Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs
by John Mason Neale.
London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.
SERMON X Preached on Tuesday in the Eleventh week after Trinity, August 25,1857. THE HEAVENLY JOY OF HEAVENLY SERVICE. "His servants shall serve Him."--REV. xxii. 3.
THEY tell a story that once, in a certain monastery, the Theologian, as he was called, that is, the brother whose office it was to give instruction in theology, was catechising the younger monks on the Book of Revelation. Among the other questions, he asked of each one present what promise or saying in the Apocalypse seemed to him the most full of comfort? One would have it,--"GOD shall wipe away all tears from their eyes:" another, "There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain:" another, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit down with Me in My Throne." He praised them according to their deserts: and then, turning to the youngest, who had not yet spoken, "Now, Thomas," he said, "let us hear what you think." The answer was, "His servants shall serve Him:" and that young monk, Thomas Hammark, is now known all through the Church as Thomas à Kempis.
Yes: and I think that it was an answer not unworthy of him who was afterwards to write the work, which, of all uninspired books, was to be the greatest comfort to GOD'S servants in this world. Not only because it showed deeper love: but because it also exhibited more self-knowledge. It was not that he should rest from sorrow, or from watchfulness, or have no more occasion to fear, as the others had said: but that he should serve, in reality, above, Him Whom he had only tried to serve below. He was thinking of his LORD, not of himself: he was eager rather to accomplish His Will, than to receive His happiness.
Now, dear Sisters, there is a wonderful lesson, and a very comforting lesson for us, too, in that text. Surely, if ever any Saint of GOD, still in the flesh, were ever raised above the flesh, were in a state of ecstacy nearest approaching the Beatific Vision, it must have been John, on the evening of that Easter Day, when his vision was coming to an end. What Saint ever so likely as he, then, to take the highest possible view of a Christian's daily life and walk on earth? to find all things practicable? to look for deeds of grace and faith in every one, that none but the most favoured of GOD'S servants have attained to? And yet, if one of his brightest and happiest promises is this, "His servants shall serve Him," it implies that even then he realized how little they could serve Him on earth; how often they were sore let and hindered in running the race which was set before them; how they were set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of their nature they could not always stand upright. Our loving LORD and Master caused this verse to be written for our especial comfort.
Dearest Sisters, you would serve Him,--is it not so?--with every power of your soul and body. How many hindrances, vexatious temptations, drawbacks of every sort come in between your reasonable service and yourselves, you all too well know. It is very sad: but you are not to think it strange; it is very sad: but you are to take courage; it is very sad, but it will not always be so. You are not to think it strange, when every one of the Saints in their generation has so bitterly complained that he could not do the things that he would; that he was carnal, sold under sin; has been ready to cry out over and over again, " My soul cleaveth unto the dust;" has thousands of times had need of that earnest ejaculation, "LORD, I believe: help Thou mine unbelief." You are to take courage, knowing that we are not better--as Elijah said--than our forefathers. It is S. Peter's great argument to resist discouragement. "Whom resist," says he, "stedfast in the faith:" and why? "Knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren which are in the world." And it will not always be so. O happiness indeed of that blessed place, where, what we seek to do now, we shall be able to do for ever: where we shall want no rest in GOD'S service: where we shall not undo with one hand what we do with the other: where we can never flag, but whatever we take in hand will indeed be done with all our might!
I had not intended, dearest Sisters, to have spoken to you on this morning, fearing lest I should weary you by talking to you so many times, as it has happened from the concurrence of the Sunday and Festival. Bear with me, however, if it should be so. I can have no dearer wish than that of each of you, even in this world, the text should become more and more true; and of that of which one most thinks, and for which one most prays, one cannot well help speaking.
"His servants shall serve Him." And this is the school where you are to learn that service which will then be made perfect. Many and many a lesson it will cost you--some painful, some pleasant: but whether painful or pleasant matters not, so they be real lessons, and so they be well learnt. Sometimes our dear LORD takes you in hand Himself, opens your hearts Himself to understand, communes with you as once with His disciples going to Emmaus. When you kneel in silence in this Oratory,--when you kneel in solitude before the Blessed Sacrament--(and yet what do I say? how can you be alone, when He is with you?) I hope that He often and often speaks to you, puts earnest desires of His service into your minds,--soothes away fears,--removes difficulties,--calls you in such sort that you cannot but say, "LORD, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest." Then again, another of your great lessons is the recitation of those Psalms which are indeed, in a lower sense, our daily bread. How wonderfully they teach us, in whatever frame of mind we are, whatever we want to know! Like the Jewish tradition about the manna, they have that taste for us which at the time we most desire. To each of you the same Psalm at the same time may be speaking with a different voice: saying to each of you the exact thing which she most needed, and which would help her most. Further, another of your chief lessons is in your self-examinations, and when you sum them together in your Confessions. Then GOD teaches you of your dangers, that you may have the better knowledge of the only way of safety: then He brings to remembrance your falls, that the weight may be more resolutely laid aside, the sin which doth most easily beset you wrenched from you, and the race set before you run with the eye and heart more entirely fixed on JESUS, the Author and Finisher of our faith.
"His servants shall serve Him." And if I had to sum up the three greatest and most necessary rules for this your education in His service, they would not be far to seek. The first would be, to think nothing little in it. The second, to strive against all discouragement as the most dangerous of temptations. The third, never to be weary of beginning over again. Of every thing that comes before you in the day you may most truly say, This is a great work, for it is done for GOD. Oh, how it would hallow and transfigure everything you do,--oh, what a little heaven it would make this place, if you could but bear that constantly in mind! When one of you, the other day, left off her work for a moment, and knelt by her scouring-pail for her Priest's blessing, it seemed to make me realize the Apostle's command, "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of GOD." Yes:--I know how true this ought to be everywhere: I long that it were ten thousand times more true of myself: but in a religious community surely it must apply with an emphasis that it cannot elsewhere attain.
