MY DEAR YOUNG FRIENDS,--
YOU have this day come forward, at your own free will, according to the custom of our Church, the Church of England, to take your place, as serious and thoughtful beings, in the company of those who shall stand side by side to do God's work in the world, and fight the great battle with evil without and within,--to claim your birthright, as children of God, publicly in the midst of the congregation,--to confess the faith, and undertake the duty, of Christians.
You have come here, I say, this day to confess the faith of Christians--that you believe the Great God, your Maker, the Creator of all this mighty Universe, to be, as Jesus our Saviour has revealed Him to us, your Father and Friend--One to whom each of you may say "Our Father," and may go in all life's troubles, as a child to a tender parent, to pour out the burdens of your hearts before Him, to [1/2] tell Him of all your sorrows, to confess all your sins, which He knows--blessed be His Holy Name!--before you confess them.
Here is no difficult doctrine, perplexing to the intellect, passing all power of human thought, even to conceive, so high, that you must say in your heart, "Who shall ascend into heaven to bring it home to us?" or so deep, that it needs great study to search it out. It is the simple truth which our Saviour taught in all the actions of His life, as well as by all the lessons of His lips, and which He sealed for us in death--that God, our God, the Living God, is a faithful Creator, a most compassionate and tender Father, of whose love towards us all the tenderest earthly parent's love is only the faith forthshadowing.
Bear this ever in mind then, that you have such an ever-present Father and Friend--One who may lead you in His Providence through dark places, by rugged paths, over a desolate waste, that so He may prove and strengthen and perfect you for His work in this world and [2/3] for that higher work which He has for you to do in the life beyond the grave, but who will hold you by the hand all along, and be near in each time of trial to comfort you with His presence and stay you with His everlasting Arm--One who will condemn the sin which is destroying His child, but yet will not cast off the sinner, will love and save, while He corrects and chastens.
There will be times, you may be sure, in the lives of some--perhaps, of most--of you, when you too will feel, as others have felt before you, the burden of this weary world--when father and mother will have left you behind, and you will seem to be standing all alone, to face in your turn, as best you may, the troubles of life. And some of you may be called to pass through scenes of sore trial, through seasons of darkness and distress, when a gloom shall seem to overspread the earth, and clouds blot out the face of the sky, and no human friend shall be near to help or comfort. At such moments it may almost appear to the [3/4] troubled soul as if a Father's presence was not really near--as if the Great God was afar off, dwelling in His Glory unapproachable--as if the Infinite Being, who tells the number of the stars and orders the innumerable hosts of heaven, where each separate mote is a mighty Sun, the centre of a stupendous system--could not possibly concern himself with the fate, in this world or in the next, of one miserable, in significant man or woman.
If thoughts such as these should ever oppress the mind of any one of you, remember, then, how Jesus Himself, the dearly beloved Son, once felt this despondency, and cried out upon the Cross, in the words of the Psalmist of old, "My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?" And yet, in that dread hour, He was not alone, for the Father was with Him. And consider also how the Father of spirits, the source of all life His creatures, and of spiritual life to spiritual beings such as we are, has been speaking to us all along--not only by Him who came in His Father's name [4/5] and published His message of life to the world, but by all His inspired messengers in different ages, by Psalmists and Prophets, Apostles and Evangelists, by all who have drunk into the spirit of Jesus, by all His true followers in heart and life, by all the best and noblest of our race, the good and true, in every land, under every form of religion. Remember that the words of love and pity which they have spoken, the acts of charity which they have wrought, the tender compassion which the best of men and women have ever shown for the helpless and fallen, the generous impulses with which they have run to raise them, the self-sacrificing resignation of the most precious goods and dearest joys of life, which we have witnessed often, perhaps even in our own home-circles, in the doings of men or women, who, urged forward by their own hearts or summoned by some call of duty, have laid down their lives, in some way or other, for the sake of their brethren--who are laying down their lives even now in this land of ours, as it were, [5/6] before our very eyes--remember, I say, that all these things are daily and hourly witnessing of God's Presence in the midst of us, in whose strength alone these "sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty" have lived and laboured, with whose spirit they were filled, whose Fatherly character they were thus in their measure revealing to their fellow men.
Remember, too, that all the best affections of our nature--the love which we bear to one another in our dearest human relationships--are only different manifestations of that great Love which gave them birth, the Love of Him who is not only our Father, but Father and Mother, Husband and Brother, to us all in one--for do not all such loves in us human beings proceed from Him, as the living source--coloured rays, as it were, into which the pure, bright light of the Central Sun is separated in this our lower, human atmosphere?
And you have still another witness of God's unceasing Fatherly care for you, one nearer and closer than any other, and that is, the [6/7] witness of His own good Spirit within you, His witness in your consciences, commending and cheering you when you have done right, reproving and condemning when you have done wrong--that voice which is saying to you continually, "My son, My daughter, give Me thy heart."
And some time or other, you know, for each of you, as the days pass by, the sands of your own life will be running short, and the time be felt to be drawing near and more near, when you in your turn must take that solemn journey, in which no earthly friend can bear us company, through the valley of the shadow of death. Ah! to most of you indeed the time will seem far off now but come it will. And then how comforting it will be to fall back upon the simple faith which you have this day professed, as the faith of Christian men and women--to fall back in the sense of all your weakness, in the consciousness of all your sins, upon the thought that you are not alone in that hour, that a gracious Eye has watched you [7/8] in all your wanderings, and watches over you still--that if you cannot, after a well-spent life, lift up your eyes with a calm, rejoicing confidence, as hoping soon to be called home, you may still say, "I will arise and go to my Father"--to Thee my Father, "though I am not worthy to be called Thy child"--to know that our Father's love is not broken off by death, but awaits us all in the world beyond the grave as here.
