THE WICKED FORSAKING HIS WAYS.
S. Brice. November 15.
Being the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity, 1853.
"LET THE WICKED FORSAKE HIS WAY, AND THE UNRIGHTEOUS MAN HIS THOUGHTS, AND LET HIM RETURN UNTO THE LOED, AND HE WILL HAVE MERCY UPON HIM, AND TO OUR GOD, FOR HE WILL ABUNDANTLY PARDON."--ISAIAH LV. 7.
THIS Sunday has, this year, no Epistle and Gospel of its own; therefore we take those of the last Sunday after Epiphany. And very fit they are for this time, when we are drawing so near to the holy season of Advent. The Epistle tells us what our LORD'S Coming will do for us: "We know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him." The Gospel tells us what must happen before He can come: how there shall be false Christs and false prophets, and how, if it were possible, they should deceive the very elect. Therefore the text I read you just now is very well fitted for the day. Seeing that CHRIST will come,--seeing that all the things around us shall be dissolved,--seeing that the elements shall melt with fervent heat,--therefore, "let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him."
And we have an example of this in the saint of today, S. Brice. He was a disciple of S. Martin, of whom I spoke to you the day before yesterday; but he did not, at first, tread in the steps of his master. He led an evil life; he turned away from all rebuke: and because S. Martin found fault with him, he spread about false reports concerning that great Saint; and this he did for some years. But S. Martin always foretold that he would repent at last; and so it came to pass. Brice was afterwards made Bishop in the place of S. Martin. But GOD often punishes us in this life, to the end that we may escape in the next. False reports were soon spread against S. Brice, just as he had spread them against S. Martin. He was forced to leave his bishopric; and he long lived in great poverty and distress. No doubt he said, like the thief, " We indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds." But when he had suffered, GOD was pleased to restore him to His Church and to his friends; and after serving CHRIST faithfully for many years, he at last fell asleep in the LORD, on this day, the 13th of November. He is an example to us, that none have sinned so much that they may not take the Kingdom of Heaven after all; that none have wandered so far that they may not be brought back. For this Bishop, once a grievous sinner on earth, now a glorious Saint in heaven, had sinned not only after he was baptized, but after he was ordained a priest; and yet he returned to GOD, and found mercy, and to the LORD, and was abundantly pardoned.
This text is said to all of us, and it is also for all of us, so far as in us lies, to say to others. Never think that it is only the place of a priest to warn men from falling into sin. It is the business of all of you. It was Cain that said, " Am I my brother's keeper?" You all ought to be so. You all ought to do what you can to hinder men from falling, and to raise them up when they are down. Remember what S. James says: "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins."
Now, when I was out from you last week, I saw an example of how GOD fulfils His promise: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our GOD, for He will abundantly pardon." You, and you may thank GOD for it, can scarcely imagine the misery and the wickedness of a large manufacturing town. You cannot at all fancy the enormous brick mills, in each of which, from morning till night, hundreds of men and women, and boys and girls, are shut up, without seeing the sun, or feeling the fresh air; where thousands and thousands of wheels never cease roaring with a noise that prevents a stranger from hearing a word spoken; and the very river whose water they use becomes hot and coloured with the dyes of the manufactory. These mills used to be dens of wickedness: hundreds of children worked there, who had never even heard the Name of CHRIST: GOD'S Name was only spoken to be taken in vain; and from morning till night there were, as S. Paul says, "filthiness, and foolish talking, and jestings, which are not convenient." Close above two of the largest of these mills, eleven years ago, a church was built; and the priests went out into the miserable streets and lanes, exhorting men to repent. Very few listened to them. Then came the cholera year. In the street next to the church, and it is a very short one, forty-three persons died in a few days. Then many of those who had been living in wickedness, turned to GOD with all their heart and soul. They saw their companions struck down by their sides, and they cried out, "What must I do to be saved?" Illness or no illness, the mills had to work, and these poor people to be found in them. They worked from 6 to 12, and from 1 to 6, but then the church was crowded for evening prayers. And because no one could tell whether he would live from one evening till another, there was Litany at a quarter before 1 every afternoon; so that by shortening their dinner time, the workpeople could go to that also. In GOD'S good time He removed the plague. We know what Moses says of the Jews: "When He slew them, then they sought Him, and they returned and inquired early after GOD;" but as soon as He took away their affliction, then "they thought not of His hand, and of the day when He delivered them from the hand of the enemy." It was not so here. These people still give up a quarter of an hour out of the one hour they have, coming in their working dress, and as they are, before they return to the mill in the afternoon.
Now, when I was speaking to them some days ago, I thought of you, and wondered if you had thus to work for your daily bread, whether you would not grudge giving up a quarter of the only time you have to the service of GOD. Yes: those people condemn us all, if ever we, out of the abundance of time that GOD gives us here, find His service a weariness.
Two more weeks only, and we shall have entered upon Advent: the eighth Advent that I have been among you. Look back to the time when I first came,--such of you as can remember it: but of seventeen that then heard me speak, five only now remain. No Advent yet but has been the last to some one of that number; and this, most probably, will be so also. But, as yet, that promise is true: "Let the wicked forsake his way." There is no exception. Those that have sinned long, as well as those that have only just turned aside from GOD. And there is no doubt. It is not, I may pardon him, but, "I will pardon him." We have more than enough examples of GOD'S faithfulness in this; and to-day gives us another. But none of you know how many more you will have. "My SPIRIT shall not always strive with man." "The things concerning Me," our LORD says, "have an end." Once pass that wonderful boundary which separates us from the next world,--once let those who stand around us say, "Poor thing, he is gone,"--and then it will be no more, "Let the wicked forsake his way." Instead of that, it will be, "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still, and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still." If,--as GOD be praised it is true,--then "His servants shall serve Him," so, of Satan also, "his servants shall serve him." They would serve him here, and they shall serve him there. And as of the righteous it is said, "They rest not day and night," so of the ungodly also, "they rest not day and night" either. These things ought surely to move us, if GOD'S love does not. And yet what more can we need than to hear Him That when on earth received sinners, and ate with them, and now that He is in heaven, receiveth sinners, and giveth them His own Flesh to eat,--Him that was crowned with thorns, that they might he crowned with glory,--Him that was crucified, that they might crucify their sinful lusts,--than to hear Him say, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our GOD, for He will abundantly"--for He abundantly poured forth His most precious Blood to this very end,--"He will abundantly pardon."
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.