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The Blessing of Isaac.






S. Thomas the Martyr's, Oxford,











Text provided by Dr. Miriam Burstein, 2006.

Of this Sermon, which was written without the least idea of publication, and which is printed at the especial request of those that heard it, I only wish to say, that the address to the glorified Humanity of our dear LORD is little more than an imitation of one of the Sermons of Peter de Celles, Bishop of Chartres, ( + 1187).

Whitsun Monday, 1864.

The whole of the Profits arising from the sale of this Sermon will be given to S. Thomas' Infant School.


Genesis xxvii. 26, 27.

And his father Isaac said unto him: Come near now, and kiss me, my son. And he came near and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed.

OUR true Jacob, That Supplanter Who overthrew Satan not twice only, but three times in the wilderness; our true Israel, He That as a Prince hath power with God and man, and hath prevailed,--He has already said, "I will arise and go to My Father." Long since, in that first temptation, must He have cried out, "How many hired servants of My Father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!" But mow the times of His hungering and thirsting are over: passing through this vale of misery He has made it a well, and the pools are filled with water:--He has left us a path, by which we, going [5/6] from strength to strength, might every one of us appear before the LORD of Hosts in the heavenly City. Already the blessed company of the angels are beginning to say of the Victor, "Why is His chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of His chariots?" The FATHER Himself, now no longer forsaking the Only Begotten, sees Him yet afar off,--has compassion on Him,--and calls Him to Himself. The Church, His dear Bride, had said, "Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth:" He, giving ear to her petition, bowed His head, ere He gave up the ghost, that she might touch those lips;--and now the FATHER to Whom He is going says, "Come near now and kiss Me, My SON." Ten days yet He must tarry among us: the Apostles have yet more to learn; the Disciples have to hear from His own mouth those lessons which will guide the Church to the end of all things;--and then: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in." "See, the smell of My SON is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed." Ah! she was not mistaken, when she supposed Him to be the gardener! [AEstimavit ortolanum, Nec hoc vane credidit. Brev. Sar.] He has been toiling in that [6/7] garden till the hour of rest is come; and now, laden with the fragrance of those flowers which He Himself has made sweet, He presents their incense, together with Himself, to His FATHER, the LORD of the garden. From those thousands of roses, of which we read daily, He bears the sweet scent of martyrdom. We hear of their passions so easily;--long hours of terrible anguish endured by twenty, thirty, forty, who yet have left no name on earth; we sum it up in one sentence; but He knew every one agony in each, from the first by which the battle was begun, the earliest and perhaps most hideous torture, to the last, of which the departing spirit was scarcely conscious in the opening vision of angels. Thousands and tens of thousands of roses, differing as far as they can, being yet the same flower; rosebuds like the Holy Innocents and S. Cyriac; roses half open in all the beauty of their freshest youth, like S. Agnes, and S. Lucy; full blown flowers, that will reappear in the heavenly garden in a lovelier fashion, such as S. Ignatius and S. Polycarp. From those myriads of flowers, beautiful with a thousand beauties, the ranks of the Confessors;--arrayed in so many differing graces;--the hermit in the wilderness, the missionary in a savage land, the monk in his cell, the doctor in his study, the priest bearing manfully the burden [7/8] and heat of the day; S. Antony in the Egyptian wilderness, S. Francis Xavier among Japanese pagodas, S. Bernard at Clairvaux, S. Athanasius confounding the Arians, S. Vincent de Paul toiling with such abundant success. From the more especial lily beds where the LAMB feeds, with the green upright stem, and the spotless petals, and the golden diadem of anthers--all lilies indeed, but differing from each other in beauty as well as in glory; most glorious of all, the red lilies of Martyrdom; and then the countless orders of Benedictines, or Clarissines, or Carmelites, or Beguines, or Sisters of Charity, or of Mercy, or of Compassion--from each and all of these, from having walked among them, from having tended them, "See, the smell of My SON is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed." For all that Garden was planted on Calvary. There the Martyr of martyrs first crossed that Red Sea alone; there that Doctor of doctors preached seven glorious sermons to men and angels; there that Confessor of confessors endured to the end, fought the good fight, kept the faith; there that Priest of priests presented Himself as a living Sacrifice--the Evening Sacrifice of the world; there that Bishop of bishops put on the mitre, mitre and crown in one; there that Bridegroom of the Virgins yielded up His most pure and virginal Flesh to be sore rent [8/9] and mangled; there He commended the Virgin Disciple to the Virgin Mother. O Tree of Life! truly planted in the midst of the garden! O Cedar of immortality, lifted up above the trees of the forest!" exalted like a palm-tree in Engedi and as a rose-plant in Jericho, as a fair olive-tree in a pleasant field, and growing as a plane-tree by the water," that true river of water of life! "He smelled the smell of His raiment." But what! I had thought that it was written: "They parted His raiment among them, and for His vesture did they cast lots." Yes, truly. But it is also written that "the Father said unto the servants, Bring forth the best robe and put it on Him." For He had a worse robe also: and what was that, save the grave-clothes, which the love of His few and trembling followers had provided for Him, and which were afterwards each folded and put away in a place by themselves? But the best robe is the fine linen garment, the righteousness which He first gives the saints, and which they return to Him, the effect of His own gifts: " All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee."

