Sermon II. Second Sunday in Lent.
Of the Effect of Sin: In Its Guilt.
"Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my Daughter is grievously vexed with a Devil." Words of the Holy Gospel for the Day.
ONE of many dangers to be guarded against in the study of the incidental and historical portions of GOD'S Holy Word, is that of insensibility. After long acquaintance with the subject-matter of any given transaction, the mind becomes almost callous to its details. It is no easy task to sustain, at its keenest and highest point, the interest with which once we viewed some noteworthy event; and it needs a mental effort of considerable power, to place ourselves again in full sympathy with the circumstances of the case. I do not say, and GOD forbid I should say, that continued study, even of the historical and eventful [16/17] portions of the New Testament is not productive, with God's Blessing, of good effects, which counterbalance these questionable results. Neither, in the warning which I venture to offer, do I allude to the moral, the dogmatic, the poetical, or the devotional parts of the Bible. But I think that the particular condition of the mind, which at first accepts the facts of Holy Scripture, has a tendency to fade away; and I am sure that such tendency is harmful.
There are, perhaps, few more touchingly beautiful incidents--looking at it from a human, and not from a Divine point of view--in the whole circle of Scriptural incidents, than the one which forms the subject of the Holy Gospel for the Day. With its outlines, and with its details, my Brethren, I assume your acquaintance. And it is only our familiarity with the story, in its manifold study, that takes away from the almost dramatic effect with which the inspired Evangelist has been led to speak of it. Its study, indeed, forms a fair example of the danger I have mentioned, and the need of the caution I have given. Constant repetition has taken off the edge of our interest, has chilled the ardour of our sympathy. The account is read publicly in the course of Divine Service six times yearly, and is said once at the Altar. How many [17/18] times a year it is pondered devotionally, is doubtful: but daily in the Prayer of Humble Access, the Church makes her own the words of the faithful Mother, when she declares by the lips of her children, that she is not worthy to gather up the crumbs which fall from her Master's Table. Such an oft-told tale has left, perhaps, on some minds, the natural effect of insensibility.
If, however, we could only place ourselves in the position of those who for the first time listen to the account; if we could hide from our minds the end of the story, when we once again find ourselves at the beginning; if we could but banish from our hearts that indifference and hardness to facts, which is one tendency of the undue use of sensational works of fiction; and if we could read the story as some accomplished and sensitive Heathen might read it, I do not hesitate to say that the effect upon our inmost souls would be moving. Let us call to mind but a few of the incidents, where all are well known. Our attention in the first place is excited by one--and she a Woman, and a Mother in distress--of a despised nationality, and of a stock hated by and alien to the Commonwealth of Israel, who came out of her own Coasts, to seek the Great Jewish Teacher. We note the anxiety with which she forces her way, heedless of obstacles, into the immediate presence [18/19] of the Divine Prophet. We admire the natural affection, inspired by the purest and least selfish of all human affection, a Mother's love, which led her to the Physician of Souls. We sympathize with the Supernatural faculty she possessed--her intense, and as yet untaught faith; her instinctive, but still undisciplined belief--which brought her to the SAVIOUR of the World. We hear her heartfelt lament, her piteous appeal for help, on behalf of her child, to Christ as Man, to Christ as God. And when our holiest feelings are stirred to their lowest depths, we are astonished and perplexed at the silence--more eloquent than many words--of the All-pitiful and the Almighty. Our Blessed LORD applied a test to the faith of the Woman of Canaan. He answered her not a word.
We next listen to the Apostolic petition in the Woman's favour--the Intercession of the Saints yet in the flesh, you-will remark, my Brethren--Send her away with her supplication answered: Send her away with her prayer fulfilled. And we now hear words uttered, for which we are as little prepared as for-the former speaking silence. Apparently with studied sternness, in reality with tenderest love, our Divine Lord applies a second test to that of silence, for the confirmation of the Mother's faith--I mean the test of discouragement and opposition. Then came she, says Inspiration, [19/20] and worshipped Him. At first she came and cried unto Him. By accepting the tests which JESUS successively offered her, the Woman's faith was more and more increased. She then came and worshipped Him. An Act of Worship, you will observe, my Brethren, distinctly offered to our Blessed Lord as Man; and as distinctly accepted! A fact which is not without its value in days when we are told, that we may not so much as sing Hymns to Christ as God; and when, with a strange confusion of ideas, as well as with a convenient forgetfulness of the Litany, and in ignorance of the law which rules their use, the Eucharistic Collects addressed to Christ are numbered, in order to prove, by their comparative paucity, that it is impermissible ever to offer Divine Worship to the Second PERSON of the Holy TRINITY.
