"Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the High GOD?"--Micah vi. 6.
BEHOLD, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We heard last night, we shall hear many a night, how those words are again and again repeated, in every possible combination, with so many varying emphases. We heard, also, in connection with them, the peculiar character which CHRIST'S servants must bear in this season; in all things approving ourselves the ministers of GOD. And what a character that is! The title, more especially appropriated to His more peculiar servants, is here bestowed on all ministers of CHRIST, with their appointed work to do for Him; and that, not in one thing, but in all things; and that, not merely as a state of existence, not merely being the ministers of CHRIST, but approving ourselves as such, to Him, to those around us,--yes, and to those evil spirits with whom we are in daily contact, and whose one aim is this, to withdraw us from the service of that dear Master, to work His dishonour by us, instead of His glory. And that you, my dear Sisters, are bound more especially to approve yourselves so, you know as well as I can tell you. Your consciences would say that to each of you, better than any words of mine could do. Therefore, seeing we have received this ministry, as we have received grace, we faint not.
Now, in speaking to any Sisterhood of their Lent duties, and their Lent strength, I should speak, before all things, of the Food that is to carry them the forty days and forty nights of their pilgrimage through that wilderness, till they come to the true mountain of GOD at Easter; to that mountain in which the LORD of Hosts will indeed make a feast of fat things, in which He will destroy the covering of sorrow spread over all nations; in which He will swallow up death in victory. And so, but under rather a different aspect, I will speak to you.
Let us try to answer the question which the text asks: Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the High GOD? of you coming before Him here, where He is present to your senses as well as to your faith, where He is really and truly in the midst of the two or three; where the same Body which is surrounded with everlasting glory, and on the Right Hand of the Father, is now also present to you. How you spend those hours, my dear Sisters, cannot but be a very turning-point in your Lent life. If you allow your thoughts to wander, if you knowingly and willingly permit your affections to be cold, that becomes indeed a grievous hindrance which ought to have been a wonderful help; the things which should have been for your wealth being turned into an occasion of falling,--the savour of death unto death, instead of life unto life.
Wherewith shall I come before the LORD? And the first answer is necessarily a grievous one. You must come before Him with weakness and pollution, with the sad, sad consciousness of how far you are below that mark which you have fixed for yourselves; with the remembrance of so many falls, with the sense of so much weakness. This is all that, of yourselves, you have to bring to Him: so hindered, you go to Him, Who came, and comes still, to proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound: so weak, you go to the Mighty GOD, the Everlasting FATHER: so at war, you kneel in His Presence who is the Prince of Peace: so polluted, you draw near to Him Whose Blood, there veiled under the form of wine, cleanseth from all sin. You cannot go otherwise: the higher lives you are leading, you feel this the more. I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, said S. Paul, dwelleth no good thing; and if he said so, and so cried out, O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? how much more must we do so?
And now abideth Faith, Hope, Charity, these three. I hope they do: of all times, then most. Faith and Hope must go along with you into the Sacramental Presence of your crucified LORD; it is reserved for the Blessed Ones whom He has taken out of the world,--it will be reserved, it is my earnest prayer, some day for all of you--to draw near to Him with love alone, when faith and hope shall have come to their happy end, their dissolution, at the exact moment in which they shall have been satisfied.
Faith first; and I do not mean that external faith only in the truth of the Sacrament; the faith which believes that when our LORD said, This is My Body, He did not mean, This is not My Body, but something else: when He said, This is My Blood, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins, He did not mean that that Blood was only shed on Mount Calvary, and not poured forth again and again for our pardon and strengthening: that would worship Him, veiled as He is, with the same worship, due only to GOD, with which the Apostles worshipped Him when He stood among them in His own glorified Presence, and said, Peace be unto you.
I mean, not the faith which owns Him to be the LORD, and the GOD, but which acknowledges Him your LORD and your GOD: which derives strength, and feels to derive strength from His Presence: like the opal, which they say drinks in the sunlight when exposed to it, and then gives back that light in the darkness of the night.
I mean that faith which will not hear the word cannot; which rejoices to make any effort for His sake, however difficult, and the more difficult, the more rejoices: which looks into your own hearts, sees the work that is most needed to be done,--it may be to overcome carelessness, it may be to triumph over temper, it may be to set a watch over the tongue, it may be to do battle with discontent;--and then, in His strength, resolves that this shall be done. Is it that you doubt whether He can, or that you doubt whether He will? that you are apt to question His power or His love? That is the faith I mean: that is the faith with the beginnings of which you must approach Him, and which must by Him be kindled into fuller and fresher being.
