A Course of Sermons on Solemn Subjects
chiefly bearing on Repentance and Amendment of Life, Preached in St. Saviour's Church, Leeds,
During the Week after its Consecration on the Feast of S. Simon and S. Jude, 1845.
(Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).
(Preached on the Evening of the Consecration)
ST. LUKE vii. 47.
I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.
JOYOUS must ever be these days, when Almighty God vouchsafes to receive these offerings at our hands; and He Who filleth Heaven and Earth deigns in a special way to be present in these temples made with hands, where two or three are gathered in His Name: joyous and solemn is it, when a fresh abode on earth is set apart to echo on from day to day our Redeemer's praise, until those who in truth sing it, in heart as in voice, shall be caught away one by one, to hear the new song and endless Halleluiahs, whereof we learn the first faint preludes here; solemn, especially, is this first day, on which our Lord has here vouchsafed to feed those hungry and athirst for Him with His own Body and Blood. Yet to-day has its own special source of joy, not less precious in the sight of our Redeemer, because it relates to one single soul; for so great was His love, that He died for love of each of us, as if there had been none beside; and so not less precious is it in the sight of the Holy Angels, who joy over one sinner that repenteth, nor, with them, in yours.
Ye know, my brethren, that this day's offering differs from most beside, that it is the offering of a penitent. Ye know not from what sin recovered; but ye will have read, as ye entered, his own confession of unworthiness, and have given him the prayers he asked for; and, whether ye have been preserved from deeper or from subtle ensnaring sin, by His same grace Who, we trust, has restored this His prodigal son, or whether ye too have been recovered from some state of sin and negligence, ye will have rejoiced with and over him, who, we trust, has been sought and found. It is an Angel's joy; yea, in rejoicing over him, ye share the joy of our Lord, Who invites His friends and neighbours, those who ever do His will and stand near Him, to joy over His sheep which was lost. As yet, indeed, this stray sheep is not laid up in the everlasting fold; the piece of silver is not replaced in the everlasting treasury; yet through the prayers here offered may he hope the more to be brought unto the end, to have his soiled face cleansed by the abundance of the grace of God, and that Royal Image, which sin had marred, again by penitence renewed.
To-day, then, is a festival of penitence and love. He hath, in this, done what he could out of love, imperfect as it must be, to Him Who first loved him; and ye will pray that He Who has this day accepted His offering, will for our loving Redeemer's sake, accept himself, will bind up the wounds which yet remain, pour into them the austere wine of penitence, and if it seem good to Him, the oil of His consolations, at least the healing Unction of His Spirit, and restore to his soul some portion of the grace and beauty which by sin it lost.
And although he does not wish to be spoken of in this holy place, which he feels himself deeply unworthy to have offered to the praise of His Redeemer, yet it may just be said, that in all the beautifying of this house, one thought which God, he hoped, had worked into his soul was before him, how to set forth the doctrine of the Cross, the Cross borne for us, and now, as good soldiers or as penitents, to be borne by us. He wished the Cross, every where to meet the eye, inviting the soul to rest in love on Him Who bore it; that lifted up toward Him here, by His Agony [a], His Cross and Passion, we might through His mercy be brought to the glory of His Ascension, and be received into the everlasting Arms which He stretched out on the Cross for us, and in ascending, lifted up to bless us.
On this day then, of the acceptance of the offering of a penitent, it seemed the more fitting to speak of God's acceptance of loving penitents; and since on the following, such of us as remain, hope to meditate on some of the most solemn subjects which can fill the soul, it seemed disposed by God's Providence, we might hope, that we should first begin with thoughts of His love.
