Preached in the Church of All Saints, Margaret Street, London, on the Second Sunday after Trinity, June 6, 1869.
Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.
IT is our business this morning to consider some of the claims of Sisters of Charity upon the sympathy and support of the Church of Christ. And the precept of the Apostle sanctions and is in keeping with this direction of our thoughts; his words might well form the motto for a religious community devoted to works of piety and mercy. Of course, these words apply forcibly and dis-tinctly to all Christians as such. Every Christian has his proper work to do. Every Christian is bound to do it with all his heart. Every Christian, in doing it, is bound to keep his eye, not on the persons or circumstances which render such work necessary, but on our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whose providence all that touches each one of us is really ordered. Every Christian knows that his reward may not be sought and is not to be had here, or at the hands of a human master. Christ will recompense all honest service that is done to Him; He is too indulgent to overlook what in itself is poor and unproductive enough; and that we should serve such a Master is a fact that warrants both our efforts and our hopes.
Every Christian is concerned in the Apostle's words; yet, as a matter of fact, they were addressed to a class of persons who, happily, are no longer to be found in English Christendom. They were addressed to slaves; and the slavery of the ancient Grseco-Roman world was even a more hateful and brutal thing than slavery has been in modern times and in Christian countries. In ancient Rome a slave was looked upon purely as a chattel; his earnings belonged to his master; he might be sold, made a present of, lent, pawned, or changed away for some other slave. The law did not treat the slave's union with a wife as a marriage. His witness was inadmissible, except after torture, in a court of justice. The slave might be worked or put to death at his master's will; and the ordinary punishment of death, in the case of slaves, was crucifixion. The Emperor Augustus ordered Eros, his steward, to be crucified on the mast of his ship for having roasted and eaten a quail. When Pedanius Secundus was assassinated, under the Emperor Nero, four hundred slaves were killed for not having prevented the murder. When the slaves of Lower Italy, under Spartacus, rose against their oppressors, the Eornan general Crassus, who defeated them, erected crosses all along the road from Rome to Capua, on which ten thousand slaves were executed. A large number of slaves were condemned as gladiators to compulsory combat. Under Trajan, on one occasion, ten thousand slaves were thus engaged for one hundred and twenty-three days. These were not the worst aspects of ancient slavery: it "rendered possible horrors" which need not be touched upon here, and "such as only the most depraved imagination could conceive." [Döllinger, Heid. und Judenth. i.v. 2, 3, sqq., gives the authorities. The condition of slaves was slightly bettered, on the whole, under the Empire, by the Petronian law and other alleviating measures.]
After a battle, or at the unloading of a pirate-ship, the slave-dealer made his purchases; and the slaves were then exposed for sale in the Roman or provincial markets, with their prices and recommendations marked on a tablet hung round their necks. In wealthy households each slave had one particular duty, which was shared by others. He waited in the hall; or he was chained, as a porter, at the door; or he looked after the sleeping apartments; or he carried letters; or he tasted everything that his master ate; he was a cook, a groom, a steward, a bath attendant. In many cases the Roman slaves were more refined and educated than their masters: their business was to wait upon the master's mind, to furnish thought, reason, epigram, clever ill-nature, at the right moment. A large class of slaves were bought and kept on account of their intellectual qualities. Immense sums were given for such literary slaves. To name one name, never to be mentioned without respect by Christians--Epictetus was a slave. The great maxim, which he followed throughout life, "Suffer and abstain," brings him, perhaps, nearer than any other Stoic to the moral spirit of Christianity; and his hard lot, doubtless, had its effect in elevating both his teaching and his character. [Lucky, European Morals, i. 258.]
