The After-glow of a Great Reign Part 1

The After-glow of a Great Reign.

by A. F. Winnington Ingram.

I.

HER TRUTHFULNESS.

"Behold, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts."--_Psalm li. 6._

We stand to-day like men who have just watched a great sunset. On some beautiful summer evening we must all of us have watched a sunset, and we know how, first of all, we see the great orb slowly decline towards the horizon; then comes the sense of coming loss; then it sets amid a blaze of glory, and then it is buried, buried for ever so far as that day is concerned, to reappear as the leader of a new dawn. In exactly the same way have we for years been watching with loving interest the declining years of our Queen, years that declined so slowly towards the horizon that we almost persuaded ourselves we should have her with us for ever. Then came, but a few weeks ago, a sudden sense of coming loss, then her sun set in a blaze of glory, and yesterday she was buried, buried from our sight, to reappear, as we believe, as a bright particular star in another world. We do not grudge her her rest. Few words can express more beautifully the thoughts of thousands than these words just put into my hand--

"Leave her in peace, her time is fully come, Her empire's crown All day she bore, nor asked to lay it down, Now G.o.d has called her home.

Let sights and sounds of earth be all forgot, Her cares and tears She hath endured thro' her allotted years, Now they can touch her not.

From that fierce light which beats upon a throne Now has she pa.s.sed Into G.o.d's stillness, cool and deep and vast, Let Heaven for earth atone.

All gifts but one He gave, but kept the best Till now in store; Now He doth add to all He gave before His perfect gift of rest." [1]

But, just as in the sunset a beautiful and tender after-glow remains long after the sun has set, so we are gathered to-day in the tender after-glow. And I propose that we should try and gather up one by one--to learn ourselves and to tell our children, and the generations yet unborn, as some explanation of the marvellous influence which she exercised--some of the qualities of the Queen whom we have lost.

And let us first fix our minds upon something which at first sight seems so simple, but yet seems to have struck every generation of statesmen as a thing almost supernatural--and that is _her marvellous truthfulness_. Said a great statesman, "She is the most perfectly truthful being I have ever met." "Perfect sincerity" is the description of another. Now what that must have meant to England, for generation after generation of statesmen to have had at the centre of the empire a truthful person, a person who never used intrigue, who never was plotting or planning, or working behind the backs of those who were responsible to advise her--to have had someone perfectly sincere to deal with in the great things of state--that is something which must be left for the historian who chronicles the Victorian era thoroughly to paint. No, my friends, our task now is far simpler: it is to ask what is the secret of this marvellous truthfulness, can we obtain it ourselves, and does G.o.d demand it?

Let us take the last question first, and we take it first because it is the question directly answered in our text. The answer is given by someone who understood human nature, by someone who had sinned, had been forgiven, had been roused out of the conventionalities of life by a great experience, who had looked out of the door of his being and had seen G.o.d. And he tells us, as the result of his experience, and as the basis of his repentance, these words "Behold, Thou requirest truth in the inward parts." It is one thing to say words which, understood in a certain sense, are true, it is one thing to avoid direct breaches in our action of the law of honour, but it is another thing to be in ourselves absolutely sincere, to look up into the eyes of G.o.d, as a truthful child looks up into the eyes of its mother, to possess our own hearts like a flawless gem, with nothing to hide, nothing to keep back, and nothing to be ashamed of--that is to have truth in the inward parts, and that is what G.o.d demands. It is what He found in Christ, one of the things which made Him say time after time, "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased"; He found ever reflecting back His Face as He looked down upon Him a perfectly sincere Person, true through and through. That was the secret of His marvellous influence, that was why little children came and crept under the ample folds of His love, that was why young men came and told Him their secrets, that was why everybody, except the bad, felt at home with Him, that was why women were at their best with Him, that was why Herod the worldly found he could not flatter Him, and Pilate the coward found Him devoid of fear; it was because right through, not only in His words and actions, but in His being He not only had, but He was, Truth in the inward parts. And it is because our Queen, with her simple and beautiful faith in her Saviour, caught from childhood this attribute of her Lord, because she worked it out into her character, made it the foundation of everything she did--it is for that reason she was able to keep the Court pure, and the heart of the country true, to get rid of flattery, meanness and intrigue, and to chase away the sycophant and the traitor.

Is it not a lesson which the country needs, is there any n.o.bler monument that we could build to her than this--to incorporate into the character of the nation the first and great characteristic of her own character, and to try and plant in society, in trade, and in Christian work, truth in the inward parts?

