But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the men servants and the maid servants, and to eat and drink and to be drunken; the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him asunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.--LUKE xii. 45, 46.
But why with the unbelievers? The man had not disbelieved that he had any Lord at all; he had only believed that his Lord delayed his coming. And why was he to be put with those who do not believe in him at all? This is a very fearful question, friends, for us, when we think how it is the fashion among us now, to believe that our Lord delays His coming.--And surely most of us do believe that? For is it not our notion that, when the Lord Jesus ascended up to heaven, He went away a great distance off, perhaps millions of miles beyond the stars; and that He will not come back again till the last--which, for aught we know, and as we rather expect, may not happen for hundreds or thousands of years to come? Is not that most people's notion, rich as well as poor? And if that is not believing that our Lord delays His coming, what is?
But, you may answer, the Creed says plainly, that He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God. Ah! my friends, those great words of the Creed which you take into your lips every Sunday, mean the very opposite to what most people fancy. They do not say, "The Lord Jesus has left this poor earth to itself and its misery:" but they say, "Lo, He is with you, even to the end of the world." True, He is ascended into heaven. And how far off is heaven?--for so far off is the Lord Jesus, and no farther. Not so far off, my friends, after all, if you knew where to find it. Truly said the great and good poet, now gone home to his reward:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy.
And if we lose sight of it as we grow up to be men and women, it is not because heaven goes farther off, but because we grow less heavenly. Even now, so close is heaven to us, that any one of us might enter into heaven this moment, without stirring from his seat. One real cry from the depths of your heart--"Father, forgive thy sinful child!"--one real feeling of your own worthlessness, and weakness, and emptiness, and of God's righteousness, and love, and mercy, ready for you--and you are in heaven there and then, as near the feet of the blessed Lord Jesus, as Mary Magdalen was, when she tried to clasp them in the garden. I am serious, my friends; I am not given to talk fine figures of poetry; I am talking sober, straightforward, literal truth. And the Lord sits at God's right hand too? you believe that? Then how far off is God?--for as far off as God is, so far off is the Lord Jesus, and no farther. What says St. Paul? That "God is not far off from any one of us--for in Him we live, and move, and have our being" . . . IN Him . . . . How far off is that? And is not God everywhere, if indeed we can say that He is any where? Then the Lord Jesus, who is at God's right hand, is everywhere also--here, now, with us this day. One would have thought that there was no need to prove that by argument, considering that His own blessed lips told us: "Lo, I am with you, even to the end of the world;" and again: "Wheresoever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." And this is the Lord whom people fancy is gone away far above the stars, till the end of time! Oh, my friends, rather bow your heads before Him here this moment. For here He is among us now, listening to every thought of our poor sinful hearts. . . . He is where God is--God IN whom we live, and move, and have our being--and that is everywhere. Do you wish Him to be any nearer, my friends? Or do you--do you--take care what your hearts answer, for He is watching them--do you in the depth of your hearts wish that He were a little farther off? Does the notion of His being here on this earth, watching and interfering (as we call it nowadays in our atheism) with us and everything, seem unpleasant and burdensome? Is it more comfortable to you to think that He is away far up beyond the stars? Do you feel the lighter and freer for fancying that He will not visit the earth for many a year to come? In short, is it in your HEARTS that you are saying, The Lord delays His coming?
That is a very important question. For mind, a pious man might be, as many a pious man has been in these days, deceived by bad teaching into the notion that Jesus Christ was gone far away. But if he were a truly pious man, if he truly loved the Lord, that would be a painful thought--as I should have fancied, an unbearable thought--to him, when he looked out upon this poor miserable, confused world. He would be crying night and day: "Oh, that thou wouldest rend the heavens and come down!" He would be in an agony of pity for this poor deserted earth, and of longing for the Saviour of it to come back and save it. He would never have a moment's peace of mind till he had either seen the Lord come back again in His glory, or till he had found out--what I am sure the blessed Lord would teach him as a reward for his love--that it was all a dream and a nightmare, and that the Lord of the earth was in the earth, and close to him, all along; only that his weak eyes were held so that he did not know the Lord and the Lord's works when he saw them.
But that was not the temper of this servant in the Lord's parable. I am afraid it is by no means the temper of many of us nowadays. The servant said IN HIS HEART, that his master would be long away. It was his heart put the thought into his head. He took to the notion HEARTILY, as we say, because he was glad to believe it was true; glad to think that his master would not come to "interfere" with him; and that in the meantime he might be lord and master himself, and treat everyone in the house as if he himself was the owner of it, and tyrannise over his fellow-servants, and enjoy himself in luxury and good living. So says David of the fool: "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God;" his heart puts that thought into his head. He wishes to believe that there is no God; and when there is a will there is a way; and he soon finds out reasons and arguments enough to prove what he is so very anxious to prove.
