Fellowship in Suffering.
Isaiah lxiii. 1-4.
DRAWING close, my Sisters, as we are, to the great autumnal Festival, the text, I think, sets gloriously forth the works of the GOD of Nature and the GOD of Grace. As it was no mere chance, the coincidence of Easter and of Spring,--the position of the Sepulchre whence all life was to blossom, in a garden then aglow with flowers, and shaded with trees in the first triumph of the victory of their life over death,--the concurrence of the new music of the birds with the new song then first put into the mouth of ransomed earth,--so neither, when we are at the commemoration of those, the mighty men, whose shields are made red, the valiant men who are in scarlet, is it "some chance," as the Philistines said, "that hath happened to us,': that we find the trees putting on their vesture of scarlet and crimson, previously to their seeming to die for awhile, that they may awake to a newer life in the spring. "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel?" The GOD of Nature is teaching us (as did the Incarnate Word so often during His sojourn here) spiritual lessons by visible things; because autumnal tints and autumnal tempests are, to use the word as the earliest Fathers would have employed it, are, so to speak, the sacraments of Martyrdom.
But now, look up from earthly beauty and earthly storms. "Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah?" The Martyr of martyrs, wearing now, not the purple robe of mockery, but the glorious crimson of His own royal Blood: when the King had stood by a pillar, and "the plowers had plowed upon His back and made long furrows." He comes from Edom; for Edom, as we all know, is by interpretation red, taking- its origin as a name from the sacrilege of Esau, who for one morsel of red pottage, sold his birthright. And might not that city well be called red, which had killed the prophets, and stoned them which were sent unto her? of which it was said: "It cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem?"
But first notice this. What is the answer to the question: "Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treadeth in the wincfat?" "I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the people there \vas none with Me. And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore Mine own arm brought salvation to Me, and My fury it upheld Me." But you know how often I have reminded you of the double answer to another question: "Who is the King of Glory?" "The LORD strong and mighty, even the LORD mighty in battle;" and "the Lord of Hosts, He is the King of Glory." As a double going up to glory; first, alone, from Mount Olivet; next, when we together shall be caught up by clouds to meet the LORD in the air: so a double martyrdom: first, in our dear LORD'S Blessed Self: then in His following Martyrs. In that first Martyrdom, on Calvary, of a certainty it was, "I looked and there was none to help, and I wondered that there was none to uphold." But, in the second, His Holy Name be for ever blessed for it! those words would not apply. When the Son of Man, standing, as for the Proto-martyr, on the Right Hand of GOD, looked down on the long line of Martyrs one by one, having, like Joab of old, appointed them to the place where He knew that the mighty men were, and given orders to set each faithful Uriah in the foremost of the hottest battle, He could have said, "Mine own Arm brought salvation;" but He would not then have said: "Of the people there was none with Me;" then, of the people there were thousands and tens of thousands with Him. Then was fulfilled the sequel of that verse: "It became Him for Whom are all things, in bringing" many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering." "For both He that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one."
Do you know, my Sisters, I rather wonder that some one or two of you shrink from hearing the Martyrology read. Why? I believe this firmly: that such is the softening influence of Christianity, that not one of you could now endure to see any one,--any one at all--much less any one of your own sex and your own ages--exposed and mangled in the theatre. Let us take an example. Let us look back to Carthage, to that terrible seventh persecution. We will suppose that you, as you are now, so were then. Further, that one of you had been arrested this morning, confessed CHRIST, refused to throw incense on the altar of the idol, whatever it were, in spite of the solicitations of some well-meaning friend: "What is the harm of throwing a little incense on the altar? Who cares what you believe? Why, I believe nothing myself; but if the Emperor commanded me, on pain of torture and death, to adore your CHRIST, I would obey at once. Come now; don't be a silly girl." Supposing this, and that S. Cyprian, calling you round him, as you are round me now, had asked you, which two or three of you would go to-morrow to the amphitheatre to be a witness of your Sister's shame and torments, to the end that you might comfort her by your sympathy, and assist her by your prayers, I think you would all have hung back, and he would have had to stir up some of you, as only he, the future Martyr, could have done. But, had any one of you been called to suffer, you would have hung, no doubt, on his words, hut GOD forbid that I should doubt that the grace so mighty in them would not have been equally mighty in you!
We know how our dear LORD consoled S. Luke and S. Cleopas, going to Emmaus. "Ought not CHRIST to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" Lay the force on His--His glory. Need I then fear to say, as I think, when we read the Martyrology: Ought not the Martyrs to have suffered these things, and to enter into their glory? "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the stars." He first, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence. But they also, that in all things they might follow in His footsteps.
And is the glory of the Martyrs the last and lowest stage? Nay: not now speaking of the Blessed above women--who yet was a Martyr in will--is it not the highest of all human victories? The Martyrs are stars as compared to the sun: but one star differeth from another star in glory. Whatever you may be called on to do, or to bear, should it not be possible to say of you when (of GOD'S infinite grace) your warfare is accomplished: Ought not they to have suffered these things, and to enter into their glory? You know it should. For see what our dear LORD has taught us on that very matter: "The servant is not above his Lord;" and then, lest we should despond, knowing that to be as far above our reach as heaven is from earth, He added, in His infinite mercy: "But every one that is perfect shall be as his Master."
The word perfect, no doubt, it pleased Him to employ not always in the same sense. But since He once vouchsafed to use it of those Evangelical Counsels which we should now call those of the Religious Life, those who are trying to lead that life should fully expect to be more than others like Him in trouble. And it does not the least matter what kind of trouble. Whether in our own most troublesome hearts, as we all may expect: in mistakes of those who are really with us, from without; in mistakes so much harder for each to bear, from among ourselves. As to outside difficulties, dangers, temptations, those, of course.
These things might be kept from us. They might: but consider this. Some holy men have imagined that, in the sufferings of the Martyrs (those of which we can scarcely bear to read in detail, and of which some of us would rather not hear in abstract) the GOD Who gave the sense of feeling at first, was pleased to remove it then. That it was sometimes so, we know; as in the case of that Confessor, who in the persecution of Julian the Apostate, was at Antioch stretched on the rack for a whole day, all marvelling at his endurance, and was then remanded to prison at last. So of S. Perpetua, exposed to the bull, and gored almost to pieces, who just before her departure, woke up as from a trance, and asked when the animal was to be loosed on her.
But, on the whole, does it not seem more glorious that, as it was with the Master, so it should be with the servant? That, as the victory in Him was won, not by any mere appearance of suffering and death, as certain heretics taught, but by their reality, so in them the miracle was, not the removal of pain, but the unspeakable amount of grace that conquered it?
Only remember, my Sisters, that He Who in them walked in the greatness of His strength, is ready also to do the same in you; that, as none, save by His grace could endure Martyrdom, so none, save by His grace, could endure without a feeling of anger, a malicious pinprick. Recollect that the keeping an even temper, through the wear and tear of a naughty world, is as exactly and truly a part of His victory,--less glorious, not less real,--as any the most noble martyrdoms that the Church can record. If it is commanded by an Apostle, that if we suffer without offence, we are to rejoice, as being made partakers of CHRIST'S sufferings, most surely we are made partakers of the sufferings of the Martyrs too.
"What is my great fault, then, Father?" so some one said to a mediaeval Saint. "My child, that you think so much of great things, and so little of little things."
And all this ends in what? "The year of My redeemed is come."
And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.