Project Canterbury

Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs
by John Mason Neale.

London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.


Preached August 7th, Feast of the Holy Name, 1857.


"Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after My Name? And He blessed him there"--GEN. xxxii. 29.

WE have come, dear Sisters, once more to your own day: the day consecrated to that Name which gives holiness to every holy name: bestowed by an angel in the act of the greatest wonder that the world ever knew--the Incarnation: itself lifted up in the hour of the LORD'S deepest agony and humiliation--the Passion: and now by right exalted above every name, and, hereafter, that reward which is beyond every reward: "And they shall see His Face, and His Name shall be in their foreheads." We have come to that day; and the same voice which then in the stillness of the night, and by the ford of Jabbok, said, " Wherefore is it that Thou dost ask after My Name?" might still, here, after so many centuries, does still here put the same question to you.

"Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after My Name?" Truly, dear Sisters, because without continually seeking for that Name, the life, which you have chosen, would be impossible. For this is the Name of One that went about doing all good, and bearing all harm: speaking as never man spake, and answered with--"Say we not well that Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?" Well acquainted with fatigue, cold, solitude, coming not to be ministered to, but to minister. Because they who desire most closely to tread in His steps, must also most ardently seek after His Name: for so said the Bride long before, "Thy Name is as ointment poured forth: therefore do the virgins love Thee." Of all Christians, Sisters are they who have most need to have continually in their minds those words of S. Bernard which we heard last night. "Every meat is insipid if it be not sprinkled with this oil; unsavoury, if it be not purified with this salt: it is honey in the mouth; melody in the ear; jubilation in the heart." Or hear how he speaks of it in another place; what he said to those early Sisters of his own order, how still more ardently would he say then, if he could have the glory of his Master, to you now! "Yesterday, we celebrated the Transfiguration of JESUS on the exceeding high mountain: to-day we celebrate His humiliation in the lowest parts of the earth. Yesterday, what He was with the FATHER He showed by the exceeding brightness of His mortal body: to-day He manifests how His humility, by taking man's flesh, wrought out man's salvation. Yesterday, by His splendour He set forth that which we hope to be: to-day He teaches, by the very sound of His Name, how we ought to live. Yesterday, He displayed the glory that is to be our reward: to-day He makes known the love whereby we may merit to be rewarded. The one in the Country, the other in the way. The one in glory accomplished: the other, in co-operating grace." "Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after My Name?" And you might each of you say, "Because Thou, that knowest all things, and knowest that I love thee, knowest also how miserably weak and unstable I am,--and therefore I seek the Name of all strength: how, over and over again, when I have most firmly resolved against temptation, I yield to it,--and therefore I seek the Name of all forgiveness: because I, who have professed to give up every thing for Thee, have yet so much in my inmost heart that is so unlike Thee, and so far unbefitting Thy Temple,--and therefore I seek the Name of all purity: because I have so many trials and difficulties,--and therefore I seek the Name of all blessedness." My dearest Sisters, I know that this is what you feel; that this is what you mean. It is not for nothing that, since we last kept the anniversary of this Feast, you have said our Litany so many hundred times, and in such various situations, that I have said it with some of you when, to all human appearance it seemed likely to be nearly the last earthly sound that you would ever hear; that we know our absent Sisters to be at this time remembering, even if in the midst of GOD'S more active work they can only remember, that His Name through faith in His Name must be all their salvation and all their desire. No: as that good man of old said--when the Sisters of that day, labouring in the midst of a naughty and miserable generation, were taunted with the honour they bestowed on that Name,--"To us this Holy Name is a great honour and a singular joy. Over and over again our Sisters name JESUS: above all other things they worship JESUS: before and above all the names of all the Saints they love and adore JESUS, the SON of the Living GOD, Whom ye deride and despise."

"Wherefore is it that that thou dost ask after My Name?" Join it with that which follows: "And He blessed him there." Where? In the first place, where he had been spending the earlier part of the night in labouring for others: in providing for the safety of his family: in so arranging matters that even if he fell, they might escape. So of you. In hospitals or cottages, where you are working, not for yourselves, but for others--and for others, because they are redeemed by the Precious Blood of Him, Whose Name this day we worship--by sick beds which others have left, in places of danger to which others will not dare to approach--only seek after this same Name, only let it be as close to your affections as those external crosses are to your hearts, and I can prophesy that of you also it might well be said: And He blessed her there.

