Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs
by John Mason Neale.
London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.
SERMON XI. Probably preached in 1862. ALPHA AND OMEGA. "I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last."--REV. xxii. 13.
I NEED not tell you, my Sisters, how next, in the first place, to your own personal holiness, and in the second, to your work for CHRIST in His poor, this is my third desire for you, that you should see HIM everywhere, at all times, by all means, in Holy Scripture. Therefore it is that we have had our--to me at least--happy classes for so many years; therefore it is that now, lately, I have tried to make you do for yourselves, in our Antiphons and Psalms, what all along I have been endeavouring to do for you.
But, while we take separate passages, individual psalms, isolated paragraphs, in their Evangelical sense, this above all things we have occasion to learn, that it is not in this nor in that little bit--it is not in this lesson, and in that gospel, and in the other prophecy, but everywhere, first, last, and middle, that our dear LORD is the whole aim of the Bible. What I want to impress on you more and more deeply, is this: that just as there is no parable in the gospel which may not have been also a literal fact, so, in the Old Testament, there is no fact which may not be a parable.
We know how sadly, sadly this has been forgotten by the later Church. Some few types we seize on, and all the rest we lose. And those few that we do take, we are apt to apply them only in the second and higher sense, forgetting their literal meaning. I think, dear Sisters, that very probably some of you, when rejoicing in that most glorious prophecy, "Behold a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His Name Immanuel, GOD with us," have not remembered that in the low, temporal, passing sense, the words simply meant, that a Jewish maiden, then a virgin, should, by her marriage with Isaiah, conceive, and bear a son; which son, as the prophecy goes on, should not have come to a knowledge of his right hand and his left, before the fearful confederacy of Syria and Israel, then formed against Judah, should be utterly overthrown, and have come to nought. I think it very possible that in those dear words, "They pierced my hands and my feet; I may tell all my bones; they stand staring and looking upon me;" you have seen the Son of David alone, and not remembered that in some of his sufferings they must have been also applicable to the earthly David. Or again, that "They parted my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture," refer to the irruption into the palace by the rebels under Absalom, firstly; and then, secondly--but oh, how much more gloriously!--to the day of Calvary. Nay; if this now strikes any one for the first time, I should not wonder if you thought me to be debasing these prophecies, by allowing that there is a first meaning at all. Not so. It is because in every history I want to see a prophecy; therefore, in every prophecy, I am willing to see a history. There is a grain of truth in all heresy. There is a grain of truth in that book, whose writers may GOD in His infinite mercy bring to repentance, Essays and Reviews. And this is it: Those prophecies which we take of our LORD were prophecies of others. They were; of others also, and in the loveliest sense; of Him in the deepest, dearest, loveliest, most glorious, most celestial meaning. We scarcely, I think, remember how much that one expression would teach us; where it is said of our LORD, that He, going with His disciples to Emmaus, beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
And, no doubt, could you read the Old Testament as they read it, new meanings, new symbolism, would open out on every side. Suppose, for example, that all through the Book of Joshua, wherever his name is read, it were written, as it is in the Greek, Jesus, would that show you no closer analogy between the two? So of Judas and Judah; so of Simon and Simeon; so of many others.
Now let us take an example of what I mean. One who is never mentioned in the Gospels; one to whom allusion, as foreshadowing CHRIST, is never made. I mean Joseph. We never can be content with the loose bundle of figurative events, which we are accustomed to discover in his life, without seeking for some closer string to bind them together. But now, will you attend while I pass shortly before you what we may gain from his whole story. I will speak deliberately; follow me with your best memory.
Hundreds of times, I have no doubt, we have all read the part borne by Simeon and Judah in saving Joseph, and seen no great type of Gospel history therein. Listen now. When we come to read how it was Judas (according to the old version), who proposed to betray the righteous man for twenty pieces of silver, because there would be no profit in his blood when he went down into the pit; when we find another of the twelve, Simeon (the same as Simon--think of Simon of Cyrene) visited with exemplary punishment, ("he took Simeon and bound him before their eyes") as though guilty of a special denial of the Just. When lastly we see Reuben, the unstable man of power, seeking, like Pilate, to deliver the captive from his brethren: proposing, like Pilate, to punish the innocent, and to release him: What then? Why then; we see that the great Passion of future ages is already being acted: we see that an unconscious, fearful rehearsal was taking place among the twelve sons of Israel. Then all the parts of the tale fall into their place. Attend, my Sisters: I will speak slowly that you may follow. We see in Joseph the beloved of his father, yet the rejected of his brethren; observed in every saying by his earthly parent, inheriting the birthright, yet born late in time. We see him falsely accused (to Potiphar), by slanderous influence condemned, delivered up to the Gentiles (the Egyptian judges), brought before a heathen ruler; promising life to one of the two malefactors condemned with him, leaving the other to his fate; giving life to that first, through some mysterious connection with the squeezing the grapes, (the new wine in the glorious kingdom,) into the king's chalice; ministering to the spirits in prison--raised from that prison to proclaim GOD'S will in a far country, and at once raised to the highest offices of that country, every knee bowing before him, every tongue saluting him as Zaphnath-paaneah, the Saviour of the world.
