Sermons on the Apocalypse, the Holy Name, and the Proverbs
by John Mason Neale.
London: J.T. Hayes, 1871.
SERMON VI. Preached in the Octave of the Holy Name, 1859. THE NAME OF LOVE. "By what power, or by what Name have ye done this?"--ACTS iv. 7.
IT will be some time, in all likelihood, before I have the opportunity of thus speaking to you all again; and so I will take the risk of wearying you, and will say a few sentences to you before we part. The question that we have heard every night this week will give me a good text.
"By what power, or by what name have ye done this?" Done what? Why, in the first place, made your fixed resolution, given yourselves to GOD, taken up the more heavy Cross, set out upon the narrower way? By your own power? Poor, poor Sister, if it be so; if you think to persevere for one day, for one hour even, in your own strength; if your thoughts are, "I can do this when I will, and if I will." No, indeed. This is what we ought all to learn more and more daily--I am sure we have enough to teach us--that we are so weak, so unstable, so wavering; that we are weak, did I say? that we are weakness itself. But then, coupled with the weakness, is the strength that we may have if we will. "Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD Jehovah is everlasting strength." Oh, my Sisters, how I could entreat, how I could conjure you, this very day, this very hour, to lay hold on that might; rather, on that Almightiness. Let the past be enough, sometimes to have faltered, sometimes to have fallen. Let the past be enough for Confessions repeating former faults--the same sad list again and again: arm yourselves now for this conflict: resolve that next time you kneel here there shall be a visible improvement, that the grace of GOD shall witness then to its own effects: that I myself shall perceive that, as of old time, virtue has gone out from JESUS CHRIST, and healed those whom no earthly physician or remedy can heal. Above all things resolve against those which always have been, and I suppose always will be, the besetting sins of Sisterhoods: unkind thoughts, unguarded words. Both sad indeed: but the former trebly so. It is sometimes more than I well know how to bear to hear or see the unkind fancy that will rankle in one Sister's mind about another. Ah! it is no slight sin. This, or this, or this, to whom you allow yourself to feel ungently, of whom you perhaps permit yourself to speak harshly--do I mean to say that she is perfect? No. But this I mean; that the King, even at this moment, loves her dearly; that the King, even at this moment, desires her beauty; you may not be able to see it, but He does: you are indulging thoughts of bitterness to one Whom He deems worthy of thoughts of the dearest love. GOD knows--and Him I call to witness--I am not thinking of any particular case; the sin, we all know, is common; not more common here than elsewhere: but sadly common everywhere. One of the hardest trials of a Priest is this: He may know in Confession the earnest struggles, the deep humility, the bitterness of sorrow for sin, the love to her LORD, of one of his children, and may immediately hear her spoken of harshly, or slightingly, or contemptuously, by another of those to whom he is equally bound. And yet he cannot say: "If you could look into that heart as I can, if you could see how broken and crushed it is from causes of which you know nothing: if you could know how lovingly and kindly you yourself have been spoken of by that very one of whom you are now speaking in so opposite a way--you would be torched indeed, and you would, I know, ask GOD'S forgiveness first, and hers next."
By what power, and by what Name can you do this? By that power which forced,--yes, which forced the LORD JESUS to tabernacle among men, which compelled Him for all those months, and all the while, conscious (according to His Divinity) of the depth of that condescension, not to abhor the Virgin's Womb,--which forced Him, when reviled, not to answer when suffering, not to threaten; which forced Him to ascend Mount Calvary, which drove the nails through His Hands and His Feet; and drove far more bitter agony--the sense of rejected effort through His Heart--the power of love. By what name? By what, save that to which we have been sanctifying this week: the Name which only speaks of such love, because it speaks of such sins. The old Names that by right are His --Emmanuel, CHRIST, Messiah, King of Kings, LORD of Lords, are not so dear to us as this of JESUS, because this alone speaks of sins, and love felt in spite of all. Our dear LORD, if we had never fallen, would have been King of kings, would have been CHRIST and Messiah, as the anointed Prince; nay, would have been Emmanuel; for, as I have often told you, the belief of the Church is, that even if Adam had not fallen, the SON of GOD would have been incarnate; but JESUS He could never have been. The very fact of man's sin gave Him His dearest Name; the Name so royally prefigured by types and prophecies; the Name so gloriously bestowed, as I said last Sunday, at the moment of greatest exultation, and in the season of deepest anxiety and distress.
