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The Worlds Great Sermons Volume 8 by Grenville Kleiser




George C. Lorimer was born at Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1838. He was brought up by his stepfather who was associated with the theater, and in this relation he received a dramatic education and had some experience on the stage. In 1855 he came to the United States, where he joined the Baptist Church and abandoned the theatrical profession. Later he studied for the Baptist ministry, being ordained in 1859. He died in 1904. His direct and dramatic, pulpit style brought him into great popularity in Boston, Chicago, and New York. At Tremont Temple, Boston, he frequently spoke to overflowing congregations. He is the author of several well-known books, from one of which the sermon here given is taken as indicating his familiarity with and liking for dramatic literature. His pulpit manner always retained a flavor of dramatic style that contributed to his popularity.


1838 -- 1904


[Footnote 1: Copyright, 1882, by |The Homiletic Monthly,| New York.]

I beheld Satan, as lightning, fall from heaven. -- Luke x., 18.

Whether the |glorious darkness| denoted by the name Satan is an actual personage or a maleficent influence, is of secondary moment as far as the aim and moral of this discourse are concerned. If the ominous title applies to an abstraction, and if the event so vividly introduced is but a dramatical representation of some phase in the mystery of iniquity, the spiritual inferences are just what they would be were the words respectively descriptive of an angel of sin, and of his utter and terrible overthrow. I shall not, therefore, tax your patience with discussions on these points, but shall assume as true that literal reading of the text which has commended itself to the ripest among our evangelical scholars.

The Scriptures obscurely hint at a catastrophe in heaven among immortal intelligences, by which many of them were smitten down from their radiant emerald thrones. Their communications on the subject are not specific and unambiguous, and neither can they escape the suspicion of being designedly figurative; intended, probably, as much to veil as to reveal. One of the clearest statements is made by Jude, where he says: |And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day|; and Peter, in like manner, speaks of God sparing not the angels that sinned, |but cast them down to hell|; and yet these comparatively lucid passages suggest a world of mist and shadow, which becomes filled with strange images when we confront the picture, presented by John, of war in heaven, with Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon, |that old serpent called the devil.| Back of them there doubtless lies a history whose tragic significance is not easily measured. The sad, imperishable annals of our race prove that sin is a contingency of freedom. Wherever creatures are endowed with moral liberty, transgression is impliedly possible. It is, consequently, inherently probable that celestial beings, as well as man, may have revolted from the law of their Maker; and a fall accomplished among the inhabitants of heaven should no more surprize us than the fall of mortals on earth. Perhaps, after all, there is as much truth as poetry in Milton's conception of the rebellion, and of the fearful defeat that overtook its leader: --

|Him the almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky,
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition: there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who durst defy the Omnipotent to arms.|

An apostle, admonishing a novice, bids him beware of pride, |lest he fall into the condemnation of the devil.| Here presumptuous arrogance and haughtiness of spirit are specified as the root and source of the great transgression. Shakespeare takes up this thought: --

|Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition.
By that sin fell the angels: how can man, then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by't?|

And Milton repeats it in the magnificent lines: --

|What time his pride
Had cast him out of heaven, with all his host
Of rebel angels; by whose aid, aspiring
To set himself in glory above his peers,
He trusted to have equalled the Most High,
If He opposed; and, with ambitious aim,
Against the throne and monarchy of God
Raised impious war in heaven, and battle proud,
With vain attempt.|

Our Savior, also, sanctions this idea in the text. Joining His disciples again, after their brief separation, He finds them elated and exultant. They rejoiced, and, apparently, not with modesty, that devils were subject unto them, and that they could exorcize them at their pleasure. While they acknowledged that their power was due to the influence of His name, they evidently thought more of themselves than of Him. They were given to unseemly glorifying and self-satisfaction, and were met by the Master's words -- half warning, half rebuke -- |I beheld Satan, as lightning, fall from heaven.| He thus identifies their pride with that evil spirit which led to angelic ruin, and seeks to banish it from their hearts: |Rejoice not that the demons are subject unto you, but, rather, rejoice because your names are written in heaven.| Rejoice not on account of privilege and power, but on account of grace; for the memory of grace must promote humility, as it will recall the guilt of which it is the remedy.