The sinner to whom our Lord thus spake is the very image of penitents. She is the picture of the Gentile Church [b], sunk, ere they were called, in open, putrifying, sins, yet, when the Jews in false righteousness despised, called in penitence to love. And, in herself, she is in her actions the model of penitence after deep abiding sin, as David is in the deep groans of the penitential Psalms, and St. Peter in his continual bitter tears. "When I think of the penitence of Mary," says S. Gregory [c], "I had rather weep than speak? Whose heart so stony that the tears of this sinner should not soften him after the pattern of her penitence." Who, my brethren, could in mind stand beside that penitent, and not catch some feeling of her penitence? All was against her, except that look or word of her Lord which melted her, and the secret grace which drew her to the Fount of Grace. She was, as we know, wealthy. As soon as she was converted, she ministered to our Lord of her substance. Ye know how difficult it is to be penitent amid riches, comfort, and ease. She comes with the precious ointment, the instrument of her luxury. Ye know how luxury deadens and closes up the soul. Death was still far from her; Scripture tell us of a portion of her beauty, when it, the instrument of sin, whereby she took prisoners, had become hallowed by touching the Feet of our Lord in penitence. Yet how does promise of life delay penitence, day by day! She was then affluent, at ease, luxurious, fair, the world before her, flattered doubtless, perhaps scarcely feeling her own shame; we know at least, how in this Christian land, such outward things as birth and wealth will fence off public shame. Such was she without, and what within! "A sinner," with that sin which most destroys every spark of life, an adulteress, and, it is thought, a widow, with none to reproach, none to call her to herself. One more fearful thing Holy Scripture tells, more or less true still of all guilty of her sin; for where the Holy Spirit dwells not, that body is the dwelling-place of unclean spirits, trampled under foot of devils, "a cage of every unclean and hateful bird." But she had reached the height of evil, as she humbled herself to the depth of penitence. "Out of whom," Scripture tells us shortly after, "Jesus cast out seven devils." Our Lord Himself tells us that there were different kinds of this miserable dominion of Satan, when He says of one, "This kind goeth not out, but by prayer and fasting." We are apt to think of those miserable cases of possession by Satan, as though those so held must needs always have had those outward marks of trouble and disquiet, which some we read in the Gospel had. But Satan holds not in one way only. Perhaps his surest hold is the most secret. Even now, in those cases which bear most likeness to it, there is often no outward shew of violence. Inwardly restless they must ever be. Our Lord speaks of the unclean spirit as seeking rest and finding none. How can he be at rest, who has no love, no hope, no God; but all is hate! And they whom he influences, or in whom he dwells, can have no rest, having lost the centre, in whom Alone there is rest, God. But their unrest does not always shew itself without. There is even now often deep unrest within, which is soothed in a manner as it was in the unclean spirit, by going in a way out of itself. Wretched people are often goaded on to wickedness, to get rid of the pressure of this inward unrest. Restless is the very name of the wicked in the language which was formed by God. Such then seems to have been the Magdalene. Actually indwelt by devils, but those leading not to outward violence but to sins. And as in Holy Scripture we read different spirits, according to the different sins to which they tempt men, (as a spirit of jealousy, a lying spirit, a spirit of fornications, an evil or malicious spirit,) so it seems likely that the seven devils cast out of her held her captive heretofore to seven deadly sins. "What," says S. Gregory, "are pointed out by the seven devils, but the whole range of sin? for since all time is comprised in seven days, a whole is figured by seven. Mary then had seven devils, who was full of all sins." And not merely was she thus given up to sins, not sin alone dwelt in her, but the very authors of sins had mastery over her body, and (as we see in some measure even now) moved her limbs and ruled her.
