Project Canterbury

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. Lucy. December 13.


THE text is fitting for the day; for when S. Lucy was brought before the heathen magistrate, she comforted herself with this promise. It is but little we know of what she did, or what she suffered, for the sake of CHRIST. All we can be certain of is this: that it was in the island of Sicily that she lived, that it was in the last and fiercest of the ten persecutions that she glorified GOD; and that after enduring divers kinds of torments, she was beheaded, and so entered into her rest.

Now the promise was made, firstly and chiefly, to the Apostles; and I do not know that anywhere our LORD'S fellow-feeling for us is shown more clearly. He knew that, when they were about to be set before kings and rulers for His Name's sake, it would be natural for them to be very anxious as to what they would say; to be afraid of not speaking properly, and so of bringing dishonour on His Gospel. He knew that they would be likely to vex and, weary themselves in getting ready speeches beforehand, in putting the best words together they could think of, and thus, instead of doing the duty of the moment in the moment, to distress themselves about what they would say or do by-and-by. All this He puts an end to by His kind and loving command: "Take no thought what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour." They had no need then to trouble themselves about the words they were to use, when the HOLY GHOST would give them His wisdom, and teach them to say exactly the right thing at the right time.

And this is one of the few sayings of our LORD which are written in three of the Gospels; as if He would have it as widely known as possible. S. Matthew and S. Mark mention it once, and S. Luke twice.

Now I do not mean to say that this promise is made to us as much, and in the same sense, as it was to the Apostles. But still we may take a great deal of comfort in it. Half the misery of this world arises, not from what we suffer at any given moment, but by our looking forward to the future. "How ever shall I be able to bear so and so? If so and so happens, then what will it be best for me to do? Only imagine, if such and such a thing comes to pass, in what a miserable plight I shall be!"

Our LORD has given us just as kind a command against all this--the plainest word best explains what I mean--against all this worrying ourselves about the future, as ever He gave His Apostles: "Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."

Only then we must understand the sense in which He said this. One part of the Bible cannot contradict another, because it is all written by that GOD, Who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Now in some ways we are commanded to look forward to the morrow. The HOLY GHOST, by the mouth of Solomon, tells us, "Go to the ant, consider her ways, and be wise." The ant, we know, lays up provision for the future; and therefore we are not only allowed, but commanded to do the same. Our LORD'S words, then, mean this: when the future is altogether out of our power, when it lies wholly in GOD'S hands, and not in ours, when we may indeed vex and distress ourselves about it, but can do nothing to alter it, then we are to take no thought for it. If, for example, any one dear to us is ill, our duty is to do what we can for him by prayer, and by using the means which GOD has given us; but we are not to vex and tease ourselves about the consequences. "Unto GOD the LORD," not to us, "belong the issues from death." So again the farmer is to plough and sow, using his best judgment as to time; but, the ploughing and sowing over, he is not to worry himself by thinking how bad the weather may be, or how rain may destroy the seed, or frost nip the blade, or blight destroy the full ear. This is in GOD'S hands, not in his.

Yet we not only may, but are commanded to, look forward to the future, when we can prepare ourselves the better to meet it. Thus, for example, in this clothing-club which is set up, you do take thought for the morrow; but you do not break our LORD'S words. You do not distress yourselves by looking forward to what you cannot help: but you take advantage of the means GOD gives you in preparing for what you can help.

There is all the difference in the world between these two things.

To see people generally, one would think they were afraid of not being unhappy enough, and did not believe our LORD'S saying, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof;" or else that they were so full of their own wisdom, as not to be content with doing what GOD has appointed them to do, but think that they can do what GOD keeps in His own hands better than He can. They act as if they thought--and they do think so too--that they know how to manage GOD'S affairs better than He does. Therefore it follows that all this anxiety and trouble about the future, of which we hear and see so much, not only causes great misery, but great sin too. It is a want of that faith, without which it is impossible to please GOD.

For consider how much more we trust men, who so often deceive us, than we do GOD, Who cannot lie. When a physician tells us, "You must take such and such a medicine, if you wish to get better," we do not stand to reason about it, but we take it at once. If a lawyer tells us, "You must sign such and such a paper, or you will not be able to get what you come to me for" we sign our names, without asking questions why and how it can be so. But GOD we will not thus trust. He says that, if we love Him, all things shall work together for our good; yet we vex and torment ourselves by fearing that such and such a thing may work for our evil instead.

See now how, by means of CHRIST'S promise that I read you in the text, His Apostles were spared from numberless troubles. See how, following them, the Martyrs and Saints, like S. Lucy to-day, trusted that, in the hour when they needed it, the thing they needed would be given them. So with us: if we are GOD'S servants, when we want courage, He will give us courage; when we want wisdom, He will give us wisdom; when we want the power of bearing, He will give us the power of bearing.

And there is one hour, the looking forward to which may well distress us; when, in a certain sense, we shall have to stand before kings and princes; for the king of evil spirits, the prince of the powers of the air, Satan, will stand at our right hand to resist us. In that hour also, if we have been putting our trust in GOD, what we need--namely, victory--will be given to us, as it was to S. Lucy to-day. Depend upon it, we shall never know what GOD'S strength is to protect us, till we know what the devil's is to attack. Our LORD said of His people, "My FATHER, Which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My FATHER'S hand." In that hour it will be given us, that we may not for any pains of death fall from Him; in that hour to know more than we now know how angels are ministering spirits; in that hour to be more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. And that hour once over, to see, as the blessed martyr of to-day now does, the goodness of the LORD in the Land of the Living.

Where GOD give us never so low a place beneath His saints and righteous servants, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake; to Whom, with the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST, be all glory for ever. Amen.

Project Canterbury