(Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).
(Preached on the Monday after the Consecration, Nov. 3.)
ST. LUKE xv. 18, 19.
I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto Him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and before Thee, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son.
BY placing these sentences at the commencement of her daily Service, our Church seems to teach us that we may be well returning to God every day of our lives with this confession and prayer of the penitent Prodigal. As the Lord's Prayer, wherein we ask for forgiveness, is suitable to every hour of life, and to all conditions of men, and therefore seems a pledge to us, that as we all need pardon, so may we all obtain it. So in like manner this penitent prayer thus put into our mouths seems to intimate, that we may always feel ourselves in the condition of this poor Prodigal, and may always be accepted as such. He who for the first time is becoming deeply sensible of his sins, will feelingly understand how it comes home to his own case: and he who has grown to fuller stature in the practice of holiness, will become more and more sensible of the holiness of God, and therefore more conscious of his own sinfulness; and will feel that no prayer better expresses his self-abasement as he draws nearer to the Presence of God. So wonderful and so manifold is the healing application of God's Word to the necessities of us all.
But that we may not render the mercies of God an occasion of sin, let us consider what the true purport of this parable is. All these things in Holy Scripture imply a thorough repentance; what is here represented is the thorough conversion of a sinner in itself; it holds out no encouragement to one that falls back. I mean not, that there is not recovery, even from very serious relapses; relapses are very dangerous; their very great peril in serious bodily illness, is a type of what they are to the soul; still, blessed be God, there is recovery, though all who have ministered in such cases, know their anxiety and sorrowful peril; every relapse increases the anxiety; yet where God still continues the grace to struggle, there is hope yet. Still the case of such is not contained here; when this prayer is used, it implies growth and progress in grace. But now if true repentance is very rare, then the case to which this parable will apply in its depth and fulness must be very rare also. There are few to whom it will properly belong with all its consolations, although there are perhaps none who do not hear it again and again, and take it home to themselves with self-assurances of pardon. But although it may be pleasant to us to hear of the unbounded mercies of our Heavenly Father being open to us all, yet we have no right to feel comfort in them as if they were our own, unless we are sincerely putting ourselves into that condition to which those mercies are promised.
Let us consider the account in the Parable. The prodigal son returned to his Father's house once and for all; he returned in great contrition and lowliness, and there continued. Those who would daily take to themselves the parable of the returning prodigal, because they are daily sorry for their sins, and as often return to them again, will find nothing to encourage or comfort them in this parable. To be like them> and to correspond with their state, the prodigal son must be every day acting over again his return, which would be but a mockery of repentance, instead of that affecting scene which the parable presents to us.
Certainly there never was any thing written so affecting as this parable, and the more so, because, being given us by the Holy Spirit, we know that it is so infinitely true respecting the return of a sinner to Almighty God, and of that wonderful depth of Divine love with which he is received. And no doubt far more affecting than this parable and the literal history it contains, is every case in real life to which this parable does truly apply, and which it is intended to represent.
