I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the Fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.--EXODUS xx. 6.
Many of you were perhaps surprised and puzzled by my saying in my last sermon that God's visiting the sins of the fathers on the children, and letting the innocent suffer for the guilty, was a blessing and not a curse--a sign of man's honour and redemption, not of his shame and ruin. But the more I have thought of those words, the more glad I am that I spoke them boldly, the more true I find them to be.
I say that there is in them the very deepest and surest ground for hope. "Yes," some of you may say, "to be sure when we see the innocent suffering for the guilty, it is a plain proof that another world must come some day, in which all that unfairness shall be set right." Well, my friends, it does prove that, but I should be very sorry if it did not prove a great deal more than that--this suffering of the innocent for the guilty. I have no heart to talk to you about the next life, unless I can give you some comfort, some reason for trusting in God in this life. I never saw much good come of it. I never found it do my own soul any good, to be told: "THIS life and THIS world in which you now live are given up irremediably to misrule and deceit, poverty and pestilence, death and the devil. You cannot expect to set this world right--you must look to the next world. Everything will be set right there." That sounds fine and resigned; and there seems to be a great deal of trust in God in it; but, as I think, there is little or none; and I say so from the fruits I see it bear. If people believe that this world is the devil's world, and only the next world God's, they are easily tempted to say: "Very well, then, we must serve the devil in this world, and God in the next. We must, of course, take great care to get our souls saved when we die, that we may go to heaven and live for ever and ever; but as to this world and this life, why, we must follow the ways of the world. It is not our fault that they have nothing to do with God. It is not our fault that society and the world are all rotten and accursed; we found them so when we were born, and we must make the best of a bad matter and sail as the world does, and be covetous and mean and anxious--how can we help it?--and stand on our own rights, and take care of number one; and even do what is not quite right now and then--for how can we help it?--or how else shall we get on in this poor lost, fallen, sinful world!"
And so it comes, my friends, that you see people professing--ay, and believing, Gospel doctrines, and struggling and reading, and, as they fancy, praying, morning, noon, and night, to get their own souls saved--who yet, if you are to judge by their conduct, are little better than rogues and heathens; whose only law of life seems to be the fear of what people will say of them; who, like Balaam the son of Bosor, are trying daily to serve the devil without God finding it out, worshipping the evil spirit, as that evil spirit wanted our blessed Lord to do, because they believed his lie, which Christ denied--that the glory of this world belongs to the evil one; and then comforting themselves like Balaam their father, in the hope that they shall die the death of the righteous, and their last end be like his.
Now I say my friends that this is a lie, and comes from the father of lies, who tempts every man, as he tempted our Lord, to believe that the power and glory of this world are his, that man's flesh and body, if not his soul, belongs to him. I say, it is no such thing. The world is God's world. Man is God's creature, made in God's image, and not in that of a beast or a devil. The kingdom, the power, and the glory, ARE God's now. You say so every day in the Lord's Prayer-- believe it. St. James tells you not to curse men, because they are made in the likeness of God now--not WILL be made in God's likeness after they die. Believe that; do not be afraid of it, strange as it may seem to understand. It is in the Bible, and you profess to believe that what is in the Bible is true. And I say that this suffering of the innocent for the guilty is a proof of that. If man was not made so that the innocent could suffer for the guilty, he could not have been redeemed at all, for there would have been no use or meaning in Christ's dying for us, the just for the unjust. And more, if the innocent could not suffer for the guilty we should be like the beasts that perish.
Now, why? Because just in proportion as any creature is low--I mean in the scale of life--just in that proportion it does without its fellow-creatures, it lives by itself and cares for no other of its kind. A vegetable is a meaner thing than an animal, and one great sign of its being meaner is, that vegetables cannot do each other any good--cannot help each other--cannot even hurt each other, except in a mere mechanical way, by overgrowing each other or robbing each other's roots; but what would it matter to a tree if all the other trees in the world were to die? So with wild animals. What matters it to a bird or a beast, whether other birds and beasts are ill off or well off, wise or stupid? Each one takes care of itself--each one shifts for itself. But you will say "Bees help each other and depend upon each other for life and death." True, and for that very reason we look upon bees as being more wise and more wonderful than almost any animals, just because they are so much like us human beings in depending on each other. You will say again, that among dogs, a riotous hound will lead a whole pack wrong--a staunch and well-broken hound will keep a whole pack right; and that dogs do depend upon each other in very wonderful ways. Most true, but that only proves more completely what I want to get at. It is the TAME dog, which man has taken and broken in, and made to partake more or less of man's wisdom and cunning, who depends on his fellow-dogs. The wild dogs in foreign countries, on the other hand, are just as selfish, living every one for himself, as so many foxes might be. And you find this same rule holding as you rise. The more a man is like a wild animal, the more of a SAVAGE he is, so much more he depends on himself, and not on others--in short, the less civilised he is; for civilised means being a citizen, and learning to live in cities, and to help and depend upon each other. And our common English word "civil" comes from the same root. A man is "civil" who feels that he depends upon his neighbours, and his neighbours on him; that they are his fellow-citizens, and that he owes them a duty and a friendship. And, therefore, a man is truly and sincerely civil, just in proportion as he is civilised; in proportion as he is a good citizen, a good Christian--in one word, a GOOD MAN.
