"Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."--S. Luke xxiii. 34.
WE are met to spend this interval in the presence of our God and Saviour, our Master and our Example, Jesus Christ our Lord, dying for us on the cross. He has drawn us all together; He stills our tumultuous thoughts; He, with Divine power and human sympathy, higher than the highest, nearer than the nearest, calls us to come close to Him while He speaks to us. Let us try to feel His blessed presence, and the fellowship in which it binds us; let every prayer be said in a special manner for all who are under this roof. As the sons of Jacob were gathered round the death-bed of their father to hear his words and receive his blessing, so we meet by the side of our dying Lord, our Saviour, our Friend, and He speaks to us in these words of His servant and type, which are also His own: "Behold, I die, but God shall be with you." Even as He said to the women, "Weep not for Me, but for yourselves," so now He says to us, "It is for you I die, that God may be with you. You were made for God; without God you cannot live. I am God, and I have become Man to make you one with God and God with you. What hinders that union? "Ah, what hinders it in you and in me, souls dear to Jesus? All His unbounded love has worked for this; His eternal wisdom has planned it, He Himself has called you to it: why should not God be with you? One thing alone can part us from Him, and that one thing is sin. And, therefore, it must be of sin that Jesus first speaks as they crucify Him, of sin and of the putting away of sin, "Father, forgive them." This was nearer to His heart than any other thought, the most important consideration, the most pressing need in His sight, so that He spoke of it long before He made mention of His own sufferings, the putting away of the sin which He sees in you and in me.
He desires now, as He desired on the cross, to put away our sin from us, to cleanse us from it altogether, and to present us spotless before His Father and our Father. And by the sacrifice which He offered on the cross He has won our forgiveness; it is ours if we will accept it To accept it is to wish to be forgiven, to wish to be free; and therefore "not willingly and without a true struggle to consent to what we know to be wrong.
Our Lord points out this necessary condition of forgiveness, the want of which is the main hindrance to His merciful purposes, when He says, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." For those who know what they do, and consent to it, counting wilful sin as a thing to be chosen for its pleasantness, or to be trifled with because it is common and almost universal, for them, while they remain what they are, the prevailing prayer of our Lord is not offered. But for all of whom it can be said, that where they recognize their sin, there they seek to be free from it, however little of their guilt it is that they see, however weak their struggle may be, so long as they will to be healed, that prayer is indeed offered, and never can it be in vain.
Do not lose yourselves then in perplexity, or shrink before the greatness of the work to be done. For true hearts the work is simple, though it is deep and all-absorbing. But just because you are true, and are determined, bad as you may be; at least to be real and no hypocrites, just for this reason, and because coming back to God seems to be a matter so long, involving such efforts, such hard discipline of penitence, you would fain put it off, lest you should pretend to be what you are not. You will not be of those who seek to put an hour's warm feeling in the place of the giving up of the life, or make the work of salvation less awful than our Lord has made it; and surely you are right. Yet at least you may make a beginning; and this is what He asks. At least you may make war on that which you know to be sin; and this is the best plea He can offer for you--"They know not what they do." Oh, come within the circle of His prayer, and be partakers of it! And if you will do this, you must hear the words of St. James--"Cleanse your hands, ye sinners." There is much to be done afterwards; for he adds, "Purify your hearts." There is the bringing of every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, the gradual forming in you through many a bitter struggle of the very mind and image of Christ; but first, cleanse your hands, deal with that which is plain, visible, unquestionable, tangible sin. Whoever, and wherever, and under whatever condition of life you are, whatever your doubts or perplexities, your ignorance or your difficulties may be, however impossible it may be for you to clear yourself in the eyes of men, or to seem consistent to those around you, see to it that, so far as you know the will of God your Saviour, Who died for you, and longs for your holiness, oh, see to it that you do it!
Is there one of us to whom this does not come, as our first lesson and our first duty, when we bow our heads in this holy place, to bring ourselves within the circle of the prayer of our Lord! "What do I know in me to be contrary to Thy will, O my God? Thou canst not be merciful to them that offend of malicious wickedness; and such as transgress without a cause shall be put to confusion. But, behold, I come to Thee; for with Thee is plenteous redemption. Cleanse Thou me from my secret faults; keep Thy servant also from presumptuous sins. Try me, O God, and seek the ground of my heart; prove me, and examine my thoughts; send out Thy Light and Thy Truth, that they may lead me; show me my sin, and give me grace to be healed of it, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
"And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying, If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when Thou contest into Thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shall thou be with Me in paradise." Luke xxiii. 39-43.
