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Sermons on Passages from the Prophets
by the Rev. John Mason Neale

London: J.T. Hayes, 1877

Sermon XXIII.
Fourth Sunday after Trinity, 1857.
Isaiah xlix. 4.

AND no unusual saying either; for the Prophet was, after all, a man of like passions with ourselves: as easily discouraged, as soon cast down. Only, if we look at his complaint, let us look at his consolation also. And I know no more fitting time to speak of encouragement and comfort, than when the GOD of all strength, all consolation, is about to come down on our Altar; and I know of none who need that comfort more, who always have needed it more, than those like yourselves: those who have given up all things else for GOD; those who seek to be their LORD'S only; those who have nothing to do with earthly hopes, earthly cares, earthly pleasures; who desire a better country, that is an heavenly.

Now, dearest Sisters, depend upon it, that Satan, with all his craft and malice, knows exactly the temptation which is most likely to be successful with every kind of class and character; and his experience of six thousand years has wonderfully increased his power. Discouragement, then, is a woman's temptation to begin with: of all women, it is a Sister's. Read the lives of those who have done the best service to God in their convents, those who have walked nearest to Him, those whose lamps have been the brightest, as they waited for the Heavenly Bridegroom.: and how, over and over again, it is, "I have laboured in vain. I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain." I think, dear Sisters, that you all know something of this temptation: I think you have been partakers with them, your now happier Sisters, in their trouble: GOD grant that some day you may be partakers in their everlasting comfort. "I have laboured for nought," that is, in myself. 'I have spent 'my strength,' that is, I have undertaken GOD'S external work 'in vain,' so far as this world is concerned, because nothing has come of it; 'and for nought,' so far as respects the next world, because it will meet with no reward."

Yes! they all bear one testimony! Martyrs, who shed their blood for CHRIST; Confessors, who endured all trials for Him: Virgins, who renounced all things else to be more fully His; they all, in their several generations, have again and again been tempted to despond. For once that they have said, "I can do ail things through CHRIST Which strengthened me," it has a hundred times been, "I have laboured for nought; I have spent my strength in vain." It is no bad sign, my dear Sisters, for any one, when thus tempted to despond. For see how much it involves. The very feeling proves that you feel the service of GOD, you feel victory over sin, you feel devotion to your dear LORD, to be better than the life itself: to be pearls of great price, which you would willingly give all you have to obtain. If we know what a miserable feeling that is, when we think we are not making way, when our confessions of this month are no better than our confessions of last: if we know how wretched it is to break so many resolutions that we thought so earnestly made; if all this proves weakness, it must prove love too. If not, why should we care about the matter at all? If that dear Name, which is above every name, were not more to us than any other name, were not to us clearer than any other thought, what should so grieve us when we thought that we were not walking worthy of it? For my part, I have no doubt that the verse in S. Peter, which we have heard every morning for the past week, refers to this temptation to discouragement above everything else. "The GOD of all grace, Who hath called us to His eternal glory by CHRIST JESUS, after that ye have suffered awhile, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you." "After ye have suffered awhile." As if these doubts and difficulties were necessary parts of our trial, and that for some time too.

My dear sisters, with GOD'S help, this evening I will speak to you about the remedy for discouragements and despondency, and tell you how the Saints of GOD in time past have advised us to meet them; have themselves met them, have themselves conquered them. But now, this morning, let us rather see how we are most likely to be discouraged; let us know the worst of it, as they say: "Then I said, I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain."

