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Twenty-Five Village Sermons, 21 - HEAVEN ON EARTH

By Charles Kingsley


      1 COR. x. 31.

      "Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

      This is a command from God, my friends, which well worth a few minutes' consideration this day;--well worth considering, because, though it was spoken eighteen hundred years ago, yet God has not changed since that time;--He is just as glorious as ever; and Christian men's relation to God has not changed since that time; they still live, and move, and have their being in God; they are still His children--His beloved; Christ, who died for us, is still our King; God's Spirit is still with us, God's mercy still saves us: we owe God as much as any people ever did. If it was ever any one's duty to shew forth God's glory, surely it is our duty too.

      Worth considering, indeed, is this command, for though it is in the Bible, and has been there for eighteen hundred years, it is seldom read, seldomer understood, and still more seldom put into practice. Men eat and drink, and do all manner of things, with all their might and main; but how many of them do they do to the glory of God? No; this is the fault--the especial curse of our day, that religion does not mean any longer, as it used, the service of God--the being like God, and shewing forth God's glory. No; religion means, nowadays, the art of getting to heaven when we die, and saving our own miserable, worthless souls, and getting God's wages without doing God's work--as if that was godliness,--as if that was any thing but selfishness; as if selfishness was any the better for being everlasting selfishness! If selfishness is evil, my friends, the sooner we get rid of it the better, instead of mixing it up as we do with all our thoughts of heaven, and making our own enjoyment and our own safety the vile root of our hopes for all eternity. And therefore it is that people have forgotten what God's glory is. They seem to think, that God's highest glory is saving them from hell-fire. And they talk not of God and of the wondrous majesty of God, but only of the wonder of God's having saved them--looking at themselves all the time, and not at God. We must get rid of this sort of religion, my friends, at all risks, in order to get rid of all sorts of irreligion, for one is the father of the other.

      It is a wonder, indeed, that we are saved from hell, much more raised to heaven, such peevish, cowardly, pitiful creatures as the best of us are: and yet the more we think of it, the less wonder we shall find it. The more we think of the wonder of all wonders,--God Himself, His majesty, His power, His wisdom, His love, His pity, His infinite condescension, the less reason we shall have to be surprised that He has stooped to save us. Yes, do not be startled-- for it is true, that He has done for sinful men nothing contrary to Himself, but just what was to be expected from such unutterable condescension, and pity, and generosity, as God's is. And so recollecting this, we shall begin to forget ourselves, and look at God; and in thinking of Him we shall get beyond mere wondering at Him, and rise to something higher--to worshipping Him.

      Yes, my friends, this is what we must try at if we would be really godly--to find out what God is--to find out His likeness, His character, as He is: and has He not shewn us what He is? He who has earnestly read Christ's story--he who has understood, and admired, and loved Christ's character, and its nobleness and beauty-- he who can believe that Jesus Christ is now, at this minute, raising up his heart to good, guiding his thoughts to good, he has seen God; for he has seen the Son, who is the exact likeness of the Father's glory, in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead in a bodily shape. Remember, he who knows Christ knows God,--and that knowledge will help us up a noble step farther--it will help us to shew forth God's glory. For when we once know what God's glory is, we shall see how to make others know it too. We shall know how to DO GOD JUSTICE, to set men right as to their notions of God, to give them, at all events, in our own lives and characters, a pattern of Christ, who is the Pattern of God; and whatsoever we do we shall be able to do all to God's glory.

      For what is doing every thing to the glory of God? It is this;--we have seen what God's glory is: He is His own glory. As you say of any very excellent man, you have but to know him to honour him; or of any very beautiful woman, you have but to see her to love her; so I say of God, men have but to see and know Him to love and honour Him.

      Well, then, my friends, if we call ourselves Christian men, if we believe that God is our Father, and delight, as on the grounds of common feeling we ought, to honour our Father, we should try to make every one honour Him as He deserves. In short, whatever we do we should make it tend to His glory--make it a lesson to our neighbours, our friends, and our families. We should preach God's glory to them day by day, not by WORDS only, often not by words at all, but by our conduct. Ay, there is the secret.--If you wish other men to believe a thing, just behave as if you believed it yourself. Nothing is so infectious as example. If you wish your neighbours to see what Jesus Christ is like, let them see what He can make YOU like. If you wish them to know how God's love is ready to save them from their sins, let them see His love save YOU from YOUR sins. If you wish them to see God's tender care in every blessing and every sorrow they have, why let them see you thanking God for every sorrow and every blessing you have. I tell you, friends, example is every thing. One good man,--one man who does not put his religion on once a-week with his Sunday coat, but wears it for his working dress, and lets the thought of God grow into him, and through and through him, till every thing he says and does becomes religious, that man is worth a ton of sermons--he is a living Gospel--he comes in the spirit and power of Elias--he is the image of God. And men see his good works, and admire them in spite of themselves, and see that they are Godlike, and that God's grace is no dream, but that the Holy Spirit is still among men, and that all nobleness and manliness is His gift, His stamp, His picture; and so they get a glimpse of God again in His saints and heroes, and glorify their Father who is in heaven.

