Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 20

"Atheism." IV. A Sermon

page break

"Atheism." IV. A Sermon,

On Sunday (Feb. 2nd) at St. George's Hall, the Rev. C. Voysey took his text from 1 John iv., 16, "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him."

He said—We now come to the third branch of our enquiry into the nature of man, in search for indications of a Supremo and Perfect Divine Being.

We have perceived, in the intellect of man, manifest tokens of a supreme intellect from which it sprang. We have discovered in the Conscience a power, not only superior, but antagonistic, to the forces in Nature; and we must now direct our attention to Human Love.

What is Love? This sacred name has alas! been shamefully misapplied. It has been made to stand for its very opposite—selfishness. It has been used to denote the most imperious of our animal instincts, the gratification of merely physical desire; even the mere desire to attain such enjoyment, has been profanely called Love. Far be it from me to deem anything which God has placed in the nature of man as unholy or unclean. The animal instinct referred to is exquisite and sacred, the source of untold happiness, and the fountain of domestic virtue, but then it is not Love. When people talk of "making Love" and "falling in Love," they are using expressions of profound inaccuracy, for which the poverty of our language is the only excuse. The affection which page 2 subsists between lovers, husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, is sometimes nothing more than a merely animal attachment to each other, which they share in common with the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. It is all called "Love," and we cannot in a day—no, not in a generation—change its name. But the time seems to have come for us to make long and loud our protest against the use of ambiguous terms. Words do react more or less upon those who use them, and if we persist in applying one and the same term to two or more absolutely distinct things, we shall come in time to lose sight of the distinction between them, and in that case the higher sense will be forgotten, and the lower one alone remain.

Now, to discern what Love is, we must contrast it with what it is not.

We find everywhere reigning in nature the law of self-love, of self-preservation, self-indulgence, and self-advancement. We own its necessity. No living thing is safe without it. It is given to us that we may live as long and as happily as we can, and that we may promote our own earthly advantage. In the struggle for existence this law bids us without scruple trample on the rights of others if they have any, and then might becomes right. In reference to self-indulgence, it bids us get all the pleasure we possibly can; it takes no account of the pleasure of others, except in so far as it may minister to our own. And as for self-advancement its maxim is to be first in the race if we can. Its cry is, "Every man for himself."

Now it is easy to see without illustration that were this the only law which governed humanity our time would be divided between avarice, lust, and war. We should have nothing else to do but to give free play to our appetites and to smite and murder every one who stood in the way of our gratification. Supposing that a certain amount of civilisation had been reached by mutual concessions for the, attainment of happiness then you would have page 3 still a state of soiety, if society it might be called, in which selfishness would prevail, only somewhat refined and gilded over by conventionalities. You would still have men seeking to make themselves rich at the ruin of others, to indulge their animal passions at the cost of their neighbours' felicity, and to do each other to death only in a slower and less brutal manner than by bloodshed. They would still unscrupulously push themselves to the front if possible, not caring whom they crushed or trampled under foot in the struggle.

Bret Harte, an author to whom I shall again presently refer, among other writers has given pictures of life in the Far West of America, wherein all that we could imagine of such a state of society has been enacted within this century. Lawless, ruffianly, selfishness has been the rule, because most of the men gathered in those regions were mere animal men, carrying their whole animalism with them into a district where they had no law but themselves. This was the coarse and brutal picture of the reign of selfishness. But we need not go so far as to San Francisco to see the same selfishness under a more refined aspect. There are men and women in all our great cities, aye, and in the country too, (let us hope there are but few of them), who behave as if they were animals and nothing more—human animals with the cunning and resources of human skill, education, and prudence—who live for themselves alone, and who seldom feel what it is to love. They follow their strong instincts for pleasure and ease, their unscrupulous desire to enrich themselves on the racecourse or at the gambling tables, their studious regard for their own health and the supply of every luxury; and they do not hesitate in the pursuit of their own indulgence to force their rivals or dependents down into unspeak able misery, or leave others to die in disease and poverty, rather than forego one of their accustomed pleasures.

