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Title: Moses, not Darwin
       A Sermon

Author: Bennett George Johns

Release Date: February 8, 2021  [eBook #64496]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


Transcribed from the 1871 Rivingtons’ edition by David Price.



A Sermon

Preached at St. Mark’s, Surbiton, Kingston-on-Thames

On Friday, March 31, 1871






Oxford           Cambridge

Price One Shilling.


Gen. ii. 7.

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”

Thus, my brethren, in noble and grand words, noble in their strength and in their simplicity, we are told of the creation of man, as separate and distinct from that of all other creatures.  Having formed his bodily frame out of the dust of the earth, the Almighty breathed into him the breath of life, and man became a living soul, in the image of the living God.  How far, and with what divine beauty, the heavenly image was then reflected in its earthly type, the splendour and perfection of God’s handiwork, we know not.  However noble the glory of man’s appearance, however godlike its outer form, in that day, since then he has fallen from his high estate, and sin and death, which marred the purity of his soul, have left traces of their deadly leaven in his framework of flesh and blood.  And yet not utterly debased or ruined it.  For, still, the face of many a little child bears stamped upon it the imperishable marks of God’s handiwork, and the beauty, and p. 4freshness, and innocence shine out, till we think of the faces of the Blessed before the Throne on high.  While all that is fair in the face of woman, and all that is noble and true in that of man, tells only of the same divine source.  In a word, the whole living man, the body in its strength, pride, and beauty; the mind, the keen reason, the swift intelligence, the glowing imagination; and the soul, the conscience, and the spirit answering within; lifting man out of himself to the Heaven above him, and enabling him on earth to hold commune as a spirit with the Father of all spirits—each and all witness to the same truth—the breath that is in him, his framework, his whole being are from the breath of God, and therefore he is a living soul, immortal, and for a life beyond this.

And nothing is commoner, even among worldly people, my brethren, than a sort of easy, vague acknowledgment that it is so; nothing easier than a kind of fluent talk about the soul, and the importance, perhaps the necessity, of saving the soul; if not just at present, certainly at the earliest possible opportunity; if not by a life of faith and purity to God, and of truth and goodwill to man—at all events by holding fast to some particular set of opinions, or of texts, some one favourite doctrine, or pet form of outward service to God.  And even below this range of talkers, there are others who say, The soul immortal?—Oh, yes, of course, man is to be in Heaven hereafter—if all be well—and we trust by the mercy of p. 5God that at last we shall reach that land; but, in the meanwhile, they live on from day to day, in one round of easy smoothness, working only for the body, its care, its comfort, its life; as if there were no dwelling-place but earth; as if man’s soul were but a matter of concern for the future; as if Christ had never borne the bitter Cross for man’s sin, to open for him the gates of Paradise!

Their terrible and fatal mistake, you see, is the fashioning out a religion as a thing apart from their daily life, and thinking of their souls as apart from themselves.  Whereas there is no true religion but such as speaks in a man’s life, and is its vital breath; and the soul is no other but the man himself.  They madly look upon religion as a thing for Sundays, for fixed times only, and for set forms; times and forms to be used as a sort of charm against uncomfortable thoughts of death, or fear of God’s anger; or as a set-off for the follies, and sins, and selfishness of the week; something that shall set all right at the last, and make the account square when the balance is against them; or for still worse and weaker reasons: because it is right and decent to go to church, and do as so many others do whom they know and imitate, and whose regard they value.  God help the man—ere it be too late—who trusts to such a scheme of religion as this; for it is full of deceit and peril!  It may end, and it probably will end, in his forgetting his soul altogether.  Not forgetting to wish that his soul may be saved at last, p. 6and that peace may be with him when death comes, and joy beyond it; not this, because every man, however foolish or however wicked, wishes this much, or will wish it some day; but absolutely forgetting and ignoring the fact that the soul is the man himself; that its life, and passions, and desires, and hunger, and thirst, are to be looked to, cared for, and fed day by day; that if he hopes for Heaven at all, he must begin to get ready for it now, while life lasts; and that in neglecting this, and letting religion slip out of his daily life, he is perilling his very existence, he is dying by inches.  Heart, conscience, soul, spirit, are becoming seared, cold, dark, and dead, while he, to all outward appearance in full strength, has the form of religion but not its life; the words in his mouth, but no echo within; the sound of the Gospel in his ears, but neither the spirit, nor life, nor freedom of the truth, which spring from the abiding sense of God’s unseen abiding presence.

