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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 Leonard. November 6.


S. LEONARD, whose day this is, was chiefly known for his great love to prisoners; so here is a text about prisoners, from which, if the HOLY GHOST help us, we may learn something that shall profit ourselves.

The words were, in the first place, spoken to the Church, but they are said to each of us. Isaiah and David teach us both the same thing. David says, "My soul cleaveth to the dust," and Isaiah, "Shake thyself from the dust." One tells us what we do by nature; the other what we ought to do by the grace of GOD.

Now what is here meant by dust? The cares and the pleasures of this world. Dust is the most worthless thing possible; so are they. Dust is easily blown here and there, and never remains long in one place; so it is with them. Dust defiles those that have to do with it; so do they. Dust blinds the eyes of those that stir it up; so do they. And yet our soul cleaveth to them; we have no eyes nor ears for anything else. Therefore, GOD would separate us from them; and He would have us make the effort to separate ourselves: " Shake thyself from the dust." We must try--must try hard--must try at once; to-day, while it is called to-day. If we wait till we are willing to deny ourselves, we may wait for ever. Whenever it is done, it will cost us some trouble and pain; and the longer we wait, it will cost us the more.

He goes on: "Arise, and sit down." He does not mean, "sit down" idly--"sit down," as if there were nothing more to be done--"sit down," as if there were no more warfare to be accomplished; but "sit down" quietly--"sit down" out of the noise and confusion of every-day business--"sit down" to have time to think over your sins, and to repent for them--"sit down," as the children of Israel did in a strange land, as it is written, "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept." And if we thus weep for our sins in this life, GOD will hereafter cause us to sit down at the Supper of the Lamb.

But this is not all. Isaiah goes on: "Loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Sion." And this is what we all are--prisoners. When we were born, we were captives to the devil; we were bound with the chain of that sin which we had from Adam. But that chain GOD broke for us at our Baptism: we could never have set ourselves free. The HOLY GHOST, for the great Love wherewith He loved us, did that for us in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, by His servant the Priest who baptized us. But since that time, we have let ourselves be bound with new chains. Every sin we have committed is, as it were, a new link to fetter us. And to undo these fetters, to tear ourselves from these sins, is the work to which we are called.

And mark. He says not, "I will loose thee," but "Loose thyself." Before our Baptism it would have been to no purpose to tell us so. We were able to do nothing for ourselves. But now, through the grace given to us in our Baptism, we are able; and being able, GOD will have us do what we can. He will not have us sit still, while He does all, as it was when we were baptized. Now He will have us be workers together with Him. Loose thyself," He says; and He will help us.

After this, Isaiah tells us how we became prisoners. "Ye have sold yourselves for nought." Adam at first sold himself for nought. He gave his own soul and body, and the souls and bodies of all that should afterwards spring from him, for a fruit. A goodly price, indeed, the devil paid to become the prince of this world; a fruit, and a lie. A fruit--the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; and a lie;--"Ye shall not surely die." And as Adam sold himself for nought, so do we. One man sells his soul for drunkenness: for the pleasure of making himself a disgrace to mankind, and worse than the beasts that perish, he gives away his eternal happiness. Another man sells himself for riches: for the sake of hoarding up a certain number of pieces of money, which he cannot take away with him when he dies. Another man for revenge; another for ease; another for honour; another to escape the being laughed at. These are the prices which the devil pays for our souls. He is a good bargainer: he knows how to give little, and to get much. Just as we read of sailors in savage islands, who give the inhabitants beads, and pins, and glass necklaces, and the poor savages give great lumps of gold and silver in exchange. "Ye have sold yourselves for nought."

But GOD'S promise follows: "And ye shall be redeemed without money." This may mean two things. We have nothing that we can give to GOD in return for our redemption. He saved us; not because He had any need of us,--not because we could do Him any good, as it is written, "My goods are nothing unto Thee,"--but only and wholly because He loved us, because He delighteth in mercy, because He willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live. So we are redeemed without money, because our redemption is the gift of GOD: as it is written, "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of GOD."

Or else the text may mean what S. Peter says, when he tells us, "Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious Blood of CHRIST." Ye were redeemed without money. By the Birth and Death of GOD,--by all that He suffered between His Birth and Death,--was your salvation wrought out; by His fasting forty days in the wilderness; by His being with the wild beasts; by His being tempted of the devil; by the miracles He did; by the sayings He spake; by the parables He told; by the good He wrought; by the evil He endured; by His mockings and revilings, His purple robe and His crown of thorns; by the pavement and the house of Annas; by the judgment-seat and the hill of Calvary; by the Cross and the sepulchre;--by all these things, all making the one great price, was your redemption brought to pass.

And now, therefore, what follows? "Shake thyself from the dust; loose thyself from the bands of thy neck." The Physician is prepared to receive you; the medicine is ready. What medicine? Why, there are two. "Cease to do evil; learn to do well." And you must take both. As it is written, "What man is he that lusteth to live,"--that is, to live for ever and ever in glory,--"and would fain see good days?"--that is, the glorious and blessed days of heaven--"Let him eschew evil, and do good." So David reads us the same lesson with Isaiah; and GOD give us grace so to profit by both, that we may finally be received into that Jerusalem, the mother of us all, which is free.

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

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