THESE addresses on the Seven Words from the Cross were delivered in S. Mark's, Philadelphia, on Good Friday, 1903. They are here reproduced from the stenographer's notes.
The Seven Words are treated as setting forth the four Cardinal and three Theological virtues, which form the basis respectively of the moral and spiritual life of the Christian.
IN meditating year after year upon the Seven Words of our Blessed Lord from the Cross, there arises after a while a difficulty--that in treating the same subject so many times there is of necessity a tendency to repeat the same thoughts. We have tried to obviate this difficulty, as you are aware, by taking each year a different standpoint from which to regard these Words of our Lord. To-day I propose that we should consider them as manifesting those seven virtues which are the chief endowments of man.
There are very many virtues belonging to humanity; but there are two classes which stand out quite apart from all others, and which, by reason of their object, have been called the theological and the moral virtues.
The Theological Virtues are those which have God Himself as their object and end. Their effect is to unite man to God, and so to order and direct man in his life that he may become more and more godlike.
The moral virtues, on the other hand, have for their end the perfection of man's actions. These moral virtues are four Fortitude, Temperance, Prudence, and Justice. And they are called the Cardinal virtues, because they must all be present in every human action in order that it may be perfect. The word "cardinal" is derived from the Latin "cardo," a hinge; and the Cardinal Virtues are so called, because upon them hinge all the actions of our moral life. While all four must enter into every action that is perfect, some one will be most prominent in each, according to the character of the action.
For instance, there are some actions which manifest especially the virtue of Fortitude. The annals of our race are brilliant with heroic deeds which display this virtue. And yet Fortitude would not be a virtue if it were not restrained and directed by temperance, and justice, and prudence. Fortitude with out temperance or prudence might degenerate into mere foolhardiness or recklessness; while, unless it were directed by justice, it might lead to cruelty and oppression, and so be no virtue at all.
Take a familiar instance--the heroic stand of the three hundred Spartans under Leonidas, at Thermopylae against the overwhelming hosts of Persia. Was this an act of fortitude, or of foolhardiness? Of fortitude, since it was directed by prudence and justice. It was prudent for them to lay down their lives in defending the pass, since it showed the invaders what they might expect from other Spartans. The moral effect, therefore, of the act was immense, and so exhibited the highest prudence.
Then again, there was a law of Sparta which forbade her sons to turn their backs upon the enemy; and it was an act of justice to obey law. And further, the virtue of temperance restrained them from erring by excess through recklessness, or by defect through cowardice.
In this action of the Spartans, while all four cardinal virtues were present, fortitude is the one which was so supremely manifested that we scarcely notice the others unless we search for them. In other actions justice may be most prominent, or temperance, or prudence; but in every perfect act, if you examine it carefully, you will find all four are present, even though one by its prominence overshadows the others.
The other class of virtues which we are to consider to-day is the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. These seven virtues together go to make up the endowment of the soul, the cardinal virtues being the foundation of the active life of the Christian in the world, and the theological virtues forming the basis of the contemplative life.
Here I ought to remind you that all seven virtues exist in a natural state in those who are not Christians. For instance, we find the four cardinal virtues manifested in a very high degree among the heathen; for Solon was prudent, Aristides was just, Leonidas exhibited fortitude, and Socrates was temperate. And the virtues of faith, hope, and love enter largely into the life and work of every man, whether a Christian or not. But in the Christian they are not mere natural, but supernatural virtues, transformed by grace, and raised to the higher plane of the supernatural life.
The difference between these virtues in the natural and the supernatural man may be seen especially in the motive which stimulates them, and the end towards which they are directed in the natural order both motive and end are purely natural, and concern the affairs of this life. In the supernatural order, grace moves the will to elicit supernatural acts which have the love of God and the glory of God respectively for their motive and end.