Did it ever suggest itself to your notice, my Brethren, that this touching incident may be looked upon as a picture, photographed from the life of any individual Soul amongst ourselves? Of course it must be viewed in the light of Mystical interpretation; and certain details must not be over-forced into the comparison. The simile will not indeed reflect the image of those who have never fallen from Grace, of those who have never sullied their Baptismal garb. God grant there may be many [20/21] such here to-day. But for others, at that portion of our lives in which we were not in Sacramental Union with the Sinless Manhood of our Divine Master, we were living, emphatically, without the borders of the Holy Land, in the Coasts of Wickedness and of Sin. Living there, we were leading not of necessity an outwardly vicious or abandoned life, but a life of mere moral respectability--faultless in itself, and combined with something higher, of much value--to which alone it is difficult to assign the title of Christian. So far as the Faith is concerned, we were existing, vegetating, not living: or rather, we were living such a life as a philosophic Epicurean might consent to endure, cultivated, intellectual, polished: a life of refined sensuality, benevolent it may be, carefully upright, and candidly sincere: but as to others, entirely selfish; as to oneself, not at all self-denying; as to the World, altogether for this life; as to GOD, simply ignoring His particular Providence; and as a consequence of general application, to which there are few exceptions, guilty of that most common, that most debased form of Idolatry, the worship of' Public Opinion.'
In that Land, which is not so far off as some of us, may imagine, we heard 'glad tidings' of the SAVIOUR of Mankind. It matters little in what form such tidings came to us, so long as we gave [21/22] heed to them, so long as we despised them not. A grievous accident or a narrow escape; an illness, affliction, or death; bitter disappointment in life, a life-long trial, or the loss of friends or of income--this may have been the immediate cause. Or a chance word, a passage in a devotional book, a friendly argument, possibly a sermon, or a secret, silent, but most surely effective uneasiness of conscience, mercifully sent for the salvation of our Soul--this, perhaps, brought us face to Face with our Unknown GOD. Thereupon came we forth out of the same Coasts, and cried unto Jesus, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my Soul is grievously vexed with a Devil." But that is not enough. We must not only cry unto GOD, we must worship Him, in all the full meaning of that comprehensive word. The trial of our faith now begins. Perhaps the trial is of some inward and personal sort, when the Good LORD hides as it were His Face from us, and will give us no answer. We come and cry unto Jesus, when outward circumstances are against us; when those who ought to help our Spiritual course hinder it; when there seems to be no one in the world to advise with us; when, in faith, our nearest and dearest, otherwise all that is good and kind, are antagonistic, or worse, are indifferent to us; when our hearts seem too hard for penitence and our sins too many [22/23] for pardon--then, Oh, then we come and cry unto JESUS; and, it may be, He answers us not a word. It is, Brethren, a trial of our faith, a test of our sincerity, which our Divine LORD offers us. We come and cry unto Him. But that is not enough. He desires our Worship; and our Worship He must have. He desires ourselves; and ourselves He must have. He wants "ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy, and lively Sacrifice" unto Him; that "with all our heart, and with all our mind, and with all our soul, and with all our strength "we may worship Him; that we may be enabled to say unto Him--"I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine."
