The Treasures of Our King.
Isaiah xxxix. 3, 4.
FROM a far country they came indeed, whose coming is our joy at this time. From the land of darkness and of the shadow of death, from a barren and dry land where no water is; from the spiritual Babylon,--for Babylon by interpretation is confusion--to the earthly Jerusalem, and thence to the blessed House of Bread. They came, the three first fruits of the Gentile world with their three mystical gifts: they came, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, for the Living Well, antitypes of the three ancient worthies that, bursting through the host of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate. And notice that, even as it was the heavens that to them first declared the glory of GOD, so it was in consequence of a celestial wonder that these Babylonian ambassadors came to Hezekiah: the sign of the shadow that went back ten decrees on the dial of Ahaz.
And though they saw no riches, no treasures of an earthly king,--only Joseph and Mary, and the Babe lying in a manger,--yet of a verity our truer Hezekiah might take the words of the king of Judah on His own most Blessed Lips, as regards that Gentile Church of which they were foundation stones, and as regards each member of it. "All the things that are in Mine House have they seen; there is nothing among My treasures that I have not shewed them."
"All that is in Mine House." So we have; only with the eye of faith now, that it may be with the eye of sense hereafter. "All that us in Mine House:" the many mansions, the gates of pearl, the river of water of life clear as crystal, the tree of life on its either side, the harpers harping with their harps; and centre, and goal, and heart of all that blessed company, the LAMB That hath been slain, He That liveth and was dead, and is alive for evermore; all that human sense, as it now is, could in any way understand, can in any way express. He that was caught up, and saw these things with mortal eyes, found, when he returned to this world, that he could not utter them; that they were things impossible for man to tell of.
And think for one moment what that all means. We have felt our hearts burn within us, sometimes, when we have heard the utterance of some Saint like Venerable Bede, in those glorious lessons for All Saints, or Bernard of Cluny, or S. Peter Damiani, as to the joys of Paradise. And yet what can their brightest, dearest, most loving description be, but attempting, as some one says, to give in a painting the burning brightness of tropical skies and landscape, with no other materials than chalk and ashes?
"All that is in Mine House." And remember whom that all includes. All those Saints whose names are as household words in our mouths; all those Saints of whom we have heard, and that all; all those still more countless Saints of whom we have never heard, and some of them, perhaps, the greatest; and to know them (as the general belief of the Saints is), not by any process of learning, not by any slow inquiries and answers, but naturally, intuitively, in a moment.
But what follows has even more to do with us; that is to say, more immediately. "There is nothing among My treasures that I have not shewed them." Might not that be said to all of you, my Sisters, now, this very moment, so far as regards those that are still in this world militant? Among those treasures of grace which have taught the Saints to live, which have taught them to die, what is there that you have not? And the word shewed is remarkable. Here they are for you, if you will. What is that treasure of prayer, He Himself has said: "Whatsoever ye shall ask the FATHER in My Name, He will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My Name; ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." But you must lay hold on it. There it is for you, as you kneel by those desks, beyond all manner of question; but it must be taken, so to speak, by violence. Look at it in this way. Suppose that the heartiest, the most earnest, the dearest times of prayer, the times that seemed to bring you closest of all to GOD, were only the ordinary state of things with you; it might be so; because, what you have had grace sufficient for once, you might have grace sufficient for always. Would not that be a little better seeing, a little better having , those treasures which your King, in His royal magnificence, shews you that you may covet, holds out to you that you may touch, vouchsafes, as of old time, to be wrestled with for, that you may obtain? He to offer so much, you to desire so little, and to take so much less!
And then, to go on to higher treasures than prayer only and by itself. Think of the different Sacraments which our King reckons among them. A late mediaeval Saint says, "Believe me, the holiest man that ever lived never got the hundredth part out of the least Sacrament that he might have done." It was, perhaps, rather a rough way of putting a great truth, but a great truth it is. Which of you, for example, have really leaned on the grace of Confirmation as you might have done? Baptismal grace? the grace bestowed in Absolution? and much more in that most Blessed Sacrament of all, that I well trust you have all learnt to lean on, to some certain extent. And even of the least of these four, how infinite may be the help? No one would compare, in value, a ruby to a diamond. No one would deny that Confirmation, of all those, is, in itself, the least great; and yet how many persons who have come, I will not say carelessly, but yet without any especially strict preparation, without any very earnest expectation, have found that the turning point of their lives!
One naturally thinks of the Sacraments and of Prayer, as first among our Hezekiah's treasures; naturally and truly. But not of them only. If heathen philosophers could use the proverb, "Sufferings, Gifts,"--how much more all Christians? how much more they who are more especially vowed to the Man of Sorrows? Treasures are none the less such, because they cause suffering. When the Peruvian bark, our common quinine, was first discovered, it was sold for twice its weight in gold. Did its bitterness make it any less a treasure?
About the treasures of GOD'S grace in this world we know something; a poor little something, but yet we do know it. Treasures only to be won by hard striving; shewn indeed to all, but to be gained, if gained, by each; some of them, in themselves, painful. But what of-those treasures hereafter? What, where there can be no shadow of pain in their acquisition, when we, who, as the Collect of this Festival says, who know Him now by faith, after this life have the fruition of His glorious Godhead?
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.