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True Words for Brave Men, 20 - GOD'S BEAUTIFUL WORLD.--A SPRING SERMON

By Charles Kingsley


      "Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great: thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind."--Ps. civ. 1-3.

      At this delicious season of the year, when spring time is fast ripening into summer, and every hedge, and field, and garden is full of life and growth, full of beauty and fruitfulness; and we look back on the long winter, and the boughs which stood bare so drearily for six months, as if in a dream; the blessed spring with its green leaves, and gay flowers, and bright suns has put the winter's frosts out of our thoughts, and we seem to take instinctively to the warmth, as if it were our natural element--as if we were intended, like the bees and butterflies, to live and work only in the summer days, and not to pass, as we do in this climate, one-third of the year, one-third of our whole lives, in mist, cold, and gloom. Now, there is a meaning in all this--in our love of bright, warm weather, a very deep and blessed meaning in it. It is a sign to us where we come from--where God would have us go. A sign that we came from God's heaven of light and beauty, that God's heaven of light and beauty is meant for us hereafter. That love which we have for spring, is a sign, that we are children of the everlasting Spring, children of the light and of the day, in body and in soul; if we would but claim our birthright!

      For you must remember that mankind came from a warm country--a country all of sunshine and joy. Adam in the garden of Eden was in no cold or severe climate, he had no need of clothes, not even of the trouble of tilling the ground. The bountiful earth gave him all he wanted. The trees over his head stretched out the luscious fruits to him--the shady glades were his only house, the mossy banks his only bed. He was bred up the child of sunshine and joy. But he was not meant to stay there. God who brings good out of evil, gave man a real blessing when He drove him out of the garden of Eden. Men were meant to fill the earth and to conquer it, as they are doing at this day. They were meant to become hardy and industrious--to be forced to use their hands and their heads to the utmost stretch, to call out into practice all the powers which lay ready in them. They were meant, in short, according to the great law of God's world, to be made perfect through sufferings, and therefore it was God's kindness, and not cruelty, to our forefathers, when He sent them out into the world; and that He did not send them into any exceedingly hot country, where they would have become utterly lazy and profligate, like the negroes and the South Sea islanders, who have no need to work, because the perpetual summer gives them their bread ready-made to their hands. And it was a kindness, too, that God did not send our forefathers out into any exceedingly cold country, like the Greenlanders and the Esquimaux, where the perpetual winter would have made them greedy, and stunted, and stupid; but that He sent us into this temperate climate, where there is a continual change and variety of seasons. Here first, stern and wholesome winter, then bright, cheerful summer, each bringing a message and a lesson from our loving Father in heaven. First comes winter, to make us hardy and daring, and industrious, and strips the trees, and bares the fields, and takes away all food from the earth, and cries to us with the voice of its storms, "He that will not work, neither shall he eat." "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: who layeth up her meat in the summer, and provideth her food against the time of frosts." And then comes summer, with her flowers and her fruits, and brings us her message from God, and says to us poor, slaving, hard-worn children of men, "You are not meant to freeze, and toil, and ache for ever. God loves to see you happy; God is willing to feed your eyes with fair sights, your bodies with pleasant food, to cheer your hearts with warmth and sunshine as much as is good for you. He does not grieve willingly, nor afflict the children of men. See the very bees and gnats, how they dance and bask in the sunbeams! See the very sparrows, how they choose their mates and build their nests, and enjoy themselves as if they were children of the spring! And are not ye of more value than many sparrows? you who can understand and enjoy the spring, you men and women who can understand and enjoy God's fair earth ten thousand times more than those dumb creatures can. It is for you God has made the spring. It is for your sakes that Christ, the ruler of the earth, sends light and fruitfulness, and beauty over the world year by year. And why? Not merely to warm and feed your bodies, but to stir up your hearts with grateful love to Him, the Blessed One, and to teach you what you are to expect from Him hereafter."

      Ay, my friends, this is the message the spring and summer bring with them--they are signs and sacraments from God, earnests of the everlasting spring--the world of unfading beauty and perpetual happiness which is the proper home of man, which God has prepared for those that love Him--the world wherein there shall be no more curse, neither sorrow nor sighing, but the Lord God and the Lamb shall be the light thereof; and the rivers of that world shall be waters of life, and the trees of that world shall be for the healing of the nations; and the children of the Lord God shall see Him face to face, and be kings and priests to Him for ever and ever. Therefore, I say, rejoice in spring time, and in the sights, and sounds, and scents which spring time, as a rule, brings; and remember, once for all, never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful. Beauty is God's hand-writing--God's image. It is a wayside sacrament, a cup of blessing; welcome it in every fair landscape, every fair face, every fair flower, and drink it in with all your eyes, and thank Christ for it, who is Himself the well-spring of all beauty, who giveth all things richly to enjoy.

