Consolation and Exultation.
Isaiah xxxiii. 16, 17.
AND here again we have the Captain and the followers, the Head and the members, coupled in one and the same sentence. "What therefore GOD hath joined together, let not man put asunder." He has united them in the text: we must not sever them in the sermon. And the Advent Prophet, Isaiah, may well speak to us now. I think we all need his comfort: and almost every chapter of his has its own store of strong" consolation.
"He shall dwell on high." Lift up your eyes, dear Sisters, to that Cross, His dwelling of agony and reproach and shame, our strong tower, our castle, our lodging where all good things are. "On high," indeed! where He might cast His all-seeing eyes to the furthest centuries of time, tracing the struggles and conflicts and defeats, and victories also, of the Church in its onward course through the world's history: where He might look forth as it were over the darkness that had covered the earth, and gross darkness the people; and see the beginning of that dawn streaming from Golgotha, the first faint rays of the everlasting light shooting forth from the place of a skull.
"On high," indeed: so that we, wherever we are, however dispersed, however distressed, however cast down, might see this blessed and never-conquered trophy towering up far above all other things, drawing our very hearts and love and desires to itself, made all our salvation, and all our desire. Oh happy eyes, dearest Sisters, that turn thither as it were naturally, in difficulty or distress! Oh happy memories, that look back to that day and that hour, as the day and the hour of present succour and of present comfort! Oh happy hope, that can realize that blessed form, the Sign of the Son of Man, no longer the instrument of suffering, but the badge of glory: that can hear those words of its appearance: "Then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh!"
And yet we look on and up from that dwelling on the Cross, to the dwelling on high, even on the Throne at the right hand of the FATHER. O dear Sisters! (but how infinitely dearer to Him than even to me!) there it is that He is watching you now; thence that He is sending you the grace that He sees you to need; there that He stands ready to be "a defence for the oppressed," you, His poor oppressed children, "even a refuge in due time of trouble." Your thoughts and wishes and aspirations must well know the way thither. How many a prayer has set off from these desks, and found no rest or stay in its progress, till, passing the ranks of Angels and Archangels, rising above Cherubim and Seraphim, before that Throne, the mercy-seat of the whole world, it has found acceptance!
"He shall dwell on high." It is said of you, dear Sisters, no less than of Him. Oh what heavenly lives these of yours ought to be! How the little earthly vexations and difficulties, that form so large a part of theirs who are devoted to the world, should have no place here! I know, my Sisters, how sadly true it is that they will intrude even here; I know that you might take S. Paul's saying on your own lips, "So that I cannot do the things that I would." But then, they are not to be got rid of all at once.
Are years of waiting and conflict too great a price to be paid for this habit of dwelling on high? Never be disappointed that, as yet, so much that might happen in any house in this place, occurs here also. Never be discouraged, though you may sometimes misunderstand each other, though you are sometimes impatient with each other. But then, also, never sit down quietly and say, "It always will be so, and there is no use to try against it." No. The same grace which has thus far led you on, what is there which it cannot finally enable you to do? what is there that it cannot beat down under your feet?
But we must not tie down that happy clause to one sense only. "He shall dwell on high:" GOD make it true of all of you here! But with what earnestness of prayer do I not say, GOD make it true of each one of you hereafter! And yet when I think of that end, how much I know that you must have gone through before it in the way. Beginning from this moment, what multitudes of battles to be fought! how many pleasant things to be given up! how many strong, earnest efforts to be made! But for these and the like promises, how could I bear to look for you into that long dangerous journey? I wish, most earnestly I wish, if it be GOD'S will, that it may be my journey as well as yours. But however that may be, if He shall in the first place spare me thus to be able to help you, and in the second, if you yourselves shall always have the same wish for my help, or whether these things shall not be so, this is the one really important thing--that you should be really dwelling on high while here, that out of the valley of Baca you should be looking to the utmost bounds of the everlasting hills; and then, I know, that where your hopes and longings and prayers have been, there you will some day, in GOD'S own time, also be yourselves.
But then this next clause strikes me as very singular. "His place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks." Of rocks! Can there be more than one true Rock? Can there be more than one place to which the righteous may flee and be safe? Can there be more than one very shadow from the sun, and shelter from the tempest? And how then do we read here, "munitions of rocks?" It is not without a reason of deep love. This same LORD, always so ready to defend in every danger, always so ready to console in every trouble, is a very present help to us under each and all of the trials that may fall upon us, as much so as if He were our safeguard with respect to that, and that alone. Each of these His defences is, as it were, a separate munition. I will tell you where is one most excellent place of defences of rocks; it is your Litany of the Name of JESUS. What temptation or sorrow can any of you have known, by the remembrance of which, as having known it Himself, He is not invoked to assist you? Is it difficult always to give up our own way and our own will for the love of Him? "Even CHRIST pleased not Himself:" "JESU, most obedient, have mercy upon us." Do all the storms and darkness and troublesome waves of this world, what this or that person may say or may think, what a tempest may be stirred up against this or that service of GOD, ever make you afraid? "In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world:" "JESU, Star of the Sea, have mercy upon us." Does it ever seem hard to you to have given up earthly ties and earthly affections, and simply and solely to belong to Him, Who is chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely? Then there comes the promise to them "that have forsaken father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My Name's sake:" "JESU, Lover of Chastity, have mercy upon us." See how each of these is, as it were, a separate munition: how these defences, all derived from one rock, may yet be counted, in a certain sense, each of them as separate rocks: and then we see that the promise of the Prophet here is not without its own full and appropriate meaning.
