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Discipline and Other Sermons, 19 - A WHITSUN SERMON

By Charles Kingsley


      PSALM civ. 24, 27-30.

      O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. . . . These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.

      You may not understand why I read this morning, instead of the Te Deum, the 'Song of the three Children,' which calls on all powers and creatures in the world to bless and praise God. You may not understand also, at first, why this grand 104th Psalm was chosen as one of the special Psalms for Whitsuntide,--what it has to do with the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, the Spirit of God. Let me try to explain it to you, and may God grant that you may find something worth remembering among my clumsy words.

      You were told this morning that there were two ways of learning concerning God and the Spirit of God,--that one was by the hearing of the ear, and the Holy Bible; the other by the seeing of the eye--by nature and the world around us. It is of the latter I speak this afternoon,--of what you can learn concerning God by seeing, if only you have eyes, and the same Spirit of God to open those eyes, as the Psalmist had.

      The man who wrote this Psalm looked round him on the wondrous world in which we dwell, and all he saw in it spoke to him of God; of one God, boundless in wisdom and in power, in love and care; and of one Spirit of God, the Lord and Giver of Life.

      He saw all this, and so glorious did it seem to him, as he looked on the fair world round him, that he could not contain himself. Not only was his reason satisfied, but his heart was touched. It was so glorious that he could not speak of it coldly, calmly; and he burst out into singing a song of praise--'O Lord our God, thou art become exceeding glorious; thou art clothed with majesty and honour.' For he saw everywhere order; all things working together for good. He saw everywhere order and rule; and something within him told him, there must be a Lawgiver, an Orderer, a Ruler and he must be One.

      Again, the Psalmist saw everywhere a purpose; things evidently created to be of use to each other. And the Spirit of God told him there must be One who purposed all this; who meant to do it, and who had done it; who thought it out and planned it by wisdom and understanding.

      Then the Psalmist saw how everything, from the highest to the lowest, was of use. The fir trees were a dwelling for the stork; and the very stony rocks, where nothing else can live, were a refuge for the wild goats; everywhere he saw use and bounty--food, shelter, life, happiness, given to man and beast, and not earned by them; then he said--'There must be a bountiful Lord, a Giver, generous and loving, from whom the very lions seek their meat, when they roar after their prey; on whom all the creeping things innumerable wait in the great sea, that he may give them meat in due season.'

      But, moreover, he saw everywhere beauty; shapes, and colours, and sounds, which were beautiful in his eyes, and gave him pleasure deep and strange, he knew not why: and the Spirit of God within him told him--'These fair things please thee. Do they not please Him who made them? He that formed the ear, shall he not hear the song of birds? He that made the eye, shall he not see the colours of the flowers? He who made thee to rejoice in the beauty of the earth, shall not he rejoice in his own works?' And God seemed to him, in his mind's eye, to delight in his own works, as a painter delights in the picture which he has drawn, as a gardener delights in the flowers which he has planted; as a cunning workman delights in the curious machine which he has invented; as a king delights in the fair parks and gardens and stately palaces which he has laid out, and builded, and adorned, for his own pleasure, as well as for the good of his subjects.

      And then, beneath all, and beyond all, there came to him another question--What is life?

      The painter paints his picture, but it has no life. The workman makes his machine, but, though it moves and works, it has no life. The gardener,--his flowers have life, but he has not given it to them; he can only sow the seemingly dead seeds. Who is He that giveth those seeds a body as it pleases him, and to every seed its own body, its own growth of leaf, form, and colour? God alone. And what is that life which he does give? Who can tell that? What is life? What is it which changes the seed into a flower, the egg into a bird? It is not the seed itself; the egg itself. What power or will have they, over themselves? It is not in the seed, or in the egg, as all now know from experience. You may look for it with all the microscopes in the world, but you will not find it. There is nothing to be found by the eyes of mortal man which can account for the growth and life of any created thing.

      And what is death? What does the live thing lose, when it loses life? This moment the bird was alive; a tiny pellet of shot has gone through its brain, and now its life is lost: but what is lost? It is just the same size, shape, colour; it weighs exactly the same as it did when alive. What is the thing not to be seen, touched, weighed, described, or understood, which it has lost, which we call life?

      And to that deep question the Psalmist had an answer whispered to him,--a hint only, as it were, in a parable. Life is the breath of God. It is the Spirit of God, who is the Lord and Giver of life. God breathes into things the breath of life. When he takes away that breath they die, and are turned again to their dust. When he lets his breath go forth again, they are made, and he renews the face of the earth.

      That is enough for thee, O man, to know. What life is thou canst not know. Thou canst only speak of it in a figure--as the breath, the Spirit of God. That Spirit of God is not the universe itself. But he is working in all things, giving them form and life, dividing to each severally as he will; all their shape, their beauty, their powers, their instincts, their thoughts; all in them save brute matter and dead dust: from him they come, and to him they return again. All order, all law, all force, all usefulness, come from him. He is the Lord and Giver of life, in whom all things live, and move, and have their being.

