Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs
by John Mason Neale.
London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.
SERMON VII. Preached on the Conversion of S. Paul, 1863. THE OPEN DOOR.
"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write.; These things saith He that is holy, He that is true, He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; 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, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name."-- REV. iii. 7, 8.
LAST Sunday we heard of those who, having a name to live, were dead: who thinking themselves to be rich, and increased with goods, and in need of nothing, knew not that in very deed they were wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. Now let us hear of a Church, weak, despised, attacked, and yet gloriously to be kept in the hour of temptation. And first notice, that when it is translated, "Thou hast a little strength," which would rather be an acknowledgment of power than of weakness, it ought to be, "Thou hast little strength." All the more comforting, that, for those who feel that they have little strength, who doubt their own power to fight the long hard battle of a Religious Life, who tremble lest they should not persevere to the end. "My strength is made perfect in weakness."
You must join, my Sisters, the two verses together: "I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it," with His title Who thus has opened it, "He That hath the key of David upon His shoulder." And you may take that door in two senses. The power of spreading the Gospel among the surrounding heathen, as S. Paul speaks: "A great door and effectual is opened to me." Or, it may be, that more blessed door, the entrance to be abundantly ministered into the Kingdom of Heaven. Either way, the reason that follows is one of those divine arguments so infinitely above the reasonings of man. "I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast little strength." What, impossible to be conquered, because we are weak? Even so: because that very weakness enlists omnipotence on our side. It was, no doubt, from reasoning after the manner of men, that our translators put in, contrary to the Greek, that word a. Not so the HOLY GHOST. It is something after the same method of argument as that sublime passage of Tertullian: "The SON of GOD went about healing disease and infirmity: it is possible because it is unlikely; and died on the Cross for us: it is probable because it is incredible; and rose again the third day: it is certain because it is impossible." And take the opposite side of the picture, and see how the blessed Apostle of to-day speaks of that, with the bitterest irony he ever allows himself to use: "Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to GOD ye did reign, that we also might reign with you."
"I have set before thee an open door." Now, my Sisters, if that may be said of any set of persons, it certainly may be so said of you. You know how many open doors have been set before us; you know too how hard men have tried to shut them; and you know, best of all, that we have little strength. Little strength in respect of numbers: were you half as many again it would not be more than sufficient to do properly the work you have in hand. And little strength individually; each of you feels that for herself better than any one else could tell her. Then the question is, whether the conclusion of the clause is true of you also. "Thou hast little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My Name." That Name to which you are more especially bound: that dear Name which goes up from your mouths every morning as intense to be presented at the heavenly altar: that name on which we have even now been calling, which even now we have been praising. You do deny it, if, so dedicated to it, you act before others so as to bring dishonour on it; and that, not only in things absolutely wrong, but in those that, as S. Paul says, are not convenient: you do deny it if, whatever your hand finds to do, you do with less than all your might, giving a portion only of strength, and energy, and labour to Him who has a right to the whole of it. You do deny it, if by constantly and pertinaciously shirking (to use the common word) any duty, and so giving trouble to those above you, you so gain a place, an office, more to your own fancy. You do deny it, if you pick and choose between different duties, so that you throw all your power into the one you like, and slur over and perform in a slovenly way that which you do not like.
"I have set before thee an open door." That is, in the other sense, that gate which is of one solid pearl and which leads into the King's City, that City whose light is like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; that gate through which nothing shall in any wise enter that defileth. Set before you indeed! And how, or by what way you enter in, so only you do enter in, that, GOD be praised, is in His Hands, not in yours. Only, as this day's Apostle says: "And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there;" (and which of us can tell what glorious things will befall us in that Heavenly Jerusalem to which we are professing to go? but he continues:) "Save that the HOLY GHOST witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me." So you may be almost certain that you will have trial, and temptation, and trouble enough before that open gate is reached at last. And then the thing is, that you for yourselves, and I for each of you, and for myself too, should be able to take on our own lips the glorious words which follow: "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy."
It may be that one or more than one of you may so be called to die; GOD has taught you that you have no charmed lives. If so, such an one is the happier. But anyhow, so far as I have the power, no one shall ever join us without being fully aware that no one can become a Sister without trial and distress enough: and that if it be not trouble from without, it will be temptation from within. And remember what we were saying last Sunday; that the only two Churches of the seven which have no kind of trial or temptation mentioned, are those to which it was said--to the one, "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead;" to the other, "So then, because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of My mouth."
And before we go on, see how our LORD has gloriously made good His Title of the Faithful and the Amen, the True Witness. Two Churches only were free from blame; two Churches only have survived till now: Smyrna and Philadelphia. Smyrna, the less praised, though still not blamed, flourishes in a worldly point of view; and, therefore, it is less wonderful that many Christians should still survive there. But Philadelphia, though a poor little weak place, maintained its independence against the Turks, when the rest of Asia Minor was in their hands for eighty years: then made good terms for itself, and now is the most flourishing Church of Asia. Must we not say that our dear LORD'S promise has been dearly made good?
And next: "I have set before thee an open door." What opened it? The key of the House of David. Ah! how wonderfully the Prophets, and the Evangelists, and the Apostles agree in one! We first read of this where mention is made of Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, Hezekiah's faithful servant. Let him have been never so glorious an Old Testament Saint, (and a glorious Saint he must have been,) the noble sayings of Isaiah were seen even by the Jews not to have their final termination in him.
"And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah."
Now mark: "The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder." Look at that other passage in the same most marvellous of all Prophets: in the same Fifth Evangelist. "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder."
In both cases, why shoulder, and not shoulders? besides, who would speak of so carrying a key, of so laying a government? Surely for this cause: That key which opens the Kingdom of Heaven, that government which is exalted above all powers, both in heaven and earth, is none else than the Cross. And how was that borne? Was it not on the shoulder? Could it have been carried otherwise? So see, my Sisters, your guide to victory in this world, if GOD so grant it, will be the opener for you of Paradise in the next. Ah me! Is not this another lesson how there is but one way, if for all true servants of the Cross-bearing King, so especially of those who more especially profess to take up His Cross? who wear it openly displayed on their breasts, who can scarcely enter a room in their own house without seeing it the one chief object, the one dearest pattern?
That is the key, and the only key, which unlocks this door: and a singular thing it is, how the old type has kept its place physically, when the metaphorical meaning has long been forgotten. Did you ever see an elaborate key of which the wards were not made crosswise? And notice this: on account of that especial promise to Eliakim, the Jews connected the idea of a key with that of the coming of the Messiah. Further, mediaeval Saints tell us why it should have pleased our LORD to submit to the necessity of bearing His Cross on one shoulder: namely, that is, that we, bearing it after Him, must bear whatever our especial Cross is, for ourselves. It is written, "It cost more to redeem their souls: so that he must let that alone for ever." In the same way, we all know how human sympathy cannot go beyond a certain point: how, dearly as we may love each other, sometimes in the hardest straits we are left to Him only Who has perfect fellowship with us. I shall never forget how it was once said to me, many, many years ago, by one whom I dearly loved, how, looking at our dear LORD only in His human character, there was the glorious completeness of His sympathy: that when our conscience tells us we are right, though we may thereby offend the dearest of earthly friends, we do but join ourselves (if you wish the literal Greek expression in the New Testament), glue ourselves to Him. I know it is a very simple, common-place remark, but it is just those things that so fix themselves in the heart.
Anyhow: this "little strength," and this "open door:" you have the one; GOD grant you may keep the other!
And now, &c.