WHAT sacrifice has your conscience now asked of you? What old clinging sin is there with which you have long been battling, and with which you have learnt that you must now renew the struggle, as if you had never yet begun? What tender, wounded spot in your life has our dear Lord touched with His merciful hand, as you knelt and prayed that His intercession might rise for you? What is there which in the presence of your God, your brethren, and your Saviour, you know that you must cast behind you? Now that you know it, much yet remains to be done. The flesh still lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit must still contend with the flesh. The satisfaction and the calm of complete victory are as yet far off; ye cannot do the things that ye would; but a true intention, an honest battle, these are even now possible, and so I ask again, What is it that in spirit and in truth, without reserve and without excuses, from the depth of your being, truly, humbly, inwardly, you seek to be free from? Keep that steadily before you, and then, as you feel your helplessness and weakness, as you find that the struggle must indeed be a hopeless one for you in your own strength, see that in His Providence our Lord has so ordered the events of His sacrifice on the cross that, after He has taught you to be true to yourself, He next gives you, by the example of one rescued soul, His assurance that it is not enough to be real, and face the facts of sin. You must also pray. Prayer is the duty which Jesus Christ sets before us in His second Word; for that Word is a gracious answer to a true prayer. What do we know prayer to be? It need not, if God takes away the opportunity, be clothed in any special outward form. Wherever we are we can pray. The prayer of the dying thief was answered freely and fully, and yet he had nothing free but his dying tongue, with which he spoke to Jesus Christ. His hands and feet were fastened, he could not move or come down from the cross to cancel the deeds of his past life, or offer himself for any earthly service; there was nothing for him to do but to speak, to speak out of the abundance of a true and faithful heart, and that he did. And our Saviour, who never crushed the bruised reed, nor quenched the smoking flax, He, the Son of the Eternal Father, Who is ever seeking for men to worship Him in spirit and in truth, He was ready to hear, and He is ready to hear us now if we will only cast ourselves on Him truly and faithfully. You must do what you can; do not attempt more. What you can you must do. And surely you can do this--you can pray with a true submission to Jesus Christ, and a true desire to let His mind be in you. This it is to pray in His name, to pray acknowledging His perfection, the excellence, the divine excellence, of all that you know or ever can know concerning Him, and so, above all things, to aim at absolute resignation to His will; for indeed without that prayer cannot be, and God will not answer words which only seem to be prayer. The mocking, impenitent thief gives only too true an example of some cries that go up to God from men, "Oh, my God, relieve my pain, get me out of my difficulty, give me what I ask; show Thyself, O God, as the Giver of comfort and prosperity; give me these, and I will believe that Thou art God." That kind of prayer God cannot hear, for in its very address it dishonours Him by unbelief. So do men ask amiss, to consume it on their lusts, and they have not what they ask.
But true hearts, taught by the Light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world, they who have been taught and have learned of the Father Who made them, who have sought to glorify Him as God, and to be thankful, yes, even they who are true only in this, that, like that poor thief, they fear God, and acknowledge that suffering is the due reward of their deeds;--such as these, brought into the presence of Jesus Christ, the God-Man, recognise in His earthly form the same divine Light which has shone dimly in their inmost hearts, find themselves drawn to Him by the same instincts which they have learned to cherish, claim in His unmerited sufferings the link that binds to Him their own guilty wretchedness, and thus they fulfil the majestic words of His own anticipated triumph, "As soon as they hear of Me they shall obey Me; "they are given by the Father to the Son, and are accepted by Him, and He fills them with divine food. For He is their strength and their stay, the Bread coming down from heaven for them, their Saviour, their Redeemer, their God, their Friend; their Beloved is theirs, and they are His; they have found Him, and will not let Him go.
