so much a place as a state of mind and will, surely we come to realise that the heaven we are to have must be had here if we are to have it hereafter. If people do not care for it here, if they do not care for justice here, how do you suppose they are going to suddenly care for it hereafter? They must begin here. You cannot have the joy and glory of the happy warrior unless you have fought! You must work and fight for the kingdom of heaven here in your midst, by your life of good, your practical life of good, shown forth in justice and service one to the other. If you have that in your hearts, heaven is here, heaven is begun, and you feel as if you were in heaven just for a few moments sometimes when you are doing what you know is right. And no dream of a future beyond the grave, beautiful as those dreams are, beautiful as were those oriental dreams, for instance, of S. John (though I very much doubt if they did really refer to a future beyond the grave, but still supposing they did), no poetic, oriental dream like that can come up to that feeling, for it cannot be expressed in language, that feeling of heaven which we have in our hearts just at those moments (and they are very few) when we are doing the right thing from the right motive, not grudgingly, but cheerfully, just because it is right, and because we have within our hearts that kingdom of God, that belief that it is the Will of God; to be united with the will of the Framer of this universe, of that mysterious Being of Whom this universe is the expression, to be united with the Will of God, and to serve one's fellow-men, that is heaven. Fellowship is heaven; the lack of fellowship is hell.

I hope none of you will go away with the impression that during these sermons of mine, because I have dwelt so much on outward things, I think outward things are everything. I don't. I think all of us, when we come to consider it, know perfectly well what we believe about this; we are in unison with the Church tradition, and the Bible, the tradition in this matter of the outward and the inward. The Bible and the Church both say this to us: that the whole man is to be redeemed, body, soul, and spirit (or if you don't like to call it spirit, call it character, it comes to the same thing, it is that inward part which we cannot see--we won't quarrel about names); that everything which goes to form the totality of human nature is redeemable, and able to be saved. Every soul, given the chance, is able through the power of its own true life, which is the power of God, to save itself, to work out its own salvation in fear and trembling. But you don't give people a chance. You don't give your rich millionaire a chance of saving his own soul, and I do not mean saving it from some future punishment, the Bible doesn't mean that; punishment follows inevitably on wrong-doing, and no amount of forgiveness can alter that fact, and thank God it can't. I mean by salvation, the building up of rich, full, splendid personalities in the Will of God and in harmony with their fellow-men, that is salvation. Christ did not say, I come to give you a richer existence in another world, He said, I came that ye might have life, and have it more abundantly. No doubt He does secure that existence to us in another world, but He came, first to give us life, and more abundant life. And that life can only be obtained by us if we throw over these little selfish, separate interests of our own miserable little souls, and get impregnated with the spirit of the Kingdom of God. That is salvation, that is heaven.

Beyond the grave! How little we know about it! And yet we know this, that whatever lies beyond the grave, we get nearer to God there by caring to be near Him and near to one another here on earth.

So I think, first of all, we have to be keen about the outward and material things, to get them right, not that they are everything, but that they come first. What did the early Christian Church do first of all after the Holy Spirit had come upon it? They appointed a sort of County Council called deacons, who ministered tables, that is what the deacons did you know, they served tables; and that was the first work of the Church of God. Let us get these things, these material things right, in order that our fellow-men, whether they be millionaires, whose souls are being crushed by their riches, or the poor, whose souls are being crushed by starvation, may have the chance of being saved, and of living the full and rich life that every man was meant to live. That is the first thing.

We are apt to forget the fundamental things, and to pass on to the others before we have laid our foundations.

And finally I would say this: We who are Christian Socialists, or Christian Social Reformers, or whatever we like to call ourselves, anyhow all of us who have admitted the principle that we must do what we can to bring about the Kingdom of God, this great commonwealth of justice and love, here on earth, we ought to be ten times more enthusiastic, ten times clearer minded than other Socialists, and yet what are we? Well, you cannot say we are doing anything like the work as a rule that they do, and all honour to them for doing it! It ought to shame us. For we have this tremendous thing, the knowledge that our city is founded in the very Will and Mind of God Himself, and yet human inaction, human indifference, our indifference, our slackness, may delay it for years, for centuries. It must come eventually if it is His Will, and He has given us the privilege of cooperating with Him in bringing about this Kingdom of God on earth.

And this is what heaven means. It does not mean a place in the future. It means the realisation of the mental image of things as first conceived in the mind of God; just as, to repeat a very common little illustration, the great thundering steam express trains were first conceived in mental image in the mind of Stephenson and the first inventors. God is the great Inventor of the Universe, the Inventor of Justice between man and man in the universe. And it is just because it is in God's mind in heaven that it must come about as a practical thing, and He gives us the opportunity of bringing it about. We are to be His ministers, we are priests unto God, kings and priests unto God in this world of ours. And we, instead of being that, follow our own little concerns and care nothing about His Will, and expect to have happiness! But you know you don't get happiness; you only get happiness by being filled with the true life, the life which is eternal, the life of service, of sympathy, and of justice. That is the only way in which true, abiding happiness can come.

So we shall build, not for time, but for eternity; we shall build solidly and well, because we realise that it is God's will, and His will cannot be gainsaid. It is God's will that the Kingdom should come on earth as in heaven, and that the Babylons of this evil world should be turned into the Cities of God and of His Christ.

Project Canterbury