Such then was she. All fair without, within all decayed; nothing without to impel her to penitence, nothing within (of which we know) to draw her; in the mastery of Satan and possessed by seven devils. Nothing was there within, except that which alone is of avail, the constraining grace of Christ. He Who made her, saw in this her hopeless state, the capacity of penitence, and, at once, remade her. By what look, what words, we know not, on what outward occasion, or by what inward drawings. She stands before us, the more as a model of all penitents, in that of the special history of her conversion, we are told nothing. One mightier than the strong man was there, had taken from him the armour wherein he trusted, and spoiled his house. The dwelling-place of devils was become the abode of love. She who had lived in deeds of darkness, was in the presence of Light; she in whom had been even devils, was at the Feet of Jesus in her right mind. All was changed. She shrunk from nothing, heeded nothing, but Him Alone, Whose love had brought her to herself and to Him. Love is stronger than shame, which people fear more than death. All, humility, contrition, faith, fervour, knowledge, love, trust, were poured into her at once; all stand out in that one act. All else vanished from her sight, all love of pleasure from her heart; she saw Him, on Whom her being hung, and all besides fell off, as wax melteth at the fire, as she was drawn to Him. She who had been before the idol of others, makes herself the mark of shame. Among those who held themselves righteous and despised others, who would have shrunk from her touch, as they thought the Lord should, she (marvelling, doubtless, at His condescending love far more than they) stood an unbidden guest, a sinner, marring their self-pleasing feast with a sinner's tears. But what has the penitent top do with any save Him, the Fountain of mercy, her Redeemer and her God? She knew that by inward drawing, that He Who knew her heart so as to draw her, heard her speechless prayer, and would receive with tenderness whom in mercy He had drawn. She stood at His Feet. She dared not as yet meet His Eye. She, who with a holy shamelessness shrunk not from the scorn of men, shrunk with a holy awe and fear at the Eye of God. We feel, as penitents, that we must come to God; and yet, when penitents, then is it aweful to come into that Presence, which awed us not in son. And how would we stand, my brethren, in that blessed, but aweful, Presence? May such of us as have been in any degree like her, so stand with her, until we too hear those blessed words, "Thy faith hath save thee, go in peace." How does every word betoken her humility! She came to pour on Him, in token of her love, the gifts she had hitherto wasted on herself. But she does not, at once, approach Him. She stood behind Him weeping. "Christ sat at meat there," says a father [d], "not to receive chalices flavoured with honey, perfumed with flowers, but from the very fountain of her eyes to drink the tears of a penitent. God hungereth after the tears of offenders, He thirsteth for the tears of sinners." His Feet had gone in search of her who was astray; the dust clave to them, even as He bore our sins upon Him, although He was harmless, separate from sin; they could not touch His all-holy soul. But with that simple love, wherewith she would afterwards embalm His Body, now would she remove from His feet the dust which, in seeking her, had gathered round them. And then, when she found that they disdained not a sinner's tears, when tears from her were allowed to rest upon them, how was all the fervour of her love unlocked! And even so, we too doubtless have felt that when, by some token of inward peace, He accepts, as we hope, some gush of sorrow, or deep abhorrence of ourselves, which He has given, then have we seemed, like her, able to pour ourselves forth in penitence! "Blessed tears," again to speak in a father's words [e], "blessed tears, which not only can wash our sins, but even bedew the footsteps of the Divine Word, so that His goings should abound in us! Blessed tears, in which is not only the redemption of sinners, but the refreshment also of the righteous; for it was a righteous man who cried, 'My tears have been my meat day and night.'" Oh how well it must have been with her then! How gladly would we ever remain with her at His Feet, though as yet He were silent to us! How blessed that our tears might rest upon them, even if we might not touch them! But what when, yet more, He allowed her to wash His Feet with her tears, and wipe them with the hair of her head, and kiss His Feet, and anoint them with the ointment? But He Who gave to a sinner such love, shall we wonder that He received the love He gave? First, love made her offer to her Redeemer all which she had hitherto abused to sin, and then through her offering He kindled in her new love. "What she had unworthily employed on herself," so sums up a father [f], "now she laudably offered unto God. With her eyes she had coveted things of earth; now she wore them out with tears of penitence. Her hair she once displayed to set forth her face; now with her hair she was wiping the tears. With her mouth she had spoken proud things; now, kissing the Feet of the Lord, she pressed it to the Footsteps of her Redeemer. Whatever enjoyments she had in herself, so many offerings she devised of herself; she turned every sin into a virtue, that whatsoever of her had despised God in sin, might wholly serve God in penitence." How He would make her a model to us sinners both in her penitence and His love! The first tears of sorrow had but just, at His bidding, gushed from the stony heart He had melted, and she is admitted to the privilege of the Bride. She had but just washed off the dust of her sins, and she is allowed to kiss the Feet of God. Her sin-defiled lips stain not the Holy, but the cleansing touch of that Flesh Which He gave for the life of the world, hallows them. He from the hem of Whose garment Virtue had gone forth to heal, He Who was Himself that living purifying Form of fire, His Sacred Manhood filled her with His Godhead Which is a consuming Fire, touched her lips, and her iniquity is taken away and her sin purged [g]. The lips which she had profaned were the very instruments of her acceptance: the kiss is the very token of reconciliation, the pledge of love; her sins had separated her from her God; now she may touch Him. O wondrous love, which would thus teach us sinners how He would receive our returning love, and not endure only, but praise the penitent's love which He had given! He Who called her to His Feet, Who gave her the grace, there in humility to remain, in perseverance to cleave, speaks not of His own but of her love, "Since I cam, she hath not ceased to kiss My Feet." O blessed portion! to touch her Physician, to hold Him that He leave her not; to rest her weary head as the footstool of those glorious Feet which brought life to the world, which were wearied, to give rest to the heavy-laden and the weary; in washing them, herself to be washed from her sin; in wiping them to have the stains of her soul removed; anointing Them, to be anointed with that Blessed Spirit,
Whose blessed Unction from above,
Is comfort, life and fire of love.
