Project Canterbury

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

London: J.T. Hayes, 1877.

Sermon IV. 1857.
The Wells of Salvation. Isaiah xii. 3.

"BE instant in season, out of season," is S. Paul's exhortation to Timothy; and, in him, to every Priest till the end of all things. Bear with me then, dear Sisters, if against our usual custom, I say something to you this morning. I might say, as Joseph of old, "It is not in me. GOD shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace." But still, if any poor word of mine can give any of you the smallest grain of comfort in your difficult life, you know how gladly I will always spend and be spent for you in that or in anything else.

And now see: this short text,--how many previous ideas it suggests to us before we come to the words themselves! In the first place, the thought of a desert: else why the need for so many places of procuring water? "A barren and dry land, where no water is." And that you know the world to be. You know it, thank GOD; and you have shown your knowledge of it, by giving it up and coming out of it. Comfort you want: but not such comfort as the world can give; love you want: but not the failing and perishable love it can bestow; sympathy you need,--and to turn for sympathy to the world would be, indeed, to trust to a broken cistern that can hold no water; peace you must have: but the world can only cry, "Peace, peace," where there is no peace. For the comfort, you have learnt to seek to the GOD of all consolation; for the love, to Him Who is not only love Himself, but Who loves you, His dear and chosen ones, with a more special and intimate love; for sympathy, to Him, Who in the wilderness was tempted, as you in this earthly desert; and for peace, to those blessed words of a dying King, "Peace I leave you, My peace I give unto you." We have the desert then; and you see how it fits. But, men do not travel in the desert singly. "Woe to him that is alone," says Solomon. Only by joining in a great company, only with skilful guides and stored provisions, do they venture to face its dangers. Dearest Sisters, are you traveling alone? Have not you the whole army of the LORD going up with you; going forth, as of old times from Egypt to Canaan, with a high hand, abiding in their march "in his tents according to their tribes; the LORD his GOD is with him, and the shout of a King is among them." Not as solitary pilgrims, not as individual stragglers, are you seeking the better country, which is the heavenly: the ransomed people out of every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, are your fellow-sufferers now--are to be your fellow-victors then. Another resemblance, here, to the text.

Then again: neither do men make such tracks for themselves across the desert. They go by the beaten highway that the caravans of past ages have travelled. They know every halting place; they know the length of every day's journey. And, whether those stories of the desert-voices, so positively related by so many travellers be literally true or not, I am sure they are so, spiritually. That if a man wanders a little from the moving body of the caravan, he is frequently called in some familiar voice by his name; the voice seems but at a little distance, and he rides in that direction. Gradually it allures and beguiles him further and further; night closes in, and the miserable man leaves his bones to whiten, as so many have done before him, in the waste howling wilderness. And so, dearest Sisters, this path you tread is no new and untried one: sure to end in miserable destruction if it were. I do not mean the general paths of the service of GOD, the broad highway of every Christian; but this more especial path, this narrower road which you have made choice of, and which all cannot, all might not, choose. Multitudes have safely and gloriously trodden it before you: multitudes have made their self-dedication, as you have done, to Him Who is the Lover of Chastity. If that path were more dreary and desolate here, the happy paths which they now tread are fuller of flowers than the rest of that blessed country: the desert has long since for them rejoiced, and blossomed as a rose.

Once more: every traveller in the wilderness knows where these wells are to be found. Where they are now, there they were when the Patriarchs trod those very same wilds. Take an example. In Genesis you read that, when Hagar fled from her mistress, the Angel of the LORD met her by a well between Hebron and Shur. But it ought to be, as it is in the Hebrew, by the well; there was but one well then, there is but one well now, between these two places. And so, dearest Sisters, you know that the times of refreshing that come from the Presence of the LORD, are none other to you than they have been since the HOLY GHOST first came down on the day of Pentecost. At every time when the Blessed Sacrament is celebrated,--at the great Festivals and Fasts,, when the dear LORD of all Festivals and Fasts seems especially near; at the times of all afflictions;--and I might go on to other seasons;--the wells of grace were in the same situation in the days of the Apostles, in the ten fierce persecutions, in the cloisters of the Middle Ages, as they are now in the confusion and bustle of all the intellectual activity of this age. But once more. These wells are beset by enemies. In the Arabian deserts, the Bedouin hides in ambush near them; in the African wastes, the lion lurks hard at hand; in the Indian jungle, the tiger crouches down for his fatal spring. See how that is referred to in Deborah's song of victory: "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." And what does this mean, but that after any special means of grace, you must look for special temptations? To those living in the world, and who communicate but seldom, immediately after receiving that Blessed Sacrament is their time of greatest danger. To you, GOD be thanked, the greater frequency with which you are privileged to receive the Body and Blood of your LORD and your GOD, renders each time not so much a season of especial peril--of peril enough, always, GOD knows--but not of peril in this way. But every time when you make some particular effort, or receive some more than ordinary grace,--after Confession, for example, after any especial season of communion with GOD,--after a renewal of your vow of chastity, then you may expect the assaults of these spiritual archers; then you may look for the attack of that roaring lion who goeth about seeking whom he may devour.

And yet again. Whenever these wells occur, there, even in the midst of the wilderness, is a little spot of green and glad ground--the oasis where, and where only, are verdure and flowers and dew. If there were twelve wells at Elim, there were seventy palm trees. And so, notwithstanding their danger, these seasons of grace are bright spots in every Christian life. You know how your hearts have beat within you when the living coal has touched your lips; you know how you have felt the blessedness of him whose unrighteousness is forgiven, and whose sin is covered, when the words of Absolution have been said to you. Happy little foretastes of the eternal Paradise, the Paradise of pleasure! Short, but blessed earnests of the river of the water of life, and of the gardens in which the Beloved walks!

