When he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished.
I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.
These passages, of which the first is taken from the gospel of this morning's service, the other from the second lesson, differ in words, but their meaning is very nearly the same. The house which was empty, swept and garnished, was especially one empty of the love of God. Whatever evil there may not have been in it; whatever good there may have been in those of whom Christ spoke in the second passage: yet it and they agreed in this; one thing they had not, which alone was worth, all the rest besides; they had not the love of God.
And so it is still; many are the faults which we have not; many are the good qualities which we have; but the life is wanting. What is so rare as to find one who is not indifferent to God? What so rare, even rarer than the other, as to find one who actually loves him?
Therefore it is that those who go in at the broad gate of destruction are many, and those who go in at the narrow gate of life are few. For destruction and life are but other terms for indifference to God on the one hand, and love to him on the other. All who are indifferent to him, die; a painless death of mere extinction, if, like the brute creation, they have never been made capable of loving him; or a living death of perpetual misery, if, like evil spirits and evil men, they might have loved him and would not. And so all who love him, live a life, from first to last, without sin and sorrow, if, like the holy angels, they have loved him always; a life partaking at first of death, but brightening more and more unto the perfect day, if, like Christians, they were born in sin, but had been redeemed and sanctified to righteousness.
Whoever has watched human character, whether in the young or the old, must be well aware of the truth of this: he will know that the value of any character is in proportion to the existence or to the absence of this feeling, or rather, I should say, this principle. An exception may, perhaps, be made for a small, a very small number of fanatics; an apparent exception likewise exists in the case of many who seem to be religious, but who really are not so. The few exceptions of the former case are so very few, that we need not now stop to consider them, nor to inquire how far even these would be exceptions if we could read the heart as God reads it. The seeming exceptions being cases either of hypocrisy, or of very common self-deceit, we need not regard either; for they are, of course, no real objection to the truth of the general statement. It remains true, then, generally, that the value of any character is in proportion to the existence, or to the absence, in it of the love of God.
But is there not another exception to be made for the case of children, and of very young persons? Are they capable of loving God? and are not their earthly relations, their parents especially, put to them, as it were, in the place of God, as objects of trust, of love, of honour, of obedience, till their minds can open to comprehend the love of their Father who is in heaven? And does not the Scripture itself, in the few places in which it seems directly to address children, content itself with directing them to obey and honour their parents? Some notions of this sort are allowed, I believe, to serve sometimes as an excuse, when young persons are blamed for being utterly wanting in a sense of duty to God.
The passages which direct children to obey their parents, are of the same kind with those, directing slaves to obey their masters, and masters to be kind to their slaves; like those, also, which John the Baptist addressed to the soldiers and publicans: in none of all which there is any command to love God, but merely a command to fulfil that particular duty which most arose out of the particular relation, or calling of the persons addressed. In fact, when parents are addressed, they are directed only to do their duties to their children, just as children are directed to do theirs to their parents; in both cases alike, the common duty of parents and children to God is not dwelt upon, because that is a duty which does not belong to them as parents, or as children, but as human beings; and as such, it belongs to all alike. In fact, the very language of St. Paul's command to children implies this; for he says, |Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right:| right, that is, in the sight of God: so that the very reason for which children are to discharge their earthly duties is, because that earthly duty is commanded by, or involved in, their heavenly duty; if they do not do it, they will not please God. But it is manifest that, in this respect, there is for all of us one only law, so soon as we are able to understand it. The moment that a child becomes capable of understanding anything about God and Christ, -- and how early that is, every parent can testify, -- that moment the duty to love God and Christ begins. It were absurd to say, that this duty has not begun at the age of boyhood. A boy is able to understand the force of religious motives, as well as he can that of earthly motives: he cannot understand either, perhaps, so well as he will hereafter; but he understands both enough, for the purposes of his salvation; enough, to condemn him before God, if he neglects them; enough to make him derive the greatest benefit from faithfully observing them.
And what can have been the purpose with which the only particular of our Lord's early life has been handed down to us, if it were not to direct our attention to this special truth, that our youth, no less than our riper age, belongs to God? |Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?| were words spoken by our Lord when he was no more than twelve years old. At twelve years old, he thought of preparing himself for the duties of his after-life; and of preparing himself for them, because they were God's will. He was to be about his Father's business. This is Christ's example for the young; this, and scarcely anything more than this, is recorded of his early years. Those are not like Christ who, at that same age, or even older, never think at all of the business of their future lives, still less would think of it, not as the means of their own maintenance or advancement, but as the duty which they owe to God.
Such as these are the very persons whose hearts are like the house in the parable, empty, swept, and garnished. The house so described in the parable is one out of which an evil spirit has just departed. In case of the young, the evil spirit in this sense, that is, as representing some one particular favourite sin, may perhaps have never entered it. That empty, swept, and garnished house, how like is it to what I have seen, to what I am seeing so continually, when a boy comes here with much still remaining of the innocence of childhood! Evil spirit, in the sense of any one particular vice, there is none to be found in that heart, nor has there been any ever. It is empty, swept, and garnished: there is the absence of evil; there are the various faculties, the furniture, as they may be called, of the house of our spirits, which the spirit uses either for evil or for good. There is innocence, then; there is, also, the promise of power. God hath richly endowed the earthly house of our tabernacle: various and wonderful is the furniture of body and mind with which it is supplied. How can we help admiring that open and cheerful brow which, as yet, no care or sin has furrowed; those light and active limbs, full of health and vigour; the eye so quick; the ear so undulled; the memory so ready; the young curiosity so eager to take in new knowledge; the young feelings, not yet spoiled by over-excitement, ready to admire, ready to love? There is the house, the house of God's building, the house which must abide for ever; but where is the spirit to inhabit it? Evil spirit there is none: is it, then, possessed by the Spirit of God? Has the fire from heaven as yet descended upon that house, -- the living sign of God's presence, which alone can convert the house of perishable clay into the everlasting temple?