That is the first and most necessary thing of all:--but the second scarcely less so: Never to be discouraged. The misery of allowing ourselves to be disheartened, we all know: but we scarcely think enough about its sin. Dearest Sisters, we have not time to be discouraged. Satan will not cease his attacks, while we are mourning over a fall. GOD'S work will not stand still for our leisure, while we are trying to animate ourselves to undertake it. This is one of the many blessings of that blessed Sacrament of Penitence, that it enables us so much more quickly to rise from a fall. We yield to temptation: we know it: we grieve for it: we go through the sad details of our fall in that night's self-examination,--and what then? Are we always to be going over the same ground again and again?--always harping on the same circumstances? Surely not: lay them by till your next Confession, and do not let them hinder you or distress you in the meanwhile. We, dearest Sisters, who know that we have not followed cunningly devised fables when we speak of this ministry of reconciliation, we, who know in Whose word we have believed when we kneel at that tribunal where we are ourselves the accusers and ourselves the criminals,--we can do this. We lay our burden aside for a while,--not that we would forget it,-- not that we think lightly of it,--but that we may the more effectually carry it to the foot of the Cross, and lay it in the LORD'S Tomb. Oh, dear Sisters, believe me that there is nothing which from the very beginning of a Sister's life you have need to cultivate more than that most blessed grace of hope! Some of you may be tired of hearing this so often: but I say only to you what I say to myself. If at the beginning of my life as a Priest I had only had some one to insist on this truth as I now insist on it to you, oh, how many mistakes and how much misery I should have been spared! how often I should have found out that what I took for repentance was in real truth only a kind of despondency! The more dearly I love you all,--the more earnestly I long for your advance in the Christian Life,--the more I see how GOD'S first message in the most glorious series of prophecies that ever were spoken, is His first message now, "Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people." That was the first text on which I ever preached, and I pray GOD that it may be the chief thing, and, if it be His will, the last, which I ever do as a Priest!
And the third thing I mentioned springs directly from that: the constantly beginning over again, as if we had never done anything before. Doing each recurring duty, as if we had never hitherto attempted it at all. Each time you come into this Oratory, for instance, forget past times with all their wandering thoughts, all their coldness and deadness, and begin afresh. Each time you receive the LORD'S Body and Blood, forget all past want of love and hope and faith, and begin all over again. But above all, each new day, commence it as if it were a new life. This is one of the chief rules that all the masters of spiritual life have given us: and depend upon it, none can be more helpful. Try it, and you will say, like the Samaritans of old, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying."
"His servants shall serve Him." In this way, while yet in the school of this world: but how in the Home of their Country? Ah! that, as yet, must be all guess-work and fancy! But so it be GOD'S work, that is enough for us: happy work it must be in its very nature: perfect work it must be in those who are no longer imperfect. They rest not day nor night. Now then, as far as may be, let us try to follow that example. So much to be done, and so little time to do it in: so much work needed in ourselves, so much for others, and the night so rapidly coming, when no man can work. You, of all, ought to be most careful in having your work always, so to speak, made up;--your service always in hand. For you know that the life you have chosen involves not only more labour, but more risk than others. We know that any of you may at any one moment be called to labour in imminent peril: and that it is more than probable that some one of us now here before GOD will some day be, by that means, taken home to Him. I know that none of these things move you:--I believe that you would not, like S. Paul, count your lives dear to yourself so you might finish your course with joy. Only remember that your lamps must always be burning,--your oil always ready,--it will not do for any of you, no, not for one moment, to slumber or sleep.
"His servants shall serve Him." Will you try now, more than before, that of this House the words may be true? that you will more earnestly use the help you have,--more resolutely set a watch over all your ways,--more carefully improve every means of grace? Dear Sisters, I wish I could do more for you. I wish, so far as I may do so in accordance with GOD'S will, that I had greater power of helping you: but I absolutely wish--because it is in accordance with His will--that what powers I have were used better. Standing in the relation we do to each other, oh how much you fail in your duty to yourselves as well as to me, if you do not constantly and earnestly pray for me! How can you expect that GOD will enable me to help you, unless, to the very utmost of your ability, you help me? Never a fitter time to ask that, or any thing else, than when you kneel in the presence of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world! Oh that now, as one after another you enter into this His then most sacred Palace, the HOLY GHOST, the Comforter, may teach you how to pray, and give you earnestness in prayer! may suggest the petition, and return the answer! may show you the need, and supply the remedy! These mornings, so spent, are indeed much to be remembered. They bring a great opportunity; they incur a most heavy responsibility. Often and often my thoughts turn here, as those hours pass by; often and often my prayers go up that whoever at that moment is kneeling before her LORD and her GOD may so kneel as becomes one dedicated to Him, as becomes one who is close to Him, close to the Flesh which He took in the Womb of Mary, close to the Blood which He poured forth on the Hill of Calvary; often and often I use that Psalm, "The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble: the Name of the GOD of Jacob defend thee; send thee help from the sanctuary: and strengthen thee out of Sion; remember all thy offerings: and accept thy burnt sacrifice; grant thee thy heart's desire: and fulfil all thy mind."
Oh, truly happy Sister, who after thus having in her earthly life poured forth her soul to Him in His Sacramental Presence, advancing all the while from strength to strength, growing all the while in His grace and knowledge, shall finally be taken home to the perfect blessedness and perfect holiness of seeing Him as He is! And now, &c.