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Sermons on National Subjects, 17 - THE COVENANT

By Charles Kingsley

      The Lord hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his own possession. For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven and earth, and in the sea, and in all deep places.--PSALM cxxxv. 4, 5, 6.

      Were you ever puzzled to find out why the Psalms are read every Sunday in Church, more read, indeed, than any other part of the Bible? If any of you say, No, I shall not think you the wiser. It is very easy not to be puzzled with a deep matter, if one never thinks about it at all. But when a man sets his mind to work seriously, to try to understand what he hears and sees around him, then he will be puzzled, and no shame to him; for he will find things every day of his life which will require years of thought to understand, ay, things which, though we see and know that they are true, and can use and profit by them, we can never understand at all, at least in this life.

      But I do not think that God meant it to be so with these Psalms. He meant the Bible for a poor man's book: and therefore the men who wrote the Bible were almost all of them poor men, at least at one time or other of their life; and therefore we may expect that they would write as poor men would write, and such things as poor men may understand, if they are fairly and simply explained. Therefore I do not think you need be puzzled long to find out why these Psalms are read every Sunday. For the men who wrote them had God's spirit with them; and God's spirit is the spirit in which God made and governs this world, and just as God cannot change, so God's spirit cannot change; and therefore the rules and laws according to which the world runs on cannot change; and therefore these rules about God's government of the world, which God's spirit taught the old Hebrew Psalmists, are the very same rules by which He governs it now; and therefore all the rules in these Psalms, making allowance for the difference of circumstances, have just as much to do with France, and Germany, and England now, as they had with the Jews, and the Canaanites, and the Babylonians then.

      St. Paul tells us so. He tells us that all that happened to the old Jews was written as an example to Christians, to the intent that they might not sin as the Jews did, and so (God's laws and ways being the same now as then) be punished as the Jews were. Moreover, St. Paul says, that Christians now are just as much God's chosen people as the Jews were. God told the Jews that they were to be a nation of kings and priests to Him. And St. John opens the Revelations by saying: "Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, to Him be glory." St. Paul tells the Ephesians, who had not a drop of Jewish blood in their veins, that through Jesus Christ both Jews and Gentiles had "access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now, therefore," he goes on, "ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow- citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." In fact, he tells the Christians of every country to which he writes, that all the promises which God made to the Jews belonged to them just as much, that there was no more any difference between Jew and Gentile, that the Lord Jesus Christ was just as really among them, and with them, ruling and helping each people in their own country, as He was in Jerusalem when Isaiah saw His glory filling the Temple, and when Zion was called the place of His inheritance. Indeed, the Lord Jesus said the same thing Himself, for He said that all power was given to Him in heaven and earth; that He was with His churches (that is, with all companies of Christian people, such as England) even to the end of the world; that wherever two or three were gathered together in His name, He would be in the midst of them; and if those blessed words and good news be true, we Englishmen have a right to believe firmly that we belong to Him just as much as the old Jews did; and when we read these Psalms, to take every word of their good news--and their warnings also--to ourselves, and to our own land of England. And when we read in the text, that the Lord chose Jacob unto Himself and Israel for His own possession, we have a right to say: "And the Lord has chosen also England unto himself, and this favoured land of Britain for his own possession." When we say in the Psalm: "The Lord did what He pleased in heaven, and earth, and sea," to educate and deliver the people of the Jews, we have a right to say just as boldly: "And so He has done for England, for us, and for our forefathers."

      This then is the reason, the chief reason, why these Psalms are appointed to be read every Sunday in church, and every morning and evening where there is daily service--to teach us that the Lord takes care not only of one man's soul here, and another woman's soul there, but of the whole country of England; of its wars and its peace; of its laws and government, its progress and its afflictions; of all, in short, that happens to it as a nation, as one body of men, which it is. It must be so, my good friends, else we should be worse off than the old Jews, and not better off, as all the New Testament solemnly assures us a thousand times over that we are.

      For in the covenant which God made with the Jews, and in the strange events, good and bad, which He caused to happen to their nation, not only the great saints among them were taken care of, but all classes, and all characters, good and bad, even those who had not wisdom or spiritual life enough to seek God for themselves, still had their share in the good laws, in the teaching and guiding, and in the national blessings which He sent on the whole nation. They had a chance given them of rising, and improving, and prospering, as the rest of their countrymen rose, and improved, and prospered. And when the Lord came to visit Judaea in flesh and blood, we find that He went on the same method. He did not merely go to such men as Philip and Nathaniel, to the holy and elect ones among the Jews, but to the whole people; to the LOST sheep, as well as to those who were not lost. He did not part the good from the bad before he healed their sicknesses, and fed them with the loaves and fishes. It was enough for Him that they were Jews, citizens of the Jewish nation. God's promises belonged not to one Jew or another, but to the Jewish nation; and even the ignorant and the sinful had a share in the blessings of the covenant, great or small in proportion as they chose to live as Jews ought, or to forget and deny that they belonged to God's people.

      Now, surely the Lord cannot be less merciful now than He was then. He cannot care less for poor orphans, and paupers, and wild untaught creatures, in England now, than he cared for them in Judaea of old. And we see that in fact He does not. For as the wealth of England improves, and the laws improve, and the knowledge of God improves, the condition of all sorts of poor creatures improves too, though they had no share in bringing about the good change. But we are all members of one body, from the Queen on her throne to the tramper under the hedge; and as St. Paul says: "If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it, and if one member rejoices, all the others" sooner or later "rejoice with it." For we, too, are one of the Lord's nations. He has made us one body, with one common language, common laws, common interest, common religion for all; and what He does for one of us He does for all. He orders all that happens to us; whether it be war or peace, prosperity or dearth, He orders it all; and He orders things so that they shall work for the good, not merely of a few, but of as many as possible--not merely for His elect, but for those who know Him not. As He has been from the beginning, when He heaped blessings on the stiff-necked and backsliding Israelites--as He was when He endured the cross for a world lying not in obedience, but in wickedness; so is He now; the perfect likeness of His father, who is no respecter of persons, but causes "His sun to shine alike on the evil on the good, and His rain to fall on the just and on the unjust."