There is in such a case deep and bitter distress, such as was that of the penitent David, when he expressed his exceeding grief in the fifty-first Psalm; and of the King Manasses, when he bewailed himself in prison; and of King Hezekiah, when he turned his face to the wall and wept sore; and of holy Job, in his lamentations of himself; and of Daniel, in his memorable confession: such was the state of mind in St. Peter, when he went out and wept bitterly; and of Mary Magdalene, when she wiped Christ's feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
And as in these cases there were circumstances of bereavement,--the loss of his child to David, Manasses's prison, Hezekiah's sickness, Daniel in captivity, St. Peter in the night of desolation, the Magdalene in ill report and contempt,--so likewise are instances of such repentance generally accompanied with outward circumstances corresponding to it, and in some measure by God's gracious Providence bringing it about. "There arose," it says in the parable, "a mighty famine in that land, and he began to be in want." The failure of outward supports succours, of health, or of friends, or of money and condition in the world, on which the soul has been used to lean, are often found to go before so great a change, when the soul begins to be in want, to feel her own hunger and nakedness; that hunger of the soul, which God Alone can supply; and that her nakedness, which Christ Alone can cover. Difficult as repentance is at all times, it is far more difficult when the world looks favourably on us, and. its objects are in our heart; so that our Lord speaks of such conditions as being states in which it is impossible to be saved--impossible although not with God, yet with men: and in various ways He mentions such with warning, with woe pronounced upon them, and in His parables for these conditions He takes His examples of men that are lost; because sinners are not likely to come to the temper of the poor Prodigal till there arises around them a mighty famine, and they feel themselves to be in want. And for this reason we know of no cases of repentance without fasting and mortification; for as "the body never thrives," as a holy Bishop has said, "but at the cost of the soul," so the soul never thrives more than when the body suffers; the spirit is never strong, but when the flesh is subdued, and the body, as St. Paul says, "kept under." But the distress which is occasioned by the loss of wordly consolations is not repentance, nor is it even the beginning of repentance, although by God's mercy it often precedes it. All this had now happened, he had spent all, a mighty famine arose, he had begun to be in want; he had looked around on every side for succour; and no man gave unto him. Nothing could man give to satisfy the cravings of an immortal spirit; and the dregs of sin, the husks of the swine, the degrading vanities of worldly men, could not heal a wounded soul. It is then that, according to those expressive words, "he came to himself," and thought with longing desire of his Father's house; and how he himself was perishing with hunger.
And now his repentance begins in self-abasement. All his hope in returning is to be as an hired servant, he looks not to take even the lowest place at his Father's table, but to be, (O mysterious resemblance to the Son of Man!) to be "as he that serveth." And now his journey homeward is the whole progress of his repentance. Already on commencing his return he had carefully resolved on what he should say; "I will arise," he adds, "and will go unto my Father, and will say unto Him." These words of humiliation were the prayers that filled his heart at every step of his journey thither. The expectation of such a gracious acceptance never crossed his mind; he went on in humble hope, but with no assurance of pardon: if he had presumed and calculated on all this beforehand, he would have been of a far different spirit; on the contrary, hungry and thirsty his soul fainted in him; he thought of what he was in truth, unworthy to be called a son, and he knew that he was indeed poor and naked and miserable; not fit to take care of himself any more. Thus was his whole journey made up of that affecting prayer for mercy, while he scarce ventured to hope that even that would be accepted: and of course he had thus proceeded far on that journey before he beheld the gracious advances of his Father. The penitent who has gone into a far country, must make some considerable progress on his way towards Heaven before he must expect to meet with the full consolations of religion. If he has been unchaste, he must make some decided progress in purity of heart before he can expect to see God: if he has been dishonest, he must not only have made restitution, but be ready to do far more, before Christ will meet him with the gracious words which He spake to Zaccheus. If he has been proud and vain in times past, he must come to the temper of this self-abasing prodigal, "going on his way weeping and bearing good seed," as the Psalmist expresses it.
All this must be done in our returning to our Father's house, in which we were placed at our Baptism, and from which we have wandered far away;--we must arise, when brought to ourselves, with the prayer of the poor Publican, that is, with the temper of mind and with all such lowly duties as that prayer expresses. It is indeed the yearning of our Heavenly Father, and the bowels of His Fatherly compassions towards us, which move us to the first beginnings of repentance; His watchful Eye is with us during all our wanderings; His careful Providence guides every thing that constrains us towards Him. But all this is as it were unknown to the sinner, until he has made some progress back along that path by which he has gone astray. Then he beholds Him--hastening indeed towards him and coming to meet him, in His foreknowledge seeing him afar off, in His mercy preventing him, with His peace embracing him, that he may not be overwhelmed, as St. Paul says in a like case, with over-much sorrow. He must not presume, I say, on this acceptance until he has gone far on his way towards his Father's house, by improving in all Christian graces. Otherwise he will be found at the last, sitting at the marriage feast without the marriage robe, with which the Father clothes the true returning penitent; and the Bridal ring, which is the seal of His covenant. Such was the case with that incestuous Corinthian, whom St. Paul put out of the Church. The holy Apostle wrote with indignant remonstrance at such an one being received among them without repentance; and it was only after signs of a great sorrow and entire change, that he would have them confirm their love towards him, that he might not be swallowed up by Satan's devices with too great despondency.