Again, before we pass on to the examination of these virtues as manifested in our Lord's Words from the Cross, I would point out that in the natural man any virtue may exist in two forms, which we technically call the natural state and the acquired state. For instance, a man may be naturally brave, or he may have acquired bravery by passing through many battles. He may be naturally temperate, or he may have acquired temperance after many years of struggle. So that in the natural man any virtue can exist, either in a natural state, or as acquired by repeated acts through which a habit of virtue has been formed. In supernatural man we find, in addition, what we call infused virtues--that is to say, supernatural grace transforms the mere natural virtue, and imparts to it a higher quality.
As it is important for our purpose that we clearly understand this, let me use some illustrations. Take an olive-tree. We can find it in its natural state, a wild olive, or in its cultivated state, in which a cutting from a cultivated tree has been grafted upon the stock of the wild olive. Now the wild olive-tree is very much like the cultivated olive-tree in the form and shape of the tree and its leaves, and in many other characteristics; but the difference is that the wild olive-tree either brings forth no fruit at all, or only very imperfect fruit; whereas the cultivated tree brings forth fruit to perfection. So these virtues in their natural state may seem very much like supernatural virtues, but the difference is seen in the fruits which they produce, since only supernatural virtues, those which are the result of God's grace, can bring forth fruit to perfection.
We may, however, perhaps find a better illustration in that most common and most useful of all metals--iron. We can investigate it under three conditions: First, there is "cast-iron," the iron which has passed through the furnace, and has been moulded into a certain shape. Then we have "wrought-iron"; and this is tougher than the cast-iron, for from being hammered it has acquired a strength and cohesiveness which is lacking in "cast-iron."
But iron may be found under a third condition: it may have been magnetised. In this state something is imparted to it, giving it altogether new powers--the power of attracting iron, and of being itself attracted by the poles of the earth.
"Cast-iron" represents natural virtue just as it exists in a person who is, as we say, naturally brave, or just, or prudent. The "wrought-iron" represents virtue acquired by persevering effort--by labour and toil. But both these states represent only the natural virtue. The supernatural is like the "magnetised iron;" something has been imparted to it which does not necessarily belong to its nature, and which changes it, so that it has new powers. In the case of iron its inertia and immobility are gone. It has the power of motion, it attracts other things to itself; and is itself attracted by the poles of the earth.
This is precisely what we find in super natural virtue. It has for its centre, for its pole, God. Its motive and its end are super natural. It is like the natural virtue, yet different; for it is lifted to a higher plane, and transformed by grace.
This morning let us take our Lord's Seven Words from the Cross as illustrating--not in any particular order, but as the emergency or opportunity required--the way in which our Blessed Lord manifested the Cardinal or moral virtues of Fortitude, Temperance, Prudence, and Justice; and the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.
I have been obliged to spend more time than usual in this introduction in order that, as we meditate upon the Words of our Lord, we may be able more readily to see how they show forth those seven virtues which are the chief endowments of the Christian soul.
THIS first Word of our Lord was probably uttered, and indeed several times repeated, as He was being nailed to the Cross, and before the Cross had been lifted up and placed in the hole in the ground prepared to receive it. In this Word our Lord manifests the supreme virtue of Love, the greatest of the theological virtues. And under what circumstances does He exercise this virtue?--under the most direful pain and humiliation. He had just been stripped of His garments and nailed to the Cross by those whom He came to minister to and to save--by those whom He loved. And He loves them in spite of all their cruelty and sin; He forgives them and prays for them.
He Himself had said, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." And yet this was greater for He laid down His life for His enemies, for those who murdered Him. His love was so great that not even the horrid crime they committed could kill it. He looked around upon the faces of the mob--faces stamped with the marks of every crime, some distorted with envy, hatred, and anger; others bearing upon them traces of sensuality, cruelty, and violence. He saw around Him faces upon which were imprinted every crime which can defile the soul. Still He loved them; and why?--Because they were men, made in the image of God; and beneath that horrible overlying surface of sin He saw the piece of silver stamped with God's image, worthy of God's love--the human soul.
He saw, therefore, possibilities of restoration, even in the most sinful; for He bears Witness that their sins were largely those of ignorance; and in the light of grace, which He came to give to the world, He knew that they might yet find the way which would lead them to heaven.