And He came near and kissed Him. And of that kiss, says a Mediaeval Bishop, let the mystery be wonderful, surpassing all attempts to fathom its depths. That kiss it was which gave Human Nature [9/10] access to the throne of God. The Only Begotten went forth in One Nature: He returned in Two. He went forth Spirit, from everlasting to everlasting, Consubstantial with the FATHER: He returned, retaining all that He had, but with a Human Body, to everlasting indeed, but not from everlasting, and consubstantial with us also.

Then for the first time flesh was exalted far above all principality and power and might and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come. When we look at these bodies of ours, and think that bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh is now at the right hand of Power; that the "Reach hither thy finger and thrust it into Mine Hand, and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into My Side" might still be said of us: is not the mystery of the Ascension marvellous beyond even the Passion? In the Passion you have a miracle of love and humility conjoined with weakness; here you have a miracle of love and humility conjoined with power. A king might visit, for awhile, the miserable house of Lazarus; but what king, save One, would make Himself as Lazarus, that Lazarus might dwell in His House for ever % Call then on that dear Humanity of our own LORD to help us. Call on that Human Soul, consubstantial indeed with the Word, but yet distinct from It, to [10/11] remember the days of Her earthly pilgrimage, and to have compassion. O Companion, O Sister of our nature, very One with us, and sharing all our weaknesses and infirmities, so far as it might be consistently with perfect purity, tempted as we, have pity on us! If we are lepers, Thou, even in the days of the Law, didst not disdain to touch a leper: I will, be thou clean: in the days of grace, what miracle of grace from Thyself, verily and really and substantially touching our lips! O Flesh, consubstantial with our flesh, hidden from our sight under the veil of bread, but yet here on the Altar, let it be to us as when that selfsame Hand touched the body of Jairus's daughter; as when that selfsame Tongue spoke the quickening words, and the maid arose! Thy Church of old might need to pray, "O that Thou wert as my Brother that had sucked the breasts of my mother!" but to us, no longer need of such a supplication! That true Eve, the Mother of all living, hath found grace to lay to her spotless breast Thee, Who dost support all things; to nourish with her own life Thee, Who givest to all life and breath and being. Call to mind, O Consubstantial Nature, that Thy tabernacling in her womb; call to mind the bitter tears of Thine infancy; call to mind the hunger and thirst and weariness of Thy ministry; call to mind how temptations cluster round our [11/12] flesh, the same flesh as Thyself, save that in Thee was found nothing on which they might take hold! Turn those pitiful Eyes on us, Glorified Manhood of the Co-eternal WORD, which looked Peter into repentance; open Thine Ears to our supplication, Thou Who didst hear the midnight cry of Thy Disciples: touch us with Thine outstretched Hands, the Hand laid on the bier, and the widow's son revived; the Hand that led the blind man from the city, and he received sight! Speak to us, O Glorious Humanity, with the Tongue which declared, It is expedient for you that I go away. Gone away Thou art; but now Thou art gone, wherefore should we, O True Son of David, mourn? Can we call Thee back again? Of a verity we can, seeing that we pray daily, "Give us this day our daily Bread;" seeing that also we pray daily, "Thy kingdom come." We shall not only go to Thee,' but Thou wilt also in Thine own good time return to us.