Ay, that is what I want to come to, my friends--that word MAN, and what it means. The law of man's life, the constitution and order on which, and on no other, God has made man, is THIS--to depend upon his fellow-men, to be their brothers, in flesh and in spirit; for we are brothers to each other. God made of one blood all nations to dwell on the face of the earth. The same food will feed us all alike. The same cholera will kill us all alike. And we can give the cholera to each other; we can give each other the infection, not merely by our touch and breath, for diseased beasts can do that, but by housing our families and our tenants badly, feeding them badly, draining the land around them badly. This is the secret of the innocent suffering for the guilty, in pestilences, and famines, and disorders, which are handed down from father to child, that we are all of the same blood. This is the reason why Adam's sin infected our whole race. Adam died, and through him all his children have received a certain property of sinfulness and of dying, just as one bee transmits to all his children and future generations the property of making honey, or a lion transmits to all its future generations the property of being a beast of prey. For by sinning and cutting himself off from God Adam gave way to the lower part of him, his flesh, his animal nature, and therefore he died as other animals do. And we his children, who all of us give way to our flesh, to our animal nature, every hour, alas! we die too. And in proportion as we give way to our animal natures we are liable to die; and the less we give way to our animal natures, the less we are liable to die. We have all sinned; we have all become fleshly animal creatures more or less; and therefore we must all die sooner or later. But in proportion as we become Christians, in proportion as we become civilised, in short, in proportion as we become true men, and conquer and keep in order this flesh of ours, and this earth around us, by the teaching of God's spirit, as we were meant to do, just so far will length of life increase and population increase. For while people are savages, that is, while they give themselves up utterly to their own fleshly lusts, and become mere animals like the wild Indians, they cannot increase in number. They are exposed, by their own lusts and ignorance and laziness, to every sort of disease; they turn themselves into beasts of prey, and are continually fighting and destroying each other, so that they, seldom or never increase in numbers, and by war, drunkenness, smallpox, fevers, and other diseases too horrible to mention, the fruit of their own lusts, whole tribes of them are swept utterly off the face of the earth. And why? They are like the beasts, and like the beasts they perish. Whereas, just in proportion as any nation lives according to the spirit and not according to the flesh; in proportion as it conquers its own fleshly appetites which tempt it to mere laziness, pleasure, and ignorance, and lives according to the spirit in industry, cleanliness, chaste marriage, and knowledge, earthly and heavenly, the length of life and the number of the population begin to increase at once, just as they are doing, thank God! in England now; because Englishmen are learning more and more that this earth is God's earth, and that He works it by righteous and infallible laws, and has put them on it to till it and subdue it; that civilisation and industry are the cause of Christ and of God; and that without them His kingdom will not come, neither will His will be done on earth.
But now comes a very important question. The beasts are none the worse for giving way to their flesh and being mere animals. They increase and multiply and are happy enough; whereas men, if they give way to their flesh and become animals, become fewer and weaker, and stupider, and viler, and more miserable, generation after generation. Why? Because the animals are meant to be animals, and men are not. Men are meant to be men, and conquer their animal nature by the strength which God gives to their spirits. And as long as they do not do so; as long as they remain savage, sottish, ignorant, they are living in a lie, in a diseased wrong state, just as God did NOT mean them to live; and therefore they perish; therefore these fevers, and agues, and choleras, war, starvation, tyranny, and all the ills which flesh is heir to, crush them down. Therefore they are at the mercy of the earth beneath their feet, and the skies above their head; at the mercy of rain and cold; at the mercy of each other's selfishness, laziness, stupidity, cruelty; in short, at the mercy of the brute material earth, and their own fleshly lusts and the fleshly lusts of others, because they love to walk after the flesh and not after the spirit--because they like the likeness of the old Adam who is of the earth earthy, better than that of the new Adam who is the Lord from heaven--because they like to be animals, when Christ has made them in his own image, and redeemed them with His own blood, and taught them with His own example, and made them men. He who will be a man, let him believe that he is redeemed by Christ, and must be like Christ in everything he says and does. If he would carry that out, if he would live perfectly by faith in God, if he would do God's will utterly and in all things he would soon find that those glorious old words still stood true: "Thou shalt not be afraid of the arrow by night, nor of the pestilence which walketh in the noonday; a thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee." For such a man would know how to defend himself against evil; God would teach him not only to defend himself, but to defend those around him. He would be like his Lord and Master, a fountain of wisdom and healing and safety to all his neighbours. We might any one of us be that. It is everyone's fault more or less that he is not. Each of us who is educated, civilised, converted to the knowledge and love of God, it is his sin and shame that he is NOT that. Above all, it is the clergyman's sin and shame that he is not. Ay, believe me, when I blame you, I blame myself ten thousand times more. I believe there is many a sin and sorrow from which I might have saved you here, if I had dealt with you more as a man should deal who believes that you and I are brothers, made in the same image of God, redeemed by the same blood of Christ. And I believe that I shall be punished for every neglect of you for which I have been ever guilty. I believe it, and I thank God for it; for I do not see how a clergyman, or anyone else, can learn his duty, except by God's judging him, and punishing him, and setting his sins before his face.
