Second Sunday in Advent, 1865.
Liberality II. Isaiah xxxii. 8.
I THINK, my Sisters, that one of the reasons why many who would desire to see our dear LORD anywhere and everywhere, see so little of Him in the Old Testament, is this: They are afraid to apply to Him expressions and prophecies which, at first glance, would seem to imply that He, Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, was not spotless. Such texts for example as, "My wickednesses are gone over My Head, and are like a sore burden, too heavy for Me to hear;" or that might appear to imply more than bodily weakness; as, "By this I know Thou favourest Me, that Mine enemy doth not triumph over Me." Ah! and thus we lose so much of force and beauty in the Psalms. He. loaded with the weight of all the iniquities of all the sons of Adam, from that first sin that lost Paradise, to the last that shall be committed before He shall come to judge the quick and the dead, how could He not say, "My wickednesses, the untold and innumerable wickednesses, both of those that shall be saved through My Passion, and those who shall be lost for their rejection of Me, have gone over My Head; My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death?"
You will see presently, my Sisters, what this has to do with the text.
"The liberal deviseth liberal things." Before the world was, we know how the King had devised a plan of salvation for His revolted subjects, a place of rallying for His defeated warriors, a place of reconciliation for His rebellious children. And this holy season shews Him to us as the Liberal indeed. Liberal of the co-eternal and co-equal glory which He had with the FATHER before all ages, but which He is now about for a while to lay aside: liberal of His own humility and wearinesses and sufferings; liberal in all His offers of grace and His promises: liberal of His teaching and His miracles. "Deviseth liberal things." For what more marvellous device than this: that even when taken away from us in His Bodily Presence, in His Bodily Presence He should remain with us, and that always, even unto the end of the world? What more marvellous device than this, that He should hide, under the form of a little Bread and Wine, not His Divinity only, but His Humanity also! O truly liberal King, Who, because He can give us nothing greater, gives us His own most Precious Self! Who, rather than leave us orphans, condescends to expose Himself to the unbelief and insults of erring and wicked men! And what was the wisdom of that device, not only beyond the utmost powers of man's understanding to fathom, but which Satan himself failed to read aright till it was too late? The victory over death by Death: power born out of weakness: the sepulchre in Joseph's garden turned into the seed-store of all life? And "the Liberal," ever. In shedding every drop of His most precious Blood for us: in saying, not now in words only, but in deeds: "What could have been done more to My vineyard that I have not done in it?" Liberal is this our true Ahasuerus to His Esther beyond the famous promise of the first. With him, then, it was: "What wilt thou, Queen Esther, and what is thy request? it shall be even given thee, to the half of the kingdom." But our Monarch, in the same night in which He was betrayed, made no such limited grant.
"Whatsoever ye shall ask in My Name, that"--not to the half of My Kingdom--but "that will I do, that the FATHER may be glorified in the SON." And further notice; it is not said devised, but deviseth, liberal things. None the less, my Sisters, does He now live to make intercession for us, than He once did to make atonement for us. Does He not every day, and every hour, send clown those good things which, in His Sermon on the Mount, He, in the Name of the FATHER, promised? Every thought of love He puts into the heart of each of you, every time He makes the crooked straight and the rough places plain; every Sacrament, let it be what it may, that He bestows on you,--is it not still, "The Liberal deviseth liberal things?"
"And by liberal things shall He stand." We may take this in the sense that, because of the great love wherewith He has loved us, because of the great power wherewith He has helped us,--has loved and helped us, does love and help us still; He, His Church on earth with which He is one, shall stand, His dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and His Kingdom one that shall not, shall never be destroyed. But now, and here comes in what I said at the beginning, let us take it in a bolder, and, as I think, an even truer sense. He Who devised such liberal things for His servants here, shall, by His servants here, the grace of His HOLY SPIRIT enabling them, have liberal things devised for Him. Of Him, we know, and through Him, no less than to Him, are all things. "All the rivers," the wise man says, "run into the sea. . . . Unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again." Yes: it is of His infinite condescension that it is so. In the great battle on earth that He is fighting with Satan, His own arm might, as of old, work salvation for Him. But He vouchsafes to allow us to be His fellow-workers: He vouchsafes, to say it with the most infinite reverence, to stand or to fall by our victories. And now then, it is the parts and duties of all, but especially of Sisters, to give whatever He may call for, whatever He may need, not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver: as He did for us, so after our own poor way, to devise liberal things for Him.
