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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.


The Last Night of the Old Year.


THIS is a fit text for the last night of a year. When we see everything gliding away past us, everything altering around us, there are two things which we want to be our comfort. The first is, that we shall be changed ourselves; the second is, that we have some One Who cannot change. S. Paul tells us the one thing, "we shall be changed:" Malachi tells us the other, "I am the LORD, I change not."

There was once a Queen of England who was vain and foolish enough to take this for her motto: ALWAYS UNCHANGED. But only think what we should be, if that were true of us! Think of all the sins we commit, of all our weakness, of all our feeling that when we would do good, evil is present with us:--and then who could bear to believe that this state of things was to last for ever?

No: I need not tell you that this is a world of grief; I need not tell you that you might say, as Jacob did, "Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been." You have all known what it was to suffer pain; to lose friends, some by death, some by misunderstandings; to see bright hopes cut off; to have unkindness where you expected to meet with kindness; to see children turn out badly; to be weary; to be distressed; to be in want. So it is, so it must be here. But, "we shall be changed!" No pain in that world where we hope some day to be, for it is written, "The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick." No loss of friends by death, for death can by no means enter in there: no loss of friends by misunderstandings, for "there we shall know even as we are known:" no labour and weariness, for "they rest from their labours:" no ingratitude, for there, "love shall be made perfect." A change, and a glorious change indeed! But it is what we, if we are true servants of CHRIST, are looking forward to: "we shall be changed!"

And then again, instead of being obliged to remain as now, always on our guard, always expecting an attack of Satan, always afraid lest our own evil hearts should lead us into sin, we shall know what peace means. Nobody ever did, nobody ever will, enter into its full meaning while he is in this world; "without were fightings, within were fears." Next to the sight of GOD, that sight which we call the Beatific Vision, and which is joy of which we have no more idea than a blind man has of light, this Peace will, no doubt, be the greatest happiness of heaven. So we learn from the very name, Jerusalem, which is, by interpretation, the Vision of Peace. And this is the reason why we pray for it every day of our lives in the second evening Collect, "Give unto Thy servants that Peace which the world cannot give." So when we see how much quarrelling there is about us, how often the best persons misunderstand each other, how true that is which David says, "They daily mistake my words:" we may remember for our comfort, that "we shall be changed."

And so these bodies of ours, which now so often tempt us to sin, which now grow so easily wearied in GOD'S service, which now require so much time for rest, will be changed also: becoming helps meet for the soul, an assistance and not a hindrance, a fellow-worker and not an enemy. Not a single pain we have now, not a single ache, not a single feeling of fatigue, (you ought most of you to know very well what all this means,) but should lead us to say, "we shall be changed!"

But who are the we? Is it every one that shall rise again? In one sense, yes. All shall be changed: all shall have their bodies immortal and incorruptible; they that have done good shall rise to the Resurrection of Life, they that have done evil, to the Resurrection of damnation. But the change we are speaking of, the change from sin to holiness, from weariness to perfect strength, from misery to happiness,--who are the we that shall have that? Is it all of us here? And I am afraid that many of us would say, if they spoke the truth, "I have no wish to be changed, I am satisfied as it is, I want nothing beyond the pleasures that I have, only more of them."

Nevertheless it is written, "we shall be changed." They must also. Changed in their souls; all that was here in the image and likeness of GOD gradually destroyed in them, every evil passion made perfectly evil till their own hearts became a hell as well as the hell about them. And their bodies also made strong, made immortal, also never more to grow weary; but why? In order that they may be able to bear the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched.

Changed we all have been once in Holy Baptism--changed from the children of the Devil to the children of GOD, changed from being heirs of wrath to be heirs of everlasting life, changed from being subjects of the Devil to having CHRIST for our King. But since then we have fallen into sin little by little; and therefore those, who are now resolved in earnest to fight the good fight of faith, must also be changed day by day. Our LORD said, the seed should spring and grow up, the sower knoweth not how. So it is with most true Christians; little by little they find that they take more pleasure in prayer, they find that when they have sinned they grieve more, they find that they know and feel that they love our LORD JESUS CHRIST more. It is like the hour hand of a watch, no man can see it move, but let it alone for a little time, and every one will see that it has moved. So with them, by one little step after another, by one little victory after another, they are really making progress: they have been changed: they are changing: they look forward to being more perfectly and more blessedly changed.

But not all alike. Those that have done most for GOD here shall receive the greatest reward there. One star differeth from another star in glory, so also is the Resurrection of the dead. Those that have dedicated themselves most fully to His service on earth, shall enter most gloriously into His rest in Heaven.

There is not one single effort we make for His sake which is not written there.

If we change. He changes not. He saith of Himself, "I am the LORD, I change not." He saith again, "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "FATHER, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am, that they may be one as we are one." "I am the good Shepherd, and know My sheep and am known of Mine." "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

All our changes here, if we are CHRIST'S true servants, make us more like Him.

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