Project Canterbury

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

London: J.T. Hayes, 1877.

Sermon XIII.
Fourth Sunday in Advent, 1857.

Liberality I. Isaiah xxxii. 8.

AND your thoughts at once turn to that Beloved LORD, and to this dear time. Now is about to be fulfilled that great Counsel which was taken before the world was made; that method of salvation devised before salvation itself was needed; that scheme of love beyond all love; that Wisdom which, in the thing wherein our enemies dealt proudly, was above them. "The Liberal deviseth liberal things: and by liberal things shall He stand." Yes: we must not let the love of the Cross so dazzle our eyes that we cannot behold the love of the Cradle; the weakness of death endured for us so engross our thoughts, that they cannot fix on the weakness of infancy endured for us no less. And what do I speak of infancy? That He Who contains all things should not have abhorred the Virgin's womb: that He Who holds the earth in the hollow of His Hand should Himself have been comprehended in it, as in a spotless shrine,--what was not His Love as shewn here? To what further depths of humility could He have descended? What could have been wrought more in the vineyard? What could have been done more for the Bride? At this very time the Mother of GOD was ascending from Nazareth to Bethlehem: at this very time He that was afterwards to travel so many weary leagues for our sakes, was taking His first journey on earth. This the text would keep before us: how much, over and above the bare price of our redemption, was paid; how much that, as far as absolute necessity went, need not to have been done, was done. This weary and tedious journey: and He That was Very GOD as well as Very Man, knew as GOD, what were her sufferings of weariness and fatigue, Who, so far as He was Man, was so shortly to become His Mother. Then the winter time. "Pray ye," He said, "that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath-day." Surely the earth was cold enough without the snow and frost of a December; surely it was enough to leave those ever-flourishing gardens of Paradise, without choosing a season of leafless trees and the death of nature. The inn refuses Him Who came to offer an eternal mansion to every man born in the world: the very beasts worship Him Whom man despised and rejected. At midnight, too, He came: just as He burst the bars of death at midnight; and at midnight, so the Church believes, He shall come again to judge the quick and the dead. Here was a liberality of love indeed; such love lavished on such a world!

Now, dearest Sisters, I have often enough spoken to you of taking up your cross, and thus following our LORD. Yet for you, more especially, the way of following Him begins with the beginning of His Life on earth. You have been called, you will be called again to go out, complete strangers, to do His work: its place, the meanest cottage; your reception, that which His was, neglect or worse. You know what journeyings are for His sake; you know what fatigue is for His sake; cold and stormy weather and night: all these things you will have often enough to bear. And, as I have said before, this is my firm belief: that nohow else could you be called to do Him an equal service. You do glorify His Name when you go out, in a manner in which few else can do so. Others must see, others do see, that it is a strength and love not your own, which makes you able to do what you have done. It makes them realise something more of that Love which thus finds its reflection even in you. Think, if you will, and as much as you will, that all you have done-might have been done more holily, more singly to His glory, more sclf-denyingly. But you must not forget the other side of the picture. O dear Sisters, I do indeed feel it a privilege to have been in any degree the means of leading you on in this life! It does and will tell. It does and will benefit others as well as those to whom you more immediately minister. You have begun the task: I trust it will go on and flourish when we have all been removed from GOD'S earthly service, (if we shall only be counted worthy) to His Heavenly.

"The liberal deviseth liberal things." As in His infancy, so all through His life: so, most of all, when He summed up that glorious life into those short hours of that even more glorious death. This the Church has always believed: that to take our nature upon Him, and to shed one drop of His most precious Blood, was all that was required for the salvation of man. And then call to mind the countless sufferings He endured, because He was resolved to suffer to the utmost: the effusion, again and again, of His most sacred Blood: how, in every member of His most holy Body He endured agony: and this, to fulfil His own teaching: "GOD loveth a cheerful giver." Truly it is well said, "He deviseth" them. He toiled, as it were, to plan humiliation, labour, suffering, for Himself. All written in that eternal book before the world was: all foreknown by Him; all, though foreknown, but rendering Him the more eager to enter on His Passion. "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished?"

And now notice how remarkably the latter clause of the verse is written for our profit: "The liberal deviseth liberal things: and by liberal things shall He stand." As if, now His own sorrows and pains are over, His earthly kingdom stands, is spread and flourishes, by the outpourings of love, in their own poor degree like His own: liberal love, that would give, not as little as it must, but as much as it can: love that goes beyond the law that would control it: that knows no limit but its capability of spending and being spent.

And see how He first opened a way for such love: how, even while He was yet in the flesh, as He gave commands for such as would be saved, so He gave counsels for such as would be perfect. Those three great and blessed Counsels, the guides of such multitudes of the Saints, these are the liberal things that His servants devise now: these are the liberal things by which--to say it with all reverence--He now stands in His work on earth: He now wins His greatest victories over His foes and ours. These three offerings, my Sisters, He has enabled you to make on His Altar.

