"He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart."
Did you ever remark, my friends, that the Bible says hardly any thing about religion--that it never praises religious people? This is very curious. Would to God we would all remember it! The Bible speaks of a religious man only once, and of religion only twice, except where it speaks of the Jews' religion to condemn it, and shews what an empty, blind, useless thing it was.
What does this Bible talk of, then? It talks of God; not of religion, but of God. It tells us not to be religious, but to be godly. You may think there is no difference, or that it is but a difference of words. I tell you that a difference in words is a very awful, important difference. A difference in words is a difference in things. Words are very awful and wonderful things, for they come from the most awful and wonderful of all beings, Jesus Christ, the Word. He puts words into men's minds--He made all things, and He makes all words to express those things with. And woe to those who use the wrong words about things!--For if a man calls any thing by its wrong name, it is a sure sign that he understands that thing wrongly, or feels about it wrongly; and therefore a man's words are oftener honester than he thinks; for as a man's words are, so is a man's heart; out of the abundance of our hearts our mouths speak; and, therefore, by right words, by the right names which we call things, we shall be justified, and by our words, by the wrong names we call things, we shall be condemned.
Therefore a difference in words is a difference in the things which those words mean, and there is a difference between religion and godliness; and we shew it by our words. Now these are religious times, but they are very ungodly times; and we shew that also by our words. Because we think that people ought to be religious, we talk a great deal about religion; because we hardly think at all that a man ought to be godly, we talk very little about God, and that good old Bible word "godliness" does not pass our lips once a-month. For a man may be very religious, my friends, and yet very ungodly. The heathens were very religious at the very time that, as St. Paul tells us, they would not keep God in their knowledge. The Jews were the most religious people on the earth, they hardly talked or thought about anything but religion, at the very time that they knew so little of God that they crucified Him when He came down among them. St. Paul says that he was living after the strictest sect of the Jews' religion, at the very time that he was fighting against God, persecuting God's people and God's Son, and dead in trespasses and sins. These are ugly facts, my friends, but they are true, and well worth our laying to heart in these religious, ungodly days. I am afraid if Jesus Christ came down into England this day as a carpenter's son, He would get--a better hearing, perhaps, than the Jews gave him, but still a very bad hearing--one dare hardly think of it.
And yet I believe we ought to think of it, and, by God's help, I will one day preach you a sermon, asking you all round this fair question:--If Jesus Christ came to you in the shape of a poor man, whom nobody knew, should YOU know him? should you admire him, fall at his feet and give yourself up to him body and soul? I am afraid that I, for one, should not--I am afraid that too many of us here would not. That comes of thinking more of religion than we do of godliness--in plain words, more of our own souls than we do of Jesus Christ. But you will want to know what is, after all, the difference between religion and godliness? Just the difference, my friends, that there is between always thinking of self and always forgetting self--between the terror of a slave and the affection of a child--between the fear of hell and the love of God. For, tell me, what you mean by being religious? Do you not mean thinking a great deal about your own souls, and praying and reading about your own souls, and trying by all possible means to get your own souls saved? Is not that the meaning of religion? And yet I have never mentioned God's name in describing it! This sort of religion must have very little to do with God. You may be surprised at my words, and say in your hearts almost angrily, 'Why who saves our souls but God? therefore religion must have to do with God.' But, my friends, for your souls' sake, and for God's sake, ask yourselves this question on your knees this day:--If you could get your souls saved without God's help, would it make much difference to you? Suppose an angel from heaven, as they say, was to come down and prove to you clearly that there was no God, no blessed Jesus in heaven, that the world made itself, and went on of itself, and that the Bible was all a mistake, but that you need not mind, for your gardens and crops would grow just as well, and your souls be saved just as well when you died.