How shall any such being understand that religion, that prayer, praise, and sacrifice are no mere matter between man and man, but only between him and God?  What does it affect him to be told, or to agree, that man is a spirit, and that if he seeks to worship the living God it must be in spirit and truth?  He scarcely knows what the desires, and passions, and wants of the soul are.  To him the words, life and death of the soul, are little more than vague sounds.

No wonder, then, that the two great springs of p. 7his spiritual life are to him but of light account.  His Baptism, to him, is merely a time when he got his Christian name; his confirmation when he was old enough not to need the help of sponsors any longer.  But, as to his having then entered into a covenant with God, by His divine grace, to live the life of a spirit, of one made a living soul; and these vows being on him all through life, it never even remotely occurs to him!

No wonder even that the solemn feast in memory of his Saviour’s death is a matter from which he may turn away just as the whim, or the idle excuse of the moment prompts, or neglect altogether through his whole life, without a thought of peril.  I say altogether, yet a day falls on him at last, when, in the midst of decaying strength, a clouded mind, and dying faculties, as the windows of the soul begin to grow dark, he thinks it only right and decent that he should ask for the Holy Communion, as all proper people (he says) do under such circumstances—and he takes it; not because it has strengthened and refreshed his soul all through life, but because, without it, the fear of death is too strong for him.  He dares not go out of the world, in fact, and enter on his Maker’s presence without this one final token, as he thinks, of not having utterly forgotten Him.

God forbid, brethren, that I should count little of even this terribly late and weary confession of the God that made him; this tardy, unwilling, owning that man is a living soul.  But mark well, p. 8brethren, never forget, the wide difference between this and the owning of God our Creator, and Christ our Saviour, and the Holy Ghost our Sanctifier, here, now, in our daily work, while life remains, while strength is ours, while the battle is going on all round, and within us; while the devil tempts, and the flesh has power, and the world is bright and gay.

See the difference between offering to God while we have anything to offer, and when we have nothing; when all else has failed us; when power, and pride, and human pleasures, and human cares have all come to an end, and there is no further possibility of indulging either the one or the other; but only the intolerable weight of the past, only the deep conviction remaining that our trial is over, our time of probation finished, our Judge very near at hand; as the earth crumbles under our feet, and Heaven is opening wide on our amazed distracted eyes.  Ah! or it may be Hell yawning beneath our troubled, weary, bewildered feet.

Mark well the difference: it is the difference between living Faith that can save, and dead Faith that is worthless.  But if man is a spirit, how shall his spirit’s life be maintained?  Not by outward observances only; not by fixed forms and rites only, on fixed days; though all these are noble, and good, and blessed in their degree.  The key to the truth is written in words older even than the Divine words of the Holy Gospel.  “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to p. 9hearken than the fat of rams.”  “They that worship God must worship Him in spirit.”  How?  By striving after those blessed things wherein Christ was our example, and far above all human perfection.  Not by leaving all the other outer services undone (for all are good—they flow and always must flow from true religion, as its natural and happy fruit), but by adding to them purity, self-denial, thought of others, generous, unselfish, and untiring; by suffering long and being kind; by love unfeigned; by thinking no evil; by hoping all things, enduring all things, believing all things; by readiness to forgive; by slowness to condemn; by bold, brave, manly, simple faith; by striving never to forget that unseen living presence which shuts us in all round, which we so often say is about our path and bed, and spieth out all our ways.

