The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance--against such there is no law.--GALATIANS v. 22, 23.
In all countries, and in all ages, the world has been full of complaints of Law and Government. And one hears the same complaints in England now. You hear complaints that the laws favour one party and one rank more than another, that they are expensive, and harsh, and unfair, and what not?--But I think, my friends, that for us, and especially on this Whit-Sunday, it will be much wiser, instead of complaining of the laws, to complain of ourselves, for needing those laws. For what is it that makes laws necessary at all, except man's sinfulness? Adam required no laws in the garden of Eden. We should require no laws if we were what we ought to be--what God has offered to make us. We may see this by looking at the laws themselves, and considering the purposes for which they were made. We shall then see, that, like Moses' Laws of old, the greater part of them have been added because of transgressions.--In plain English--to prevent men from doing things which they ought not to do, and which, if they were in a right state of mind, they would not do. How many laws are passed, simply to prevent one man, or one class, from oppressing or ill-using some other man or class? What a vast number of them are passed simply to protect property, or to protect the weak from the cruel, the ignorant from the cunning! It is plain that if there was no cruelty, no cunning, no dishonesty, these laws, at all events, would not be needed. Again, one of the great complaints against the laws and the government, is that they are so expensive, that rates and taxes are heavy burdens--and doubtless they are: but what makes them necessary except men's sin? If the poor were more justly and mercifully treated, and if they in their turn were more thrifty and provident, there would be no need of the expenses of poor rates. If there was no love of war and plunder, there would be no need of the expense of an army. If there was no crime, there would be no need of the expense of police and prisons. The thing is so simple and self- evident, that it seems almost childish to mention it. And yet, my friends, we forget it daily. We complain of the laws and their harshness, of taxes and their expensiveness, and we forget all the while that it is our own selfishness and sinfulness which brings this expense upon us, which makes it necessary for the law to interfere and protect us against others, and others against us. And while we are complaining of the government for not doing its work somewhat more cheaply, we are forgetting that if we chose, we might leave government very little work to do--that every man if he chose, might be his own law-maker and his own police--that every man if he will, may lead a life "against which there is no law."
I say again, that it is our own fault, the fault of our sinfulness, that laws are necessary for us. In proportion as we are what Scripture calls "natural men," that is, savage, selfish, divided from each other, and struggling against each other, each for his own interest; as long as we are not renewed and changed into new men, so long will laws, heavy, severe, and burdensome, be necessary for us. Without them we should be torments to ourselves, to our neighbours, to our country. But these laws are only necessary as long as we are full of selfishness and ungodliness. The moment we yield ourselves up to God's law, man's laws are ready enough to leave us alone. Take, for instance, a common example; as long as anyone is a faithful husband and a good father, the law does not interfere with his conduct towards his wife and children. But it is when he is unfaithful to them, when he ill-treats them, or deserts them, that the law interferes with its "Thou shalt not," and compels him to behave, against his will, in the way in which he ought to have behaved of his own will. It was free to the man to have done his duty by his family, without the law--the moment he neglects his duty, he becomes amenable to it.
But the law can only force a man's actions: it cannot change his heart. In the instance which I have been just mentioning, the law can say to a man, "You shall not ill-treat your family; you shall not leave them to starve." But the law cannot say to him "You shall love your family." The law can only command from a man outward obedience; the obedience of the heart it cannot enforce. The law may make a man do his duty, it cannot make a man LOVE his duty. And therefore laws will never set the world right. They can punish persons after the wrong is done, and that not certainly nor always: but they cannot certainly prevent the wrongs being done. The law can punish a man for stealing: and yet, as we see daily, men steal in the face of punishment. Or even if the law, by its severity, makes persons afraid to commit certain particular crimes, yet still as long as the sinful heart is left in them unchanged, the sin which is checked in one direction is sure to break out in another. Sin, like every other disease, is sure, when it is driven onwards, to break out at a fresh point, or fester within some still more deadly, because more hidden and unsuspected, shape. The man who dare not be an open sinner for fear of the law, can be a hypocrite in spite of it. The man who dare not steal for fear of the law, can cheat in spite of it. The selfish man will find fresh ways of being selfish, the tyrannical man of being tyrannical, however closely the law may watch him. He will discover some means of evading it; and thus the law, after all, though it may keep down crime, multiplies sin; and by the law, as St. Paul says, is the knowledge of sin.
What then will do that for this poor world which the law cannot do-- which, as St. Paul tells us, not even the law of God given on Mount Sinai, holy, just, good as it was, could do, because no law can give life? What will give men a new heart and a new spirit, which shall love its duty and do it willingly, and not by compulsion, everywhere and always, and not merely just as far as it commanded? The text tells us that there is a Spirit, the fruit of which is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; a character such as no laws can give to a man, and which no law dare punish in a man. Look at this character as St. Paul sets it forth--and then think what need would there be of all these burdensome and expensive laws, if all men were but full of the fruits of that Spirit which St. Paul describes?