" Bread shall he given him." I sometimes fear, my dearest Sisters, lest we should run the risk of not thinking sufficiently of this our privilege of privileges, the sureness of our Living Bread in this place. I must speak plainly about this. Imagine that, years ago, before you had entered on this life, it had been told you that the time would come when, without leaving your own home, without any kind of fatigue, without any sort of uncertainty, regularly, morning after morning, the Body and the Blood of your LORD and your GOD would be given to you. Would you not have been like the disciples when they believed not for joy, and wondered? Would not such a blessing have seemed beyond the reasonable limits of possibility? And yet further: if it had been said: "Always there must be fearful risk in so frequent a reception; but still you shall be warned; still the Priest who gives you this your greatest strength shall also know your full weakness; still, you shall not be able to eat of that manna without his reminding you what manner of persons you ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness?" Dearest Sisters, you will not misunderstand me when I say this. I am not magnifying myself. That you know me far, far too well, to suspect me of doing. But I am magnifying my office. And I cannot but feel that thus to have a Priest who can celebrate for you daily; thus to have a Priest, (however unworthy in himself, does not, so far, matter in the least,) whose first and dearest care you are; thus to be urged and persuaded to frequent Confession, is a privilege for which you will one day have to answer. You know, my own Sisters, that the number of those who have equal external means of grace with yourselves in England might be reckoned by tens: and then comes that terrible question: "What do ye more than others?" And if not more, oh how much, much less! Thus to eat of the Spotless Lamb, and to allow any spot of sin to remain! thus to feed on His Flesh Who died for you, and not to die with Him to the world! thus to be incorporated with Him Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, and to allow any sin of word or deed, not most vigorously fought against, not most successfully eradicated! GOD forbid!
"His waters shall be sure." We might, I know, take that as the other part of the same promise. "Bread "--the Body that hung on the Cross--"shall be given him: his waters"--the Blood that poured forth from those five unconquerable wounds--"shall be sure." But I would rather take it, as most do, of the other streams of GOD'S grace, of whatever kind they are, in whatever channel they run. And to you they are sure indeed. Think of your seven regular and secure Hours of prayer. Think how each of those ought to bring you down a regular and stated blessing from Heaven: how, only throw your whole heart and soul into them, and they shall in no wise lose their reward.
And then comes that loveliest of texts: "Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty." Even here, and in a sense, that is true. Thus Zechariah also uses the word, where he is speaking" of our dear LORD'S Sacramental Presence: "For what is His goodness, and what is His beauty, save the Corn of the Mighty, and the Wine that blossoms into Virgins?" And beauty you do indeed see in that poor and humble form; there is glory for you under the appearance of that Bread and that Wine. Oh that you may there see it more and more! not like the Jewish Shechinah, of which we were speaking the other night, a visible light and majesty; but a light and fire to be felt in your own hearts, there to illuminate, there to inflame, there to comfort! I think that you know, all of you, something of this blessedness by experience. GOD only grant that you may do so more and more!
And then, that other seeing the King in His beauty! How can I think, how can I speak of that! That, to which all earthly beauty is deformity; that, of which all spiritual beauty is only the weakest and faintest resemblance! That text has comforted many a weary and homesick soul in the hour of death: such light, after a little darkness; such glory,after a little suffering!
And then, whose heart has not burnt within them at that last clause? "They shall behold the land that is very far off." Thank GOD, dear Sisters, that we have not so learned CHRIST as to interpret these glorious prophecies after the wretched, starved, meagre, miserable fashion of Protestant commentators. And, that you may be thankful, hear how they explain this. That the verse referred to King Hezekiah, and the invasion of the Assyrian. Hezekiah was now ill of that sickness from which he was miraculously raised up. "Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty," is merely a prophecy of his healing: he should receive his natural strength and health, and good looks, and his people should see him so. "They shall behold the land that is very far off." At present, the far-off country was held by the Assyrians; none ventured to roam at liberty, without the walls of Jerusalem. They should soon be destroyed, and then any one might safely travel into the more distant parts of the land. To us, dear Sisters, is it not a mere mockery and profanation thus to cramp the meaning of the HOLY GHOST?
"They shall behold the land that is very far off." Ah, dearest Sisters, but when and how? Not according to Balaam's most doleful, most depressing prophecy, "I shall see Him, but not now; I shall behold Him, but not nigh." Not as strangers and foreigners, not as at a distance, not as through a glass darkly, not as the land of the ransomed people from which we are as yet divided. No! as the land of our own people, the land of our own Head, our own, very own country, where we live and shall live, where our one service is to love, where we cannot sin, whence we cannot be exiled, the land which has no temple, for it is all temple; the land which has no sun, for it is all sun; the land with regard to which all our self-denials here, all our crosses, all our prayers, all our confessions, all our sufferings, were not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed.
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.