And thus in better days the meaning of all this was shewn by the Church itself, when it required confession of sin and a painful repentance before sinners were reconciled to the Church. After some crimes men were never again admitted to the Holy Communion in some Churches b; in other Churches only on their death bed; for other sins they were not admitted till after undergoing a certain number of years in privation and sadness; and when at last received into the Church, it was with such signs of joy and welcome as were calculated to express the penitent's return to his Father's house--to set forth, as it were, his Father seeing him afar off, and running to meet him, and falling on his neck and kissing him. But now men seem to apply all this to themselves on the very morning after a night which they have spent in intemperance, and are sick and ashamed of it, and again return to their sin, and the next day or the next Sunday again take to themselves all this hearty reception of the penitent prodigal. And what is the effect of all this? of course such hardening of the heart, that if at any time they should be brought to a true sense of their condition, this very Parable itself can afford them no substantial consolation, because they have so often mocked themselves with it.
We may depend upon it that we shall never have any substantial comfort in religion, unless we deal very severely with ourselves: that easy way which men in general have of speaking of the Gospel and its great mercies, as it does not lead them to any great holiness of life, so it will not be any true support to them in the day of trial. After all, the way of mortification and of the Cross will be found at last to be the only way of true comfort: it is the only way that has the promise, "blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted;" and doubtless the more they mourn, the more shall they be comforted of God.
In short, it is as much as our eternal salvation is worth, that we do not take up half-truths--unreal imperfect views--on this subject of repentance; such as can have no safe warranty in the general bearing of Holy Scripture, and cannot be rested on by our conscience in the Day of terror. God's words, such as in this Parable, as they reach far and wide, so they go deep into the soul. Nothing but a repentance broad and deep and long can make room in the heart for the Cross of Christ, in its breadth and depth and length and height. What 'is needed is reality; the Spirit of God, if I may with reverence so express it, "searching the heart with candles;"--the Spirit of God interceding therein with unutterable groans;--the Spirit of God reviving all the dead branches, and shewing fruit and life thereon; and then the Spirit of God comforting with the Anointing of the Holy One in those that are by mortification made like unto the Great Anointed One.
But now such a repentance, as it is of all things in the world that which is most needed, so it is of all things in the world the most difficult to meet with. Nay, in religion itself it is easy to find all things else but this; and yet all things else are but shadows without it. And this is allowed by the unconscious confession of all; it is that which is not afar off, but "in thy heart and on thy mouth;" it ever rises to the lips of us all. Doubts in religion and divisions in religion, and controversies and disputes, and scruples in religion, and fine feelings, and peaceful assurances, and even much external shew of labour and busy works so as to swallow up, it may be, all our time;--these it is not difficult to find;--but thorough repentance,--daily humbling, daily loving, daily praying, daily fasting, self-judging, self-correcting, self-renouncing, self-hating repentance;-- there may be many goodly pearls, but this is the jewel of great price; the Heavenly householder may "bring out of His treasures things new and old," but this is that "treasure hid in a field," which he would give all that he has to purchase: this is the one thing that is needed--to give us eyes to see and hearts to love God and man, in Him Who is God and Man, Christ Jesus.
What a mockery to suppose the heart-broken returning Prodigal to be taken up with catching at straws blown about by the wind, while the night is drawing on, and his father's house is afar off, and he knows not what acceptance he shall find--and no where else but the bottomless pit to turn to. No: let the Jew be of the temper of the Elder Brother; be assured that the Christian must ever bear about him no other temper than that of the poor Prodigal. But if even in religion itself this thorough repentance be so rare, that all things else are to be met with but this alone; what shall we say of the world at large where religion is little thought of and little known; among those who know not what divisions are in religion, because the whole subject of religion is afar off, and it is all one to them; except it be that for the natural instinct of evil, the world is ever glad to join against that shape of religion in which there prevails for a time a deeper call to repentance? Nay, to him who looks at all deeply and reflects on human things, it will be seen that all, who themselves long not to be deeply penitent, will join to persecute, wherever the "Man of Sorrows" is seen in true repentance.
