At a Celebration for a Sister Departed, in Presence of the Corpse.
August 30, 1860.
Isaiah xxxviii. 16.
[The first lay Sister of S. Margaret's: she died of cancer in the fate, after long suffering.]
"AND He said unto them, What things? And they said unto Him, concerning JESUS of Nazareth, Which was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before GOD and all the people." So I might say to you now respecting these things which Hezekiah here mentions. "By these things men live." By that Cross which is the anchor all our hopes; by that Agony, which is the ground of all our comfort; by that pierced Side, which is the cavern from the tempest, the hiding place from the storm; by that Crown of Thorns which has purchased for the elect a crown of glory; by those outstretched Arms which invite the whole world; by that Head, bowed down to give the last kiss of affection to each loving Bride; "by these things men live: and in all these things is the life of my spirit." By these things alone we can pass that Jordan which our dear Sister, as we piously believe, has now passed in safety. By these things. When we see that hour come creeping so slowly, yet so surely up, that hour which must be mot, that cup which cannot be put away, we know how He went through those very waters first, how they came in, even unto His Soul; how He stuck fast for us in deep mire, so that the floods went over Him; how His sight failed Him for waiting so long upon His GOD. Looking to Him first, and last, and midst, in this and in every passage of Scripture, yet, nevertheless, let us take the sense of this verse differently, not so as to shut Him out--GOD forbid! but so as to see Him in another way, and one which has more especially to do with our business of this day.
"By these things men live." Again I say, what things? And the answer is: By those very things we have before us now: by the coffin, the bier, the pall: by the words which we shall so soon hear, "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," by the new grave which will so soon stand shewing the latest tenant of the churchyard for awhile. "By these things men live" in the only true life. By these things men enter the Land of the Living. For they are but the worn-out tent of the soldier, who, after many battles, many toils, many defeats, many victories, is at length admitted to a place in the palace of his LORD. These are the dungeon garments of the emancipated prisoner, who, after many a night of weeping and day of darkness, has entered that Jerusalem which is free. These are the types of those grave-clothes that were rolled together by the care of the Angels, of that napkin put safely and calmly away in a place by itself: and therefore types also of that Prince of Life Who vouchsafed to use for three days what His dear servants will need, it is true, a little longer, but which, as surely as He laid aside at His own Resurrection, so will they in that First Resurrection before they reign with Him a thousand years. "By these things men live;" and for these things too. For, dear Sisters, what is the end and aim of this your present life, if it be not to go Home to Him Whom you love best? and you can go Home no other way. If GOD give you the grace of perseverance to the end, each of you in turn will so be sent for into the Royal Palace; each of you in turn will so be commemorated in the great Sacrifice by those that shall survive you--perhaps by me, perhaps by some other Priest. It is the very end for which you are living; it is the very end which your happy Sister has now reached.
"Whom the LORD loveth, He chasteneth."' And without that affliction, however she might at last have gone Home safely, humanly speaking, she could not have so entered into Paradise as we believe she has. For most surely, of all those whom I have seen depart from this world, I never had such full assurance of hope, such, assurance as to be all but certainty, as I have of her: such assurance, that if it were this night revealed to me by an Angel from Heaven that it was well with her, I could scarcely feel happier or more thankful than I do. But then, year by year, I have seen,--we all must have seen,--a marvellous difference in her. We have seen, that those weary nights here allotted her were doing their work; "by these things men live." We have seen that in the hours and days of solitude she was not really alone, because He was with her Who had loved her with an everlasting love. I grant it is a great pleasure, at least to one's earthly nature, to be able to remember the last glance of one who is gone, as we can that last vision of our other dear Sister,--when the face is as the face of an Angel. But I am not sure whether it is not really more glorious, to know that in a case like this, where those terrible declarations of Job were literally true, nevertheless our Sister, whom we shall so soon see no more, will at the Resurrection Day, remaining absolutely the same, be perfect in beauty. No mark then of the long disease; no trace then of the sad disfiguration: nothing of that sort in the perpetual spring, and the region where "the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick."
