Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs
by John Mason Neale.
London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.
SERMON XII. Preached at S. Margaret's, on the Tenth Sunday after Trinity, August 20th, 1864. DEUS MEUS ET OMNIA. "I saw no Temple therein"--REV. xxi. 22.
LET us confess, my Sisters, that if we now for the first time heard these words--heard them, too, after the ravishing description of our True Home which precedes them, they would fall rather blank on the ear. What! we, whose highest and best times have been in the Temple of GOD on earth, we, who believe that the most glorious services below are but the poorest shadows, the most wretched photographic negatives of the perpetual Liturgy there: to be told at last, "I saw no Temple therein!" What is the use of all the art, all the skill, all the labour, all the cost, to make our Churches less unworthy of the indwelling of Him whom Heaven and the Heaven of heavens cannot contain? What is the use of those great speeches which glow like a warm coal at one's very heart. "The house which I am about to build shall be wonderful great:" and that resolution of the Spanish Chapter, "Let us build such a cathedral, that they who come after us may take us to have been mad when we imagined it;" if, after all, when these things are passed away, "I saw no Temple therein." Again, what should we say of that city in a Christian land, of which a traveller, bringing home the description, should, as one of its most noteworthy peculiarities, write those words? Three of you, my Sisters, have not so long since stood with me before that wonderful picture of the Adoration of the Immaculate Lamb in the Cathedral of Ghent. There you remember what the vision of the great artist concerning New Jerusalem was:--how, far in the background, far beyond the lovely groups of Martyrs, and Virgins, and Confessors, and righteous judges, and righteous warriors, and the LAMB in the midst, on the Altar, as it had been slain, he saw not one Temple only, but many Temples: You remember how behind the everlasting foliage of the Garden of Paradise, there cluster, in all imaginable beauty, towers, and spires, and lanterns, with peeps of the utmost bound of everlasting hills between them. That was the dream of the great Christian painter of all ages. What was the real vision of the Apostle? "I saw no temple therein." Yes: let us confess that at first hearing, the words do sound rather blank.
But then: O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of GOD! This is not the only instance in which, as regards that our future home, what might in one point of view be taken so differently, is, if looked at aright, so glorious.
"They rest not day nor night." That we know is said of the glorious City; said of it too, as concerning one of its chief glories and blessings. But is it not also true of the city of misery? They rest not day nor night. So, over and over again, we find that the "very excellent things" spoken, or to be spoken, of the City of GOD, are things which, except for the perfect happiness of that place, might be anything but blessings: they might be curses. "The gates of it shall not be shut at all." Would that be any happiness, here on earth, to us in our warfare? "For there shall be no night there." Would that be any blessing to us, here on earth, wearied as we often are: as our dear LORD, according to His Manhood, was before us? But the most remarkable lesson we have is in that most glorious self-contradiction, to say it with all reverence, in Isaiah, when that fifth Evangelist, setting forth to us those things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, says: "The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy GOD thy glory." And then: "Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the LORD shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended."
So we come back to that: "I saw no Temple therein." And, lest any man should say, "This is a hard saying: who can bear it?" S. John gives us the reason: "For the LORD GOD Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple of it." That is, the One Temple, and the All Temple, that which cannot be seen, even then, with the bodies of our Resurrection, is this, and this only, The Beatific Vision.
There is something wonderfully solemn, as well as wonderfully comforting, in the way in which the early and mediaeval Saints speak of that. How the whole heavenliness of Heaven is summed up in that, and well nigh in that alone. I know nothing that so shows the declension of the last three or four centuries, as the little prominence (comparatively speaking) that, in every part of the Church, the holiest writers give to that. No one would say that either primitive or mediaeval doctors failed in reverence to, in longing to be near, in realizing their communion with, the Saints. But find them preaching or writing of heaven, and the one great thought swallows up all the rest. Infinitely beyond, infinitely above all things, it is that Beatific Vision to which they point. Saint after Saint, page after page, I might quote; all to the same effect. Hear no giant of the Church, but an earnest, simple Abbot in the eleventh century; how he writes:
"And you ask what is this Vision concerning which I have related to you such wonders? Would to GOD, my brethren, I knew it for myself! but if I knew it, yet none the more should I be able to set it forth to you. If a Seraph, that is perfect in love, came among us, in his love desirous to tell us of it, he would but waste that love and that labour. If one of the Cherubim, that are complete in knowledge, spake to us of it, his wisdom would to us be foolishness. Moses besought that he might see the glory of GOD; and, say the Jews, it pleased GOD that one spark of that glory should fall on one of the mountains that stood round about Sinai; and the mountain fell, the selfsame moment, to dust. And yet, my brethren, it is--not one spark--not the half-revealed, half-concealed Majesty of the Ever-Blessed TRINITY--but Its fullest manifestation, that is to be our eternal happiness. And oh, what change, what most miraculous change, must that great Sacrament of Death have wrought on us, that the very glory which we could not, in its slightest manifestation, behold and live, we shall then only live, only truly live, because we do behold! Consider what holy Job saith. 'Though after my skin worms destroy this body:' there you have the infinite humiliation of these bodies of ours; 'yet in my flesh shall I see GOD;' there you have their infinite strength."
