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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. Edmund, King and Martyr. November 20.


LAST Thursday, as you all know, the people of England gave such a funeral as has perhaps never been seen before, to their greatest General. You have heard, or read, how for three long miles the streets of London were lined with a crowd that could not be counted; how soldiers, and music, and princes, and chiefs, and mighty men went before the coffin; how the coffin itself, drawn by twelve black horses, rolled on in a brazen carriage, hung with the flags and banners that this great General had won for himself, or that had been given to him by kings as the reward of his bravery: how with the sound of trumpets and drums the procession passed along to S. Paul's; how there, after ashes had been committed to ashes, and dust to dust, a herald proclaimed the titles, the many titles of the Duke of Wellington; and then all was over. To-day the coffin lies in the cold, gloomy vault of S. Paul's; there are no guards to watch it there; there are no flags to wave above it now. The worm is spread over it, and the worms cover it. The one question to the great Duke now is, not how many battles he won,--not how many banners he obtained,--but whether he died in grace or out of grace; whether, as we may piously hope, he will find mercy of the LORD in that day.

The HOLY GHOST tells us that "the fashion of this world passeth away." We can hardly ever have a greater proof of this than that which we have now had. All those crowds that two days ago blocked up the streets of London, are gone; the scaffoldings and the hangings are taken down; the whole pomp has passed away like a tale that is told; another week, and people will begin to be tired of the subject: "the fashion of this world passeth away."

A thousand years hence, if the world lasts so long, who do you suppose will care that, on the 18th of November, 1852, they buried the Duke of Wellington with all the honours and glories of this world? Will any Priest then gather his people together, and tell them of the Duke and his doings? Most surely not.

And now see the difference. Nearly a thousand years ago there reigned a King in England, by name Edmund. His kingdom, which was Norfolk and Suffolk, was attacked by the Danes, at that time a cruel heathen nation. His own army was too weak to resist. He was not a great general; he felt that he could not conquer after the manner of warriors. He dispersed his soldiers, and resolved to conquer in another manner, namely, that of Martyrs. He was taken, and carried before the Danish king, by name Hinguar. Hinguar offered him not only his life, but his kingdom, if he would deny CHRIST. Edmund steadfastly refused, saying, "How can I do this wickedness and sin against the LORD?" The Danes tied him to a tree, and scourged him cruelly, and finally shot him to death with arrows. And so he obtained a victory that no earthly power can take away from him; and a crown which will not be dim for ever.

And thus see how God, even in this world, makes good His promise: "Them that honour Me I will honour." Here, a thousand years after his time, the name of Edmund is recorded by the Church: from then till now, not in England only, but in other parts of the world, services have been held in his honour. He is honoured, not for having conquered his enemies, but for having overcome himself. He had not, it is true, a funeral full of pomp, and followed by crowds, which was a day's wonder, and then was forgotten; but they built a glorious Church--one of the largest in England--over his remains; and the city where he awaits the LORD'S Second Coming takes its name from him, and is called from him S. Edmundsbury, in Suffolk.

And a curious thing was lately found out about his Martyrdom. In a wood in Suffolk stood, two years ago, a very old oak tree, which is said to be the same to which S. Edmund had been bound. It was blown down by a high wind; and when they came to saw it up, they found in it an arrow, over which the wood and bark had grown. Thus the belief that this was the same tree was proved to be true. And the end of the history was, I believe, this. At that time a Priest, whom I knew, was building a Church which was to be dedicated to S. Edmund: when he heard of this tree, he bought it, and used it in the woodwork of that Church. Thus what was once the instrument of this blessed Saint's Martyrdom is now a part of a building raised in his honour.

S. Edmund is the only king named in our Calendar who suffered martyrdom from the heathen. Thus he is an example to us that, though our LORD has said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of GOD," still, even among the rich and the great men of this world, GOD has His true Saints, and as to-day shows us, His Martyrs. He had more to give up for GOD'S sake than others,--his crown, and his riches, and his youth: for he was but twenty-eight when he suffered. He might have said with S. Paul, "None of these things move me; neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy." And he did finish it with joy; entering into an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.

Now let us once more compare these two deaths: that which we have just seen, and that of S. Edmund. Which do you suppose was most glorious in the eyes of the blessed company of heaven? Which would any one of us, if we really think of what we are wishing, most desire to follow? Do not think that I mean to undervalue the great man who has just been taken away from us, or to say for one moment that he may not have been counted worthy of a place in Paradise. But the glory of dying for GOD, of laying down life for Him Who laid down life for us, of being, in so close a manner, His followers,--this has in it something which, if we cannot fully understand it now, we shall understand at the last day. Especially is it glorious for one like Edmund, a King and a Martyr, to have thus trod in His steps Who is the King of kings, as well as the Martyr of martyrs. And this may be one meaning of that verse in the Revelation, where S. John, after describing to us that Holy City, New Jerusalem, tells us, that "the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it; and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it." Not, be sure, their earthly glory, their gold and silver, and precious stones; for what could a city whose light is like a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, need with such riches as these? No: but the kings of the earth who did or who suffered great things for CHRIST'S Name's sake, who despised the good things of the world, who chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of GOD, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season,--these shall bring this, their true honour and glory, to that blessed place, and ascribe them to Him Who gave them grace to do all these things.

But, blessed be GOD, it is not kings only, nor kings chiefly, who can enter in there. S. James teaches us differently. "Hath not GOD chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him?" To that kingdom He would have all--the poorest of you--now come, that He may set you with the princes, even with the princes of His people. It does not need wealth or honour, or learning, to enter into that kingdom. "It came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom." Our LORD Himself was never called a King, except in the hour of His Passion; but poor He was indeed, and poor, over and over again, He was called. And to poor men it was that He said, "In My FATHER'S house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you."

Only let us, by His grace, do our duty in that station of life in which He has placed us here, and the time will come when we shall walk in the same light, and join in the same song as His servants, whether kings or poor men, that have gone before us, and shall reign with them for ever and ever.

Which GOD grant, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake: to Whom with the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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