[Footnote: A spoken sermon.]
MATT. xx. 25—28—But Jesus called them unto him and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it should not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
How little this is believed! People think, if they think about it at all, that this is very well in the church, but, as things go in the world, it won’t do. At least, their actions imply this, for every man is struggling to get above the other. Every man would make his neighbour his footstool that he may climb upon him to some throne of glory which he has in his own mind. There is a continual jostling, and crowding, and buzzing, and striving to get promotion. Of course there are known and noble exceptions; but still, there it is. And yet we call ourselves “Christians,” and we are Christians, all of us, thus far, that the truth is within reach of us all, that it has come nigh to us, talking to us at our door, and even speaking in our hearts, and yet this is the way in which we go on! The Lord said, “It shall not be so among you.” Did he mean only his twelve disciples? This was all that he had to say to them, but—thanks be to him!—he says the same to every one of us now. “It shall not be so among you: that is not the way in my kingdom.” The people of the world—the people who live in the world—will always think it best to get up, to have less and less of service to do, more and more of service done to them. The notion of rank in the world is like a pyramid; the higher you go up, the fewer are there who have to serve those above them, and who are served more than those underneath them. All who are under serve those who are above, until you come to the apex, and there stands some one who has to do no service, but whom all the others have to serve. Something like that is the notion of position—of social standing and rank. And if it be so in an intellectual way even—to say nothing of mere bodily service—if any man works to a position that others shall all look up to him and that he may have to look up to nobody, he has just put himself precisely into the same condition as the people of whom our Lord speaks—as those who exercise dominion and authority, and really he thinks it a fine thing to be served.
But it is not so in the kingdom of heaven. The figure there is entirely reversed. As you may see a pyramid reflected in the water, just so, in a reversed way altogether, is the thing to be found in the kingdom of God. It is in this way: the Son of Man lies at the inverted apex of the pyramid; he upholds, and serves, and ministers unto all, and they who would be high in his kingdom must go near to him at the bottom, to uphold and minister to all that they may or can uphold and minister unto. There is no other law of precedence, no other law of rank and position in God’s kingdom. And mind, that is the kingdom. The other kingdom passes away—it is a transitory, ephemeral, passing, bad thing, and away it must go. It is only there on sufferance, because in the mind of God even that which is bad ministers to that which is good; and when the new kingdom is built the old kingdom shall pass away.
But the man who seeks this rank of which I have spoken, must be honest to follow it. It will not do to say, “I want to be great, and therefore I will serve.” A man will not get at it so. He may begin so, but he will soon find that that will not do. He must seek it for the truth’s sake, for the love of his fellows, for the worship of God, for the delight in what is good. In the kingdom of heaven people do not think whether I am promoted, or whether you are promoted. They are so absorbed in the delight and glory of the goodness that is round about them, that they learn not to think much about themselves. It is the bad that is in us that makes us think about ourselves. It is necessary for us, because there is bad in us, to think about ourselves, but as we go on we think less and less about ourselves, until at last we are possessed with the spirit of the truth, the spirit of the kingdom, and live in gladness and in peace. We are prouder of our brothers and sisters than of ourselves; we delight to look at them. God looks at us, and makes us what he pleases, and this is what we must come to; there is no escape from it.
