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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.


O Sapientia. December 16.


THE nine days before Christmas have always been kept more especially holy by the Church. The LORD is now very nigh at hand; and, therefore, while we wait for Him, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness?

You will see in the Calendar that, opposite the 16th of December, are put the Latin words, "O Sapientia," that is, "O Wisdom!" And they stand there, because they were the beginning of a kind of short Hymn or Collect which was said on this day, with reference to our LORD'S Coming: just as on the next eight days other Collects were said, all, in different ways and under different names, looking forward to His birth as on Christmas Day.

The words are these: "O Wisdom, which didst proceed from the mouth of the Most Highest, and dost reach from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things, come and teach us the way of Wisdom."

It is our LORD Himself Who is here called Wisdom: just as we so often find Him named in the Book of Proverbs. When GOD prepared the heavens, Wisdom, that is our LORD, says, "I was there: when He set a compass upon the face of the depth. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. Then I was by Him, as One brought up with Him, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him."

And so it is that, while at other times we may be called on principally to think of the Love which caused our LORD to take upon Him bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh; or of the Strength whereby, having taken it to Himself, He conquered the devil in it; or of the Example which while He was in the world He left us, that as He had walked so we should also walk: to-day we are rather to remember the Wisdom with which He wrought our salvation. In everything He turned the devil's weapons upon himself: "in the thing wherein they dealt proudly He was above them."

Let us think this a little over. By means of a woman, death came into the world; by means of a woman, Life was restored to the world. Eve listened to the voice of an angel, that fallen angel the devil, and fell: Mary believed the voice of an Angel, the holy Angel Gabriel, and conceived the SAVIOUR of all men. In a garden it was that the devil lay hid, that he might bring to pass the destruction of mankind; in a garden the LORD of Life lay buried, that risen again He might open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers. By eating the fruit of the forbidden tree man died, for GOD said, "In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die," by feeding on our LORD'S Body and Blood, we gain life, as it is written, "Whoso eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood hath eternal life." By a tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, came sin and death: by a tree, the Tree of the Cross, came righteousness and life. Therefore the Passion Hymn says very well:

"For the work of our Salvation
Needs would hare his order so:
And the manifold Deceiver's
Art by art would overthrow:
And from thence would bring the med'cine,
Whence the poison of the foe."

And this Wisdom, says the Collect, reaches from one end to the other. From one end of time to the other, or from one end of the world to the other; both are equally true. Always and everywhere this Wisdom is. From the beginning, through all the changes and chances of this world, GOD has kept and guided His Church; it has often seemed all but perishing, and then He has delivered it, and made it more glorious than ever. He has opened a way for it where there seemed to be none; just as when Pharaoh and all his host pursued after Israel to the Red Sea, and thought that now at last the people of GOD would fall into his hand, He spake the word, and the waters became a wall of safety to His servants, and destroyed His enemies. It is this same Wisdom That has brought us on, amidst so many difficulties and dangers, to this day, Which has delivered us from so many troubles, and doth deliver, in which we trust that It will yet deliver us. It is this Wisdom in Which we trust that we shall be guided on through what yet remains of our journey here, till we come, some way or other, and how, it matters very little, to our home above.

And this Wisdom mightily and sweetly ordereth all things. If any of you have ever seen a large machine like a steam-engine, there are three things which you will have chiefly admired in it. Firstly its wisdom, and secondly, its strength; but thirdly also, the ease with which it does its work. A child may set it on, a child may stop it; and yet it has strength beyond what we can conceive: strength to drive great ships, in the face of winds and waves, across the sea; strength to make engines run on the railways with speed that our fathers could not have believed: you will have seen how this wheel works into that wheel, how this strap runs round that smooth piece of iron, how this cog catches that cog, how pins and wheels and straps and cogs do exactly the right work, and at exactly the right time: and thus, notwithstanding the seeming noise and confusion, there is order and agreement, most beautiful and most wise.

In like manner, think of all the angry passions and wicked intentions of men in this world; how this man has set his mind on bringing that to pass, and how that man has determined that just the opposite thing shall be done. Think of the strength of kings, and the wisdom of wise men, and the riches of wealthy men, all pulling, as it were, different ways. Yet, out of this, GOD is quietly bringing His own Will to pass; He is mightily and sweetly ordering all things; "the Counsel of the LORD, that shall stand."

And this is the lesson for us. He Who so wisely ordered the way of our salvation, He Who so wisely brings to pass whatever He will, has Wisdom enough to know what is best, both for our bodies and souls. Our only wisdom is to trust in His Wisdom, just as our strength is to rely on His Strength. He gives Wisdom to those that seek Him; Wisdom that cannot be deceived and that cannot deceive. "The fear of the LORD, that is Wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding."

GOD grant us thus to fear Him, and to depart from everything that might displease Him, so that we may welcome the appearing of the Great GOD and our SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST, to Whom, with the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.

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