"Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?Amos 3:6.
We have nothing to do this morning with the question of moral evil, and indeed with the awful mystery of the origin of moral evil, we have nothing to do at any time. There may have been some few speculators upon this matter, who like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, could walk in the midst of the fire unharmed, but most men who have ventured near the mouth of this fiery question, have been like Nebuchadnezzar's guardsthey have fallen down, destroyed by the blasting influence of its heat. The problem we have to solve is not how was evil born, but how shall evil dienot how it came into the world, but the mischief it has wrought since its coming, and how it is to be driven out. Those persons who fritter away their time in useless and curious enquiries about the origin of moral evil, and so forth, are generally persons who are too idle to attempt the practical casting out of the fiend, and therefore would kill their time, and quiet their consciences by abstruse controversies and vain janglings about subjects with which we have nothing to do.
The evil in the text is that of calamity, and we might so read the verse"Shall there be a calamity in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?a question exceedingly appropriate at the present time. There has been evil in this city; a calamity of an unusual and disastrous nature has fallen upon this nation. We have lost one who will find today a thousand tongues to eulogize him; a prince whose praise is in the mouth of all; and who is in such repute among you that it is utterly needless for me to commend his memory to your hearts. We have lost a man whom it was our habit to suspect so long as he lived, he could do little without arousing our mistrusts; we were always alarmed by phantoms of intrusion, and unconstitutional influence, and now that he has departed, we may sincerely regret that we could not trust where confidence was so well deserved. Not of lack of homage to his rank, his talents, or his house, could he complain, but from his tomb there might well come the still small voice of memory, reminding us of many careless suspicions, a few harsh judgments, and one or two heartless calumnies. I was pleased by a remark made by the leading journal of the age, to the effect that the Prince Consort's removal might suggest deep regrets for our thrifty homage and measured respect. He has deserved nothing but good at our hands. Standing in the most perilous position, his foot has not skipped; standing where the slightest interference might have brought down a storm of animosity upon his head, he has prudently withheld himself, and let public affairs as much as possible alone. Looking upon the nature of our government, and the position of the throne in our constitution, I can but say, "Verily it is a heavy calamity to lose such a husband for such a Queen." So dire is this evil that our troubled hearts are shadowed with dark forebodings of other ills of which this may be the mournful herald. We were saying with David, "My mountain standeth firm, it shall never be moved;" an earthquake has commenced, the mountain trembles, one great rock hath fallenwhat may come next? We did reckon upon war, but we had no forewarnings of a Royal funeral; we looked forward with some apprehension to strifes abroad, but not to losses at home. And now we feel that a corner-stone in the Royal house has been taken away, and we look forward with sorrow and fear to what may come next, and next, and next. We have great faith in our Constitution, but had we not even greater faith in God, we might fear lest the removal of an eminent minister, lest the taking away of some great men who have stood prominent in our commonwealth, should leave us desolate, without earthly helpers. 'Tis not the fall of yonder stately column, which alone has caused us sadness; it is the prophetic finger pointing to other parts of the goodly pile, which has made us full of forebodings of the time when many a noble pillar must lie in the dust, Nor is this all, or the deepest sorrow. We feel this to be an evil upon the city, because of the taking away of a parent from his children, and such children tooprinces, princes whom no man may venture to instruct as could a father, princes into whose ears wise counsels will scarcely enter, save through a father's voiceprinces and princesses, who needed to have his prudent counsel to steer them through the various trials of their minority, and to cheer them when they should come into the battles of life. He is taken away, who, in concert with the Queen, hath so well trained them, and what his loss may be to their future characters time only shall reveal. More than thisand here we touch the tenderest string and come nearest to the heart of the evilHer Majesty has lost her beloved husband, her only equal friend, her only confidant, her only councillor in her private cares. Save her children, she has lost all at a blow, and she is this day more widowed than the poorest widower in the land. The bereaved wife of the peasant is too often afflicted by the grasp of chill penury, but she has some equals and friends who prevent the colder hand of regal isolation from freezing the very soul. In our tenderly beloved Sovereign we see Majesty in misery, and what if I say, we behold the empress of sorrow. Just as the mountain-peaks, the first to catch the sunbeams of summer, are the most terribly exposed to the pitiless blasts of winter, so the elevation of sovereignty with all its advantages in prosperity, involves the maximum of sorrow in the hour of tribulation. What rational man among us would be willing to assume imperial cares in ordinary times, but what must they be now, when household bereavement wrings the heart, and there is no more an affectionate husband to bear his portion of the burden. Brethren, we can only sympathize, but we cannot console. Ordinary cases are often within reach of compassion, but the proper reverence due to the highest authority in the land, renders it impossible for the dearest friend to use that familiarity which is the very life of comfort. This is a calamity indeed! O Lord, the comforter of all those whose hearts are bowed down, sustain and console our weeping monarch? Would that Robert Hall, or Chalmers, could arise from the grave, to depict this sorrow? As for me, my lips are so unaccustomed to courtly phrases, and I understand so little of those depths of sorrow, that I am not tutored and prepared to speak on such a subject as this. I do but stammer and blunder, where there is room for golden utterance and eloquent discourse. Thou God of heaven thou knowest that there beats nowhere a heart that feels more tenderly than ours, or an eye that can weep more sincerely for the sorrow of that Royal Lady, who is thus left alone. Alas! for the Prince who has fallen upon the high places! From the council-chamber he is removed, from the abode of all the graces he is taken away, from the home of loveliness, from the throne of honor he is gone, and it is an evilsuch an evil as has never befallen this nation in the lifetime of any one of ussuch an evil, that there is but one deathand may that be far removedwhich could cause greater sorrow in the land.
