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Sermons for the Times, 5 - SPONSORSHIP

By Charles Kingsley


      1 Cor. xii. 26, 27. Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or whether one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.

      I have to tell you that there will be a confirmation held at . . . on the . . . All persons of fit age who have not yet been confirmed ought to be ready, and I hope and trust that most of them will be ready, on that day to profess publicly their faith and loyalty to the Lord who died for them. I hope and trust that they will, as soon as possible, tell me that they intend to do so, and come to me to talk over the matter, and to learn what I can teach them about it. They will find in me, I hope, nothing but kindness and fellow- feeling.

      But I have not only to tell young persons of the Confirmation: I have to tell all godfathers and godmothers of it also. Have any of you here ever stood godfather or godmother to any young person in this parish who is not yet confirmed? If you have, now is the time for you to fulfil your parts as sponsors. You must help me, and help the children's parents, in bringing your godchildren to confirmation. It really is your duty. It will be better for you if you fulfil it. Better for you, not merely by preventing a punishment, but by bringing a blessing. Let me try to show you what I mean.

      Now godparents must have some duty, some responsibility or other;-- that is plain. If you or I promise and vow things in another person's name, we must be bound more or less to see that that other person fulfils the promise which we made for him: and so the baptism service warns the sponsors as soon as the child is christened, 'Forasmuch as this child has promised,' &c.; and then we have a plain explanation of what a godfather and godmother's duties are. 'And that your godchild may know these things the better,' &c.: and finally, 'you shall take care that this child be brought to the bishop to be confirmed.'

      That is the duty of godfathers and godmothers. Those who stand for any child do it on that understanding, and take upon themselves knowingly that duty.

      Now, I will not threaten you, my friends; I will not pretend to tell you how God will punish those godfathers and godmothers who do not do their duty; because I do not know how he will punish them. He has not told us in the Bible; and who am I, to deal out God's thunders as if they belonged to me, and judge people of whose real merits and dements in God's sight I have no fair means of judging? I always dread and dislike threatening any sinner out of this pulpit, except those who plainly break the plain laws which are written in those Ten Commandments, and hypocrites: because I stand in awe of our Lord's own words--'Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders, while you yourselves touch them not with one of your fingers.' There is too much of that now-a-days, my friends, and I have no mind to add my share to it. And sure I am, that any godfathers and godmothers who do their duty, only because they are afraid that God will punish them if they do not, will not do their duty at all. But sure I am also, and thankful to God, that we cannot neglect any duty whatsoever without being punished in some way or other for our neglect of it. That is not a curse, but a blessing: it is a blessing to us to be punished. The only real curse of God in this life is to be left unpunished for our sins. It is a blessing for us that our sins find us out. For if our sins did not find us out, we should very often, I fear, not find our sins out. And, therefore, when I tell godfathers and godmothers, not that God will perhaps punish them for their neglect, but that He does punish them for it already, I am telling them good news, if they will only open their hearts to that good news.

      For God does punish people for neglecting their godchildren. Those who have eyes to see may see it round us now, in this very parish, and in every parish in England, in the selfishness, distrust, divisions, and quarrels which prevail. I do not mean that this parish is worse than others, or England worse than other countries. That is no concern of ours: our own parish, and our own evils, are quite concern enough for us.

      Are people happy together? Do they pull well together? Look at the old-standing quarrels, misunderstandings, grudges, prejudices, suspicions, which part one man from another, one family from another; every man for his own house, and very few for the kingdom of God;--no, not even for the general welfare of the parish! Do not men try to better themselves at the expense of the parish--to the injury of the parish? Do not men, when they try to raise their own family, seem to think that the simplest way to do it is to pull down their neighbour's family; to draw away their custom; oust them from their places, or hurt their characters in order to rise upon their fall? so that though they are brothers, members of the same church, nation and parish, the greater part of them are, in practice, at war with each other--trying to live at each other's expense. Now, is this profitable? So far from it, that if you will watch the history, either of the whole world, or of this country, or of this one parish, you will find that by far the greater part of the misery in it has sprung from this very selfishness and separateness--from the perpetual struggle between man and man, and between family and family: so that there have been men, and those learned, and thoughtful, and well-meaning men enough, who have said that the only cure for the world's quarrelling and selfishness was to take all children away from their parents, and bring them up in large public schools; ay, and even to try plans which are sinful, foul, and wicked, all in order to prevent parents knowing which were their own children, that they might care for all the children in the parish as much as if they were their own.

