S. Stephen's Day, 1861.
Isaiah xlix. 5.
THE day speaks of a crown; the name of the Martyr speaks of a crown; and the text speaks of, what the world calls, defeat. How is this?
Put yourselves for one moment in the place of that glorious Saint, when he said, "LORD, lay not this sin to their charge." He had seen the LORD suffer, and no apparent victory: he was suffering himself, and no apparent result.
Now let us see if the text will explain the difficulty. And I want you first to realize this, that they are the words of the SON of GOD. Were it not so, had they been the Prophet's own exclamation, I might have thought that it was a human speech only, and, as a human speech, not uninfected with selfishness. Would it be possible for me,--if the case were so,--to look at any one of you, my Sisters, and say: "I have watched my own beloved child now these years," more or fewer, as the case might be: "I have rejoiced in her fair beginning; I have listened to her confessions, now more, now less, earnest; I have seen the tide of battle roll this way and that in her heart; sometimes the victorious standard of the Cross carrying terror and dismay into the legions of Satan, sometimes the Moses of her resolution to pray drooping his hands: now, my hopes have been so raised, that I have imagined she will be a Saint; now so dashed, that I have thought her salvation perilled. But, after all, I now fear that GOD'S grace, that is, the special grace of her vocation, is leaving her: I see her temptations grow more and more victorious; I see rocks that were only occasionally covered by that swell of evil passions now constantly hidden; I see forts which temptation never reached, now attacked and carried." And if I could add: "Yet, apart from human frailty, I do not think that it is my fault; I know that I have prayed for her with all the earnestness that GOD has given me; I know that I have never warned her nor blamed her without asking Him, the Fountain of all wisdom, to give me of His wisdom, and love, and courage: she has chosen her own course, and at the last day she cannot accuse me: "do you think that nevertheless I could quietly and contentedly say, in that sense, "Though she be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD?" Do you think I could say with David, "'Although my house be not so with GOD, yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure; for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although He make it not to grow?" No, indeed; lean far better sympathise with S. Paul: "I could wish that myself were accursed from CHRIST for my brethren;" with Moses: "Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written."
Yes: it is that feeling that any of you might, lifter all. fall, and that, if you did, no knowledge that the fault had not been mine could (I will not say diminish, but) remove the bitterness, that has made me so earnestly plead with others, so well to count the cost before they endeavour to establish a Sisterhood. You have seen Retsch's design of a man playing at chess with the Devil for his soul. Ah! here, besides that game which every man has to play for his own, here, it is the carrying on eight or ten games more: aye, and the carrying them on to a certain degree (whatever light Confession may give) blindfolded. Is it not enough to discourage, to sadden, to terrify, if you see that through some mistake of your own, or without any mistake of yours that you can discover, you are losing, losing, losing, this little advantage, that desirable position, this great advantage, that essential position,--till at last the Malakhoff goes, and then Sebastopol's days are numbered?
Yes: and therefore I know that this verse cannot be spoken in that sense by Him Who is altogether Love. He did not mean that, though to outward appearance He had laboured for nought, and spent His strength in vain, while shedding for us His heart's blood on the Cross, yet, the exceeding and eternal great reward for Himself, the Name above every name, the exaltation of His Human Nature to the Right Hand of the Throne of GOD, was reward enough. No: it was as if even so, (as if even in that highest of all senses, that which was true of the first Adam were true of the second, "It is not good that the Man should be alone,") He says, "FATHER, I will that they also Whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am."
Well then: what does "Though Israel be not gathered," mean? Surely this: though at the present time no visible effects follow; though the seed seems to be lost; though after all the LORD'S loving wanderings through Jewry, and Samaria, and Galilee, the very outside of His converts, however reckoned, was five hundred, yet the reward was sure. Whence notice: that if our dear LORD Himself needed this comfort, if He Himself, in so far as He was Man, was tempted to be discouraged at finding His mission, to say it with all reverence, a failure, much more must not we think it strange, must not we he frightened, at any such temptation. I know how hard it is to work on and on with no tangible results: nay, to be going backwards in spite of all efforts. In that true-hearted book, the "Search for Sir John Franklin," you read that the little vessel won some three hundred miles in the course of the autumn, by watching every opportunity, day and night, sometimes by sails, sometimes by one means, sometimes by another, never a moment's advantage missed; and that was the sum total of all their exertions. Well: then they were surrounded by floe ice, and made fast to it, and every day, through that long winter, it was drift, drift, drift backwards, till they not only lost all the three hundred miles they had made with so much labour, but three hundred more at the end of them: so that they commenced the labour of the second year with double the distance of the first lying before them. Then by the same system they, by the end of the season of navigation, retrieved all they had lost, and did a little more: and so now making themselves fast to an island, they made good their ground, and at the beginning of the third year finally succeeded.