      Therefore, my friends, let us at all times, in all places, and especially at this Whitsuntide, remember that all we see, or can see, except sin, is the work of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God. Let us look on the world around us, as what it is, as what the old Psalmist saw it to be,--a sacred place, full of God's presence, shaped, quickened, and guided by the Spirit of God, the Lord and Giver of life.

      My dear friends, God grant that you may all learn to look upon this world as the Psalmist looked on it. God grant that you may all learn to see, each in your own way, what a great and pious poet of our fathers' time put into words far wiser and grander than any which I can invent for you, when he said how, looking on the earth, the sea, the sky, he felt -

      'A presence that disturbs me with the joy
      Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
      Of something far more deeply interfused,
      Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
      And the round ocean, and the living air,
      And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
      A motion and a spirit that impels
      All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
      And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still
      A lover of the meadows and the woods
      And mountains; and of all that we behold
      From this green earth; of all the mighty world;
      Of eye and ear, both what they half create
      And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
      In nature and the language of the sense
      The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
      The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
      Of all my moral being.'

      'Of all my moral being.'

      Yes; of our moral being, our characters, our souls. By looking upon this beautiful and wonderful world around us with reverence, and earnestness, and love, as what it is,--the work of God's Spirit,--we shall become not merely the more learned, or the more happy, we shall become actually better men. The beauties in the earth and sky; the flowers with their fair hues and fragrant scents; the song of birds; the green shaughs and woodlands; the moors purple with heath, and golden with furze; the shapes of clouds, from the delicate mist upon the lawn to the thunder pillar towering up in awful might; the sunrise and sunset, painted by God afresh each morn and even; the blue sky, which is the image of God the heavenly Father, boundless, clear, and calm, looking down on all below with the same smile of love, sending his rain alike on the evil and on the good, and causing his sun to shine alike on the just and on the unjust:- he who watches all these things, day by day, will find his heart grow quiet, sober, meek, contented. His eyes will be turned away from beholding vanity. His soul will be kept from vexation of spirit. In God's tabernacle, which is the universe of all the worlds, he will be kept from the strife of tongues. As he watches the work of God's Spirit, the beauty of God's Spirit, the wisdom of God's Spirit, the fruitfulness of God's Spirit, which shines forth in every wayside flower, and every gnat which dances in the sun, he will rejoice in God's work, even as God himself rejoices. He will learn to value things at their true price, and see things of their real size. Ambition, fame, money, will seem small things to him as he considers the lilies of the field, how the heavenly Father clothes them, and the birds of the air, how the heavenly Father feeds them; and he will say with the wise man -

      'All the windy ways of men
      Are but dust that rises up,
      And is lightly laid again.'

      Dust, indeed, and not worthy the attention of the wise man, who considers how the very heaven and earth shall perish, and yet God endure; how--'They all shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a vesture shall God change them, and they shall be changed: but God is the same, and his years shall not fail.'

      And as that man grows more quiet, he will grow more loving likewise; more merciful to the very dumb animals. He will be ashamed even to disturb a bird upon its nest, when he remembers the builder and maker of that nest is not the bird alone, but God. He will believe the words of the wise man -

      'He prayeth well who loveth well
       Both man, and bird, and beast.
      He prayeth best who loveth best
       All things, both great and small;
      For the great God who loveth us,
       He made and loveth all.'

      More quiet, more loving will that man grow; and more pious likewise. For there ought to come to that man a sense of God's presence, of God's nearness, which will fill him with a wholesome fear of God. As he sees with the inward eyes of his reason God's Spirit at work for ever on every seed, on every insect, ay, on every nerve and muscle of his own body, he will heartily say with the Psalmist--'I will give thanks unto thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book were all my members written, which day by day were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. Whither shall I go then from thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I climb up to heaven, thou art there; if I go down to hell, thou art there also; if I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand hold me still. If I say, Peradventure the darkness shall cover me, then shall my night be turned into day.'

      Yes, God he will see is everywhere, over all, and through all, and in all; and from God there is no escape. The only hope, the only wisdom, is to open his heart to God as a child to its father, and cry with the Psalmist--'Try me, O God, and search the ground of my heart; prove me, and examine my thoughts. Look well if there be any way of wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.'

      My dear friends, take these thoughts home with you: and may God give you grace to ponder over them, and so make your Whitsun holiday more quiet, more pure, more full of lessons learnt from God's great green book which lies outside for every man to read. Of such as you said the wise heathen long ago--'Too happy are they who till the land, if they but knew the blessings which they have.'

      And it is a blessing, a privilege, and therefore a responsibility laid on you by your Father and your Saviour, to have such a fair, peaceful, country scene around you, as you will behold when you leave this church,--a scene where everything is to the wise man, where everything should be to you, a witness of God's Spirit; a witness of God's power, God's wisdom, God's care, God's love. Go, and may God turn away your hearts from all that is mean and selfish, all that is coarse and low, and lift them up unto himself, as you look upon the fields, and woods, and sky, till you, too, say with the Psalmist--'O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. I will praise my God while I have my being; my joy shall be in the Lord.'

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