Eversley, 1868. St Mary's Chester, 1871. Trinity Sunday.
Psalm civ. 31, 33. "The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: The Lord shall rejoice in his works. I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being."
This is Trinity Sunday, on which we think especially of the name of God. A day which, to a wise man, may well be one of the most solemn, and the most humiliating days of the whole year. For is it not humiliating to look stedfastly, even for a moment, at God's greatness, and then at our own littleness; at God's strength and at our own weakness; at God's wisdom, and at our own ignorance; and, most of all, at God's righteousness, and at our own sins?
I do not say that it should not be so. Rather, I say, it should be so. For what is more wholesome for you and me, and any man, than to be humiliated--humbled--and brought to our own level--that all may see who, what, and where we are? What more wholesome than to be made holy and humble men of heart? What more wholesome for us, who are each of us tempted to behave as if we were the centre of the universe, to judge ourselves the most important personages in the world, and to judge of everything according as it is pleasant or unpleasant to us, each in our own family, our own sect, our own neighbourhood; what more wholesome than to be brought now and then face to face with God Himself, and see what poor, little, contemptible atoms we are at best, compared with Him who made heaven and earth?--to see how well God and God's world have gone on for thousands of years without our help;--how well they will go on after we are dead and gone?
Face to face with God! And how far shall we have to go to find ourselves face to face with God? Not very far, according to St Paul. God, he says, is "not far from every one of us; for in Him we live, and move, and have our being."
In God, in the ever blessed Trinity--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost--we, and not we only, but every living thing--each flower, each insect--lives, and moves, and has its being. So it is--strange as it may seem, and we cannot make it otherwise. You fancy God far off--somewhere in the skies, beyond suns and stars. Know that the heavens, and the heaven of heavens, cannot contain Him. Rather, in the very deepest sense, He contains them. In God, suns and stars, and all the host of heaven, live, and move, and have their being; and if God destroyed them all at this very moment, and the whole universe became nothing once more, as it was nothing at first, still God would remain, neither greater nor less, neither stronger nor weaker, neither richer nor poorer, than He was before. For He is the self-existent I Am; who needs nought save Himself, and who needs nought save to assert Himself in His Word, Jesus Christ our Lord, and say "I Am," in order to create all things and beings, save Himself. He is the infinite; whom nothing, however huge, and vast, or strong, can comprehend--that is, take in and limit. He takes in and limits all things; giving to each thing, form according to its own kind, and life and growth according to its own law; appointing to all (as says St Paul) their times, and the bounds of their habitation; that if they be rational creatures, as we are, they may feel after the Lord and find Him; and if they be irrational creatures, like the animals and the plants, mountains and streams, clouds and tempests, sun and stars, they may serve God's gracious purposes in the economy of His world.
Therefore, everything which you see, is, as it were, a thought of God's, an action of God's; a message to you from God. Therefore you can look at nothing in the earth without seeing God Himself at work thereon. As our Lord said, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." You can look neither at the sun in the sky, nor at the grass beneath your feet, without being brought face to face with God, the ever blessed Trinity. The tiniest gnat which dances in the sun, was conceived by God the Father, in whose eternal bosom are the ideas and patterns of all things, past, present, and to come; it was created by God the Son, by whom the Father made all things, and without whom nothing is made: and it is kept alive by God the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, of whom it is written, "Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the earth."
Oh that we could all remember this. That when we walk across the field, or look out into the garden, we could have the wisdom to remember, Whither, O God, can I go from Thy presence? For Thou art looking down on the opening of every bud and flower, and without Thee not a sparrow falls to the ground. Whither can I flee from Thy Spirit? For Thy Spirit is giving life perpetually, alike to me and to the insect at my feet; without Thy Spirit my lungs could not breathe one breath, my heart could not beat one pulse. In Thee, I and all things live, move, and have our being. And shall I forget Thee, disobey Thee, neglect to praise, and honour, and worship Thee, and thank Thee day and night, for Thy great glory?
If we could but remember that, there would be no fear of our being ungodly, irreligious, undevout. We look too often, day after day, month after month, on the world around us just as the dumb beasts do, as a place out of which we can get something to eat, and forget that it is also a place out of which we can get, daily and hourly, something to admire, to adore, to worship, even the thought of God's wisdom, God's power, God's goodness, God's glory. Oh blind and heedless that we are. Truly said the wise man--"An undevout astronomer is mad." And truly said another wise man, an Englishman--the saintly philosopher Faraday, now with God,--"How could he be otherwise than religious; when at every step he found himself brought more closely face to face with the signs of a mind constructed like his own, with an aim and a purpose which he could understand, employing ways and means, and tending clearly to an end, and methodically following out a system which he could both perceive and grasp." Such a man's whole life is one act of reverence to that God in whose inner presence he finds himself illuminated and strengthened; and if there be revelation of divine things on earth, it is when the hidden secrets of nature are disclosed to the sincere and self-denying seeker after truth.