      A foolish plan, my friends, and for this one reason, that it is driving out one evil by a still greater one. It destroys the root to get the fruit; by destroying family life, and love, and obedience, to get at the communion of saints, or rather at some ghost of it. The real communion of saints is founded on the Fifth Commandment--'Thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother;' and grows out of it, not by destroying it, but by fulfilling it, as the tree grows out of the root, without taking away from the life of the root, but rather by nourishing and increasing it. Now, the ancient institution of godfathers and godmothers would, it seems to me, if it were carried out honestly and really, do for us what we certainly have not done for ourselves as yet, and bind us all together as one family. It would do all the good which those fanciful philosophers of whom I first spoke, have dreamt, without any of the evil; and it would do it because it goes simply on the belief that the foundation is already laid, and that that foundation is Christ. It says, because this child is not merely the child of his father and mother, but the child of God, the universal Father, therefore other people besides his parents have an interest in him: all who are children of God as well as he have an interest in him; for they are all his brothers, and have a brother's interest in his welfare. Because this child is not merely a member of the family whose surname he bears, but a member of Christ, a member of God's great adopted family, in the hearts of every one of whom His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, is working; therefore this child ought to be an object of awe, and of interest, and love, and care to every other member of Christ's Church. Moreover, the child is an inheritor of a heavenly kingdom--a kingdom of grace--a kingdom of God,--which is love and justice, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit--all personal, spiritual, heavenly, God-given graces;--and he cannot have them without being a blessing to all around him; and he cannot be without them, without being a curse to all around him. If, in after life, when he comes to be confirmed, he claims his inheritance in this heavenly kingdom, he will be full of love, justice, peace, joy in the Holy Spirit. If he refuses to claim his inheritance, and despises his heavenly birthright, and lives as if he were a mere earthly creature, only to please himself, and help himself, he will not be full of those graces. And what then? That he will be full of their opposites, of course. If he has not love, he will be unloving, selfish, hard, cold--to you and yours. If he has not justice he will be unjust--to you and yours. If he is not at peace he will be at war, quarrelling, grudging, envying, backbiting--you and yours. If he has not joy in the Holy Spirit, he will have joy in an unholy spirit, for he must have joy in some spirit; he must take pleasure in some sort of way of thinking and feeling, and some sort of life--in short, in some sort of spirit; and whatsoever is not holy is unholy, whatsoever is not good is bad, whatsoever is not of God's Holy Spirit is of the Devil;--and therefore, if the child as he grows up has not joy in the Holy Spirit, and does not enjoy doing right and pleasing God, and being like the Lord Jesus Christ, then he will enjoy doing wrong, and pleasing himself, and being unlike the Lord Jesus Christ; and so he will set a bad example, and be a temptation to all young people of his own age, ready to lead them into sin, and draw them away to those sinful and unholy pleasures in which he takes delight,--whether it be to rioting and drinking, or to uncleanness and unchastity, or to sneering and laughing at godliness, and at good people. And that, as you know by experience, may be the worse for you and the worse for your children. Is that the sort of young person with whom you would wish to see your children keeping company? Is that the sort of young person next door to whom you would wish to live? Is not such a person a curse, just because he is a person, a spiritual being with an evil spirit in him, which can harm you, and tempt you, and act on you for evil; just as if he had been a righteous person, with the holy and good Spirit in him, he would have helped you, and taught you, and worked on you for good? But so it is: we are members one of another, and if one member goes wrong, and gets diseased, and suffers, all the other members are sure to suffer more or less with it, sooner or later: you feel it so in your bodies--be sure it is so in God's church. But if one member is sound and healthy, all the other members must and will be the better for its health, and rejoice with it, and be able to do their own work the more freely, and strongly, and heartily.

      Just think for yourselves; consider, you who are grown up, and have had experience of life, the harm you have known one bad man do, the sorrow he will cause, even to people who never saw him; and the good which you have seen one good man, not merely do with his own hands, but put into other people's hearts by his example. Is not both the good and the harm which is done on earth like the ripple of a stone dropt into water, which spreads and spreads for a vast distance round, however small the stone may be? Indeed, bold as it may seem to say it, I believe that, if we could behold all hearts as the Lord Jesus does, we should find that there never was a good man but that the whole of Christendom, perhaps all mankind, was sooner or later, more or less, the better for him; and that there never was a bad man but that all Christendom, perhaps all mankind, was the worse for him. So fully and really true it is in everyday practice, that we are members one of another.