Such was the outward change; but who can tell the inward, whereof these were the tokens? Who of us could trust himself to speak of the depth of that inward faith and love, which Christ in an instant accepted fully, for which He, at once, blotted out all the past with His own gracious sentence, "Thy sins are forgiven thee," sent her away, free from the past, in peaceful hope for the future, her heart guarded by that peace which passeth all understanding, until at last, she should lay her down and take her rest in Him Who is our Peace? "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." Who shall measure that faith, which knew her Physician Whom the Pharisee who would honour Him knew not, knew that He had the power to forgive sins, knew that He was not a "man" and a "Prophet" only, but "Who" He was that "forgiveth sins also," God and Man? Her very action shews that she knew and believed in Him Who could read her inmost thoughts, "knew who and what manner of woman she was who touched Him;" and so she spake to Him Who knew her wants, in silence by her devotion and her tears, heard the yet unuttered sentence of forgiveness in His silent permission that such as she should touch His Feet, yea felt that she had more than she dared to ask from Him Who is more ready to give than we to pray, that she was not forgiven only, but restored and loved. And so, both forgiven much, she loved much and her much love completed the fullness of her forgiveness. "Her sins which are many are forgiven her, for she loved much." Or who shall tell the depth of that love which He shed abroad in her heart, that He, the Maker of the heart and its Judge, pronounced "much love." He Who said to St. Peter, on his penitence, "Simon son of Jonas, lovest thou Me," and asked for a three-fold love to efface the three-fold denial, and that he should, as it were, gather into himself a manifold love, to requite the manifold forgiveness, Himself bears witness to her, the chief of sinners, that she "loved much." What can be "much" in the sight of God? Could the Seraphim's burning love to Him the Fount of love, from Whom all love flows forth, yet dwells fully only in Himself, , the Coequal Trinity, yea is Himself? he tells us of others whom He hath loved, the beloved disciple, and, as it seems, this very Mary and her sister Martha and Lazarus, (and they must much have loved Whom He so loved,) and Moses He pronounces "faithful in all His house," and Abraham he calls "His friend;" and yet, to teach us sinners, how, if penitent, we may ourselves hope to love, he has kept this praise in store for one who was a grievous sinner; of the woman who was a sinner, alone does He bear witness, she "hath loved much." Well might that inward fire of love burn out of the soul the dross of sin, which He Who came on earth to kindle it, called "much."
Such was her change. We need not then be startled to think that she, who "chose the good part which shall not be taken from her," the sister of Martha, of whom it is said, "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus," is the same [c] as this blessed, holy, penitent. We have pictured to us Mary, sitting at the Feet of Jesus, pious, devout, child-like, calm, peaceful, contemplative, and can hardly think that she who so chose, had ever so miserably chosen the world and the flesh, or that Jesus so loved one once so fallen. Yet this were to doubt the power of grace. Is it strange that she who stood at our Lord's Feet, should, when restored, sit in thankful adoration at those blessed Feet, where she had received her pardon? or what God had cleansed, should it be any longer common or unclean? could not His Word remake what He had made? or Whom His love for sinners brought down from Heaven to the likeness of our sinful flesh, is it strange that He so loved the sinner whom his love had cleansed, to whom He had given such glow of love? "The love of God, says a holy man, [d] "readily followeth our love which it forecometh. For how should He be slow to love again, whom, as yet not loving, He loved?"