But the Lord says, that “the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto.” Was he not ministered unto then? Ah! he was ministered unto as never man was, but he did not come for that. Even now we bring to him the burnt-offerings of our very spirits, but he did not come for that. It was to help us that he came. We are told, likewise, that he is the express image of the Father. Then what he does, the Father must do; and he says himself, when he is accused of breaking the Sabbath by doing work on it, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” Then this must be God’s way too, or else it could not have been Jesus’s way. It is God’s way. Oh! do not think that God made us with his hands, and then turned us out to find out our own way. Do not think of him as being always over our heads, merely throwing over us a wide-spread benevolence. You can imagine the tenderness of a mother’s heart who takes her child even from its beloved nurse to soothe and to minister to it, and that is like God; that is God. His hand is not only over us, but recollect what David said—“His hand was upon me.” I wish we were all as good Christians as David was. “Wherever I go,” he said, “God is there—beneath me, before me, his hand is upon me; if I go to sleep he is there; when I go down to the dead he is there.” Everywhere is God. The earth underneath us is his hand upholding us. [Footnote: The waters are in the hollow of it.] Every spring-fountain of gladness about us is his making and his delight. He tends us and cares for us; he is close to us, breathing into our nostrils the breath of life, and breathing into our spirit this thought and that thought to make us look up and recognize the love and the care around us. What a poor thing for the little baby would it be if it were to be constantly tended thus tenderly and preciously by its mother, but if it were never to open its eyes to look up and see her mother’s face bending over it. A poor thing all its tending would be without that. It is for that that the other exists; it is by that that the other comes. To recognize and know this loving-kindness, and to stand up in it strong and glad; this is the ministration of God unto us. Do you ever think “I could worship God if he was so-and-so?” Do you imagine that God is not as good, as perfect, as absolutely all-in-all as your thoughts can imagine? Aye, you cannot come up to it; do what you will you never will come up to it. Use all the symbols that we have in nature, in human relations, in the family—all our symbols of grace and tenderness, and loving-kindness between man and man, and between man and woman, and between woman and woman, but you can never come up to the thought of what God’s ministration is. When our Lord came he just let us see how his Father was doing this always, he “came to give his life a ransom for many.” It was in giving his life a ransom for us that he died; that was the consummation and crown of it all, but it was his life that he gave for us—his whole being, his whole strength, his whole energy—not alone his days of trouble and of toil, but deeper than that, he gave his whole being for us; yea, he even went down to death for us.
But how are we to learn this ministration? I will tell you where it begins. The most of us are forced to work; if you do not see that the commonest things in life belong to the Christian scheme, the plan of God, you have got to learn it. I say this is at the beginning. Most of us have to work, and infinitely better is that for us than if we were not forced to work, but not a very fine thing unless it goes to something farther. We are forced to work; and what is our work? It is doing something for other people always. It is doing; it is ministration in some shape or other. All kind of work is a serving, but it may not be always Christian service. No. Some of us only work for our wages; we must have them. We starve, and deserve to starve, if we do not work to get them. But we must go a little beyond that; yes, a very great way beyond that. There is no honest work that one man does for another which he may not do as unto the Lord and not unto men; in which he cannot do right as he ought to do right. Thus, I say that the man who sees the commonest thing in the world, recognizing it as part of the divine order of things, the law by which the world goes, being the intention of God that one man should be serviceable and useful to another—the man, I say, who does a thing well because of this, and who tries to do it better, is doing God service.
We talk of “divine service.” It is a miserable name for a great thing. It is not service, properly speaking, at all. When a boy comes to his father and says, “May I do so and so for you?” or, rather, comes and breaks out in some way, showing his love to his father—says, “May I come and sit beside you? May I have some of your books? May I come and be quiet a little in your room?” what would you think of that boy if he went and said, “I have been doing my father a service.” So with praying to and thanking God, do you call that serving God? If it is not serving yourselves it is worth nothing; if it is not the best condition you can find yourselves in, you have to learn what it is yet. Not so; the work you have to do to-morrow in the counting-house, in the shop, or wherever you may be, is that by which you are to serve God. Do it with a high regard, and then there is nothing mean in it; but there is everything mean in it if you are pretending to please people when you only look for your wages. It is mean then; but if you have regard to doing a thing nobly, greatly, and truly, because it is the work that God has given you to do, then you are doing the divine service.
Of course, this goes a great deal farther. We have endless opportunities of showing ourselves neighbours to the man who comes near us. That is the divine service; that is the reality of serving God. The others ought to be your reward, if “reward” is a word that can be used in such a relation at all. Go home and speak to God; nay, hold your tongue, and quietly go to him in the secret recesses of your own heart, and know that God is there. Say, “God has given me this work to do, and I am doing it;” and that is your joy, that is your refuge, that is your going to heaven. It is not service. The words “divine service,” as they are used, always move me to something of indignation. It is perfect paganism; it is looking to please God by gathering together your services,—something that is supposed to be service to him. He is serving us for ever, and our Lord says, “If I have washed your feet, so you ought to wash one another’s feet.” This will be the way in which to minister for some.