And, though I know the perplexities under which some hearts are labouring, I ask you, is it not true that, in spite of all controversies and contention of tongues, this at least is also acknowledged by all who acknowledge our Jesus Christ as their Lord and their God, that if we know Him, and are true to that which we know Him to command, He is our salvation; and even though His love carries us through fire and water, yet He will certainly bring us out at last into a wealthy place? Oh, will you, then, be the sheep of the Shepherd Who was crucified for you? Will you suffer with Him? Will you follow Him, not waiting to be driven, but following Him, because you know and love Him, or at least desire to love? Will you say, not "Deliver me from that which I dislike," but, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom; though it be 'in the lowest depths,' still 'there let me be,' so only be Thou still my 'Lord and Love;' deliver me as Thou wilt, only keep me close to Thee, and in Thy glorious kingdom find me a place, Thou desire of my heart, Thou strength of my soul! Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none on earth that I desire in comparison of Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth, and all flesh and all hearts would have failed for ever, and must have failed, but for the strength gained from Thy cross. O Jesus, guide my soul! Good Shepherd, go before me, that in all my works, in my penitence, in learning Thy ways, in life and in death, with Thy life and Thy light before me, all may be 'begun, continued, and ended in Thee.' It is Thine to lead to prayer, for Thou hast given Thyself to it, and Thou receivest and sustainest it in those who adore Thee, and come to the Father through Thee, His own co-equal Son. O Lord, remember me. Cast me not away from Thy presence. In suffering or in joy, wheresoever Thou art, there let thy servant be." Oh, my friends, pray earnestly to Him! He will give us more than either we desire or deserve.
"When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple standing by, whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy Son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home."--S. Luke xix. 26, 27.
IT is not only mercy, but also blessing, that our Lord gives from the cross. Not only does He say, "Cease to do evil," but far more, "Learn to do well." How shall we do well but by obeying the first and the second great commandment, by loving God, and loving our neighbour for God's sake? First we must seek for the pure heart, the good conscience, the faith unfeigned, and then charity shines before us in all its beauty as the one end of the commandment, that charity, that love, which is God Himself. Our Lord has mercy for all who have the heart to answer to His grace and seek it; but those who are trained to love He blesses with the high privileges, the sufferings, the consolations, the fiery refining of love. These two to whom He spoke had loved Him, and received His love most closely, and therefore they were, standing as those who love purely and closely must always stand at some time or other, in excess of sorrow, with hearts bowed down in sadness and helplessness. Blessed were those mourners, for He comforted them; and this was their privilege, that He comforted them by making Himself the link between them, giving them a new relation to each other, which renewed their relation to Him, and bound them together in Himself. This was the only power that could rouse them from their sorrowing thoughts, and quicken their desponding hearts into new energy. And thus I see coming forth from Jesus Christ that blessed spirit of counsel, by which, in His worst distress, man is armed with the wisdom of God, as he hears the voice of the Holy Ghost behind him, saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it," when he would turn to the right hand or to the left. And what is the substance of this counsel? It is that faithful hearts can never be without comfort as long as men and women, beloved by Jesus Christ, are needing their help. Thus sorrow supplies the cure of sorrow; and wherever human hearts are in grief, there we may find the representatives of Jesus Christ. All the privileges of His Church are centred in this, that they bring us into relation with Him who is the Life and Lord of all. All ministries of charity are quickened by His Words: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me." All pastoral ministries by these other words: "He that heareth you heareth Me." And in this blessed interchange of holy offices is the practical comfort for those who mourn. When once sin is acknowledged and forgiven through Jesus Christ, then you may turn to His boundless, ever-growing work of helping those who love Him.
But I cannot stop here; for there are those of whom it is said that the things which should have been for their wealth are unto them an occasion of falling. That blessed love which is the foundation of the Christian home, since the cross of Jesus Christ sanctified it; the love that God has made so strong in the heart of man and woman; the holy love of the parent for the child; the tender bond of friendship, as between David and Jonathan; the noble love of our country; our loyal devotion to the Church of God, and the sacred bond between the pastor and his flock, each of these may become the instrument of Satan, through the harshness of tyranny, the baseness and the selfishness of idolatry; they may all of them be turned to evil, and the things which should have been for our wealth may be unto us occasions of falling. Parents, your children are not yours as slaves, or playthings, or objects of unmeasured worship. Nor does the wife so stand towards her husband. No, God forbid; woman is not so to man. Nor are the ministers of God so to be regarded by those to whom they minister, on whom they too must look as God looks upon them. Yes, if we would purify our homes, our friendships, all that binds us one to another in common interest, or united work, or social intercourse, here is the source of purified power, here the one unfailing rule, our safeguard, as well as our comfort, that with whomsoever we are, whether dearer than the dearest, or harder than the hardest, we strive to forget ourselves, and say, "What are these in the eyes of Christ? What would He have me to be to them?"