And so Holy Scripture in one blessed convert, of the number of those whose conversion is, humanly, least hopeful, shews us the depth both of penitent and forgiven love, and in both the depth of the love of God. Blessed is the thought after deep sin, that we shall one day put off the body wherein we have sinned, that the members, once the instruments of unrighteousness, shall be wholly laid aside, though in dishonour, and we receive them, anew, we hope, in glory; blessed tokens of decay, which are the cock-crowing of the resurrection in purity conformed to our Lord's. But the history of this penitent brings us nearer hopes of present restoration, calm brightness of joy, holy aspirations, and even the secret intercourse of our Lord with the soul which loves Him. For we see her, so deeply, once so hopelessly, stained, admitted to His friendship, sitting at His Feet, in holy contemplation, hearing from His mouth the words of life, the object of His tender love, so that when on her brother's death Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews also weeping, which came with her, He "groaned in the spirit and was troubled," and we are told "Jesus wept." We see her, a sinner, who two years before had stood at His Feet, in shame and tears, admitted to anoint His Sacred Head, (yet then too not forgetting to anoint in humility the Feet whereat she had received mercy,) her act a hidden prophecy, anointing His Body for His Burial, owned as "a good work wrought upon" Himself; proclaimed as a memorial of her wherever the Everlasting Gospel is preached. And when for us He hung upon the Cross, where He said He should draw all unto Him, while others, who yet loved Him and ministered to Him of their substance, "stood afar off," she, amid the scoffing, blaspheming, multitude, (as before amid the contempt of the Pharisees, at the feast,) is drawn again alone to Him by His love, to its very foot. There, in that sacred, solemn nearness, there stand only His Virgin Mother, His mother's sister, His virgin beloved disciple, and this deep penitent. There we love to imagine her, as Christian feeling is want to paint her to our eyes, enfolded round the Cross, as near as she could, still to His sacred Feet. To Him yet living on the Cross; she clave; His Divine Body she watched, laid in the tomb; earliest by the tomb, on Easter Morning, is the penitent; she, when even the beloved disciple and St. Peter went away to their homes, believing, remained by the tomb, weeping; with teas she had first found Him, with tears anew she seeks Him; she cannot leave the empty tomb; she cannot believe that she shall not see Him; she sought and found Him not; she sought with persevering tears and found Him; she looked in (as love is wont) even when she had seen that he was not there, and she saw angels; but angels gave her no comfort, for she sought Him Alone Whom her soul loved, the Lord of Angels and her own; and Whom her love sought she saw, and He called her by name, as He doth His own sheep, and made a penitent the first witness of the Resurrection, the apostle to His Apostles, the herald of life, the announcer of His Ascension and His Glory. And since this were little to her love, (for she sought no office even about Him, but only Himself,) while He said to her "Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended," He promised her a time when she should touch Him, the earnest and first-fruits of His Presence in mystery after the Resurrection; throughout eternity, the fulness of sight and of fruition. "Then," says a father [i], "He began in an ineffable way to be nearer in His Divinity, as He became further in His Humanity. Then began more instructed faith to approach to the Son, Coequal to the Father, by the step of the mind, and not to need the touch of the bodily Substance in Christ whereby He was less than the Father, since, while the Nature of His glorified body remained, the faith of believers was thither called, where not by the hand of flesh but by spiritual perception is the Only-Begotten, Equal to the Father, touched.I will not, He saith, that thou come to Me in a bodily way, nor own Me by thy bodily senses; I put thee off, to give thee higher things; greater things I prepare for thee. When I ascend unto My Father, then shalt thou touch Me more perfectly and more truly, apprehending what thou touchest not, and believing what thou seest not." And as, to those who love much, our Lord does vouchsafe from time to time, distincter, though passing, tokens of His Presence, so it is a beautiful thought that this blessed penitent may, through her life, have ever been seeking and finding, ever mourning that she had once been so displeasing unto Him Whom now she loved, ever longing for His Presence, visited by his consolations, and then again longing, and again comforted.
