"Blessed are the eyes which see the things which ye see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them."
This is a noble text, my friends--and yet an awful one, for if it does not increase our religion, it will certainly increase our condemnation. It tells us that we, even the meanest among us, are more favoured by God than the kings, and judges, and conquerors of the old world, of whom we read this afternoon in the first lesson; that we have more light and knowledge of God than even the prophets David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, to whom God's glory appeared in visible shape. It tells us that we see things which they longed to see, and could not; that words are spoken to us for which their ears longed in vain; that they, though they died in hope, yet received not the promises, God having provided some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
Now, what was this which they longed for, and had not, and yet we have? It was this,--a Saviour and a Saviour's kingdom. All wise and holy hearts for ages--as well heathens as Jews--had had this longing. They wanted a Saviour,--one who should free them from sin and conquer evil,--one who should explain to them all the doubt and contradiction and misery of the world, and give them some means of being freed from it,--one who should set them the perfect pattern of what a man should be, and join earth and heaven, and make godliness part of man's daily life. They longed for a Saviour, and for a heavenly kingdom also. They saw that all the laws in the world could never make men good; that one half of men broke them, and the other half only obeyed them unwillingly through slavish fear, loving the sin they dared not do. That men got worse and worse as time rolled on. That kings, instead of being shepherds of their people, were only wolves and tyrants to keep them in ignorance and misery. That priests only taught the people lies, and fattened themselves at their expense. That, in short, as David said, men would not learn, or understand, and all the foundations of the earth, the grounds and principles of society, politics and religion, were out of course, and the devil very truly the king of this lower world; so they longed for a heavenly kingdom--a kingdom of God, one in which men should obey God for love, and not for fear, and man for God's sake; a spiritual kingdom--a kingdom whose laws should be written in men's hearts and spirits, and be their delight and glory, not their dread. They longed for a King of kings, who should teach all kings and magistrates to rule in love and wisdom. They longed for a High- priest, who should teach all priests to explain the wonder and the glory that there is in every living man, and in heaven and earth, and all that therein lies, and lead men's hearts into love, and purity, and noble thoughts and deeds. They longed, in short, for a kingdom of God, a golden age, a regeneration of the world, as they called it, and rightly. Of course, the Jewish prophets saw most clearly how this would be brought about, and how utterly necessary a Saviour and His kingdom was to save mankind from utter ruin. They, I say, saw this best. But still all the wise and pious heathens, each according to his measure of light, saw the same necessity, or else were restless and miserable, because they could not see it. So that in all ages of the world, in a thousand different shapes, there was rising up to heaven a mournful, earnest prayer,--"Thy kingdom come!"
And now this kingdom is come, and the King of it, the Saviour of men, is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Long men prayed, and long men waited, and at last, in the fulness of God's good time, just when the night seemed darkest, and under the abominations of the Roman Empire, religion, honesty, and common decency, seemed to have died out, the Sun of Righteousness rose on the dead and rotten world, to bring life and immortality to light. God sent forth His Son made of a woman, not to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved. He sent Him to be our Saviour, to die on the cross for our sins and our children's, that all our guilt might be washed away, and we might come boldly to the throne of grace, with our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed in the waters of baptism. He sent Him to be our Teacher in the perfect law of love, our pattern in every thing which a man should be, and is not. He sent Him to conquer death by rising from the dead, that He might have power to raise us also to life and immortality. He sent Him to fill men with His Spirit, the Spirit of reason and truth, the Spirit of love and courage, that he might know the will of God, and do it as our Saviour did before us. He sent Him to found a Church, to join all men into one brotherhood, one kingdom of God, whose rulers are kings and parliaments, whose ministers are the clergy, whose prophets are all poets and philosophers, authors and preachers, who are true to their own calling; whose signs and tokens are the sacraments; a kingdom which should never be moved, but should go on for ever, drawing into all honest and true hearts, and preserving them ever for Christ their Lord.
And that we might not doubt that we, too, belonged to this kingdom, He has placed in this land His ministers and teachers, Christ's sacraments, Christ's churches in every parish in the land, Christ's Bible, or the means of attaining the Bible, in every house and every cottage; that from our cradle to our grave we might see that we belonged, as sworn servants and faithful children, to the great Father in heaven and Jesus Christ, the King of the earth.