This was the blessedness of St. John's position. He was henceforth to be to the mother of Jesus what her Son had been; and it was the blessedness of her future life that he was at hand to recall Christ to her mind. He was nothing in himself; he was only the instrument used by Christ for imparting consolation and joy to Mary. Her own adorable Son gave her from the cross one who through all the rest of her life represented Him; and these two blessed ones in their union--their engrafted, bestowed, consecrated union--given to them by the tender mercy of the Incarnate God, possessed this joy, that as they ministered to one another, they ministered to Him.
Oh, my friends, will you purify your country? will you purify your love? will you purify the future homes of England? will you purify every generous impulse that stirs within you? Bring then all these into most holy contact with your crucified and ascended Lord. Remind Him in this Easter that is coming of the first Easter-day, when He drew nigh to the two friends who walked together, and went with them; and as they constrained Him to abide with them, so never rest unless He abide with you, He Who is full of the consuming fire of the eternal love of God.
Do you shrink from the test of such nearness to Him? Oh, believe it! for this, and nothing less, has He made you, and He knoweth whereof you are made; He remembereth that you are but dust. Being what you are, He loves you; fearing what you fear, He calls you; entangled as you must be in a world full of evil customs, and a society stained and lowered by the growing force of unheeded sin, He will free you; and He will cleanse you, if only you aim high enough, if only you. will not be content with being ransomed by Him, but remember that He has made you and yours His members, and that He will have you to be His friends.
So let us say to Him, "Thou art about my path, and about my bed, and spiest out all my ways; there is not a word in my tongue but Thou, O Lord, knowest it altogether. Thou hast fashioned me behind and before, and laid Thine hand upon me. O come to me, and bless me. Bless all I love. I offer them to Thee to be tested by Thy presence. Enlighten all hearts, O most loving Jesus. We pray for our Church, for our country, for our homes; we pray for ourselves; we pray for those to whom Thou hast bound us, for those whom Thou hast permitted us to choose. For all these we ask, and Thou wilt give them purity, and give them unity, for this is according to Thy will, O Jesus, our Lord and our God."
"About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" S. Matthew xxvii. 46.
So far our Lord has spoken in a manner to us. We have striven to see what He has to say to us about the things which most concern our peace; but now, as we come to this great central word, the very core of His Passion, in which all its meaning is gathered, and a glance into its awful depths is allowed us, it is not so much our Teacher as our Example that we behold. He no longer seems to address us, but lays bare His own intercourse with the Father, as the pattern of the way in which we also should approach our God. Again, then, let us make a conscious effort in answer to His gracious purpose; let us draw nigh with awe and reverence to see this great sight, how the Manhood is borne up, and what are the utterances, as the Great High Priest fulfils his awful sacrifice; how the fires of the Godhead and the fires of agony are alike strong within Him, and yet in His true unchanging manhood He endures as our example. Let us draw nigh and see this great sight--why the bush is not burnt.