I know what answer will be ready, in some of your minds at least, to all this. You will be ready to reply, almost angrily, "Of course if everyone was perfect, we should need no laws: but people are not perfect, and you cannot expect them to be." My friends, whether or not WE expect baptized people, living in a Christian country, to be perfect, God expects them to be perfect; for He has said, by the mouth of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, "Be ye therefore perfect, as our Father which is in heaven is perfect." And He has told us what being perfect is like; you may read it for yourselves in His sermon on the Mount; and you may see also that what He commands us to do in that sermon, from the beginning to the end, is the exact opposite and contrary of the ways and rules of this world, which, as I have shown, make burdensome laws necessary to prevent our devouring each other. Now, do you think that God would have told us to be perfect, if He knew that it was impossible for us? Do you think that He, the God of truth, would have spoken such a cruel mockery against poor sinful creatures like us, as to command us a duty without giving us the means of fulfilling it? Do you think that He did not know ten thousand times better than I what I have been just telling you, that laws could not change men's hearts and wills; that commanding a man to love and like a thing will not make him love and like it; that a man's heart and spirit must be changed in him from within, and not merely laws and commandments laid on him from without? Then why has He commanded us to love each other, ay, to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who use us spitefully? Do you think the Lord meant to make hypocrites of us; to tell us to go about, as some who call themselves religious do go about, with their lips full of meek, and humble, and simple, and loving words, while their hearts are full of pride, and spite, and cunning, and hate, and selfishness, which are all the more deadly for being kept in and plastered over by a smooth outside? God forbid! He tells us to love each other, only because He has promised us the spirit of love. He tells us to be humble, because He can make us humble-hearted. He tells us to be honest, because He can make us love and delight in honesty. He tells us to refrain ourselves from foul thoughts as well as from foul actions, because He can take the foul heart out of us, and give us instead the spirit of purity and holiness. He tells us to lead new lives after the new pattern of Himself, because He can give us new hearts and a new spring of life within us; in short, He bids us behave as sons of God should behave, because, as He said Himself, "If we, being evil, know how to give our children what is good for them, much more will our heavenly Father give His Holy Spirit to those who ask him." If you would be perfect, ask your Father in heaven to make you perfect. If you feel that your heart is wrong, ask Him to give you a new and a right heart. If you feel yourselves--as you are, whether you feel it or not--too weak, too ignorant, too selfish, to guide yourselves, ask Him to send His Spirit to guide you; ask for the Spirit from which comes all love, all light, all wisdom, all strength of mind. Ask for that Spirit, and you SHALL receive it; seek for it, and you shall find it; knock at the gate of your Father's treasure-house, and it shall be surely opened to you.
But some of you, perhaps, are saying to yourselves, "How will my being changed and renewed by the Spirit of God, render the laws less burdensome, while the crime and sin around me remain unchanged? It is others who want to be improved as much, and perhaps more than I do." It may be so, my friends; or, again, it may not; those who fancy that others need God's Spirit more than they do, may be the very persons who need it really the most; those who say they see, may be only proving their blindness by so saying; those who fancy that their souls are rich, and are full of all knowledge, and understand the whole Bible, and want no further teaching, may be, as they were in St. John's time, just the ones who are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked in soul, and do not know it. But at all events, if you think others need to be changed by God's Spirit, PRAY that God's Spirit may change them. For believe me, unless you pray for God's Spirit for each other, ay, for the whole world, there is no use asking for yourselves. This, I believe, is one of the reasons, perhaps the chief reason, why the fruits of God's Spirit are so little seen among us in these days; why our Christianity is become more and more dead, and hollow, and barren, while expensive and intricate laws and taxes are becoming more and more necessary every year; because our religion has become so selfish, because we have been praying for God's Spirit too little for each other. Our prayers have become too selfish. We have been looking for God's Spirit not so much as a means to enable us to do good to others, but as some sort of mysterious charm which was to keep us ourselves from the punishment of our sins in the next life, or give us a higher place in heaven; and, therefore, St. James's words have been fulfilled to us, even in our very prayers for God's Spirit, "Ye ask and have not, because ye ask amiss, to consume it upon your lusts"--save our selfish souls from the pains of hell; to give our selfish souls selfish pleasures and selfish glorification in the world to come: but not to spread God's kingdom upon earth, not to make us live on earth such lives as Christ lived; a life of love and self-sacrifice, and continual labour for the souls of others. Therefore it is, that God's Spirit is not poured out upon us in these days; for God's Spirit is the spirit of love and brotherhood, which delivers a man from his selfishness; and if we do not desire to be delivered from our selfishness, we do not desire the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God will not be bestowed upon us. And no man desires to be delivered from his own selfishness, who in his very prayers, when he ought to be thinking least about himself alone, is thinking about himself most of all, and