To how many of you would it make any difference? To some of you, thank God, I believe it would make a difference. Here are some here, I believe, who would feel that news the worst news they ever heard,--worse than if they were told that their souls were lost for ever; there are some here, I do believe, who, at that news, would cry aloud in agony, like little children who had lost their father, and say, 'No Father in heaven to love? No blessed Jesus in heaven to work for, and die for, and glory and delight in? No God to rule and manage this poor, miserable, quarrelsome world, bringing good out of evil, blessing and guiding all things and people on earth? What do I care what becomes of my soul if there is no God for my soul to glory in? What is heaven worth without God? God is Heaven!'
Yes, indeed, what would heaven be worth without God? But how many people feel that the curse of this day is, that most people have forgotten THAT? They are selfishly anxious enough about their own souls, but they have forgotten God. They are religious, for fear of hell; but they are not godly, for they do not love God, or see God's hand in every thing. They forget that they have a Father in heaven; that He sends rain, and sunshine, and fruitful seasons; that He gives them all things richly to enjoy in spite of all their sins. His mercies are far above, out of their sight, and therefore His judgments are far away out of their sight too; and so they talk of the "Visitation of God," as if it was something that was very extraordinary, and happened very seldom; and when it came, only brought evil, harm, and sorrow. If a man lives on in health, they say he lives by the strength of his own constitution; if he drops down dead, they say he died by "the visitation of God." If the corn-crops go on all right and safe, they think THAT quite natural-- the effect of the soil, and the weather, and their own skill in farming and gardening. But if there comes a hailstorm or a blight, and spoils it all, and brings on a famine, they call it at once "a visitation of God." My friends! do you think God "visits" the earth or you only to harm you? I tell you that every blade of grass grows by "the visitation of God." I tell you that every healthy breath you ever drew, every cheerful hour you ever spent, every good crop you ever housed safely, came to you by "the visitation of God." I tell you that every sensible thought or plan that ever came into your heads,--every loving, honest, manly, womanly feeling that ever rose in your hearts, God "visited" you to put it there. If God's Spirit had not given it you, you would never have got it of yourselves.
But people forget this, and therefore they have so little real love to God--so little real, loyal, childlike trust in God. They do not think much about God, because they find no pleasure in thinking about Him; they look on God as a task-master, gathering where He has not strewed, reaping where He has not sown,--a task-master who has put them, very miserable, sinful creatures, to struggle on in a very miserable, sinful world, and, though He tells them in His Bible that they CANNOT keep His commandments, expects them to keep them just the same, and will at the last send them all into everlasting fire, unless they take a great deal of care, and give up a great many natural and pleasant things, and beseech and entreat Him very hard to excuse them, after all. This is the thought which most people have of God, even religious people; they look on God as a stern tyrant, who, when man sinned and fell, could not satisfy His own justice--His own vengeance in plain words, without killing some one, and who would have certainly killed all mankind, if Jesus Christ had not interfered, and said, "If Thou must slay some one, slay me, though I am innocent!"
Oh, my friends, does not this all sound horrible and irreverent? And yet if you will but look into your own hearts, will you not find some such thoughts there? I am sure you will. I believe every man finds such thoughts in his heart now and then. I find them in my own heart: I know that they must be in the hearts of others, because I see them producing their natural fruits in people's actions--a selfish, slavish view of religion, with little or no real love to God, or real trust in Him; but a great deal of uneasy dread of Him: for this is just the dark, false view of God, and of the good news of salvation and the kingdom of heaven, which the devil is always trying to make men take. The Evil One tries to make us forget that God is love; he tries to make us forget that God gives us all things richly to enjoy; he tries to make us forget that God gives at all, and to make us think that we take, not that He gives; to make us look at God as a task-master, not as a father; in one word, to make us mistake the devil for God, and God for the devil.
And, therefore, it is that we ought to bless God for such Scriptures as this 104th Psalm, which He seems to have preserved in the Bible just to contradict these dark, slavish notions,--just to testify that God is a GIVER, and knows our necessities before we ask and gives us all things, even as He gave us His Blessed Son--freely, long before we wanted them,--from the foundation of all things, before ever the earth and the world was made--from all eternity, perpetual love, perpetual bounty.