And now: what are these wells of salvation, whence we are to draw water with joy? And with one consenting voice the Church has always seen in them those five springs of love opened for us on Calvary; those springs whence every grace that heart can conceive, or that sinner can need, is poured forth; that have healing for every sickness, strength for every infirmity, freedom for every captivity, life itself for every death. Oh happy fountains, opened indeed in agony and distress, but where the LORD'S flocks now lie down in peace, and none can make them afraid! Wells, cleft in the living Rock in the day when, if that Rock could have been shaken, shaken indeed it would have been; but now the one only source of peace, the one only refreshment in trouble! Five springs, indeed, yet but one well. See how beautifully, long since, when Jacob came to the land of the people of the East, this source of blessedness was set forth in a type. "And he looked, and behold a well in the field; and lo, there were three flocks of sheep lying by it; for out of that well they watered the flocks." What are the three flocks but the Church of the past, the present, and the future? From the day of Pentecost till the Day of Judgment, no spring of real strength and comfort but this. And it is well said, "lying by it." Peace there, repose there; save there, nowhere. "For out of that well they watered the flock." And out of what other well should we try to water GOD'S elect and ransomed fold? "LORD, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." O dearest Sisters, alone or together, in sorrow or in joy, in encouraging you or blaming you, in Confession or in Sermons, GOD forbid that I should make mention of any other strength, of any other love, of any other remedy, but this. "One star differeth from another star in glory." GOD forbid that I should point you to any but to these five pole-stars of our hope; these stars that lit up the darkness of Mount Calvary; these stars which glitter between the rifts of the clouds in the tempestuous night of this world; these stars which have directed so many a storm-beaten vessel to the everlasting harbour! See how words and metaphors fail, when we speak of the Cross. Even a moment ago those wounds were wells of comfort, and now I am comparing them to stars of glory. But to go back to that land of Haran. See how Jacob speaks, and with how deep a meaning: "It is yet high day; neither is it time that the cattle should be gathered together; water ye the sheep." Not time for the union of all the Saints and elect in the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn, while the fierce and weltering noon of this world endures; that gathering must be left for

"The glorious evening that shall last.''

But, in the meantime, he speaks not to those Syrian shepherds, but to all GOD'S Priests: "Water ye the sheep."

And see how the Church has heard and obeyed the command. See with how ardent and holy a love she dwells on each detail of the Passion in her Litanies, in her Collects, in her Commemorations. And see, dearest Sisters, how, just as it was woman, and not man, who went earliest to, who waited most lovingly by, the sepulchre, so it is woman, and not man, who has entered most boldly into, who has remained most faithfully in, the Sanctuary of the Passion. True; there are meditations of ravishing beauty by those two most loving, most devoted of Saints, Bonaventure and Bernard; but yet, S. Theresa, if those like ourselves may venture to make a comparison, clings yet more lovingly to the Cross; and yet she scarcely so much so as S. Bridget, in those fifteen Collects, as you find them in your Paradisus, which, as I was saying the other day, I could wish that each of you, dearest Sisters, would make a habit of using every Friday. Happy Saints! they drew water with joy out of the wells of salvation while here; but now they are satisfied as out of a River there! Is it not enough to make our hearts burn within us, when we think, as we read their glowing words, that they were but as we are when they wrote them; that now they perceive how small a portion of their LORD'S love they then understood, and that, how coldly they felt! Is it not enough to make you resolved to do or to bear anything if you may act worthy of that love? For remember the relation in which He, Who showed it, in which He, Whose Wounds are the springs of all your hope, in which He, Who was so bruised and reviled, that you might be healed and glorified, in which He stands to you; remember that, as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy GOD rejoice over thee.

And see how, by those five ever-blessed Wounds, every kind of action, every kind of thought, is brought into the obedience of CHRIST. That of the Right Hand, all active exertion for His sake. That of the Left Hand, all patient endurance of evil for His sake. That of the Heart, every strength and power of affection. That of the Right Foot, going forth to His work, when it is joyful in the light of His countenance. That of His Left Foot, going forth to the same work, when it is for a while saddened by the withdrawal of His Presence from us. Yes; every power of action or suffering is there hallowed: hallowed at what a cost, hallowed to what an end!

A short text mine was: and yet see of how much of it I have not spoken. "Therefore:" how this Therefore joins on with that which precedes: "Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortedst me." "Shall ye draw water"--not, it shall be drawn for you; and thence, the working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. "Shall ye draw:" and hence the means, like the rope and the bucket, by which we draw. And here: "therefore, with joy shall ye draw." Was ever so much matter in so short a verse?

And now one of these wells lies open before us. As the prophet says, so is my invitation to you: "Come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money: come ye, buy and eat: yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price." Without price? Let me rather say, with the price of yourselves. The hands which will presently hold the LORD'S Body are hallowed to Him; the lips that will touch the Chalice of His life-giving Blood are hallowed to Him; the bodies which will then receive Him are hallowed to Him. Oh what ought to be the words, oh what ought to be the actions of those so consecrated to Him as you are!

Yes, my own Sisters, come and renew your vows: come and pledge yourselves again to your King; come, and be united to Him in the nearest of all bonds; come, and from this well of salvation draw the grace of His Passion, draw the strength that shall brace you for your pilgrimage; draw the earnest and foretaste of an immortality in His Presence. Come, and say each of you, "My Beloved is mine, and I am His." Come, and say, each of you, "Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth: for Thy love is better than wine."

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

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