But let us look around: where is this repentance? Many know not what godly sorrow is at all, nor intend ever to know, but keep it far from them. Others indeed know what sorrow for sin is, but it is only a superficial sorrow without change of life, and when they are spoken to of repentance, they have nothing to think of but this sorrow which they have occasionally entertained: whereas such sorrow at the very best is but the first step toward repentance; for repentance signifies an altered heart; and change of heart cannot be without change of life. A tree is known to be alive by its putting forth leaves, and with-out those leaves its life cannot be sustained: a new heart can only be known by new works; and without these it cannot itself be kept alive. How then can mere sorrow of itself, be taken for the whole of repentance?
In others again there has been a repentance bitter and long, such as has broken by God's grace the bonds of sin, and brought about a serious amendment for many years; yet if the period of trial should be prolonged, it often happens' that circumstances will again shew that the undying worm which had once gained admission is but asleep and hidden for a while, and not cast out altogether. His former self is still strong within the sinner, and when he ceases to press forward for a time, the old serpent whom he thought he had left behind is fast gaining ground upon him; and he has not the strength he once had to resist him. The love of evil finds that in his thoughts on which it may feed, and live, and grow: the root of the old sin spreads forth its branches again within the heart, on which the undying worm may feed. Here then the repentance has been imperfect; the wounds of the soul have been too easily healed: how can a sinner safely meet death with no greater change than this?
Now let me ask, where shall we find a Christian state in these days that is not contained in one of these three classes, either an imperfect kind of repentance, or a mere shadow of repentance, or none at all? And therefore, I say, there is nothing in the world so uncommon as a true and entire repentance. Whether we have to deal with mankind as ministers of Christ, or become acquainted with them in the many various intercourses of life, our own experience must surely bear witness to this, that whatever sins men have fallen into, there is nothing so rare as a living repentance, extending to all the heart and conduct.
And this corresponds altogether with the view which Holy Scripture gives us of mankind; especially throughout the Prophets; for the Prophets had to deal with men as they are, and to express to them the sense which God Himself entertained of their condition. And therein we find throughout calls to repentance, connected with every thing that could move men's love and fear, in numberless expressions of the great tenderness and compassions of Almighty God, together with His hatred of sin and His heavy judgments. These calls to repentance are repeated again and again in every manner; and yet like the calls of conscience itself and of His Holy Spirit pleading silently with every man, they are repeated more and more loud, as if there were almost none that answered; as if from one generation to another they were repeated in vain: the invitations and the warnings of God were equally unheeded; or if regarded for a time, their repentance was but as the morning cloud which passeth away. If we open the books of the Prophets, we shall find in almost every page that this is the case: "thou shalt speak, but they will not hearken unto thee." "I hearkened and heard, but no man repented." All their expostulations may for the most part be shortly contained in this expression of the last Prophet, "Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts. But ye said, Wherein shall we re turn?" And every one must be to himself sadly conscious that the same spirit lies under all our Lord's mournful appeals to us in the Gospels, blended with the same unwearied loving-kindness of God towards us.
In this respect Holy Scripture is very wonderful; that whereas the view which a thoughtful Christian cannot but entertain of the world as he sees it around him is very different from that which is usually taken, yet he finds that it exactly corresponds with that view of things which is taken in the Bible. Holy Scripture holds up to his eyes, as it were in a glass, both his own heart and also the world around him; holds it up to his view as it is in God's sight.
Would to God that we might consider these things not as spoken as a matter of course in Sermons, but as they are, most concerning truths. If Holy Scripture and experience teach us with the still small voice of God, that this thorough repentance is so difficult and rare, and if our own heart pleads within us that this is borne out by our own case, and if such a repentance is the only thing in the world to be cared for, the only thing on which we can trust; then let us cast aside all unrealities and shadows, and labour above all things to obtain of God this repentance, and in the first place a healthful sorrow, which although it be not repentance, yet is the first step towards it, and, without which sorrow going before, there can be no true repentance.
