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All Saints' Day and Other Sermons, 40 - THE LESSON OF LIFE

By Charles Kingsley


      Fifth Sunday in Lent.

      Chester Training College, 1870. Windsor Castle, 1871.

      Hebrews v. 7, 8. "Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered."

      This is the lesson of life. This is God's way of educating us, of making us men and women worthy of the name of men and women, worthy of the name of children of God. As Christ learnt, so must we. If it was necessary for Him who know no sin, how much more for us who have sins enough and to spare. Though He was the eternal Son of God, yet He learnt obedience by the things which He suffered. Though we are God's adopted children, we must learn obedience by what we suffer. He had to offer up prayer with strong crying. So shall we have to do again and again before we die. He was heard in that He feared God, and said, "Father not my will, but Thine be done." And so shall we. He was perfected by sufferings. God grant that we may be so likewise. He had to do like us. God grant that we may do like Him.

      God grant it. That is all I can say. I cannot be sure of it, for myself or for any of you. I can only hope, and trust in God. Life is hard work--any life at least which is worth being called life, which is not the life of a swine, who thinks of nothing but feeding himself, or of a butterfly which thinks of nothing but enjoying itself. Those are easy lives enough: but the end thereof is death. The swine goes to the slaughter. The butterfly dies of the frost--and there is an end of them. But the manly life, the life of good deeds and noble thoughts, and usefulness, and purity, the life which is discontented with itself, and which the better it is, longs the more to be better still; the life which will endure through this world into the world to come, and on and upward for ever and for ever.--That life is not an easy life to live; it is very often not a pleasant life; very often a sad life--so sad that that is true of it which the great poet says--

      "Who ne'er his bread in sorrow ate, Who never in the midnight hours Sat weeping on his lonely bed, He knows you not, you Heavenly Powers."

      You may say this is bad news. I do not believe it is. I believe it is good news, and the very best of news: but if it is bad news, I cannot help it. I did not make it so. God made it so. And God must know best. God is love. And we are His children, and He loves us. And therefore His ways with us must be good and loving ways, and any news about them must be good news, and a gospel, though we cannot see it so at first.

      In any case, if it is so, it is better to remember that it is so. And Lent, and Passion Week, and Good Friday are meant to put us in mind of it year by year, because we are all of us only too ready to forget it, and shut our eyes to it. Lent and Passion Week, I say, are meant to put us in mind. And the preacher is bound to put you in mind of it now and then. He is bound, not too often perhaps, lest he should discourage young hearts, but now and then, to put you in mind of the old Greek proverb, the very words of which St. Paul uses in the text, that ta pa??Êata Êa??Êata--sorrows are lessons; and that the most truly pitiable people often are those who have no sorrows, and ask for no man's pity.

      For so it is. The very worst calamity, I should say, which could befall any human being would be this--To have his own way from his cradle to his grave; to have everything he liked for the asking, or even for the buying; never to be forced to say, "I should like that: but I cannot afford it. I should like this: but I must not do it"--Never to deny himself, never to exert himself, never to work, and never to want. That man's soul would be in as great danger as if he were committing great crimes. Indeed, he would very probably before he died commit great crimes--like certain negroes whom I have seen abroad, who live a life of such lazy comfort and safety, and superabundance of food, that they are beginning more and more to live the life of animals rather than men. They are like those of whom the Psalmist says, "Their eyes swell out with fatness, and they do even what they lust." So do they, and indulge in gross vices, which, if not checked in some way, will end in destroying them off the face of the earth in a few generations more. I had rather, for the sake of my character, my manhood, my immortal soul, I had rather, I say, a hundred times over, be an English labourer, struggling on on twelve shillings a week, and learning obedience, self-denial, self- respect, and trust in God, by the things suffered in that hard life here at home, than be a Negro in Tropic islands, fattening himself in sloth under that perpetual sunshine, and thinking nought of God, because, poor fool, he can get all he wants without God's help.

      No, my dear young friends, this is good for a man. It is necessary for a man, if he is to be a man and a child of God, and not a mere animal, to have to work hard whether he likes or not. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth, as Jeremiah told the Jews, when, because they would not bear God's light yoke in their youth, but ran riot into luxury and wantonness, and superstition and idolatry which come thereof, they had to bear the heavy yoke of the Babylonish captivity in their old age. It is good for a man to be checked, crossed, disappointed, made to feel his own ignorance, weakness, folly; made to feel his need of God; to feel that, in spite of all his cunning and self-confidence, he is no better off in this world than a lost child in a dark forest, unless he has a Father in Heaven, who loves him with an eternal love, and a Holy Spirit in Heaven, who will give him a right judgment in all things; who will put into his mind good desires, and enable him to bring those desires to good effect; and a Saviour in Heaven who can be touched with the feeling of his infirmities, because He too was made perfect by sufferings; He too was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.

      And, therefore, my dear friends, those words which we read in the Visitation of the Sick about this matter are not mere kind words, meant to give comfort for the moment. They are truth and fact and sound philosophy. They are as true for the young lad in health and spirits as for the old folk crawling towards their graves. It is true, and you will find it true, that sickness and all sorts of troubles, are sent to correct and amend in us whatever doth offend the eyes of our Heavenly Father. It is true, and you will find it true, that whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. It is true, and you will find it true (though God knows it is a difficult lesson enough to learn), that there should be no greater comfort to Christian persons, than to be made like Christ, by suffering patiently not only the hard work of every-day life, but adversities, troubles, and sicknesses, and our Heavenly Father's correction, whensoever, by any manner of adversity, it shall please His gracious goodness to visit them. For Christ Himself went not up to joy, but first He suffered pain; He entered not into His glory, before He was crucified.

      So truly our way to eternal joy is to labour and to suffer here with Christ. It is true, and you will find it true, when years hence you look back, as I trust you all will, calmly and intelligently, on the events of your own lives--you will find, I say, that the very events in your lives which seemed at the time most trying, most vexing, most disastrous, have been those which wore most necessary for you, to call out what was good in you, and to purge out what was bad; that by those very troubles your Lord, who knows the value of suffering, because He has suffered Himself, was making true men, true women of you; hardening your heads, while He softened your hearts; teaching you to obey Him, while He taught you not to obey your own fancies and your own passions; refining and tempering your characters in the furnace of trial, as the smith refines soft iron into trusty steel; teaching you, as the great poet says--

      "That life is not as idle ore, But heated hot with burning fears, And bathed in baths of hissing tears, And battered with the strokes of doom, To shape and use."

      Yes, you will learn that, and more than that, and say in peace--"Before I was troubled I went wrong, but now have I kept thy commandments." And to such an old age may our Lord Jesus Christ bring you and me and all we love. Amen.

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