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.


Ss. Crispin and Crispian. October 25.


RATHER more than a fortnight ago, I told you of S. Denys, the first Bishop of Paris, and one of the first preachers of the Gospel in France. The Saints in whose memory we keep to-day, were some of his fellow-labourers. There were two brothers, by name Crispin and Crispian, whom S. Denys sent forth to teach the faith to the barbarous nations in the north of France. They took up their abode at a place called Soissons, and there, on the 25th of October, two hundred and eighty-eight years after our LORD'S Birth, they ended their life on earth by a glorious Martyrdom. While they were spreading abroad the Gospel, they determined not to receive any present from those whom they had converted, lest the heathen round them should say, that they made men Christians only for the sake of getting a living by them. Therefore, they supported themselves by the trade of shoemakers, knowing that no honest employment can be a disgrace to a Christian man, if he carries it on because it is his duty, and because he desires to do what it is his business to do, "heartily, as to the LORD, and not unto men."

Here is the point for us: that, in whatever station of life GOD has placed us, He has given us the opportunity of honouring Him and adding to His glory. It is not so, it cannot be so, with an earthly King. Suppose that any of you earnestly desired to do the Queen some service, or to honour her in the sight of others: the thing would be impossible. What have you that you could give to her? What is there which you can do for her? But with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords it is quite a different thing. There is none among you who may not, if you please, this very night, before you go to bed, do Him service: service which He will accept now, and which He will reward hereafter. One act of charity to those around you, one word of kindness, will be to Him an acceptable service, if it be done with the wish of pleasing Him. He has said Himself, that to give a cup of cold water to one of His little ones shall in no wise lose its reward. And not only acts of kindness, but acts of duty may be done to His honour and glory. If we could only feel this, as well as know it, there could be no such thing as meanness in any Christian's office. The least every-day duty would become glorious, because by doing it rightly, we can honour so glorious a King. I was reading some verses the other day, which say the same thing very


"If wealthy, I stand as the steward of my King;

If poor, as the friend of my LORD;

If feeble, my every-day business I bring;

If able, my pen or my sword.

"For, long as life's journey shall have to be trod,

No duty can ever be mean;

The factory man may do work for his GOD,

As well as a King or a Queen."

For think of this. A labouring man may be working out his own salvation while he is driving the plough; a poor boy may be becoming meet to be partaker with the Saints, while he is driving the birds away; a servant maid may be honouring the Name of our Blessed LORD, while she is scouring her kitchen. GOD, as our Prayer Book speaks, has ordained and constituted the services of men as well as angels, in a wonderful order. And see how it is His way to turn what was at first a curse, into a blessing.

When Adam fell, his two punishments were chiefly these,--death and labour: and see how both have been turned into blessings for the true servants of GOD. Our LORD was pleased to suffer both; and thereby He changed altogether their nature. He changed death into a sleep, of which the waking-up will be at the morning of the Resurrection; and labour He made the means of becoming like Himself, and of gaining GOD'S favour. For just as suffering makes us like CHRIST, so labour also does. He laboured with His hands as a carpenter; He laboured with His feet in walking so many weary miles for our sakes; He laboured with His whole strength, when He continued whole nights in prayer to GOD. We can have no kind of labour in which He has not been beforehand with us; just as we can have no kind of pain of which He has not first tasted. And as by pain He would draw us nearer to Himself, and give us an opportunity of working out our salvation, so it is with labour also. Both one and the other have their dangers. In pain, the danger is lest, instead of becoming like Him by our patience and giving up our own will to the Will of GOD, we become more unlike Him by impatience and by feeling that we are hardly dealt with. In labour, the danger is lest, instead of becoming like Him by working for the glory of GOD, and because He has commanded us to work, we become more unlike Him, by being, like Martha, "careful and troubled about many things" of this world, and forget the one thing that is needful; lest we labour for the sake of laying up for ourselves treasures upon earth, "where the moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal," or for the sake of getting learning, that men may think us wise, or for the sake of getting power, that we may be thought great.

Now see how those two holy men, of whom we are this day reminded, carried on their labours. You might have gone into a common shoemaker's shop in that city of Soissons, and have seen two men, hard at work in their trade, and have noticed no difference between them and any other workmen that followed their different crafts in the same town. But GOD saw otherwise. He saw that they were labouring in order that they might support themselves, and not put a stumbling-block in the way of the heathen, by allowing themselves to be supported by others; He saw that they were exactly as truly, and exactly as much engaged in His work when they were stitching leather soles, as when they were preaching the Gospel of His SON, in the streets and lanes of the city.

It is true, we have not a heathen country to convert, and we cannot go forth as these two Saints did, to proclaim the glad tidings of the Gospel of Peace; but, as long as we live in a world of sin, so long we may be, as Elijah was, very zealous for the LORD GOD of Hosts. Our LORD Himself, Who has commanded us not to do good deeds to be seen of men, that we may have glory of them, for that otherwise we shall have no reward in the world to come, has, nevertheless, also said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your FATHER Which is in heaven." This is more particularly the case with us here, not only because, as I have so often said, we have more time than others to do good, but because we are watched more than others, and therefore, if we profess to honour GOD with our lips, while we dishonour Him in our lives, the more dishonour is done to His holy Name: as our LORD has said, "A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid."

This truth, that each Christian, doing his duty in that state of life to which it has pleased GOD to call him, however mean that state may be in the eyes of the world, makes it glorious in the eyes of his LORD, is set forth to us by S. Paul in rather a different way. He compares us all to different members of the same body; and so shows us that, while all cannot have the same work, all may equally do work, and equally benefit the other members. All members of the body cannot have the same office: as the Apostle tells us, "If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where were the smelling?" We have another type of this in a college like ours. If it is to go on, there are a certain number of duties which must be done, and different people must take them. Some must nurse the sick; some must attend to the chapel; some must keep the court in order; some must look after the garden; some must go out for the money when the rent becomes due: there are many members, and each one has his several office. All these duties may not be, in the eye of the world, equally honourable; but all are equally necessary. If the meanest of them is left undone, the whole action, and, so to speak, life of the college goes wrong at once. And so, to look above these types. The Holy Catholic Church, in which we daily profess to believe, is compared to a body, of which CHRIST is the Head. It might just as truly be compared to, or rather it is, one huge college. A college means a set of people collected out of something and into something: the Church is collected or gathered together out of the world, and its members are knit together, and are knit to CHRIST. In that Church we all have our offices to do; we have all our parts to play; we cannot give way, the poorest of us, without, to a certain extent, the whole great Church giving way also, just as if one limb of the body suffers, all the other limbs suffer with it; just as if one member of a college disgraces himself, the whole college is disgraced also, so, if one member of the Church sins, the whole Church must necessarily suffer.

These thoughts seem to come naturally on a day like this. When people at the time spoke of the Martyrdom of S. Crispin and S. Crispian, no doubt what they said was, "Only two low tradesmen being put to death, for teaching the wicked doctrine of the Christians." "They fools," to speak with the wise man, "accounted their life madness, and their end to be without honour: but they are in peace. How are they numbered with the children of GOD, and their lot is among the Saints."

To which lot GOD vouchsafe to bring us also, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake: to Whom with the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Project Canterbury