It is remarkable that the countries into which the Gospel first penetrated when it passed beyond the frontiers of Palestine, were those which, more than any other, supplied the Roman slave-market. The populations of Syria and Asia Minor yielded the slaves most in request among the Roman aristocracy; [Especially the Cappadocians.] and the Apostolic letters which deal with the subject are for the most part addressed to these provincials. At Ephesus, at Colossae, in Crete, in that large collection of Churches to which St. Peter addressed his first Epistle, the case and the duties of the Christian slaves engaged the earnest attention of the great Apostles. The drift of the Apostolic teaching is always consistent with itself, and so with the advice given by St. Paul in the text to the Christian slaves at Colossae: "Slaves, be obedient to them that arc your masters in the worldly order of things, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart as unto Christ; not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but as the slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be a slave or free." This counsel was urged upon the Christian slaves at Ephesus. [Possibly at other places in Asia Minor, if, as is probable, the Epistle to the Ephesians was an Encyclical Epistle.] Some years later, St. Paul writes anxiously to their Bishop Timothy on the same subject. It would seem that some Ephesian slaves doubted whether any service whatever was due to a Christian master; and they were, at any rate, slow to consider their service in the light of a religious obligation. "Let as many slaves as are under the yoke," wrote the Apostle, "count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and His doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren; but rather do them service because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the Benefit. These things teach and exhort." It was in entire conformity with this teaching that St. Paul had himself acted in the case of the slave Onesimus. Onesimus had escaped from his master Philemon, at the same time, as it would appear, carrying off some of his master's property; he had then been converted by St. Paul to the faith, and had been of great service to the Apostle during his first imprisonment in Borne. St. Paul sends him back to his master at Colossas with a letter, pleading indeed, as St. Paul could plead, for consideration and indulgence, but fully recognising the relation which bound Onesimus to Philemon's service until the latter might choose, of his own free will, to dispense with it. Titus, as Bishop of Crete, is to "exhort slaves to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again, not purloining, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." St. Peter rules that the character of the master for kind-heartedness and justice can make no difference as to the duty of the slave. "Slaves, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward." The reason which the Apostle gives is the high honour which has been put upon undeserved suffering by the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. "This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience towards God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow His steps."
That the Apostles should have dealt with the problem of slavery in this way, has sometimes been both a topic of objection against Christianity which has been urged by infidels, and a matter of surprise to Christians. It might have seemed more natural to us that an institution so opposed to the temper of the religion of Christ should have been at once denounced by His Apostles. The Gospel had proclaimed humanity and charity; slavery was in practice a violation of both. Christ came to purify men; slavery brutalised them by great characteristic sins. The Incarnation was a proclamation of man's dignity in the sight of God, since the Eternal Son had taken man's nature. Slavery looked like the degradation of human nature, reduced to a system and made permanently hideous.
It is usually said by way of reply, that it was no part of the business of the Apostles of Christ to inaugurate a social revolution, by proclaiming war to the knife against the institution of slavery. A vast uprising, ending in a bloody massacre, would have been a poor result to be achieved by the messengers of the Gospel of Peace. It was better, and more in keeping with the scope of Christianity, to begin, not from without, but from within. It was better to leave the social structure intact, to recognise it as part of the actual fabric of human society, but to sow broadcast in the minds alike of master and slave those motives and principles which first of all would render it, comparatively speaking, tolerable, and, in the long-run, would wipe it away from the face of Christendom. The worst evils of slavery would be destroyed at once by the great Christian principle, that any bodily suffering is altogether preferable to the least consent of the will to sin or to falsehood. The slave could always suffer; and meanwhile the process of softening, humanising, and finally destroying slavery would go forward as the centuries passed. It would be very interesting, but it is no part of our present business to review that process in detail; to trace its quiet but inexorable advance, through imperial laws, through decrees of councils, through popular habits and manners; until at length, in our own day, and not, as we must candidly admit, without the aid of other than religious influences reinforcing it, it has, by God's good Providence, achieved its final and decisive triumph.
This account of the matter does not, however, fully meet the difficulty. It does not entirely explain the conduct of the Apostles towards the slaves of their own day and generation. To Onesimus and others, it would have been a poor consolation that some centuries after their death slavery would be finally done away with through the influence of Christianity. It would have been a poor consolation, if this world had been indeed their all, and if the Church had done no more for them than to assure them of a distant social victory, in which they could have no share beyond that of a generous hope.
The truth is, that in dealing with the question of slavery the Apostles assume and act upon a great and most fruitful principle, lying at the very heart of Christianity, and having a very direct bearing upon our present subject.