And first, that grace which has crowned so many spotless souls, which has brought in so many loving brides into the palace of the Immaculate King, which has enabled so many, when the days of their purification have been accomplished, to follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth: the blessed grace of Chastity. If any promise is clear and precise, if any words of Him that spake as never man spake are full of blessing, it is the reward promised to those who thus devote themselves to the Bridegroom of Virgin souls. In rejecting earthly love, dearest Sisters, in giving up the bright light of happy homes, in casting from you the beautiful tendrils of many a sweet affection that might have twined round you,--if the sacrifice is great, most great will be the perfection of the reward. This, above all other things, is not to be undertaken without counting the cost; for it is a fearful cost. I can conceive no greater sin than that of unduly pressing it on an earnest servant of CHRIST, as if it were the only, instead of the highest way. But when the cost is counted, and the step is taken, O my Sisters, who can speak too strongly of the blessedness of her who is thus linked to her LORD! who in its fullest sense can take on her lips those words of your dearest Sister--

"But oh! to love and be beloved by Thee
Is the great mystery of felicity!"

And then see how He, Who of His own free will not only took upon Himself our mortal life, but the life of a poor man, shewed, even while He was on earth, how by liberal things He should stand hereafter. "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell all thou hast, and follow Me." And in this also, as I was saying the other day, it is in some sense your privilege to follow Him: to live, as He did, among the poor; to minister, as He did, to the poor: and both, not as merely visiting them out of a different rank and sphere, but, as He did at Bethany, and Nazareth, and Capernaum, taking up your dwelling among them. And then that hardest of all "liberal" things, obedience which, except for His sake, you need not pay. I know, dear Sisters, how little, how trifling, how teazing, a set of rules will often seem. But try to put it to your own consciences whether, when you were best keeping" those, you were not also, in all respects, leading the highest life. I never like to say much to you about these things, lest you should think I was making more of them than they are worth,--lest it should seem like the tithing of mint, and anise, and cummin. But yet I know that the longer GOD gives you grace to lead this life, the more you will see that this kind of obedience ought to be pressed upon you; it may be little enough in itself, but is not little in its effects. And I am sure that while you knowingly and wilfully allow yourselves to be in the habit of neglecting any one rule, be it the veriest trifle imaginable, you cannot be leading that life to which your very vocation calls you,--you cannot be the true and dear Sisters that I pray I may always see you.

"And by liberal things shall he stand." See how it has been so from the beginning. See how this very week tells us as much: of painful journeyings, like those of S, Thomas,, half over the globe; of readiness to speak of the glory of the SON of GOD before an enraged multitude, as with S. Stephen: of the Apostle of Love, who, for the love of his LORD, gave up his body to the boiling oil, and received no hurt. These are the liberal things which make up the acts of the Martyrs; these are the liberal things which, after your own degree and according to your own power, you must offer to Him also. Those three great oblations,--the freewill offerings of the true Israel of GOD--you have already made. But then it is not enough to have made them, unless you carry them out freely and heartily, and to their fullest extent. The oblation of chastity means--does it not?--that which David meant when he said, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none, upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee?" It means that that love for which you have thus offered yourselves, in return for which you have given yourselves, is to be your dear pole-star in the night, and over the stormy sea of this world. Oh most happy Sister who can so keep her eyes fixed on that, as to have no sight of any one object besides! How safe she must be here, and how dearly longed for by her LORD there, who thus, with the offer of herself, sacrifices every single thought, fancy, desire, affection, to Him Who sacrificed Himself for her on Calvary!

"The liberal deviseth liberal things." And with this example before us, let us see, dear Sisters, how heartily, how unboundedly, we can give up ourselves to our LORD at this most holy season. You will daily, this week,--one day only excepted--watch by that LORD in His Sacred Presence. What is there that you should not prepare yourselves to ask? What should you not expect to receive? Oh what blessings you may win in its course, if you only choose to have them! What a multitude of services, if it please GOD to spare you to the end of the week, will you have assisted at! chiefly that, the dearest and most solemn of all the year, the Midnight Communion. Indeed, these things must not leave you as they find you. Thus to receive, thus to kneel in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, thus to confess--indeed there are few who will have the responsibility: see that you receive the privilege as true Brides of CHRIST. Oh my Sisters, looking forward as now to the speaking to you so often, let me have the comfort of feeling that I am helped by your prayers! It is so sad to speak coldly or unworthily of these great joys; and yet how can I hope to lead you into them rightly unless you assist with your own intercessions? After this season of gladness we shall probably, as you know, be separated widely enough. While we are yet together, let us try to bring down GOD'S blessing upon us in common. The great joy to all people ought to be a more especial joy to us.

We have professed to be looking for Him more earnestly: let us find Him more gladly. And no better time than this again to begin our Christian course; the birthday of our LORD, let it be our resurrection from sloth and carelessness; the new year, my Sisters, shall it not be a better one than the last? We want fresh hope, fresh trust, fresh courage, for we are sure to have fresh difficulties: but we want also fresh thankfulness; for GOD'S mercies to us here are renewed again and again. The Liberal deviseth liberal things for us: let us try how fully, how freely, how lavishly, (in our different ways, we are all bound to this gift,) we can offer ourselves to Him. This is my desire for you and for myself: that we should never either spare ourselves or each other, so He may vouchsafe to have need of us, so He may condescend to gain glory by us!

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

Project Canterbury