      Would not such a life be a heavenly life? Ay, it would be more, it would be heaven--heaven on earth: not in versemongering cant, but really. We should then be sitting, as St. Paul tells us, in heavenly places with Jesus Christ, and having our conversation in heaven. All the while we were doing our daily work, following our business, or serving our country, or sitting at our own firesides with wife and child, we should be all that time in heaven. Why not? we are in heaven now--if we had but faith to see it. Oh, get rid of those carnal, heathen notions about heaven, which tempt men to fancy that, after having misused this place--God's earth--for a whole life, they are to fly away when they die, like swallows in autumn, to another place--they know not where--where they are to be very happy--they know not why or how, nor do I know either. Heaven is not a mere PLACE, my friends. All places are heaven, if you will be heavenly in them. Heaven is where God is and Christ is. And hell is where God is not and Christ is not. The Bible says, no doubt, there is a place now--somewhere beyond the skies--where Christ especially shews forth His glory--a heaven of heavens: and for reasons which I cannot explain, there must be such a place. But, at all events, here is heaven; for Christ is here and God is here, if we will open our eyes and see them. And how?--How? Did not Christ Himself say, 'If a man will love Me, My Father will love him; and we, My Father and I, will come to him, and make our abode with him, and we will shew ourselves to him?' Do those words mean nothing or something? If they have any meaning, do they not mean this, that in this life, we can see God--in this life we can have God and Christ abiding with us? And is not that heaven? Yes, heaven is where God is. You are in heaven if God is with you, you are in hell if God is not with you; for where God is not, darkness and a devil are sure to be.

      There was a great poet once--Dante by name--who described most truly and wonderfully, in his own way, heaven and hell, for, indeed, he had been in both. He had known sin and shame, and doubt and darkness and despair, which is hell. And after long years of misery, he had got to know love and hope, and holiness and nobleness, and the love of Christ and the peace of God, which is heaven. And so well did he speak of them, that the ignorant people used to point after him with awe in the streets, and whisper, There is the man who has been in hell. Whereon some one made these lines on him:--

      "Thou hast seen hell and heaven? Why not? since heaven and hell Within the struggling soul of every mortal dwell."

      Think of that!--thou--and thou--and thou!--for in thee, at this moment, is either heaven or hell: and which of them? Ask thyself-- ask thyself, friend. If thou art not in heaven in this life, thou wilt never be in heaven in the life to come. At death, says the wise man, each thing returns into its own element, into the ground of its life; the light into the light, and the darkness into the darkness. As the tree falls so it lies. My friends, who call yourselves enlightened Christian folk, do you suppose that you can lead a mean, worldly, covetous, spiteful life here, and then the moment your soul leaves the body that you are to be changed into the very opposite character, into angels and saints, as fairy tales tell of beasts changed into men? If a beast can be changed into a man, then death can change the sinner into a saint,--but not else. If a beast would enjoy being a man, then a sinner would enjoy being in heaven, but not else. A sinful, worldly man enjoy being in heaven? Does a fish enjoy being on dry land? The sinner would long to be back in this world again. Why, what is the employment of spirits in heaven, according to the Bible (for that is the point to which I have been trying to lead you round again)? What but glorifying God? Not TRYING only to do every thing to God's glory, but actually succeeding in DOING it--basking in the sunshine of His smile, delighting to feel themselves as nothing before His glorious majesty, meditating on the beauty of His love, filling themselves with the sight of His power, searching out the treasures of His wisdom, and finding God in all and all in God--their whole eternity one act of worship, one hymn of praise. Are there not some among us who will have had but little practice at that work? Those who have done nothing for God's glory here, how do they expect to be able to do every thing for God's glory hereafter? (Those who will not take the trouble of merely standing up at the psalms, like the rest of their neighbours, even if they cannot sing with their voices God's praises in this church, how will they like singing God's praises through eternity?) No; be sure that the only people who will be fit for heaven, who will like heaven even, are those who have been in heaven in this life,--the only people who will be able to do every thing to God's glory in the new heavens and new earth, are those who have been trying honestly to do all to His glory in this heaven and this earth.

      Think over, in the meantime, what I have said this day; consider it, and you will have enough to think of, and pray over too, till we meet here again.

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