That Name, dearest Sisters, is to be your pattern in this matter. I could kneel to each of you, oh! how willingly! if I could thereby persuade you to give up every shade, every shadow of a shade, of unkind feeling towards any Sister. Grant that you are not deceiving yourselves; grant that you see faults in her; grant that your whole heart is set on seeing the Sisterhood perfect, and that therefore you see these faults: but then think of the Name of JESUS. It was our sin that brought out His love. So let it be with you. If you see faults, then love the more. This is one sense of that saying of S. Peter's, that "charity shall cover the multitude of sins." There have been those who have gone through life without ever uttering one unkind word: nay, there are one or two of you, from whom I may safely say that I never heard one, or had any reason to believe in an unkind thought. Why not all? Why not the exception the rule?
Dearest Sisters, what a Paradise this place would at once become, if in one fortnight not a single confession mentioned a single thought of unkindness!
And now the other fault: careless words. By what power, or by what name can you do this? Still by that Name, the Name of Him Who spake as never man spake. And now notice this. It is not as if all the danger lay on one side. There is a possibility of two extremes. There is the possibility of levity, by which I mean that light irreverent way of talking which would not be fitting any Christian woman: then there is the possibility of words which, though not to be blamed in people living in the world, are not for Sisters: and that more especially applies to what might be called gossipping conversation; and then there is conversation that, however fit between yourselves, is not fit in the presence of strangers, or even of-our children. You have need to pray with respect to all these, "Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth, and keep the door of my lips." I cannot but believe that, were you each as anxious for the other's progress as you all ought to be, you would invent some method among yourselves of each checking the other when you heard, or thought you heard, anything of this kind.
Never tell me it is not possible: it ought to be possible. It ought to be possible to give the advice kindly, and to take it, even if you thought it undeserved, without being annoyed. "Am I my brother's keeper?" You know who said that. Yes: you are your Sister's keeper: each the keeper of all: and so you will find in that great day of account. If any one of you goes wrong, in greater or less matters, does not a certain amount of fault rest on the others? It does indeed.
But then, remember, there is an opposite extreme; and that is, such gravity and silence as to be moroseness. And notice this in our LORD. We know how He was a pattern against anything approaching an idle word; but He was by no means silent or ascetic. All gave Him witness, and marvelled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. "The Son of Man came eating and drinking." That is, He did not shut Himself up in Himself. He was fond--I speak after the manner of men--He was fond of conversation; and anything but grave and silent. Here He is your pattern. Not only that those lips of yours should never utter anything unmeet; but that, like His, they should utter "gracious words." How is that to be? What tongs from the Altar will lay a coal upon your lips, and so purify and hallow them? Ah! there is a better petition than that! "Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth!" Those lips, in which one word, "Mary!" was so mighty with one that dearly loved Him, let those lips themselves purify yours!
I have spoken very plainly to you, my Sisters, and you will bear with me; you know my one wish: that this place should be the habitation of Saints. By what power, and by what Name? That power which can overthrow all difficulties; that power which I see here daily: I hope, increasingly: although I see not as yet all things subdued to it. And by that Name, which is indeed the Name of all victory; that Name to which nothing is impossible: that Name to which you are dedicated, and which lies, dearly and warmly, in your hearts. Those that are going now, and those that are to stay, I commit them all to the guidance and guardianship of that Name: that, as S. Paul says, those whom I see and those that are absent may stand fast together in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel; and in nothing terrified by your adversaries, whether external or internal. O my Sisters, will you not, whether separately or together, try? separately or together stretch forth your hand for the crown that is within your reach? The bright crown of self-devotion surrounded with its special aureole of chastity? I know you will. I am sure that He Who has begun, will accomplish. Oh that I may be counted worthy, as I have seen and watched you in the days of your temptation and infirmity, so to see you in the time of your perfection and glory. And now, &c.