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.


Sunday after Christmas, also Holy Innocents.


MY brethren, this is the last Sunday of the Old Year. It will soon make its report, as it were, of all the good and evil deeds that have been committed in it. Of how many of us, think you, will it be able to say, "He hath done what he could?" Rather will it not say, Then, and then, and then, such an one had the opportunity of doing such a thing for GOD, but he would not; then he had the opportunity of resisting the devil, but he would not; then of giving alms, but he would not; then of denying himself, but he would not. Are there not some of whom these words might almost be used in another, and a very awful sense? Such an one hath done what he could to tempt his fellow-creatures to sin; to dishonour GOD; to stifle his own conscience, and the Voice of the HOLY SPIRIT within him.

And yet, GOD has done so much for us this year! He has preserved us all, from some dangers which we knew, and from more of which we know nothing: He has fed and clothed and supported us, and given us His House to worship in: He has bestowed on us health and strength. And this is our return!

We cannot now call back the past. The present is still ours. There is not a single person before me at this time that may not be saved if he chooses. It is not yet too late. To-morrow it may be: this evening it may be: but it is not now. Is there any one who has passed this whole year without one real hearty prayer to GOD for mercy? There still remain three days to its end. Let it not report of you, that like a heathen you let the year come in, and like a heathen you let it go out. Let it bear with it three days of prayer and sorrow. How know you but that, just as GOD promised to save Sodom if ten righteous should be found in it, so He may be willing to give you another trial, if in even three days of this year you have remembered Him? The King of Nineveh fasted and prayed for three days: and those three days were the saving of his city. How know you but that He may cut you off in your sins if, when this year closes, your repentance has not begun?

But, my dear children, I should feel as if I were doing you a wrong, if I did not on this, which I might almost call your own Feast, say something more particularly to you. You have heard me speak of the great praise we owe to GOD for having given us His Grace when we were baptized, and so bestowed on us power to overcome all the temptations of the devil. Do you say, How does this grace help us? I will tell you. When you are tempted to think a wicked thought, or to say an unkind word, or perhaps, to strike an angry blow, then you feel something in your hearts which says, "Do not do it: pray do not do it." That is GOD'S Grace. On the other hand, the devil says, "That boy or that girl has done you wrong: now you can revenge yourself: now you can show your spirit: now you can taste how sweet revenge is." The Grace of GOD, that was given you at your Baptism, makes answer, and says, "Remember that if you do not forgive others, GOD will never forgive you: remember that our LORD JESUS CHRIST died for His enemies: remember that if He so loved us, we ought also to love one another."

Or again, you have committed some fault, or met with some accident, that you are afraid to confess. The devil says, "No man saw you do it; if you tell the truth you will be punished: say you did not do it: you can never be found out." GOD'S Grace answers, "It is better to suffer punishment than to do wrong: GOD knows what you did, GOD hears what you say: remember that the place for all liars is the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone."

Which now will you do? Will you obey GOD, or will you obey the devil? Every time you yield to temptation, you give the devil more power over you: every time you resist it, you give him less. It is by resisting him all your lives long, that you will get to Heaven, if ever you do get there, at last.

"Yes," you will perhaps say, "I do mean to resist the devil by-and-by: only just now I take a little pleasure, and do my own will: by-and-by I mean to repent, and to walk in GOD'S ways." Now, supposing that I were to call one of you to me, on one of these short afternoons, and were to tell him, "If you will go into the town, and be at the Market Place by the time the sun sets, you shall be rich and happy all the rest of your life." What do you think such an one would do? Would he not set off at once, and as fast as his feet could carry him, to the town? Would he say to himself, "The sun is not near setting yet, I may play here longer still; I can set off half an hour hence, and that will be time enough?" Or what should you say, if instead of setting off to the town, he quietly turned round, and went the other way, and amused himself by watching the railroad, and said, "It will be but a little further that I have to go, when I do set about my journey?" Would you not say that he was mad? And even supposing that he were in time at last, the whole way he would be in doubt and anguish lest, after all, he should be too late: he would have to hurry up the hill almost in despair, instead of walking onward with a cheerful expectation of the happiness that awaited him. And so it is with you. You have all a certain quantity that you must do in this life. If from this time forth you steadily resist the devil, you will find that you have not too much time, nor too much strength to do what GOD expects from you. And if, besides this, you add the long and bitter work of repentance, then, though I do not say you may not be saved after all, I do say that all your life will be saddened by the remembrance of your past sins, and that you will make that which is hard in itself, namely, getting to Heaven, ten times harder. And all for what? For poor miserable pleasures, that you scarcely enjoy when you have them, and are ashamed of as soon as they are gone. You may think, indeed, that you cannot do much for GOD: but only let it be said of you, "He hath done what he could," and it will be enough.

And He, Who out of weakness made strong the Holy Innocents, strengthen you also in humble penitence, that finally, together with them you may be counted worthy to stand in His Sight for ever.

And now to GOD, the FATHER, the SON, and the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory, for ever. Amen.

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