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

London: J.T. Hayes, 1877.

Sermon XI.
July 31, 1859.
The Passage of the Grounded Staff.
Isaiah xxx. 32.

WE meet, dear Sisters, to-day, under somewhat different circumstances from those of ordinary times. We meet, some of us, after a long separation;--and some of us are about, in the course of GOD'S good providence to be in a position where it may be said of them, "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." Thus looking back, thus looking forward, we come to the end of the month, and hope to commence the next, as we finish this, in that protection which is mentioned in the text I have read you. A difficult text indeed; but, as so often, the more difficulty in understanding, the more comfort when understood;--the sweetest kernel in the most ill-favoured nut: the brightest diamond embedded in the coarsest sand. And I tell you that, unless that is fulfilled in you, of which Isaiah here speaks, "then is our preaching vain, and your hope is also vain."

And now first: what is the grounded staff,--the staff that is fixed and firmly set in the ground? You know fur yourselves. It is that staff whereon every weary and fainting soul may rest, and be certain to find help, and refreshment, and strength; it is that staff which, being stretched forth over the Red Sea, caused, and still causes, its waters to divide hither and thither; it is that staff which, being laid on the face of the dead child--unlike that of old--will raise it to life and health; it is that staff which, striking the stony rock of the hard heart, causes the tears of penitence to flow forth apace; it is that staff which must go forth to every battle with every Goliath. Need I go on? It is that staff which turns the Amalekites to flight: which to us, as to Jonathan, gives the sweet honey in the waste howling wilderness: it is that staff on which the LORD passed through the Jordan of death, that He might become two bands,--of ransomed men, and preserved Angels. And, "grounded:" for this staff was set up on Mount Calvary in the day of darkness and gloominess: the day of clouds and thick darkness.

So, you see, once more we have the Cross: and most remarkably is it set forth. "In every place where the grounded staff shall pass which the LORD shall lay upon Him." "As many words," says S. Jerome, "so many mysteries." Where was the Cross laid upon Him, but in the Via Dolorosa, while His blessed feet trod all that weary way from the judicial gate to the summit of the hill? And yet it is spoken of as already grounded, as already set up in its place. And how is that? Surely to show with what full knowledge of all that was to come upon Him our dear LORD went forth to His enemies, with, "I have told you that I am He." Now, dearest Sisters, there is one difference, there always must be one, between you and your Head; between the Bride as she follows, and the Bridegroom as He preceded. You must say with S. Paul,--you especially, called hither and thither as you are, liable to go, at a moment's notice, so far--"Not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the HOLY GHOST witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me; but none of these things move me." But He knew all; had known all at the day when He stretched out the heavens, and laid the foundations of the deep; had known all from everlasting; saw the time draw nearer and nearer; came to the century in which He was to take our flesh, came to the moment, came through the thirty and three years, to the last spring of His Life, to the last month, to the last day, to the last hour; and then the Cross was laid on Him; then were the fire and the wood prepared, and the Lamb for the burnt offering was provided by GOD.

Well: but then how wonderful is that which follows: "Where the grounded staff shall pass, it shall be with tabrets and harps." What! that saddest of all journeys, that most fearful of all processions, a time of joy and triumph! Yes, truly. You remember what the Song of Songs calls it, "The day of His espousals and the day of the gladness of His heart." This was the King's Coronation: should there not be shouts of triumph, and melody of praise? Shouts of triumph there were: "Hail, King of the Jews!" Oh how GOD the HOLY GHOST spread abroad the spirit of prophecy that day! Oh how of each miserable soldier, oc each wretched felon Jew, of each mocking Chief Priest, might it be said, "This spake he not of himself!" Words of truth beyond all truth: symbols, of the purple robe, of the Crown of Thorns, of the reed-sceptre, that are verity itself. But where are we to look for the tabret and the harp? In the joy of the spirits in prison, who now saw their redemption so very nigh: in the thanks and praises of every faithful soul from that time to this, as it has in earnest memory and in fervent love accompanied the Cross on its journey to Calvary.