Neither is this all. There is yet another trial to be made, there is yet another test to be offered for the confirmation of our faith. Perhaps this trial may be of some outward and corporate sort. The first was offered in silence. The second is made in speech. Then, our Divine Master said nothing. Now, He utters things hard to be understood. And if in the former case some allusions found a counterpart in the inner life of any of you, my Brethren, is there nothing, may I ask, in your outer life, in connexion with the Church, with which the latter case may be compared? Are the times in which we live, evil times? Are these days, days of danger, difficulty, doubt? Do those in authority act in a manner to [23/24] which we may submit, but of which we cannot conscientiously approve? Do those under authority seek to place might in the stead of right; and agitate to make that lawless which now, confessedly, is lawful? Is it difficult to listen to opposite teaching, of equal authority, from different Priests of the same Church? Is it hard to believe, that the judgment of the living Church is accessible; that her voice may be heard; and that when she does speak, she speaks authoritatively and with infallibility? Is it impossible to doubt, that the liberties of the Church, so far as they may be imperilled by human interference, are in jeopardy; and that her children are in bondage? Peace, troubled Spirit! Unquiet Soul, be still! Be patient. Be hopeful. Be full of faith. Be full of love. Accept this trial of thy faith which JESUS offers thee. Decline not this test also. Only act up to the light which GOD gives thee. Only await His good Pleasure, expecting when He is silent, and attentive when He sees fit to speak. Only fall on thy knees before the Crucifix and worship Him; and, in GOD'S own time, thou shalt hear those blessed words which bring pardon and peace to the penitent Soul, "O Daughter, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
Last Sunday morning, in answer to the Question [24/25] 'What is Sin,' we found that Sin was at once the presence of a Person within the Soul, and an influence of a Person upon the Soul of Man. Today I shall make a few suggestions on the effect left on the Soul by the Person, through his influence. This effect, though its objective existence may be hard to define, we call 'Guilt.' And here again, as before, it must be noted, that Guilt is not a mere subjective sentiment, or feeling, or mental condition. It is something external to ourselves, which comes to us from without, which can only be taken away from without. In short, Guilt may be said to be the objective mark or stain which Satan leaves upon our Soul, when he has successfully tempted us into Sin.
The popular idea of the Guilt of Sin is far different from this. To hear some persons speak of Sin, it might be imagined that Guilt was of such a transcendental nature, that since it may not be subjected to the evidence of the senses, it is useless to entertain any question of it. They seem to think indeed, that at the time it is incurred, to a certain extent, Guilt is dangerous; that in the face of sudden death, Guilt is hazardous; that with over-sensitive consciences--a simplicity much despised--Guilt is unpleasant. At the most, Guilt is esteemed--and here, my Brethren, I beg you to remark that I only [25/26] quote the substance of what has lately appeared in a popular Weekly Review--at the most, Guilt is esteemed as an unhealthy atmosphere, which for a time the Soul inhales; as a disease, from which the Soul is apt to suffer; as an accident, by which the Soul is occasionally incapacitated. This notion of the Guilt of Sin only requires--as its advocates frankly avow--a reformatory process for its cure: Atonement or Expiation being consistently denied. On falling into this accident, in suffering from this complaint, in passing through this atmosphere, persons actually feel annoyed with themselves. They are vexed at the weakness they are now conscious of, or which they have exposed to others. Of course they think the temptation was too strong for them; and in general they blame their neighbours. But still, they do violence to their higher nature. After their own fashion, they confess themselves to be sinners. They beg pardon of Providence without a scruple. And they earnestly determine--for they are in earnest--never to do the same naughty things again.
The penitence of such persons cannot be said to be permanent. After this form of repentance has been undergone, the sense of Guilt for any given Sin becomes weaker and weaker, as the assurance of pardon, on the mere wish for it, becomes stronger and more strong. Persons cannot endure to think [26/27] that Almighty GOD remembers what they have forgotten; and as the most certain way of ensuring His oblivion, they make a point as quickly as possible of forgetting their own sins. Sin and Guilt, it is admitted, are not pleasing subjects of contemplation. The less said about either of them the better. The sooner both are put out of sight, out of hearing, out of mind, the smoother and easier will life become. So says the World, and its mouth-piece, Journalism. Nor, my Brethren, is this picture fairly chargeable with exaggeration. For, mark this--Even with a limited experience, no faithful Priest can have knelt beside many deathbeds, ere he will hear from the lips of those trembling on the verge of Eternity, the calm assertion that they have nothing in particular which they desire to confess; that their conscience is troubled with no weighty matter; that they have never broken one of the Commandments of GOD; and that they are guiltless of any of the Deadly Sins. And this fearful self-delusion is in mockery called 'a happy death.'
The Catholic belief in the Guilt of Sin needs other terms in which to state it. As it is an effect upon the Soul, however we may estimate it, of the work of a Person, the influence, whatever it may be, is outward, actual, definite. Guilt once harboured [27/28] in the soul, stays there. Guilt once admitted, can only be expelled by a Power more potent than that by which it gained admittance. This assertion, thus plainly stated, is self-evident, if not commonplace. But it is one which is not widely accepted in these days. Yet, let me ask you, my Brethren, what force exists to eliminate Guilt from the Soul, when once it has obtained a footing there? No external adjunct to our nature can be displaced by any inward feeling, however powerful. Still less can any outward reality be done away by forget-fulness, or by wishing it afar, or by thinking it gone, or by failing to think about it. Neither does the Soul possess any inherent power over Sin, beyond the power of opposition. The Soul may withstand Sin, and not fall. Before sinning she is all-powerful; after sinning she is powerless. Whatever be the Guilt of Sin, it must exist in the Soul until a Force external to itself, and of greater energy, cancels it.