Oh, the mystery of this fourth Word! We might almost desire to pass by and leave it, since we cannot reach its depths and explain it; but yet here is the very worst of what our Lord bore for us, and we need above all things to enter into the fellowship of what He bore. He has been stripped and deprived already of everything that we could conceive His putting away. His home, His followers, His reputation, His disciples, all are given up; when they stripped Him and nailed Him to the cross, honour and liberty were taken away; He has spoken the last words of parting to His mother and His friend; what is there yet to surrender, unless it be that wearied Spirit which has still some moments of appointed anguish before it passes into the Father's keeping? In this great cry, He deigns to lift the veil, and to show us that the outward sufferings and privations we can trace, are as nothing to that agony which His sacrifice demands within. Years before He had taught His disciples that bodily hunger was forgotten and passed away under the strong power of that communion with the Father to which His soul habitually returned in hours of solitude; when the perverse hatred of those whom no allurements of His mercy could attract wrung from Him the judgments on the cities of Galilee, He could yet rejoice in spirit over that eternal bliss of mutual knowledge between Himself and His Father, in which His manhood shared, and which He extended to His childlike followers; as the end approached, and His chosen friends could not watch with Him, even when the bowing of His human will cost Him the sweat of Blood, yet that deep agony issued in heavenly consolation, and a calm return to His disciples, because, as He had said, "I am not alone, for the Father is with Me." That was the joy on which His created Soul had rested since the first moment of its existence, the very light and strength of its life, the joy of the Father's presence. And now, as it seems, He has lost that joy;--so it seems not only to us who hear Him cry, but (since He is truth itself) to those senses and faculties of His created nature, which, though entirely under control, are really owned in their sinless integrity by the Son of Man. He seems to have lost His dearest possession, to be parted from His Eternal Father. And sinless as He ever was, and must needs have been (else were He not God), this agony is the result of sin, the sin of us whom He has so loved as to make us His own, to take our cause upon Him, to bear what must be borne by that Captain of our salvation by Whom many sons are brought to glory. Yes, He is showing us the depths of His suffering, that He may arm us for the worst we have. to bear. Since He forgives us, despair is a folly and a sin; but though we may never despair, we may be called so to suffer that the cry of our desolation may sound almost more terrible than despair itself. Oh, dear friends, He knows the paths in which we have yet to go, He knows all outward suffering in store for us, and He knows the more bitter cup of inward suffering, which the heart of the sufferer alone can know, which no earthly friend can fully share; He knows the suggestions of doubt, the perplexities of choice, the barrenness of resource, the drying up of prayer, the coldness of heart, the sickness and loneliness of spirit, which each of us may now or one day meet. He knows why we have been spared for another Passiontide, and another Easter Communion; He knows what our strength is sufficient for, as He shows Himself to us on the cross to-day, and He shows Himself in this utter desolation, in this all but despair, that when these things come to pass, we may remember that this awful sight has told us of them, that the disciple is not above his Master, but that every one which is perfect must be as his Master. Can we ever think that a saddened heart or a darkened life are signs that God does not love us, when we hear His own Beloved Son cry, "Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Surely it is not because He does not love us, but because He does love us, that He shows us how it may come to us to be left entirely alone. So it was Job, of whom God said that he was a perfect and an upright man, fearing God, and abhorring evil, who was tried as no one else before Christ is recorded to have been tried--tried that he might come forth as gold, tried by suffering which came on him, he could not tell why, to purge him of his blindness and imperfection. In Jesus Christ there was no imperfection, but He had been made sin for us, He had identified us sinners with Himself. It is that we may gird ourselves up for the purifying trials of our spiritual life that our Lord thus permits us to behold the agony which exceeds our comprehension.
Let us dare, then, to unite ourselves with Him, not only in our joy, but in our sorrow, even though that sorrow be the plain result of shameful sin. In the Psalms, His own inspired manual, His gift to us, He gives us words to express the anguish of the soul, which, if not given there, we could not dare to use.
"Will the Lord absent Himself for ever; will He be no more intreated?" "Hath God forgotten to be gracious; and will He shut up His loving-kindness in displeasure?"
Oh, dear friends, this twenty-seventh Psalm gives us consecrated words in which we may speak of our grief; and it shows us that the purpose of suffering is to lay bare our inner loyalty, to strip the soul and bring it face to face with God! "It is the Lord, let Him do as seemed Him good; though He slay me, yet will I trust Him."
Suffering may be sent, not as a punishment for unrepented sin, but to bring us nearer to God, to enable us to know Him better. The increase of knowledge is always the increase of suffering, and without suffering knowledge can seldom be gained. What if in our Lord Himself the windows of His human faculties were only now fully opened, so that the infinite knowledge which had ever belonged as of right to His mind, because it was the mind of God, but which had been put away from the use of His faculties, or left in abeyance during His childhood, so that it might be admitted gradually with Him, as it ever must be with us--what if this knowledge was now at the last coming in with all its fulness, so that all the sin of man appeared in awful contrast to the love of God, and so overwhelmed by the greatness of that vision, He cries, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
But, as in Gethsemane, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me," only prepared the way for the unconditional prayer, "Thy will be done," so here the cry, "Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" only throws into clear relief of blessed certainty the words, "My God, My God!" With all the agony, and the deep questioning of the suffering soul, there is not a shadow of doubt, not the slightest abatement of His perfect trust.