Take, first, _society_. It is a cheap sneer, which speaks perpetually of the hollowness of so-called society, as if rich people could not make and did not make as honest friendships as the poor and middle cla.s.s; but, at the same time, few would deny how much of what would be such a good thing is disfigured by display and insincerity, that miserable attempting to be thought richer than we are, that pitiable struggle to get into a smarter set than happens to be ours, the unreal compliments, the insincere expressions, the sometimes hideous treachery. If society were purged from these, it would not be the dull thing which some people imagine, just as if this insincerity and frivolity and unreality const.i.tuted the brightness of it. No, it is these things which const.i.tute the dulness and the stupidity. If they were done away with, then society would be a gathering of true men and women, true to themselves, true to one another, and true to G.o.d, and would be a society which G.o.d could bless.

Secondly, take _trade_ and _commerce_. Speaking in the very centre of a city reared upon a basis of honourable commerce, it would be more than wicked to refuse to acknowledge the splendid honour and trust on which such commerce is based; but when we clergy, not once or twice, but constantly, get letters from those employed in firms and in business up and down the country, saying, "How can I live a Christian life, when I am obliged by my employer to do dishonest things in business, when I am told to tell lies, or I shall lose my place?" When we have, even within the last few months, terrible instances of breach of trust among those who have been entrusted with the most sacred interests by the widow and the orphan, must we not acknowledge that a second great monument which we might build to our Queen would be to restore to the trade and commerce of the country those principles of honour and integrity on which the great firms were built up, and to make it true again from end to end of the world that an Englishman's word is as good as his bond.

And so, again--would to G.o.d we had not to add it!--what a revolution would be worked in _Christian work_ itself--Christian work that is supposed to demand from everyone who undertakes it perfect forgetfulness of self, and entire self-abnegation, to have as its workers men and women conspicuous for humility, for thinking of others before themselves, for being ready to bear the cross on the way to the crown. And yet can we deny--would G.o.d we could!--that in Christian work there is an amount of self-advertis.e.m.e.nt, of jealousy among workers, and of insincerity which lowers our cause, and damages the progress of Christianity? Think for a moment what it would be if all Christians were really united as Christ meant them to be, if they worked with one another, showing a common front to the world, one great society, as Christ conceived it, without jealousy, without conceit, without pride, but throwing themselves into one magnificent common cause. Why, nothing could stand before the Christian Church if it were like that. Can we not in this coming reign, and the century just begun, try and plant in the heart of every Christian worker truth in the inward parts?

How are we, then--that comes to be the last question--how are we to attain this wonderful gift, the secret of a strong character?

And, first of all, let us be perfectly clear as to the first essential.

The first essential is _detachment of mind_. Oh! what cowards we are with regard to the opinion of others! You will find time after time men and women, who think themselves free, living under the most degrading tyranny of fear as to what will be thought of them by others.

Not to care at all what anybody thinks is inhuman, but to be bound by a kind of trembling terror as to what people will say or think, is a degrading slavery. Bit by bit it creates in the character a habit of insincerity; little by little the question is in the heart and in the mind, "Will this be popular or not? Shall I be liked for this?" We speak or do something according to the reflection it will make in the thoughts of others. There may be some here who know that that is their temptation, who know that they are not true, that they are never themselves, they are always somebody else, or the reflection of the mind of somebody else. Let the example of our truthful Queen speak like a trumpet note the old words of the New Testament, "Stand upright on thy feet," and be a man.

And, if the first secret is detachment of mind, putting aside self-consciousness, which is very often other-people-consciousness, the second secret is _an increasing consciousness of G.o.d_. Is it not an extraordinary thing that when we are only here for a few fleeting years, and everybody around us is hurrying to his grave as fast as he can, and when the only person whose opinion matters the least is the eternal G.o.d, Who goes on generation after generation, and before Whom everyone must appear at the last--is it not an extraordinary thing how little we think of Him at all? How often during the past week have you thought of G.o.d? To actually acquire a continual sense of His presence, to be conscious that His eyes, the eyes of Him Who is from everlasting to everlasting, are always fixed upon us, to rise in the morning with the feeling, "One more day's work for G.o.d," and to go to bed in the evening with only one care, "How have we done it?"--that is to gradually foster in the character the second great thing which will produce truth in the inward parts--a consciousness and love of G.o.d.

And then, thirdly, _learn truth like a lesson_. If we did not learn it as the Queen did as a child, let us begin now. Watch every word. Are we in the habit of boasting, are we in the habit of lying, are we in the habit of being insincere? Not "What did we do?" but "Why did we do it?" is the real question. Why did we give that donation to something?

