The Village Pulpit, Volume II/Sermon L
13th Sunday after Trinity.
S. Luke x., 23.
"What shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
INTRODUCTION.—The Kingdom of Heaven, said our Lord, is like unto a treasure hid in a field. One day a man is turning over the stones which lie in a heap in a corner of the field, and he finds under them an iron chest, and this chest he believes to be full of gold. Then he carefully covers it up again with stones and earth, and goes off in the greatest excitement to the owner of the field, and offers him a price, and when that is refused he sells his house, and garden, and everything he can turn into money, and gives that to the owner in exchange for the field.
I fear this is rather a picture of what ought to be than what is. No doubt whatever that we ought to show just as great eagerness to gain the Kingdom of Heaven, as did that man to buy the field. No doubt we ought to be just as eager to cast away everything that stands in the way, to divest ourselves of every thing we have, in order that we may gain the Kingdom of Heaven,—but, as a matter of fact, we show very little eagerness about it, and we are very indifferent whether we gain it or lose it.
SUBJECT.—What we need is more zeal, more enthusiasm, more earnestness in our quest.
I. King Solomon built the Temple at Jerusalem. He was engaged on it seven years, and after that, he built his own house, and on that he spent thirteen years. He therefore spent very nearly twice as much time and labour, and I doubt not, money over his own house than he did over the work of God's house; he was wise and good, and he did a great deal for God, but he did more for himself, and not only for himself, but for his wives, since he built for them as well.
It is just so with us, we are ready to do something of God's work, to seek a little the Kingdom of Heaven, but we do not put our heart in that work, all our heart and zeal is reserved for our own worldly affairs and our temporal interests.
One day a heathen maiden came to the princess Pulcheria, sister of the Emperor Theodosius, to complain to her that she was an orphan, and that her two brothers had turned her out of the house on her father's death, and had taken all his inheritance to themselves. Now the Emperor Theodosius, brother of Pulcheria, a young man, was behind a curtain, and heard the girl pleading her cause with many tears, and he saw how beautiful she was, and he loved her, and resolved to make her his wife and exalt her to be Empress of the East. Pulcheria bade her come another day, and then she told the maiden what was intended. After that she was taught the faith of Christ, and was baptized, and is known in history as the Empress Eudoxia. Now when she came from her baptism, Pulcheria noticed that she was crying, and she went to her lovingly and said, "Why are you bathed in tears, Eudoxia?" And then the young girl answered, "When you told me that I was to become the wife of Theodosius, and Empress of the East, my heart was like to burst with joy, but now that I have been made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven, I feel no such exceeding joy, but take it all without any emotion,—and I am grieved at my coldness and want of faith. That is why I am crying."
Is it not very much the same with us? Anything that concerns our earthly welfare fills us with excitement, but we trouble ourselves very little about our spiritual concerns. If we have a chance of getting 50 pounds a-year, we are full of delight, but we receive the precious gift of God without even gratefulness. If we knew that an inheritance of a thousand pounds was ours if we applied for it, should we not apply? But when it comes to our approaching the altar of God to receive the Bread of Heaven, the priceless gift of the Body of our Lord, which will infuse into our mortal flesh the germ of immortality, we turn listlessly away. If we had an acquaintance who, we thought, could put us into a good way of making our fortune, we would be always at his heels, but we are cold and careless about seeking God in His house, and in prayer, and yet our eternal welfare depends on our retaining His favour.
II. Now, this is not a satisfactory condition to be in. "The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by storm," said our Lord, and He meant that if Heaven is to be won, it must be won by those who are in earnest, and vehement in their desire to get it. Half-hearted soldiers are not good soldiers. Half-hearted servants are poor servants, half-hearted workers are unsatisfactory workers, and the battle we have to fight is a hard one, it is a battle against flesh and blood, against Satan and all his host, against the world, and against our own wills. Is such a battle to be won when we go into it without any desire to be conquerors? We are servants of God, and given a work in this world to do. Are we likely to do it if half-hearted? Are we likely to keep His commandments, if we care just a little to please Him, but only a little? Are we likely to win our wage, Eternal Life, if we do not work zealously, but waste the time of work in half-hearted trifling with our task?
No, we must be in earnest. We want zeal. How are we to acquire this? This is what the Holy Ghost gives. Before Pentecost the disciples were half-hearted, and when temptation and trial came, they fell away and did not follow their Master. But after the Holy Ghost came down, then they were of one heart and mind, and their souls were inflamed with zeal, they cared nothing what became of them, so long as they won the Kingdom of Heaven. "I count all things as dung," said S. Paul, "if so be I may win Christ."
III. The Holy Ghost is still in the Church, and still His mission is to impart zeal. He will come to you, if you pray, and will inflame you with that fire which will make your hearts burn within you, and give you no rest till you have set about the work appointed you by God. "I am come," said Christ, "to send fire on the earth: and what will I, if it be already kindled?" That fire is the fire of zeal; and it is for that fire we pray in the Whitsuntide hymn,
- "Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
- And lighten with celestial fire."