Oh, believe it, then, you who have to suffer, you who are tempted to despair;--that which one deadly sin can destroy in an instant, not all the leagued armies of hell can shake, the union of the spirit of man with the Spirit of God! Oh, my God, let me believe it, let me hold to it in life and in death, though none else can understand, though all seem lost and ruined, yet Thou, O God, art greater than all, greater than him that is in the world, greater than my own heart that seems to condemn me; only give me, Thy poor, weak, erring child, the gift to trust Thee more!
"For the love of God is broader than the measures of man's mind,
And the heart of the Eternal is wonderfully kind."
Therefore, out of the deep, let us now, and in all future trials,--out of the deep let us call upon God.
"Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfiled, saith, I thirst." S. John xix. 28.
OUR Lord has shown us in the word we last considered the most intense suffering of all, that of the inner spirit of man; and we learned by His example how to seek for help in our darkest hours of desolation and distress. But in the next word He guards us against a danger which I think many of us must know well. It is quite possible to think much of what is great and deep in the life of the soul, and to forget what is simple and ordinary. Yet it is in the simple troubles, which excite no surprise, and are surrounded by no mysterious interest, that a great part of our trial here is laid. Though the thirst of our Lord was increased by so many previous pains, and though, like all His sufferings, it was infinitely magnified in anguish, as in virtue, by being the suffering of a Divine Person, yet it was a suffering of the Body; and by His mention of it we are surely taught that the body, and its influence upon us, are not to be passed over or despised. There is a subtle temptation, to which those whose attention is chiefly turned to the inner life of man are peculiarly liable, to turn away from the body and its concerns, as being unworthy of serious thought and care. Was it not to save us from such proud folly that He Who had cried, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" added, "I thirst"? He did not turn away from the thought of bodily suffering; He bore and acknowledged it. He did not ask that it might be removed; He was content to bear it as long as it might be the will of His Father; but He spoke of it simply, and, I may perhaps venture to say, naturally; nor did he altogether refuse that it should be alleviated. The mixed draught indeed, intended to deaden pain and consciousness, He did refuse when He entered upon His crucifixion; but now towards the end, the taste of some wine to moisten His dying lips, and perhaps to give needful aid for the words that were yet to be uttered, was meekly received. Let us learn, as we wish to be real before Jesus Christ, that the body has much to do with our training for eternal life. It is the servant of the soul, a servant that cannot with safety be either pampered or neglected. Since Thou didst refuse the wine mingled with myrrh, grant us, O dearest Lord, to endure, in Thy strength, every pang that true loyalty to Thee shall require; as Thou didst accept the vinegar, to relieve the thirst of which Thou hadst spoken, let us acknowledge and accept the relief of pain, if thus we may better discharge the duty which is laid upon us.
The devil knows how to find his occasion in the hour of pain. He can prompt rebellious murmuring, and blasphemous irritation; but where, by God's mercy, he cannot achieve this, he knows how to say, "You are not fit for God to-day; you cannot pray; you cannot join in prayer or service. No one can do you any good; the humiliation of being helped is worse than the weariness of limbs and brain." And so you harden yourself against God and man alike, until you are betrayed to man by fretfulness and failure; and when you return to yourself, you find that you have forgotten God. Learn from this Word that all bodily pain, the least and the greatest, may be sanctified when it is offered through Jesus Christ. We have been taught this week how through the simplest instruments, and the suffering common to us all, our Lord offered Himself without spot to God, and we accept the truth; but the time to test our belief is not now, when the majesty of His Passion lifts your souls on high, and in one common adoration we seem as if we could never lose the consciousness of His love. [In the sermon preached in the Cathedral on Thursday in Holy Week, by the Rev. H. S. Holland.] The time to remember it will come, when some ailment that you are ashamed to compare with His agonies is sent to humble you, and teach you how small a thing can unhinge your frame, and lay your spirit low; when, it may be, some specious form of half-intoxication makes you a deadly offer of secret relief, while pride refuses the safer remedy at the hands of others, or when, rather than acknowledge yourself to be weaker than others, you persist in work or abstinence which will spoil your real obedience, then it is for you to remember that He who never refused the cup of suffering, acknowledged the weakness of His pure and stainless Body, and that His reception of the vinegar is one link in the blessed chain of the actions of His glorious sacrifice. Where the rules of the Church require it, and that love and prayer which are the end of the commandment and the life of the soul do not suffer, abstinence and fasting are unquestionably Christian duties. When love is strong enough, and God points out the way, austere self-discipline has its special use and blessing; but when we know our weakness, and are conscious that our powers of worship or of work for others are in danger of being impaired, then we must accept daily bread to fit us for doing God's will; we must gladly take the assistance of our neighbour; we must secure and regulate sleep and diet. These things are not unfit to be spoken of before the cross of Christ; for the neglect of them is often a serious hindrance to our spiritual welfare.
