You're here: » Articles Home » Charles Kingsley » Sermons on National Subjects, 23 - THE LOVE OF CHRIST

Sermons on National Subjects, 23 - THE LOVE OF CHRIST

By Charles Kingsley

      For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead. And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.--2 COR. v. 14, 15.

      What is the use of sermons?--what is the use of books? Here are hundreds and thousands of people hearing weekly and daily what is right, and how many DO what is right?--much less LOVE what is right? What can be the reason of this, that men should know the better and choose the worse? What motive can one find out?--what reason or argument can one put before people, to make them do their duty? How can one stir them up to conquer themselves; to conquer their own love of pleasure, laziness, cowardice, conceit, above all their own selfishness, and do simply what is right, morning, noon, and night? That is a question worth asking and considering, for there ought to be some use in sermons and in books; and there ought to be some use in every one of us too. Woe to the man who is of no use! The Lord have mercy on his soul; for he needs it! It is, indeed, worth his while to take any trouble which will teach him a motive for being useful; in plain words, stir him up to do his duty, to do his rights; for a man's rights are not, as the world thinks, what is right others should do to him, but what is right he should do to others. Our duty is our right, the only thing which is right for us. What motive will constrain us, that is, bind us, and force us to do that?

      Will self-interest? Will a man do right because you tell him it is his interest, it will pay him to do it? Look round you and see.--The drunkard knows that drinking will ruin him, and yet he gets drunk. The spendthrift knows that extravagance will ruin him, and yet he throws away his money still. The idler knows that he is wasting his only chance for all eternity, and yet he puts the thought out of his head, and goes on idling. The cheat knows that he is in danger of being almost certainly found out sooner or later; he knows too that he is burdening his own conscience with the curse of inward shame and self-contempt; and yet he goes on cheating. The hard master knows, or ought to know (for there is quite enough to prove it to him) that it would pay him better in the long run to be more merciful, and less covetous; that by grinding those whom he employs down to the last farthing, he degrades them till they become burdens on him and curses to him; that what he gains by high prices, he will lose in the long run by bad debts; that what he saves in low wages, he will pay in extra poor-rates; and that even if he does make money out of the flesh and bones of those beneath him, that money ill gotten is sure to be ill spent, that there is a curse on it, that it brings a curse in the gnawing of a man's own conscience, and a curse too in the way it flows away from his family as fast as it flowed to them. "He that by usury and unjust gain increases his wealth, shall gather for him that will pity the poor." So said Solomon of old. And men who worship Mammon find it come true daily, and see that, taking all things together, a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses, and that those who make such haste to be rich, fall, as the apostle says, "into temptation and a snare, and pierce themselves through with many sorrows." Such a man sees his neighbours making money, and making themselves more unhappy, anxious, discontented by it; he sees, in short, that it is not his interest to do nothing but make money and save money: and yet in spite of that, he thinks of nothing else. Self-interest cannot keep him from that sin. I do not believe that self-interest ever kept any man from any SIN, though it may keep him from many an imprudence. Self-interest may make many a man respectable, but whom did it ever make good? You may as well make house-walls of paper, or take a rush for a walking- stick, as take self-interest to keep you upright, or even prudent. The first shake--and the rush bends, and the paper wall breaks, and a man's selfish prudence is blown to the winds. Let pleasure tempt him, or ambition, or the lust of making money by speculation; let him take a spite against anyone; let him get into a passion; let his pride be hurt; and he will do the maddest things, which he knows to be entirely contrary to his own interest, just to gratify the fancy of the moment. Those who call themselves philosophers, and fancy that men's self-interest, if they can only feel it strong enough, would make all men just and merciful to each other, know as little of human nature as they do of God or the devil.

      What WILL make a man to do his duty? Will the hope of heaven? That depends very much upon what you mean by heaven. But what people commonly mean by going to heaven, is--not going to hell. They believe that they must go to either one place or the other. They would much sooner of course stay on earth for ever, because their treasure is here, and their heart too. But that cannot be, and as they have no wish to go to hell, they take up with heaven instead, by way of making the best of a bad matter.

      I ask you solemnly, my friends, each one of you, which would you sooner do--stay here on earth, or go to heaven? You need not answer ME. I am afraid many of you would not dare answer me as you really felt, because you would be ashamed of not liking to go to heaven. But answer God. Answer yourselves in the sight of God. When you keep yourselves back from doing a wrong thing, because you know it is wrong, is it for love of heaven, or for mere fear of being punished in hell? Some of you will answer boldly at once: "For neither one nor the other; when we keep from wrong, it is because we hate and despise what is wrong: when we do right it is because it is right and we ought to do it. We can't explain it, but there is something in us which tells us we ought to do right." Very good, my friends, I shall have a word to say to you presently; but in the meantime there are some others who have been saying to themselves: "Well, I know we do right because we are afraid of being punished if we do not do it, but what of that? at all events we get the right thing done, and leave the wrong thing undone, and what more do you want? Why torment us with disagreeable questions as to WHY we do it?"

