Author: Kleiser, Grenville, 1868-1953
The World’s Great Sermons, Volume 04: L. Beecher to Bushnell
The World’s Great Sermons
L. BEECHER TO BUSHNELL
Formerly of Yale Divinity School Faculty;
Author of “How to Speak
in Public,” Etc.
With Assistance from Many of the Foremost
Living Preachers and Other Theologians
LEWIS O. BRASTOW, D.D.
Professor Emeritus of Practical Theology
in Yale University
IN TEN VOLUMES
VOLUME IV L. BEECHER TO BUSHNELL
FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY
NEW YORK and LONDON
Copyright, 1908, by
FUNK & WAGNALLS COMPANY
Printed in the United States of America
|Lyman Beecher (1775-1863).||Page|
|The Government of God Desirable||1|
|The Character of Christ||27|
|The Expulsive Power of a New Affection||53|
|Alexander Campbell (1788-1866).|
|The Missionary Cause||79|
|Preparation for Consulting the Oracles of God||101|
|Alive in God||131|
|A Day in the Life of Jesus of Nazareth||145|
|The Mysteries of Christianity||171|
|The Heavenly Inheritance||189|
|God’s Will the End of Life||207|
THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD DESIRABLE
Lyman Beecher was born in New Haven, Conn., in 1775. He graduated from Yale in 1797, and in 1798 took charge of the Presbyterian Church at Easthampton, Long Island. He first attracted attention by his sermon on the death of Alexander Hamilton, and in 1810 became pastor of the Congregational Church at Litchfield, Conn. In the course of a pastorate of 16 years, he preached a remarkable series of sermons on temperance and became recognized as one of the foremost pulpit orators of the country. In 1826 he went to Boston as pastor of the Hanover Street Congregational Church. Six years later he became president of the Lane Theological Seminary in Ohio, an office he retained for twenty years. In 1852 he returned to Boston and subsequently retired to the house of his son, Henry Ward Beecher, where he died in 1863. His public utterances, whether platform or pulpit, were carefully elaborated. They were delivered extemporaneously and sparkled with wit, were convincing by their logic, and conciliating by their shrewd common sense.
THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD DESIRABLE
Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.—Matthew vi., 10.
In this passage we are instructed to pray that the world may be governed, and not abandoned to the miseries of unrestrained sin; that God Himself would govern, and not another; and that God would administer the government of the world, in all respects, according to His own pleasure. The passage is a formal surrender to God of power and dominion over the earth, as entire as His dominion is in His heaven. The petition, therefore, “Thy will be done,” contains the doctrine:
That it is greatly to be desired that God should govern the world, and dispose of men, in all respects, entirely according to His own pleasure.
The truth of this doctrine is so manifest, that it would seem to rank itself in the number of self-evident propositions, incapable of proof clearer than its own light, had not experience taught that, of all truths, it is the most universally and bitterly controverted. Plain as it is, it has occasioned more argument than any other doctrine, and, by argument merely, has gained fewer proselytes; for it is one of those controversies in which the heart decides wholly, and argument, strong or feeble, is alike ineffectual.
This consideration would present, on the threshold, a hopeless impediment to further progress, did we not know, also, that arguments a thousand times repeated, and as often resisted, may at length become mighty through God, to the casting down of imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God. I shall, therefore, suggest several considerations, to confirm this most obvious truth, that it is desirable that God should govern the world entirely according to His own good pleasure.
1. It is desirable that God should govern the world, and dispose of all events, according to His pleasure, because He knows perfectly in what manner it is best that the world should be governed.
The best way of disposing of men and their concerns is that which will effectually illustrate the glory of God. The glory of God is His benevolence, and His natural attributes for the manifestation of it, and sun of the moral universe, the light and life of His kingdom. All the blessedness of the intelligent creation arises, and ever will arise, from the manifestation and apprehension of the glory of God. It was to manifest this glory that the worlds were created. It was that there might be creatures to behold and enjoy God, that His dominions were peopled with intelligent beings. And it is that His holy subjects may see and enjoy Him, that He upholds and governs the universe. The entire importance of our world, therefore, and of men and their concerns, is relative, and is great or small only as we are made to illustrate the glory of God. How this important end shall be most effectually accomplished none but Himself is able to determine. He, only, knows how so to order things as that the existence of every being, and every event, shall answer the purpose of its creation, and from the rolling of a world to the fall of a sparrow shall conspire to increase the exhibitions of the divine character, and expand the joy of the holy universe.