Sister or Brother in the LORD, hast thou in days gone by, and after the manner I have indicated, hast thou committed some post-Baptismal Sin, and has it never been forgiven? The Guilt of that Sin is still upon thy Soul: without doubt it is there. Canst thou call to mind any wilful Sin, not yet pardoned by the Precious Blood? The Guilt of that [28/29] Sin is still upon thy Soul: without doubt it is there.; Dost thou remember, without an effort, any heinous Sin for which thou art still impenitent? The Guilt of that Sin is there. Consider only the Seven f Deadly Sins--and that, not in their vulgar coarse-1 ness, but under the fashionable varnish of a refined civilization. And I will only place them before you in a suggestive form. Hast thou been beguiled into Covetousness, or into Sloth? Again, the Guilt of that Sin is there. Hast thou fallen into the Sin of Pride, which will cost us Heaven; or of Anger, which is of the spirit of murder; or of Envy, which f is a very common fault? Still, the Guilt of it is! there. Or, hast thou yielded to lower types of Sin, i even in the World's esteem, base, which bear with them their own condemnation, I mean Intemperance, or Impurity? Once more, the Guilt of that Sin, if unabsolved, is still upon thy Soul: without doubt, Brother or Sister beloved in Christ, it is there!
Yes, dear Brethren, the Guilt of every wilful Sin which man or woman has committed, unless it has been washed away in the Blood of the Lamb, is as surely, at this moment, on the Soul that sinned, as it was on the day on which it fell. Not forgetful then, that Guilt is that objective mark or stain which cleaves to the Soul until it be cleansed, with all anxiety for thy salvation would I say to the [29/30] unforgiven penitent, if such there be that listens, "O Soul, purchased by the Blood of Jesus, look back, I pray thce, on thy life past. Look back one year, two years, ten years, twenty years. Look back earnestly, carefully, jealously, into thine estate. Consider, I beseech thee, as in the sight of GOD, thy temptations, which have afflicted thee; thy falls, which have dishonoured thee; thy penitence, which was not worthy of thce. Consider thy Sins of omission and commission; thy Sins without light and in spite of light; thy Sins of thought, word, deed, or desire; thy venial Sins, which have developed into deadly ones, occasional Sins which have become habitual, Sins of infirmity which have become Sins of presumption. Consider the Sins into which thou hast been led by others; and Oh! worse, far worse than all, Sins into which thou hast led another to fall. Be assured, that each un-absolved Sin is still within thy Soul; that each succeeding Sin is added to those which went before; and will be added to those which follow after. Be assured, that each separate and individual Sin adds to the ever enlarging, the ever multiplying accumulation of Guilt, which exists within thy immortal Soul."
Here I pause this morning. Time fails me to say more. You are aware that I only purpose in these [30/31] Sermons to indicate a line of thought which may be worked out by yourselves. With these words of suggestion, I leave the subject of the Guilt of Sin for your own further and private contemplation.
In conclusion, I would only add this, That although I have made no mention of it, you at least, my Brethren, need not to be told that a 'Fountain' has been "opened to the House of David for Sin and foi Uncleanness;" you at least are not ignorant of the Means, in the Church of GOD, by which the Guilt of Sin may be washed away. The Soul that by self-inspection has obtained a vision of its state, will not be content with coming out of the Coasts of Wickedness and of Sin; will not be content with crying after JESUS. The Soul that feels the burden and weight of Sin to be more heavy than she can bear, will persevere in spite of silent want of notice, in spite of verbal want of encouragement. She will accept each trial and each test which the Good LORD is pleased to offer, for the confirmation of her faithfulness. She will accept the test of inward and personal desolation, the trial of outward and corporate dis-organization. And as the Woman of Canaan acted will she act; she will honestly and bravely act up to the light vouchsafed to her, and to the opportunities afforded for her spiritual help. In her own way, at her own [31/32] time, for her own necessities, the faithful Soul will fall at the foot of the Cross, in Confession, and worship Him Who hangs thereon. Thence will she cry, with heartfelt penitence, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David." There will she hear the words of Sacramental Absolution, "O Daughter, great is thy faith, be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
Now, to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be ascribed all Glory, for ever and for evermore. Amen.