      Now this is the principle on which the Church acts. For the little unconscious infant is treated as what it is, a most solemn and important person, who has other relations beside its father and mother, as a person who is the brother of all the people round it, and of all the Church of God, and who, too, may hereafter do to them boundless good or harm, and they to it.

      Therefore we must have some persons to bear witness of that, to remind the child himself, and the whole Church, that he is not merely a soul by itself to be saved, but that he is a brother, a member of a family; that he is bound to that family henceforth, for good and for evil. And this the godfathers and godmothers do: they represent and stand in the place of the whole Church. In one sense, every Christian who meets that child through life, or hears of it, ought to behave, as far as he can, as its godfather; ought to help and improve it if he can. But what is everybody's business, says the proverb, is nobody's business; and therefore these godfathers and godmothers are called out from the rest, as examples to the rest, to watch over the child, and to help and advise its father and mother in guiding and training it: but not by interfering with a parent's rights, God forbid! or by drawing away the child's affections from its own flesh and blood; for if a child be not taught first to honour its father and mother, there is little use in teaching it anything else whatsoever; and a godfather's first duty is to see that his godchild obeys its earthly parents for the Lord's sake, for that is right, and God's will, whatever else is not.

      Now just conceive--I am sure that you easily may--what a blessing to this parish, or this part of the country, it would be, were the duties of godfathers really carried out and practised. Every child, beside his father and mother, would have some two or three elder friends at least, whom he had known from his childhood, whom he could trust, to whom he could go in trouble as to his own flesh and blood. The orphan would have, if not relations, still godparents, to comfort and protect him. No one could go abroad without meeting, if not a godparent, yet the godparent or godchild of a friend or a relation; someone, in short, who had an interest in him, and he in them. All would be bound together in threefold cords of interest and affection. How many spites, family quarrels, mistakes, and ignorances about each other would be done away, if people would but thus simply enter into that communion of saints to which, by right, they belong, and bear each other's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.--Unless you think that men are such ill-conditioned creatures that the less they mix with each other the better. I do not. I believe that the more we mix with each other, and the better we know each other, the more we shall feel for each other: that the more we help people, the more we shall find that they are worth helping; that the more, in a word, we try to live, not after the likeness of the beasts, selfish and apart, but after the order and constitution of God's Church, to which we belong, and which is, that we are all fellow-members of one body, then the more we shall find that God's order is the right, good, blessed order, by obeying which we enter into comfort of which we never dream as long as we lead selfish, separate, worldly lives; as it is written, 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.'

      This may seem a fanciful dream, too fair to be possible; but what prevents it from being possible, save and except our own selfishness and laziness?

      And as for what fruit will spring from it, I have seen, by experience, the blessing of godfathership and godmothership, where it is really carried out; how it will knit together, in sacred bonds of friendship, not merely the children, but the grown persons of different families, and give them a fellow-feeling, a mutual interest, which will prevent a hundred quarrels and coldnesses among frail human creatures. And to those who are childless themselves, what a blessing to have their love and self-sacrifice called out, by being bound in holy bonds, if not to children of their own, at least to children of God!--to have young people to care for, to teach, to guide, and so to win for themselves in the Church of God a name better than that of sons and daughters. And have no fear that by bringing your kindness to bear especially upon your godchildren you will narrow your love, and care less for children in general. Not so, my friends; you will find that your love to your godchildren, like love to your own children, will make all children lovable in your eyes: you will learn how worthy of your love children are, what capacities of good there are in them, how truly of such are the kingdom of heaven; and their simplicity will often teach you more than you can teach them. Their God-given instincts of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, which come from the indwelling Word of God, Jesus the Lord, will often enough shame us, will teach us more and more the depth of that great saying, 'Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, Thou, O God, hast perfected Thy praise.'

      Now try, I entreat you, all godfathers and godmothers, to carry out these hints of mine, and so fulfil your duty to your godchildren, sure that you will find it a blessing to yourselves as well as to them.