For the good of the cause or to see our name in the paper? Why did we do this thing? Was it done from a true and pure motive? And if, as we try and learn truth like a lesson, step by step, in word and deed, we also pray continually, "Give me a clean heart, O G.o.d, and renew a right spirit within me," then there shall emerge gradually something that will last beyond the grave--an image, which is also the pattern, the character of the child, slowly won, but which was the prototype to start with; and thus we may hope to be sincere, and without offence until the day of Christ.

[1] Lines by the Rev. W. H. Draper, Rector of Adel, Leeds.

II.

HER MORAL COURAGE.

"Why are ye fearful? O! ye of little faith."--_St. Matthew viii. 26._

We saw last Sunday that we were like men who had just watched a great sunset, that we were standing, as it were, in the beautiful and tender after-glow, which so often follows a beautiful sunset, and we set ourselves to try and gather up and meditate upon some of the great qualities in the character of her whom we have lost, as some explanation, of the influence which made her reign so great.

And we have already contemplated together what it was to have _truth in the inward parts_. We thought over the truthfulness of one, of whom it was said by a great statesman, that she was the most truthful being he had ever met. And we saw what a revolution it would work in society, in commerce, and in Christian work, if every one of us had that downright sincerity and straightforwardness which characterized her.

We now take another quality, and I suppose I shall carry most of you with me when I mention, as a second great quality for us to try and incorporate into our own characters, and so into the life of the nation for the new reign--her moral courage. She had plenty of physical courage. She was a fearless horsewoman in her youth, she was proud of being the daughter of a soldier, she loved her own soldiers and sailors, and marked to the very last day of her life their gallant deeds with delight. But there was throughout her life something more than physical courage, and that was her moral courage.

Take, first of all, the way in which she bore her own personal troubles. If there was anyone who could say with the Psalmist, "All Thy waves and storms have gone over me," it was our late Queen. What the loss of her husband was to her, you may gather from this beautiful letter published in Lord Selborne's Life, which she addressed to him years afterwards on the loss of his own wife: "To lose the loved companion of one's life is losing half one's own existence. From that time everything is different, every event seems to lose its effect; for joy, which cannot be shared by those who feel everything with you, is no joy, and sorrow is redoubled when it cannot be shared and soothed by the one who alone could do so. No children can replace a wife or a husband, may they be ever so good and devoted. One must bear one's burden alone. That our Heavenly Father may give you strength in this heavy affliction, and that your health may not suffer, is the sincere prayer of yours most truly, Victoria, R.I." [1] There could hardly have been penned, one would have thought, a more touching or more beautiful letter, and penned years after the loss of her husband. It revealed to the heart of the nation what that loss was to her. It was followed in the years afterwards by the loss of children and grandchildren. And the first thing, therefore, that strikes us is that, in the midst of this personal sorrow, one stroke following after another, with a moral courage which is an example to us all, she never gave up her work; without fainting or failing, that huge pile of doc.u.ments, which, in a few days of cessation from her work, mounted up--a great statesman tells us--so high, was dealt with, those ceaseless interviews, that constant correspondence--were carried through up to the last by one who proved herself faithful unto death.

And, as with personal sorrow, so with public anxiety. It has become now common property that, in the dark days of December, 1899, the Queen was the one who refused to be depressed in her court; when disaster followed disaster it was the Queen who, by her moral courage, kept up the spirits of those around her, and who, with a perfect trust in her soldiers and sailors, and with an absolute confidence in the justice of her cause, went steadily, brightly, and cheerfully on with her work, upheld by the moral courage which I put before you and before myself as our example for to-day.

And so, once again, her moral courage took the form--a rare form, too, in these days--of the courage of her own opinions. One statesman has told us that he never differed from a matured opinion of his Sovereign without a great sense of responsibility; another, that when he once acted directly against it he found that he was wrong and she was right.

Another has pointed out how we have lost among the crowned heads of Europe, in her personal influence among them, one of the strongest influences in Europe for peace and righteousness. And, therefore, when we think to ourselves of the difficulty of acting always const.i.tutionally and yet strongly, and to know that our Queen, on all hands, is admitted to have done this through a long lifetime, we see a third aspect of the moral courage which we have to seek to emulate.

Now, the question is--for these sermons are meant in no sense to be mere panegyrics--In what way can we, gathered here on a Sunday afternoon, incorporate into our characters something of the moral courage which characterized the Queen?

And the first thing which strikes us is this: What a vast field it is on which we have to exercise it. To those who have to see a great deal of the sorrows of others, sometimes life simply seems one series of undeserved calamities. Take, for instance, that unhappy man who, recently, in this cathedral, shot himself, and by his own act pa.s.sed into the other world. Look into his history, and you will find nothing specially wrong that he had done up to then. He had just been one of the unfortunates amongst us. He had been for years a steady workman, able to keep himself; then his joints got stiff, too stiff for work.

