Sermon V. Sermon at the Fourth Annual Convention of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, In Cleveland, Ohio, Sept. 29, 1889
"God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."--ST. JOHN, iii. 16.
SIN, sorrow and death have not been invented by Christian priests. They are world facts, they belong to every home, and are hid in every man's heart. There can be no design without a designer, no law without a lawgiver, no creation without a creator. So I say, with the leading scientist of England, "God is a necessity of human thought." Is this God an inexorable ruler, whose right is His infinite might? or is He an eternal Father, whose might is His infinite right? And so the question comes home to the heart: Does God care for us? The body is cared for. Every invention of man ministers to the life that is between the cradle and the grave. Man has created nothing. The lightning would run its circuit in the Garden of Eden as well as when Morse made it man's messenger. The veil has been lifted so that man can look into God's storehouse and read laws as old as creation. But the body is not the man. You ask me how do I know I have a soul? I know it as I know I have a body--by self-consciousness. There is no place in this world where men are not compelled by absolute necessity to recognize the act and the will of a soul within, which directs the act. I ask again, does God care for me? I say it reverently, brother, you cannot conceive of a God who could create a world like this, if He can feel one throb of pity for His children, unless you believe He has provided a remedy for sin, sorrow, and death. The coming of God into the family of man is an absolute necessity of the very being of God. The incarnation is the outcome of the possibility that God can love. I turn then to this record and I ask, is this Jesus the friend that the world has waited for and looked for? No one that has walked this earth could use the words which every day rested upon His lips: "I and the God you worship are one." "I am the bread that is come down from heaven, and the bread I shall give you is My flesh, and I give it for the life of the world." "I am the resurrection and the life; if any man shall believe in Me, if he were dead he shall live"--unless he were God incarnate. The miracles of Jesus were not violations of the laws of nature; they were the divine proofs that that God whose hand is behind every law of nature had come into the world to help those who needed help. When He multiplied bread in His hands, He did of His own will that which God does when He multiplies the wheat in the harvest. When He created the wine of Cana, He did that of His own will which He does when He distills the dewdrop in the clusters of the vine. But that which unseals my heart, is the divine compassion, is the tender pity, is the love that never turns from the weary. If man had invented this Gospel, the story of Mary Magdalene would never have been in the record. It is not in the wrecks strewn along the path of life that men would find those they would lift to the bosom of God. It is the Divine eye that pities, it is the Divine hand that is reached out to save. I follow Him to the cross, I follow Him to the grave, where we are going, where our loved ones are sleeping. The third day He came back from the darkness; He showed men, by the marks of the nails in His hands and by the print of the spear in His side, that He was the very Jesus they parted with at the foot of the cross; and He ascended to heaven to be the friend of any aching heart that needs a friend at the right hand of God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a philosophy, it is not a dogma; it is the story of a Person, a real hand to grasp, a real Saviour to love, a real God to save. Marvelous as is this story that never can grow old and will be the burden of the songs of the redeemed, more wonderful is the Christ of history. Men ask for proof. You do not ask for proof of a sun when the world is bending low with golden harvests The other day there was a gathering of great men, scholars, philosophers. It so happened that one man who had lost his faith, congratulated his fellows that superstition was dying out, that the day was at hand when Christianity would be an effete thing of the past. James Russell Lowell rose, the blood rushing to his cheeks, and quietly said: "Show me twelve miles square in the world in which I live where childhood is cared for, where womanhood is reverenced, where old age is protected, where life and property are absolutely safe, where it is possible for a decent man to live decently--where the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not gone before and made that life possible; and then I will listen to your revilings of my Master." Can I go nearer your heart? There is a wide difference between men, but there is one side of human nature that is the same; it is that we call the heart--that which loves, that which fears, that which suffers, that which is the same in the poorest laborer that ever handled the spade as in the greatest scholar that ever graced a university. If we can get the rubbish from the heart, the good news of God sounds the same to all.