      I think, this 104th Psalm is a fit and proper psalm to preach on in this sweet spring time; for it speaks, from beginning to end, of God's earth, and of His glory, and love, and wisdom which shines forth on this earth. And though, at first sight, it may not seem to have much to do with Christianity, and with the great mystery of our redemption, yet, I believe and know that it has at bottom all and everything to do with it; that this 104th Psalm is as full of comfort and instruction for Christian men as any other Psalm in the whole Bible. I believe that without feeling rightly and healthily about this Psalm, we shall not feel rightly or healthily about any other part of the Bible, either Old or New Testament. At all events God's inspired psalmist was not ashamed to write this psalm. God's Spirit thought it worth while to teach him to write this psalm. God's providence thought it worth while to preserve this psalm for us in His holy Bible, and therefore I think it must be worth while for us to understand this psalm, unless we pretend to be wiser than God. I have no fancy for picking and choosing out of the holy Bible; all Scripture is given by inspiration of God--all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, and therefore this 104th Psalm is profitable as well as the rest; and especially profitable to be explained in a few sermons as I said before, at this season when, if we have any eyes to see with, or hearts to feel with, we ought to be wondering at and admiring God's glorious earth, and saying, with the old prophet in my text, "Praise the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens as with a curtain: who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind . . . O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches" (Ps. civ. 1, 2, 3, 24).

      First, then, consider those wonderful words of the text, how God covers Himself with light as it were with a garment. Truly there is something most divine in light; it seems an especial pattern and likeness of God. The Bible uses it so continually. Light is a pattern of God's wisdom; for light sees into everything, searches through everything, and light is a pattern of God's revelation, for light shows us everything; without light our eyes would be useless--and so without God our soul's eyes would be useless. It is God who teaches us all we know. It is God who makes us understand all we understand. He opens the meaning of everything to us, just as the light shews everything to us; and as in the sunlight only we see the brightness and beauty of the earth, so it is written, "In thy light, O God, we shall see light." Thus light is God's garment. It shows Him to us, and yet it hides Him from us. Who could dare or bear to look on God if we saw Him as He is face to face? Our souls would be dazzled blind, as our eyes are by the sun at noonday. But now, light is a pattern to us of God's glory; and therefore it is written, that light is God's garment, that God dwells in the light which no man can approach unto. As a wise old heathen nobly said, "Light is the shadow of God;" and so, as the text says, He stretches out those glorious blue heavens above us as a curtain and shield, to hide our eyes from His unutterable splendour, and yet to lift our souls up to Him. The vastness and the beauty of those heavens, with all their countless stars, each one a sun or a world in itself, should teach us how small we are, how great is our Father who made all these.

      When we see a curtain, and know that it bides something beautiful behind it, our curiosity and wonder is awakened, and we long all the more to see what is behind that curtain. So the glory of those skies ought to make us wonder and long all the more to see the God who made the skies.

      But again, the Psalmist says that God lays the beams of His chambers in the waters, and makes the clouds His chariot, and walks upon the wings of the wind! that He makes His angels the storms, and His ministers a flaming fire. You must not suppose that the psalmist had such a poor notion of the great infinite God, as to fancy that He could be in any one place. God wants no chambers--even though they were built of the clouds, arched with rainbows, as wide as the whole vault of heaven. He wants no wind to carry Him--He carries all things and moves all things. In Him they live, and move, and have their being. Yet Him--the heaven, and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him! He is everywhere and no where--for He is a Spirit; He is in all things, and yet He is no thing--for He was before all things, and in Him all things consist. He is the Absolute, the Uncreated, the Infinite, the One and the All. And the old Psalmist knew that as well as we do, perhaps better. What, then, did he mean by these two last verses? He meant, that in all those things God was present--that the world was not like a machine, a watch, which God had wound up at the creation, and started off to go of itself; but that His Spirit, His providence, were guiding everything, even as at the first. That those mists and rain came from Him, and went where He sent them; that those clouds carried His blessings to mankind; that when the thunder shower bursts on one parish, and leaves the next one dry, it is because God will have it so; that He brings the blessed purifying winds out of His treasures, to sweeten and fatten the earth with the fresh breath of life, which they have drunk up from the great Atlantic seas, and from the rich forests of America--that they blow whither He thinks best; that clouds and rain, wind and lightning, are His fruitful messengers and His wholesome ministers, fulfilling His word, each according to their own laws, but also each according to His especial providence, who has given the whole earth to the children of men. This is the meaning of the Psalmist, that the weather is not a dead machine, but a living, wonderful work of the Spirit of God, the Lord and giver of life. Therefore we may dare to pray for fair and seasonable weather; we may dare to pray against blight and tempest--humbly, because we know not what is altogether good for us,--but boldly and freely, because we know that there is a living, loving God, governing the weather, who does know what is good for us; who has given us His only begotten Son, and will with Him also give us all things.

      And so ends my first sermon on the 104th Psalm.

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