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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. Silvester. December 31.



THE text suits both the Saint's Day and the end of the year. Let us see how it is well fitted for each.

You all know that the Creed which we say in the Holy Communion is called the Nicene Creed. It is so named because it was drawn up at a place called Nicsea, where the Bishops of all the Churches had come together, to declare what was the true Faith touching JESUS CHRIST; whether He were GOD of GOD, Light of Light, Very GOD of Very GOD, or whether, as some heretics said, and do still say, He were a Man like other men. At the time of this Council S. Silvester, in whose memory we keep to-day, was Bishop of Rome. He was too old to go thither himself; but he sent some of his clergy thither, and they agreed in his name to what was done.

That was one thousand five hundred and twenty-eight years ago. And see now, "JESUS CHRIST the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." I have nothing new to tell you about our LORD; nothing but what those great Saints told of Him in their Creed. It was their Faith, it is our Faith, it is the Faith of the holy Church throughout all the world. If I pretended to teach you anything of JESUS CHRIST that had never been known before, this very pretence would prove what I said to be false. The true belief can never alter, no, not one jot. There are plenty of those who live around us, as you know, who hold new beliefs. There are the Wesleyans, who hold the belief of one John Wesley, and the Independents, who hold the belief of one Robert Brown, and the Quakers, who hold the belief of one George Fox. Before those men were born, their beliefs were never heard of. But we, and GOD be blessed for it, are not built upon the foundation of Wesley, or Brown, or Fox, but upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, JESUS CHRIST Himself being the head Corner stone. This Faith that we hold has comforted many Martyrs, in the flames, among wild beasts, on the rack: it has supported many holy Confessors banished into savage countries, and obliged to hide in the dens and caves of the earth. Old men have gone out of the world blessing GOD that they have known and believed it from their cradles; children have clung to it, who could not understand many of its words, but who have believed it nevertheless. This indeed is a Faith worth suffering for,--ay, and worth dying for. And the reason is because this Faith is like the LORD of Whom it teaches, "JESUS CHRIST, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever:" and so the Faith of JESUS CHRIST is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Well; and it is a comfort that there is one thing in the world that does not change. I remember when I was coming back to England last summer one stormy night, when the vessel was rolling this way and that way, and tossing up and down, I watched for a long time the light that shone from a light-house on a distant cape. Everything else was in motion, sea, vessel, masts, sails; no rest, no quiet, only in that. So it is with us. On one side, the changes and chances of this mortal life; on the other, "JESUS CHRIST, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." And, of all the changing things, we change the most. Who would now know any of you, if they could see you as when you were children? And our minds change more than our bodies. See how we get used to things that once we could hardly have believed: railways, for example, and telegraphs, and such like inventions. GOD has given us all the power of changing with things that change, of suiting ourselves to them. Because they alter, we alter too.

But how is this? It is our parts and duties, it is the one great thing for which we ought to try, to be made like our LORD. Now put two texts together. Of Him it is written, "JESUS CHRIST, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." Of us it is said, "And we shall be changed."

Yes; we must have one more great change before the time comes when we shall be changed no more. It will take some time to bring it to pass: for it will begin at our death, and not be made perfect till the morning of the Resurrection. This day two hundred years ago, people were sitting in this place as we are now. Where or how should we find their bodies, if we could open their graves? Probably not the least dust, not a speck of anything to mark that a body had ever mouldered there. Fifty years ago, people were also sitting here.

What is become of them? We should find probably the bones which were ouce covered over with their flesh: nothing more. This day last year, some were sitting among us who are now in the quiet churchyard; how should we find them? Job tells us. "I have said to corruption, Thou art my father; to the worm, Thou art my mother and my sister."

Thus we have different stages in the one long Change; but they lead us to the Home where we too shall be the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. And there is a thought for this New Year's Eve!

It is certain that some of us who see the beginning of this year will never see its end. The time that GOD gives them for their work is running very short; the sand is almost out of the hour-glass: but there is time yet. "The night cometh when no man can work:" but as yet it hath not come.

"JESUS CHRIST is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever" in this also. If He said when He was on earth, "Him that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out," He says it now. If S. Paul, eighteen hundred years ago, said of Him, "Wherefore He is able to save unto the uttermost," it is true still. It may be the uttermost with some of you. Try His word. See if He is not able to make it good. "Thy word is tried to the uttermost, and Thy servant loveth it."

What would become of us if He changed as we change? What would become of us, if, entering into the coming year, and not knowing what it will bring forth, we had to wonder whether He would still continue to care for us, to love us, to help us to strive for our salvation, to give us grace, and then to be ready to reward the grace He has given? If this were so, we should be of all men the most miserable. But now, though we know not what temptations, what sufferings, what dangers, what fears, what struggles this year will bring us, yet one thing we know: He That will allow us to be tempted, He That will send our sufferings. He That will permit us to fall into dangers, He That will know of our fears, and watch our struggles, "He is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." Ten, twenty, fifty years ago, if it were true, "GOD is our hope and strength, a very present help in trouble" it is true still. If "He is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever," it matters nothing to us what else alters, who else changes, how we ourselves are changed. He said it once, "FATHER, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am." He has not changed His mind now. With Him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. If only we are His--but then this is the if of all ifs--if only we are His, we need trouble ourselves about nothing farther. We may say those words now, while we have health and strength, and think we know a little of their meaning, "JESUS CHRIST, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." But we shall know something more of it, when we come to find that we are about to pass into His Presence, when the room grows dark, and the air cold, and we cannot see those around us, and cannot understand what they say, and first begin to have some idea of the Spirits, among whom we are going to dwell. If, as I said, if only we are CHRIST'S, then indeed they will be golden words to us: "My flesh and my heart faileth;" "JESUS CHRIST, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever."

And now to Him, Who was at this time born for us, be ascribed with the FATHER, and the HOLY GHOST, all honour and glory for ever. Amen.

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