Third Sunday in Advent, 1858.
In Safeguard. Isiah xxv. 3, 4.
WE are getting far on into Advent, and last night the antiphon gave us a nearer warning of our dear LORD'S approach: "The LORD is now at hand, O come let us worship." That coming, how it shall be to His enemies, how it shall be to His people, the chapter of Isaiah which was our lesson for Saturday, and which gives our text now, tells us indeed. "The strong people shall glorify Thee:" there are His enemies: "for Thou hast been a strength to the poor:" there are His friends.
"Therefore shall the strong people glorify Thee." Why? The preceding verse runs: "Thou hast made of a city an heap; of a defenced city a ruin." Now, as S. Paul says, we see not that as yet. But this strong city is what you have to attack, what your very vow pledges you to one continued war with; what, because you are betrothed to Him you love, you are bound to eternal enmity against: the kingdom of Satan. Dear Sisters, you know enough of it in your own hearts. See. Here are so many of you, all, I know, earnestly desirous of serving the Bridegroom of the Virgins; all, I know, desiring to count all things but loss for the excellency of His knowledge; having given up the pleasures of this world; having renounced earthly love; having surrendered all that is dearest and pleasantest in this life; and for that one reason,--His love, His service--and yet, yet, oh how strong are Satan's fortifications in your own hearts! There, where all ought to be GOD'S--there where the whole territory ought to be the land of promise,--the country flowing with milk and honey, the land which the LORD your GOD careth for--how many a strong place does His and your enemy hold, just as the accursed nations retained possession of the land from the children of Israel! Dear Sisters, I know something about that, is it not so? I have to help you in attacking one of these fastnesses after another; I have to advise you how you may most easily obtain possession of it; I have to encourage you to the assault; I have to blame you when it is not carried on to your utmost. And what does the text say? "Therefore shall the strong people glorify Thee." How? Not willingly, be sure; but glorify Him, as the legion cast out did, by confessing, in spite of themselves, "Thou art the SON of the Living GOD." "The city of the terrible nations shall fear Thee." So it shall. "The devils also believe--and tremble." That is the whole end and aim of your Christian life. All these hiding-places, all these forts, all these strong abodes, you will not conquer in this life; "the Canaanites," it is written. "would dwell in that land." But daily you will be getting nearer to their destruction, daily you will go forth in the strength of the LORD GOD, and smite some one of these fenced cities. Now, dearest Sisters, which is the strongest in each of your hearts at this moment? Think, each of you. Out of what hold do the spoilers go forth as of old in three bands, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, to make havoc of your best affections, your strongest resolutions, your most earnest will? You must know this: and what follows? Why, what but as in former ages? "Who are these uncircumcised Philistines, that they should defy the armies of the Living GOD?" Let your attack be now, now, this very night. Even while you are kneeling here before you go to bed, make up your resolution, and in GOD'S Name begin the Monday by keeping it! "Terrible nations!" Yes; they are indeed. One knows what it is to feel, when they are pressing us more than ordinarily: "Well, if this conflict is to go on to the end of my life, day after day, hour after hour, no pause, no cessation, it is useless! I must give up somewhen, I may as well give up at once." Terrible! Yes, but not most really terrible when they come in their most fearful form. Martin is in more danger when Satan draws near as the CHRIST, decked in the royal purple, and wearing the diadem of glory, than when he advances to the assault as the "Beast of Blood," in his own real and native character. But, however terrible, however many, "they shall fear thee." Yes, my Sisters; and take it in another sense. Look at that great, fierce, terrible world, arrayed against the truth, officered as it were by Satan's princes, and drawn up against the little flock of our dear LORD. And then here is the prophecy, "They shall fear thee;" fear you, weak in yourselves, and helpless as you are; fear you, poor, without earthly dignity, without much of worldly learning, but strong in His Strength Who was weak for you unto death on the Cross; armed in His proof, Who Himself went forth to the fight, wearing no helmet but the Crown of Thorns. Fear you! they do fear you indeed. I can conceive nothing more terrible to a fiend, watching by the deathbed of a poor suffering creature, already gloating over the soul, so ignorant, so sin-spotted, so sorely-tried,--than a Sister of Mercy as she should be, in all her purity, in all her truth, in all her love. "The city of the terrible nations shall fear thee." Is it no source of fear, think you, to the evil angels that haunt those miserable alleys, those infamous lanes, that our two Sisters should have gathered one hundred and sixty children together who, but for them, would not so much as have heard of their LORD'S Name? and, besides, should collect in the evening a band of those who are most likely, and at the very age when they are most likely, to fall soul and body into the jaws of the prince of darkness? My heart quite burns within me when I think of this; I can only pray that the GOD Who hath begun a good work will fulfil it! But it goes on to the other side of the question; and notice that, in these works of the sevenfold SPIRIT, there are seven points. Let us take them in order.