Yes, my friends, it is good for us to be afflicted, good for us to suffer anything that will teach us this great truth, that we are our brother's keepers; that we are all one family, and that where one of the members suffers, all the other members suffer with it; and that if one of the members has cause to rejoice, all the others will have cause to rejoice with it. A blessed thing to know, is that--though whether we know it or not, we shall find it true. If we give way to our animal nature, and try to live as the beasts do, each one caring for his own selfish pleasure--still we shall find out that we cannot do it. We shall find out, as those Liverpool people did with the Irish widow, that our fellow-men ARE our brothers--that what hurts them will be sure in some strange indirect way to hurt us. Our brothers here have had the fever, and we have escaped; but we have felt the fruits of it, in our purses--in fear, and anxiety, and distress, and trouble--we have found out that they could not have the fever without our suffering for it, more or less. You see we are one family, we men and women; and our relationship will assert itself in spite of our forgetfulness and our selfishness. How much better to claim our brotherhood with each other, and to act upon it--to live as brothers indeed. That would be to make it a blessing, and not a curse; for as I said before, just because it is in our power to injure each other, therefore it is in our power to help each other. God has bound us together for good and for evil, for better for worse. Oh! let it be henceforward in this parish for better, and not for worse. Oh! every one of you, whether you be rich or poor, farmer or labourer, man or woman, do not be ashamed to own yourselves to be brothers and sisters, members of one family, which as it all fell together in the old Adam, so it has all risen together in the new Adam, Jesus Christ. There is no respect of persons with God. We are all equal in His sight. He knows no difference among men, except the difference which God's Spirit gives, in proportion as a man listens to the teaching of that Spirit--rank in godliness and true manhood. Oh! believe that--believe that because you owe an infinite debt to Christ and to God--His Father and your Father--therefore you owe an infinite debt to your neighbours, members of Christ and children of God just as you are--a debt of love, help, care, which you CAN, pay, just because you are members of one family; for because you are members of one family, for that very reason every good deed you do for a neighbour does not stop with that neighbour, but goes on breeding and spreading, and growing and growing, for aught we know, for ever. Just as each selfish act we do, each bitter word we speak, each foul example we set, may go on spreading from mouth to mouth, from heart to heart, from parent to child, till we may injure generations yet unborn; so each noble and self-sacrificing deed we do, each wise and loving word we speak, each example we set of industry and courage, of faith in God and care for men, may and will spread on from heart to heart, and mouth to mouth, and teach others to do and be the like; till people miles away, who never heard of our names, may have cause to bless us for ever and ever. This is one and only one of the glorious fruits of our being one family. This is one and only one of the reasons which make me say that it was a good thing mankind was so made that the innocent suffer for the guilty. For just as the innocent are injured by the guilty in this world, even so are the guilty preserved, and converted, and brought back again by the innocent. Just as the sins of the fathers are visited on the children, so is the righteousness of the fathers a blessing to the children; else, says St. Paul, our children would be unclean, but now they are holy. For the promises of God are not only to us, but to our children, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call. And thus each generation, by growing in virtue and wisdom and the knowledge of God, will help forward all the generations which follow it to fuller light and peace and safety; and each parent in trying to live like a Christian man himself, will make it easier for his children to live like Christians after him. And this rule applies even in the things which we are too apt to fancy unimportant--every house kept really clean, every family brought up in habits of neatness and order, every acre of foul land drained, every new improvement in agriculture and manufactures or medicine, is a clear gain to all mankind, a good example set which is sure sooner or later to find followers, perhaps among generations yet unborn, and in countries of which we never heard the name.
Was I not right then in saying that this earth is not the devil's earth at all, but a right good earth, of God's making and ruling, wherein no good deed will perish fruitless, but every man's works will follow him--a right good earth, governed by a righteous Father, who, as the psalm says "is merciful," just "because He rewards every man according to his work."