That principle is the insignificance of this present life in view of the next. What we think about most earnestly in this world, what we love and what we hate, what we resolve upon and what we decline;--these are matters of vast moment, since they are bound up with that inward movement and drift of our spirits' deepest life, which ultimately determines our place in the endless hereafter. But what our external; circumstances are will be deemed of little comparative importance, when once it is seen that this life is the shortest of prefaces to that which follows it. They only can lay much stress upon the presence or absence of the outward decorations and elegancies of life, who see little or nothing beyond it, whose most distant horizon is some way on this side of the grave. And they who, like the Apostles, have been far-sighted enough to gaze, steadily and often, at the heights and depths of the Eternal World, will not embark their most earnest thought, or their purest and strongest enthusiasms, in correcting or re-arranging even what is painful and harassing in the things of time. It is not that they live only for a future reward, and that they are incapable of a disinterested virtue; they have, in fact, a larger conception of human destiny than men who see nothing beyond the tomb, and they dispose of the forces they have at command accordingly. It is not worth their while to lavish thought and effort upon that which so soon will have been parted with for ever. "We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven.": "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us." "But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep as though they wept not; and they that rejoice as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it; for the fashion of this world passeth away." This general way of looking at life was not dependent upon any exceptional circumstances in the Apostolical Church; it was a natural result of our Lord's own teaching. What else had been the real meaning of His counsel to the rich young man? or of His parable of the fool's soul, that was required of him on the night of his resolution to pull down his barns and build greater? or of His command not to lay up treasure upon the earth, where moth and rust do corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, hut to lay up treasure in heaven? St. Paul was but expanding and applying the teaching of Jesus Christ; and in dealing with slavery the application of the principle was obvious. If a man was called into the Church as a slave, and had freedom within his reach, St. Paul advises him to remain as he is; it is not worth his while to change. [This would seem to be the real meaning of i Cor. vii. 21. Cf. St. Chrysostom and the Greek commentators, in loc. Many moderns understand the verse differently, and supply th eleuqeria to crhsai. But Meyer and Dean Alford have shown that this is grammatically wrong; the main emphasis is really thrown upon dunasai by kai. It is a pleasure to me to mention here that my dear friend, the late Rev. James Riddell, of Balliol College, believed the true sense of the Greek to be that given above.]
Now it was this habit of mind, sitting easily to out-ward circumstances and making the care of the soul a supreme consideration, which led, by a natural process, to the growth of a rule of life and institutions in which certainly the best is not made of this world, and that with a deliberate view of making the best of the next. In this, Christianity was but perfecting and making the most of one of two leading types of human character. "There have ever," observes a recent writer, "been stern, upright, self-controlled, and courageous men, actuated by a pure sense of duty, capable of high efforts of self-sacrifice, somewhat intolerant of the frailties of others, somewhat hard and unsympathising in the ordinary intercourse of society, but rising to an heroic grandeur as the storm lowered upon their path, and more ready to relinquish life than the cause they believe to be true. There have also always been men of easy tempers and of amiable dispositions--gentle, benevolent, and pliant--cordial friends and forgiving enemies--selfish at heart, yet ever ready, when it is possible, to conciliate their gratifications with those of others--averse to all enthusiasm, mysticism, Utopias, and superstition--with little depth of character or capacity for self-sacrifice, but admirably fitted to impart and to receive enjoyment and to render the course of life easy and harmonious. The first are by nature Stoics, and the second Epicureans." [Lecky, History of European Morals, i. 180.] The first are ascetics; the second, with whatever modi-fications, sensualists. ... It is obvious that the first of these types of character furnished Christianity, if we may so speak, with its best raw material, to be perfected and softened by grace. The self-repression of the Stoic without his harshness, the softer feelings of the Epicurean without his excessive tenderness towards self;--this was to be the Christian type. We must not shrink from a good word which the devil has contrived to discredit, by refusing to say that the Christian, as such, is an ascetic. The Christian exercises himself to have a good conscience towards God and towards men; he keeps under his body and brings it into subjection; he learns to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ; he "takes up" the cross of Jesus, without waiting until it is laid upon him. This, then, as it was the broad principle which reconciled the slave to his condition, so it is the broad principle which leads the Sister of Charity of her own free will to choose a life of poverty and of obedience, and, more or less, of hardship. She lives not for this world, but for the next. She works for an unseen Master; being free from all men, she has made herself, like the Apostle, the slave of all, that she might gain the more.