Jacob was alone. Dearest Sisters, you all know something of that which is the worst of loneliness--isolation among others: where they have no feelings in common with you, no sympathy for you, no understanding of what you are aiming at, no love for those things which to you ought to be dearer than the life itself. Very well: let it be so. That is for this world. There is a world where loneliness is impossible. When that more blessed day of Pentecost shall be fully come, you will be indeed with one accord in one place. The Apostle tells you the number of those whom he saw in the streets of New Jerusalem--or rather,--language fails him when he tries to tell it--"ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands." In the meanwhile, that which your dear LORD said of the FATHER, that you must say of Himself, "And yet I am not alone, for He is with me: "in the meanwhile, of that same Blessed LORD and each of you, must that saying be fulfilled: "So they two went on together." And if that be so, there is but one end and result of such loneliness and isolation: And He blessed her there.

Well: and further, it was night. And even night could not separate the true servant from the True Master. That GOD Who in the beginning said, "Let there be light, and there was light: and He saw the light that it was good"-- that GOD Who is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all, that GOD has also said that He would dwell in the thick darkness. He Who by the space of three hours endured the darkness of Mount Calvary, darkness to the body, darkness to the soul,--He did it to this end, that in all the darkness of His people He might be a very present help in time of trouble. The Prophet speaks of this His comfort in connection with the very Name of this day: "Who is there among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of His servant; that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him call upon the Name of the LORD." I have often enough said, and you know very well, dearest Sisters, that plenty of this darkness you must expect, until you come to that land of Goshen where all the ransomed people of Israel have light in all their dwellings. You know that I might change Solomon's words without hurting their meaning, and might tell you that a Sister was born for adversity. Think then of this darkness of Jacob: think of the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, and remember that "He blessed him there."

But this was not all. Jacob was in expectation of a terrible struggle. The man that for one morsel of meat had sold his birthright, the fornicator and profane person, he that found no place for repentance, he was advancing towards Jacob, and four hundred men with him. And you know whom, and whose attacks, you must always be expecting. You know how ardently Satan desires to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: you know that a Sister is to be prepared for more temptation than others, just as the advanced post of an army must expect the most frequent attacks and the loudest disturbances. But of this too it is written, "He blessed him there."

And why? "Jacob was left alone, and there wrestled a Man with him until the breaking of the day. And he said, I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me." There the mystery is explained: there is the light that riseth up in the darkness: there is the victory that overcometh the world: there is the violence by which the Kingdom of Heaven is taken: there is the importunity by which GOD allows Himself to be vanquished. "He blessed him there." Those desks must be your there, dear Sisters: the scenes of as earnest wrestling as Jacob's, if you would wish to prevail like Jacob: there over and over again you must say, I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me: there over and over again you must find this blessed Name to be the strong Tower into which you run and are safe. The old legend goes that when S. Ignatius had played the man in the amphitheatre, and had been torn to pieces by the lions, the Name of JESUS was found written in his heart. What was said of him in an allegory must be true of you in reality: that let whatever lions of temptation come upon you, that Name may be so written in your hearts as to fulfil that promise, "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, yet shalt Thou refresh me: Thou shalt stretch forth Thine Hand upon the furiousness of mine enemies, and Thy Right hand shall save me."

And He that bears that Name is about to come among you in His own presence: to come among you, more truly than when He wrestled with Jacob: to give Himself to you, that you may be one with Him: to bestow Himself on you under the form of Bread and Wine, that hereafter He may give Himself to you amidst the splendours of the Saints. Now then is the time to say: I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me: now is the time, as a prince to obtain power over GOD and over man, and to prevail. The day is breaking even now: that eternal day which ends darkness, solitude, struggle, danger, at once and for ever. This Feast which your LORD makes to you is the twilight of that day: you must wait for its sunrise till you see that Face which was once so marred and defiled for you, but will then be the fountain of everlasting joy: till that Name which has here been your strength and comfort shall then, once for all, and for ever, be written on your foreheads.

And now, &c.

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