What does this text teach us? To look at God as Him who gives to all freely and upbraideth not. It says to us,--Do not suppose that your crops grow of themselves. God waters the hills from above. He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and the green herb for the service of man. Do not suppose that He cares nothing about seeing you comfortable and happy. It is He, He only who sends all which strengthens man's body, and makes glad his heart, and makes him of a cheerful countenance. His will is that you should be cheerful. Ah, my friends, if we would but believe all this!--we are too apt to say to ourselves, 'Our earthly comforts here have nothing to do with godliness or God, God must save our souls, but our bodies we must save ourselves. God gives us spiritual blessings, but earthly blessings, the good things of this life, for them we must scramble and drudge ourselves, and get as much of them as we can without offending God;'--as if God grudged us our comforts! as if godliness had not the promise of this life as well as the life to come! If we would but believe that God knows our necessities before we ask--that He gives us daily more than we can ever get by working for it!--if we would but seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all other things would be added to us; and we should find that he who loses his life should save it. And this way of looking at God's earth would not make us idle; it would not tempt us to sit with folded hands for God's blessings to drop into our mouths. No! I believe it would make men far more industrious than ever mere self- interest can make them; they would say, 'God is our Father, He gave us His own Son, He gives us all things freely, we owe Him not slavish service, but a boundless debt of cheerful gratitude. Therefore we must do His will, and we are sure His will must be our happiness and comfort--therefore we must do His will, and His will is that we should WORK, and therefore we MUST work. He has bidden us labour on this earth--He has bidden us dress it and keep it, conquer it and fill it for Him. We are His stewards here on earth, and therefore it is a glory and an honour to be allowed to work here in God's own land--in our loving Father's own garden. We do not know why He wishes us to labour and till the ground, for He could have fed us with manna from heaven if He liked, as He fed the Jews of old, without our working at all. But His will is that we should work; and work we will, not for our own sakes merely, but for His sake, because we know He likes it, and for the sake of our brothers, our countrymen, for whom Christ died.'
Oh, my friends, why is it that so many till the ground industriously, and yet grow poorer and poorer for all their drudging and working? It is their own fault. They till the ground for their own sakes, and not for God's sake and for their countrymen's sake; and so, as the Prophet says, they sow much and bring in little, and he who earns wages earns them to put in a bag full of holes. Suppose you try the opposite plan. Suppose you say to yourself, 'I will work henceforward because God wishes me to work. I will work henceforward for my country's sake, because I feel that God has given me a noble and a holy calling when He set me to grow food for His children, the people of England. As for my wages and my profit, God will take care of them if they are just; and if they are unjust, He will take care of them too. He, at all events, makes the garden and the field grow, and not I. My land is filled, not with the fruit of my work, but with the fruit of His work. He will see that I lose nothing by my labour. If I till the soil for God and for God's children, I may trust God to pay me my wages.' Oh, my friends, He who feeds the young birds when they call upon Him; and far, far more, He who gave you His only-begotten Son, will He not with Him freely give you all things? For, after all done, He must give to you, or you will not get. You may fret and stint, and scrape and puzzle; one man may sow, and another man may water; but, after all, who can give the increase but God? Can you make a load of hay, unless He has first grown it for you, and then dried it for you? If you would but think a little more about Him, if you would believe that your crops were His gifts, and in your hearts offer them up to Him as thank-offerings, see if He would not help you to sell your crops as well as to house them. He would put you in the way of an honest profit for your labour, just as surely as He only put you in the way of labouring at all. "Trust in the Lord, and be doing good; dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed;" for "without me," says our Lord, "you can do nothing." No: these are His own words--nothing. To Him all power is given in heaven and earth; He knows every root and every leaf, and feeds it. Will He not much more feed you, oh ye of little faith? Do you think that He has made His world so ill that a man cannot get on in it unless he is a rogue? No. Cast all your care on Him, and see if you do not find out ere long that He cares for you, and has cared for you from all eternity.