So he writes; and, in very truth, that next world is a subject which we do not try to realize enough; to consider, not only, as one of our later divines so well said, how much we must be changed: how much holiness, how much purity, how much love, that waiting time in Paradise must give our souls: but also how much strength that waiting time in the earth must give our bodies. I was reading a story the other day which may well come in here. It was in the narrative of a traveller who wished to reach the North Pole. In some very high latitude, where, as you know, the Northern Lights are magnificently brilliant, one night he was called from his berth by the captain of the ship: "Come on deck at once: the world is on fire!" They stood gazing at the sight for hours: and the description which that traveller has left us, only shows that he, too, had seen unspeakable things, which it is not possible for a man to utter. But when the glory was dying away, he said to the captain, "This has been terribly beautiful." "So terribly beautiful," replied the captain, an earnest Christian man; "so terribly beautiful, that I pray and beseech GOD I may never see the like again."
And once more: Lift up your hearts. If that can be said of a drop in the ocean, what of the ocean itself? What the Beatific Vision is, we can only fancy by knowing what it is not. And keeping all this in view, small regret shall we have in "I saw no temple therein," when that Beatific Vision itself will be our Temple. It is that GOD Who is Love, filling His happy servants with the outpouring of that love: it is the GOD Who is Light, satisfying them with the perfect brilliancy of that Light. And always remember, that into that height of glory our Human Nature has entered: that there, in its fullest blaze, a Man is seated at the Right Hand of the FATHER: that eyes, in every point fashioned as our eyes, behold Him there, Whose Face, however afar off, we could not see and live.
But this absence of a Temple must remind us also of the absence of other things dear to us here as our very lives. As we know, there can be no Sacraments there. "What a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?" And who shall tell how the blessed ones hereafter will look back on their Sacraments here, especially on the Chief and Crown of all Sacraments. Regret there can be none in that world; and the loving remembrance of what will then be passed for ever, who can interpret for them? Byway of type and shadow: when, in GOD'S good time, we have our own chapel as worthy of GOD'S service as we can make it, we shall still lovingly remember this:--when we have our own quadrangle, we shall hold in dear remembrance this house, however inferior to that. "Forgetting the things that are behind, let us press forward to those that are before." And it ought only to open our eyes a little more to see how the glory of the Latter House shall be greater than of the former, when we learn that the things which had been most precious and blessed to us here, are precisely the things that, to be without, will show our infinite nearness to our LORD there. Who would desire a Temple, who will worship in the Beatific Vision? Who would desire to see the LORD of Lords under the form of Bread and Wine, when, eye to eye, face to face, they shall behold Him: when from those lips they shall hear, (if they have first heard those most blessed words of welcome, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant,") shall hear anew, as the Apostles of old time, the "Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."
And one thing more. "I saw no temple therein." That is the highest, truest glimpse we can get of New Jerusalem. Then, my Sisters, if that be so, does it not elevate, ennoble, transfigure, that part of the lives of any one of you which is spent away from any especial means of grace, of regular times of prayer, of the Sacraments?
Might it not thus also be most truly said, of hours either away from here, or, as I was saying this morning, in what the world would call drudgery, here: "I saw no temple therein." Be it so: be it so a thousand times over, if only you can take the end of the same verse on your lips: "For the LORD GOD Almighty and the LAMB are the Temple of it." That which is almost the finishing stroke put by the Apostle of Love to his description of Heaven, cannot be an unblessed estate on earth. See how GOD sets the stamp of that True Home, not only on sufferings, but on deprivations borne for Him.
"I saw no Temple therein." GOD grant, my Sisters, that every time we worship Him in any of His dear temples, we may be made more and more meet for that yet more blessed Templessness above: that every time we draw near to any of the Sacraments in this world, we may be preparing ourselves for that Country where Sacraments are at an end: that City of which it is written, by one who had beheld it: "Now we see though a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now we know in part, but then shall we know, even as also we are known."
And now, &c.