A Trading, Bargaining Religion

From “The House of God,” Sermons Preached in Country Churches, 329-331

In the earlier ages of [the people of Israel’s] commonwealth, the temptation came through the sun and the stars which showed them the seasons when they were to sow and reap, through the animals which worked for them. They supposed that God must be like some of these. In the later times of the commonwealth, it came from the trade spirit. Their buying and selling absorbed their whole souls. To both periods the description of their own prophet is equally applicable: “They forgot God their Redeemer.”

And in forgetting him they forgot their humanity. The nobleness and freedom which belongs to people cannot remain when they are busy only about things that are beneath them, things that they can hold and grasp, things that are changing and perishing every hour, things that one man has, and another wants. When these things get the mastery over us, when our thought is how we can get the most of them, how we can best exchange one of them for another, we do not lose our religion, but it becomes a trading, bargaining religion; a religion like that we read of in the Bible, of the nations who worshipped at hill altars, who cried and cut themselves with stones to make their gods hear. It ceases to be the worship of a Deliverer and a Father; it becomes the worship of superstitious slaves, not of courageous men.

Every church stands up to bear witness against such a religion as this. It stands up to say to prince and peasant, to him who has no house and to him who has one, “The Father who is rich in grace and goodness, who so loved the world that he sent His only begotten Son to save it, has given this land to you all to keep it and till it and improve it for him. All your works and toils as professional men, tradesmen, or handicraftsmen, are given you by him. All are honorable and precious in his sight. There is nothing so great, nothing so lowlu, but that he cares for it, and will make it minister for your good. Evil and misery and baseness come when your Father’s house comes to be regarded as a house of merchandise. Evil and misery and baseness come when you forget that the God of heaven and earth cares that you should be right and true people, that you should know his name and show forth his image.”

Brothers and sisters, for the sake of the houses of merchandise—for the sake of that trade and commerce with which God has blessed this land, and which may be unspeakable blessings to it—I rejoice to see these houses rising up which are not houses of merchandise, but witnesses of a Father. Our trade and commerce have grown up through the toil and suffering of enterprising noble men, who have had courage to face dangers and wisdom to guard against them. Do not think that such courage and wisdom will remain to us if we become mere money worshippers.

That worship makes us fear where no fear is. It gives men no nerve in hours of peril. It takes away their foresight and makes them reckless gamblers. But what can take away fear and cowardice, but this belief that you cannot go out of the reach of his government who walked the waves, and healed sicknesses, and delivered from death; that death and the grave and hell have been visited by him who gave himself for us, and that he came back the conqueror of them all, to say, ” I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and to your God.” …

Every act of mercy which our higher science is able to accomplish for sufferers from sickness, becomes a witness for God; so the work of every magistrate becomes a witness for him equally; so commerce as it extends the bonds of fellowship between lands, and shows how one can give what another lacks, bears a witness no less mighty and effectual. And those who have been doing works in distant lands may return to their own, and find again that which was told them in infancy of a Father, still telling of him in their manhood or old age, reminding them that they were signed with the sign of the Cross and marked out as God’s children and servants; giving sacredness to their early lives and their marriage vow, giving them a sure and certain sign that there is a resurrection to eternal life for them that have fallen asleep, and whose places on earth know them no more. So all the stages of our earthly life on to the last are consecrated; so every beautiful spot in nature as well as all the forms of art share in the same consecration, and have that one name of ‘Father’ illuminating them all. …

When you enter the church the first words tell you of a Father to whom you arise and go; the next tell you that you may come to him though you have forgotten that you are his children, and have erred and strayed from his ways; the next how he pardons and absolves you, to the intent that you may join with his whole family in heaven and earth in saying ” Our Father.” That Name meets you everywhere, goes through every prayer and thanksgiving and act of adoration. There is not a sentence but declares to us the love of him who sent his only begotten Son to take our nature, and through that Son bestows on us his Spirit, that we may know and worship the Father and the Son in the unity of that Spirit, world without end.

These are the signs that we meet not to glorify our own opinions or our own sect, but to claim all the citizens of the land, rich and poor, as the children of one Father, heirs of one hope; to warn them that all their misery now, all their misery hereafter, will come from not trusting him, from not believing that he has reconciled them, from living as exiles and strangers when he has brought them nigh; from selling themselves to be slaves when he has redeemed them to be freemen.

Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872) was an Anglican priest and theologian, a prolific author who was professor of theology at Kings College, London, and Cambridge. A early leader of the Christian Socialist movement, he founded several educational institutions for working people. Sermons Preached in Country Churches, a collection of sermons Maurice preached during his summer travels, was published posthumously by his wife. He is commemorated on the Episcopal Church’ liturgical calendar on April 1. The text is slightly adapted for contemporary readers.


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