In this Word, then, our Blessed Lord manifested the supreme virtue of charity. And what is charity? Charity is simply the love of God, nothing less. It is only the love of our neighbour, because we love God. There is a love of man quite apart from the love or God. We call it philanthropy, the love of man for his own sake. But the love of man because he is lovable is not charity in its highest sense. Charity is the love of God, and only love of man because man is the object of God's love, because mail is the work of God's hands.
The natural virtue of love is found, of course, in those who are not Christians; but such love generally has in it an element of selfishness. A man loves his wife and children because they are his; they are part of himself. In loving them he is, in a sense, loving himself. He loves his country too, because it is his country. There is still the element of self in that love.
But the supernatural gift of love is infused by God into the baptized soul. It is the love of God flowing into the soul. S. Peter tells us that we are "partakers of the divine nature." But God is love. So that the love which we possess in the theological virtue of charity is a divine love, and we possess it just in proportion as our union with God is perfect.
Faith and hope can both co-exist in a soul which is separated from God; but love cannot. A man may fall into mortal sin, may live in mortal sin, and still believe. S. James tells us that the devils believe and tremble. He may hope with the natural virtue of hope, and even hope some day for the gift of penitence. But a man in mortal sin cannot love God; for love is the life of God in the soul, and there can be no life in a soul which is dead through mortal sin.
This great virtue of charity, too, is independent, to a great extent, of circumstances. It exists in us because God is in us. It is, in fact, the very life of God manifested in us.
Let us briefly consider how our Lord manifested this virtue in the first Word which He spoke from the Cross. We love people, either because they love us, or because they are in themselves lovable. This probably covers the two grounds of natural love.
We love people because they love us. "Love begets love" is a common and true proverb. We do not love people who do not love us--unless we have supernatural charity; for we do not, as a rule, love our enemies. Sometimes, however, we may love people who do not love us, because they are lovable, in the sense that they attract us by their beauty of form, or face, or character. There are some persons with such natural gifts of physical beauty or intellectual power or charm of manner that they attract the love of almost every one with whom they come in contact.
But our Lord loved those who did not love Him, and who had nothing whatever attractive about them. Their faces, as we have said, were stamped and marred with the marks of almost every sin. Yet they were God's creatures; they bore, beneath the marks of sin, God's image. Like the piece of silver in the parable, which had been lost under the accumulations of dust, the image was there, and Jesus could see it. So He loved His murderers, and prayed for them.
We too often criticise and pick out the faults of people with whom we are thrown. How much of our conversation about others is criticism of them! How quick we are to see their faults I But Jesus Christ, on the other hand, found excuses for those who were crucifying Him. There would certainly have been no difficulty in seeing their faults. But for those who murdered Him Christ makes the excuse that "they know not what they do." He pleads their ignorance. He pleads the fact that they did not realise what they were doing, that they did not know Whom they were crucifying. This was another mark of supernatural charity; for "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; . . . is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; . . . beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."
How is it that we cannot find any excuse for the conduct of those who injure or annoy us? Perhaps we may say, "If I were to pretend to love such people I should only be a hypocrite; I should be insincere. Is it not, therefore, better to say at once, I cannot love them?"
This raises very distinctly the question, Why did our Lord love His murderers, and why do we not love our enemies? Surely it is because people and things look very different according to the light in which they are seen. You may examine some beautiful flower in your garden at night time, by the light of a lantern, and you see nothing of its beauties of colour. But examine the same flower in the light of the noonday sun, and you are entranced by the exquisite harmonies of its shades of colour, as well as by its beauty of form.
Let us apply this to the question, Why did Christ love His enemies, and why cannot we love our enemies? And surely our answer will be, Christ looked upon them in the light of love, of supernatural charity, which is the love of God; and we regard them in the light--or, rather, darkness--of our own selfishness. Christ beheld His enemies as they were, in truth, marred by sin, yet made in the image of God, and possessing the possibilities of restoration to holiness. We regard our enemies, not as they really are, but as they affect us. So we only see what is disagreeable, perhaps sinful, in them, and do not behold what others see--much that is really lovable, many possibilities of better things.
