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Twenty-Five Village Sermons, 24 - ON BOOKS

By Charles Kingsley

      JOHN, i. 1.

      "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

      I do not pretend to be able to explain this text to you, for no man can comprehend it but He of whom it speaks, Jesus Christ, the Word of God. But I can, by God's grace, put before you some of the awful and glorious truths of which it gives us a sight, and may Christ direct you, who is THE Word, and grant me words to bring the matter home to you, so as to make some of you, at least, ask yourselves the golden question, 'If this is true, what must we DO to be saved?'

      The text says that the Word was from the beginning with God,--ay, God Himself: who the Word is, there is no doubt from the rest of the chapter, which you heard read this morning. But why is Christ called the Word of all words--the Word of God? Let us look at this. Is not Christ THE MAN, the head and pattern of all men who are what men ought to be? And did He not tell men that He is THE Life? That all life is given by Him and out of Him? And does not St. John tell us that Christ the Life is the light of men,--the true light which lighteth every man who cometh into the world?

      Remember this, and then think again,--what is it which makes men different from all other living things we know of? Is it not speech--the power of words? The beasts may make each other understand many things, but they have no speech. These glorious things--words--are man's right alone, part of the image of the Son of God--the Word of God, in which man was created. If men would but think what a noble thing it is merely to be able to speak in words, to think in words, to write in words! Without words, we should know no more of each other's hearts and thoughts than the dog knows of his fellow dog;--without words to think in; for if you will consider, you always think to yourself in WORDS, though you do not speak them aloud; and without them all our thoughts would be mere blind longings, feelings which we could not understand our own selves. Without words to write in, we could not know what our forefathers did;--we could not let our children after us know what to do. But, now, books--the written word of man--are precious heirlooms from one generation to another, training us, encouraging us, teaching us, by the words and thoughts of men, whose bodies are crumbled into dust ages ago, but whose words--the power of uttering themselves, which they got from the Son of God--still live, and bear fruit in our hearts, and in the hearts of our children after us, till the last day!

      But where did these words--this power of uttering our thoughts, come from? Do you fancy that men first, began like brute beasts or babies, with strange cries and mutterings, and so gradually found out words for themselves? Not they; the beasts have been on the earth as long as man; and yet they can no more speak than they could when God created Adam: but Adam, we find, could speak at once. God spoke to Adam the moment he was made, and Adam understood Him; so he knew the power and the meaning of words. Who gave him that power? Who but Jehovah--Jesus--the Word of God, who imparted to him the word of speech and the light of reason? Without them what use would there have been in saying to him, "Thou shalt not eat of the tree of knowledge?" Without them what would there have been in God's bringing to him all the animals to see what he would call them, unless He had first given Adam the power of understanding words, and thinking of words, and speaking words? This was the glorious gift of Christ--the Voice or Word of the Lord God, as we read in the second chapter of Genesis, whom Adam heard another time with fear and terror,--"The voice of the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the day."--A text and a story strange enough, till we find in the first chapter of St. John the explanation of it, telling us that the Word was in the beginning with God--very God, and that He was the light which lighteth every man who cometh into the world. So Christ is the light which lighteth every man who cometh into the world. How are we to understand that, when there are so many who live and die heathens or reprobates,--some who never hear of Christ,--some, alas! in Christian lands, who are dead to every doctrine or motive of Christianity? yet the Bible says that Christ lights EVERY MAN who comes into the world. Difficult to understand at first sight, yet most true, and simple too, at bottom.

      For how is every one, whether heathen or Christian, child or man, enlightened or taught, to live and behave? Is it not by the words of those round him, by the words he reads in books, by the thoughts which he thinks out and puts into shape for himself? All this is the light which every human being has his share of. And has not every man, too, the light of reason and good feeling, more or less, to tell him whether each thing is right or wrong, noble or mean, ugly or beautiful? This is another way by which the light which lighteth every man works. And St. John tells us in the text, that he who works in this way,--he who gives us the power of understanding, and thinking, and judging, and speaking, is the very same Word of God who was made flesh, and dwelt among men, and died on the Cross for us; "the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world!"

      He is the Word of God--by Him God has spoken to man in all ages. He taught Adam,--He spoke to Abraham as a man speaketh with his friend. It was He Jehovah, whom we call Jesus, whom Moses and the seventy elders saw--saw with their bodily eyes on Mount Sinai, who spoke to them with human voice from amid the lightning and the rainbow. It must have been only He, the Word, by whom God the Father utters Himself to man, for no man hath seen God at any time; only the Word, the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him. And who put into the mouth of David those glorious Psalms--the songs in which all true men for three thousand years have found the very things they longed to speak themselves and could not? Who but Christ the Word of God, the Lord, as David calls Him, put a new song into the mouth of His holy poet,--the sweet singer of Israel? Who spake by the prophets, again? What do they say themselves?--"The Word of the Lord came to me, saying." And then, when the Spirit of God stirred them up, the Word of God gave them speech, and they said the sayings which shall never pass away till all be fulfilled. And who was it who, when He was upon earth, spake as never man spake,--whose words were the simplest, and yet the deepest,--the tenderest, and yet the most awful, which ever broke the blessed silence upon this earth,--whose words, now to this day, come home to men's hearts, stirring them up to the very roots, piercing through the marrow of men's souls,--whose but Christ's, the Word, who was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth? And who since then, do you think, has it been who has given to all wise and holy poets, philosophers, and preachers, the power to speak and write the wonderful truths which, by God's grace, they thought out for themselves and for all mankind,--who gave them utterance?--who but Christ, the Lord of men's spirits, the Word of God, who promised to give to all His true disciples a mouth and wisdom, which their enemies should not be able to gainsay or resist?