Ah! we need not go far for the greatest of discouragements: ourselves. To find that, "when we would do good, evil is present with us." To find that, try as we will, we are carried away by temptations; struggle as we may, the waterflood seems to drown us, and the deep to swallow us up; to find so often that, when we do conquer, it is not from the right motive, or not from that only: that other things besides the one love of our one LORD have mingled with our efforts: that, instead of our five smooth stones, the remembrance of His Five Precious and Unconquerable Wounds, wherewith to go out to the fight against the giant, we have been encumbering ourselves with the armour of Saul. It is enough to discourage us, that deadness and coldness which seems to have no words at all to send up to GOD; that miserable confusion of mind, which seems unable to fix on any one subject at all of prayer, to feel for nothing, to care for nothing. It is enough to discourage us, when we have fallen, to feel rather that we ought to grieve, than actually to grieve; and to remember, when we have risen, that the resolution we have then made, we have made scores of times before, and broken it as often. Dear Sisters, when I go over this sad list, indeed it makes me feel to the very bottom of my heart, "It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.'' And this I should say to any servants of GOD: but with us, with you as well as me; with me as well as you, the cause for discouragement is even stronger. Here we stand, especially vowed to GOD'S service, by ties which must bind us till our death. Mine you know as well as you know your own: and all those resolutions and vows cry out against us, plead for vengeance upon us, when we go astray. This is the worst discouragement of all; but we have others.

And one is, that we are so apt to be discouraged in each other. To expect too much, and. then to be too much surprised at anything that may strike us as inconsistent, as unworthy, as wrong. Dearest Sisters, if we are not to judge each other kindly and lovingly, from whom may we expect a kind and loving judgment? Isolated as we are, surrounded by weak friends and strong enemies, daily hearing truths, for which we would die, gainsaid and blasphemed, ought not the old saying to be true of us, "See how these Christians love one another?" Ought not that character of charity to be most fully exercised here, "Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things?"

And then, (which is an especial trial under which all GOD'S servants are not labouring,) the feeling that we are so cramped and confined in everything we do in this place is a great discouragement, and cannot be otherwise. [The then Vicar not allowing the Sisters to work in the parish.] I know how gladly you would all go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in. The harvest truly is plenteous: it is sad when the labourers are few; it is almost sadder when the labourers are not so few, but are forbidden to go forth to their work. It is discouraging, too, to have so often to take that text on our own lips: "They daily mistake my words: all that they imagine is to do me evil."

Yes: I am not at all astonished that we should all, at times, feel disposed to cry out, "Then I said, I have laboured in vain:" to say, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" or with holy Job, 'Behold, I go forward, but He is not there: and backward, but I cannot perceive Him." Here is one of the great contrarieties of a Christian life. When I look at all that I have been saying to you now, I could almost wonder that there is such a thing as encouragement in this world. But there is another side to the picture.

At this very moment, GOD the HOLY GHOST is preparing, as it were, to come down, and to make, by His most blessed and quickening Presence the Bread which now lies ready for the Sacrifice, the Wine you have prepared for the Oblation, the Body and Blood of the Eternal SON; and that really, truly, substantially. And why? Only for this reason: that we may be strengthened, sustained, supported, comforted.

Again. In this very Oratory, how many times has our LORD JESUS CHRIST pronounced, (by a most miserable and sinful Priest, it is true, but as really and truly as if He had said the words in His own blessed and glorious Presence,) "I absolve thee from all thy sins, in the Name of the FATHER, and of the SON, and of the HOLY GHOST." If then I think only of these two blessed Sacraments, the one to give us the Body of CHRIST, the other, the Pardon of CHRIST, the very true Body of Him that is "Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty GOD. the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace/' the very true Pardon of Him Who shed every drop of His most precious Blood on Calvary, to win us that pardon, it would seem as if there ought not to be, could not be, such a. thing as one moment's despondency.

There then are the two, set one over against the other, like those two mountains of old: the Ebal of our sins, the Gerizim of GOD'S mercy: there are those two abysses, the abyss of our misery, the abyss of our LORD'S lovingkindness: one calling to the other, yes, and one heard by the other. Between them we stand: strength enough to conquer any difficulty; difficulty enough to task any strength,

I have spoken to you of the evil, dearest Sisters: to-night I will speak to you of the good. I have shewn you now the distress: then I will speak of the consolation. In the meantime, let us draw near to Him Who hare all the one, that He might give us all the other: Who was forsaken, that we might never be left orphans; Who was nailed to the Cross and pierced with the spear, that our offerings might become His Immaculate Flesh, and our chalices be filled with His Life-giving Blood.

And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.

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