When Sir Walter Scott was dying, in suffering and agony he turned to Lockhart and said, "Read to me; I am in such agony." He said, "What book, Sir Walter?" "What book? There is but one book for a dying man; it is the story of the One that passed this way before me, of Jesus the Saviour." I stood the other day by the death-bed of one who, when I first met him was a savage warrior. He looked up in my face and said, "The Great Spirit has called me. I am going on the last journey. I am not afraid, for Jesus is going with me and I shan't be lonesome on the road." Brothers, it is to tell this story that you have banded yourselves together in the service of Him who redeemed you with His precious blood. Your motto must be the words of that sainted apostle whose honored name you bear: "We have found Christ." For it is only when we have reached out our hand to grasp the hand of Jesus, that, because we cannot help it, we reach out the other hand to help some one else. We cannot from the heart say, "Our Father," and not remember wandering brothers whom we may lead to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. The story is not for wage-workers alone, not for the poor in the attic and the cellar alone; it is for the man who lives in the marble house, it is for the trafficker in the market, it is for every one away from home and heaven and God. We must find the way to speak as one tempted man has the right to speak to a brother that is battling with temptation. It is not done by assailing sinners as you would besiege a city. We have tried hard words and the have answered us with a curse. It does no good to tell the poor wretch in the ditch, "It is your fault." We have led men to Mount Sinai, and their hearts would break if we led them to Mount Calvary. It is this that makes the life of an earnest minister of Christ the happiest life that God ever gave to man. I am not here to-day to tell you what to do, but to tell you your Master's secret, "If you give Him the will, He will find for you the way." Although you might be the veriest stammerer, if Christ speaks out in all your life, you will be the best talker in the world. We must believe in our work; we cannot make others believe until we first believe ourselves. Our feet must be upon the rock; there is no question of success or failure there. It may be Athanasius against the world, but the Athanasius and the faith of Christ will conquer.
And lastly, brothers, never since man has lived on the earth has there been an hour when a Christian man might be so thankful to God that he can live and that he can work. In all the ages of this world's history there never have been such marvels before man's eyes as we see to-day. I speak not only of the wondrous secrets of God's storehouse, that, for some end in the councils of eternity, have been reserved for the last days. You are living at a time when impenetrable barriers have been broken down; when God is fusing the nations of the earth into a common brotherhood; when there is not a place in the wide world, where, if you will, you may not carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nay, more; you are part of a race that God in His Providence seems to have placed in the forefront of the nations of the earth. I am not speaking of Anglo-Saxons, but I am speaking of the race that God has been fusing out of every tongue, and tie, and kin of the earth; and they having one language, are, I believe, to do God's work in the last days. One hundred years ago English speaking people numbered less than many of the Latin races of Europe; to-day there are one hundred and fifty millions. And when I remember how God ordered that the Greek tongue should become the tongue of the whole civilized world to prepare for the first preaching of the Gospel; and when I think of all that God's Providence has done for us, I can believe He calls us to lead on in the work of the last time. In the days when Rome had overrun the world, if some one regiment was to be placed in the jaws of death, and perhaps upon that legion rested the fate of an empire, they came out in front of the assembled host, and kneeling down on one knee they raised their hands to heaven and took an oath to die for Rome; and that was called the sacramental oath. And our Saxon forefathers, when they came to the Lord's trysting-place of love, thought it was a place for taking the oath anew.
After our Civil War, George Peabody, one of our noblest Americans, gave his fortune for schools in the desolated south. He visited the White Sulphur Springs. No king ever received so heart-felt a welcome. The south laid the homage of grateful hearts at his feet. An aged bishop, now in Paradise--Bishop Wilmer, of Louisiana, came to see him, and said: "Mr. Peabody, I am a southern man, and my heart goes out in love for the man who has been our benefactor. But, Mr. Peabody, if you are saved, it will not be because you gave your fortune to the needy. You will be saved, as the poorest laborer, for your faith in Jesus Christ." Mr. Peabody said, "I know that. I do believe in Him; I do pray to Him." "But," said Bishop Wilmer, "Mr. Peabody, the night before the Saviour died for you, He instituted the sacrament of the Holy Communion, and He left a request for you to come and receive it. He has a gift for you. Have you ever come to His table?" Mr. Peabody said, "I never knew that. No one ever told me. I knew about the Holy Communion, but I thought it was for saints--men who felt sure they were going to heaven. I never knew it was a place to come and receive a gift the Saviour had for me." That day Mr. Peabody left the White Sulphur Springs. He knew that the Holy Communion was to be celebrated in his mother's church, at Danvers, the next Sunday. He reached Danvers Saturday, and at once called on the pastor and said, "I am coming to the Holy Communion tomorrow. I did not know it was my duty till a few days ago." And he did come. That was royal faith. Not faith in water, not faith in bread and wine, not faith in priestly hands, but faith in Christ. Such faith as little children have who take the words just as they read and for all they mean, and then are safe in the everlasting arms.
So let us to-day consecrate every thought and all we have to Him, and giving Him the will go out to do His work. And He will do the rest. We may fall in battle; we may sow the seed and die; but it will fall into the ground and God will give the harvest. When we reach the other home--not a place of bodiless shades; not a confused throng of nameless spirits, but a home of brothers in our Father's house--next to seeing the Saviour, next to having the old times re-united, will be the comfort of meeting some one that we have helped home.
And now to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, be all might, majesty, dominion and power, world without end. Amen.