An inferior intelligence at the helm of government might conceive very desirable purposes of benevolence, and still be at a loss as to the means most fit and effectual to accomplish them. But, with God, there is no such deficiency. In Him, the knowledge which discovered the end discovers also, with unerring wisdom, the most appropriate means to bring it to pass. He is wise in heart; He hath established the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His discretion. And is He not wise enough to be intrusted with the government of the world? Who, then, shall be His counsellor? Who shall supply the deficiencies of His skill? Oh, the presumption of vain man! and, oh! the depths both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
2. It is desirable that God should govern the world according to His own pleasure, because He is entirely able to execute His purposes.
A wise politician perceives, often, both the end and the means; and is still unable to bring to pass his counsels, because the means, though wise, are beyond his control. But God is as able to execute as He is to plan. Having chosen the end, and selected the means, his counsels stand. He is the Lord God omnipotent. The whole universe is a storehouse of means; and when He speaks every intelligence and every atom flies to execute His pleasure. The omnipotence of God, in giving efficacy to His government, inspires and perpetuates the ecstasy of heaven. “And a voice came out from the throne, saying, Praise our God. And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of many thunderings, saying Alleluia, the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” What will that man do in heaven, who is afraid and reluctant to commit to God the government of the earth? And what will become of those who, unable to frustrate His counsels, murmur and rebel against His providence?
3. It is desirable that God should govern the world according to His pleasure, because the pleasure of God is always good.
The angels who kept not their first estate, and many wicked men, have great knowledge, and skill, and power: and yet, on these accounts, are only the more terrible; because they employ these mighty faculties to do evil. And the government of God, were He a being of malevolence, armed as He is with skill and power, would justly fill the universe with dismay. But, as it is, brethren, “let not your hearts be troubled.” With God there is no perversion of attributes. He is as good as He is wise and powerful. God is love! Love is that glory of God which He has undertaken to express to His intelligent creation in His works. The sole object of the government of God, from beginning to end, is, to express His benevolence. His eternal decrees, of which so many are afraid, are nothing but the plan which God has devised to express His benevolence, and to make His kingdom as vast and as blest as His own infinite goodness desires. It was to show His glory—to express, in action, His benevolence—that He created all the worlds that roll, and rejoice, and speak His name, through the regions of space. It is to accomplish the same blest design, that He upholds, and places under law, every intelligent being, and directs every event, causing every movement, in every world, to fall in, in its appointed time and place, and to unite in promoting the grand result—the glory of God, and the highest good of His kingdom. And is there a mortal, who, from this great system of blest government, would wish this earth to be an exception? What sort of beings must those be who are afraid of a government administered by infinite benevolence, to express, so far as it can be expressed, the infinite goodness of God? I repeat the question,—What kind of characters must those be who feel as if they had good reason to fear a government the sole object of which is to express the immeasurable goodness of God?
4. It is greatly to be desired that God should govern the world according to His pleasure, because it is His pleasure to rule as a moral governor.
A moral government is a government exercised over free agents, accountable beings; a government of laws, administered by motives.
The importance of such a government below is manifest from the consideration, that it is in His moral government, chiefly, that the glory of God is displayed.
The superintendence of an empty world, or a world of mere animals, would not exhibit, at all, the moral character of God. The glory of God, shining in His law, could never be made manifest, and the brighter glory of God, as displayed in the gospel, must remain forever hid; and all that happiness of which we are capable, as moral beings, the joys of religion below, and the boundless joys of heaven above, would be extinguished, in a moment, by the suspension of the divine moral government.
Will any pretend that the Almighty cannot maintain a moral government on earth, if He governs according to His own pleasure? Can He wield the elements, and control, at His pleasure, every work of His hands, but just the mind of man? Is the most noble work of God—that which is the most worthy of attention, and in reference to which all beside is upheld and governed—itself wholly unmanageable? Has Omnipotence formed minds, which, the moment they are made, escape from His hands, and defy the control of their Maker? Has the Almighty erected a moral kingdom which He cannot govern without destroying its moral nature? Can He only watch, and mend, and rectify, the lawless wanderings of mind? Has He filled the earth with untamed and untamable spirits, whose wickedness and rebellion He can merely mitigate, but cannot control? Does He superintend a world of madmen, full of darkness and disorder, cheered and blest by no internal pervading government of His own? Are we bound to submit to all events, as parts of the holy providence of God; and yet, is there actually no hand of God controlling the movements of the moral world? But if the Almighty can, and if he does, govern the earth as a part of His moral kingdom, is there any method of government more safe and wise than that which pleases God? Can there be a better government? We may safely pray, then, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,” without fearing at all the loss of moral agency; for all the glory of God, in His Law and Gospel, and all the eternal manifestations of glory to principalities and powers in heavenly places, depend wholly upon the fact, that men, though living under the government of God, and controlled according to His pleasure, are still entirely free, and accountable for all the deeds done in the body. There could be no justice in punishment and no condescension, no wisdom, no mercy, in the glorious gospel, did not the government of God, though administered according to His pleasure, include and insure the accountable agency of man.
