Past Knowledge.
(Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity.)


"To know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge."

There are some things which no earthly school can teach us, no earthly science explain. Science can do very much, it has done marvellous things, and will do still more. Men can work now with ease such wonders as would have sent them to the fire as wizards three hundred years ago. Science can calculate the exact time of an eclipse ages before the time, science can connect two worlds with the electric wire, science can make the powers of earth, and air, and fire, and water its slaves; but science cannot teach us the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, or show us how to find the peace of God which passeth all understanding. No, we must go to the school of Jesus Christ to learn these things; and in that school the learned, and the ignorant, the powerful, and the lowly, are just on a level. The man of science may be there, like Sir Isaac Newton, of whom some one said that he had the whitest soul of any man he had ever known. But it was not the power of the telescope which had brought the love of Jesus to his sight. The poor, ignorant cottager, who cannot even read, may be there. He is no scholar, but he has learnt what some scholars are ignorant of, to trust God and love his neighbour as himself. Yes, brethren, if we would learn to know the love of Christ, we must go to His school, we must kneel at His Feet, we must hold close communion with Him, we must daily endeavour ourselves to follow the steps of His most holy life. Grey-haired old man, tender little child, anxious mother, busy worker, Jesus calls you to learn the lesson of His love, saying, "Come, and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart." But S. Paul says that the love of Christ passeth knowledge. And indeed we poor, sinful, selfish creatures can never hope, at least here, to understand all the wideness, the depth, the power, of that love. When the astronomer looks up at the starry sky above him, he does not think so much of what he knows about that shining world as about what he does not know. He thinks of the mysteries which those calm skies hold, and of the countless stars which no telescope has ever yet brought within the range of human eye. So the more we learn of the love of Christ the more marvellous it appears. There are some among us who know absolutely nothing of the love of Christ. They are as ignorant of it as a blind man is of the beauties of Nature. To them Jesus is a character in history who did certain things, who suffered for them and for others, and with that they are quite content. But they know nothing of the love of Christ, and care nothing about it because they do not love Him themselves. Such people either neglect the duties of religion altogether, or perform them as an idle schoolboy does his task, unwillingly, grudgingly. There is no love in their service, and therefore it is worthless. There are many, I trust, who hear me now who have learned something of the love of Christ; others who would willingly learn. To them I say, come into Christ's school to-day. A willing scholar can always learn, if you want to love Jesus you have begun already to do so.

First, let us think of some things in the love of Christ which make it wonderful, past knowledge. The love of Christ is wonderful because it is impartial. "He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." Look at the sunshine pouring down over a great city, and think on what different characters the light falls. The same sun shines on the Church and its faithful worshippers, and on the house of shame and infamy. The same light gilds the dying bed of the Christian, and the couch of the infidel and blasphemer. The same beam glitters on the blessed Altar of the faithful, and on the cell of the impenitent murderer. Look at the sunshine and the shower in the country. The fields of the earnest, prayerful man, and those of the unbelieving, prayerless scoffer lie golden under the same sunlight, are watered by the same showers. And why is this so? Surely it is a type of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. Surely it teaches us the wondrous height, and depth, and breadth of divine love. It warns us not to be kind and loving only to the good and gentle, but to love our enemies, to do good to those who persecute us and speak evil of us, to try to give all a chance to amend, even as God, in His long-suffering mercy, makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good. We shall get to know more of the love of Christ if we learn to be more impartial in our love for our fellow men. I know a little island where the society, small enough already, is divided into certain classes, and it is considered a want of breeding for one class to unite with another. You can imagine the angry feelings, and petty jealousies, which such a system excites. But even in the greater world we are too much inclined to surround ourselves with a circle of friends and acquaintances, and to leave the rest of the world unknown and uncared for. The love of Christ teaches us to see in every man a brother, a neighbour, whom we must help if we can. The love of Christ would have us look on ourselves and others as one great family, joined together by one common Faith, one Holy Baptism; or as one consecrated building, where high and low, rich and poor, are all built into their appointed place, "Jesus Christ being the head corner-stone." My brothers, try to be more wide, more liberal, more impartial in your love for others, if you would learn the love of Christ which is wider than the ocean, impartial as the sunshine -- passing knowledge.