Such, then, is the Christian's faith which you have this day come to profess, as we have learned it from the lips and from the life of Jesus, of Him who has taught us all to say, "Our Father which art in Heaven." But you have come to do something more than this. You have come to make answer to the call of your Creator in the words of the prophet of old, "Here am I, send me!" You have come, most of you, in the prime of youth, in the fulness of health and strength, God's precious gifts, to acknowledge yourselves bound to carry out in life the duty of Christians; and that is, [8/9] you know, to follow the example of Jesus Himself, of Him who taught His disciples, saying--not "Blessed are they who keep whole and undefiled all the articles of this or that creed," but--"Blessed are the meek--Blessed are the merciful--Blessed are the pure in heart--Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness--Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God"--to set Jesus Himself, the dear Son of God, before your mind's eyes continually, as the type of what true children of God should be-- to be truthful and brave and loving, pure and innocent in heart and life, as He was, letting your light shine before men, in all your daily intercourse, as He did, to the glory of your Father in Heaven.
And this, too, is no strange thing that is required of you, something which belongs to a higher state than this, to spirits who live unsullied by sin, untried by temptation, within the very light of God, or to saints who sit apart froth their fellows, and for their own [9/10] souls' sake withdraw themselves from the busy world in which God's will and wisdom have placed us, and from the converse of their kind. Such selfish work of saving our own souls is not what our Father required from any one of us. The duty to which you will stand pledged this day must be clone by most of you amidst the common work, the common joys and sorrows, the common cares, trials, and temptations, of everyday life--as members of your different families, amidst domestic occupations and household duties, as members of society, helping one another and all around you, by word and act, to live mote truly as children of God. "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth"--no word unchaste, no slandering, lying, or swearing. "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and evil-speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ"--through the revelation of His Fatherly love in the Gospel--"hath [10/11] forgiven you." This is the daily sacrifice which the youngest among you all can offer, "holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service"--your service, that is, as reasonable beings, which you will offer daily, and which He will assuredly accept at your hands, if you really resolve to go forth from this solemn service, in the spirit of Jesus, your Lord and Leader, to do the work to which the will of God shall call you.
What that work may be we cannot tell--what changes may lie before you in the age which is coming--changes greater probably than even those which we ourselves of this older generation have witnessed. Of some among you, it may be, the work on earth will be done before many years have passed, and the Master's voice shall call for them to come up higher. We know not when He will call for anyone of us, "at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning." But most of you, in all human probability, will be living on when I who now speak to you, and [11/12] those who have loved and cherished you in youth, and have witnessed this your confession, shall have gone to our great account. Upon your generation, then, it will rest to carry on God's work in the world--to meet the difficulties of your own time, whatever they may be, in the strength which God shall give you--to be bold to speak the truth, and remembering, as far as may be, to speak the truth in love--to be brave to defend the righteous cause, however to all appearance beaten down for a time and trodden under foot of men--to be ready at any moment to stretch out a hand of brotherly kindness to raise up the weak, the helpless, the fallen--in one word, to fight the good fight as soldiers of the Cross, content also to receive the reward of such warfare, to find that your good deeds shall often be evil spoken of, sometimes through your own defect and fault, and that your portion in this life may be, like that of the Master Himself, not the praise of the many and the honour which cometh of men, but very possibly the enmity, [12/13] the mockery, the buffets and stripes and thorns, together with--if God will--the clinging attachment of a few true hearts, and, at all events, the Peace of God which passes all understanding.
Is this your resolve and expectation? Then seek that Divine help, in the strength of which alone you can lead such a life as this. Turn to your Heavenly Father at any moment--for He is ever near you---and with one simple word or thought look up to Him for support in your daily duties, trials, temptations, in the struggle with evil within and without. And come, when you can, to the Holy Table, where with others, your fellow-Christians, you will make special mention of Him who has gone before ns, "leaving us an example that we should follow His steps," and will set His Cross before you as the symbol of the life to which He calls you. And when, perchance, in the conflict you may feel your strength sometimes fail, you may even stumble and fall--for what good man is there upon earth that sinneth not?-- [13/14] go at once without delay, oppressed though you may be with the sense of your fault and of your soul's defilement, and enter your closet, and shut to the door, and be alone with God, and pray there to your Father in secret, and ask His forgiveness. And then come again to the sacred Table, that you may renew your vows and refresh your spirit, and come to it again and again continually, whenever opportunities are offered and your own circumstances allow, in strength or in weakness, in sickness or in health,--not with a superstitious notion, as if the mere act performed or the priestly word could give you that life which spirits need, but that, eating the bread and drinking the wine, as He has bidden us to do, "in remembrance of Him," you may feed by faith upon His Divine Doctrine, the "flesh and blood," the "bread from heaven," which He gives our souls to eat--and that is, the revelation of a Father's Love, "His Father and our Father, His God and our God." And you, fathers and mothers, come with your children, [14/15] and so help them to come, that "with one mind and one mouth we may glorify God together, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."