No one can read that story, without finding therein a marvellous symbol of our Christian progress. You know how it has to be done by any means and by all means; a little bit here, a little bit there: sometimes a success this way, sometimes a success that way; then a long drift backward; a long season of cold and dark; cold, without the perceptible love descending from the HOLY GHOST; dark, without the perceptible shining of the Sun of Righteousness.
And yet, notice how the two parts of the verse join on together. "And now saith the LORD that formed me to bring Jacob again to Him, Though Israel be not gathered." What! that not done which it was the express object of the LORD'S mission to effect! Even so: not done now, that it might be done more gloriously by and by: not done by this scheme, or by that endeavour, that this other scheme, that other endeavour, may be more successful and more happy.
So take it for yourselves, singly and together, my Sisters. Though, in your own hearts, temptations do so sadly prevail, though you are beaten a thousand times,--a thousand times resolving that this shall really and truly be the very last fall, and then you fall the thousand and first time as easily as the first, or more easily,--how does it go on? "Yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD." Yes: so shameful as all this seems, such vacillation and inconsistency as it shews, such lamentable impotency of will, to-day on Satan's side, tomorrow on CHRIST'S, "Yet," O poor trembling soul, say it with a good courage, "Yet shall I be glorious;" and that in the only eyes Whose approbation you ought to care for: "glorious in the eyes of the LORD." You ask, when? and who can tell you further than this? When patience has had her perfect work, when the delay has ripened those graces, which needed thus being brought to maturity: "the selfsame night," at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, not one minute longer than the exactly needful time, "then shall I be glorious." He says it of Himself and of you, Who wrought it for Himself, and is working it in you. He says it, Who purchased your right to it on the Cross. He says it, Who cannot he. "Thus saith the LORD of Hosts: If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvellous in Mine eyes? saith the LORD of Hosts."
And not the less true for all of you, than for each of you. You do not seethe immediate fruits of your labours. Sometimes you believe that there are none. You feel the isolation, and languor, and tediousness; so much attempted, so little effected; so much of labour paid out, so little of result coming in. "Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and in vain.'' The LORD, your LORD, your Head, your Love, waited for the external fruit of His labours--how long? Thirty years, before there was the slightest appearance. Thirty-three years, before even the foundations of the Church were laid. Three hundred and three years, before His labours had won the belief of the Emperor, and so, even in the eyes of men, had a firm basis from which to be extended. And He could, by one word, from the watch-tower of the Cross, have proclaimed, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved:" and the whole earth, had He so willed, would have fallen down and worshipped Him. That would have been our way--but it was not His.
And so now: this is what, if you could order the changes and chances of this world to your fancy,--this is what, I imagine, you would bring to pass. You would wish Sisters to flock in, week by week, every way calculated for our work, with their hearts full of love to GOD, anxious, eager, yearning for service anywhere, everywhere. You would like riches poured in on us, so that we should be able to build at once such a house as we have long desired to set up, and a Chapel, instead of this Oratory, where Christian art should be able to exert itself to the full. Yes: I know how we all long for this. Only I want you to believe that, if we were fit for such a state of things, if it were profitable for us, in one moment it would be given us. "My time is not yet come, but your time is alway ready." "Yet shall I be glorious." Build up the living temple in yourselves, dear Sisters; and then,--one of two things. One of two things, as sure as GOD is true. Either we shall have that, for which none of you can long more than I: or, without it, we shall do GOD better service than if we had it. Which of the alternatives, neither I, nor any living being can say: but one of them, in the Name of GOD, I promise you.
And who ought to feel all this more deeply, who ought to take it on her own lips more resolutely, (and however resolutely she takes it on her own lips, no less determinedly GOD give her grace to carry it out in her life,) than our new Sister? What GOD intends to do by her, much or little, that is one of the secret things that belong to Him: hut, much in earthly estimation or little, I know you have all prayed for her that she may, at that day, be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and that her GOD may be her strength!
And GOD grant each of you, with the New Year, increasingly to fight the battle within herself, and give you grace in common to carry on the common contest: and then, whatever be your earthly success, each of you will say: "Yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my GOD shall be my strength."
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.