      But now, there is one thing against which I have to warn you most solemnly, and especially in such days as these. You may believe my words to your own ruin, or to your own salvation. They are "the Gospel," "the good news of the Kingdom of God"--that is, the good news that God has condescended to become our King, to govern and guide us, to order all things for our good. But as St. Paul says, the Gospel may be a savour of death unto death, as well as a savour of life unto life. And I will tell you now; that you have only to do what the Jews just before the coming of our Lord did, and give way to the same thoughts as they, and then, like them, it were better for you that you had never heard of God, and been like the savages, to whom little or no sin is imputed, because they are all but without law. How is this?

      As I said before--take your covenant privileges as the Pharisees took theirs, and they will turn you into devils while you are fancying yourselves God's especial favourites. Now this was what happened to the Pharisees: they could not help knowing that God had shown especial favour to them; and that He had taught them more about God than He had taught the heathen. But instead of feeling all the more humble and thankful for this, and of remembering day and night that because much had been given to them much would be required of them, they thought more about the honour and glory which God had put on them. They forgot what God had declared, namely, that it was not for their own goodness that He had taught them, for that they were in themselves not a whit better than the heathen around them. They forgot that the reason why He taught them was, that they were to do His work on earth, by witnessing for His name, and telling the heathen that God was their Lord, as well as Lord of the Jews. Now David, and the old Psalmists and Prophets, did not forget this. Their cry is: "Tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is King." "Worship the Son of God, ye kings of the earth, and make your peace with Him lest He be angry." "It was in vain," he told the heathen kings, "to try to cast away God's government from them, and break His bonds from off them," for "the Lord was King, let the nations be never so unquiet."

      But the Jews gradually forgot this, and their daily boast was, that God had nothing to do with the heathen; that He did not care for them, and actually hated them; that they, as it were, had the true God all to themselves for their own private property; and that He had neither love nor mercy, except for them and their proselytes, that is, the few heathens whom they could persuade and entice not to worship the true God after the customs of their own country--that would not have suited the Jews' bigotry and pride--but to turn Jews, and forget their own people among whom they were born, and ape them in everything. And so, as our Lord told them, after compassing sea and land to make one of these proselytes, they only made him after all twice as much the child of hell as themselves. For they could not teach the heathen anything worth knowing about God, when they had forgotten themselves what God was like. They could tell them that there was one God, and not two--but what was the use of that? As St. James says, the devils believe as much as that, and yet the knowledge does not make them holy, but only increases their fear and despair. And so with these Pharisees. They had forgotten that God was love. They had forgotten that God was merciful. They had forgotten that God was just. And therefore, while they were talking of God and pretending to worship God, they knew nothing of God, and they did not do God's will, and act like God; for (as we find from the Gospels) they were unjust, tyrannous, proud, conceited, covetous themselves; and while they were looking down on the poor heathens, these very heathens, the Lord told them, would rise up in judgment against them: for they, knowing little, acted up to the light which they had, better than the Pharisees who knew so much. And so it will be with us, my friends, if we fancy that God's great favours to us are a reason for our priding ourselves on them, and despising papists and foreigners instead of remembering that just because God has given us so much, He will require more of us. It is true, we do know more of the Gospel than the papists, how, though they believe in Jesus Christ, worship the Virgin Mary and the Saints, and idols of wood and stone. But if they, who know so little of God's will, yet act faithfully up to what they do know, will they not rise up in judgment against us, who know so much more, if we act worse than they? Instead of despising them, we had better despise ourselves. Instead of fancying that God's love is not over them, and so sinning against God's Holy Spirit by denying and despising the fruits of God's Holy Spirit in them, we had much better, we Protestants, be repenting of our own sins. We had better pray God to open our eyes to our own want of faith, and want of love, and want of honesty, and want of cleanly and chaste lives; lest God in His anger should let us go on in our evil path, till we fall into the deep darkness of mind of the Pharisees of old. For then while we were boasting of England as the most Christian nation in the world, we might become the most unchristian, because the most unlike Christ; the most wanting in love and fellow-feeling, and self-sacrifice, and honour, and justice, and honesty; wanting, in short, in the fruits of the Spirit. And without them there is no use crying: "We are God's chosen people, He Has put His name among us, we alone hate idols, we alone have the pure word of God, and the pure sacraments, and the pure doctrine;" for God may answer us, as he answered the Jews of old: "Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father: Verily, I say unto you, God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham." . . . "The Kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." Oh! my friends, let us pray, one and all, that God will come and help us, and with great might succour us, "that whereas through our sins and wickedness we are sore let and hindered in running the race set before us, God's bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us," and enable us to live faithfully up to the glorious privileges which He has bestowed on us, in calling us "members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven;" in giving us His Bible, in allowing us to be born into this favoured land of England, in preserving us to this day, in spite of all that we have thought, and said, and done, unworthy of the name of Christians and Englishmen.

      And then we may be certain that God will also fulfil to us the glorious promises which we find in another Psalm: "If thy children will keep my covenant and my testimonies, which I shall learn them, this land shall be my rest for ever. Here will I dwell, for I have a delight therein. I will bless her victuals with increase, and satisfy her poor with bread. I will deck her priests with health, and her holy people shall rejoice and sing."

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