But now, our text lifts up its voice, and demands to be heard, since it is a question from the lips of the Eternal God. "Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?"
There are two things upon which we will speak this morning. First, God has done it; secondly, God has done it with a design. Let us endeavor to find, if we can, what that design is.
I. First, then, there is an evil in the city; but God HAS DONE IT.
There was considerable curiosity to enquire into the second cause of this evil. Whence came the fever? We could not suppose it to be bred, as the fever frequently is, in our courts and alleys in the plague-nest where filth provided it with all its food, until it was hatched to pestilence. What were its earliest symptoms, what its growth, and how it was that it baffled the physician's skill. We may lay aside these enquiries, to look apart and away from the second cause, to the first great cause who hath done all. "The Lord hath done it." He gave the breath, and he hath taken it away; he moulded the manly form, and he has laid it prostrate in the dust, he has sent the man and he has said, "Return! to the dust whence thou wast taken." I call to remembrance the notions which have spread throughout this world, and which are still living in our agethe notions which seek to banish God, and make him a stranger in the midst of his own works. God must have done this thing, or else we are driven to some other alternative. How came this calamity about? Shall we suppose it to be by chance? There are still some found foolish enough to believe that events happen without divine predestination, and that different calamities transpire without the overruling hand, or the direct agency of God. Alas! for you and for me, if chance had done it. Ah! what were we, men and brethren, if we were left to chance! We should be like poor mariners, put out to sea in an unsafe vessel, without a chart and without a helm; we should know nothing of the port to which we might ultimately come; we should only feel that we were now the sport of the winds, the captives of the tempest, and might soon be the victims of the all-devouring deep. Alas! poor orphans were we all, if we were left to chance. No father's care to watch over us, but left to the fickleness and fallibility of mortal things! What were all that we see about us, but a great sand storm in the midst of a desert, blinding our eyes, preventing us from ever hoping to see the end through the darkness of the beginning. We should be travelers in a pathless waste, where there were no roads to direct ustravelers who might be overturned and overwhelmed at any moment, and our bleached bones left the victims of the tempest, unknown, or forgotten of all. Thank God it is not so with us. Chance exists only in the heart of fools, we believe that everything which happens to us is ordered by the wise and tender will of him who is our Father and our Friend, and we see order in the midst of confusion, we see purposes accomplished where others discern fruitless wastes, we believe that, "He hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet."
Some, on the other hand, run to another extreme, still forgetting their God. They deny the thought of chance, but they bend to the idea of fate. Some predestinarians without a God, are as far astray in their ideas as those who believe in chance without a God. For what is the "fate" of some men? It reminds me of one of those huge machines employed in the lead mines, where two wheels are always revolving, and breaking the stones quarried from the pit. The stones at first lie at a distance, but they are continually moving nearer and nearer to the all-devouring mouth of the great wheels, and at last they are crushed and ground. Such is fate in the minds of some men. Or to use another figure. It is like the great car of Juggernaut, dragged along by irresistible power. On it comes, crushing, mangling, flattening beneath in wheels the bleeding bodies lying in the way. From this horrid car of fate none can getaway, none even attempt to escape. They are bound hand and foot, and laid down in its pathway, and when the time comes the wheels will grind the poor wretches to powder. Well, I thank God that while I believe in predestination, I know the difference between that and fate. Fate is predestination blind, demented, brainless, wandering about, achieving wondrous things without a purpose, overturning mountains, plucking up cedars by the roots, scattering firebrands, hurling deaths about, but all without an end. Such is fate.It is because it must be,events occur, because they shall be. But predestination is a glorious thing. With many eyes it looketh to the interests of God and his creatures too, and although it saith the thing must be, yet it must be because it is wise, and right, and just, and kind, that it should be; and though we may think that it comes to the same in the end, yet to our hearts the differences are as wide as the poles asunder. Believe not in fate, but believe in God. Say not it was the man's destiny, but say it is God's will. Say not, a cruel and irresistible fate hath snatched him away; but say, a tender hand, finding that the due time was come, hath taken him from evil to come.