forgetting that he is the member of a family--that all mankind are his brethren--that he can claim nothing for himself to which every sinner around him has an equal right--that nothing is necessary for him, which is not equally necessary for everyone around him; that he has all the world besides himself to pray for, and that his prayers for himself will be heard only according as he prays for all the world beside. Baptism teaches us this, when it tells us that our old selfish nature is to be washed away, and a new character, after the pattern of Christ, is to live and grow up in us; that from the day we are baptized, to the day of our death, we should live not for ourselves, but for Jesus, in whom was no selfishness; when it teaches us that we are not only children of God, but members of Christ's Family, and heirs of God's kingdom, and therefore bound to make common cause with all other members of that Family, to live and labour for the common good of all our fellow-citizens in that kingdom. The Lord's prayer teaches us this, when He tells us to pray, not "My Father," but "Our Father;" not "my soul be saved," but "Thy kingdom come;" not "give ME," but "give US our daily bread;" not "forgive ME," but "forgive US our trespasses," and that only as we forgive others; not "lead ME not," but "lead US not into temptation;" not "deliver ME," but "deliver US from evil." After THAT manner the Lord told us to pray; and, in proportion as we pray in that manner, asking for nothing for ourselves which we do not ask for everyone else in the whole world, just so far and no farther will God HEAR our prayers. He who asks for God's Spirit for himself only, and forgets that all the world need it as much as he, is not asking for God's Spirit at all, and does not know even what God's Spirit is. The mystery of Pentecost, too, which came to pass on this day 1818 years ago, teaches us the same thing also. Those cloven tongues of fire, the tokens of God's Spirit, fell not upon one man, but upon many; not when they were apart from each other, but when they were together; and what were the fruits of that Spirit in the Apostles? Did they remain within that upper room, each priding himself upon his own gifts, and trying merely to gain heaven for his own soul? If they had any such fancies, as they very likely had before the Spirit fell upon them, they had none such afterwards. The Spirit must have taken all such thoughts from them, and given them a new notion of what it was to be devout and holy: for instead of staying in that upper room, they went forth instantly into the public place to preach in foreign tongues to all the people. Instead of keeping themselves apart from each other in silence, and fancying, as some have done, and some do now, that they pleased God by being solitary, and melancholy, and selfish--what do we read? the fruit of God's Spirit was in them; that they and the three thousand souls who were added to them, on the first day of their preaching, "were all together, and had all things common, and sold their possessions, and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need, and continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their bread in gladness and singleness of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people." Those were the fruits of God's Spirit in THEM. Till we see more of that sort of life and society in England, we shall not be able to pride ourselves on having much of God's Spirit among us.
But above all, if anything will teach us that the strength of God's Spirit is not a strength which we must ask for for ourselves alone; that the blessings of God's kingdom are blessings which we cannot have in order to keep them to ourselves, but can only enjoy in as far as we share them with those around us; if anything, I say, ought to teach us that lesson, it is the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Just consider a moment, my friends, what a strange thing it is, if we will think of it, that the Lord's Supper, the most solemn and sacred thing with which a man can have to do upon earth, is just a thing which he cannot transact for himself, or by himself. Not alone in secret, in his chamber, but, whether he will or not, in the company of others, not merely in the company of his own private friends, but in the company of any or everyone, rich or poor, who chooses to kneel beside him; he goes with others, rich and poor alike, to the Lord's Table, and there the same bread, and the same wine, is shared among all by the same priest. If that means anything, it means this--that rich and poor alike draw life for their souls from the same well, not for themselves only, not apart from each other, but all in common, all together, because they are brothers, members of one family, as the leaves are members of the same tree; that as the same bread and the same wine are needed to nourish the bodies of all, the same spirit of God is needed to nourish the souls of all; and that we cannot have this spirit, except as members of a body, any more than a man's limb can have life when it is cut off and parted from him. This is the reason, and the only reason, why Protestant clergymen are forbidden, thank God! to give the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, to any one person singly. If a clergyman were to administer the Lord's Supper, to himself in private, without any congregation to partake with him, it would not be the Lord's Supper, it would be nothing, and worse than nothing; it would be a sham and a mockery, and, I believe, a sin. I do not believe that Christ would be present, that God's Spirit would rest on that man. For our Lord says, that it is where two or three are gathered together in His name, that He is in the midst of them. And it was at a supper, at a feast, where all the Apostles were met together, that our Lord divided the bread amongst them, and told them to share the cup amongst themselves, just as a sign that they were all members of one body--that the welfare of each of them was bound up in the welfare of all the rest that God's blessing did not rest upon each singly, but upon all together. And it is just because we have forgotten this, my friends--because we have