My brethren, if we think against what light we have sinned, although we may have not committed her actual sin, who shall say that he is not such as she once was? She sinned not against such grace; she was not, ere she sinned, the Temple of the Holy Ghost; she knew not that God had become Man in order to make her anew an image of Himself; she had not been made a member of Himself; she knew not how dear a Price her redemption was to cost, or what she was wasting; she counted not the Blood of the Covenant wherewith she was sanctified, an unholy thing, nor did despite to the Spirit of Grace, nor (words which one could not utter but that they are the words of God) "trod under foot the Son of God, crucified Him afresh, and put Him to an open shame." She loved Him Who pardoned her, ere she knew how He loved her, for she knew not the Price, whereat He had purchased her pardon; she loved the Heavenly Physician Who healed her, though she knew not that the Medicine was His own Precious Blood. We, especially if we have been guilty of some deep though subtle sin, have sunk lower than she. And shall we not long to rise with her? If ye have not begun already, ye would now begin; ye would wish to know the sweetness of her tears; ye would wish to be admitted near your Saviour's Feet; ye, nay we, would all long to hear His mild forgiving voice, "Thy sins are forgiven thee, thy faith hath saved thee, go in peace;" or far more than any peace on earth, we would long to have that foretaste of endless bliss, "much to love," Him Who has so patiently borne, so long foreborne, Who, when we deserved only Hell, still holds open for us the gates of Heaven.
Would any begin? "To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little." The first step earnestly to return, is to know where we have been. Think you not that as the Magdalene stood at her Saviour's Feet, all the foulness of her life stood out before her, in one aweful view, by the holiness and majesty of Him, to Whom she was come? The beginning of penitence, then, is to review our whole life, with prayer to God to reveal it to us, and confess it, at least, at the Foot of His Cross. It is often a ghastly sight, which could only be borne at our Saviour's Feet. If it is too aweful to bear alone, or does any thing weigh heavily, or need we counsel, or long we for peace through His pardoning words, our Church has taught us how to obtain it, by "opening our grief to some discreet and learned minister of God's word." Great grace is so bestowed by God on those who seek it, for His forgiveness and His love.
Our first step then is to contemplate our sins by the sight of His love. Darkness seems blacker when over against the light. Yet not even thus can we gain contrition or love. Could we, by any thoughts on God's mercy, gain love, this would be to convert ourselves. His look melted Magdalene's icy heart, his word cast out the seven devils; and would we have the fire of love kindled in us, or the dæmons of our sins cast out, we must pray Him to give us power to pray, ask for His gracious look to bring us to ourselves, wait in His Presence, seek Him, desire Him, grieve, for love of Him, that we have offended Him, desire to grieve, not for ourselves alone, not so much that we have deserved Hell, not for the glory we have forfeited, not that we are the wrecks of what we might, by his grace, have been, but that we have sinned against him Who so loved us, and, as far as in us lay, done dishonour to Him, our Redeemer and our God. Great is the power of love with God, for it is His chief gift, since God is love. "Her sins which are many are forgiven, because she loved much." It seems a bold word which holy men [k] have said, "When a sinner, rising again from his sins and wholly turning away from them, purposes for ever to serve God and to live to Him Alone, He, that Eternal and boundless Goodness, shews Himself as gracious to him, as if he had never fallen into sin. For He perfectly remitteth to him all his sins, nor will He ever impute them to him, were they as many as all mankind together have committed, if he but grieve from the heart purely to the glory of God, and hate his sins chiefly on this ground that they displease God. For that very fervent love, from which that sorrow flows, consumes all the rust of sins, if but that love and contrition be great enough, and, as it ought, with his whole strength." It seems a bold word; yet He Himself has taught it us, Who fell at once on the neck of the returning prodigal, and clothed him with the best robe; He, although He continued the merciful chastisement, said, at once, to David, "The Lord also hath put away thy sin." He when He gives much love, owns, at once, the love He gave. He puts no delays, He teaches us to say in the Psalms to Himself, "I said, I will confess my sins unto the Lord, and so Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin." He hath said, "Turn unto Me, and I will turn unto you." He hath said, "If the wicked turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right, none of his sins which he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him; he shall surely live, he shall not die." No bounds hath the infinite mercy of God, but what we set by our want of contrition and of love.