But still, when we are beginning to learn this, some of us are looking about us in a blind kind of way, thinking, “I wish I could serve God; I do not know what to do! How is it to be begun? What is it at the root of it? What shall I find out to do? Where is there something to do?”
Now, first of all, service is obedience, or it is nothing. This is what I would gladly impress upon you; upon every young man who has come to the point to be able to receive it. There is a tendency in us to think that there is something degrading in obedience, something degrading in service. According to the social judgment there is; according to the judgment of the earth there is. Not so according to the judgment of heaven, for God would only have us do the very thing he is doing himself. You may see the tendency of this nowadays. There is scarcely a young man who will speak of his “master.” He feels as if there is something that hurts his dignity in doing so. He does just what so many theologians have done about God, who, instead of taking what our Lord has given us, talk about God as “the Governor of the Universe.” So a young man talks about his master as “the governor;” nay, he even talks of his own father in that way, and then you come in another region altogether, and a worse one. I take these things as symptoms, mind. I know habits may be picked up, when they get common, without any great corresponding feeling; but a wrong habit tends always to a wrong feeling, and if a man cannot learn to honour his father, so as to be able to call him “father,” I think one or the other of them is greatly to blame, whether the father or the son I cannot say. I know there are such parents that to tell their children that God is their “Father” is no help to them, but the contrary. I heard of a lady just the other day to whom, in trying to comfort her, some one said, “Remember God is your Father.” “Do not mention the name ‘father’ to me,” she said. Ah! that kind of fault does not lie in God, but in those who, not being like him, cannot use the names aright which belong to him.
But now, as to this service, this obedience. Our Lord came to give his life a ransom for the many, and to minister unto all in obedience to his Father’s will. We call him equal with God—at least, most of us here, I suppose, do; of course we do not pretend to explain; we know that God is greater than he, because he said so; but somehow, we can worship him with our God, and we need not try to distinguish more than is necessary about it. But do you think that he was less divine than the Father when he was obedient? Observe his obedience to the will of his Father. He was not the ruler there. He did not give the commands; he obeyed them. And yet we say He is God! Ah, that is no difficulty to me. Obedience is as divine in its essence as command; nay, it may be more divine in the human being far; it cannot be more divine in God, but obedience is far more divine in its essence with regard to humanity than command is. It is not the ruling being who is most like God; it is the man who ministers to his fellow, who is like God; and the man who will just sternly and rigidly do what his master tells him—be that master what he may—who is likest Christ in that one particular matter. Obedience is the grandest thing in the world to begin with. Yes, and we shall end with it too. I do not think the time will ever come when we shall not have something to do, because we are told to do it without knowing why. Those parents act most foolishly who wish to explain everything to their children—most foolishly. No; teach your child to obey, and you give him the most precious lesson that can be given to a child. Let him come to that before you have had him long, to do what he is told, and you have given him the plainest, first, and best lesson that you can give him. If he never goes to school at all he had better have that lesson than all the schooling in the world. Hence, when some people are accustomed to glorify this age of ours as being so much better in everything than those which went before, I look back to the times of chivalry, which we regard now, almost, as a thing to laugh at, or a merry thing to make jokes about; but I find that the one essential of chivalry was obedience. It is recognized in our army still, but in those times it was carried much farther. When a boy was seven years old he was sent into another family, and put with another boy there to do what? To wait with him upon the master and the mistress of the house, and to be taught, as well, what few things they knew in those times in the way of intellectual cultivation. But he also learned stern, strict obedience, such as it was impossible for him to forget. Then, when he had been there seven years, hard at work, standing behind the chair, and ministering, he was advanced a step; and what was that step? He was made an esquire. He had his armour given him; he had to watch his armour in the chapel all night, laying it on the altar in silent devotion to God. I do not say that all these things were carried out afterwards, but this was the idea of them. He was an esquire, and what was the duty of an esquire? More service; more important service. He still had to attend to his master, the knight. He had to watch him; he had to groom his horse for him; he had to see that his horse was sound; he had to clean his armour for him; to see that every bolt, every rivet, every strap, every buckle was sound, for the life of his master was in his hands. The master, having to fight, must not be troubled with these things, and therefore the squire had to attend to them. Then seven years after that a more solemn ceremony is gone through, and the squire is made a knight; but is he free of service then? No; he makes a solemn oath to help everybody who needs help, especially women and children, and so he rides out into the world to do the work of a true man. There was a grand and essential idea of Christianity in that—no doubt wonderfully broken and shattered, but not more so than the Christian church has been; wonderfully broken and shattered, but still the essence of obedience; and I say it is recognized in our army still, and in every army; and where it is lost it is a terrible loss, and an army is worth nothing without it. You remember that terrible story from the East, that fearful death-charge, one of the grandest things in our history, although one of the most blundering:—
“Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die; Into the valley of death Rode the Six Hundred.”
