A BROTHER BORN FOR ADVERSITY.
Translation of King Edward. October 13. "A BROTHER IS BORN FOR ADVERSITY."--PROVERBS XVII. 17.
AMONG the saints of the Church, we find all ranks and conditions of men. We have been called to praise GOD for those that were poor and despised: now we are called to glorify Him in a King.
Edward the Confessor, as he is generally called, was the best king who ever sat on the throne of England. He was especially noted for his great meekness and mercy; and no doubt he has long since entered into that Land of the Living which is promised to the meek, and has obtained that mercy which is to be the portion of the merciful.
The text which I have just now read seems to you, I dare say, to have nothing to do with the day. Let us see whether it has or not.
"A brother is born for adversity." Solomon does not say, A brother must expect to meet adversity; but he is born for it: that was the end for which he came into the world--to bear it. It seems a strange and a hard saying.
I do not doubt that, in the first place, it is said of our LORD JESUS. He is our Elder Brother; and He, indeed, was born for adversity. He tells us so Himself. "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I might bear witness to the truth." And whoever does that knows that it will cost him pain and suffering! and the more earnestly he does it, the more he will have to suffer. There is no kind of adversity for which our LORD was not born. He was born to be poor, in order that He might be able to feel for those that are poor. He was born to be despised, in order that those who are despised might comfort themselves by remembering that they are no worse off than their Blessed Master was. He was born to endure hardships--hunger, thirst, cold, weariness,--in order that those of His servants who are an hungered, or athirst, or cold, or weary, might be able to remember that they are so far like Him. He was born to die, that He might take away the sting of death. He was born to die in agony, that He might change the very nature of pain, and might make it a blessing instead of a curse. In all these ways, and in a thousand thousand more, this, our Eldest Brother, was born for adversity.
And what is true of Him--what is far more true of Him than of any one else--is also true of His servants, and more especially of His Saints. They are all our brethren; and we have never heard of any very great Saint who was not very greatly tried. The Captain of our Salvation was made perfect through suffering, and His soldiers can only be made perfect the same way. S. Paul tells us so of the Apostles. "I think," he says, "that GOD hath set forth us the Apostles last, as it were appointed to death; for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men." That is, as they had the most of the honour, so also they were to have the greatest part of the suffering. And there is something more than this, as the same S. Paul also tells us. "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of CHRIST." Now, notice his words. He does not say only, "I rejoice in my sufferings," but "in my sufferings for you." This whole text seems to show us that there is a certain quantity of suffering which it is appointed for the Church to endure. Therefore, the more that the servants of GOD suffer themselves, the less they leave for their brethren. This is what S. Paul seems to mean when he speaks of filling up that which is behind of the sufferings of CHRIST.
But when we speak of our LORD'S sufferings and those of any Saint, we must remember the infinite difference between them. Our LORD, by His sufferings, made an atonement for sin; they deserved that sin should be forgiven. No servant of GOD can do what the SON of GOD did. But GOD is pleased to accept their sufferings also, not as deserving in themselves that sins should be forgiven, but as something with which He is well pleased, and which He will reward. Thus of the Saints also it may be said, "A brother is born for adversity." They suffer, not only to set us an example how to suffer, but really and truly to fill up that which remains for the Church to endure. It is their calling to suffer, and to suffer for us, that is, for our sakes.
S. Edward, King though he were, was no exception to this. He was greatly tried in himself, in his family, and in his kingdom; and, the more he suffered, the more the grace of GOD shone out in him.
One should think that this path of suffering, by which CHRIST Himself went, and by which all His Saints followed Him, must be a very honourable path: and yet, so it is, that the devil has two quite different temptations which make men shrink from it. Some people think that the least sufferings are a great deal too hard to bear. You may hear them complain, as if GOD had never tried any one else as He tried them; as if He were afflicting them unmercifully; as if He had forgotten to be gracious. They lose sight of this--that their brethren, who were born for adversity, endured a hundred times as much. Take an example. You have all heard of the Camp at Chobham. You know that there a great number of soldiers are living in tents, are exercised in marches and in fights, are made as perfect as they can be in their profession. What should we say if we heard those men complaining of the wet days, and the cold nights, and the damp ground, and the marshes, and the food? Why, we should say, Soldiers in the same regiment have gone through ten times as much as this in real warfare; they have suffered this and a thousand other things in an enemy's country,--half starved, wearied out, full of wounds; they have done what you, in your own land, well fed, well rested, in good health, complain of. Why, this is play-work to the marches and the encampments by which your brethren, in old times, conquered other nations, and made England what it is at this day.
And so I say to you: what are your sufferings to the least of those of the Martyrs? or of those who have been imprisoned, or despitefully used for CHRIST'S Name? Are you not ashamed to name them together with those others? You have not yet resisted unto blood; they did.
But there are others who seem, in some strange way, ashamed of suffering. I think that the aged have most of this feeling. You seem ashamed of growing weak--of finding (as Solomon says) the grasshopper a burden--of not being able to do what once you would have found no fatigue at all. You wish to pass it by as if it were something accidental. If you could only have different weather, or different medicine; or if you could but do this or the other thing, you should be as strong as ever.
But how sad is this! ''We glory in tribulations;" ''I rejoice in my sufferings; most gladly will I glory in my infirmities." So S. Paul says. Why not at once confess what all these weaknesses mean? Look the thing in the face. Did you ever hear what the ostrich does when she is hunted? She hides her head in the sand, and then fancies, because she can see no one, that no one can see her. If you try to deceive yourselves, by fancying that such weaknesses can be cured, by any natural means, you are like this foolish ostrich. You cannot walk so far, you cannot stand so long, you cannot think so much, you get more easily tired: well, so it is. We know that this earthly house of our tabernacle must be dissolved: it comes to that. I only know one cure for this weakness, this feebleness, this decay. It is a long one. It will go on, from the time GOD calls you to Himself, to the time that He raises you again. It will go on in the churchyard. There He will be preparing your bodies for strength and beauty, and everlasting health. That is the medicine; He is the Physician: the only Medicine, the only Physician. "For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."
CHRIST was born for adversity; the Saints were born for adversity. Never, then, be you ashamed of it. When you are called to it, go to it as an apprentice would to a trade, or a child to a lesson. This is the way, and the only way, by which to reach that home to which all sorrow is intended to bring us,--the home where there shall be no more sorrow,--the city where "the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity."
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory, might and dominion, for ever. Amen.