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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. Cecilia. November 22.


IF I were speaking to-day to young persons, I should have no difficulty in knowing what to say. All that we are told of S. Cecilia is that she was a Homan lady who had great skill in music, and who suffered Martyrdom about one hundred and seventy-six years after our LORD'S birth. She is generally said to have invented the organ, and her day has been always observed by musicians, and is chosen for the performance of fine pieces of music. If I were therefore speaking to the young, I should remind them of the special honour which GOD, from the very beginning, has been pleased to put on music; how He has hallowed it to Himself and to His own service; and how therefore every one, to the utmost of his power, ought to exercise himself in it; how every one that can sing ought to sing in GOD'S house, and not remain, as we have so many sad examples, dumb, while others are busy about His praises.

But it would be useless to tell you this, because old age has made it impossible for you thus to praise GOD. We may be very sure that He never requires from us that which we cannot do. Those who have the power of singing His praises, have a great privilege; but those who cannot set them forth with their mouths, can in their hearts. That is a music which GOD loves well; when our hearts praise, though our lips cannot.

If we remember what S. Paul says about the fruits of the SPIRIT, we shall perhaps be surprised at that which he puts in the second place. "The fruit of the SPIRIT," he says, "is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." He sets love first, because without love we cannot please GOD: as he tells us in another place, "And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." But, directly after love, he sets joy. Now we may be very sure that the more excellent a grace is, the more difficult it is to practise it. So love, which is the greatest of all graces, is also the hardest; and so this which the Apostle here calls joy must also necessarily be very hard.

Now, what does this joy mean? Certainly nothing can be easier than some things which the world calls joy. The pleasures of sin any one may come at who will. The Devil takes care that no one shall be without their chance of these. He has different kinds, too, to suit different characters; but all of them have the same wages: as it is written, "The wages of sin is death."

But this joy, of which S. Paul speaks, means that state of mind which is exactly opposite to discontent. Just as some people always see the worst side of everything; are sure, as the proverb says, to find a hole, if there be one; seem to delight in turning away from the blessings which GOD gives them to the trials He sends them,--so this great Christian grace leads the man who has it to make the best of everything; to say in some words which I happened to be reading the other day,

"The good which my GOD shall be pleased to bestow
I gratefully gather and prize;
The evil,--it can be no evil, I know,
But only a good in disguise."

Those who have this grace feel that, whatever GOD sends them of good, is all of His free bounty, because they have deserved nothing; whereas all that He sends them of evil is less than their sins have merited. They say as Job, "What! shall we receive good at the hand of GOD, and shall we not receive evil?" And with Jeremiah, "It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed: because His compassions fail not."

Now we know to a proverb that old people are generally discontented and complaining. I do not say this of you particularly, for I think that you are less so than most; and some among you have often struck me by their content and cheerfulness under suffering and want. But still, this is one of the besetting sins of old age; and it is natural that it should be so. It is not pleasant to be obliged to give up what we were once able to do. It is not pleasant to feel our health growing worse, and our strength becoming feebler; and to see those whom we remember young growing up and taking our places, and pushing us out of them. Depend upon it, it requires a great deal of grace to be able to say cheerfully of any one, what S. John Baptist said of our LORD, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

All these things, then, are likely to make you discontented, and if by GOD'S grace you can show content and cheerfulness notwithstanding, then you will be making music in your hearts which He cares for, and will reward, far more than if you could sing with your lips the finest music that ever was devised,--than if you could sing "with the tongues of men and of angels," as S. Paul says.

And this is a kind of temptation which comes upon us, we hardly know how. There are some, I believe, who really are thankful to GOD for His mercies; who feel, as well as know, that He has not visited them after their sins, nor rewarded them according to their iniquities; but who yet have such a miserable, melancholy, discontented way of speaking, that, if we were to judge them by that only, we should think that they did not know the meaning of thankfulness. We may be sure that one great means of feeling thankful in trouble is speaking cheerfully about it; setting ourselves to find out the good things which come along with it; comparing ourselves not with those who are better off, but with those who are worse off, than we are. There is a kind of holy cleverness, if I may use the word, in finding out these things; and it is a kind which the dullest person may practise. I say again, these cheerful words and these cheerful thoughts are pleasanter sounds in GOD'S ear than the most ravishing music ever made on earth--sweeter to Him than even that which S. Cecilia made in His service.

And then comes the happy thought that, if we by GOD'S grace show this holy joy here, the time will come when we shall enter into that place where music will be one of our great delights. Think how much we read of it in the book of Revelation--of harpers harping with their harps, of the New Song that none can learn save the one hundred and forty-four thousand that are redeemed from the earth--the Song of Moses and of the Lamb. Then we shall find our tongues that could not praise GOD here as we wished, unloosed to sing to Him as the angels: according to that prophecy of Isaiah, "the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly." Some of the words that they sing in heaven we know even now. The song of the Elders round about the Throne is this: "We give Thee thanks, O LORD GOD Almighty, Which art, and wast, and art to come, because Thou hast taken to Thee Thy great power, and hast reigned." The Song of Moses and the Lamb is, "Great and marvellous are Thy works, LORD GOD Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of Saints."

But if we would sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb there, we must do the works of Moses and the Lamb here. Of Moses we read, "the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth;" and the Lamb of GOD would have us, as far as we can be, in this world, like Himself, "holy, harmless, undented, separate from sinners."

These gloomy November nights seem almost sent to make us long for that blessed country, where we shall see no more death and decay such as we now see everywhere; where we shall no more have the melancholy noise of the wind, and the thick clouds, and the rain, and the darkness. For the sun that shines there can never be clouded; for the spring that dwells there can never come to an end. When we think of these things, we may well say

"When, O thou City of my GOD,
Shall I thy streets ascend,
Where the assembly ne'er breaks up,
The Sabbath hath no end?

Jerusalem, my happy Home,
Name ever dear to me,
When shall my labours have an end,
In peace, and love, and thee?"

To which rest GOD bring us all: 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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