Then, again, our Lord forgives. He says, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Forgiveness is the direct result of love. You know that S. John says, "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar." To hate one's brother, of course, is to refuse to forgive him; and this, S. John says, is absolutely incompatible with loving God. You cannot love God and hate any one; for love and hate can no more co-exist in the same soul than light and darkness in the same place.
But you may say, "I have been so wronged"--or even worse than that, you may say, "One whom I love better than myself has been so wronged; how can you ask me to forgive this man? He ruined, not my life, but the life of one I love better than myself. How can you ask me to forgive him?" I reply, "Think of what your sins are in God's sight. Do you expect God to forgive you? How have you treated God? How much time have you given to His work? How much thought have you given to His interests? How much of your wealth have you given in His service?"
And then, what sins have you committed? What share have you had in crucifying the Son of God? Worse--what souls, dear to God, have you ruined by your example, perhaps by positively tempting them to wrong? And do you expect God to forgive you? Then you must forgive; for forgiveness is only the exercise of that divine love which is the sign and fruit of your union with God, proof that you are forgiven, and that God dwells in you. If you cannot forgive, then you are not forgiven; for if hatred and bitterness are in your heart, love cannot be there. If, on the other hand, you have this virtue of divine love--and you must have it if you are in a state of grace--it would be impossible not to forgive.
But let me say a word for your consolation. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean any approval of the actions which you forgive. It does not require you to make an intimate friend of one who has been treacherous and betrayed you. But it does mean that all bitterness shall go out from your heart, and in its place shall come a real desire that God may help your enemy, and therefore earnest prayer to God to guide him.
Let me ask you a question: Is there any one against whom you have a grudge, who has wronged you in some great matter--or perhaps only in smaller things? Then let me give you a piece of advice. Put the name of that person in your prayers every day pray for him, that he may come to the knowledge and love of God. And just in proportion as you do this earnestly, all the bitter feelings will disappear, and divine charity will take their place in your soul.
Then, there are those who have not exactly wronged us, but are uncongenial to us. You say, "I cannot bear such and such a person--he irritates me so." Yet you must remember that S. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, makes his plea that we should put up with those who irritate us, with those whom he calls the weaker brethren, on the ground that God puts up with us and bears with us.
It would be good, perhaps, for us sometimes, when we are making our self-examination, to consider how much God has to bear with from us. When God is pouring into our souls His divine grace, in the Holy Communion pouring into us the very Body and Blood of His own Son, when God's arms are waiting to embrace us, God's voice calling us--we are so occupied with the wretched troubles of this world, not to speak of its sins so occupied with the excitements of pleasure or business, that we ignore God's call, or keep Him waiting. And yet God puts up with us, and gives us, not only all that we need to sustain life in this world, but the blessings of grace. When we think of this, we should be very willing to bear with those who are uncongenial to us.
From this first Word of our Lord, then, we learn the supreme virtue of supernatural love; that we are to love people not merely because they love us, or because they are lovable; but because God loves them, because they are creatures of His hand; because under the unattractive exterior there is a soul for which Jesus died; and because we cannot love God without loving our neighbour. If we have this love we shall forgive those who have wronged us; and pray that God may forgive them and bring them to possess that light and love which in His mercy He has vouchsafed to us.
IN connection with this second Word from the Cross let us consider the cardinal virtue of Justice. The Cross, from one point of view, is the seat of the Judge. By it all men are tried, and either acquitted or condemned. For the Cross of Jesus Christ is the touchstone of every life. Sooner or later all come in contact with it. At some time or other in life it is the judgment-seat before which each man stands, and upon his relation to the Cross depends his acquittal or condemnation.
Two robbers were crucified with our Blessed Lord, one on either side. They come before this judgment-seat; one is acquitted, the other is condemned, and each by his own act. Both had led evil lives; both had dishonoured God and injured their neighbour. They come before the Judge upon His throne on the Cross; one blasphemes, and the other repents; and the Judge pronounces sentence of acquittal on the penitent--and more than acquittal, when He says, "To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise."