This, brethren, is the spirit of the religion which we want in our daily life, in our shops and in our business; in the market and in the counting-house; in the streets and the family circle—not to be obtruded and thrust into men’s faces, as much as to say, “Thank God, I am not as other men are,”—but to be the life and joy of the heart, the light of the household; to be the motive power, the ruling principle; for the one reason that we are not mere dust, as other creatures, not to go down into the grave and be forgotten for ever, but to live—live when this world has perished, and they who believe in it and swear p. 10by its gods alone, are, with all their follies, and errors, and sins, blotted out—until the Judgment Day; to live then, when true life dawns, and man draws nearer and nearer to the fulness of God’s holiness, joy, and peace; and finds in Him more than lips can utter or soul imagine.

And how can man do less than strive for this if he be God’s son?  If the breath of the Almighty be in him?  His life must be a spirit’s life if he believes this.  He must know and feel that even here, in this world of strife and sin, and folly and darkness, and worldly pride and false ambition, and unutterable selfishness, even here, all round him, is the world of spirits.  That unseen and holy beings are near at hand, ready to minister to him, even as the land of spirits itself is but a step from this—divided from him but by a narrow line; that though here now hemmed in by falsehood, and doubt, and fear, and perplexity, yet in a moment he may be beyond the veil—swiftly passing from darkness to eternal day, where doubt is unknown and fear comes not—from death to life itself.  No man of rational sense, who gives himself time to think, and to pause for a moment amidst the daily passions, and toils, and cares that consume him, can doubt this; nay, he feels and knows the greater presence still.  He knows that the Living God is about him, his very life and breath; that without Him he cannot live for a single moment—in Him he lives, and moves, and has being—whose Divine presence he has felt p. 11again and again within him, deep down in the recesses of his inmost soul, his heart, and spirit.  Against this, if he be true to his own convictions, he cannot, dare not, resist.

And yet, brethren, plain as all this seems, and deep and constant the necessity for man’s thus owning his spiritual life, and that he is indeed a child of God, living only at the word of a Father in Heaven—strong and abundant the conviction of immortality hidden in every man’s heart—how vaguely, and loosely, and lightly, is such knowledge often held!  The great boast of the present age is its claim to universal knowledge.  There is no bar to its depths, no limit to its extent.  It takes in all subjects, human and divine; tries them by one standard, weighs them in one balance.  The inscrutable nature of God, the simpler nature of man.  It analyses the atmosphere of the stars, and weighs in a balance the density of bodies beyond the sun; the laws of light and sound are laid bare, and allowed to be wisely based; miracles are declared to be impossible, and cease to have existence; nay, never have existed, seeing that they contradict some few principles of life and matter, of which we have gained a scanty knowledge; or at least seem to contradict them; and that the First Cause (for we have not learned to do without one—as yet) will not and cannot interfere with His own laws, being in fact a God, or first principle, who is bound by His own edicts, and imprisoned within the fetters of His own rules!

