Seventh Sunday after Trinity, 1857.
Isaiah xlii. 19.
A DIFFICULT text, at first sight, to understand, and a far more difficult text, when it is understood, to be practised. Yet all that will themselves by CHRIST'S Name must practise it in their several degrees: they most, who desire most to give themselves up entirely to Him, who wish to live only for Him, of Whom it might more especially be said, in the words of S. Paul, "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the SON of GOD, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me."
Now see by what Name, in these middle chapters of Isaiah, it is that our LORD is principally called. Not, as in those after-times, "My well-beloved SON," not "The brightness of My Glory, and the express image of My Person," not "My Shepherd, and the Man that is My Fellow;" but constantly, over and over again, "My Servant." "Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.'' "Behold, My Servant, Whom I uphold; Mine Elect, in Whom My soul delighteth; I have put My SPIRIT upon Him." "By His knowledge shall My righteous Servant justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities." And so also in Zechariah: "Behold, I will bring forth My Servant the Branch." And what does all this teach us, except that saying of S. Paul's, "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered?" Therefore, because Isaiah is here speaking of His humility, and not as yet of His glory; of His Passion, and not as yet of His Throne; of the Crown of Thorns, and not as yet of the Crown of Gold; of His Death, and not as yet of His Resurrection;--therefore it is that over and over again He calls Him by that name of Servant. And so in like manner holy men have not feared to apply to our Blessed LORD that saying in His own parable, "Well done, good and faithful Servant, Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make Thee Ruler over many things." A good Servant, indeed, He was to us, Who bore the burden and heat of the day, that we might lie down in green pastures and feed beside still waters; Who girded Himself and ministered, that we might sit down to the Marriage Supper; Who made Himself a little lower than the Angels, to the end that our flesh might in His own Person be exalted "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come." And a faithful Servant, Who truly, and in a. sense in which none other ever could, or ever will be able to, say so, could say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished My course, I have kept the faith:" the faith, namely, pledged from the beginning of the world, that the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head; the faith pledged to David, that out of his posterity should rise up One Who should reign over the House of Israel for ever: the faith that out of Bethlehem should rise up the Governour Whose goings forth had been of old.
Yes: He Who elsewhere calls Himself "a worm, and no man; a very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people;" He here calls Himself a Servant, "leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps." And that then, my dear Sisters, is your title too: servants to Him above and beyond all things, but servants also to others for His sake. "The SON of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister:" no more do you. See how this very word Servant transfigures, as it were, and glorifies every little action that is done for Him: every work, however mean, every effort, however low the subject. Only never forget to pray for this also: that yon may do all such good works as He has prepared for yon to walk in; and the more immediately and manifestly they are of His preparing, and not of your own, the more thankfully you will receive them, the more diligently you will perform them.
And now see, what is the title here given to this good and faithful Servant, to this Only and Well-beloved SON. "Who is blind, but My Servant? or deaf, as My Messenger that I sent?" What, He blind, Who is about our path and about our bed, and spieth out all our ways? of Whom it is written, "The darkness is no darkness with Thee, but the night is as clear as the day: the darkness and light to Thee are both alike;" Who, from the watch-tower of the Cross, saw through the long line of coming years all the efforts and struggles and victories of His Saints, who should be saved through His merits,--all the sins and blasphemies and mischiefs of the wicked, who should he lost through their own obstinacy? He blind, of Whom it is said, "Thou GOD seest me?" He blind, Whom Zechariah beheld as the Stone on which were seven eyes? And again: What? He deaf, Who has promised, "It shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear?" the GOD that heareth prayer, and unto Whom all flesh shall come? Yes, it is so indeed: and let us see how. And here, dearest Sisters, is one great point in which you also must try to be like Him,--one of the most difficult likenesses to Him, one also of the most necessary: to endeavour to be blind as the LORD'S Servant, and deaf as the Messenger Whom He sends. You have heard of the admiral who was attacking a most difficult and dangerous, and, as it was believed, impregnable fort, when he was told that the signal of recall was made by his superior officer,--which signal to disobey, if he saw it, was death: how, being blind of one eye, he closed the other, and turned the blind one in the direction of the flag of recall, and after declaring that he could not himself see it, gave orders that the battle should continue, and so took the strong fort, and obtained for himself a name that will not be forgotten. It is that sort of blindness which we all want: a blindness which cannot see difficulties,--which has no sense for them,--which is unable to understand them. What! my dear Sisters, you, going forth to battle against sin, the world, and the devil, under His banner Who is King of kings and Lord of lords--under His chieftainship of Whom it is written, that "He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet"--those blessed Feet that were pierced for us,--going forth as His Servant of Whom the voice of the Angels is, "Alleluia, for the LORD GOD Omnipotent reigneth!"--you to have any sense of difficulty, you to have any idea of danger, you to know that there are such words as impossible and cannot? GOD forbid. See how GOD'S servants have always been thus blind to difficulty. "Who art thou, O great mountain?" it was said to the Jews: "before Zerubbabel thou shall become a plain, and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings." When the enemies said of the walls of Jerusalem, "Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall," how does Nehemiah answer? "The work is great and large, and we are separated upon the wall, one far from another. In what place, therefore, ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our GOD shall fight for us."
