Psalm viii. 1 and sqq. O Lord our Governor, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth, Thou that hast set Thy glory above the heavens!
Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength, because of Thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
This is the text which I have chosen to-day, because I think it will help us to understand the end of the Lord's Prayer, which tells us to say to our Father in Heaven, 'Father, Thine is the kingdom; Father, Thine is the power; Father, Thine is the glory.'
The man who wrote this psalm had been looking up at the sky, spangled with countless stars, with the moon, as if she were the queen of them all, walking in her brightness. He had been looking round, too, on this wonderful earth, with its countless beasts, and birds, and insects, trees, herbs, and flowers, each growing, and thriving, and breeding after their kind, according to the law which God had given to each of them, without any help of man. And then he had thought of men, how small, weak, ignorant, foolish, sinful they were, and said to himself, 'Why should God care for men more than for these beasts, and birds, and insects round? Not because he is the largest and strongest thing in the world; for I will consider Thy heavens, even the work of Thy hands, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained, how much greater, more beautiful they are than poor human beings. May not glorious beings, angels, be dwelling in them, compared to whom man is no better than a beast?'
And yet he says to himself, 'I know that God, though He has put man lower than the angels, has crowned him with glory and honour. I know that, whatever glorious creatures may live in the sun, and moon, and stars, God has given man the dominion and power here, on this world. I know that even to babes and sucklings God has given a strength, because of His enemies--that He may silence the enemy and the avenger; and I know that by so doing, God has set His glory above the heavens, and has shown forth His glory more in these little children, to whom He gives strength and wisdom, than He has in sun, and moon, and stars.'
Now how is that? The Catechism, I think, will tell us. The Doxology, at the end of the Lord's Prayer, will tell us, if we consider it.
If you will listen to me, I will try and show you what I mean.
Suppose I took one of your children, and showed him that large bright star, which you may see now every evening, shining in the south-west, and said to him, 'My child, that star, which looks to you only a bright speck, is in reality a world--a world fourteen hundred times as big as our world. We have but one moon to light our earth; that little speck has four moons, each of them larger than ours, which light it by night. That little speck of a star seems to you to be standing still; in reality, it is travelling through the sky at the rate of 25,000 miles an hour.' What do you think the child's feeling would be? If he were a dull child, he might only be astonished; but if he were a sensible and thoughtful child, do you not think that a feeling of awe, almost of fear, would come over him, when he thought how small and weak and helpless he was, in comparison of those mighty and glorious stars above his head?
And next, if I turned the child round, and bade him look at that comet or fiery star, which has appeared lately low down in the north-west, and said, 'My child, that comet, which seems to you to hang just above the next parish, is really eighty millions of miles off from us. That bright spot at the lower part of it is a fiery world as large as the moon,--that tail of fiery light which you see streaming up from it, and which looks a few feet long, is a stream of fiery vapour, stretching, most likely, hundreds of thousands of miles through the boundless space. It seems to you to be sinking behind the trees, so slowly that you cannot see it move. It is really rushing towards us now, with its vast train of light, at the rate of some eighty thousand miles an hour.' And suppose then, if, to make the child more astonished than ever, I went on--'Yes, my child, every single tiny star which is twinkling over your head is a sun, a sun as large, or larger than our own sun, perhaps with worlds moving round it, as our world moves round our sun, but so many millions of miles far off, that the strongest spy-glass cannot make these stars look any larger, or show us the worlds which we believe are moving round them.'
Do you not think that just in proportion to the child's quickness and understanding, he would be awed, almost terrified?
And lastly, suppose that to puzzle and astonish him still more, I took a chance drop of water out of any standing pool, and showed him through a magnifying-glass, in that single drop of water, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of living creatures so small that it is impossible to see them with the naked eye, each of them of some beautiful and wonderful shape, unlike anything which you ever saw or dreamed of, but each of them alive, each of them moving, feeding, breeding, after its kind, each fulfilling the nature which God has given to them, and told him, 'All the whole world, the air which you breathe, the leaves on the trees, the soil under your feet, ay, even often the food which you eat, and your own flesh and blood, are as full of wonderful things as that drop of water is. You fancy that all the life in the world is made up of the men and women in it, and the few beasts, and birds, and insects, which you see about you in the fields. But these living things which you do see are not a millionth part of the whole number of God's creatures; and not one smallest plant or tiniest insect dies, but what it passes into a new life, and becomes food for other creatures, even smaller than, though just as wonderful as itself. Every day fresh living creatures are being discovered, filling earth, and sea, and air, till men's brains are weary with counting them, and dizzy with watching their unspeakable beauty, and strangeness, and fitness for the work which God has given each of them to do.'