The penitent robber not only confesses his sins--they were obvious; but lie acknowledges the justice of his penance. Enduring the most excruciating sufferings upon his cross, he has the grace to say, "And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss." This is true penitence. Penitence which stops short of confession of sins is, of course, no penitence at all. And penitence which confesses sin, but strives to justify self, and is unwilling to bear the penance or consequences of sin, is not true penitence. The penitent robber not only confessed his sin, but acknowledged the justice of his punishment "We indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds."
We are told by S. John, that "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." And so this forgiveness was an act of justice, according to God's promise, that if we confess our sins, God will forgive them. The robber confessed, not only his sins, but the justice of his punishment; and God, Who is just, forgave him. And this act of justice was the acquittal contained in the words, "To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise."
He asked for a remembrance: "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." He received a share in that kingdom. He asked for something in the far future--as he thought. He received it instantly "To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise."
And so it is with God always. If we repent and confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins now--not only in another world, not only at the day of judgment; but now, to-day, our forgiveness may be sealed by the words of absolution and more--to-day we may enter into the paradise of His kingdom, and receive possession of the glorious privileges of grace. The robber confessed his sins and the justice of his punishment; and God was just in forgiving him his sins, according to His promise.
But what is Justice? It is the cardinal virtue which governs our will, and therefore our actions, causing us to give to every one his due; teaching us to restrain every thought, and word, and deed which may tend to injure or harm ourselves or others, or to dishonour God.
Hence, Justice has always its positive and negative side. To give to every one his due--to God, to ourselves, and to our neighbour, this is the positive side of justice. To refrain from doing which would harm our selves, or our neighbour, or dishonour God, is its negative side. We are unjust when we Sin; because we injure ourselves and dishonour God.
Justice, then, is exercised in three directions. Towards God, Justice consists in devotion to His service, in giving to Him what is His due, and therefore our duty. Towards our neighbour Justice consists in equity, in fair dealing; and towards ourselves, in consistency. Justice towards God is exercised in conforming ourselves to His will, by dedicating ourself to His work; by spending a due proportion of our time and means in His service. Justice to our neighbour is to do to every one as we would that they should do unto us, to love our neighbour as ourselves, to be just to him in thought, and word, and deed.
What an honour it is to be esteemed a just man; to have people say of us, "I do not agree with him; perhaps, I do not like him but I must acknowledge that he is a just man, a man to whom I would go, of all others, if I needed justice."
Then, Justice to ourselves forbids us to neglect our own soul, which is the most grievous sin against Justice Selfishness is a sin against Justice; for selfishness leads you to wrong your neighbour often, and probably still more often to wrong yourself. In both cases you are guilty of a breach of Justice.
Some people say, Do not think about yourself, but go and work for your neighbour. Yet we are told to love our neighbour as ourselves, not more than ourselves. If you love your neighbour more than yourself, you are unjust to yourself. If you are so occupied in helping other people's souls that you allow your own soul to be lost, you are unjust. You were created to glorify God and to save your own soul. These two things go together; you cannot separate them. If you glorify God, you will save your own soul. If you do not save your own soul, you cannot glorify God. But if you go to work and try to do something else for your neighbour, through philanthropy, and not through charity, you are not by that glorifying God. To glorify God, the motive must be right; it must be love of God, not love of man; charity, not philanthropy.
Our Lord Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled this virtue of Justice. It was prophesied of Him by Jeremiah, that He should be "THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS." And we must remember that the word rendered "Righteousness," both in the Old and New Testaments, is the equivalent of our word "justice." Our Lord's whole life upon earth was a life of righteousness, that is, of perfect Justice. For He manifested this virtue perfectly towards God, His fellow-men, and Himself.
He was righteous towards God, for He perfectly fulfilled God's will, and completely accomplished His work. He says of Himself "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work." When the claims of work for His fellow-men pressed heavily upon him, He did not neglect His duty to God. He never allowed it to crowd out His prayers. He rose sometimes a great while before day, and went apart to pray. At other times, when working late into the evening, He spent the night in prayer. He never neglected His devotions; He never allowed any other claim to render Him unjust towards His Father in heaven.
