Project Canterbury

Sermons on Passages from the Prophets
by the Rev. John Mason Neale

London: J.T. Hayes, 1877.

Sermon III.
First Sunday in Advent, 1858.
The Coal from the Altar. Isaiah vi. 6, 7.

"THE Coal from the Altar." In the highest sense, you all know what that is. "We have an Altar," S. Paul says, "whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." A portion of that kindled Altar given to us: what is it, but a part of the Body that for us suffered in the Passion; that for us went through the fire of that extreme agony and misery?

A Seraph gave it to Isaiah, a Seraph whose very name is derived from his burning with love; whose place, the highest in the heavenly hierarchy, symbolises how GOD regards love more than all the knowledge of the Cherubim. True; you receive that Body, not from a Seraph, but from a poor sinful Priest; and why? S. Paul shall tell you: "Unto the Angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak." But the gift is the same. Dear Sisters, how can you allow lips, thus hallowed, ever to utter one syllable of unkindness? lips that have not merely, like that blessed penitent, kissed His Feet, but received Himself? With the impress of that touch on them, shall they ever again speak one word contrary to His love? He That was oppressed and afflicted, yet He opened not His Mouth, touches yours; the immaculate Paschal Lamb, that as a sheep before His shearers was dumb; He Whom you desire to kiss you with the kisses of His lips; and then what must those lips be that are responsive to such a kiss?

Or, you may take it in another sense. The fire on the Altar, the fire of love; the coal, some one of GOD'S Priests; in himself dark, rayless, foul, as a coal, but aglow with that divine love; him and his message. Such a message, my Sisters, as I ought to be giving to you now; such a message as I should be giving you, were my own heart so on fire with that love as it should be. But then see: the coal was laid to Isaiah's lips, but could it have been without pain? judge for yourselves. And if I, my Sisters, have hurt you, have seemed to speak harshly, have seemed to point out a fault angrily, have ever lost my temper with you,--do not allow yourselves to think of that. Do not look at, or remember the poor coal, but think only of the fire it would endeavour to kindle in you.

If I could see you this Advent, earnestly girding yourselves up to this work!

Oh what a season of joy it would be to me! Oh how it would be on your part the going on from strength to strength, the making yourselves more like those dear and blessed ones, once tried with the same temptations that you suffer; now freed from all temptations for ever. Would you hear how one of those happy ones spoke in the days of the flesh on this difficulty; S. Jane Frances de Chantal? She is writing to S. Francis de Sales. "And I doubt whether We shall ever be free from the trouble as long as we dwell in Mesech, and have our habitation among the tents of Kedar. I have prayed to GOD, I have prayed to my Sisters, I have threatened, I have punished, I have implored, I have coaxed, and still this habit of unkind speaking cannot be rooted out from among us: nay, rather it entwines itself most strongly into those who, otherwise, one should say showed most signs of real grace. My own only Father, is this my fault, or theirs, or is it only Satan's device to make us all sick of our work, of ourselves, of each other? GOD knows, I have wept bitter tears for this, but tears, prayers, faith itself, seem to bring no profit."

Now hear what the Mother Agnes Arnauld says to some Sisters of a small Convent within her jurisdiction. "What shall I say unto you? Shall I praise you, my Sisters, in this? And the Apostle has taught me to say, I praise you not.' It grieved me to the heart when I heard the Brides of the same Bridegroom with so little patience for, with so many hard words towards, each other. O my Sisters, for His sake Who is pure and perfect Love, Who hath set His love upon you individually from your birth till now, be loving towards each other! Do not force me to decide who is wrong and who is right! In lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than herself. Let me love you all, as those that are knit together in one. Let me, when I see you, remember that Jerusalem which is builded as a city that is at unity in itself;--not Babel, the mother of confusion and separation."

I cannot speak to you, dearest Sisters, as they did; but I can exhort you as earnestly to fulfil my joy, "that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind." Let this be your Advent task, to banish unkind speaking out of this place. Shall it be so? Can we offer a more acceptable sacrifice to the dear LORD, Who is Himself Love? Well then, make that the subject of your prayers tonight. Try what the might of prayer can do in this respect. My poor prayers, such as they are, shall not be wanting; and if GOD only give us the will to pray, surely He will give us the grace of being heard!

There were several other matters that I wanted to speak to you about for this Advent--the fullest Advent it is possible to have--but now they must stand over. Only this: now, and whenever else, I may find fault, my own Sisters, believe that nothing but love, deep love could so address you, when I had so much rather speak of the innumerable matters of which I might talk, and you might hear, without pain. Then you must accept the love, and overlook, if needs be, the manner, and give me credit for being able to say with S. Paul, "I speak not this to condemn you, for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die and live with you. Great is my boldness of speech towards you, great is my glorifying of you. I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation."

And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.

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