And then suppose I said to the child, 'God cares for each of these tiny living creatures. How do you know that He does not care for them as much as He does for you? God made them for His own pleasure, that He might rejoice in the work of His own hands. How do you know that He does not rejoice in them as much as in you? Those mighty worlds and suns above your head, which you call stars, how do you know that they are not as much more glorious and precious in God's sight than you are, as they are larger and more beautiful than you are? And mind! all these things, from the tiniest insects in the water-drop, to the most vast star or comet in the sky, all obey God. They have not fallen, as you have; they have not sinned, as you have; they have not broken the law, by which God intended them to live, as you have. The Bible tells you so; and the discoveries of learned men prove that the Bible is right, when it declares that they all continue to this day according to His ordinance; for all things serve Him; that sun, and moon, and stars, and light are praising Him; that fire and hail, snow and vapour, wind and storm, mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars, beasts and all cattle, worms and feathered fowl, are showing forth His glory day and night; because He has made them sure for ever and ever, each according to its kind, and given them a law which shall not be broken; for all His works praise Him, and show the glory of His kingdom, and the mightiness of His power, that His power, His glory, and the mightiness of His kingdom might be known unto the children of men.
And you!--They keep God's ordinance, and you have broken it; they fulfil God's word, you fulfil your own fancies. They have a law which shall not be broken, you break God's law daily. Are not they better than you? Is not, not merely sun and stars, but even the meanest gnat which hums in the air, better than man, more worthy of God's love than man? For man has sinned, and they have not.'
Do you not think that I should sadden, and terrify the child, and make him ready to cry out, 'Whither shall I flee from the wrath of this great Almighty God; who has made this wondrous heaven and earth, and all of it obeys Him, except me--I a rebel against Him who made and rules all this?'
My friends, I only say, suppose that I spoke thus to your children. For God forbid that I should speak thus to any human being, without having first taught him the Lord's Prayer, without first having taught him to say, 'I believe in Jesus Christ, Very God of Very God, who was born of the Virgin Mary, and took man's nature on Him;' without having taught him to say, 'Our Father which art in heaven, Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen.' So it is, and so let it be: for so it is well, and so I am safe, sinner and rebel though I be.
I would not say it, unless I had taught him this; for then I should be speaking the Devil's words, and doing the Devil's work: for these are the thoughts of which he always takes advantage, whenever he finds them in men's hearts; because he is the enemy who hates men, and the avenger who punishes them for their bad thoughts, by leading them on into dark and fearful deeds; because he is the Devil, the Slanderer, as his name means, and slanders God to men, and tries always to make them believe that God does not care for men, and grudges them blessings; in order that he may make men dread God, and shrink from Him into their own pride, or their own carnal lusts and fancies.
These are the thoughts of which the Devil took advantage in the heathen in old times, and tempted them to forget God--God, who had not left Himself without a witness, in that He gave them rain and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness--God, whose unseen glory, even His eternal power and Godhead, may be clearly seen from the creation of the world, being understood from the things which are made--God, in whom, as St. Paul told the heathen, they lived and moved, and had their being, and were the offspring of God. This--that man is the offspring of God, and has a Father in heaven--is the great truth which the Devil has been trying to hide from men in every age, and by a hundred different devices. By making them forget this, he tempted them to worship the creature instead of the Creator; to pray to sun and moon and stars, to send them fair weather, good crops, prosperous fortune: to look up to the heaven above them, and down to the earth beneath their feet, in slavish dread and anxiety: and pray to the sun, not to blast them to the seas, not to sweep them away; to the rivers and springs, not to let them perish from drought; to earthquakes, not to swallow them up; ay, even to try to appease those dark fierce powers, with whom they thought the great awful world was filled, by cruel sacrifices of human beings; so that they offered their sons and their daughters to devils, and burned their own children in the fire to Moloch, the cruel angry Fire King, whom they fancied was lord of the earthquakes and the burning mountains. So did the Canaanites of old, and so did the Jews after them; whensoever they had forgotten that God was their Father, who had bought them, and that the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, throughout heaven and earth, were His, then at once they began to be afraid of heaven and earth, and worshipped Baalim, and Astaroth, and the Host of Heaven, which were the sun and moon and stars, and Moloch the Fire King, and Thammuz the Lord of the Spring-time, and with forms of worship which showed plainly enough, either by their cruelty or their filthy profligacy, who was the author of them, and that man, when he forgets that heaven and earth belong to his Father, is in danger of becoming a slave to his own lowest lusts and passions.
And do not fancy, my friends, that because you and I are not likely to worship sun and moon and stars as the old heathen did, that therefore we cannot commit the same sin as they did.
My friends, I believe that we are in more danger of committing it in England just now than ever we were; that learned men especially are in danger of so doing, because they know so far more of the wonders and the vastness of God's creation than the heathens of old knew.
But you are not learned, you will say: you are plain people, who know nothing about these wonderful discoveries which men make by telescopes and magnifying-glasses, but use your own eyes in a plain way to get your daily bread, and you feel no such temptations. You believe, of course, that the kingdom and power and glory of all we see is God's.
Yes; but do you believe too that He whom people are too apt to call God, just because they have no other name to call Him, is your Father? That it is your Father's will which governs the weather, which makes the earth bear fruit and gladden the heart of man with good and fruitful seasons?
