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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. Chad. March 2.


First published in "The Gospel Messenger," Burntisland, 1855.

THIS day is remarkable for giving us one of the few examples where GOD has been pleased, in these later times and in this country, to stretch out His arm miraculously in defence of His Church. If we are now called to remember the blessed departure of a saint to glory, so we are to tremble at the fearful death of one of GOD'S enemies.

First, let me tell you the story. Chad, a very holy man, was Bishop of Lichfield about twelve hundred years ago. When he went to his rest, he left the memory of his good deeds behind him;--and therefore it came to pass, that when they built a cathedral in that city, they called it after his name,--S. Chad's cathedral. So it stood on for many hundred years.

At last came the time when many wicked men rose up against their lawful king, Charles the First, and against the Church of England. They hated the Prayer Book,--they hated all things that were to the glory of GOD in His service,--they hated all churches,--but above all things they hated cathedrals, as being richer and more beautiful than the others. One of the chief men of that party was called Lord Brooke,--and he lived in that part of the country where Lichfield cathedral stands.

Accordingly, when the war broke out, he made a vow that he would not leave one stone standing upon another in S. Chad's church. And it was a favourite wish of his that he might live to see with his own eyes the destruction of all the cathedrals in England. Accordingly he gathered a troop of men together, and marched towards Lichfield. The night before he reached the place, that is, the night of the first of March, two hundred and nine years ago, he ordered his chaplain to pray that GOD would give him a sign whether the work on which he went were pleasing to Him or not.

The men of Lichfield were greatly afraid and distressed. They knew that their walls were weak, and they themselves few in number, and the enemy strong; --and they knew what Lord Brooke had vowed to do to their holy and beautiful house, where their fathers had worshipped GOD for so many hundred years, and where they themselves had been baptized, and had prayed, and had been fed with the Body and Blood of CHRIST. The cathedral being strong, they determined to hold it out to the last;--and accordingly a number of soldiers were sent to defend it.

Next day,--that is, as on to-day,--Lord Brooke and his soldiers appeared before the place. On S. Chad's Day he was determined to assault S. Chad's church. Accordingly, as he was about to give the orders to begin the attack, and his army were all around him on one side and on the other, he stood forth in the midst, and with a loud voice began to make again the same prayer that he had made before. "I beseech Thee, O LORD," he said, "to give me a sign, whether the work that we are going about be pleasing to Thee; whether it be Thy will that mine eyes should behold this house of Baal,"--so he wickedly called the cathedral,--"cast down to the ground."

GOD heard his prayer. There stood among others on the great middle tower of the cathedral, a man who was deaf and dumb from his birth. This man resting his gun on the battlement, took aim at Lord Brooke, who had just finished his prayer. The others tried to hinder him from firing:--a gun, they said, could not carry so far,--much less could it do any harm at that distance. But, however, fire he would; and GOD directed the bullet. Lord Brooke, when he began his prayer, had raised the upper part of his helmet, so as to uncover his forehead. Just as he said Amen, the deaf and dumb man pulled the trigger. The bullet entered at Lord Brooke's eye; and stretched him dead on the ground. He had asked for a sign, and GOD gave it him. He had asked for a sign, and he had such a sign as he is like to be known by as long as English history is read. The bullet was guided to such a distance as good soldiers thought it impossible for it to reach: it found out the only part of his body which was not armed; and it entered at the eye by which he had hoped to see the destruction of all cathedrals.

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living GOD. And now, then, it is our place to beware lest we fall into the like condemnation. If we allow sin to reign in those bodies which are temples of the HOLY GHOST, GOD'S vengeance may not come so suddenly on us as it did on this miserable man,--but it will be as certain, and it will be as fearful. We may not be marked to all ages with such a sign of GOD'S punishment as Lord Brooke: but how shall we be the better for that, if, for our sins in the body, we are condemned to the worm that cannot die, and the fire that never shall be quenched? The use of speaking of such examples of GOD'S vengeance is told us in the text,--"All Israel shall hear and fear, and shall do no more such wickedness as this is among you."

But now let me go on to tell you what became after all of this church of S. Chad. Although Lord Brooke was slain, his soldiers took it; and though they did not destroy it, they hurt it very much, and for sixteen years it lay almost in ruins. Then the Church was again restored to this country, and a most holy man,--his name was John Hacket,--was appointed Bishop of Lichfield. The cathedral had been turned into a stable; heaps of filth and rubbish blocked it up, and it seemed almost hopeless to try to restore it again. But on the first morning, the Bishop set out for the building with his servants, and ordered his carriage horses to be brought also. And there they all laboured, day after day. All the money that came from his bishopric the bishop gave to the restoration of his church. He said, as David did of old, "I will not come within the tabernacle of mine house, nor climb up into my bed; I will not suffer mine eyes to sleep, nor mine eyelids to slumber, neither the temples of my head to take any rest: until I find out a place for the temple of the LOUD, an habitation for the mighty GOD of Jacob." And at last, exactly one thousand years after S. Chad's death, he had the joy of consecrating his church again, and so it stands to this day.

Now all this story ought to be a comfort to us. It shows us that "the LORD'S arm is not shortened, that it cannot save, neither His ear heavy, that it cannot hear." It teaches us the fulness of meaning in which we may take the collect for this week: "Stretch forth the right hand of Thy Majesty to be our defence against all our enemies." We say the words--and yet how little we think what the prayer is! The right hand of GOD'S Majesty! Why, how can we dare to be afraid of all that men or evil spirits can do, if that be on our side? The strongest forms of language too--not only the right hand of GOD, but the right hand of His Majesty,--that is, His power in its most glorious and fearful form. And, thinking of that, how can I end better than with the words of S. Paul: "If GOD be for us, who can be against us? I am persuaded"--he does not, you see, speak rashly, as it were, he has thought it over, and made up his mind--"I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of GOD which is in CHRIST JESUS our LORD."

To Him, with the FATHER, and the HOLY GHOST, be ascribed all honour and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

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