He that has lived to sin in any way, must die to sin in the same degree, before he can live unto God; and there can be no dying to sin without pain.
Blessed is he who after having fallen from the high state of adoption lives in bitterness and humiliation all his days, and feels himself indeed "wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked," if only at the end of his journey, he may be welcomed as the returning Prodigal to his Father's house, be received at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb that was slain, and be clothed on that Day with the Robe of His Righteousness.
Yet must we not be disappointed, if, at first, we feel not the penitence we would. Deep penitence is an exceeding gift of God. Its sharpest pang comes perhaps at the sinner's first conversion, when, doubting about past and present, the love of God and his own salvation, he finds himself "in want." Yet is its first state often a confused sense of "want" in itself, rather than a deep loving sorrow towards its Redeemer and its God. And is it for the soul, if it feel even this "want." It is the earnest of all beside, since He Who is more ready to give than we to desire, requires but our longing, that He may fill us. But yet, for the time, far other is that first desolation of want from that ardent longing of the holier soul, which knows by experience the sweetness of what it "wants," and wants and longs the more, because it, in some measure, has. Far other the fervent desire of the soul, which is athirst for the living God, and the more He satisfieth her by His consolations in the way, so much the more thirsteth to appear before the Presence of God; far other such "hunger and thirst after" the Lord, our Righteousness from that first state of the soul, when, in real destitution and want, she saith, "I perish for hunger." Far different to be drawn forth to what the soul knoweth, and to faint because it knoweth not its God. Far other the humiliation of one really restored to the full privileges of sonship, who yet, feeling that he loveth not God enough, would be as the lowest and last of those who serve Him, and that first dearth and famine of the soul which too truly feels that it has been serving itself or divers lusts or passions or vanities, even while, perhaps, it thought it was serving God. The unwatched, unexamined, soul is, on its awakening, a stranger to itself as well as to God. . It scarcely ever, perhaps, held converse with itself, entered into itself, enquired about itself, "searched out its spirit," knew itself or about itself; perhaps its very employment has been, by the din and distraction of this world, to deafen itself to itself, to close its inner ears against itself, to bring into itself other things which might smother its own clamours against itself, to go abroad out of itself amid things outward as well as away from its God, to flee itself, lest within it it should hear the Voice and see the law of God, to bribe, dissipate, lose, forget, deceive, itself, put a mask over the hideous self it was, day by day, becoming if by any means it might escape the pain of seeing its true form and hearing its own reproaches. And too well did it succeed. One's self is often the most painful sight one can behold in God's creation; for it is one's own undoing of God's gracious work. No wonder that they who are strangers to God, long to be strangers to themselves, or that, longing, they at last attain it. No wonder that obeying not His holy law without them, they would turn away their eyes from reading that same law written in their heart, which condemns them. And therefore the first call of God, is to bring thyself back into thine own heart, whence thou hadst been an exile; to "recall" the soul's "ways to remembrance," is the first step in "turning the feet to God's testimonies;" to "commune with thine own heart," the first step towards "offering" it "a sacrifice of righteousness" on God's altar: to "come to himself" the prodigal's first step towards returning to his Father's home. The very voice of Nature herself teaches us that the sinner is estranged from himself; for the very name which she gives for any repentance of ill, is "he came to himself." But in itself what findeth it except its sins, its sore "wants?" What finds it, but a "waste of the substance" it had of God? All it had had of God; all it had taken into its own keeping; all it had wasted in that consumption and decay of the soul, sin. All gifts of God how are they defiled, all graces gone; all, understanding, memory, wit, speech, imagination, knowledge, will, turned aside from their right use, debased, weakened, corrupted, enslaved; all senses, avenues to let in sin into that fearful sink into which all evil flowed, the heart of man: all turned to nothing; the inward light of the soul darkened; the understanding dulled; the affections chilled; the perception of good confused; the will weakened; the taste depraved; the memory emptied of God and of holy thoughts, and haunted with the spectres of its sins; too often, a very charnel-house of corruption or of vanities. Oh what a sad waste and nothingness is a sinner's self! And therefore once anew it must go forth out of itself, not as before to the world, but unto God; must empty itself, "pour out its heart before Him," take with it all its heavy, weary, load, and lay it down at the Feet of Christ.