We may fairly hope that such are extreme and most rare instances; but dress it up as finely as you can, you will only get page 4 one result out of entire obedience to the natural law of selfishness, you must have avarice, lust, murder, and all manner of crime.

Now true Love is that principle which we find almost universal in human nature, which impels us to resist in a measure this law of selfishness, to overcome its dictates whenever they tend to entrench on the rights and welfare of others. Love will go long lengths in sanctioning the law of selfishness; but there is a point where it will stand up and resist it. It will sanction self-preservation until another's life is in peril. It will sanction self-indulgence until that indulgence becomes robbery of the happiness or wellbeing of another. It will sanction ambition, and even gathering of gold, so long as the means employed do not hinder a companion in the race.

Love will hide itself beneath an apparently selfish disguise, and all at once it will leap out upon you in all its glory, melting your eyes and your heart. It is that in man which redeems him from being a beast—for man without Love is worse than any beast which Lord God hath made; and when he Loves he becomes more than animal, more than man, I had almost said, and stands forth in the very image of God.

With the world so full as it is of real Love, if we will only look for it, illustrations would be endless. But every wish felt, every word spoken, every deed done for the sake of others is a witness of true Love.

Some may say this is only the function of conscience over again. But, in reply, I say that the brilliancy of Love outshines that of conscience as the sun outshines the moon. Love is conscience in an ecstacy—it is a perfect enthusiasm of goodness, because it does not stop to reason out with itself, and to balance the pros and cons of right and wrong, but with eager bound rushes to its goal and acts without reflection, the slave of inspiration. Conscience says, "Do this because it is right." Love says, "I will do this for you." Conscience mercifully keeps us mindful of our responsibility when page 5 Love is absent or cool. But Love has no responsibility, and acts upon its own Divine impulse, needing no reminder, no prompting, no command. We fall back upon Conscience, only when deficient in Love.

By Love, we pass out of ourselves into our object, as it were; we seem to have merged almost our own consciousness, sympathies, and desires, in the soul of another; till we live a new life in hers, and become her saviour and her shield. When Paul said, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour, therefore Love is the fulfilling of the law," he stated feebly and negatively the exact truth. He should have said, "Love worketh all possible good to his neighbour, therefore Love is the fulfilling of the law." It will not do to leave our neighbour alone, and do him no harm; love bids us be active and attentive, and do him all the good we can. Then Love is the fulfilling of all human obligations. If we were wholly and continually under the influence of Love, and not sometimes under the sway of selfishness, our whole lives would be blameless, sin would be no more, and human life—ah! it would be too sweet ever to lay it down.

But Love teaches us that goodness is identical with the supremest happiness of man. It is not identical with physical happiness, it is often at war with that, and its terms with our animal nature are unshrinking submission, and if need be, the self-sacrifice of life itself. Yet strange—most strange—when we suffer most for one we love, we reap our highest joys, every wound is a healing of the spirit, and as we lie on Love's altar, bleeding, gasping, dying, we reach the sublimest region of human joy.

Think what the old poets have sung, what the Bibles of all lands have enshrined, what tradition prizes as its noblest treasure. They all sing in praise of Love—Love which began by heroic selfconquest and ended in death. But one and all bear the same testimony, the joy of dying for Love was worth all that life itself could ever purchase.

page 6

In those tales of the Far West, by Bret Harte, to which I have alluded, there is unfolded a perfect gospel of this human triumph. Amidst scenes of appalling horror, of the most brutal savagery, and the most abandoned lawlessness, he brings to view this one exquisite flower of humanity, and shows how Love was at the bottom of these fierce hearts; how it stayed the murderer's hand; how it softened the impious tongue; and brought men whose lives had been fouled by the worst of crimes to die the noblest martyr death. No Christ could do more than those and hundreds and thousands of our fellowmen have done for each other, and are doing daily—and all for Love.

That fearful catastrophe to the Northfleet, off Dungeness, which has awakened so much sympathy throughout the land, brought out afresh the glorious powers of self-sacrifice which belong to man. To some, the touching incidents of the Captain's farewell of his wife might seem a conflict between Lave and Duty. But Love and Duty are one, they can never clash. It is always a duty to do what Love desires. And Love itself is best proved by doing our Duty. Just think of those few minutes of parting agony.