"Thou hast been a strength to the poor." O LORD Jesus, soon to become so poor for our sakes as to have the manger in Bethlehem, being rejected of the meanest inn, what was Thy strength but the love of the FATHER? when Thou, perfect GOD all the while, didst tabernacle in the womb of the Virgin; didst remain all those appointed months conscious that Thou, Whom the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain, wast contained by her; what, but His love? when in Thy poverty Thou wast hushed off to sleep in the poor stable, and the beasts knelt by Thee; when Thou wast hurried across the desert country of Judah to the land of Egypt; when afterwards Thou hadst not where to lay Thine head, though the crafty foxes of the world, the cunning men who are in their generation wiser than the children of light, have holes; and even Thine own people, they who rise far above this earth by the wings of prayer and meditation stretched out on the Cross, have nests. So poor, O LORD JESUS! yet, he was Thy strength! rich only in love, and in that finding all might. "A strength to the needy in his distress." Is it not beautifully said, as if there never were but one Needy, and never but one distress? Who can remember the needy King, and call Calvary to mind, and then ever think of any other need, or of any other time of anguish! Needy indeed! He needed their love,--they all forsook Him and fled; He needed their comfort,--and lo, "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?" He needed their help,--and Simon the Cyrenian only gave it because he was compelled; He needed drink, and when He was thirsty they gave Him vinegar and gall; yea, He needed the outshining of His FATHER'S countenance--and it was, "My GOD, My GOD, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
And yet even then and even there, there was strength; and how did He shew it? He might have come down from the Cross, but He withstood even the temptation, "That we may see and believe." He might have resigned His Blessed Spirit before, but He would not be taken clown till the evening. He bowed His Head to shew that in this true King of Israel, on His Mount Gilboa, as once in Saul, His Life was yet whole in Him.
And, my Sisters, that same strength, according to your need, is for you. Oh how many a season of distress have you, have I, have we all to go through! You cannot tell how, sometimes, when you are out at work, and I have the letters that tell of your hard labour, your fatigue, your sufferings, I could almost draw back for you, and be sorry that you are called on thus to bear. And not only at a distance, but when I see any of you at home, toiling on day after day without any rest or pause, in toil which they only can see who are here, and of which others see scarcely anything, I could, if I allowed myself, sometimes, wish for you a life more abounding in the pleasures and comforts of this world. But then, if I only think of the verse, "Thou hast been a strength to the needy in his distress," oh how I ought to blush for so poor, mean thoughts. "Thou hast been!" And what is it to have those everlasting Arms underneath? What is it, in the dear intimacy of the Bride, to have the one arm that was stretched on Calvary under your head; the other, embracing you? No; go on to work, go on to suffer, go on to strive, dearest Sisters; your reward, as it was said of your Master, (I should rather say, your Husband,) your reward is with you, and your work before you. "Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress."