"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills." Yes, but not those hills of earthly difficulties which seem to meet us at every step, which sometimes seem almost to block up and to close in our way. That is just what we are not to do. It is to those heavenly hills, that mountain, where the LORD of Hosts will make to all that have conquered a feast of fat things,--where He will swallow up death in victory, and all things that pertain to death, as difficulties and sorrows and troubles,--it is to those everlasting hills that we are to look up; and then if we do, in very truth, our help will come from them. What difficulties you are to expect--difficulties from within and from without, from yourselves and others, in all sorts of ways and from all kinds of persons--this, dearest Sisters, you know very well. A Sisterhood without difficulties would be impossible. And why? Because it would shew that Satan had forgotten to watch, had ceased to he the roaring lion who goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Is it likely that any set of persons should go forth and make an attack on his kingdom, and he, in his turn, not be stirred up to more than usual anger against them? against them all, and against them each, against them as a body, and against them as individuals? If we think so, it is very little that we know of what S. Paul speaks of as a most necessary part of Christian knowledge: "Lest Satan should get an advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices." And therefore the more need that you should constantly pray that, like S. Paul, you may be able to say, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the LORD JESUS, to testify the gospel of the grace of Gou:"--that you should pray to be blind as the LORD'S Servant, and deaf as His Messenger Whom He hath sent. And that not for yourselves only, but for your dear Sisters, bearing, more than yourselves, the burden and heat of the day, with less present means of grace than yourselves; struggling, alone, and isolated: you should pray for them that they too may thus be blind, thus be deaf. You know the prayer that a king, about to engage an army five times as large as his own, put up for his soldiers,--that GOD would that clay take away from them the sense of numbers. And so we must pray for our dearest Sisters, that GOD would take from them the sense of difficulty and loneliness, would fill their hearts with that one thought, "Fear not: they that be with us are more than they that be with them:" would make them "blind as the LORD'S Servant, and deaf as His Messenger Whom He hath sent?"
Of that blindness I have spoken: the second clause shews us the Captain of our Salvation as deaf also. Yes: He Who said, "The LORD GOD hath opened Mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back,"--Who had no sooner heard the Voice of the FATHER, calling Him to His great work, than He said, "Lo, I come to do Thy will, O my GOD: I am content to do it! yea, Thy law is within my heart:" He was deaf to everything that could call him away from that work: deaf to Satan, when he said, "If Thou be the SON of GOD, command that these stones be made bread,"--"If Thou be the SON of GOD, cast Thyself down:" deaf to the persuasions of His friends when they said, "If Thou do these things, shew Thyself to the world:"--deaf to the upbraiding of His enemies, when they cried, "Let CHRIST the King of Israel descend now from the Cross, that we may see and believe." And so to all such suggestions, dear Sisters, you must pray that you may be equally deaf. However they may come before you, however plausible they may be, however they may endeavour to win you, having put your hand to the plough, to turn back,--you must be indeed "like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ears; which refuseth to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely." Thus it was that the Captain of your Salvation did: thus it is that the followers of His ransoming must behave. That voice to which He turned a deaf ear,--oh how often will it speak to you!--"Let CHRIST the King of Israel descend now from the Cross.'' You will be urged again and again to come down from your Cross, to turn back from your work, to cease to struggle in the battle, to sit down and rest in the race. The Church may well pray in that daily morning hymn, that He "Would close our ears from vanities:" for we have no power thus to close them of ourselves,--we have no power thus to be deaf of ourselves; the power of not seeing and of not hearing, must equally come from Him Who formed the eye and the ear. Because this was our Master's portion, we might have been sure that it would be ours. But see how Isaiah tells us, in so many words, that it is to be so. He begins, "Who is blind, but My Servant? or deaf, as My Messenger that I sent?" and then he proceeds to a second question, "Who is blind as He that is perfect, and blind as the LORD'S Servant?" There he speaks of those who are trying to keep nearest to their dear LORD, and to walk most worthily of Him: to be perfect, as He is perfect: to serve, as He served--and the question that applies to Him applies to them in their measure also.
Yes, dearest Sisters; and GOD grant that it may apply to you! GOD grant that you may have no eyes for difficulties, no ears for temptations here; and then some day your "eyes shall see the King in His beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off,"--some day your ears shall hear the voice of heaven, the voice of many waters, the voice as of a great thunder, the voice of harpers harping with their harps: the new Song before the Throne, and the four Living Creatures, and the Elders--the Song of Moses and of the Lamb!
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.