See then how the saying of Isaac sets forth the perfect union of our poor wretched works with our dear Lord's doings and sufferings. " See, the smell of My Son is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed." The sweet savour of His oblation represents and mingles with the self-sacrifice of His people.

[13] And how does this glorify all we take in hand, if only ours be a field which the Lord hath blessed! Yes; I know of but one saying in the Old Testament where this dear truth is set forth even more plainly. In the Song of Deborah, as we have it in our translation, it runs thus: " They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates." But, if you will notice, it is thus in the Hebrew; "There shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, even the righteous acts of his villages in Israel;" the one the same as the other, because united to and sanctified by it, the Royal victory and the small achievements of some poor little village; " The smell of My SON is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed."

But now, after this glorious return of our Elder Brother to reap the reward of His labours, to see of the travail of His Soul, to rest after His weary pilgrimage, what if He has taught us that what is His belongs also to them that are His; what if, for a moment, I see in that command, not the call of the FATHER to the SON, but the invitation of the Son to you? "Whatsoever ye shall ask [13/14] in My Name, believing, ye shall receive." And you know that petition, Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His Mouth; and here is the answer, Draw near now, and kiss Me. There it is, that drawing nigh. I do not wonder that over and over again any one who has entered on the religious life, let it have been never so earnestly, should be tempted to give up. Most marvellously does that first, that ancient Tempter, calculate his hindrances to your efforts to draw nigh. He has great, high mountains of difficulties to put in the way of one who is by nature a coward, crushing as it were all hope at once: "This never can be; why should I try?" For those whose very earnestness would lead them to exult in attacking such a difficulty, he has little, trifling, repeated, worrying annoyances, one after the other; and in the long run they are far more dangerous. Ah! it is the perpetual repetition of little vexations, the continual clinging about you of trifling hindrances, which is the real trial! Many a ship that has borne up bravely against the storms of the Atlantic, making good way out of a wind that was all but dead against her, has lain for weeks together becalmed in the Sargosso Sea--that bed of soft, lazy, clinging seaweed, that with its long fibrous arms drags on the vessel's sides,--in itself without the slightest danger, but opposing so [14/15] insuperable a bar for thousands of square miles in the Middle Atlantic. He speaks in the Blessed Sacrament, "Draw near and kiss Me." And why not? For one time that the sin is such as would make our cheeks burn if we told it in confession, let it be of what kind it might, I am bold to say that a thousand times it is perhaps one, perhaps a little heap of, such as concerning which the world would lazily say, "I suppose it was not quite right." So small a thing on the one side, such a glorious privilege on the other! Such a wretched little remora of a sucking-fish (you know the fable) on this side; so happy and peaceful a heaven that you seek to enter on the other! But then the joy when we can break through these trammels! when Delilah may bind us with the seven green withes--with the seven new ropes,--may weave us into the very web and pin of the beam,--and still, in the strength of our true Samson, we are more than conquerors!

And believe me, the Priest who sees any of his own children so struggling forward, so loosing herself from the bonds of her neck, though faint, yet pursuing, is encouraged beyond measure for any failures or defects and shortcomings of his own. It is the exact reverse of David's saying, "Although my house be not so with God, yet He hath made with me an [15/16] everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure." And then, lastly: some day this field--for a field you will observe it is called in the text, though I have spoken of it as though it were a garden--the field of the Church Militant will become the garden of the Church Triumphant: and then, as one of the greatest of Mediaeval Saints says,--

"What that eternal kiss will be, prophesied of in our dear LORD'S last prayer, "That they all may be one, as Thou, FATHER, art in Me, and I in Thee," that 'Hope tries to guess; Faith endeavours to believe what Hope suggests; but some day, Hope and Faith having come to their most blessed euthanasy, Love will find out what both Hope and Faith failed to discover."

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