These two suppositions being disposed of, there remains another. "Is there evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" If neither a foolish chance nor an insensate fate hath done it; perhaps the spirit of evil may have inflicted it. Perhaps Satan may bring evils upon us; perhaps he may drag down men to their graves; perhaps he may cut the thread of life; perhaps he is the evil genius of the world, and the keeper of the gates of death. Brethren, we scout the thought at once from our minds. Begone far hence, foul King of Errors! thou art the prince of the air, but thou art not king of kings, nor art thou now the king of death, the keys swing not at the girdle, not from thy black lips can come the summons, "Prepare to meet thy doom," not with thy foul fingers are we plucked from our houses and from our thrones, not through thy cruelty are we given up to us in a black day. Thy despotic and tyrannic mind has no power to lord it over us. No, Jesus, thou hast vanquished Satan, thou hast delivered us from the very fear of death, because thou hast destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil. A thousand angels could not drag us to the grave; and thou, black spirit, thou shalt not be able to confine us there, when once the trump of the archangel shall awaken us from our sleep. Nay, Satan has not done it. Look not on your troubles and trials, my brethren in Christ, as coming from hell. Satan may sometimes be the instrument of your palms, but still they come from God. In the cup of our sorrows, there is not a dreg which the Father did not put there; bitter as the compound may be, the eternal hand of wisdom mixed the whole. The rod may fall, but Satan does not wield it. Like as a father "chasteneth his children," so the Lord doth chasten "them that fear him."
But, once more: one more thought arises in our mind. Perhaps the greatest temptation of modern times, is to impute everything which happens to the laws of nature. Now, this may satisfy philosophy, but theology goes a little further, and while it admits all the laws of matter, yet it asserts that a law is in itself utterly powerless, apart from a power to carry it out. It may be a law that such-and-such things shall be done, but they never will be done unless there be some power to make the law effective. The notion of some in modern times seems to be, that this world is like a great clock, wound up many years ago, in fact, there are some who believe in perpetual motionand appear to teach that it wound itself up. In order to get rid of God, and send him as far away as possible, they go back to primeval times, and conceive that then all the wheels were set in motion, and a sufficient quantity of momentum put into the whole affair, so that it is now going on of itself. As to divine interpositions, these they will not believe, miracles, of course, are absurd, and everything is left to the ordinary laws of nature, there being sufficient vitality, according to some, in the world itself to carry on its own acts, according to certain laws and ruled. Blessed be God, we know that this is not true. We believe it is our duty to use every sanitary means to remove the seeds of disease; we believe that they err who would proclaim a fast over a plague, when it were better to sweep the street; we think that they are wrong who only go to the prayer-meeting when they had better go and put down a row of dilapidated cottages and build better ones; we think that they are impractical and do not understand the Scriptures well, who would be on their knees when they ought to be on their feet and doing earnest work for man; but at the same time, still we have it, that the Lord has done everything, and that these calamities come not except God putteth forth his handthat it is his will to remove men by death, and only by his will could they die. Why, that idea of leaving us all to machinery is an unhappy one to a man who can say, "My Father, my Father in heaven." It is as if a child should be left without nurse or parent, but then there is a cradle which works by machinery, and rocks the child so many hours a day; when it is time for the child to wake he is aroused by machinery; there is an engine ready to feed him; them is a contrivance prepared to take off his garments at night, and an invention to put them on in the morning; he grows up, and whatever is to be done, has to be done by a machine;no love, no father, no tender nurse, no kind and affectionate mother,he is the child of machines and wheels; and so, from year to year, he is passed on from one to another. When he comes up into life he is still fed by a machine; he sleeps, he goes on his journeys, in everything that he does he seen no living face, he feels no soft hand, he hears no loving tender voice; it is one clever piece of soulless, lifeless mechanism that accomplishes all. Now, I bless God that is not the case with us. I can see my Father's hand, I thank him I am fed, but I know he feeds me, I know the laws of nature contribute to preserve life, but I see the impress of his presence in my life, and I should feel like a sad and miserable orphan, with nothing that could find my heart's craving after a something to love, if I believed this world to be deserted of its God, and to have been going on with no Father near it to keep it in order, and to make it produce the insults which he designed. Blessed be God, we have no doubt about our answer to the question. Even if there be evil in a city the Lord hath done it!