So with the Christian man; whatever meets him, obedience is the thing. If he is told by his conscience, which is the candle of God within him, that he must do a thing, why he must do it. He may tremble from head to foot at having to do it, but he will tremble more if he turns his back. You recollect how our old poet Spenser shows us the Knight of the Red Cross, who is the knight of holiness, ill in body, diseased in mind, without any of his armour on, attacked by a fearful giant. What does he do? Run away? No, he has but time to catch up his sword, and, trembling in every limb, he goes on to meet the giant; and that is the thing that every Christian man must do. I cannot put it too strongly; it is impossible. There is no escape from it. If death itself lies before us, and we know it, there is nothing to be said; it is all to be done, and then there is no loss; everything else is all lost unto God. Look at our Lord. He gave his life to do the will of his Father, and on he went and did it. Do you think it was easy for him—easier for him than it would have been for us? Ah! the greater the man the more delicate and tender his nature, and the more he shrinks from the opposition even of his fellowmen, because he loves them. It was a terrible thing for Christ. Even now and then, even in the little touches that come to us in the scanty story (though enough) this breaks out. “We are told by John that at the Last Supper He was troubled in spirit, and testified.” And then how he tries to comfort himself as soon as Judas has gone out to do the thing which was to finish his great work: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself.” Then he adds,—just gathering up his strength,—“I shall straightway glorify him.” This was said to his disciples, but I seem to see in it that some of it was said for himself. This is the grand obedience! Oh, friends, this is a hard lesson to learn. We find every day that it is a hard thing to teach. We are continually grumbling because we cannot get the people about us, our servants, our tradespeople, or whoever they may be, to do just what we tell them. It makes half the misery in the world because they will have something of their own in it against what they are told. But are we not always doing the same thing? and ought we not to learn something of forgiveness for them, and very much from the fact that we are just in the same position? We only recognize in part that we are put here in this world precisely to learn to be obedient. He who is our Lord and our God went on being obedient all the time, and was obedient always; and I say it is as divine for us to obey as it is for God to rule. As I have said already, God is ministering the whole time. Now, do you want to know how to minister? Begin by obeying. Obey every one who has a right to command you; but above all, look to what our Lord has said, and find out what he wants you to do out of what he left behind, and try whether obedience to that will not give a consciousness of use, of ministering, of being a part of the grand scheme and way of God in this world. In fact, take your place in it as a vital portion of the divine kingdom, or—to use a better figure than that—a vital portion of the Godhead. Try it, and see whether obedience is not salvation; whether service is not dignity; whether you will not feel in yourselves that you have begun to be cleansed from your plague when you begin to say, “I will seek no more to be above my fellows, but I will seek to minister to them, doing my work in God’s name for them.”
“Who sweeps a room as for Thy law, Makes that and the action fine.”
Both the room and the action are good when done for God’s sake. That is dear old George Herbert’s way of saying the same truth, for every man has his own way of saying it. The gift of the Spirit of God to make you think as God thinks, feel as God feels, judge as God judges, is just the one thing that is promised. I do not know anything else that is promised positively but that, and who dares pray for anything else with perfect confidence? God will not give us what we pray for except it be good for us, but that is one thing that we must have or perish. Therefore, let us pray for that, and with the name of God dwelling in us—if this is not true, the whole world is a heap of ruins—let us go forth and do this service of God in ministering to our fellows, and so helping him in his work of upholding, and glorifying and saving all.