Now, my friends, I am afraid that there is not so much difference as people fancy, between the fool who says in his heart, "There is no God," and the fool who says in his heart, "My master delays His coming."--"God has left the world to us, and we must shift for ourselves in it." The man who likes to be what St. Paul calls "without God in the world," is he so very much wiser than the man who likes to have no God at all? St. James did not think so; for what does he say: "Thou believest that there is one God? Thou doest well--the devils also believe and tremble." They know as much as that; but it does them no good--only increases their fear. "But wilt thou know, oh! vain man, that faith without works," believing without doing, "is dead?" And are not too many, as I said just now, afraid of the thought of God; so afraid of it that they wish to allow the Son of God as little share as possible in the management of this world? Have not too many a belief without works; a mere belief that there is one God and not two, which hardly, from one year's end to another, makes them do one single thing which they would not have done if they had believed that there was no God at all? Fear of the law, fear of the policeman, fear of losing their work or their custom; fear of losing their neighbour's good word--that is what keeps most people from breaking loose. There is not much of the fear of God in that, or the love of God either as far as I can see. They go through life as if they had made a covenant with God, that He should have his own way in the world to come, if He would only let them have their way in this world. Oh! my friends, my friends, do you think God is God of the next world and not of this also? Do you think the kingdom, and the power, and the glory will be His a great many hundreds of years hence, in what you call heaven; and will not see what every page of Scripture tells you, what you yourself say every time you repeat the Lord's Prayer, that the Kingdom, and the Power and the Glory are His now, here in this life, and that He has committed all things to His Son Jesus Christ and given the power into His hand, that He may rule this earth in righteousness now, here, in this life, and conquer back for God one by one, if it be possible, every creature upon earth? So says the Bible--and people profess nowadays to believe their Bibles. My friends, too many, nowadays, while they profess very loudly to believe what the Bible says, only believe what their favourite teachers tell them that the Bible says. If they really read their Bibles for themselves, and took God at His word, there would be less tyrannising of one man over another, less grinding down of men by masters, and of men by each other--for the poor are often very hard on each other in England, now, my friends-- very envious and spiteful, and slanderous about each other. They say that dog won't eat dog--yet how many a poor man grudges and supplants his neighbour, and tries to get into his place and beat him down in his wages? And there are those who call themselves learned men, who tell the poor that that is God's will, and the way by which God intends them to prosper. If those men believed their Bibles, they would be repenting in sackcloth and ashes for having preached such a devil's sermon to God's children. If men really read their Bibles, there would be less eating and drinking with the drunken; less idleness and luxury among the rich; less fancying that a man has a right to do what he likes with his own, because all men would know that they were only the Lord's stewards, bound to give an account to him of the good which they had done with what he has lent them. There would be fewer parents fancying that they can tyrannise over their children, bringing them up as heathens for the sake of the few pence they earn; using bad language, and doing shameful things before them, which they dared not do if they recollected that the Lord was looking on; beating and scolding them as if they were brutes or slaves, to save themselves the trouble of teaching them gently what the poor little creatures cannot know without being taught: and most shameful of all, robbing the poor children of their little earnings to spend it themselves in drunkenness. Ah, blessed Lord! if people did but know how near Thou wert to them, all that would vanish out of England, as the night clouds vanish away before the sun!
And He is near, my friends: He is watching; He is governing; He is at hand: and in this life or in the life to come, forget Him as we choose, He will make us know plain enough, and without any doubt whatsoever, that He is the Lord.
He has fulfilled this awful parable of his about the unfaithful servant already; many a time, against many a man, many a great king, and prince, and nation; and he will fulfil it against each and every man, from the nobleman in his castle to the labourer in his cottage, who says in his heart, "My Lord delays his coming," and begins to tyrannise over those who are weaker than himself, and to enjoy himself as he likes, and forget that he is not his own, but bought with the price of Christ's blood, and bound to work for Christ's kingdom and glory.
So he punished the popes of Rome, three hundred years ago. When all the nations in Europe were listening to them and obeying them, and they had put into their hands by God a greater power of doing good than He ever gave to any human being before or since, what did they do? Instead of using their power for Christ, they used it for themselves. Instead of preaching to all nations the good news that Christ the Son of God was their King, they said: "I, the pope, am your king. Christ is gone far away into heaven, and has committed all power on earth to us; we are Christ's vicars; we are in Christ's place; He has entrusted to our keeping all the treasures of His merits and His grace, and no one can get any blessing from Christ, unless we choose to give it him." So they said in their hearts just what the foolish servant in the parable said: and fancying that they were lords and masters, naturally enough went on to behave as such; to beat the men-servants and maid-servants, that is, to oppress and tyrannise over the bodies and minds and consciences of men, and women too, God knows; and to eat and drink with the drunken, to live in riot and debauchery. But the Lord was not so far off as those foolish popes fancied. And in an hour when they were not aware, He came and cut them asunder. He snatched from them one-half of the nations of Europe, and England among the rest; He punished them by doubt, ignorance, confusion, and utter blindness, and appointed them their portion among the unbelievers in such terrible earnest, that to this very day, to judge by the things which they say and do, it is difficult to persuade ourselves that the popes really believe in any God at all.