Here, however, it is necessary to pass from general statements into details, and in particular to meet, so far as is compatible with these narrow limits, the question, "What is the use of Sisters of Mercy? Why should people live a life of strict rule, and dress in a particular way, and aim at a higher religious standard than their friends and neighbours? If they wish to do good, cannot they do it after a more simple, unpretentious fashion; and is it not better for themselves and for others that they should do so? "
i. Now, the first answer to this criticism is, that Sisters of Mercy, by the very force of their outward habit of life, are a standing proclamation of the supreme importance of the Eternal World, and of all that bears upon it. If they did nothing else, they do this; they advertise prominently before the eyes of men the claims of religion, the interests of the human soul. In this respect they are like churches and clergymen. The outward form of the one, the dress and bearing of the other, is an unspoken word for God. And the reason why irreligious people often feel and sometimes express their dislike to these outward signs of religious profession, is, that they do thus proclaim the belief of mankind at large in the importance of religion. Now, clergymen and churches have witnessed for God in England for some fifteen centuries; but in modern times, until quite of late years, we have not seen women conspicuously devoted to the work of Christ, as an absorbing life-work, going in and out among us. They bear a witness, therefore, which is effective in proportion to its comparative novelty. Many a man asks himself the question, as he notes them quietly threading our streets on their errands of love, why this or that lady of his acquaintance should retire from society and devote herself to prayer and ministries of mercy; it may be against the remonstrance of friends, and certainly in spite of the contemptuous and avowed dislike of the general irreligious public. One answer is, that she deliberately thinks God's service a serious life-absorbing thing, and that she is willing to venture this world for the sake of the next. He may not agree, but, if he is fair and reasonable, he at least respects her. His own faith is much too feeble a thing to warrant any such efforts after the kingdom of the unseen; but he does justice to a stronger faith than his own; he recognises its consistency; he is too generous to depreciate a virtue which as yet he does not mean to imitate. Now and then, perhaps, the question presents itself to him, If the eternal world be a reality, may not her line be the line of common sense? What if, after all, she should be right?
2. A second answer to the criticism is, that a Sister's life furnishes great opportunities for leading a holy life, not easily to be found elsewhere. Of course, a Christian may be sanctified in any condition of life whatever. In some cases the very absence of religious privileges has, by increasing anxiety on the score of spiritual health, appeared to lead the soul to live closer to God. But cases of this kind are too exceptional to be made a ground of any general inferences. As a rule, aids to holiness help to make earnest Christians holy, and their absence tells in an opposite direction. Now, it can scarcely be denied that in this respect a Sister of Mercy has great advantages. The effort which she has already made in breaking with the ordinary surroundings of life, is of itself a guarantee of moral purpose full of promise for the future. But besides this, constant occupations, following each other according to a settled order, and involving an almost uninterrupted discipline of the will; the felt sympathy of others who, like herself, are honestly endeavouring to live only for God; and the frequent services, meditations, Communions, which are a matter of course in a religious community;--these things do, as a matter of fact, exert a power upon thought and life, not in rare cases only, but upon the average, and to an extent of which they can have no adequate idea who have not closely observed it.
Indeed, much of the devotional language of the Church, and in particular of the Psalter, belongs properly and, so far as its direct force goes, exclusively to those Christians who have grace and heart to imitate a Sister's self-devotion. Let us consider seriously the real meaning of such sentences as the following: "One thing have I desired of the Lord, which I will require, even that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to visit His Temple." "Seven times a day do I praise Thee, because of Thy righteous judgments." "All my delight is upon the saints that are in the earth, and upon such as excel in virtue." "Lord, what love have I unto Thy law: all the day long is my study in it." "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee." "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the House of my God, than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness."
Some of these sentences, it will be said, are only suitable to the circumstances of a religious Israelite. If this should be allowed, there can be no mistake about the general drift and force of language of the kind. Translate it into Christian phrase, and it can only be appropriate in the mouth of one who makes the service of Christ a paramount consideration in life, and who gives the best of time, thought, affection, effort, interest to it. This, and nothing less than this, is the real "spirit" of these aspirations; they breathe entire devotion of the whole mental and moral life to God. They are not entirely honest and natural in the mouth of those who ordinarily and unthinkingly repeat them. Most of us do nothing which corresponds to praising God seven times a day because of His righteous judgments, nor do we sincerely prefer the lowest offices in the Church of Christ to opportunities of mixing with the polished ungodliness of good society.
But to a Sister of Mercy, these Scriptural aspirations are real things; they are a part and parcel of her daily life; she has already made them a matter of rule and practice, and, as a consequence, she feels at home in the devotional language of the Bible to an extent which those of us who live at large in the world and enter keenly into its ways of thinking and acting can but imperfectly realise.
No doubt it will be urged that a holy life can be lived at home, by the wife or by the daughter, not less truly than by the Sister of Mercy; that
"The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask--
Room to deny ourselves, a road
To bring us, daily, nearer God." [Christian Year, Morning.]