But, my Sisters, it is time to look away from that Cross to your own;--or rather not to look away from it, but to see its reflection in your own. Wherever you go, whether on GOD'S immediate work, or on whatever occasion, there ought the grounded staff to pass. There ought you to bear with you, not only its outward type and form round your neck, but its inward and very essence on your heart. There you ought to shed abroad its savour; there you ought to manifest its doctrines: Sisters of the Cross, not in name, but in very deed. The great German preacher of the Middle Ages, John Tauler, says, "'All thy garments smell of myrrh, aloes, and cassia.' What then? Is it while the bride stands by alone that we know of the incense of her presence? Surely not. When she has gone past, still she leaves behind the perfume of the ivory palaces,--so that men shall say, This way she went, by this path she followed her LORD'S path; by this track her feet trod the rough flints and sherds of this earth, that they might merit to walk upon the golden streets of New Jerusalem. Wherefore it is written: 'The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them: and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.'" So, my Sisters, it ought to be of you. "Myrrh, aloes, and cassia." Myrrh, for repentance; aloes, for self-denial; cassia, for love. Think of these things, all of you: think that they are no mere dreams,, no unreal fancies, but the very truth. It is what I expect of you--but that matters nothing: it is what the LORD, the King of the Virgins will look for when you stand before Him. Judge for yourselves, how far it is so, at home and abroad. Judge for yourselves, as you go about your various employments in this house, if the grounded staff goes with you: judge if the myrrh, aloes, and cassia, shed their perfume around you. Not if there be ever one unseemly or unkind word; one frivolous or harsh thought. There were none such on the Cross: there are none such to be heard in the garden where grow that myrrh and cassia: none such in that land of which it is written, "the gold of that Land is good:" and of which gold it is that the King's daughter, all glorious within, has her clothing wrought. Oh how I wish that you all could always remember this! remember it, as a thing that you have promised to do: as a thing you will be judged for not doing. Perhaps it may be that I would so far rather speak to you of the love of your own LORD, that I am wrong in never dwelling on His terrors. Yet I remember how S. Paul says: "Knowing therefore the terror of the LORD, we"--what? we constantly remind men of them? We set before men that last and fearful ordeal? We repeat again and again, that the righteous scarcely are saved? No. "We persuade men." We know the fear-fulness of His vengeance, but we rather speak of His love. And so would I also. Only thus much you must remember. From the time that you once took that vow, according to that vow you will be judged. "This is impossible," and "that is too difficult," for you to do. But remember, it is just the very this and that that you will be judged according as you do or leave undone. If it is impossible to do these things, it is now impossible that you should be saved. If it is impossible always to remember what you are bound to, impossible always to let the cross outside merely image that inside, your breast,--impossible that this House should, in its own poor way, be worthy of the abode of the Heavenly Bridegroom--then it is impossible--it is no hard saying, but the very truth,--that you can be saved. You yourselves have made the offer; you have offered, and have taken the promise: by your own offer--it is only just--you will be judged. But still, how much sooner would I put it the other way; and talk of the love that allows you to come, and of Him who accepts your promise, only out of His own great love!

And see how the text goes on: "And in battles of shaking will He fight with it." "Fight with it;" that is, of course, fight by its means; the only weapon that never was and never can be conquered: the title of the Cross is synonymous with victory. But how, in battles of shaking? Why, they say, battles that shake together and stir up every faculty of body and mind in the servants of Him that bore the Cross. For it must be that, or it is nothing. But you know how apt we all are, over and over again, to sit down quietly in our do-nothing way of serving GOD; hearing of the Passion, and sorrowing for it in a way, but not crucified ourselves to that Cross; beholding the Via Dolorosa of our LORD, but shrinking from every little Via Dolorosa of our own. You know, you all know, we feel it each for ourselves, how we do need thus to be stirred up; and He Who has set His love upon you will not leave you without these battles of shaking. Fight! but against whom? Not only against your enemies--the world, the flesh, and the devil: but against your own hearts.

For they do need being struggled with; they do need being sometimes persuaded, sometimes allured, sometimes threatened, if they are to carry on their struggle, if they are to be as earnest in His work, as true in His love, as those of Sisters ought to be. Dear Sisters, I knew nothing of the labour and anxiety of this task when I first had to do with you. It has grown upon me, that knowledge: it has increased upon me, that sense of difficulty: till now, if I did not look away--quite away--from myself, and to Him only, "Who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." I should oftentimes despair. You can scarcely judge how hard I find it to keep you sometimes up, to urge you sometimes on, when I myself have far more need to be kept up, when I myself hardly know how to get on. If ever of GOD'S great goodness we are counted worthy to enter into that land, then I shall look back on--then I shall perhaps be able to show you--more than one time when I have been pressed out of measure, above strength, so that I despaired of success. But it is GOD that comforteth those that are cast down: and that He might be able to do so, He was therefore Himself cast down as low as the ground in the night of Gethsemane. But it is GOD that urges forward those who are disposed and sore tempted to halt; therefore here we read of battles of shaking, wherein, as always, the Cross will display all its glory.

And I say once more that, wherever each of you are called to work, wherever to go, this week, there must the Cross pass also: there must be the perfume of the myrrh, aloes, and cassia. If you have to do with our children, that Cross bore Him Who is the Child of Nazareth no less than the Man of Sorrows, or the King of the Jews. If you are called, less to do than to bear--to suffer sickness and pain in yourselves, instead of ministering to them in others, why He Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses. And those who are going out for a while, they go, in some respects to have a privilege which others can hardly conceive. [Two Sisters going abroad.] To see what has been done in past ages, to drink in and live upon the glory and beauty of those Cathedrals,--or again, to see the living temples of Religious Houses, and Hospitals, and Schools, it ought to bring out this one feeling,--What did they do, what do they do, that we ought not to be able to perform? Every one, whether of such buildings or of such institutions, what is it but a mountain of defeated impossibilities--a monument of once formidable, now overthrown and contemptible, cannots? Our impossibilities and cannots are neither worse nor better than theirs: if we attack them with the same faith and love, it must be with the same results.

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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