Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs
by John Mason Neale.
London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.
SERMON VI A LITTLE STRENGTH. Preached on the evening of the Twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity, 1856.
"I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength."--Rev, iii. 8.
I THINK, my dear Sisters, that you will all confess that part of this verse applies to each of you. "Thou hast a little strength." I am sure that you must all feel that some strength you have: that you are able to do some things which in the native weakness and infirmity of your nature you could never do: that some victories you obtain, which, if you went forth to the battle trusting in yourselves, you never could win; that if as yet you cannot do everything, at all events you can do much through CHRIST which strengthened you. And this I am sure you all know: that this strength is but a little strength; that when you would do good, evil is present with you: that in trying,--and you do try,--to conquer yourselves and your great enemy, you are often cast down and overcome.
Well then;--if this be so, the promise to the Church of Philadelphia must also hold good to you. "I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it."
Now, to understand this promise, we must remember that in one sense an open door is set before every man, whether he be in earnest or not, whether hereafter he shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven or not. But this is an especial blessing, and far beyond that: let us see what it means.
And I think you may judge for yourselves, by yourselves. You know that GOD has put it into your hearts to serve Him in a more especial and immediate way. He has given you, my dear Sisters, the resolution to give up everything else for His love. That, in your case, is the open door: and for your comfort it is written that no man can shut it. No man? No: nor any power of earth or of hell: that is your strength as well as your consolation.
An open door,--by which you are to enter into--what? And the answer is easy. What sort of lives--to view them as the world does--all your future lives will be, I think you know. There is not one natural taste or feeling or wish that you will not, in turn, be called to give up. There is nothing that you must think too mean to do for our LORD'S sake: there is nothing that you must think too difficult to do for His sake. You have all asked a hard thing; and a hard thing cannot be obtained in an easy manner. But then the promise goes on to assure you that there is no amount of self-denial too difficult for you to obtain; no service that you can render to GOD too difficult to be performed. No man can shut it.
And mind,--He does not say, No man will shut it; but no man can: can, that is, save by your own consent. That Satan will try again and again to shut it--that he will endeavour his very utmost to shake your resolution, to make you look back from the plough, to make you fainthearted in your own particular battle, I do not doubt. He has temptations enough: and he knows how to suit them to the particular mood of the moment. And of course, for it is only to be expected, he will, of all people, endeavour to attack you; because this is your very profession, your name, your glory, that you endeavour to attack him. And there are three ways by which he tries to shut this door.
Sometimes it is after the fashion of Judas: sometimes after that of the twelve spies: sometimes after that of the men sent to search out Ai. Sometimes it is,--"To what purpose is this waste? You are sacrificing time," strength, it may be life itself,--at all events everything that can make life dear or valuable; and why? why not be content to serve GOD as others? Why choose out the roughest road, and take up the heaviest Cross? Then again,--he tries to close the door on you as the unfaithful spies endeavoured to close the entrance of Canaan on the children of Israel. "Surely the land floweth with milk and honey, and this is the fruit of it. Nevertheless the people be strong; we be not able to go up against them, for they are stronger than we." Or yet again, like those who went to spy out Ai,--who said, " Make not all the people to labour thither, for they are few." He would set before you that you may still lead this life, that you may still more especially serve GOD, without so much watchfulness, without so continual prayer, without obedience, without self-denial. Yes: he does indeed try to close that door of serving GOD: and your comfort must be in one word of the text. "I have set before thee an open door." "I, even I, am He that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid?"
And see how the promise in the Revelation follows the praise given to the Church of Philadelphia. "Thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My Name. Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation." And, as you know, that has been marvellously fulfilled in the case of Philadelphia. This Church, that had a little strength,--this Church, the only one with which no fault is found,--this Church, which was to be guarded in the hour of temptation,--this Church, alone of the seven, Ephesus excepted, (and that scarcely excepted,) still exists. That "little strength" bears fruit still,--that little strength is still prevalent, nearly 1800 years after the Epistle was written. That open door never has been shut, never could be shut; in spite of persecution, and fire, and sword, and famine, it is open still.
And your little strength, my dearest Sisters, believe me, it is sufficient for anything, if you will only make good in yourselves the commendation of this Church. "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience." It is a remarkable expression: not patience only, but My patience. And what are we called to remember by that? My patience: when He endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself;--My patience: when He laboured so long, and apparently to so little effect:--My patience: when He was denied by His chief Apostle, betrayed by another, forsaken by all; My patience: when, in the very moment that He was taken by the soldiers, He said, "Suffer ye thus far;" My patience: when He gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair, when He hid not His face from shame and spitting.
"Ye have need of patience: that after ye have done the will of GOD, ye might inherit the promise." Because we are all for reversing that order: we want first to see the fulfilment of the promise, and then to perform the will of GOD. But it will not do: it is not GOD'S order. I know how difficult it is: but then, if it is difficult, see what a glorious promise it has to its reward. "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation." Ah, dearest Sisters, and it must be My patience in another sense too: not only a following of our dear LORD'S patience, but a patience that none but He can give us. "My hour is not yet come, but your time is alway ready": "LORD, wilt Thou at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel? It is not for you to know the times and the seasons." That was His answer then: that is His answer to all such questions now.
"Thou hast a little strength." But it is written, "They shall go from strength to strength." Advent is drawing very near; and then it will be a time for you all to examine with all your strength and earnestness, whether this is so. And GOD grant that, in its fullest and deepest sense, the promise may be fulfilled to you. "Because thou hast kept the word of My patience," I will keep thee from the hour of temptation,--that last and fiercest flood of temptations in the moment of death: that temptation which, once over, the very name of temptation can never so much as be heard again.
And now, &c.