Yet, even thus, will it not always, at first, find full relief. It cannot as yet, as it would, either hate itself or love God. Both are as yet too much strangers to it. Its true hate and love must grow together. It knows as yet but the surface of its own misery; it knows only afar off its Father's mercy. In the abyss of its own misery, it will learn hereafter the abyss of God's mercy; in the depth of His mercy it will see, reflected, its own former misery. But deep contrition comes slowly with deepening grace. The soul, until it is restored to fuller grace, cannot see the real nature of its sins. As it is restored to the light of the Divine Presence, and the light of His countenance shines into the soul, then it sees more, what it has been, and by what foulness surrounded. At first, but a glimmering light is shed within it, and it sees confused hideous shapes around it, but it has been so much accustomed to them, it feels them so very near itself, that while it loathes them, it seems unable to loathe them as it would. It sees nothing clearly, sees only men as trees walking, having but just been freed from the blindness, which had gathered around it, through its sins. It has but as yet, perhaps, a trembling hope of the love of God, that God can love it. And yet it is God's overwhelming love, which kindles love. "We love Him, because He first loved us." The first faintest thought that He has indeed sought us out and found us, that this longing to retrace our steps to our Father's house is His secret drawing, that His Precious Blood-shedding, though so long and so often wasted by us, is still of avail to us, does kindle a new light in the soul. The first purpose to return to Him seems, by His mercy, a bright, pure, spot within the soul, amid all which around sickens and affrights us. But depth of penitence is in proportion to the depth of our love, and the fulness of Divine Grace. At first we have but a faint penitence and a faint love. Our sins are so much a part of our whole selves, that we scarce know how to endure the abhorrence of ourselves. For we must love ourselves, even while we hate what we have made ourselves. And we have perhaps so deeply sinned, that our whole self seems the very self we hate. I mean, sin has too often penetrated the sinner so through and through, has so marred all his acts and so stained himself, that he hardly sees what in his whole self he can love, except that inmost self, the soul which God gave, and in Baptism renewed after His own image, once so bright and pure, now so stained that he scarce knows how to hope that it may yet again be purified. And so that very natural love of self, without which we cannot be, seems almost at strife with that hatred of defilement or of sin, so worked into himself.
But we must not be impatient, even in penitence. We must not think that we can win it or any degree of it, for ourselves. What we have, is His gift. Any further degrees of it must be His gift too. Be we, only, diligent by His Grace to bring forth such fruits of repentance as He may enable us, and for the rest, pray we Him and await His time. It may be that it is a part of our restoration, that we should feel our weakness and our misery, by neither being able to repent nor to love, as we would. What could so teach us the misery of our fall, as that we cannot when we would, arise? We felt not our darkness when we sat almost wholly in it, and it blinded our eyes, and the pure light of day not having been poured in, we knew not our darkness. And so God often keeps souls (perhaps most often) for a while in the horrible pit, wherein they sunk themselves, giving them hope of deliverance in that He sheds a ray of His blessed light within it, yet not bringing them out, at once, into the full radiance of His light. There while they survey by that light the loathsome forms of sins which they had gathered around, while their noise and din terrifies them, and they seem allowed almost to crawl over them and again to defile them, and their whole inmost self seems one decayed mass, and the worm of evil thoughts, if not of evil habits, seems to creep in and out at its will amid the corruption of the body of this death, until they "say unto corruption, Thou art my father, to the worm, My mother and my sister," they learn a deeper knowledge of their loathsomeness, and a deeper hatred of them. "God cleanses," it has been said, "many souls, as silver is cleansed, by what seemeth to defile it." But while the soul is thus wearied and confused and sickened with the presence of its sins, it is gaming real repentance, although it scarcely perceives it, or not at all. More will it gain, the longer that heavenly light shines, and the move it prays that it may shine upon it. It is in our Father's Countenance, in grave though forgiving sorrow over our sins, that we see their real depth. It is the adoring study of His thorn-crowned Head.