Most true. But the question is, as the revered author of these lines, at least in his later days, not unfrequently said, whether self-denial and sanctity are as much a matter of course in the one case as in the other. Has not St. Paul already decided the question, in words which are not often quoted in our pulpits? "He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is a difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit; but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband." And is not this in harmony with the experience and common sense of human life, as truly as it is also in harmony with the Apostolic injunction that marriage should be honourable in all, and that to forbid to marry, as if marriage involved spiritual defilement, is not other than an apostasy from the faith of Christ, Who has sanctified wedlock by taking our nature upon Him? It is not a question of depreciating marriage, but of insisting upon the spiritual advantages of a single life freely undertaken for the glory of God; and if people could approach this question without prejudice, they would admit that the answer to it is already given in the words of the Apostle, which simply describe a matter of daily notoriety. And yet, "Do what you will," it is said in reply, "you cannot keep the world out of the Sisterhood by your apparatus of rules and fences." Undoubtedly we cannot. The human heart is true to itself, within the Sisterhood as without it; and here, as there, the old soil often bears its wonted fruit of shortcoming, weakness, failure, corruption. But in the one case these natural tendencies are, comparatively speaking, kept in check; in the other they run luxuriant riot. For the life of a Sisterhood is not a long procession of outward forms; it is a spiritual atmosphere. It envelopes, penetrates, saturates the soul; it insensibly renders the thought of God welcome and familiar; it smooths off the rough edges, and unveils the secret warps of natural character. The Sister, "hidden privily in God's presence from the provoking of all men, and kept secretly in His tabernacle from the strife of tongues," is able more practically than are women in the world, to understand "with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge," until she is filled with all the fulness of God.
3. A third answer to the question before us is, that Sisters, as a matter of fact, and generally speaking, produce the best Christian work. They cultivate in their lives, and from their lives they carry into their work, the Christian virtue of intensity. This virtue is produced by that mingled sense of the awfulness and blessedness of existence, which Christianity is specially able to communicate to the human soul by the two doctrines of our Creation for God's glory, and our Redemption from sin and death by Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God. A sincere belief in these simple but tremendous truths leads as a matter of course to a consecration of the several powers and faculties to God's service; thought, feeling, action, are all devoted to Him, and devoted to Him with that downrightness and sustained tenacity of purpose which makes life a force, and which stamps character and excellence on all that it attempts.
Remark here, my brethren, that the work of a Sisterhood is a result of its life, and not to be secured without it. Nor is the life of a Sisterhood a thing to be just tolerated out of consideration for this resulting work, on the principle that we put up with the din and smoke of a manufactory for the sake of the useful or beautiful objects with which it enriches us. If we are to compare the life and the work of a Sisterhood with each other, the life is the nobler and more precious thing of the two; it is related to the work, as the moral and spiritual cause to the material product. We may sometimes hear language about getting Sisters to work a parish or a penitentiary, just as a sempstress might get a sewing-machine, which would enable her to do more and better needlework than she could with her fingers. This is to treat a Sisterhood as if it were only a piece of social mechanism, to be "worked" by the clergyman of the parish just as he might work a club or a clothing society; whereas, in point of fact, a Sisterhood is a living body, with a moral and spiritual life animating and controlling it. Such an institute is as certain to do moral and spiritual good as a tree is to bear fruit; but then it is rather to be fostered as a tree than handled as a machine, since its productive power originates not in any impulse that is given it from without, but in the vital force of its own spiritual energy.
This point is well worth observing, if we are to avoid some serious practical mistakes; and it enables us, before we proceed further, to observe the difference between works of what is commonly called philanthropy, and those of Christian charity. God's "philanthropy" is, indeed, that department of His all-embracing Love which is centred upon man, and specially manifested in the Incarnation of the Eternal Son, for us men and for our salvation; man's philanthropy is the love of his kind, without any necessary reference to God. As applied to man the word is only used in the New Testament of kindly actions on the part of pagans, based on the instinct of a common nature. Now, as a part of our natural and human outfit, this virtue of philanthropy is to be spoken of with all respect; but to compare it with the Christian grace of charity, is to place it under a very serious disadvantage. It is as unlike charity in its spirit, as it is inferior in point of productive power. Philanthropy begins and ends with man; charity begins with God, and loves and blesses man for God's sake. Philanthropy is a social principle; while of charity the motive is exclusively religious. Philanthropy, in modern Europe, is that outward and restricted imitation of the Church's charity which has been attempted by philosophy; although, strange to say, it has of late been asserted that the Church has learnt to be charitable in her old age, by copying the philanthropy of the world.