forgotten that we are all brothers and sisters, children of one family, members of one body--because in short, we have carried our selfishness into our very religion, and up to the altar of God, that we neglect the Lord's Supper as we do. People neglect the Lord's Supper because they either do not know or do not like that, of which the Lord's Supper is the token and warrant. It is not merely that they feel themselves unfit for the Lord's Supper, because they are not in love and charity with all men. Oh! my dear friends, do not some of your hearts tell you, that the reason why you stay away from the Lord's Supper is because you do not WISH to be fit for the Lord's Supper--because you do not like to be in love and charity with all men--because you do not wish to be reminded that you are equals in God's sight, all equally sinful, all equally pardoned--and to see people whom you dislike or despise, kneeling by your side, and partaking of the same bread and wine with you, as a token that God sees no difference between you and them; that God looks upon you all as brothers, however little brotherly love or fellow-feeling there may be, alas! between you? Or, again, do not some of you stay away from the Lord's Supper, because you see no good in going? because it seems to make those who go no better than they were before? Shall I tell you the reason of that? Shall I tell you why, as is too true, too many do come to the Lord's Supper, and so far from being the better for it, seem only the worse? Because they come to it in selfishness. We have fallen into the same false and unscriptural way of looking at the Lord's Supper, into which the Papists have. People go to the Lord's Supper nowadays too much to get some private good for their own souls, and it would not matter to many of them, I am afraid, if not another person in the parish received it, provided they can get, as they fancy, the same blessing from it. Thus they come to it in an utterly false and wrong temper of mind. Instead of coming as members of Christ's body, to get from Him life and strength, to work, in their places, as members of that body, they come to get something for themselves, as if there was nobody else's soul in the world to be saved but their own. Instead of coming to ask for the Spirit of God to deliver them from their selfishness, and make them care less about themselves, and more about all around them, they come to ask for the Spirit of God because they think it will make themselves higher and happier in heaven. And of course they do not get what they come for, because they come for the wrong thing. Thus those who see them, begin to fancy that the Lord's Supper is not, after all, so very important for the salvation of their souls; and not finding in the Bible actually written these words, "Thou shalt perish everlastingly unless thou take the Lord's Supper," they end by staying away from it, and utterly neglecting it, they and their children after them; preferring their own selfishness, to God's Spirit of love, and saying, like Esau of old, "I am hungry, and I must live. I must get on in this selfish world by following its selfish ways; what is the use of a spirit of love and brotherhood to me? If I were to obey the Gospel, and sacrifice my own interest for those around me, I should starve; what good will my birthright do me?"
Oh! my friends, I pray God that some of you, at least, may change your mind. I pray God that some of you may see at last, that all the misery and the burdens of this time, spring from one root, which is selfishness; and that the reason why we are selfish, is because we have not with us the Spirit of God, which is the spirit of brotherhood and love. Let us pray God now, and henceforth, to take that selfishness out of all our hearts. Let us pray God now, and henceforth, to pour upon us, and upon all our countrymen, ay, and upon the whole world, the spirit of friendship and fellow-feeling, the spirit which when men have among them, they need no laws to keep them from supplanting, and oppressing, and devouring each other, because its fruits are love, cheerfulness, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, honesty, meekness, temperance Then there will be no need, my friends, for me to call you to the Supper of the Lord. You will no more think of staying away from it, than the Apostles did, when the Spirit was poured out on them. For what do we read that they did after the first Whit-Sunday? That altogether with one accord, they broke bread daily; that is, partook of the Lord's Supper every day, from house to house. They did not need to be told to do it. They did it, as I may say, by instinct. There was no question or argument about it in their minds. They had found out that they were all brothers, with one common cause in joy and sorrow--that they were all members of one body--that the life of their souls came from one root and spring, from one Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the light and the life of men, in whom they were all one, members of each other; and therefore, they delighted in that Lord's Supper, just because it brought them together; just because it was a sign and a token to them that they did belong to each other, that they had one Lord, one faith, one interest, one common cause for this life, and for all eternity. And therefore the blessing of that Lord's Supper did come to them, and in it they did receive strength to live like children of God and members of Christ, and brothers to each other and to all mankind. They proved by their actions what that Communion Feast, that Sacrament of Brotherhood, had done for them. They proved it by not counting their own lives dear to them, but going forth in the face of poverty and persecution, and death itself, to preach to the whole world the good news that Christ was their King. They proved it by their conduct to each other when they had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, as every man had need. They proved it by needing no laws to bind them to each other from without, because they were bound to each other from within, by the love which comes down from God, and is the very bond of peace, and of every virtue which becomes a man.