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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.


S. Hilary. January 13.


THE Saint of to-day, S. Hilary, was in his day one of the greatest defenders of the true Faith whom the world ever saw. After the Church had rest from her heathen persecutors, the devil, always seeking to do her harm, always on the look-out for opportunities of hurting her, raised up a more dreadful danger. S. Paul had prophesied that, after his departure, grievous wolves should enter in, not sparing the flock: and now one of these ungodly men rose up, and taught that our LORD JESUS CHRIST was not really and truly GOD, but only a man filled with the wisdom and the power of GOD. He drew away a great number of people after him, and for a while it seemed as if the Church itself were about to perish. But GOD raised up two great Saints: the one S. Athanasius, from whom the Creed is named, he came out of the east; the other, S. Hilary, who came out of France. Both these holy men suffered the loss of all things for the Name of our LORD: S. Hilary was banished, threatened, driven here and there, promised great rewards if he would give in to the new doctrine, and would only say that JESUS CHRIST was not of one substance with the FATHER. He was, like S. Paul, in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils among his own countrymen) in perils among the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.

All these things were the price at which our Faith was bought for us. These holy men of old thought nothing of all their sufferings, if only they might keep that Faith whole and undefiled: they "came to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty." Every line of the Athanasian Creed is, as it were, written with the blood of Saints. There is not a single sentence in the whole, on which I could not lay my finger and say, Such a Saint died in defence of this, such a Saint was cast into prison because he would not deny that. Take those that speak of our LORD'S coming into the world: " For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess that our LORD JESUS CHRIST, the SON of GOD, is GOD and Man: GOD, of the Substance of the FATHER, begotten before the worlds." For those words an innumerable host of martyrs have died, have been " stoned, sawn asunder, tempted, slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy:" and these things they suffered, not from heathens, but from those that called themselves Christians. It goes on, " And Man, of the substance of His mother, born in the world;" and here, again, another army of martyrs, at a different time, testified to this truth with their blood. " Perfect GOD, and perfect Man:" those words, in themselves, cost another tremendous struggle. "Of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting;" and there again, many holy bishops took joyfully the spoiling of their goods because they would not deny the truth here set down. So I might go on, verse by verse, and line by line, and still it would be the same thing over and over again. So that the Church, when she had conquered all her enemies, might well break forth into that hymn,--for a hymn it is,--"Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except every one do keep whole and un-defiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. This is the Catholic Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved."

This Faith, by the mercy of GOD has been preached in all the world: "the LORD gave the word: great was the company of the preachers:" and so has come even to us. And the first feeling we must have is, What a glorious thing it is to belong to a Church that has such a Faith,--so come down, so fought for, so victorious. Look at those who do not belong to the Church, and see where their faith comes from. There are the Wesleyans: their faith comes from John Wesley, about 100 years ago. There are the Quakers: their faith comes from one George Fox, and is about 200 years old. There are the Baptists: their faith is about 300 years old. But we Catholic Christians take our name from no man. We have no Master but JESUS CHRIST. Our Faith comes from Him, through His Apostles, through His Bishops, through His Martyrs. They taught it, they preached it throughout the world, and we this day have it. It was opposed by the kings and great men of the earth; but what of that? the more it was afflicted, the more it multiplied and grew. "Kings with their armies did flee and were discomfited; and they of the household divided the spoil." They of the household, that is, of GOD'S household; in His might, and by the truth that was in Him, they overcame. "In the world," our LORD said, "ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." And so did they too.

But one thing more if it is a glorious thing to have their Faith, so also it is a most fearful thing. If we dishonour it by our behaviour, if we lead lives of which heretics or heathens might be ashamed, if we do our best to give our LORD the lie, when He said, "By their fruits ye shall know them," and instead of that to say, "By their fruits ye shall not know them," what remains for us but the punishment of that servant that knew his Lord's will, and did it not? Take, for example, S. Hilary this day. He suffered for this truth--that "We worship One GOD in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity." But now, if we live as though we knew nothing of Him that once came to save us, and hereafter will come to judge us--nothing of Him that regenerated us in Baptism, and Whose temples we are, what is all our knowledge doing for us, but heaping up for us a more fearful judgment? If we say, "There is one Person of the FATHER," and yet break His commandments day after day: if we say, "There is another Person of the SON" and yet go on adding to those sins which He died to atone for: if we say, "And another of the HOLY GHOST," and yet go on resisting all His good motions, stopping our ears to His words; when He speaks, refusing to hear; when He calls, refusing to obey; we shall find this GOD, Whom we knew, but would not honour; this SAVIOUR, Who gave Himself for us, and yet we would not give ourselves to Him; this HOLY GHOST, to Whom we continually did despite;--a consuming fire.

This is a fearful thought for us. But by GOD'S grace let us rather try so to act up to what we know, so to show that we really do believe what we profess to believe, that when He calls us out of this world, we may see Him face to face, no more wanting faith, no more needing hope, for faith will be swallowed up in certainty, "and what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?" So that, with all these great Saints who so laboured and suffered for Him here, we may have a portion in the life to come, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake: to Whom, with the FATHER, and the HOLY GHOST, be all glory for ever. Amen.

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