We have, here, a lesson for all ages and for all classes of society -- a lesson continually enforced by Scripture, and illustrated by history. It deals with the insanity of pride and the senselessness of egotism. It reminds us, by repeated examples, of the temptations to self-inflation, and of the perils which assail its indulgence. |Ye shall be as gods,| was the smiling, sarcastic allurement which beguiled our first parents to their ruin. They thought that before them rose an eminence which the foot of creaturehood had never trodden; that from its height the adventurous climber would rival Deity in the sweep of his knowledge and the depth of his joy. Elated and dazzled by the prospect, they dared tread through sin to its attainment, vainly dreaming that wrong-doing would lead to a purer paradise and to a loftier throne. One step, and only one, in the gratification of their desires, converted their enchanting mountain into a yawning gulf, and in its horrid wastes of darkness and of sorrow their high-blown pride was shamed and smothered. The haughty king walked on the terrace heights of Babylon, and, beneath the calm splendor of an Assyrian sky, voiced the complacent feeling which dulled his sense of dependence upon God -- as the perfumes of the East lull into waking-slumber the faculties of the soul. Thus ran his self-glorifying soliloquy: |Is not this great Babylon that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?| Alas for the weakness of the royal egotist! In an hour his boasting was at an end, and, reduced by the chastening judgment of the Almighty to the level of the brute creation, he was compelled to learn that |those who walk in pride the King of heaven is able to abase.| Similar the lesson taught us by the overthrow of Belshazzar when, congratulating himself on the stability of his throne, and in his excess of arrogance, he insulted the sacred vessels which his father had plundered from the temple at Jerusalem. I say taught us, for the foolhardy braggart was past learning anything himself. Like the yet more silly Herod, who drank in the adulation of the mob as he sat shimmering in his silver robe and slimed his speech from his serpent-tongue, he was too inflated and bloated with vanity to be corrected by wholesome discipline. Both of these rulers were too self-satisfied to be reproved, and God's exterminating indignation overtook them. Like empty bubbles, nothing could be done with them, and hence the breath of the Almighty burst and dispersed their glittering worthlessness. Pope John XXI., according to Dean Milman, is another conspicuous monument of this folly. |Contemplating,| writes the historian, |with too much pride the work of his own hands| -- the splendid palace of Viterbo -- |at that instant the avenging roof came down, on his head.| And Shakespeare has immortalized the pathetic doom which awaits the proud man, who, confident in his own importance and in the magnitude of his destiny, is swallowed up in schemes and plans for his personal aggrandizement and power. Wolsey goes too far in his self-seeking, is betrayed by his excess of statecraft, and, being publicly disgraced, laments, when too late, his selfish folly: --

|I have ventured,
Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders,
These many summers on a sea of glory,
But far beyond my depth: my high-blown pride
At length broke under me; and now has left me,
Weary, and old with service, to the mercy
Of a rude stream, that must forever hide me.|

It is not difficult to discern the fatal effects of this spirit in the lives of the great and mighty; but we are frequently blind to its pernicious influence on the lowly and weak. We do not realize, as we ought, that the differences between men lie mainly in their position, not in their experiences and dangers. The leaders of society are merely actors, exhibiting on the public stage of history what is common to mankind at large. However insignificant we may be, and however obscure our station, our inner life is not far removed from that of the exalted personages who draw to themselves the attention of the world. The poorest man has his ambitions, his struggles and his reverses; and the first may take as deep a hold upon his heart, and the second call forth as much cunning or wisdom to confront, and the last as much bitterness to endure, as are found in the vicissitudes of a Richelieu or a Napoleon. The peasant's daughter, in her narrow circle, feels as keenly the disappointment of her hopes, and mourns as intensely the betrayal of her confidence, or the rude ending of her day-dreams, as either queen or princess, as either Katharine of England or Josephine of France. We do wrong to separate, as widely as we do in our thoughts, ranks and conditions of society. The palace and the hovel are nearer to each other than we usually think; and what passes beneath the fretted ceiling of the one, and the thatched roof of the other, is divided by the shadowy line of mere externalities. And so it happens that the fall of an angel may be pertinent to the state of a fisherman-disciple, and the fall of a prime minister or ruler have its message of warning for the tradesman and mechanic.