Seeing, therefore, that all the glory of God, which He ever proposes to manifest to the intelligent creation, is to be made known by the Church, and is to shine in the face of Jesus Christ, and is to depend upon the perfect consistency of the moral government of God with human freedom, we have boundless assurance that, among His absolute, immutable, eternal purposes, one, and a leading one, is, so to govern the world according to His counsels, that, if men sin, there shall be complete desert of punishment, and boundless mercy in their redemption.
5. It is greatly to be desired that God should rule in the earth according to His pleasure, because it is His pleasure to govern the world in mercy, by Jesus Christ.
The government is in the hand of a Mediator, by whom God is reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them that believe. Mercy is the bestowment of pardon upon the sinful and undeserving. Now, mankind are so eminently sinful, that no government but one administered in infinite mercy, could afford the least consolation. Had any being but the God of mercy sat upon the throne, or any will but His will prevailed, there would have been no plan of redemption, and no purposes of election, to perplex and alarm the wicked. There would have been but one decree, and that would have been, destruction to the whole race of man. Are any reluctant to be entirely in the hands of God? Are they afraid to trust Him to dispose of soul and body, for time and eternity? Let them surrender their mercies, then, and go out naked from that government which feeds, protects and comforts them. Let them give up their Bibles, and relinquish the means of grace, and the hopes of glory, and descend and make their bed in hell, where they have long since deserved to be, and where they long since would have been, if God had not governed the world according to His own good pleasure. If they would escape the evils which they fear from the hand of God, let them abandon the blessings they receive from it, and they will soon discover whether the absolute dominion of God, and their dependence upon Him, be, in reality, a ground of murmuring and alarm. Our only hope of heaven arises from being entirely in the hands of God. Our destruction could not be made more certain than it would be were we to be given up to our own disposal, or to the disposal of any being but God. Would sinful mortals change their own hearts? Could the combined universe, without God, change the depraved affections of men? Surely, then, we have cause for unceasing joy, that we are in the hands of God; seeing He is a God of mercy, and has decreed to rule in mercy, and actually is administering the government of the world in mercy, by Jesus Christ.
We have nothing to fear, from the entire dominion of God, which we should not have cause equally to fear, as outcasts from the divine government; but we have everything to hope, while He rules the earth according to His most merciful pleasure. The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of the isles be glad. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.
6. It is greatly to be desired that God should dispose of mankind according to His pleasure, because, if He does so, it is certain that there will be no injustice done to anyone.
He will do no injustice to His holy kingdom by any whom He saves. He will bring none to heaven who are not holy, and prepared for heaven. He will bring none there in any way not consistent with His perfections, and the best good of His kingdom; none in any way but that prescribed in the gospel, the way of faith in Jesus Christ, of repentance for sin, and of good works as the constituted fruit and evidence of faith.
Earthly monarchs have their favorites, whom, if guilty of a violation of the laws, they will often interpose to save, although the welfare of the kingdom requires their punishment. But God has no such favorites—He is no respecter of persons: He spared not the angels: and upon the earth distinctions of intellect, or wealth, or honor, will have no effect; he only that believeth shall be saved. The great and the learned shall not be obtruded upon heaven without holiness because they are great or learned; and the humble and contrite shall not be excluded because they are poor, or ignorant, or obscure. God has provided a way for all men to return to Him. He has opened the door of their prison, and set open before them a door of admission into the kingdom of His dear Son; and commanded and entreated them to abandon their dreary abode, and come into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. But all, with one consent, refuse to comply. Each prefers his own loathsome dwelling to the building of God, and chooses, stedfastly, the darkness of his own dungeon, to the light of God’s kingdom. But, as God has determined that the redemption of His Son shall not be unavailing through human obstinacy, so He hath chosen, in Christ, multitudes which no man can number, that they should be holy and without blame before Him in love. And in bringing these sons and daughters to glory, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth, He will introduce not one whom all the inhabitants of heaven will not hail joyfully, as the companion of their glory. And if God does in the earth just as He pleases, He will make willing, and obedient, and bring to heaven, just those persons who it was most desirable should come. And He will bring just as many obstinate rebels to abandon their prison, and enter cheerfully His kingdom, as infinite wisdom, goodness, and mercy, see fit and desire. He will not mar His glory, or the happiness of His kingdom, by bringing in too many, nor by omitting to bring in enough. His redeemed kingdom, as to the number and the persons who compose it, and the happin