p. 12And how, my brethren, do such men deal with words like those of the text?  There is some little difficulty in evading or openly denying them, for the one reason that in their eyes mind does appear to be immortal, and intellect to outlive the body in which it dwells.  But, as to the soul, the conscience, the moral sense, the spirit within a man, so supreme is the power of modern science, so keen the insight into all things human and divine, into the cloudy records of past ages, and the thousand phenomena of present life; so absolute the sway of intellectual research, so abundant and so trustworthy the array of facts, that man can not only by searching find out God, but so map out the solemn acts of the Almighty, from the first day of creation to the last, as to leave no doubt that what we as Christians hold dear, our birthright as spirits, and our inheritance in the heaven to come as spirits, is a dream, a mistake.  They are far more curiously anxious to prove man’s nearness to the beasts that die than to accept his birth from the breath of the living God, as meant and made to be immortal.  So monstrous, so incredible, does this seem, that it sounds like a jest; yet this, brethren, is neither time nor place for jesting, least of all with such things as eternal life and eternal death, the birth, the destiny of the whole race of man.  It is no jest, brethren, but the grave and shameful teaching of a book now put forth by one of the men of science of this very age; calmly put forth as the inevitable and incomparable result of long, careful, p. 13and exhaustive study.  The habits, ways, instincts, passions, and peculiarities of hundreds of animals have been minutely examined, and out of them has risen the foul and debasing assertion that man has sprung from a race of inferior and filthy creatures; without spark of conscience or sense of shame, without perception of evil or of good, without power of speech—and speech is but the fruit of thought—without a breath of the living God within them, or a trace of His handiwork in their whole being.  So far from men being sons of God, they are the offspring in remote ages—ages too remote to be measured by any but the skill of modern science, the offspring of creatures without a soul—creatures dead to every sense of feeling but hunger, lust, and blood; only able to make known their wants or miseries by inarticulate cries of rage, pain, or despair; creatures who, in their turn, sprang from others yet lower down in the cycle of life, fouler, more ferocious, and yet more loathsome than the grinning ape.  And from things base as these, we are told, sprang all the noble, great, good, and wise men that have trod the earth.  From such a stock as this all the purest, grandest, songs of truth, of victory, of joy, of melody, and beauty; all the noblest flights of eloquence, all strains of living melody; all that sages, bards, and philosophers have uttered in words that can never die; all the loftiest ideals of art, in glowing colour or in snowy marble; all the splendour, and glory, and beauty with which man has crowned the earth; p. 14nay, more than this, the sublime words of prophets, of seers, and apostles, from him who in solemn grandeur tells of the thunder of Sinai, down to the visions in lonely Patmos; of heaven open, of the great white Throne, and the Eternal King; yea, the bravest and purest in every age, the men, and women, and children who have gone undaunted to death, with joy on their faces, and peace unutterable in their hearts, rather than deny their Master or their birthright;—all these alike have sprung from a thing that has neither speech, nor conscience, nor sense but of being full or empty, whose only weapon is ferocity, and to whom a morsel of garbage is a supreme delight!  And, if it be so, if this incredible boast of science be true, our text is a lie.  And if the text be false, the whole book in which the words are shrined is unworthy of belief; the whole framework of the Book of Life falls to pieces, and the revelation of God to man, as we Christians know it, is a delusion and a snare.

And on what ground are we asked to receive so monstrous and degrading a scheme?  Because, forsooth, after careful study of hundreds of various creatures, in different ages and different climes, among their countless peculiarities, habits, and ways, in their so-called instincts a man finds, or fancies he finds, here and there, some faint glimmering of a resemblance to what is human.  In the plumage of birds, in their love for gay colours, which is tacitly assumed, in their little arts and artifices, cunning, and ferocity; in the rough or p. 15smooth skin of some wild creature of the woods or plains, he searches for, and finds, some faint type of what happens among the idle, or silly, or careless among ourselves, who believe only in brute force, or obey the laws of fashion however preposterous and absurd; of women who paint what they think God Almighty has not painted aright; who distort their dress, or their persons; or of men and women who bedizen themselves; in every conceivable form of fantastic and foolish caprice.  For these, and possibly a hundred other such paltry reasons, cleverly collected and cunningly adapted to ensnare the unwary, we are to believe that between man who is immortal and the beasts that die, there is no line of distinction.  This is the latest book of Genesis; this the most improved account of the creation.  But if so, if there is a particle of truth in this newest science, then the work of creation, the progress from baseness to purity, from darkness to light, having once begun, must be now going on, in all its thousand grades and varieties; with still new steps of progress from the lower to the higher, from the foul Ascidian reptile to Man in the image of God!