Indeed, it will generally be found that the failures of life, and the worse than failures, are mainly due to the same cause which emptied heavenly thrones of their angelic occupants. What is it, let me ask, that comes into clearer prominence as the Washington tragedy is being investigated and scrutinized? Is it not that a diseased egotism, or perhaps it would be more correct to say, a stalwart egotism, robbed this country of its ruler, committed |most sacrilegious murder,| and |broke ope|

|The Lord's anointed temple, and stole thence
The life o' the building.|

[Footnote 1: The assassination of President Garfield.]

Like bloody Macbeth, who greedily drank in the prognostications of the weird sisters, tho he feared that the |supernatural soliciting| could not be good, because they pandered to his monstrous self-infatuation, Guiteau, having wrought himself up through many years of self-complacency, claims to have believed that the divine Being had chosen him to do a deed which has filled the earth with horror. Thus the growth of self-conceit into mammoth proportions tends to obscure the rights of others, and to darken with its gigantic shadow the light of conscience. If we are to admit the prisoner's story, as the expression of his real condition prior to the assassination, we look on one so intoxicated with the sense of his own importance that he would |spurn the sea, if it could roar at him,| and hesitate not to perform any deed of darkness that would render him more conspicuous. Others, less heinous offenders than this garrulous murderer, have, from similar weakness, wrought indescribable mischief to themselves. The man, for instance, who frets against providence because his standing is not higher and his influence greater, has evidently a better opinion of his deservings than is wholesome for him. He imagines he is being wronged by the Creator -- that his merits are not recognized as they should be -- never, for a moment, remembering that, as a sinner, he has no claims on the extraordinary bounty of his heavenly Father. From murmuring he easily glides into open rebellion, and from whispered reproaches to loud denunciations. There are people in every community whose pride leads them into shameful transactions. They would not condescend to mingle with their social inferiors, but they will subsist on the earnings of their friends, and consider it no disgrace to borrow money which they have no intention of returning. Their vanity, at times, commits them to extravagances which they have no means of supporting. They ought to have carriages and horses, mansions and pictures, with all the luxuries of affluence -- at least so they think -- and, being destitute of the resources requisite to maintain such state, they become adepts in those arts which qualify for the penitentiary. Others have such confidence in the strength of their virtue, such commanding arrogance of integrity, that, like a captain who underestimates the force of an enemy and overrates his own, they neglect to place a picket-guard on the outskirts of their moral camp, and in such an hour as they think not they are surprized and lost. Even possessors of religion are not always clear of this folly, or safe from its perils. They |think more highly of themselves than they ought to think|; they come to regard themselves as specially favored of heaven; they talk of the Almighty in a free and easy manner, and of Jesus Christ as tho He were not the Judge at all. When they pray, it is with a familiarity bordering on irreverence, and when they deal with sacred themes it is with a lightness that breeds contempt. When they recount the marvels which they have wrought in the name of Christ, it is hardly-possible for them to hide their self-complacency; for, while they profess to give Him the glory, the manner of their speech shows that they are taking it to themselves. They are like the disciples, who were as proud of their prowess in casting out devils as children are with their beautiful toys, and they are as much in need of the Savior's warning: |I beheld Satan, as lightning, fall from heaven.| And because they have failed to give heed unto it, they have oftentimes followed the Evil One in his downward course, and in a moment have made shipwreck of their faith.

|As sails, full spread, and bellying with the wind, Drop, suddenly collapsed, if the mast split;
So to the ground down dropped the cruel fiend|;

and earthward have the unsaintly saints of God as swiftly sped, when they have fostered the pride which changed angels into demons.