Once more, we see him departing into the far-off land, even Goshen; to prepare a place for those that were aforetime his enemies: sustaining the life of all nations by miraculous supplies of bread: receiving honour from Gentiles and from Jews: raising up his brethren, as he himself had been raised on the third prophetic day (you remember that it was after two full years that Pharaoh dreamed that dream which was the origin of Joseph's deliverance); lastly, his body preserved from corruption, and actually accompanying the chosen people in their entrance into the Promised Land.
Then at last we see that the fascination of the story does not chiefly depend on its intrinsic beauty; that the shadow of the Cross, and the glory of the Crown, rest on it, and give it that mysterious interest which a child can feel, but which a S. Thomas cannot wholly fathom.
See again. The only story of our LORD'S childhood, the three days' search, is paralleled by the three days' search for Elijah, when he, too, was gone to his Father's house. His first miracle corresponds with the first of that glorious series by which Israel was set free. The same element of water changed, in one case, into blood for the destruction, in the other into wine for the support, of life. The last two, also, of Moses' miracles remain as signs to us Christians. Before our dear LORD'S ministry was completed, GOD'S people had already changed places with His enemies; and the plagues are now no longer fulfilled by contrast, but literally. He sends a thick darkness over all the land; in the one case, of three hours: in the other, of three days. It is a heathen now (mark, my Sisters, the remarkable apposition of ideas) it is a heathen now who entreats the Jewish people to spare the true Israel's life, beseeching the persecutors (only more hopelessly than Moses ever besought Pharaoh) to let Him go. A few years, and the plague of the first-born has its terrible octave in the destruction of Jerusalem; the abomination of desolation gives the warning of the destroying angel; the true Jacob, forewarned, escapes; the rest perish.
Again: see how our dear LORD'S miracles had almost all been foreshown. Once more follow me in your thoughts, as I slowly point them out.
In the preservation of Moses from the slaughter of the innocents;
In the healing Jeroboam's withered hand;
In the forty days' fasts of Moses and Elijah;
In the raising the poor widow's son at Zare-phath (think of Nain);
The noble person's child at Shunem (think of Jairus);
"The iron did swim;" and the LORD walked on the water.
Jonah, at his own desire, exposed to the sea and sinking, is brought up from destruction. Peter, at his own desire walking on the water, beginning to sink, is saved.
In the rebuking of the Red Sea by Moses:
In the blasting of the fig-trees by his power (he smote their vines also, and fig-trees):
In the glorification of his countenance by a divine light;
In the cure of Naaman in Jordan, and of him that was washed in Siloam;
In the resurrection from the dead when a troop was nigh: (and then think of the keepers at the sepulchre;)
In the Ascension to Heaven of Elijah. Are not these marvellous likenesses? marvellous proofs of the One SPIRIT?
Sometimes the hint has to be thought out. Take an example. You have all of you read that dark saying, "As the shepherd delivers from destruction two legs, or the piece of an ear." Did you ever connect it with the way in which of the Good Shepherd it is written, "They brake not His legs;" and again how "He touched his ear, and healed him?"
Some day next week, if it please GOD, we will see how in His words as well as in His deeds, that same LORD is beginning, middle, and end; the Alpha of the Old Testament, the Omega of the New.
Meanwhile here we will rest: only let me ask you, my Sisters, now that we are drawing so very near to that most Holy Week, more than ever to lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset you, and to run with patience the race that is set before you.
Finish this week, and we look away from ourselves and our sins to Him Who for us was made sin, that we might be made--as He grant that you, above others, may in the Eternal Easter be made--the righteousness of GOD in Him. And now, &c.