      Well, my friends, ought not the knowledge of this to make us better and wiser? Ought it not to make us esteem, and reverence, and use many things of which we are apt to think too lightly? How it should make us reverence the Bible, the written word of God's saints and prophets, of God's apostles, of Christ, the Word Himself? Oh, that men would use that treasure of the Bible as it deserves;--oh, that they would believe from their hearts, that whatever is said there is truly said, that whatever is said there is said to them, that whatever names things are called there are called by their right names. Then men would no longer call the vile person beautiful, or call pride and vanity honour, or covetousness respectability, or call sin worldly wisdom; but they would call things as Christ calls them--they would try to copy Christ's thoughts and Christ's teaching; and instead of looking for instruction and comfort to lying opinions and false worldly cunning, they would find their only advice in the blessed teaching, and their only comfort in the gracious promises, of the word of the Book of Life.

      Again, how these thoughts ought to make us reverence all books. Consider! except a living man, there is nothing more wonderful than a book!--a message to us from the dead--from human souls whom we never saw, who lived, perhaps, thousands of miles away; and yet these, in those little sheets of paper, speak to us, amuse us, terrify us, teach us, comfort us, open their hearts to us as brothers.

      Why is it that neither angels, nor saints, nor evil spirits, appear to men now to speak to them as they did of old? Why, but because we have BOOKS, by which Christ's messengers, and the devil's messengers too, can tell what they will to thousands of human beings at the same moment, year after year, all the world over! I say, we ought to reverence books, to look at them as awful and mighty things. If they are good and true, whether they are about religion or politics, farming, trade, or medicine, they are the message of Christ, the Maker of all things, the Teacher of all truth, which He has put into the heart of some man to speak, that he may tell us what is good for our spirits, for our bodies, and for our country.

      And at the last day, be sure of it, we shall have to render an account--a strict account, of the books which we have read, and of the way in which we have obeyed what we read, just as if we had had so many prophets or angels sent to us.

      If, on the other hand, books are false and wicked, we ought to fear them as evil spirits loose among us, as messages from the father of lies, who deceives the hearts of evil men, that they may spread abroad the poison of his false and foul messages, putting good for evil, and evil for good, sweet for bitter, and bitter for sweet, saying to all men, 'I, too, have a tree of knowledge, and you may eat of the fruit thereof, and not die.' But believe him not. When you see a wicked book, when you find in a book any thing which contradicts God's book, cast it away, trample it under foot, believe that it is the devil tempting you by his cunning, alluring words, as he tempted Eve, your mother. Would to God all here would make that rule,--never to look into an evil book, a filthy ballad, a nonsensical, frivolous story! Can a man take a snake into his bosom and not be bitten?--can we play with fire and not be burnt?--can we open our ears and eyes to the devil's message, whether of covetousness, or filth, or folly, and not be haunted afterwards by its wicked words, rising up in our thoughts like evil spirits, between us and our pure and noble duty--our baptism-vows?

      I might say much more about these things, and, by God's help, in another sermon I will go on, and speak to you of the awful importance of spoken words, of the sermons and the conversation to which you listen, the awful importance of every word which comes out of your own mouth. But I have spoken only of books this morning, for this is the age of books, the time, one would think, of which Daniel prophesied that many should run to and fro, and knowledge should be increased. A flood of books, newspapers, writings of all sorts, good and bad, is spreading over the whole land, and young and old will read them. We cannot stop that--we ought not: it is God's ordinance. It is more: it is God's grace and mercy, that we have a free press in England--liberty for every man, that if he have any of God's truth to tell he may tell it out boldly, in books or otherwise. A blessing from God! one which we should reverence, for God knows it was dearly bought. Before our forefathers could buy it for us, many an honoured man left house and home to die in the battle-field or on the scaffold, fighting and witnessing for the right of every man to whom God's Word comes, to speak God's Word openly to his countrymen. A blessing, and an awful one! for the same gate which lets in good lets in evil. The law dare not silence bad books. It dare not root up the tares lest it root up the wheat also. The men who died to buy us liberty knew that it was better to let in a thousand bad books than shut out one good one; for a grain of God's truth will ever outweigh a ton of the devil's lies. We cannot then silence evil books, but we can turn away our eyes from them--we can take care that what we read, and what we let others read, shall be good and wholesome. Now, if ever, are we bound to remember that books are words, and that words come either from Christ or the devil,--now, if ever, we are bound to try all books by the Word of God,--now, if ever, are we bound to put holy and wise books, both religious and worldly, into the hands of all around us, that if, poor souls! they must need eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they may also eat of the tree of life,--and now, if ever, are we bound to pray to Christ the Word of God, that He will raise up among us wise and holy writers, and give them words and utterance, to speak to the hearts of all Englishmen the message of God's covenant, and that he may confound the devil and his lies, and all that swarm of vile writers who are filling England with trash, filth, blasphemy, and covetousness, with books which teach men that our wise forefathers, who built our churches and founded our constitution, and made England the queen of nations, were but ignorant knaves and fanatics, and that selfish money-making and godless licentiousness are the only true wisdom; and so turn the divine power of words, and the inestimable blessing of a free press, into the devil's engine, and not Christ's the Word of God. But their words shall be brought to nought.

      May God preserve us and all our friends from that defilement, and may He give you all grace, in these strange times, to take care what you read and how you read, and to hold fast by the Book of all books, and Christ the Word of God. Try by them all books and men; for if they speak not according to God's law and testimony, it is because there is no truth in them.

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