Alas, my friends, if we will open our eyes, see things in their true light, and call things by their true name, we shall see many a man in England now honouring the creature more than the Creator; trusting in the seasons and the soil more than he does in God, and so sinning in just the same way as the heathen of old.
When people say to themselves, 'I must get land, I must get money, by any means; honestly if I can, if not, dishonestly; for have it I must;' what are they doing then but denying that the kingdom, the power, and the glory of this earth belong to the Righteous God, and that He, and not the lying Devil, gives them to whomsoever He will?
When people say to themselves (as who does not at moments?) 'To be rich is to be safe; a man's life does consist in the abundance of what he possesses;' what are they doing but saying that man does not live by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God, but by what he can get for himself and keep for himself? When they are fretful and anxious about their crops, when they even repine and complain of Providence, as I have known men do because they do not prosper as they wish, what are they doing but saying in their hearts, 'The weather and the seasons are the lords and masters of my good fortune, or bad fortune. I depend on them, and not on God, for comfort and for wealth, and my Heavenly Father does not know what I have need of?' When parents send their girls out to field-work, without any care about whom they talk with, to have their minds corrupted by hearing filthiness and seeing immodest behaviour, what are they doing but offering their daughters in sacrifice, not even to Moloch, but to Mammon; saying to themselves, 'My daughter's modesty, my daughter's virtue, is not of as much value as the paltry money which I can earn by leaving her alone to learn wickedness, instead of keeping watch over her, if she does work, that she may be none the worse for her day's labour.'
I might go on and give you a thousand instances more, but they all come alike to this; that whensoever you fancy that you cannot earn your daily bread without doing wrong yourself, or leaving your children to learn wrong, then you do not believe that the kingdom, the power, and the glory of this earth on which you work is your Heavenly Father's. For if you did, you would be certain that gains, large or small, got by breaking the least of His commandments, could never prosper you, but must bring a curse and a punishment with them; and you would be sure also, that because God is your Father, and this earth and all herein is His, that He would feed you with food sufficient for you, if you do but seek first His kingdom--that is, try to learn His laws; and seek first His righteousness--that is, strive and pray day by day to become righteous even as He is righteous.
Yes, my friends, this is one meaning, though only one, of St. John's words, 'This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith.' We all see the world full of pleasant things, for which we long; of necessary things, too, without which we should starve and die. And then the temptation comes to us to snatch at these things for ourselves by any means in our power, right or wrong; like the dumb animals who break out of their owners' field into the next, if they do but see better pasturage there, or fight and quarrel between themselves for food, each trying to get the most for himself and rob his neighbour. So live the beasts, and so you and I, and every human being shall be tempted to live, if we follow our natures, if we forget that we are God's children, in God's kingdom, under the laws of a Heavenly Father, who has shown forth His own love and justice, His own kingdom, and power, and glory, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. But if we remember that, if we remember daily that the kingdom, and power, and glory is our Father's, then we shall neither fear storms and blights, bad crops, or anything else which is of the earth earthly. We shall fear nothing of that kind, which can only kill the body, but only fear the evil Devil, lest, by making us distrust and disobey our Heavenly Father, he should, after he has killed, destroy both body and soul in hell. And as long as we fear him, as long as we renounce him, as long as we trust utterly in our Heavenly Father's love and justice, and in the love and justice of His dear Son, the Man Christ Jesus, to whom all power is given in heaven and earth--then out of the youngest child among us will God's praise be perfected; for the youngest child among us, by faith in God his Father, may look upon all heaven and earth, and say, 'Great, and wonderful, and awful as this earth and skies may be, I am more precious in the sight of God than sun, and moon, and stars; for they are things: but I am a person, a spirit, an immortal soul, made in the likeness of God, redeemed into the likeness of God, sanctified into the likeness of God. This great earth was here thousands and thousands of years before I was born, and it will be here perhaps millions and millions of years after I am dead; but it cannot harm me; it cannot kill me. When earth, and sun, and stars are past away, I shall live for ever; for I am the immortal child of an Immortal Father, the child of the everlasting God. These things He only made: but me He begot unto everlasting life, in Jesus Christ my Lord. I seem to depend on this earth for food, for clothing, for comfort, for life itself: and yet I do not do so in reality; for man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God my Father. In Him I have eternal life: a life which this earth did not give, and cannot take away; a life which, by the mercy of my Father in heaven, I trust and hope to be living when sun and earth, stars and comets, are returned again to their dust, and blotted from the face of heaven. For the kingdom, the glory, and the power of this world, and all other worlds, past, present, and to come, belong to Him who spared not His only-begotten Son, but freely gave Him for us, and will with Him freely give us all things.'
And thus, my friends, may God's praise be perfected out of the mouth of any Christian child, when He declares that God put man a little lower than the angels only to crown him with the glory and worship of having the only-begotten Son of God take man's nature upon Him, and walk this earth as a man, and live, and die, and rise again as a man, that so He might raise fallen man again to the glory and honour which God appointed for men from the beginning, when He said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air, and the beast of the earth; and be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it.