Thus, my friends, all that all men have longed for we possess; we want no more, and we shall have no more. If, under the present state of things, we cannot be holy, we shall never be holy. If we cannot use our right in this kingdom of Christ, how can we become citizens of God's everlasting kingdom, when Christ shall have delivered up the dominion to His Father, and God shall be all in all? God has done all for us that God will do. He has given us His Son for a Saviour, and a Church in which and by which to worship that Saviour; and what more would we have? Alas! my friends, have we yet used fairly what God has given us? and if not, how terrible will be our guilt! "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" And yet how many do neglect--how few live as if they were citizens of Christ's kingdom! It seems as if God had been too good to us, and heaped us so heavily with blessings, that we were tired of them, and despised them as common things. Common things? They are the very things, as I said, which the great and the wise in all ages have longed for and prayed for, and yet never found! Surely, surely, God may well say to us, "What could have been done unto my vineyard which has not been done to it?" What, indeed? I wish I could take some of you into a heathen country for a single week, that you might see what it is not to know of a Saviour--not to be members of His Church, as we are. Why, we here in England are in the very garden of the Lord. We have but to stretch out our hand to the tree of life, and eat and live for ever. From our cradle to our grave, Christ the King is ready to guide, to teach, to comfort, to deliver us. When we are born, we are christened in His name, made members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors by hope of the kingdom of heaven. Is that nothing? It is, alas! nothing in the eyes of most parents! As we grow older, are we not taught who we are--taught call God our Father--taught about Jesus Christ, who He is, and what He is? Is that, too, nothing? Alas! that knowledge is generally a mere meaningless school-lesson, cared for neither by child nor by man. At confirmation, again, we solemnly declare that we belong to Christ's kingdom, and that we will live as His subjects, and His alone. And we are brought to His bishops, to be received as free, reasonable, Christian people, to claim our citizenship in the kingdom of God. Is that nothing? Yet that, too, is nothing with three-fourths of us. Nothing? Hear me, young people--as I have often told you--you are ready enough to excuse yourselves from your confirmation vows, by saying you were not taught to understand them--were not taught how to put them into practice. That may be true, or it may not; your sin is just the same. No one with any common honesty or common sense could answer as you have to the bishop's questions at confirmation, without knowing that you did make a promise, and knowing well enough what you promised--and you who carried to confirmation a careless heart and a lying tongue, have only yourselves to blame for it!--But to proceed. Is not Christ present, or ready to be present, with us? Sunday after Sunday, for years, have not the churches been opened all around us, inviting us to enter and worship Christ, knowing that where two or three are gathered together, there is Christ in the midst of them. Is that nothing? This Creed--these Lessons--these prayers, which Sunday after Sunday you have used;--are they nothing? Are they not all proofs that the kingdom of God is come to you, and means whereby you can behave like children of the kingdom? And not on Sundays alone. Have we not been taught daily, in our own houses, in our own hearts, in all danger, and trouble, and temptation, to pray to Jesus Christ, our King, knowing that He will hear and save all them that put their trust in Him?
Is that nothing? On our happy marriage morn, too, was it not in God's house, before Christ's minister, in Christ's name, that we were married? Surely the kingdom of God is come to us, when our wedlock, as well as our souls and bodies, is holy to the Lord. Is that nothing? How few think of their marriage-joys as holy things-- an ordinance of Christ's kingdom, which He delights in and blesses with His presence and His special smile, seeing that it is the noblest and the purest of all things on earth--the picture of the great mystery which shall be the bridal of all bridals, the marriage of Christ and His Church! People do not, nowadays, believe in marriage as a part of their religion; and so, according to their want of faith it happens to them; their marriage is not holy, and the love and joy of their youth wither into a peevish, careless, lonely old age;--and yet over their heads these words were said, "They are man and wife together, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost!" comes of not believing in Christ's presence and Christ's favour; of not believing, in short, in what the Creed truly calls the Holy Catholic Church. Neither after that does Christ leave us. Every time a woman is churched, is not that meant to be a sign of thankfulness to Christ, the great Physician, to whom she owes her life and health once more? Then, season after season, is the sacrament of Christ's body and blood offered you. Is that no sign that Christ is here among us? Ah! blessed are the eyes which see that--blessed are the ears which hear those words, "Take, eat; this is My body which is given for you." Truly, if that honour--that blessing--is so vast, the love and the condescension of Christ, the Lamb of God, so unutterable, that prophets and kings, whatever they believed, never could have desired, never could have imagined, that the Son of God should offer to the sons of men, year after year, in their little parish churches, His most precious body, His most precious blood. And another thing, too, those prophets and kings would never have imagined,--that when Christ, in those churches, offers His body and His blood, nine-tenths of the congregation, calling themselves Christians, should quietly walk out, and go home, and leave the sacraments of Christ's body and Christ's blood behind as a useless and unnecessary matter! That, indeed, the old prophets and kings never saw, and never expected to see--but so it is. Christ is among us, and our eyes are holden, and we know Him not.
And then at last, after all these blessed privileges, these tokens of God's kingdom have been neglected through a long life, does Christ neglect us in the hour of death? Ah, no! He is at the grave, as He was at the font, at the marriage-bed, at His own holy table in God's house; and the body is laid in the ground by Christ's minister, in the certain hope of a joyful resurrection. But what--a sure and certain hope for each and all? The resurrection is a joyful hope--but is it so for all? Only, too often, a faint, dim longing that clings to the last chance, and dares not confess to itself how hopeless must be the death of that man or woman whose life was spent in the kingdom of God, in the midst of blessings which kings said prophets desired in vain to see, and yet who neglected them all, never entered into the spirit of them--never loved them--never lived according to them, but despised and trampled under foot the kingdom of God from their childhood to their grave, as three-fourths of us do. Christ came to judge no man, and therefore Christ's ministers judge no man, and read the Christian funeral service over all, and pray Christ to be there, and to remember His blessed promise of raising up the body and soul to everlasting life. But how can they help fearing that Christ will not hear them--that after all His offers and gifts in this life have been despised, He will give nothing after death but death; and that it were better for the sinful, worldly sham Christian, when lying in his coffin, if he had never been born? How can those escape who neglect such great salvation?
Ah, my friends--my friends, take this to heart! Blessed, indeed, are the eyes which see what you see, and hear what you hear; prophets and kings have desired to see and hear them, and have not seen or heard! But if you, cradled among all these despised honours and means of grace, bring forth no fruit in your lives--shut out from yourselves the thought of your high calling in Jesus Christ; what shall be your end but ruin? He that despises Christ, Christ will despise him; and say not to yourselves, as many do, We are church-goers--we are all safe. I say to you, God is able, from among the Negro and the wild Irishman--ay, God is able of these stones to raise up children to the Church of England, while those of you, the children of the kingdom, who lived in the Church of your fathers, and never used or loved her, or Christ, her King, shall be cast into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.