Where, then, in the wide universe of created things is any such example to be found, half way between the unintelligible gibberish of the ape and the divine faculty of speech?  Where is one, only one, such monstrosity—base, and cruel, and filthy, without a soul, or a ray of moral sense, knowing only the passions of lust and hunger—who is even p. 16remotely beginning to grow into human likeness or shape?  Not all its brutal deformity lost, and not yet the glory of manhood assumed?  No such being has ever been found, in the records of ancient travellers or sages, or even in the journals and the dainty discoveries of modern science.  But still between the highest and most intelligent of creatures of the wood and field, and the lowest in human shape, there stretches an infinite gulf.  A gulf not to be crossed but by the shallow and flippant philosopher who scorns all idea of a living personal Creator, and admitting no bound to his own knowledge, and no bar to his understanding, denies the existence of his own soul, and treats all idea of spirit with idle contempt.  Yet, my brethren, the gulf remains.  God has drawn the line between man and beast, and no human power can abolish it, no human sophistry explain it away.  Men may deny it, or turn it to ridicule under the pretence of scientific discovery; just as they deny the existence of God Himself.  Denying Him, the King and Prince of all spirits, they may well deny their own spiritual being.  But, still, the grand unalterable truth abides,—“God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul;” and as long as the world stands this truth must abide as the foundation of all truth, of all religion, of all progress, step by step in purity, holiness, and faith on our way to Heaven.  This is the witness of all human hearts, of all human life.  This is the conviction rooted deep down in p. 17man’s inmost being; which, though he tamper with it, or stifle, or deny it all through life, yet on the bed of death will speak to him with unanswerable voice, as he draws nearer and nearer to the unseen presence, to that Divine and Eternal Spirit from whom his being sprang at the first.

With this conviction and this confession, my brethren, let us be content.  It has outlived centuries of scorn, the wit of philosophy, the sophistries of science, the laughter of fools, and the questioning of heresy.  It will outlive all centuries, all time.  It will outlive them who deny, and them who believe, it; to the one bringing confusion, darkness, and shame; to the other, peace when the strife is done, the beauty of holiness, the rapture of immortality.

If any be content to believe they are the mere chance offspring from creatures of lust, ferocity, and shameless strife, so let it be; they must even reap as they sow.  Their next creed is plain enough, and easy of practice; eat, then, drink, and to-morrow die.  But let us, as Christians, fly to the greater, nobler doctrine than this, for the one reason that we are the offspring of the living God, made in His image; and having in us the breath of the Almighty, cannot die.  Our very framework of flesh and blood was that form and fashion of a man in which Christ, the Blessed One, came to us on earth, in which He lived and suffered; was tempted, scorned, mocked, and nailed to the accursed tree.  It is in His memory that we keep this solemn p. 18season; His whose blood was shed, whose body was broken, when the heavens grew dark, and the earth trembled as He yielded up the ghost.  It was to glorify this human shape, and to redeem the living soul within it, that He endured the bitter cross.  His death, His passion, His resurrection, are to us what they are, because wrought in human form, to be crowned with new splendour and glory in Heaven.

Again I say, let us be content with this hope which has been the only stay of countless thousands in every age since Christ trod the shores of Galilee, and spake to the listening thousands by the sea.  Let us be content with the plain living words of Him who is Truth itself, who was before the world began, who spake and there was light, who breathed into the lifeless dust and it lived; Himself, the King and the Prince of all Life, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last; who will still remain unchanged and unchangeable when this world of sin and shame has become the kingdom of His Christ; when human philosophy has died out, and human science failed; but the greater, and purer, and nobler wisdom abides—greater, because God, the author of it, is mightier than man; purer because it wins men from the base things that perish, and nobler because Heaven is higher than earth.  Let us hold fast to this belief, firmly, through life; that it fail us not on the bed of death, as we draw near to the twilight of eternal day, and to the fulness of knowledge which is Life.

p. 19Well is it for us that neither the perverseness, nor pride, nor wisdom, nor ignorance, nor intolerable vanity of man can snatch from us the birthright of immortality.  And they who basely attempt to unsay what God has said, and to rob us of hope beyond the grave, add but one more proof, not of man’s having risen from the foul beasts of the earth, but having fallen from his first high estate.  Their very ignorance, doubt, and defiance of God are but tokens of their own corruption, confusion, and decay.  Meanwhile the earth abides in its appointed course; heaven abides, life and death remain; truth is immortal.  Wise men, ripe for the grave, mighty in worldly knowledge, babble of mysteries beyond their utmost ken.  So let it be.  God is not unmindful of His own.

“Man’s little systems have their day,
   They have their day and cease to be;
   They are but broken lights of Thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.”

For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of His own eternity; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Laus Deo.




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