Let us pause a moment here, and think. If, then, the Lord hath done it, with what awe is every calamity invested? Standing by the royal death-bed, I thought I was in the presence of a prince, but lo, I see a man. It is thy work, O thou Most High; thou hast sealed those eyes in darkness; thou hast bidden that heart cease its beatings, thou, even thou, hast stretched the manly form in death. How near we are to God! Tread softly, as you go by that little room where your infant's dead body lies yet unburied; for God is there, plucking the flower-bud and appropriating it to himself. You have had some trial yesterday. "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet;" for God is in that burning bush. Men see nothing but the calamity; the eyes of faith see God. We sometimes count it matter of interest if we hear that such-and-such a departed worthy slept in such-and-such a room, or wrote in such a place. What shall we say, when we remember that God is therethat God is herethat while we wear these garments of sorrow, when we bowed our heads just now, and shed tears of sympathy, God was here himself,the All-worker, the King of kings, the Lord of lords. Speak with bated breath; hush, and be silent, you are in the presence of majesty. Let us think of national calamities or of private ills with that reverence which should be inspired by a consciousness of the presence of Deity.
And then, again, if God hath done it, for ever be put away all questions about its being right. It must be right. If any would reply, we would answer them in the curt phrase of Paul, "Nay but O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" But to take him away, and to remove him just in the hour of the nation's perilscan this be right. Brethren, it must be. He has died at the best hour; the affliction has come at the most fitting season. It would have been wrong that it should have been otherwise, it would neither have been wise nor kind that he should have been spared. And this I gather from the fact that God has taken him away; and therefore it must be wisest, best, kindest. Only say the same over all your losses. Though your dearest friend be removed, be hushed, be dumb with silence and answer not, because thou didst it, even thou, O God, therefore we say, "Thy will be done."
And this, too, shall be our best comfort. God hath done it. What! shall we weep for what God hath done! Shall we sorrow when the Master hath taken away what was his own? "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord." The gardener had a choice flower in his beds. One morning he missed it. He had tended it so carefully that he looked upon it with the affection of a father to a child, and he hastily ran through the garden and sought out one of the servants, for he thought surely an enemy had plucked it, and he said to him, "Who plucked that rose?" And the servant said, "I saw the master walking through the garden early this morning, when the sun was rising, and I saw him bear it away in his hand." Then he that tended the rose said, "It is well; let him be blessed; it was his own; for him I held it; for him I nursed it and if he hath taken it, it is well: So be it with your hearts. Feel that it is for the best that you have lost your friend, or that your best relation his departed. God has done it. Be ye filled with comfort; for what God hath done can never be a proper argument for tears. Do ye weep, ye heavens, because God hath veiled the stars? Dost thou weep, O earth, because God hath hidden the sun? What God hath done is ever ground for sonnet and for hallelujah. And even here, o'er the dead as yet unburied, our faith begins to sing its song"'Tis well, 'tis well; 'tis for the best, and let the Lord's name be praised now as ever."
II. I now only want your attention for a few minutes while I pass on to the second head. IF GOD HATH DONE IT, HE HATH DONE IT WITH SOME DESIGN.
It is not always proper for us to ask reasons for divine acts, for if he gives no account of his matters we ought not to ask any account. That frivolous affectation of piety which leads even professedly Christian men to call every affliction a judgment, and to consider that every patron who is suddenly taken away, dies as a judgment either upon him or others, I detest from my very soul. The infidel press usually lays hold upon this as being our weakest point. It is not our weakest point; we have nothing to do with it. Those who talk thus know nought of their Bibles. They upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, dream ye that they were worse sinners than others? I am utterly sick of the cant of a portion of the religious world, when they raised a kind of miniature howl at me, when I said, and still repeat it, that an accident on a railway on the Sunday is not a judgment, but happens in the common course of Providence, and that we are not to look for an immediate reason close at hand for any of these events. God's judgments are a vast deep, they are not that little shadow pool, to the bottom of which every fool's plummet may reach. God has some greater mystery in what he does than these, which every babe might discover. But, we draw a line between private calamities and national calamities. Nations have no future, hence the Judge of Unctions must chastise them here. For individuals, the punishment of sin is not in this world, but in the world to come; but nations will not rise as nationsthey will rise as individuals, hence, when a death becomes a national calamity, it is fitting and proper to question, if we do not pry too deep, as to why God hath done it. Personally, the judgment is in the next world, and to each man the end of his career is to come there; but with nations I think there are judgments here, and that we should be wrong if we passed by the dealings of God, without hearing "the rod and him that hath appointed it."
Now, why hath God been pleased to take away the Consort of our Queen?
I think, in the first place, we may see a motive for it in his thus giving a most solemn monition to all the kings and princes of the earth. Thus saith Jehovah, King of kings and Lord of lords: "Emperors and princes! ye thou die like men. Let not your crowns seem to you eternal; there is but one King, immortal, invisible. Think not, when ye stretch your spectres over nations, that yours is an Almighty arm; your arm shall drop the rod, your head shall lose its crown; your purple shall give place to the shroud, and your palace shall be the narrow limits of the tomb." The dead from their graves are crying
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