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

London: Joseph Masters, 1872. Third edition.


Lammas Day. August 1.



I HAVE taken two texts; and very different from each other at first sight they seem. S. Peter, having the keys of the kingdom of heaven given to him; and S. Peter bound with two chains, and sleeping between two keepers. "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven," says our LORD in the one verse; and in the other Peter is bound himself, in the power of his enemies,--about, on the next day, to be led forth and put to death. Is it so that CHRIST fulfils His promises?

Yes; and S. Peter knew it, and never for a moment expected that it would be otherwise. He was not spending the night in complaining that the promise made to him had not been fulfilled; no, nor yet in reminding our LORD of it, and therefore praying to be delivered. He was asleep; and very likely the only Christian in Jerusalem that was asleep that night. Now notice, how each of GOD'S servants has his own especial duty, even about the same thing. Peter, having committed himself to his Master's hands, knew that he had work to do for Him on the morrow which would require all his strength. Therefore he used the means which GOD has appointed for the refreshment of our bodies: he lay down and slept. But the rest knew that it was not then their duty to sleep, but to be instant in prayer; and therefore they gathered themselves together to that end at the house of S. John Mark.

Now attend to that verse, for it is worth it. "Peter therefore was kept in prison; BUT--prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto GOD for him." Yes: Herod knew very little how much such a BUT is worth; worth more than all his bars, and his dungeons, and his guards. If the Church prays without ceasing for Peter's deliverance, it matters not a whit where Peter is kept.

If you would only remember that for yourselves, how much trouble and misery you might sometimes be spared! If you knew how much prayer can do,--how the prayer of a poor weak old man or woman is stronger than a great army of warriors,--how much oftener, how much more earnestly, you would pray than you do!

I read of Peter's sleeping three times: once when our LORD was in His greatest earthly glory, namely, at His Transfiguration; once in His deepest humiliation, namely, at His Agony; and once in his own great need. Those two first times were not sleeps which did him honour; the spirit might be willing, but the flesh was weak. But the last showed Peter's faith and love. He knew that he was to die on the morrow, as James had died before him; he knew that he was shut out from all earthly hope; he knew that the little Church of Jerusalem needed him; but he left everything in CHRIST'S hands, knowing that He would keep that which was committed unto Him. He had seen his Master asleep in the midst of great fear and danger, and now he followed His example. If our LORD had said, "Simon, sleepest thou?" there would have been no upbraiding in His words now. So, you see, we may sometimes do good service to GOD, and be working out our own salvation, even while we sleep.

But I wish you more particularly to notice the two texts taken together. Suppose that on that night some one had gone to Tiberius, the Roman Emperor, and had said to him, "Are you aware that, in your dominions, there is now living a man who has the keys of the kingdom of heaven? and that whatsoever he shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever he shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven?"--"Where and what is this great man?" the Emperor would have said, " that we may go and do him honour?" "He was a fisherman; he became a preacher of CHRIST, Who was crucified in Jerusalem; and now he is bound with two chains in prison, and is about to be led out to-morrow, and to be put to death."

Imagine the ridicule, the loud laughter, with which the Emperor would have received such a message. And yet there was the very thing--that was the plain, simple truth. He that had the keys of heaven was shut up in prison; he that could bind on high was bound on earth.

And how many things now-a-days there are which seem just as hard to believe--which seem just as contrary to what we see with our own eyes! I may tell you, as I often have told you, that to be poor is a more blessed estate than to be rich,--that those who are poor are more likely to be saved than those that are wealthy,--and you listen, and think it sounds very well, and do not really believe it for all that. I may tell you how much one good hearty prayer of any one of you may avail with GOD; how much it may do for you if you are in want; how much it may do for you if you are in difficulty; how much it may do for you when you are in sickness. You believe it in a sort of way, and you pray in a sort of way; but I want you to believe it as much as you believe that you could get me to do anything in my power for you by asking for it; and to ask as if you believed in GOD'S being able to hear you, as much as you believe in mine.

"Except I shall see, I will not believe." That was the saying of an Apostle, I confess; but it was not said like an Apostle. See how foolish this is in worldly matters. An English traveller was once talking to the Emperor of Birmah, (which is a very hot country,) and telling him of different things in England. He spoke about our railroads, and our newspapers, and our shops, and our manufactories; and the Emperor, though he was very much surprised, believed everything. At last the traveller happened to say something about skating, and the Emperor would listen no longer. He said, "You have told me many wonderful things, but I was willing to believe them, because you said them. But I never will nor can believe that water becomes hard enough to be walked on. If the whole world told me so, I would not believe it. I see that you are trying to deceive me, and I will listen to you no more."

We are ready to smile at this Emperor; but we do exactly the same thing ourselves. We believe what GOD tells us of the mighty works which He did in our fathers' days, and in the old time before them; but, that poverty, or sickness, or distress is sent to us because GOD seeks to do us good,--No! that we never will believe: He says so, we cannot deny it, but we do not believe it still. Anything else; but not that.

Peter, that had the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, bound with two chains! Yet, after all, what was that to His being bound Who made the Kingdom of Heaven, and Who is LORD of it! What is that to GOD being judged by man, to the King of kings being scourged by slaves, to the LORD of all things hanging on the Cross between two thieves! S. Peter was but following his Master. He was condemned for the same reason. "And so Pilate, willing to content the people, delivered JESUS unto them." And Herod, because he saw that the death of S. James pleased the Jews, proceeded further to take Peter also. "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you." But the servant was delivered, while the Master was not. The cup could not pass away from our LORD; but, for that time, it did pass away from S. Peter. CHRIST could have called for twelve legions of angels, and would not; but He sent an angel to deliver His Apostle. Peter had many years of work to do for GOD, and till that was done, neither Herod, nor all the expectation of the people of the Jews could hurt him.

Therefore now, when we see any of GOD'S dealings that we do not understand,--when we are tempted to doubt His promises, because they seem to us not to be fulfilled,--when we are disposed to say, as Rebekah did, "If it be so, why am I thus?"--then let us remember that GOD'S ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts; and let us think of Peter, that had the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and was yet bound between two soldiers with two chains.

And now to GOD, the FATHER, the SON, and the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory, for ever. Amen.

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