"When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished."--S. John xix. 30.
WE have now come to the two last words which our blessed Lord spoke upon the cross, and we shall find in them principles of action for our future life, as men made in the image of God. If we are to be like God, we must imitate this great feature in the life of Jesus Christ, that He finished the work which His Father had given Him to do.
I suppose that while we have been here to-day, the recollection has come back to us of resolutions made before now in the presence of God, when we marked out paths of amendment, of learning, of advancement, which we saw that God intended us to walk in, and we feel to-day how badly these resolutions have been kept, how far we are from being able to say of our work, "It is finished." Before then we begin any new attempts, it will be a wholesome rule to endeavour to take up these old resolutions, to take one of them at a time, and by God's grace to finish it. There are special duties to God and to man, the neglect of which once vexed us greatly, and is now less keenly felt only because it has been such long neglect; there are duties which we know belonged to us, though others knew not of our obligation, acts of kindness to others that long ago became possible, and if death or change has not intervened, are possible still; above all, acts of due reparation too long omitted; these things must come before us, not to make us mourn in helpless remorse, but to gird ourselves to the work which they require, that we may follow Him who left nothing undone of all that His Father had given Him to do.
Though none of us can say fully and entirely, "It is finished," how blessed will it be to come even a little nearer to Him in faithfulness, and to refresh the holy energy which we have too long laid aside. Oh, how blessed, as we look at the years we have lost, the wasted power, wasted time, wasted money, wasted love--how blessed to know that, though what might once have been can never be now, though the work which once might have been accomplished can never now be done, though some gifts and opportunities are gone for ever, yet from this waste of folly also the Good Shepherd will bring back His sheep; He will give again the years that the locust hath eaten; for, though all else is gone and changed, Thou, O Lord, art not gone; Thou art not changed, my Saviour, my Deliverer, Who dost justify many; Thou art the Beginning and the End, the Author and Finisher of my faith; Thou art He in Whom I have trusted; let me never be confounded.
We must call upon Him out of our shame, and ask Him that it may not overwhelm us, but that He will teach us modesty, humility, and dependence upon Himself, that we may be ready to take at His hands some simple thing and to do it. You know the duties that you scarcely dare touch because of the dust of sloth that covers them. Jesus Christ points to them, and if He does not require you to be brilliant, or to do great things, He does require you to be true, and to show your love to Him. Will you do this? If you will you must consent to work upon His conditions. You must be penitent and humble, and you must take up this day that duty which He sets before you. What is that duty? Is it prayer, morning prayer, true, reverent, heaven-directed prayer, offered morning by morning from the depths of the heart? Is it the study of His Word, or the reception, after due preparation, of the Holy Sacrament, or the care of children, or of the poor?
Whatever it be, He shows you another condition besides penitence and humility--the acceptance of apparent failure. It was when He seemed to have failed utterly, when His cause seemed ruined, and His followers had left Him, and His human Soul felt the human anguish of that desolation, that He said, "It is finished." The work was finished because He had laid its foundations in the entire submission of His human will, through love, to the Will of the Father. So, if we would seek for real perfection, true completion, we must be content to do our work and leave the results to Him, Who makes all things work together for good to them that love Him. He sets our duties before us, and it is for us to labour at them. Then, if He does not permit us to see their fruits, if after dutiful labour in the education of children they have been taken from us; if after diligent study, God takes away our eyesight, and prevents us from carrying out our schemes, we must not complain. Jesus Christ, having a man's heart and a man's love, and, apart from all that is sinful, a man's desires, waited with blessed patience, working in the carpenter's shop, enduring the difficulty which men made for themselves in comprehending His message, until the time came for Him to say, "It is finished." And when He spoke, Christendom did not yet exist; the ministry of His Church had not begun, the unction of the Holy Ghost had not yet gone down from the crowned Head to the skirts of the High Priest's clothing, the glorious lives, the beautiful deaths, of His saints had not been witnessed, the flowers in the garden of the Cross had but been sown, and had not yet shown their blossoms; yet, since He had set His face as a flint to accomplish His work on earth, all this was before Him as the consolation of His agony. Just as He had rejoiced in the prospect of the harvest of the world, when St. Philip and St. Andrew brought the strangers to Him, so now, in the poor sinner at His side, taking refuge in His love, He sees the multitude for whom His blood shall not have been shed in vain; He sees, amidst all the sins and ingratitude of men, the continuance of the power of His Name, His Spirit, His Sacraments, His Church, His Presence. All who through Him are regenerate at this hour, the bands of communicants who, united in the one Bread and one Body, will receive Him on Sunday morning at thousands of altars through Christendom, the schools for the poor and the hospitals for the sick that have sprung from faith in Him (yes, and you know how He has committed the children of London to you that you may bring them the message of His love), because of all these things, when His cause seemed lost and trampled on, then it was true indeed--
"Christ is made the Sure Foundation,
Christ the Head and Corner Stone;
Chosen of the Lord and precious,
Binding all the Church in One;
Holy Sion's help for ever,
And her Confidence alone."