Think you not that the restored Prodigal, as he lived in his Father's house, again admitted to behold His Face, and hear His tones of love, and brought nigh to His holy Presence, must have felt much more where he had been, how miserable his exchange, how loathsome their unholy company with whom he had squandered his Father's earliest gift, than when he first arose trembling and in wretchedness from among them, shaking them off from him, hoping to be re-admitted to be a servant in the house where he was once a son? Think you not he must have felt more his past sickening and shameful nakedness when his Father clad him anew with that best robe of holiness and righteousness? or the filthiness of the swine-husks, when his Father gave him that rich and costly Food, which had been offered in Sacrifice for him? Think you not, that in that blessed nearness he must have felt far more than before the misery of having been once "in a far country," himself estranged from his Father, and receiving from Him no tokens of His love, no heavenly visitations, no consolations of His Spirit, no grace to revive his soul? or that in the happy freedom in which he walked up and down under his Father's Eye, he must have loathed far more the wretched servitude, in which, "an exile from his home and a citizen of the world," he was yet bound to the unsatisfying service from which he could not at once free himself? Must he not, when his ears were filled with the heavenly melody of his Father's palace, have hated more the revelry of that riotous living in which he had wasted his substance? and, when he knew again the bliss of his happy home, must he not have shrunk far more from every thought akin to those which once drew him from it, than when he had but that faint memory of the abundance in which they lived, who yet lived in his Father's house as servants?
O then, my brethren, in whatsoever state we may be, let us neither despond that we shall not one day see our Father's Face, nor in any glance of that blissful Face and in the Sacraments, which it may be, we might dare hardly claim, forget what we have been. Wherever we are, we still need deeper penitence and love. Of ourselves, we cannot gain them. Pray we Him continually, Who Alone can give them. Hold we fast to Him, Who holdeth us; forget not in the Robe wherewith He hath anew clothed us, our own inward wretchedness, nor in the Blessed Food wherewith He hath revived our souls, to what penury we once brought ourselves. But pray we Him, that That Holy Robe may so clothe our whole souls, and enfold our whole selves, that It may remove our inward shame, and Virtue go forth from It and enter into our inmost hearts and heal them; pray we, that each fresh Sacrament He ofiers, may be to us a food of Incorruption, restoring our decays, efface or more deeply remove some inwrought stain of sin, and fit us, by Angels' Food, for an Angel's life; pray we Him daily to give us perseverance to the end, that we leave not again His Blessed Presence, and ourselves beware of all which would anew seduce us; and He will Himself lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, to those more blissful halls, the Mansions of our Father, where, pure from all spot of sin, we may be able to look back on our past sins without defilement and without pain, only overwhelmed by the exceeding love of our Redeeming God and Father, Who when we were afar off, drew us back by His secret calling and inspiration, found us when we in ourselves were for ever lost, gave us life, when we by our sins were dead.
Now unto Him Who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own Blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, be with the Father and the Holy Ghost.
O most mighty God, and merciful Father, Who hast compassion upon all men, and hatest nothing that Thou hast made; Who wouldest not the death of a sinner, but that he should rather turn from his sin, and be saved; Mercifully forgive us our trespasses; receive and comfort us, who are grieved and wearied with the burden of sins. Thy property is always to have mercy; to only it appertaineth to forgive sins. Spare us then good Lord, spare Thy people, whom Thou hast redeems enter not into judgment with Thy servants, who live earth, and miserable sinners; but so turn Thin anger from us, who meekly acknowledge our vileness, truly repent us of our faults, and so make haste to help in this world, that we may ever live with Thee in world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.