Then, towards His neighbour, towards His fellow-men, how fully He did His duty to every one. And to do one's duty is to be just. He was just in His thoughts, recognising the good in men, trying to develop it, to help every man to do his best. He was just in His words about others, even in His suffering, when He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He manifests this virtue of justice in pleading as a reason why His murderers should be forgiven, their ignorance--they knew not what they were doing.
And then, towards Himself. We must not forget that our Lord had a perfect human soul, like your soul and my soul, sin only excepted. And He manifests His justice towards Himself in cultivating perfectly that soul. He did not neglect it even to work for others. There, at the right hand of God the Father, is one perfect human soul, a soul never stained by any sin, never marred by any act of injustice.
Throughout our Lord's life we see the virtue of justice exercised towards all. And especially is this manifested in the second Word on the Cross, wherein He acquits the penitent robber, on the ground of his penitence. "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." He was God. The penitent robber did confess his sins when he said, "We receive the due reward of our deeds." And so, as God, He forgave his sins, promising him that very day a share of His kingdom "To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise."
There are few virtues upon which men pride themselves more than the virtue of justice. Few men are willing to admit that they are unjust; and yet how few are really just. Let us be practical, and examine ourselves to-day in regard to this virtue.
Are we just towards God in giving Him His due, saying carefully and reverently our prayers; attending public worship devoutly and constantly; in fulfilling the various duties of religion, and especially that duty which is of obligation on every Churchman--the duty of assisting every Sunday at the offering of the Holy Eucharist?
Again, are we just towards God in our almsgiving? Do we give a due proportion of our means to His work, a due proportion of our time and strength to His service? Or do we say, "I have so much work, so much business to do in the world, I have no time to work for God. I have so many claims at home, or so many social calls, that I have no time for God's work"? Will that excuse stand on the day of judgment? Read the third chapter of the Prophet Malachi, especially the verses beginning, "Will a man rob God?" Remember, you cannot be a righteous man unless you are a just man, and a just man especially in fulfilling all your duties to God.
Then in regard to our neighbour, are we just to him, in thought, and word, and deed? In thought do we not often impute unworthy motives to a man, without any real knowledge of what that man's motives are? Do we not criticise and judge our neighbour in thought and in word, without sufficient knowledge of his motives to enable us to judge him justly?
And then in our deeds while we have, perhaps, never defrauded our neighbour in any matter of money, have we not often, by careless gossip, robbed him of his good name? Let us examine ourselves in regard to these and many other sins against our neighbour which come under the head of "Injustice."
But, while doing this, let us not forget that we have to be just to ourselves, to our own souls. If we are depriving our souls of grace, starving them, because we do not feed them with the Body and Blood of Christ, we are failing in the duty of justice to ourselves. If we starved our body so as to injure our health we should recognise that we were doing wrong. If we carried the starvation to such a point as to kill ourselves, we should be guilty of suicide. But how many starve their souls to death, killing the higher part of their nature, and yet have no consciousness of having been unjust!
And lastly, in regard to our penitence. Penitence is an act of the will and Justice is the virtue which especially governs the will. Penitence, therefore, is an act of justice, both towards ourselves and towards God, in attempting to pay the debt of sin. God says, that if we confess our sins "He is just to forgive us our sins." Do we confess them with such fulness, and sincerity, and contrition, that God can exercise His justice and forgive us? Penitence is an act of justice to ourselves in paying the debt we owe to God. It is an act of justice which frees us from the bonds of sin, the captivity to evil. 'We are more or less slaves of sin, and by penitence we free ourselves of that slavery, by appealing to the justice of God, as well as to His mercy, to forgive us our sins.
Let me commend to your earnest consideration this question: Am I a just man? Am I just towards God and myself as well as towards my neighbour?
"He saith Unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith He to the disciple, Behold thy mother!"--S. JOHN xix. z6, 27.
