Every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is neither variableness, nor shadow of turning.
It seems an easy thing for us here to say, 'I believe in God.' We have learnt from our childhood that there is but one God. It seems to us strange and ridiculous that people anywhere should believe in more gods than one. We never heard of any other doctrine, except in books about the heathen; and there are perhaps not three people in this church who ever saw a heathen man, or talked to him.
Yet it is not so easy to learn that there is but one God. Were it not for the church, and the missionaries who were sent into this part of the world by the church, now 1200 years ago, we should not know it now. Our forefathers once worshipped many gods, and not one only God. I do not mean when they were savages; for I do not believe that they ever were savages at all: but after they were settled here in England, living in a simple way, very much as country people live now, and dressing very much as country people do now, they worshipped many gods.
Now what put that mistake into their minds? It seems so ridiculous to us now, that we cannot understand at first how it ever arose.
But if we will consider the names of their old gods, we shall understand it a little better. Now the names of the old English gods you all know. They are in your mouths every day. The days of the week are named after them. The old English kept time by weeks, as the old Jews did, and they named their days after their gods. Why, would take me too much time to tell: but so it is.
Why, then, did they worship these gods?
First, because man must worship something. Before man fell, he was created in Christ the image and likeness of God the Father; and therefore he was created that he might hear his Father's voice, and do his Father's will, as Christ does everlastingly; and after man fell, and lost Christ and Christ's likeness, still there was left in his heart some remembrance of the child's feeling which the first man had; he felt that he ought to look up to some one greater than himself, obey some one greater than himself; that some one greater than himself was watching over him, doing him good, and perhaps, too, doing him harm and punishing him.
Then these simple men looked up to the heaven above, and round on the earth beneath, and asked, Who is it who is calling for us? Who is it we ought to obey and please; who gives us good things? Who may hurt us if we make him angry?
Then the first thing they saw was the sun. What more beautiful than the sun? What more beneficent? From the sun came light and heat, the growth of all living things, ay, the growth of life itself.
The sun, they thought, must surely be a god; so they worshipped the sun, and called the first day of the week after him -- Sunday.
Next the moon. Nothing, except the sun, seemed so grand and beautiful to them as the moon, and she was their next god, and Monday was named after her.
Then the wind -- what a mysterious, awful, miraculous thing the wind seemed, always moving, yet no one knew how; with immense power and force, and yet not to be seen; as our blessed Lord himself said, 'The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth.' Then -- and this is very curious -- they fancied that the wind was a sort of pattern, or type of the spirit of man. With them, as with the old Jews and Greeks, the same word which meant wind, meant also a man's soul, his spirit; and so they grew to think that the wind was inhabited by some great spirit, who gave men spirit, and inspired them to be brave, and to prophesy, and say and do noble things; and they called him Wodin the Mover, the Inspirer; and named Wednesday after him.
Next the thunder -- what more awful and terrible, and yet so full of good, than the summer heat and the thunder cloud? So they fancied that the thunder was a god, and called him Thor -- and the dark thunder cloud was Thor's frowning eyebrow; and the lightning flash Thor's hammer, with which he split the rocks, and melted the winter-ice and drove away the cold of winter, and made the land ready for tillage. So they worshipped Thor, and loved him; for they fancied him a brave, kindly, useful god, who loved to see men working in their fields, and tilling the land honestly.
Then the spring. That was a wonder to them again -- and is it not a wonder to see all things grow fresh and fair, after the dreary winter cold? So the spring was a goddess, and they called her Freya, the Free One, the Cheerful One, and named Friday after her; and she it was, they thought, who gave them the pleasant spring time, and youth, and love, and cheerfulness, and rejoiced to see the flowers blossom, and the birds build their nests, and all young creatures enjoy the life which God had given them in the pleasant days of spring. And after her Friday is named.
Then the harvest. The ripening of the grain, that too was a wonder to them -- and should it not be to us? -- how the corn and wheat which is put into the ground and dies should rise again, and then ripen into golden corn? That too must be the work of some kindly spirit, who loved men; and they called him Seator, the Setter, the Planter, the God of the seed field and the harvest, and after him Saturday is named.
And so, instead of worshipping him who made all heaven and earth, they turned to worship the heaven and the earth itself, like the foolish Canaanites.