      Now, my friends, to make the matter simpler, I will take you at your words, for the sake of argument. Suppose you do avoid sin from the fear of hell, does that make what you do RIGHT? Does that make YOU right? Does that make your heart right? It is a great blessing to a man's neighbours, certainly, if he is kept from doing wrong any how-- by the fear of hell, or fear of jail, or fear of shame, or fear of ghosts if you like, or any other cowardly and foolish motive--a great blessing to a man's neighbours: but no blessing, that I can see, to the man himself. He is just the same; his heart is not changed; his heart is no more right in the sight of God, or in the sight of any man of common sense either, than it would be if he did the wrong thing, which he loves and dare not do. You feel that yourselves about other people. You will say "That man has a bad heart, for all his respectable outside. He would be a rogue if he dared, and therefore he IS a rogue." Just so, I say, my friends, take care lest God should say of you, "He would be a sinner if he dared, and therefore he is a sinner.

      How can the hope of heaven, or the fear of hell, make a man do right? The right thing, the true thing for a man, is to be loving, and do loving things; and can fear of hell do that, or hope of heaven either? Can a man make himself affectionate to his children because he fancies he shall be punished if he is not so, and rewarded if he is so? Will the hope of heaven send men out to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, visit the sick, preach the gospel to the poor?--The Papists say it will. I say it will not. I believe that even in those who do these things from hope of heaven and fear of hell, there is some holier, nobler, more spiritual motive, than such everlasting selfishness, such perfect hypocrisy, as to do loving works for others, for the sake of one's own self-love.

      What feeling then is there left which will bind a man to do good, not once in a way, but always and habitually? to do good, not only to himself, but to all around him? I know but of one, my friends, and that is Love. There are many sides to love--admiration, reverence, gratitude, pity, affection--they are all different shapes of that one great spirit of love. Surely all of you have felt its power more or less; how wonderfully it can conquer a man's whole heart, change his whole conduct. For love of a woman; for pity to those in distress; for admiration for anyone who is nobler and wiser than himself; for gratitude to one who has done him kindness; for loyalty to one to whom he feels he owes a service--a man will dare to do things, and suffer things, which no self-interest or fear in the world could have brought him to. Do you not know it yourselves? Is it not fondness for your wives and children, that will make you slave and stint yourselves of pleasure more than any hope of gain could ever do? But there is no one human being, my friends, whom we can meet among us now, for whom we can feel all these different sorts of love? Surely not: and yet there must be One Person somewhere for whom God intends us to feel them all at once; or else He would not have given all these powers to us, and made them all different branches of one great root of love. There must be One Person somewhere, who can call out the whole love in us--all our gratitude; all our pity; all our admiration; all our loyalty; all our brotherly affection. AND THERE IS ONE, my friends. One who has done for us more than ever husband or father, wife or brother, can do to call out our gratitude. One who has suffered for us more than the saddest wretch upon this earth can suffer, to call out our pity. One who is nobler, purer, more lovely in character than all others who ever trod this earth, to call out our admiration. One who is wiser, mightier than all rulers and philosophers, to call out all our reverence. One who is tenderer, more gentle, more feeling-hearted, than the kindest woman who ever sat by a sick bed, to call out all our love. Of whom can I be speaking? Of whom but of Jesus; He who for us stooped out of the heaven of heavens; for us left His eternal glory in the bosom of the Father; for us took upon Him the form of a servant, and was born of a village maiden, and was called the son of a carpenter; for us wandered this earth for thirty years in sorrow and shame; for us gave His back to the scourge, and His face to shameful spitting; for us hung upon the cross and died the death of the felon and the slave. Oh! my friends, if that story will not call out our love, what will? If we cannot admire Christ, whom can we admire? If we cannot be grateful to Christ, to whom can we be grateful? If we cannot pity Christ, whom can we pity? If we cannot feel bound in honour to live for Christ, to work for Christ, to delight in talking of Christ, thinking of Christ, to glory in doing Christ's commandments to the very smallest point, to feel no sacrifice too great, no trouble too petty, if we can please Christ by it and help forward Christ's kingdom upon earth--if we cannot feel bound in honour to do that for Christ, what honour is there in us? Again, I say, if we cannot love Christ, whom can we love? If the remembrance of what He has worked for us will not stir us up to work for Him, what will stir us up?

      I say it again, we are bound by every tie, by every feeling that can bind man to man, to devote ourselves to Christ, the Man of all men. I say this is no dream or fancy, it is an actual fact which thousands and hundreds of thousands on this earth have felt. Nothing but love to Christ, nothing but loving Him because He first loved us, can constrain and force a man as with a mighty feeling which he cannot resist, to labour day and night for Christ's sake, and therefore for the sake of God the Father of Christ. What else do you suppose it was which could have stirred up the apostles--above all, that wise, learned, high-born, prosperous man, St. Paul, to leave house and home, and wander in daily danger of his life? What does St. Paul say himself? "The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, and if one died for all then were all dead, and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them." And what else could have kept St. Paul through all that labour and sorrow of his own choosing, of which he speaks in the chapter before?--"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body; for we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body."