Is this, then, the verdict of history? Was there a primitive time when the Church had wealth at her command and liberty to use it, and was nevertheless neglectful of the claims of the suffering and of the poor? That we may answer this question, let us go back to the early ages; and let us keep our eye chiefly upon that particular form of doing good with which the All Saints' Sisterhood is conspicuously associated.
The first hospitals and houses of refuge of which we have any notice date from the second half of the fourth century. Scarcely forty years had passed since the Edict of Milan had given freedom to the Church; she had just had time to survey and marshal her resources; to provide, first of all, for the spiritual necessities of the people, and then to make some provision for their bodily ailments. Sebaste, in Pontus, about the year 355, has the honour of furnishing the earliest hospitals on record. [According to St. Epiphanius, the lame and imbecile were taken in at the ptwcotrofeion of Sebaste. Eustathius the Bishop had made the unhappy Aerius its master. Haer. 75. i.] But suchlike institutions could not but quickly become common; they spread rapidly over the face of Christendom. There were boarding-houses for travellers, hospitals for the sick, almshouses for the old and for the poor, orphan-asylums, and foundling-hospitals;--all creations of the Church, and conducted on strictly religious principles. Preeminent among a multitude of these works of charity was the great hospital founded at Caesarea by St. Basil, about A.D. 372. How deeply he was interested in the work of this house may yet be seen in his extant correspondence. Every description of sufferer was welcomed at its gates; but especially the lepers, for whom no provision had been made in heathen times. It was, St. Gregory of Nazianzum says, like a little town; and indeed it became a model for other houses of the same description throughout the East. St. Chrysostom imitated it in his works at Constantinople; and Alexandria soon abounded with hospitals for the old and the infirm. The Imperial family took the lead in setting on foot schemes of benevolence. Not to mention Theodosius the Great and the ladies of his family, the Emperor Justinian, in another generation, converted into a hospital a building which he had destined for a palace; [Menaea. ad 27 Juni, qu. by Mohler.] while Justinian and Theodora were patrons of a penitentiary for fallen women. At Rome, Pammachius impoverished himself by building a vast guest-house for travellers, in which the poor and the sick were received on their arrival at the gate of the ancient capital of the world. Fabiola spent much of her time and strength in ministering to the crowds who filled those hospitable walls: in 387, writes St. Jerome, strangers from Britain, Egypt, and Parthia had already found entertainment within them. [Ep. Hieron. ad Pammach. 48, 49, 51, 57, 66, 84, 97.] At Cyzicus, Bishop Eleusius founded an almshouse for widows; on the Euphrates, the hermit Thalassius set up the first blind asylum of which there is any record. The Apostate Emperor Julian observed that the popular influence of the Christians was largely based on their care for the sick and poor; and he endeavoured, but in vain, to rival their works of mercy by efforts on the part of the Government; little suspecting the chasm which parts mere official routine and political motives of action from the promptings of God's supernatural grace. [For these authorities, see Möhler, Kirchengeschichte, i. 690.]
Enough has been said, my brethren, to dispose of the question whether the practical charity of the Church was taught her by the philosophers of the eighteenth century. She was at heart during the years of persecution what she became in fact during her earliest days of freedom and prosperity, the true alleviator and nurse of human want and suffering. And in the fourth century, as now, her ministers of mercy were chiefly those who had devoted their lives to God's service, by a formal self-dedication to Him, and renunciation of the world. It was instinctively felt that the best work would be done by the most devoted Christians; and it is worth our while to note those characteristics of the work done by a Sisterhood, which underlie and explain its unquestionable excellence.
In the first place, then, the work of Sisters of Charity bears the stamp of self-sacrifice. They certainly do not offer, either to God or to man, that which has cost them nothing. It has cost the Sister her home, her comforts, her amusements, her friends, her tastes, her independence, perhaps her social position, to do this work. It has cost her many struggles, many misgivings, it may be many tears, as certainly, many earnest prayers. For her work is the fruit and product of her whole life; and her life as a whole is a life of sacrifice.