It goes on: "A refuge from the storm." Now he speaks of active rather than of passive sufferings. The poor, the needy: that was the trial of want; the storm: now you have the danger of attack. I have often told you that fine weather cannot last for very long. If the south wind blows softly for days together, not long after, be very sure, there will arise a tempestuous wind against it, called Euroclydon. You all know what this means. But never fear. Remember how, in old times, the twelve were in the storm not only by their LORD'S permission, but by His actual command; and to what purpose, but that He might come to them in it, walking upon the deep? And so it will be with you. If you in the tempest, He in it too. He may allow you to be there, often and often, but to be there alone, never. And then notice that: "a refuge from the storm;" not in it, merely, but from it; a refuge, not such as the ship affords, where, though perfectly safe, you may nevertheless be exceedingly tossed with the tempest; but such as the home yields, where you may hear the storm howl around, but not one breath of wind can pierce within; all is peace and comfort. Ah, my Sisters! what faith in Him that requires! What faith, when trials and temptations are abroad, so completely to be settled in that dear abode! to hear the roar outside, and only to contrast it with the peace and love within!
And straightway, behold, we have another metaphor: "A shadow from the heat." As if to shew that whatever form temptation may take, He will be your shelter in it. And is not this true also? This life of yours, is it not sometimes like a long tedious summer walk in a barren and dry land, where no water is? So many vexations to worry and to fever; the way so long and monotonous, the fatigue so great. It may be so; it is so. But Whose footsteps are they that you behold in the sand? Did not the Man of Sorrows in His time pass this way? And has not the simple touch of those Blessed Feet imparted virtue to the very path, so that, if you only keep them in mind, and only so think of your trials as to remember that He felt the same, they give you strength sufficient, aye, abundantly super-sufficient, for your journey? And can you not, at each resting-place, hear the voice, not of GOD'S Angel, indeed, but of GOD'S Priest: "Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for thee?" And then do you not find the well of living waters springing up into everlasting life? Every such well is your Beer-la-hai-roi, "the well of Him that liveth and seeth me," as Hagar called it; of Him that liveth, though in this very wilderness He laid down His Life; and seeth me, treading in His steps, setting Him before my love and hope now, as I hope to be set before Him hereafter.
And then comes the union of the two dangers; in the midst of this heat, when, nevertheless, "The blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall." Not the winter storm, however fearful be that darkness, however nipping the wind, however blinding the snow; no, the more dangerous, the more terrible summer tempest, when the lightning shoots forth, and the GOD of glory thundereth. Oh, how true that, the blast of the terrible ones! We said just now, how very terrible they are; and can anything be more exact than the representation of the blast, for him that is the Prince of the powers of the air? Carrying you almost off your feet; howling and raging and confusing you while it threatens to sweep you away,--how true that is of a violent temptation! And yet see what it is: 'The blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall." So utterly useless, so hopelessly in vain! O dear Sisters, that it were so with you that you might be those firm walls on which the tempest, far from shaking them, could not exercise even the least shadow of power!
But what further lesson is there for you from this? Surely, thus much. You, in your own way, you, according to your own power, must each of you be to others the refuge from the storm, the shadow from the heat, that the Bridegroom of Virgin souls is to you. True; if you shelter others, you must expose yourselves to the bitter blast, and to the fierce heat: but so it was with Him! To all the storm that Satan could muster He hung exposed on the Cross. The Cross thenceforth has become the safeguard and shelter of every Christian soul; and you, its vowed servants, you who wear it, you who are marked by it, oh that the Lord of the Cross may give you power to shelter many a poor miserable soul from the blast of affliction, to guard many a heretofore vanquished slave from the tempest of temptation! Without your own suffering you cannot do this; I must see you suffer,--oh that I may see you reign! You have cast in your lot in this place: let me see not one Demas among you, not even one John Mark as of old; all true-hearted Sisters, true-hearted in whatever trial, true-hearted, whatever be the blast of the terrible ones, true-hearted now, true-hearted to the end!
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.