Project Canterbury

Sermons on the Black Letter Days
Or Minor Festivals of the Church of England
by John Mason Neale

London: Joseph Masters, 1872. Third edition.


S. Margaret. July 20.
[Being the day of the reception of an infant into the Church.]


THIS day is fitted for that which we have been doing on it, and the text suits both. It suits the festival of S. Margaret; it suits also the bringing an infant into the Church, and signing it "with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter she shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of CHRIST Crucified, and manfully to fight under His banner, against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue CHRIST'S faithful soldier and servant unto her life's end."

It suits the festival of S. Margaret. The name Margaret signifies a Pearl. And this Holy Virgin knew well what was that "Pearl of great price" of which our LORD spake; namely, the Salvation of the soul. The merchantman in the text went and sold all that he had, and bought it; Margaret laid down all that she had, even her life, and won it. She suffered at Antioch, the same place where the disciples were first called Christians; and she was a worthy follower of those great Saints, Peter, Paul, and Barnabas, who so long laboured there. She is generally painted with a dragon at her feet. The story goes that she destroyed by her prayers a dreadful monster, which laid waste the country far and near. Whether she really did this, I know not; but I know that she did trample down that old dragon called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the world; and therefore she is numbered with the saints in glory everlasting.

But the text also suits that which we have been doing to-day. Let us first clearly understand what that was. That little Margaret, who was to-day openly admitted into the same Church in which her name-saint did such great things for CHRIST'S sake, was, as you know, many weeks since baptized. Baptized, once and for ever: she then became--not now--a member of CHRIST; she then was made--not now--a child of GOD; she then was admitted--not now--to be an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. All these glorious things she was yesterday, as much as she is to-day.

"Doubt ye not therefore," said the Priest, "that He hath favourably received this present infant; that He hath embraced her with the arms of His mercy." We did not pray to-day that the Old Adam in this child might be so buried, that the New Man might be raised up in her; that we knew had been done before. For I hope that none of you have learnt so little about baptism as to talk about a child's being "half baptized," or "half christened," when you mean privately baptized. We say, many times, "I believe one baptism for the remission of sins;" never, "I believe half a baptism."

What did we do, then, to-day? The Church, in her love for children, has thought it only right that those who were, by some necessity, baptized at home,--who could not, in the hurry, have godfathers and godmothers,--who possibly might be in such imminent danger that even all the prayers could not be said over them,--she has thought it only right that such children should not go without the privileges of others. Therefore, for them, she divides the service of baptism into two parts. Whereas, for others, she makes them first enter into a covenant or agreement with GOD, and then baptizes them; these she first baptizes, and then, if they live, she makes them enter into that covenant. And the outward token of this covenant is the sign of the Cross. Just as when a man takes service with a master, he puts on his livery; so we, when we take service with our Great Master, JESUS CHRIST, put on His livery, namely, the Cross. This is what we have been doing to-day; not pretending to add anything--GOD forbid!--to that which the HOLY GHOST did before; but proclaiming for this infant that it is our glory, and that we trust, in time to come, it will be hers, that she is a servant of CHRIST Crucified, and so may have her part with the holy Margarets that have been before her: with Margaret, the saint of this day; with Margaret of Scotland, who, though a queen, gave up all earthly things for the love of CHRIST; and with Margaret of Cortona, who, after falling most foully into sin, rose to a height of grace that has been given to few.

I said that the text of the Pearl was fitted for the day. The merchantman went and sold all that he had, and bought that Pearl. This Pearl, I told you, means Salvation. Our LORD here tells us how we are to get it: we must buy it. He tells us also at what price we must buy it: we must give all we have for it. We must give all our time to GOD for it--that is, all our time must be spent for Him, in doing His work; either in serving Him directly, or in doing other business for His sake. We must give all our love for it: that is, we must love other things less than GOD: we must only love them as far as He would have us; we must be ready to give them up when He calls for them. So of everything else--health, strength, money, talents, influence with others--we must give them all for this Pearl--Salvation. GOD will have all, or He will have none. If we serve Him to-day, and ourselves to-morrow, that will not do. If we serve Him with some of our powers, and keep the rest back from His service, that will not do. The merchantman went and sold all that he had; he did not keep back his houses, or some of his land, or his ships, or his jewels; he gave all. And a wise merchantman he was. He knew that the One Pearl was worth infinitely more than all he had, and that if he could get it at that price it was a bargain, the excellency of which could not be told.