Oh, dear friends, when your work seems a failure, look to Him, for He can strengthen you; when it seems to be at its lowest point, He may be blessing it with hidden power of greatest increase! Ask that the fruits of His Passion may be yours. He is ready to bless you. Fear neither toil, nor contempt, nor persecution, and you, too, through Him and with Him, shall say, "It is finished."
"When Jesus had cried with a loud voice. He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." S. Luke xxiii. 46.
OUR Lord has hitherto directed much of our attention to outward things, but it is not in outward things that He would leave us. He wore our nature in its threefold integrity of body, soul, and spirit He had taught His disciples that there is in the soul an eye, able to affect for good or evil the whole life of man; that the worship of this central principle or spirit is the object for which the Eternal Father ever seeks, that its obedience may find mercy when the weak flesh has been led astray. By bringing into clear light this responsible and ruling power in man, He has prepared His disciples to welcome the advent of the uncreated Spirit of God to take possession of the created spirit in all the faithful, and thus to sanctify the whole Church. And it is of this human spirit in His own mortal nature that He now speaks. He is sending it on that journey which the spirit of every created man must one day make, along that way which was once like the path of the fugitive bird in the darkness, but which is now enlightened by Jesus Christ our Lord. He knoweth that way, and for His righteous servants it shall not lead to blank and aimless misery, but to the great congregation, where they shall stand secure in their prepared place. And this enlightenment of the spirit, this inner glory, when the Holy Ghost witnesses with our spirits that we are His children, is, if we are His own, begun even here below. Under all outward activity, as beneath all earthly pain, there lies deep down in man that beautiful creation of God, his immortal responsible spirit, the viceroy of the Creator within the creature, capable of loyalty or rebellion. It has been endowed with freedom that the offering of a free heart may be given to God; and, therefore, this must be the end of all our discipline, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." In some such words as those of the thirty-seventh Psalm let us commend our true selves, our unseen future, into the keeping of Him who has made us, after the example of Him who has redeemed us.
We may learn from those who have gone far in this dedication of self; from St. Paul, and those who have followed him in his humility and his great hope and faith; that as these grow within the soul, death will become less and less the point on which its anxieties will be fixed. The glories of the resurrection will be more and more realized and expected, and the penance of death will be seen as only one link in that long chain of loving discipline, and merciful advancement, by which we are to be led to the Throne of God.
It is our real self that each of us must dedicate, and the dedication must be made in deep distrust of self. Free we are, but only free to accept the assistance without which our freedom will profit us nothing. See Jesus Christ committing His Spirit into the hands of His Father, to be carried by the angels into the unseen world, and learn that for all which has been created perfection lies only in dependence upon the Creator.
Not even in death did our Lord leave the conditions of that nature which He had voluntarily assumed, that He might teach us to distrust ourselves, and to wait upon God. Oh, let us be sure then that the one amongst us who loves God best cannot continue His until this evening, except by a gift of supernatural grace, that is, a miracle, greater than that by which a camel should pass through a needle's eye. You can only go out into the world in safety, if, with the sense of your own weakness, you are strong in Him, cleansing your hands under His guidance, commending yourselves, and all that you are and have to His blessed keeping, saying to Him, "O my God, I am not my own, but Thine; take me for Thine own, and make me in all things to do Thy blessed will, through Jesus Christ our Lord."