But some may say, 'This was all very mistaken and foolish: but what harm was there in it? How did it make them worse men?'
My friends, among these very woodlands here, some thirteen hundred years ago, you might have come upon one of the places where your forefathers worshipped Thor and Odin, the thunder and the wind, beneath the shade of ancient oaks, in the darkest heart of the forest. And there you would have seen an ugly sight enough.
There was an altar there, with an everlasting fire burning on it; but why should that altar, and all the ground around be crusted and black with blood; why should that dark place be like a charnel house or a butcher's shambles; why, from all the trees around, should there be hanging the rotting carcases, not of goats and horses merely, but of MEN, sacrificed to Thor and Odin, the thunder and the wind? Why that butchery, why those works of darkness in the dark places of the world?
Because that was the way of pleasing Thor and Odin. To that our forefathers came. To that all heathens have come, sooner or later. They fancy gods in their own likeness; and then they make out those gods no better than, and at last as bad as themselves.
The old English and Danes were fond of Thor and Odin; they fancied them, as I told you, brave gods, very like themselves: but they themselves were not always what they ought to be; they had fierce passions, were proud, revengeful, blood-thirsty; and they thought Thor and Odin must be so too.
And when they looked round them, that seemed too true. The thunder storm did not merely melt the snow, cool the air, bring refreshing rain; it sometimes blasted trees, houses, men; that they thought was Thor's anger.
So of the wind. Sometimes it blew down trees and buildings, sank ships in the sea. That was Odin's anger. Sometimes, too, they were not brave enough; or they were defeated in battle. That was because Thor and Odin were angry with them, and would not give them courage. How were they to appease Thor and Odin, and put them into good humour again? By giving them their revenge, by letting them taste blood; by offering them sheep, goats, horses in sacrifice: and if that would not do, by offering them something more precious still, living men.
And so, too often, when the weather was unfavourable, and crops were blasted by tempest or they were defeated in battle by their enemies, Thor's and Odin's altars were turned into slaughter-places for wretched human beings -- captives taken in war, and sometimes, if the need was very great, their own children. That was what came of worshipping the heaven above and the earth around, instead of the true God. Human sacrifices, butchery, and murder.
English and Danes alike. It went on among them both; across the seas in their old country, and here in England, till they were made Christians. There is no doubt about it. I could give you tale on tale which would make your blood run cold. Then they learnt to throw away those false gods who quarrelled among themselves, and quarrelled with mankind; gods who were proud, revengeful, changeable, spiteful; who had variableness in them, and turned round as their passions led them. Then they learnt to believe in the one true God, the Father of lights, in whom is neither variableness nor shadow of turning. Then they learnt that from one God came every good and perfect gift; that God filled the sun with light; that God guided the changes of the moon; that God, and not Thor, gave to men industry and courage; God, and not Wodin, inspired them with the spirit which bloweth where it listeth, and raised them up above themselves to speak noble words and do noble deeds; that God, and not Friga, sent spring time and cheerfulness, and youth and love, and all that makes earth pleasant; that God, and not Satur, sent the yearly wonder of the harvest crops, sent rain and fruitful seasons, filling the earth with food and gladness.
But what was there about this new God, even the true God, which the old missionaries preached, which won the hearts of our forefathers?
This, my friends, not merely that he was one God and not many, but that he was a Father of lights, from whom came good gifts, in whom was neither variableness nor shadow of turning.
Not merely a master, but a Father, who gave good gifts, because he was good himself; a God whom they could love, because he loved them; a God whom they could trust and depend on, because there was no variableness in him, and he could not lose his temper as Thor and Odin did. That was the God whom their wild, passionate hearts wanted, and they believed in him.
And when they doubted, and asked, 'How can we be sure that God is altogether good? -- how can we be sure that he is always trustworthy, always the same?' -- Then the missionaries used to point them to the crucifix, the image of Christ upon his cross, and say, 'There is the token; there is what God is to you, what God suffered for you; there is the everlasting sign that he gives good gifts, even to the best of all gifts, even to his own self, when it was needed; there is the everlasting sign that in him is neither darkness, passion, nor change, but that he wills all men to be saved from their own darkness and passions, and from the ruin which they bring, and to come to the knowledge of the truth, that they have a Father in heaven.'