But love of God cannot co-exist with self-love, or want of love to man. And therefore true penitents have ever sought, with Magdalene; to break off self-indulgence, to turn the instruments of sin and luxury into means of penitence; as they had used things unlawful, to deny self things lawful, at times at least, and in proportion to the form of their love; to shew love to Christ's poor, in order in them to shew love to Himself. We cannot now wash His Feet, nor wipe them with our hair, nor anoint them, but he, when He withdrew His bodily Presence, left us those in whom to minister to Himself. "The poor ye have always with you." "We wash His feet with tears," says a father [a], "if we are moved with compassion to any the lowest members of our Lord, and count their sorrow our own. We wipe our Lord's Feet with our hair, when we shew pity to His saints, (with whom through pity we suffer,) even by cutting off things superfluous to us. We kiss the feet we wipe, if we love earnestly whom through our bounty we relieve, not feeling the needs of our neighbour a burden to ourselves, nor giving with the hand, while the heart is chilled to love."
We are met, my brethren, to joy in such an act of a penitent; ye who can rejoice over him with an Angel's joy, will not deny yourselves a portion of his joy. Blessed and hopeful sign of lover were it, if this day's united effort might, at least, go far to rear such an house to our Redeemer's praise, as this which He has to-day vouchsafed to make His own; a joy to him, with whom ye sympathize, that his penitent love has called forth yours; a joy to Angels, who joy when the lost are found; yea, I may dare to say, a joy to our glorified Redeemer, since He vouchsafes to say, "Rejoice with Me, for I have found the sheep which I had lost." God hath mercy upon us, that we may have mercy on those, upon whom, with us, He would have mercy. Whether he have preserved you from deeply falling, or raised you, when fallen, ye, if ye now love Him, will long that all should, together with you, love him, with that love with which ye love Him, yea rather with which He has loved you. "If thou place thy hope in God," says a father [b], "what office hast thou, but to praise Him Whom thou lovest, and make others love him with thee?Lay hold on him, whoever can, whoever shall possess Him; not too narrow is He; no bounds wilt thou place in Him; Him shall ye each possess wholly, Him shall ye all have wholly."
First then and chiefest, brethren, (for such is the choicest gift,) in purpose of heart, give yourselves. Your souls are they, which He the Good Shepherd seeks. Wide open is the Bosom of His Almighty, all-containing, love; wide did He stretch His Arms upon the Cross, that He might encompass within His love, the sins and sorrows of the whole world. Think we over with sorrow the sins of our youth, weep we for them, at least, with burning inward shame at His Feet; and He will not shrink at our sin-defiled touch; He will account our penitence as innocence, our grief for our sins as purity; more gladly will He forget our sins, than we willingly remember them. He will not suffer us only to wash His Feet, but Himself will wash us anew in His own Blood; He will not only admit on His Sacred Feet a sinner's kiss, but He Himself has said, He will fall upon the neck of His returning prodigals and kiss them; while we stand at His Feet weeping, He will gather us into His Bosom, He will hide us in His wounded Side, He will place us near His Almighty Heart, the Fountain opened for sin and uncleanness; He will hush our sorrows, and compensate our brief tears with His endless joy; where with the Father and the Holy Ghost He liveth and reigneth, One God, to Whom, &c.
[a] The Agony of our Lord and His Sacred Passion, the Bearing of the Cross, and the Crucifixion, are subjects of three of the large windows in S. Saviour's. At the East end is that of the Ascension. The object of this position was to inculcate that by His Cross and Passion we must be brought, to the glories of the Ascension.
[b] S. Greg. in Evang. Hom. 33. 5. S. Cyr. Al. in Joann. 11, 6. and to the same effect in Orig. in S. Matt. Tr. 35. and S. Ambr. ad loc.
[c] l. c.
[d] S. Chrys.
[e] S. Ambr. ad loc. L. 6. 18.
[f] S. Greg. ad loc.
[g] Is. vi.
[c] See note A. at the end.
[d] S. Bern. Ep. 107.
[i] S. Leo de Ascens.
[k] Rusbroch. de præcip. quibusd. virt. c. 10. Opp. p. 184. Thauler. Inst. spirit. c. 20.
[a] S. Greg. ad loc. 5.
[b] S. Aug. in Ps. 72. 34.