IN our Lord's loving thought for His mother and His friend S. John, we see manifested (in addition to the theological virtue of love which underlies all His Passion) the cardinal virtue of Prudence. He was about to leave them, and He desired to provide for their future by establishing a new relation between them. He Who was the best of sons was about to leave the best of mothers, and He desired to provide for her in her loneliness by giving her His dearest friend to take His place, and, so far as possible, to fulfil the duties of a loving son, to watch over her, to care for her, to minister to her wants, to comfort her.
And then He was leaving, also, a friend whom He loved most dearly, and He would give that friend the greatest treasure He had on earth--His own mother, to be His friend's mother.
But in doing this He manifested the virtue of Prudence; for prudence teaches us to do the best we can under adverse circumstances. And certainly our Lord's circumstances in His Passion were, humanly speaking, most adverse.
But let us consider exactly what we mean by "Prudence." Prudence is the cardinal virtue which regulates the understanding, guiding all our actions by teaching us what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong; what ought to be done, and what ought to be left undone. Prudence is a many-sided virtue, containing in itself other virtues; among them wisdom, and judiciousness, and vigilance, or watchfulness.
For wisdom, in the Christian, is a spiritualised instinct which enables him to put before him all at once the "data" upon which he has to act. Wisdom enables us to take a sort of survey of the whole course of a given action. Judiciousness, on the other hand, enables us to judge which of various means are best calculated to produce the results we desire, or to lead to the attainment of the object we have in view. While vigilance, or carefulness, helps us to execute rightly what we have undertaken, working out its various details.
Prudence, to be a virtue, must neither err by excess or defect. And it would be well to point out here what those who, like Aristotle, have treated of the Cardinal virtues, lay so much stress on, that the virtue itself consists always in a golden mean between excess and defect; and if it errs on either side, it ceases to be a virtue.
We have already noticed this in regard to Fortitude--that if it errs by excess, it becomes recklessness, or foolhardiness; if by defect, it is cowardice. In Prudence, to err by excess, leads to the common faults of timidity, or scrupulosity; while to err by defect leads to thoughtlessness or negligence.
So we have to be careful about our prudence, that it reaches the golden mean, but does not exceed it. Some people by excess of prudence are so timid that they shrink from acting until the opportunity of action has passed. Others fall into the fault of scrupulosity, which in spiritual life becomes a disease. There are some people who think so much and so long about what they have to do, turning over every possible contingency which may arise in connection with it, that they get themselves into a condition in which it is absolutely impossible for them to form any right judgment at all upon the subject. This is what we call timidity. Others are so careful in scrutinising, not only actions, but motives, that they become scrupulous, accusing themselves of sins which they have not committed. This is not so common a disease as timidity, but is a danger in the spiritual life to which persons of an introspective habit are liable.
Remember, therefore, that Prudence is something between timidity and thoughtlessness. Think a matter over carefully, ask--what you have a right to ask--the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, and then make your decision. I believe it is generally possible, and almost always best, to make a decision very quickly. There is a danger, if the decision is put off and the matter thought over too often, of getting into a state of timidity, or scrupulosity. Think a question over in all its bearings, and ask the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, and then decide what you will do.
Prudence is wisely exercised by Christians in making a rule of life. No two men or women ought, perhaps, to make quite the same rule, though we all must have the same end in view, to glorify God and to save our soul. But we must consider, each for our selves, what means we can best use to attain this end. Some can give more time to prayer and what we might call a life of devotion, others more time to active work in Christ's Church. But all, aided by prudence, should have some definite rule by which to guide their daily life, and none should trust to the passing impulse to determine each day what they will do in God's service.
Some persons, for instance, go to church because they feel inclined to do so, and stop at home another day because they do not feel inclined to go. They say their prayers or make their meditation at one tune, because their feelings lead them to do so; and they omit them at another, because, as they say, they do not "feel like it."
This is absolutely disastrous to anything like progress in the spiritual life. Think over what you can do, and let prudence guide you to fix at least a minimum as your rule of life. Let it be generous, that which will cost you some effort for God. And let it always be prudent. And if you are in doubt as to what is wise for you, seek advice from your spiritual guide.