      We may say that St. Paul was an exceedingly benevolent man, and THAT made him do it; or that he had found out certain new truths and opinions which delighted him very much, and therefore he did it. But St. Paul gives no such account of himself: and we have no right to take anyone's account but his own. He knew his own heart best. He does not say that he came to preach a scheme of redemption, or opinions about Christ. He says he came to preach nothing but Christ Himself--Christ crucified--to tell people about the Lord he loved, about the Lord who loved him, certain that when they had heard the plain story of Him, their hearts, if they were simple, and true, and loving, would leap up in answer to his words, and find out, as by instinct, what Christ had done for them, what they were to do for Christ. Ay, I believe, my friends--indeed I am certain--from my own reading, that in every age and country, just in proportion as men have loved Christ personally as a man would love another man, just in that proportion have they loved their neighbours, worked for their neighbours, sacrificed their time, their pleasure, their money, to do good to all, for the sake of Him who commanded: "If ye love ME, keep my commandments; and my commandment is this, that ye should love one another as I have loved you." That is the only sure motive. All other motives for doing good or being good, will fail in one case or another case, because they do not take possession of a man's whole heart, but only of some part of his heart. Love--love to Christ, can alone sweep away a man's whole heart and soul with it, and renew it, and transfigure it, and make it strong instead of weak, pure instead of foul, gentle instead of fierce, brave instead of being vain and cowardly, and fearing what everyone will say of him. Only love for Christ, who loved all men unto the death, will make us love all men too: not only one here and there who may agree with us or help us; but those who hate us, those who misunderstand us, those who thwart us, ay, even those who disobey and slight not only us, but Jesus Christ Himself. THAT is the hardest lesson of all to learn; but thousands have learnt it; everyone ought to learn it. In proportion as a man loves Christ, he will learn to love those who do not love Christ. For Christ loves them whether they know it or not; Christ died for them whether they believe it or not; and we must love them because our Saviour loves them.

      Oh! my friends, why do so few love Christ? Why do so few live as those who are not their own, but bought with the price of His precious blood and bound to devote themselves, body and soul, to His cause? Why do so many struggle against their sins, while yet they cannot break off those sins, but go struggling and sinning on, hating their sins and yet unable to break through their sins, like birds beating themselves to death against the wires of their cage? Why? Because they do not know Christ. And how can they know Him, unless they read their Bibles with simple, childlike hearts, determined to let the Bible tell its own story: believing that those who walked with Christ on earth, must know best what He was like? Why? Because they will not ask Christ to come and show Himself to them, and make them see Him, and love Him, and admire Him, whether they will or not. Oh! remember, if Christ be the Son of God, the Lord of heaven and earth, we cannot go to Him, poor, weak, ignorant creatures as we are. We cannot ascend up into heaven to bring Christ down. He must come down out of His own great love and condescension, and dwell in our hearts as He has promised to do, if we do but love Him. He must come down and show Himself to us. Oh! read your Bibles--read the story of Christ, and if that does not stir up in you some love for Him, you must have hearts of stone, not flesh and blood. And then go to Him; pray to Him, whether you believe in Him altogether or not, upon the mere chance of His being able to hear you and help you. You would not throw away a chance on earth; will you throw away such a chance in heaven as having the Son of God to help you? Oh, cry to Him; say out of the depths of your heart: "Thou most blessed and glorious Being who ever walked this earth, who hast gone blameless through all sorrow and temptation that man can feel; if Thou dost love anyone, if Thou canst hear anyone, hear me! If thou canst not help me, no one can. I have a hundred puzzling questions which I cannot answer for myself, a hundred temptations which I cannot conquer for myself, a hundred bad habits which I cannot shake off of myself; and they tell me that Thou canst teach me, Thou canst guide me, Thou canst strengthen me, Thou canst take out of my heart this shame and gnawing of an evil conscience. If Thou be the Son of God, make me clean! If it be true that Thou lovest all men, show Thy love to me! If it be true that Thou canst teach all men, teach me! If it be true that Thou canst help all men, help my unbelief, for if Thou dost not, there is no help for me in heaven or earth!" You, who are sinful, distracted, puzzled, broken-hearted, cry to Christ in that way, if you have no better way, and see if He does not hear you. He is not one to break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax. He will hear you, for He has heard all who have ever called on Him. Cry to Him from the bottom of your hearts. Tell Him that you do NOT love Him, and that yet you LONG to love Him. And see if you do not find it true that those who come to Christ, He will in no wise cast out. He may not seem to answer you the first time, or the tenth time, or for years; for Christ has His own deep, loving, wise ways of teaching each man, and for each man a different way. But try to learn all you can of Him. Try to know Him. Pray to know, and understand Him, and love Him. And sooner or later you will find His words come true, "If a man love me, I and my Father will come to him, and take up our abode with him." And then you will feel arise in you a hungering and a thirsting after righteousness, a spirit of love, and a desire of doing good, which will carry you up and on, above all that man can say or do against you--above all the laziness, and wilfulness, and selfishness, and cowardice which dwells in the heart of everyone. You will be able to trample it all under foot for the sake of being good and doing good, in the strength of that one glorious thought, "Christ lived and died for me, and, so help me God, I will live and die for Christ."

Back to Charles Kingsley index.


Like This Page?

© 1999-2019, All rights reserved.