      After all it is your duty. But do not let the slandering Devil slander to you that blessed word, Duty, and make you afraid of it, and shrink from it, as if it meant something burdensome, and troublesome, and thankless, which you suppose you must do for fear of punishment, while you have a right to see how little of it you can do, and try to be let off as cheaply as possible. Beware of that evil spirit, my friends, for he is very near you, and me, and every man, whenever we think of our duty. Very near us he is, that evil Jesuit spirit, that spirit of bondage unto fear, which is continually setting us on to find out with how little service God will be contented, how human slaves may make the cheapest bargain with some stern taskmaster above, of whom they dream. And from that temptation there is no escape, save into the blessed name of God Himself--our Father.

      Our Father!--whenever you think of your duty to God or man, think but of those two words. Remember that all duty is duty to a Father; your Father; and such a Father! Who gave His only begotten Son to die for you, who showed what He was in that Son--full of goodness, perfectly loving, perfectly merciful, perfectly just; and then you will not be inclined to ask how little obedience, how little love, how little service, He will allow you to pay to Him; but how much He will help you to pay to Him. Then you will feel that His service is perfect freedom, because it is service to a Father who loves you, and will help you to do His will. Then you will feel that His commandments are not grievous, because they are a Father's commandments, because you are bound to do them, not by dread and superstition, but by gratitude, honour, affection, respect, trust. Then you will not be thinking of what punishment will come if you disobey--no, nor of what reward will come if you obey--but you will be thinking of the commandment itself, and how to carry it out most perfectly, and let the consequences take care of themselves, because you know that your Father takes care of them; that He loves you, and therefore what He commands must be good for you, utterly the best thing for you; that He only gives you a commandment because it is good for you; that you are made in God's image, and therefore God's will must be for you the path of life, the only rule by which you can prosper now and for ever.

      Do try, now, all you who are godfathers and godmothers, and for once look on your duty in this light. Be sure that in trying to do your duty you will bring a blessing on yourselves, because your duty is to a Father in heaven. Be sure that, in trying to better your godchildren, you will better yourselves; in trying to teach them, you will teach yourselves; in trying to bring them to confirmation, you will indeed confirm, root, and strengthen yourselves the more deeply in all that is good; because your godchildren are indeed God's children, and whatsoever you do for them you do for His only begotten Son Jesus Christ, as He Himself says, 'Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these little ones, ye did it unto Me.' Do not be afraid of trying; you will have a hundred reasons for not trying rise in your mind, the Devil will find you a hundred lying excuses: 'It will be so difficult; and you do not like to interfere with other people's children; and you have never cared about your godchildren yet, and it will seem so odd to begin now; and the children may not listen to you; and besides, you do not know enough to teach them; you are not good scholar enough, good liver enough, you can't preach where you don't practice.' Oh, how ready the Devil is to help a man to excuses for not doing his duty; how careful he is to keep out of a man's mind the one thought which would sweep all those excuses to the wind--the thought that this same duty, which he is trying to make look so ugly, is duty to a loving Father. Do not listen to his lies; look up to your good Father in heaven; and try. It is God's will that these children should be confirmed; it is His will that you should help to bring them to confirmation; and if it is His will, He will help you to do that will of His. It may seem difficult: but try, and the difficulty will vanish, for God will make it easy for you. You may be afraid of interfering: believe that God's Spirit is working in the hearts of your godchildren, and of their parents also; and trust to God's Spirit to make them kindly and thankful to you about the matter, and glad to see that you take an interest in their children. You may seem not to know enough: O, my friends, you know enough, every one of you, if you have courage to confess how much you know. Ask God for courage to speak out, and He will give it you. And even if you are no scholar, be sure that, as the old proverb says, 'Teaching is the best way of learning.' Any parent, or godfather, or godmother, who will try to teach their children God's truth and their duty, will find that in so doing they will teach themselves even more than they teach the children. I say it because I know it from my own experience. And for the rest, again I say, is not God your Father? Therefore, if any man be in want of wisdom, or courage, or any other heavenly gift, let him ask of God, who giveth liberally and upbraideth not, and he shall receive it. For after all, when you ask God to teach you, and strengthen you to do your duty, you do but ask Him for a part of that very inheritance which He has already given you; a part of your inheritance in that kingdom of heaven which is a kingdom of spiritual gifts and graces, into which you were baptized as well as your godchildren.

      Try then, each of you, what you can do to bring your own godchildren to confirmation, and what you can do to make them fit for confirmation; for you are members one of another, and if you will act as such, you will find strength to do your duty, and a blessing in your day from that heavenly Father from whom every fatherhood in heaven and earth, and yours among the rest, is named.

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