So He did, only three years ago, to many kings and princes on the Continent. They professed to be Christians; but they had forgotten that they were Christ's stewards, that all their power came from Him, and that he had given it them only to use for the good of their subjects. And they too went on saying: "The Lord delays His coming, we are rulers in this world, and God is ruler in the world to come." So they, too, oppressed their subjects, and lived in ease on what they wrung out of the poor wretches below them. But the Lord was nearer them, too, than they fancied; and all at once--as they were fancying themselves all safe and prosperous, and saying, "We are those who ought to speak, who is Lord over us?"--their fool's paradise crumbled from under their feet. A few paltry mobs of foolish starving people, without weapons, without leaders, without good counsel to guide them, rose against them. And what did they do? They might have crushed down the rebels most of them, in a week, if they had had courage. And in the only country where the rebels were really strong, that is, in Austria, all might have been quiet again at once, if the king had only had the heart to do common justice, and keep his own solemn oaths. But no--the terror of the Lord came upon them. He most truly cut them in sunder. They were every man of a different mind, and none of them in the same mind a day together; they became utterly conscience-stricken, terrified, perplexed, at their wit's end, not having courage or determination to do anything, or even to do nothing, and fled shamefully away one after another, to their everlasting disgrace. And those of them who have got back their power since are showing sadly enough, by their obstinate folly and wickedness, that the Lord has appointed them their portion with the unbelievers, and left them to fill up the measure of their iniquity, and drink deep the cup of wrath which is in His hand, full and mixed for those who forget God.
Oh! my friends, let us lay these things solemnly to heart. Do not fancy that the Lord will punish the wicked great, and forget the wicked small. In His sight there is neither great nor small; all are small enough for Him to crush like the moth; and all are too great to be overlooked, or forgotten by Him, without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground. Again I say, my friends, let us lay His parable to heart. Let us who have property, and station, and education, never forget who has given it us, and for whom we must use it. Let us never forget that to whom much is given, of them will much be required. Let us pray to the Lord daily to write upon our inmost hearts those solemn words: "Who made thee to differ from another; and what hast thou which thou didst not receive?" Let us look on our servants, our labourers, on every human being over whom we have any influence, as weaker brothers whom God has commanded us to help, teach, and guide in body, mind, and spirit, not that we may make them our slaves, but make them free, manful, self-helping, and in due time independent of us and of everyone except God.
And you young people, who have no authority over anyone, but over your own bodies; to whom the Lord has given little or nothing to manage and take care of except your own health and strength--do not let the devil tempt you to believe that that health and strength is your own property, to do what you like with. It belongs to the Lord who died for you, and He will require an account from you how you have used it. Do not let the devil tempt you to believe that the Lord delays His coming to you--that you may do what you like now, in the prime of your years, and that it will be time enough to think about God and religion when God visits you with cares, and sickness, and old age. That is the fancy of too many; but it will surely turn out to be a mistake. Those who misuse their youth, and health, and strength, in tyrannising over those who are weaker than themselves, and laughing at those who are not as clever as themselves, and eating and drinking with the drunken--the Lord will come to them in an hour when they are not aware, and cut them asunder, in some way or other, by loss of work, or poverty, or sickness, or doubt and confusion, and bitter shame and perplexity of mind; till they find out, poor things, that they have been living like the unbelievers all their youth, without God in the world, while God's love and God's teaching, and God's happiness was ready for them; and have to go back again to their Father and their Lord, and cry: "Father, we have sinned against heaven and before Thee, and are no more worthy to be called Thy children!" Oh, you who have been fancying that the Lord was gone far away, and that you had a right to do what you liked with the powers which He has given you, go back to Him, now at once, and confess that you, and all belonging to you, belong to Him, and ask Him to teach you how to use it aright. Ask Him to teach you how to please Him with it, and not yourselves only. Ask Him to teach you how to do good to all around you, and not merely to do what you like. Ask Him to show you how to do your duty to Him, and to your neighbours, for whom He died on the cross, in that station of life to which He has called you. Ask Him to show you how to use your property, your knowledge, your business, your strength, your health, so that you may be a blessing and a help to those whom He blesses and helps, and who, He wishes, should bless and help each other. Go back to Him at once, my friends. You will not have far to go, seeing that He is now even among us here hearing my clumsy words; and I do hope, and trust, and pray, bringing them home to some of your hearts with that spirit and power of His, which is like a two-edged sword, piercing to the very depths of a man's heart, and showing him how ugly it is--and how noble the Lord will make it, if he will but repent and pray to Him who never cast out any that came to Him.