"I cannot go on living on your husband's earnings, Rose," he said, on the morning that he died, and without, no doubt, a proper understanding of the guilt of self-murder, by his own act he pa.s.sed--so he thought--out of trouble into rest. We do well to pray that we comfortable people in the world may be pardoned for any carelessness and selfishness on our part which makes the world so intolerable to many of our fellow creatures. But still, though we may soften by our pity the act which he did, and even for such an one we can only speak softly about the dead; though we know full well that some of the best men that ever lived, in a fit of insanity, or under depression quite impossible for them to control, have pa.s.sed, by their own hand, out of this world, yet we cannot hide from ourselves that self-destruction is an act of cowardice, that where men and women break down is not in physical courage, but in moral courage, and that those lines penned long ago are true to-day:

"When all the blandishments of life are gone, The coward slinks to death, the brave live on!"

But we need not go to such an exceptional occurrence as that to find a field for this exercise of moral courage. Take all those incidents of life which happen day after day--the little child s.n.a.t.c.hed from us in all its beauty and its innocence: the bright lad shot upon the field of battle in a moment, taken away with all his brightness, and his laughter, and his merriment; the man who loses in middle life his money and has to begin the hard struggle of saving all over again--how are we to explain it? What can we say to light up in any degree so vast a problem? There is, my dear brothers and sisters, I believe, no full explanation here, but there is a belief which comforts us, and that is, that these calamities of life are all being used for a great purpose; that when the Scripture says of G.o.d that "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver," it does give us some sort of clue which nerves us to bear what we have to bear. Those who pa.s.s from us, pa.s.s, we believe, into what has been called, "G.o.d's great Convalescent Home" in another world, but to us who have to suffer, who receive these strokes, the suffering is not useless; it is a furnace which has to fashion that heavenly tempered thing which we call "moral courage," and to produce it any suffering is worth bearing. Do think over that, you who may be going through the furnace now, do remember that you have not lost that lad, that child, for ever, that it is only a few years until you see him again; but, meanwhile, while he is prepared there, you are being prepared here. The character is everything, and if there can be produced in you and in me that moral courage which makes us like our Saviour, we shall not be sorry for it in the days to come.

And so, again, take that awful trial which comes at times of having to suffer under a false accusation. I saw someone this week whom I believe to be lying under a most terrible accusation which is absolutely false. And, if anyone of you has ever been through that terrible trial of suffering under an imputation on your honour, which you know to be false, but cannot prove to be false, you realize what a field such a state as that presents for moral courage. What are we to say to anyone we see who is under that most terrible trial? What are we to say to ourselves if such a misfortune and trial comes to us?

Why, we can only say this, and it is enough--that if it is true that a general places his bravest soldiers in the hottest part of the battle, if it is true that it is only certain strokes which can reach the most sensitive parts of our character, if it is true that this very trial came to Jesus Christ Himself, and He had it said of Him--"He works through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils," "He saved others, Himself He cannot save"--then, my brother, the secret of your strange punishment is out, it means that it is a special mark of favour, it is a Victoria Cross for service, it is Christ coming to you and bringing the very cup out of which He drank Himself, and saying, "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" Pray hard, pray with all your strength, for the moral courage to answer back, "I am able." "Therefore," as the poet so beautifully says:--

"Therefore gird up thyself, and come to stand Unflinching under the unfaltering hand That waits to prove thee to the uttermost.

It were not hard to suffer by His hand If thou could see His face; but in the dark!

That is the one last trial--be it so; Christ was forsaken, so must thou be too: How couldst thou suffer but in seeming else?

Thou wilt not see the face, nor feel the hand, Only the cruel crushing of the feet, When, thro' the bitter night, the Lord comes down To tread the wine-press. Not by sight but faith, Endure, endure; be faithful to the end."

And so, once again, looking out upon our ordinary life, what shall we need to put backbone into life? What do we need to give a little more strength to it, to enable us to be braver and firmer and stronger? It is just that power of being able to take our own line against others; it is just that courage of our opinions; it is consistent with being perfectly humble, and ever ready to learn; it implies no conceit, and no contempt of others, but it enables this one in the workshop to stand up for the faith in which he believes, that one in the drawing-room to take a strong moral line when people are sneering at virtue; it nerves us to stand by our colours and to cry to the last,

"Faith of our fathers, living still, We will be true to thee till death."

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