Yes, that is true. The more you look into the world around you, and consider every flower, and bird, and stone, the more you will see that a Mind planned them, even the mind of God; a Mind like yours and mine; but how infinitely different, how much deeper, wiser, vaster. Before that thought we shrink into the nothingness from whence He called us out at first. The difference between our minds and the Mind of God is--to what shall I liken it? Say, to the difference between a flake of soot and a mountain of pure diamond. That soot and that diamond are actually the same substance; of that there is no doubt whatsoever; but as the light, dirty, almost useless soot is to the pure, and clear, hard diamond, ay, to a mountain, a world, a whole universe made of pure diamond--if such a thing were possible--so is the mind of man compared with that Mind of the ever blessed Trinity, which made the worlds, and sustains them in life and order to this day.
My friends, it is not in great things only, but in the very smallest, that the greatest glory of the ever blessed Trinity is seen. Ay, most, perhaps, in the smallest, when one considers the utterly inconceivable wisdom, which can make the smallest animal--so made as to be almost invisible under the strongest microscope--as perfect in all its organs as the hugest elephant. Ay, more, which can not only make these tiny living things, but, more wonderful still, make them make themselves? For what is growth, but a thing making itself? What is the seed growing into a plant, the plant into a flower, the flower to a seed again, but that thing making itself, transforming itself, by an inward law of life which God's Spirit gives it. I tell you the more earnestly and carefully you examine into the creation, birth, growth of any living thing, even of the daisy on the grass outside; the more you inquire what it really is, how it came to be like what it is, how it got where it is, and so forth; you will be led away into questions which may well make you dizzy with thinking, so strange, so vast, so truly miraculous is the history of every organised creature upon earth. And when you recollect (as you are bound to do on this day), that each of these things is the work of the ever blessed Trinity; that upon every flower and every insect, generation after generation of them, since the world was made, the ever blessed Trinity has been at work, God the Father thinking and conceiving each thing, in His eternal Mind, God the Son creating it and putting it into the world, each thing according to the law of its life, God the Holy Ghost inspiring it with life and law, that it may grow and thrive after its kind--when such thoughts as these crowd upon you, and they ought to crowd upon you, this day of all the year, at sight of the meanest insect under your feet; then what can a rational man do, but bow his head and worship in awful silence, adoring humbly Him who sits upon the throne of the universe, and who says to us in all His works, even as He said to Job of old, "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death? Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee? Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go, and say unto thee, Here we are? Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions? Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich? Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom? doth the eagle mount up at thy command?"
When God speaks thus to us--and He does thus speak to us, by every cloud and shower, and by every lightning flash and ray of sunshine, and by every living thing which flies in air, or swims in water, or creeps upon the earth--what can we say, save what Job said--"Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth."
But if God be so awful in the material world, of which our five senses tell us, how much more awful is He in that spiritual and moral world, of which our senses tell us nought? That unseen world of justice and truthfulness, of honour and duty, of reverence and loyalty, of love and charity, of purity and self-sacrifice; that spiritual world, I say, which can be only seen by the spiritual eye of the soul, and felt by the spiritual heart of the soul? How awful is God in that eternal world of right and wrong; wherein cherubim, seraphim, angel and archangel cry to Him for ever, not merely Mighty, mighty, mighty, but "Holy, holy, holy." How awful to poor creatures like us. For then comes in the question--not merely is God good? but, am not I bad? Is God sinless? but, am not I a sinner? Is God pure? but am not I impure? Is God wise? then am not I a fool? And when once that thought has crossed our minds, must we not tremble, must we not say with Isaiah of old, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."
Yes; awful as is the thought of God's perfection in the material world about us, more awful still is the thought of His perfection in the spiritual world. So awful, that we might well be overwhelmed with dread and horror at the sight of God's righteousness and our sinfulness; were it not for the gracious message of revelation that tells us, that God, the Father of heaven, is OUR Father likewise, who so loved us that He gave for us His only begotten, God the Son; that for His sake our sins might be freely forgiven us; that God the Son is our Atonement, our Redeemer, our King, our Intercessor, our Example, our Saviour in life and death; and God the Holy Ghost, our Comforter, our Guide, our Inspirer, who will give to our souls the eternal life which will never perish, even as He gives to our bodies the mortal life which must perish.
On the mercy and the love of the ever blessed Trinity, shown forth in Christ upon His cross, we can cast ourselves with all our sins; we can cry to Him, and not in vain, for forgiveness and for sanctification; for a clean heart and a right spirit; and that we may become holy and humble men of heart. We can join our feeble praises to that hymn of praise which goes up for ever to God from suns and stars, clouds and showers, beasts and birds, and every living thing, giving Him thanks for ever for His great glory. O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord; praise Him and magnify Him for ever. O ye holy and humble Men of heart, bless ye the Lord; praise Him and magnify Him for ever.