Can that blessed Spirit of God be indeed there, and yet no sign of his presence be manifest? It may be so, or to speak more truly, it might have been supposed to be so, if God's word had not declared the contrary. What God's secret workings are; in how many ways, to us inscrutable, he may pervade all nature; in how many cases he may be near us, and we know it not; may, perhaps, be amongst those real mysteries, those truths revealed to none, nor to be revealed; those yet uncleared forests, so to speak, of the world of nature, into which the light of grace has not been permitted to penetrate. But all such mysteries are to us as if they did not exist at all: we have nothing to do with them. God has told us nothing of his unseen and undiscernible presence; when and where he is so present, he is to us as if he were not present at all. God was in the wilderness of Horeb before the bush was kindled; but he was not there for Moses. God, in some sense discernible, it may be, to other beings, may be in that house which, to us is empty; but God, our own God, the Holy Spirit, into whose service we were baptized, where he is, the house is not empty to us, but full of light. Invisible in himself, the signs of his presence are most visible: where no works, no fruits of the Holy Spirit are to be discerned, there, according to our Lord's express declaration, there the Holy Spirit is not.
But the light which declares his presence may indeed be a little spark; just to be seen, and no more. It may show that he has not abandoned all his right to the house of our tabernacle as yet; that he would desire to possess us fully. Such a little spark, such an evidence of the Holy Spirit's presence, is to be found in the outward profession of Christianity. They who call Jesus Lord, do it by the Holy Ghost; and, therefore, it is quite true in this sense, that in every baptized Christian, who has not utterly apostatized, there is that faint sign of the Holy Spirit's still having a claim upon him; he is not yet utterly cast off. This is true; but it is not to our present purpose; such a feeble sign is a sign of God's yet unwearied mercy, but no sign of our salvation. The presence with which the parable is concerned, is a far more effectual presence than this; the house in which there is no more than such a faint sign of a divine inhabitant, is, in the language of the parable, empty. To no purpose of our salvation is the Spirit of God present in the house, when the light of his presence does not flash forth from every part of it, when it is not manifest, not only that he has not quite cast it off to go to ruin, but that he has been pleased to make it his temple.
In this sense, therefore, in this practical, scriptural, Christian sense, those many young minds, which we have seen so often, may truly be called empty. But will they remain so long? How often have I seen the early innocence of boyhood overcast; the natural simplicity of boyhood, its open truth, its confident affection, its honest shame, perverted, blunted, hardened! How often have I seen the seven evil spirits enter in and dwell there, -- I know not, and never may know, whether to be cast out again, or to abide for ever. But I have seen them enter, and, whilst the person was yet within my view, I have not seen them depart. And why have they entered; why have they marred that which was so beautiful? For one only reason, -- because the house was empty, because the Spirit of God was not there: there was no love of God, no thought of God. Mere innocence taints and spoils as surely before the influence of the world, as true principle flourishes in spite of it, and strengthens. This, too, I have seen, not once only: I have seen the innocence of early boyhood sanctified by something better than innocence, which gave a promise of abiding. I have seen, in other words, that the house was not empty; that the Spirit of God was there. I have watched the effect of those influences, which you know so well: the second half-year came, a period when mere innocence is sure to be worn away, greatly tainted, if not utterly gone; but still, in the cases which I am now alluding to, the promise of good was not less, but greater, there was a more tried, and, therefore, a stronger goodness. I have watched this, too, till it passed on, out of my sight. I never saw the blessed Spirit of God depart from the house which he had chosen: I well believe that he abides in it still, and will abide in it even to the day of Jesus Christ.
This I have seen, and this I shall continue to see; for still the great work of evil and of good is going on; still the house, at first empty, is possessed by the spirits of evil, or by the Spirit of God. And if we do not see the signs of the Spirit of God, we are but too sure that the evil spirit is there. We know him by the manifold signs of folly, coarseness, carelessness; even when we see not, as yet, his worse fruits of falsehood and profligacy. We know him by the sign of an increased, and increasing selfishness, the everlasting cry of the thousand passions of our nature, all for ever calling out, |Give, give;| all for ever impatient, complaining, when their gratification is withheld, when the call of duty is set before them. We know him by pride and self-importance, as if nothing was so great as self, as if our own opinions, judgment, feelings were to be consulted in all things. We know him by the deep ungodliness which he occasions -- no thought of God, much less any love of him; living utterly without him in the world, or, at least, whilst health and prosperity continue. These are the fatal signs which show that the house is no longer empty; that the evil spirits have entered in, and dwell there, to make it theirs, as too often happens, for time and for eternity.