"In all these things is the life of my spirit.'' She might have said so. I doubt not, she does say so. I doubt not, if, as we may piously believe, she is with us now, presently to adore with us under the Form of Bread and Wine that Immaculate LAMB Whom she also beholds without a veil, she knows how true, as applied to her, is that saying. The death, the gradual decay of the body; the life, the gradual renewing of the spirit. I have always admired that part in the Pilgrim's Progress, where Mr. Standfast, when about half-way over the Black River, and asked by his friends how he felt, made answer: "The water is cold and bitter to flesh and blood, but I feel the bottom, and it is good." So she felt the bottom, and it was good, all the better, because of the lesson which the Man of Sorrows had been teaching her; because of the long dark passage by which the LORD of Glory was taking her to Himself.
"So shall Thou recover me." How? Why, as Elisha recovered Naaman, not by striking his hand on the place, and healing the leper, but by bidding him go down to Jordan. So the True Prophet led our dear Sister down to the Jordan of death; and when we see her again with our earthly eyes, then her cure will be complete. A longer cure than Naaman's; but what then? One day is with the LORD as a thousand years: and a thousand years as one day. "So shall Thou recover me," still. "And make me to live "that life which is only life: that life which the Martyrs and Confessors and Virgins live: that life which they live that came out of great tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the Blood of the LAMB: that life, in which death is swallowed up: that life where every carnal war is at an end: where the outer frame will help on, instead of hindering, the soul: that life which will bestow on the glorified body its four great gifts: that life which is close to the fountain of life and light, and in whose light it sees light.
Well, my Sisters, we are increasing our numbers on the other side of the river, are we not? Whichever of you is taken next, will have two companions to meet you as you come up from those waters, and to accompany you into the Presence of the great King. For me, I ought to feel quite rich with two children in safety, two for whom I cannot be anxious, two for whom I pray indeed and hope, but about whom I cannot fear.
Then they live in endless being,
Passingness has passed away,
There they bloom, they thrive, they flourish,
For decayed is all decay:
Lasting energy hath swallowed
Darkling death's malignant sway.''
But for you, my Sisters, and for myself, there is as yet no safety, no peace, no repose. All this, if anything can, must teach us how miserably little that is, which is not eternal; how utterly poor and wretched is every trouble, every worry, every pleasure, that is not for Him Whom we profess to serve: how, when one remembers what the end is, what we wish it to be, how incomparably puny is everything which has not to do with that end: but then, how incomparably great is everything which has. How every single unmeet thought put down, every single unkind word repressed, every single unworthy action stayed, small as they be in themselves, all will help, when the day comes, to make you say, "I feel the bottom, and it is good." For be very sure that in that hour when fearfulness and trembling come upon us, and an horrible dread overwhelms us, then, if ever, the remembrance of past sins will rise up against us; then, if ever, Satan will tempt us to despair, shewing us the bright fields, and saying, "Behold, thou hast seen them with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go in thither." And, though we may after all be saved, though we may at last see the darkness roll off, yet who would not willingly spend and be spent for the sake of a happy passage, of a hopeful departure!
Well: those evil spirits who have hitherto been employed in tempting our dear and now victorious Sister to evil, must henceforth find other prey. Her they cannot hurt. Her they cannot alarm; her soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler: the snare is broken, and she is delivered.
I cannot wonder, my Sisters, if with the remembrance of what you suffered before, you feel rather frightened about being present at the funeral this afternoon. [The Lewes riots at the funeral of the first Sister who was taken home, 1857.] But, speaking first merely in natural reason, from all I hear, you have not the least cause to apprehend anything but the most perfect quiet. And, next, let us commit the matter into GOD'S Hands, and He, according to His Promise, will make our enemies to be at peace with us. We might, no doubt, I have taken some precautions; but I confess, I feel strongly with Ezra: "For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying. The Hand of our GOD is upon all them for good that seek him; but His power and His wrath is against all them that forsake Him."
And now, let us come before the King to Whom all things live, and, in the great Sacrifice, ask for her an increase in holiness, an increase in happiness, greater and greater nearness to the Throne and the LAMB, and, lastly, a blessed and glorious resurrection!
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.