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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. Valentine. February 14.


THIS promise "to him that overcometh" differs from those that have gone before. They were all declarations that GOD would give this and that blessing; this is,--"I will not blot out his name out of the Book of Life." Now, if we look back, we shall see the reason. The verse I just read to you is taken from the Epistle to the Church at Sardis;--a Church that had grievously fallen away from its first love. "Thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief." And now notice, that GOD'S threatenings are just as true as His promises. Sardis did not repent. And therefore, while all the other churches of which I have spoken, Ephesus, and Smyrna, and Pergamos, and Thyatira, notwithstanding the persecutions of the cruel Turks, remain to this day; Sardis has been utterly swept away. There are now but a few Christians in all that city; and they have no priest, no sacraments, and no church.

The promise then is to those that overcome after having fallen away from GOD, and committed great sin. Therefore, it is a message to all of us.

In the first place, "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment/' "We have soiled the white robe of innocence which was given to us in our baptism; there are the dark and deadly stains of many sins,--some more, some less grievous; some of longer, some of shorter, standing. Yet, even so, we are not left altogether without hope. If now we fight the fight of faith, if now we gird up ourselves to battle with the devil, if now we repent with all our hearts, and confess our sins, and that not lightly, and after the manner of those that would try to deceive GOD, but earnestly and steadily, and perseveringly,--then the Prophet Isaiah says for our comfort, "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool;" then the Apostle John also bears record, saying, "If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, the Blood of JESUS CHRIST HIS SON cleanseth us from all sin." GOD did not give the power of absolving to His priests for nothing. It was the chief means He devised, whereby His banished ones should be brought back to Him. It is this power, which, on the true repentance of the sinner can cleanse away the stain of all past sins: and though here those that have fallen into grievous iniquities can never be as if they had not so fallen--yet the time will come when they shall be restored to more than the innocence of their baptism, when they shall be made perfectly holy, when they shall be able to sin no more. "He that over-cometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment."

It proceeds: "And I will not blot out his name out of the Book of Life." Where notice that, when we are baptized, our names are written in the Book of Life. There they stay till, by our sins, we separate ourselves from the grace of GOD, and provoke Him to blot them out. Doubtless there are some in every age and in every country, who have never lost the grace given to them at their baptism, no not for an hour. They are the more blessed. But for those who have, there is comfort yet. If they repent, their names shall be again set in the Book of Life.

It is as if GOD said to the sinner, "Thou hast many times provoked Me to anger, thou hast broken all My commandments, thou hast left undone the things which thou oughtest to have done, and done the things which thou oughtest not to have done: but I will not blot out thy name out of the Book of Life, because My delight is in mercy. Thou hast forgotten Me day after day, month after month, year after year, but I have not forgotten thee for an hour. Thou hast followed thine own ways, thou hast done according to thine own heart's lusts, but I have not left thee to thyself. Thou hast blotted Me out of thy thoughts, but I will not blot thee out of the Book of Life. Thou hast not confessed Me before men; or if thou hast confessed Me with thy lips, thou hast denied Me in thy life; yet, if thou wilt turn and repent, if thou wilt be "he that overcometh I will confess thy name before My FATHER, and before His holy angels."

This, it is true, was not the way in which the Martyrs overcame; but if GOD grant us to come within a thousand degrees of them in glory, it will be enough. They have a more glorious portion. "The shield of the mighty men" says Nahum, "is made red; the valiant men are in scarlet." The mighty men are the Martyrs: the scarlet is the glorious colour of their own blood. And so again, Solomon, speaking of the Church, says, "She shall not be afraid when the cold cometh, for her household are clothed in scarlet." That is, she shall have no cause to fear when others are falling away from GOD; seeing that she has so many who have given their lives to prove the strength of their love to Him.

And in this sense also we may understand the promise "to him that overcometh." He that overcometh the wrongs done to him by others by forgiving them, shall be clothed in white raiment: that is, shall have his own sins forgiven and put away. "If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly FATHER will also forgive you." But this remember, we can overcome nothing without love, and to-day gives us an example of this love.

It was this love for which S. Valentine, the Saint of this day, was so distinguished. He was a Bishop, or as others say, a Priest in Asia, in the time of that great and fierce persecution, the tenth and last persecution that ever heathens raised up against the Church. But though he was honoured to be a martyr for CHRIST'S sake, he has been held in even more honour for the greatness of his love to poor distressed people, and to all men. Other Saints and their deeds have been forgotten; this we still remember. Like many another good custom, it may have become an abuse: but the custom of choosing Valentines on this day had its rise in the remembrance of the love of this holy Bishop; and so had the fable that the birds choose their mates at this time.

He overcame, therefore, in many ways: all his life long he overcame evil with good; and at last he overcame all that the malice of Satan and his servants could do. For he is one of those of whom it is written, "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of His testimony: and they loved not their lives unto the death." And now he has the reward of him "that overcometh," and is clothed with the white robes of a saint, and with the scarlet of a martyr.

And now to Him in Whose strength he overcame, JESUS CHRIST, be ascribed, with the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST, all honour and glory for ever. Amen.

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