And herein she does but obey an irreversible law of the moral kingdom of God. If any one truth is plain, it is that no real good is ever done among men without self-sacrifice. Think over the lives of all those who have laboured in their day and with effect for the cause of God upon the earth. Did not the Father of the Faithful leave parents and friends at the call of God, to spend his years as a wanderer with no settled home, but in reality to become the ancestor of a people who were to be the religious teachers of humanity? Or look at the man after God's own heart, the founder of the long dynasty of Jewish kings, the great ancestor and eminent type of the Superhuman Monarch; did he not live a life of sacrifice, imposed upon him in his youth by the suspiciousness and malignity of Saul, and in his later days by the treachery of a rebellious child and the fierce self-will of the powerful chiefs who stood around his throne? And was not Daniel, the staunch upholder and chief confessor of revealed truth during the dark times of the Babylonish Captivity, conspicuous as a man on whose life sacrifice was stamped throughout? Was it not thus with Nehemiah, the rebuilder of the sacred city, amid the scoffs and insults of the heathen? Do not Apostles follow in the same line of sacrificial labour? are they not made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels and to men? are they not "in labours abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons frequent, in deaths oft"? do they not refuse to count their life dear unto themselves, if only they may finish their course with joy, and the ministry which they have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God? And when from Apostles we look backward and upwards to their Lord and ours, is not His life the highest expression of this great productive Law of Sacrifice? Surely we have but to consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, in order to mark that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, and to reflect that the members cannot triumph if they recline on roses while the Head Himself is crowned with thorns.
There is sacrifice and sacrifice. In some it is conspicuous and striking, as in the martyr and the soldier. In others it is unobserved, private, commonplace, yet not less worthy of its name. Such was the work of Dorcas; such the widow's mite. Sacrifice is to be measured, not by the results which it produces, but by the opportunities and resources of the producer; and it is from this point of view that we can best do justice to the degree in which it enters into the life and work of a Sisterhood. Certainly philanthropy has enlisted sacrifice in its service; it can point to names which will always be named with honour by Christians, and especially by English Christians. But the question is as to the rule, not as to magnificent exceptions which may be quoted; and as a rule, sacrifice does not enter into non-Christian philanthropic schemes, which only aim at producing a maximum of results at a minimum cost to the producer. Charity begins with the motive, leaving results, to a certain degree, to take care of themselves; and the event justifies the method of procedure. Philanthropy has too often to pay down to every single official it employs a full money equivalent for his services; and when, after all, with resources thus diminished, it reaches the object of its care, it can only command the industry of a conscientious officialism to do its work. Christian charity economises at the outset by its command of motives which dispense with pay; and at the bedside of the sufferer, it disposes, at least relatively, of larger means of doing good, administered by a spirit which looks for no earthly recompense in acknowledgment of its efforts. It is because the Sister of Charity is an impersonation of the moral law of self-sacrifice, that she is so incomparable as a worker; so certain, in the long-run, to distance all rival efforts, by labours which are not less economical than they are devoted. What she does it matters not to her, but she welcomes that from which others shrink--the effort and pain her work may cost her. Her enthusiasm for self-sacrifice is a first reason of her success.
2. A second reason is, that, as a matter of religious duty, she concentrates all the powers she can command upon the work in hand. The weakness and unproductiveness of most lives arises from their dissipation; dissipation of thought, dissipation of tastes, likings, resolves; dissipation, in short, of interests. In the modern world especially, men and women shrink from keeping one object steadily in view, and bending all their efforts upon its attainment. They are surrounded, especially in the middle and upper classes of society, with an unprecedented number of distractions; and they find in variety of work not merely a relief from monotony, but the attractive idea of a larger field of thought or action; the persuasion that they have many and varied occupations, and fill a larger place in the world than would be otherwise possible. But the probability is, that, only having very limited powers, they spread their little stock of thought and resolution over a wider instead of a smaller surface; and that, as a result, they think and act with a superficiality proportioned to their presumed "breadth of interests." "Do a little, but do it as well as you possibly can," is in all matters, earthly and heavenly, the safest rule. A few prayers, if only a few can be said readily, and these said with the whole outpoured strength of the soul; a few hours of work, if it may be, done with the whole effort of the intelligence and the will;--these are the secrets of excellence, alike in the things of earth and of heaven. A man who makes a chair or a table as well as possible, is morally greater than a Prime Minister who trifles with the interests of a great country. A Sunday-school teacher who leaves no stone unturned to convey his lesson to the minds of the children round him, is higher in the scale of real excellence than an Archbishop who should neglect his province for the sake of politics or of worldly society. What is worth doing at all, is worth doing as well as possible, and therefore with simplicity and concentration of purpose. "Whatsoever ye do," says St. Paul to the Colossian slaves, "do it heartily, as unto the Lord and not unto men." That is the reason for carrying all that we can of thought and strength into whatever we do: as Christians, we offer what we do to a Heavenly Master, and He is worthy of our best. Now this conviction is especially present to the mind of Sisters of Mercy, who have dedicated their whole lives to Jesus Christ, and who are happily cut off from the distracting interests which lead so many people in the world into doing really nothing, by the sheer attempt to do a great deal. A Sister learns what she has to do; she loses no time in deliberating whether she shall do it or not; whether she shall try to do something else at the same time; or whether she shall do something different when she has done this. Enough with her is the task and obligation of the hour. She puts her whole heart into it, as a simple matter of religious duty, offered up moment by moment to Christ her Lord; and the natural consequence is, that her work, whether skilled or simple, is, as a rule, better than the same work when done by other people.