Amid the roar and screaming of rough men and women, all struggling for their lives, some so fierce and frantic in their terror that they must be kept back from swamping the boats by the captain's revolver, his young wife, a bride ef seven weeks, pleads to be allowed to stay and die at her husband's side. Her Love, however, made her lose herself in him, and to make him happy she would do his bidding, and live in bitter grief all her clays. Her Love and duty were one. She would have stayed and died for Love; she left him for a life of woe—no less for Love. It was all she could do for him, to live because he asked it; and he, in his keen sense of duty, knew that to desert his ship even for his wife's sake would have been no act of Love to her. To bring with him into safety a soiled reputation and an honour stained would page 7 have been far more cruel than to have bid her farewell for ever. So for Love of her, as well as for duty's sake, he stands firm as a rock; and fighting God's battle for the weak against the strong until the surging waves engulph him, he dies a hero and a martyr, and around his cross let us say in solemn reverence, "Truly this was the Son of God."

Are there no more like him? Yea! thousands on thousands. The earth is full of such heroes, though we know them not, and their lives and deaths have been done in secret—no plaudits to give them courage; no eulogies spoken over their graves. Ask the generals who lead armies, the captains who carry their vessels all over the world, search the records of the Royal Humane Society, look into the hospitals, the theatres, and the homes of the poor. Enquire at the police stations; yes, and search the gaols and the galleys. Everywhere you find such Love as makes men and women Divine; raises them above themselves, i.e., above all that selfish nature would make them. If you will only look for it, I believe every one you meet can show it, or has some heavenly story to tell of how it was shown to them. Let us not say, then, that God has deserted his world, while he has given us love. "He left not himself without witness in that he did us good," says the Apostle. But he goes on to say, "in giving us rain and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." I will not question the general benevolence of the arrangements of nature; but they are not worth looking at by the side of the marvellous gift of Love which God has given to men to make them fruitful in all virtue, triumphantover all appetites and passions, and full of joy unspeakable, and full of glory. This great gift, I say, is so antagonistic to the laws and forces of nature that it cannot have had its origin in the visible universe whose laws it sets at defiance. It cannot be "of the earth, earthy," it must be "the Lord from Heaven," it must be an afflatus which is Divine. We page 8 cannot deny the influence which it wields. To see and hear of any noble act of Love warms and melts the most frozen nature, and breaks the heart of stone. All mankind, in various ways, bears testimony to the supremacy of Love. Just as we admire a conscientious fool more than a clever rogue, so do we admire him who is impelled by Love more than one who is only guided by a cold sense of duty. Among the faculties of man, then, Love holds the very highest place. It is the instinct of doing the best possible good. While conscience is our authority for doing it, Love leaps into the act without needing any sanction at all. To do anything for Love is to justify the deed without any further plea.

I have only then to urge once more, that as man is the noblest work in the universe, and as Love is the noblest part of man, so we must infer that God cannot be a Being inferior to the most Loving of men. He may be, and to our adoring eyes of faith He really is, far and high exalted over his noblest creature; but less than that He cannot be. Whenever, therefore, we would conceive of Him, we must make the noblest part of the noblest man's character our starting point, or else we shall do violence to the first principles of Reason, and contradict the universal testimony of the human Consciousness.

I believe it can be shown that, with the light of human Love shed upon the scene, all that is most dark, and sad, and dismal in the world can be reconciled with the existence of a Perfectly Holy and Loving God; and more than that, the miseries of the world become proofs and tokens of what God is, and unfold to us His nature in a more complete and intelligible manner than had we been living in a fairyland, or had we been all our lives happy citizens of some Golden Jerusalem. If you shut out sorrow you shut out the highest, purest, forms of Love. And if you shut out Love you shut out God. So we come back, out of our clouds of sorrow, to praise His glorious Name for every wounded heart, for every scalding tear, for every last farewell!