|How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!| What more pitiable spectacle than the ruin of an angel! We have seen the forsaken halls of time-worn and dilapidated castles, have stood in the unroofed palaces of ancient princes, and have gazed on the moss-covered and ivy-decked towers of perishing churches, and the sight of them has tilled our hearts with melancholy, as we thought of what had been, and of the changes that had swept over the fair, valiant and pious throngs whose laughter, bravery and prayers once made these scenes so gay and vocal. All is hushed now, and the silence is broken only by the hoot and screech of the owl, or by the rustle of the nightbat's leathern wing. But how much sadder is the form of the mighty spirit, who once sat regnant among the sons of light, emptied of his innocence, filled with foul, creeping, venomous thoughts and feelings, uncrowned, dethroned only with malignity and throned in evil! The Bible calls him the prince and the god of this world; and everywhere we are surrounded with evidences of his despotic sway. Unlike earthly rulers, whose exhausted natures exact repose, he is ever sleepless, and his plotting never ends. Enter his somber presence-chamber, and commotion, bustle, activity will confront and amaze you. He is continually sending his emissaries forth in every direction. The perpetual wranglings, ceaseless distractions, irreconcilable contradictions, disquieting doubts, discouraging outlooks, inharmonious and jangling opinions, unaccountable delusions, clashing and crashing dissonances, cruel hatreds, bitter enmities and stormful convulsions, which so largely enter and deface the course of human history, proceed mainly from his influence. We know that |the heart of a lost angel is in the earth,| and as we know its throbbings carry misery and despair to millions of our fellow-beings, we can surmise the intensity of we wherewith it afflicts himself. Mrs. Browning's Adam thus addresses Lucifer: --

|The prodigy
Of thy vast brows and melancholy eyes,
Which comprehend the heights of some great fall.
I think that thou hast one day worn a crown
Under the eyes of God.|

But now the vast brow must wear a heavier gloom, and the eyes betray a deeper sorrow, as in his ruin he has sought to bury the hopes and joys of a weaker race. How different his dealings with the race from those which mark the ministry of Christ! Immortal hate on the one side of humanity; immortal love on the other; both struggling for supremacy. One sweeping across the soul with pinions of dark doubts and fears; the other, with the strong wing of hope and fair anticipations. One seeking to plunge the earth-spirit into the abysmal depths of eternal darkness; the other seeking to bear it to the apex of light, where reigns eternal day. And of the two, Christ alone is called |the blest.| In the agony and anguish of His sufferings He yet can exclaim, |My joy I leave with thee|; and in the lowest vale of His shame can calmly discourse on peace. The reason? Do you ask the question? It is found in His goodness. He is good, and seeks the good of all; and goodness crowns His lacerated brow with joy. This Satan sacrificed in his fall; this he antagonizes with, in his dreary career, and so remains in the eyes of all ages the monument of melancholy gloom. Thus, also, is it with man, whose haughtiness thrusts him into evil. He is morose and wretched, crusht beneath a burden of we, which weighs the eyelids down with weariness and the heart with care, and which constrains him to curse the hour of his birth. Next to the grief-crowned angel, there is no more pitiable object in all God's fair creation than a human soul tumbled by its own besotted pride into sin and shame. |How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!| aye, changed to dross, which the foot spurns, and which the whirlwind scatters to the midnight region of eternity.

In view of these reflections, we can understand the stress laid by the inspired writers on the grace of humility. We are exhorted to be like Jesus, who was meek and lowly in heart; and we are commanded to esteem others better than ourselves. These admonitions are not designed to cultivate a servile or an abject spirit, but to promote a wholesome sense of our own limitations, weaknesses and dependence. They would foster such a state of mind as will receive instruction, as will lean on the Almighty, and recognize the worthiness and rights of all. Just as the flower has to pass its season entombed in the darkness of its calyx before it spreads forth its radiant colors and breathes its perfume, so the soul must veil itself in the consciousness of its own ignorance and sinfulness before it will be able to expand in true greatness, or shed around it the aroma of pure goodness. Crossing the prairies recently between this city and St. Louis, I noticed that the trees were nearly all bowed in the direction of the northeast. As our strongest winds blow from that quarter, it was natural to inquire why they were not bent to the southwest. The explanation given was, that the south winds prevail in the time of sap, when the trees are supple with life and heavy with foliage, and consequently, that they yield before them. But when the winter comes they are hard and firm, rigid and stiff, and even the fury of the tempest affects them not. Thus is it with human souls. When humility fills the heart, when its gentleness renders susceptible its thoughts and feelings, the softest breath of God's Spirit can bend it earthward to help the needy, and downward to supplicate and welcome heaven's grace. But when it is frozen through and through with pride, it coldly resists the overtures of mercy, and in its deadness is apathetic even, to the storm of wrath. Nothing remains but for the wild hurricane to uproot it and level it to the ground. Such is the moral of my brief discourse. God grant we may have the wisdom of humility to receive it!

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