And have they not done so, the Saints and Elect of former ages? "To their power," S. Paul says, of certain converts of his, as we were hearing the other night, "yea, and beyond their power." That is devising liberal things.
And did they not do so, those Martyrs who, for the joy of serving1 Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame? Did they not, with an equal willingness devise them, those Confessors and Missionaries, who, for His sake, took up the Cross which, without sin, they might have declined, and followed Him? "Freely ye have received, freely give." And freely, (except that in that most true sense, the love of CHRIST constrained them,) they did give. Some, like the Jews of old in the wilderness, brought gold and silver and precious stones: and the women brought their cunning work. But in one way the parallel utterly fails. It never has been, it never can be, said of the Church Militant now, as it was to that which S. Stephen calls the Church in the wilderness, "The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which the LORD commanded to make." And most surely, our True Moses will never issue the corresponding command, "Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the Sanctuary."
And then, my Sisters, remember that whatever vows, beyond those of every Christian woman, you have taken on yourselves, are, because He so vouchsafes to take them, liberal things. Nay, more: and that by such kind of liberal things, whether in the secular or the Religious Life, He has vouchsafed to stand: to strengthen His dominions, to extend His kingdom. The more plainly you keep this before you the better, if it were only for this reason. There have been sacrifices made, of which it is written, "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination." There have been prayers said, and festivals observed, of which GOD Himself has said: "Your new moons and your appointed feasts, My soul hateth; they are a trouble unto Me; I am weary to bear them." S. Peter, you see, reads you a lesson in the very order in which he places the two parts of your work: "What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation,"--there is the interior work; "and godliness,"--there is the outward labour; these are the liberal things.
But then, my Sisters, only see what this involves in us. Here you are talked about and praised and admired for doing liberal things; and well, so far, that it should be so, because it is only fulfilling our dear LORD'S own command: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your FATHER which is in heaven." But I often wonder whether, as either S. Vincent de Paul or S. Francis de Sales says, (for I have not the passage but in sense), whether those who have helped you, loved you, prayed for you,--honestly, and, without any suspicion of flattery, admired your different works,--whether they might not be surprised how (to quote that Prayer Book Article, which is, however, taken from S. Thomas)--"The infection of our nature doth remain, yea, even in them that are regenerate:" and more than that, in them that are trying, and with the resolution of trying to walk in the highest way. Only imagine what would be that agony, in the Last Day, of being condemned by your own, not words so much as, deeds; because, if you could do external works which but by GOD'S grace you never could have done, and without having done which, others will enter in, you would not act up to that same grace in your own hearts. You could keep the vineyards of others: you would not keep your own.
"The liberal deviseth liberal things." Now, in a very practical sense, this comes very near to that which S. Paul tells us in that glorious description of charity: "Believeth all things, hopeth all things." "If GOD so loved us, we ought also to love one another." Now if He Whom we profess to follow deviseth liberal things for us, why can you not devise to the full, liberal things for each other? Remember: the greater part of each other's bad points you must know as well as I do: those that mutually concern one another, certainly better. But this always has been, and always will be true. Each other's good points neither can you know, neither could nor can any Sisterhood have that knowledge. Now, to devise liberal things, in this sense, is to say, if you see a manifest fault, be it of temper, want of obedience, complaining, or what not else: "Well, it is true I see this thing to be wrong: I should have tried against it, I hope at least, myself. But how can I tell what, in her case, the temptation might have been? how much less can I tell what other temptations she may have conquered, to which I, likely enough, might have yielded?" This, and this kind of thing, is the liberal 'devising of liberal things among yourselves.
And now, to end: what is this verse, applied to you, but the application of the teaching of our dear LORD about "that Day, that Day of calamity" of which this time reminds us? "I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a Stranger, and ye took Me in; naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye visited Me; I was in prison, and ye came unto Me."
Yes: but He hungers more for your love; He thirsts more for your salvation; He stands at the door and knocks, that He may not be a stranger: He was sick to death upon the Cross: and how often, and how lovingly, my dearest Sisters, have you visited Him in heart and mind there? These questions must one day be answered: when, more fittingly, can they be put than now?
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.