3. A final secret of the excellence of a Sister's work is her elevation of aim in doing it. She works neither for pay, nor for human applause, nor for her own inward satisfaction in the work she does. She works, indeed, side by side with other workers on earth; but her eye is upturned to heaven. There she sees the Lord Jesus Christ in His glory, shedding on her poor efforts His most gracious and indulgent smile; entitled, as He is of right, to so much, yet deigning to bless and accept so little. This Divine Master, invisible to sense, but ever obvious to faith, Who has taken flesh, and died, and risen, and ascended, and then, unwearied even with this love, has given Himself again in the Holy Sacrament of His Body and Blood to be the sustenance of His Church, is the object of her constant thought, of her passionate affection. "The life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me." The Apostle's words are hers also; and her work, like his, is therefore elevated above those pettinesses and earthlinesses which make so much that is done in God's name and for God so mean and unheavenly. The moral character of the worker is imprinted upon the work. As we look into Fra Angelico's angels, we understand that he painted them on his knees. The commonest, and roughest, and coarsest work may be refined and spiritualised by this elevation of aim and effort, which tramples upon self in all its forms, gross and subtle, and gazes adoringly upon the Throne of Christ.
It will be urged that the work of a Sisterhood is not always of this ideal description; that the devil and the world find their way into the cloister; and that the corruption of what is best in aim is worst in fact. Be it so. Which of God's gifts to man may not be, has not been, abused? Take the Bible itself. Has any book in the world been made to contribute so many sophisms and falsehoods to the cause of human error and degradation? But is that any reason for withdrawing the Bible from general circulation? The question in all such cases is, whether the abuse is so general as to counterbalance the rightful use of the blessing. And, looking to the matter before us, who can say that in the case of Sisterhoods the abuse has predominated? Grant that here and there they betray the traces of human weakness; that "Sisters" are to be found who are false to the spirit of their vocation, and "Mothers" who are uninstructed in that wisdom of charity and good sense which largely makes up the gift of government. Grant that books are to be met with, written by anonymous authors, and professing to describe under feigned names so many years' experience in this Sisterhood, and so many in that, with the object of making, if it may be, a little controversial capital out of the credulity and selfishness of the general public. Does this show that, upon the whole, such institutions work badly, or work otherwise than well? If any one desires a partial answer to that question, let him investigate the constitution and work of the All Saints' Sisterhood. He will find nothing that can fairly be condemned by any principles known to Christianity, and much which is an active and perpetual rebuke to the lives of ordinary Christians. He will find that, by means of religious organisation and a regular mode of life, a small company of single ladies have been able to set on foot and direct a group of charitable works, each one of which, under ordinary circumstances, would have demanded the capital and machinery of a commercial association. An asylum for aged women; an industrial school; an association for married women under circumstances of temptation; a similar association for girls and young women; and a third for children under the age of sixteen; an orphanage; a ladies' mission among the poor in Soho; and the care of large workhouses, both at Manchester and Chichester;--these are among their minor labours. Their great work, which for its thoroughness and excellence has received the highest praise at the hands of most distinguished members of the Medical Faculty in London, is the care of University College Hospital, and, as a pendant to it, of the Convalescent Home at Eastbourne. It is for these objects more especially that I venture to ask your alms to-day. Such undertakings, and the lives which warrant and complete them, are an enrichment of the whole Church; they are the salt of the Church, as the Church herself is the salt and preservative of the world. Let us then associate ourselves with this Home by a threefold effort;--by an endeavour to understand it better; by hearty prayers for its success; and by contributing something to its support, which will really involve sacrifice on our part, and so will enable us to enter into a spirit which produces such admirable results. We cannot but be bettered ourselves by an intelligent, prayerful, self-sacrificing endeavour to assist these ministers of mercy. Let us do our best; for the sake of the work which God enables them to achieve, for the sake of the life which makes such work possible, above all, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord and God, to Whose glory both the life and the work of this institution, day by day, hour by hour, are unreservedly devoted.