And this also, by means of the same faith, ought to be to you a matter of joy. When we know, as Isaiah said, that this day is a day of trouble, and rebuke, and blasphemy: when of all truth that the world hates, this is that or next to that which it hates the most,--that the Body which hung on the Cross, is in its very substance on the Altar; that the Blood which poured forth on Mount Calvary was not more truly there than in the Chalice: when men speak great swelling words against this so great mystery, fearful even to the Angels themselves, and deny and ridicule the last and best gift that even our LORD'S love could bestow in man, it is something for our love to show its belief in His word: so far as we can to make reparation for those who thus dishonour the LORD ignorantly in unbelief: something, if they do in point of fact say, Away with Him! away with Him! not this Man! how can this Man give us His flesh to eat? To answer, not to them, but to Him who sees the heart: to answer, not in a noisy crowd, but in the silence of our own Oratory: "We have seen and are sure, that this, this which we see with our eyes, is indeed the CHRIST, the Saviour of the world."
And Hope must go with Faith. At all times; but most of all when you come unto the LORD, and bow yourselves before the Most High GOD thus. Sadly as we fail in faith, most sadly as we offend against love, I do not know but that perhaps we are more content to come short in hope than in any other grace. We do not realise so much that we must have it, or we must perish. We do not lay to heart that which is written,--we are saved by Hope.
True, faith takes hold of the promises in a general way: but hope directs them to ourselves; faith tells you, when you kneel here, of the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world, and then before you: but hope puts in that little word my, so dear, so strengthening, so precious, the LORD is my strength, and my song, and is become my salvation. Thomas answered and said unto Him, my LORD, and my GOD. I know nothing more profitable for each of you, so apt to be discouraged as you all are, as every one is--GOD knows I speak for myself--than to make an act of hope while you are thus with your LORD: not to underrate any difficulties you may have, in which there is no courage; not to shut your eyes against them, in which there is no wisdom; but to take them as they are, to give them their full proportion, and yet to say, Who art thou--not only, O mountain, but--O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.
Yes: I do not think that he would go far wrong who should call hope a greater grace than faith: I am sure it is rarer. Notice how S. Paul teaches us in the Epistle for last week: And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. If love is the greatest, and he puts it last, then that which comes in the place next to that must be greater than that which goes before. It is a climax: Faith, Hope, Charity, the ladder set upon the earth, and the top reaching to Heaven; Hope therefore is a higher step than Faith.
And observe this too: S. Paul tells us there may be true faith without true love: Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. But he nowhere says so of Hope. He nowhere tells us, Though I have all hope, so that I can long, as mine, for that inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away, and have no charity. You all have need to try for this grace especially, my dear Sisters: remember, therefore, that He before Whom you kneel, is the God of Hope.
And then, Love. And that would lead us rather, at that time, to look away from ourselves, from our own sins, from our own infirmities, and to look to Him only Who came to put away one, and to heal the other. To ourselves there are times when we must look: when, I said, I will confess my sins unto the LORD--sad times, but necessary; but not then. It is natural, so to speak, that then He should occupy all our thoughts--not necessarily in prayer, but also in meditation. That, the most difficult of all Christian practices, harder than prayer, harder than self-examination,--so hard sometimes it is to think at all, so hard as it always is not to let our thoughts wander--how can we ever practise so well as then?
If, from the very skirt of the LORD'S robe, there went out such virtue that the woman, diseased for twelve years, was in a moment healed of her infirmity, how shall there not, from His own Presence, go forth power to sanctify and guard our thoughts, when they try to fix themselves on Him; when they dwell on His miracles, or His parables, or when, like S. Peter, we gird ourselves for the effort, and plunge into the deep sea of His Passion?--Look unto Me, and be ye healed: He said it on the Cross. Look unto Me, and be ye healed: He says it still, on the Altar. This is your privilege; and, with your privilege, your danger. I can only point you to Him: I can only try to lead you to Him: He must draw you, He must speak to your heart. Oh that He may do that, both this Lent, and for ever!
And now, etc.