Again, the love of Christ is wonderful in its effects. It makes the brave still more heroic; it makes the timid courageous, the sad joyful, the hardened tender. It was the love of Christ which made S. Stephen brave in the hour of his martyrdom, and taught him to pray for his murderers. In all the long roll of heroes there are none so great as those who fought under the banner of Christ's love. Feeble old men, little children, weak women, were transformed by that marvellous power; they could do all things through Christ who strengthened them. They suffered and died, but their death gave life to the faith of Christ. Did you ever read, brethren, how the last fight of gladiators in the Colosseum ended? It was when Rome had become Christian, but still the cruel sports of the people had not been entirely given up. After a famous victory, the Emperor, a feeble boy, and all the great men of Rome, went to the crowded theatre to witness the amusements given in honour of the triumph. After the harmless sports were over some gladiators entered the arena armed with sharp swords. The people shouted with delight because the old savage amusements of their heathen days were restored to them. Suddenly an old man, dressed in the habit of a hermit, and unknown to all, sprang into the arena, and declared that as Christian people they must not suffer men to slay each other thus. An angry cry rose from the eager crowd. The gladiators, disappointed of their gain, menaced the hermit fiercely, crying, "back, old man, for thy life." But the stranger stood fearless before that angry mob, he heeded not the swords of the gladiators, nor the yells of the people, but solemnly protested against the deed of blood. In another moment he lay dead on the red sand, pierced by a dozen wounds. He died, but his words lived. When the people saw the fearless courage of a weak old man, shame filled their hearts; the sports were stopped, and never again did the gladiators fight in the Colosseum. My brothers, if we are learning the love of Christ, we shall be brave to do the right, come what may.

Again, the love of Christ is wonderful in its effect on our work. It is a common saying that such and such a work is a labour of love; and, believe me, that is the best done of all which is done for love. Did you ever watch a young mother making the clothes for her first child? Never before has she bestowed such care, such thought, such patience, on her sewing, every stitch is prompted by love.

Long ago, there was an old Cathedral somewhere abroad, I cannot tell you where. On one of the arches was sculptured a face of exceeding beauty. It was long hidden, but one day a ray of sunshine lighted up the matchless work, and from that time, on the days when the light shone on the face, crowds came to look at its loveliness. The history of that sculpture is a strange one. When the Cathedral was being built, an old man, worn with years and care, came to the architect, and begged to be allowed to work there. Fearing his age and failing sight might cause the old man to injure the carving, the master set him to work in a dark part of the roof. One day they found the stranger lying dead, with the tools of his craft around him, and his still face turned up towards that other face which he had carved. It was a work of surpassing beauty, and without doubt was the face of one whom the artist had long since loved and lost. When the craftsmen looked upon it, they all agreed -- "this is the grandest work of all, it is the work of love."

We, my brothers, are all set to do some work here in the temple of our lives, and the best, the most beautiful, the most enduring, will be that which we do because the love of Christ constraineth us.

And yet once more, the love of Christ is wonderful in its power of pardon. Have you ever known what it is to have sinned grievously, and to have repented truly? Have you felt the shame, the sorrow, the misery of knowing your sin, and the exquisite sense of relief when you knew that you were pardoned? Have you known the power of Christ's absolving word? Have you felt that He has given the prodigal the kiss of pardon, that He has carried the lost sheep home once more, that He has said to you -- "I will, be thou clean, depart in peace?" To know this is to know the love of Christ. Are there no prodigals here now who have not yet arisen and gone to their Father? Are there no weak, tempted women straying into danger, like the lost sheep? Are there none here who are carrying about some secret sin which poisons all their life? If there are such, I say, come and make trial of Christ's love to-day. "Come, drink of the water of life freely." Come with your sin, your sorrow, your trial, your temptation, to the feet of Jesus, and you shall learn "the love of Christ which passeth knowledge."

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