Now, what has Baptism to do with this? Everything. Till a man is baptized, he has nothing to buy this Pearl with. He can do no good works--I mean good works in a Christian sense. If that merchantman had had nothing to buy with, he clearly never would have got the pearl. If you have nothing to give to GOD, you will never obtain Salvation; and till you are baptized, you can have nothing. The HOLY GHOST then gives you the power of doing good works. As it was with the servants in the parable,--if their LORD, when He went away, had given them nothing to begin with, they could have gained nothing. He gave them five talents, two talents, one talent; and having them, they could go and increase them. He gave them their goods at first, and then He rewarded them, because they brought Him the profits.

These two things, then, always keep in your mind. The first, that it is by doing good works that you will have a right to heaven, and in no other way; the second, that you have no glory or praise in doing them, because GOD gave you the power, and the will.

Does it seem difficult to you to understand now you may have a right to heaven, while yet heaven is a gift? S. John tells you that you have a right to it: "Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life." S. Paul tells you that it is a free gift: "By grace ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of GOD."

Take a plain example how this is. At first, clearly, none of you had the least right to the pensions you have from the College. If they had not been given you at all, there would have been no injustice done you. The Patrons might have said, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?"

Then, when you were admitted pensioners, you were put into possession, under certain conditions, mind you, of the rights that belong to us. What were the words? "Who is to have such lodging, pension, allowance, and other privileges, as the rest of the Brotherhood; he complying in all things with the statutes of the College."

So here was a covenant between you and the Patrons. They, for their part, promised to give you certain gifts, you, for your part, promised to obey certain laws. It is an exact type of Baptism. GOD there, for His part, promised to give you His heavenly kingdom; you, for your part, promised to keep His commandments.

But suppose you do not keep the statutes of the College. Then would you have a right to its privileges? Certainly not. You would lose your pensions, and be expelled from your rooms. And, in like manner, if you do not keep GOD'S laws, you will have no right to the privileges He gave you at your Baptism, and will be cast out of His kingdom.

On the other hand, let us imagine that, after you had been admitted pensioners, and while you were keeping the statutes, your pensions were to be paid you no longer. Why, you would come to me and say, "We have a right to our pensions; we claim them as a right; they are ours." And you would say true. All comes from the Patron's favour, first and last. They admitted you, they pay you; but still you have a right to the payment. They admitted you freely, without any merit of your own; they pay you also without any desert of your own, except what comes from their promise; but that is sufficient.

This comparison is near enough for our purpose; but it is not quite exact. I wonder if any of you have seen where it fails?

The Patrons freely, and of their own kindness, admitted you into this College by warrant. GOD, freely and of His love, admitted you into His Church by Baptism. Is that a true type? Yes.

The Patrons admitted you into this College on condition that you obeyed its laws. GOD admitted you into His Church on condition that you kept His commandments. Is the type still true? Yes.

If you do keep the College statutes, you have a right (entirely owing to the Patron's kindness) to your pensions. If you keep GOD'S laws, you have a right (entirely owing to GOD'S love) to heaven. That is a good type also.

Where does my example fail, then?

Here. Who gives you power to observe GOD'S laws?--Why, GOD the HOLY GHOST Himself. The Patrons do not give you power to keep the statutes: they made them, and they insist on their being obeyed; but they do not enable you to obey them.

Yes: GOD gave you the promise, He gives you the power to claim it, He gives you the reward for claiming it. Of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things. The glory is His, first and last. "Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the praise, for Thy loving mercy and truth's sake." Loving mercy in giving the promise; truth in fulfilling it.

Now, then, we are still to be engaged in buying the Pearl. Every day we are to pay down something towards it. GOD is no hard task-master; He lets us pay by instalments. Not a single day of our lives should be without making one; for not one day of our lives is also without doing something which tends to deprive us of the Pearl.

Let this name, Margaret, remind us of it; and remind us also of that city, whereof the gates are twelve Pearls, each several gate one Pearl. Where GOD of His mercy vouchsafe to bring us all, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake! To Whom, with the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.

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