Among the virtues which are included in prudence is perseverance. When you have made a rule of life, persevere in it. The opposite to perseverance is vacillation. How often a vacillating person continues for a certain time in the practice of a good habit, and then changes his purpose and gives it up, and tries something else. Such an one will make but poor progress in spiritual life. Do not vacillate; make a rule which you can keep, whether you are filled with enthusiasm, or are feeling cold and indifferent. Make a rule which will, so to speak, tide you over periods of coldness and desolation. Persevere, and you will succeed. The message our Lord sends us from His throne in heaven is, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life."'
It is of little or no value to persevere for awhile in God's service if we do not persevere to the end. We have a terrible example of this among the apostles themselves--Judas, who persevered so long in following Christ, but did not persevere in His service to the end, and so lost his soul. Prudence teaches us to persevere in the spiritual life, and warns us against the dangers of vacillation.
But you may ask, "How can I be sure of persevering to the end?" The grace of per severance, like that of regeneration, is a grace which we cannot merit, but which God gives to those who seek it earnestly in prayer. The great help, however, to perseverance, next to prayer, is, never to give up any spiritual exercise which we have begun, unless, indeed, we are quite sure that we are giving it up for a good reason. Do not, in your rule of life, undertake too much, and so have to give up certain things, because they are beyond your strength. On the other hand, do not give up a spiritual exercise merely because it is becoming irksome to you.
There are few habits of any value to acquire which do not need a great deal of perseverance; and there is often a period, before they are gained, when they are very irksome. Persevere in spite of this, and the difficulty will pass as the habit is acquired. Do not give up anything merely because you are tired of it, or because you think it no longer helps you. It may not help you, because you are no longer using it earnestly, and the fault may be in yourself not in the practice which you want to give up. This is especially true of meditation, the practice of intercession, and even the regular and frequent use of the Sacraments.
My words to you this Good Friday will not fail if some person here, who has never done so before, shall be led by them to make a rule of spiritual life, a rule in regard to his duty to God, to his neighbour, and to himself, a rule which shall be the outcome of the virtue of prudence.
WITH this Word the climax of the Passion is reached. We are told by all the Synoptists that at the sixth hour, twelve o'clock, there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. That darkness which gathered around the Cross was symbolic of the darkness in the world caused by sin; and it, as it were, rolled in upon the human soul of our Saviour as He bore, and made atonement for, the sins of the world.
These words are full of deepest mystery but to-day we shall pass over their theological significance, and consider them only in their practical application. And they are intensely practical, for they bring before us the experience of many a soul, and teach us how to meet one of the great perplexities of human life--the experience of a sense of desolation, of a sense of being forsaken by God.
Our Blessed Lord bearing His Passion, in the weakness of His sinless human nature, felt, what we so often feel, a sense of desolation; felt Himself to be, what He never could be, what no man ever can be in this life--forsaken by God.
How common this experience is, and yet under what varied circumstances. We see sometimes a good man who has worked hard and conscientiously to support his family, and to bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord; and perhaps, partly because of his very conscientiousness, he meets with nothing but failure in the world, and has to face abject poverty, not only for himself, but for those for whom he feels himself responsible--his wife and children. He has tried to serve God; he has lived in the fear of God; he has put his trust in God; and yet failure with its dreadful consequences stares him in the face. He is tempted, perhaps, to lose his trust in God, his faith in God. Or, even if he retains this, he is at least perplexed that God should leave him apparently without help in his extremity, and asks, in his perplexity, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"
Sometimes the circumstances are different, and it is in the sphere of spiritual experience, rather than in that of business life, that the sense of desolation is brought home to us. file earnest soul that longs for close communion with God, that has known the sunshine of His Presence, and has tasted the sweetness of His love, is left often for long periods without any sensible joy in devotion. Prayers become cold, and apparently formal meditation is most difficult; even communions fail to help us; and darkness seems to have rolled in upon our soul, darkness which hides God from our spiritual sight and we cry, as our Lord did from the darkness around the Cross, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"
How we should thank our Lord for speaking this Word, which shows us that He was indeed "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin;" that He in His human nature experienced all our sorrows and trials; so that He can fully sympathise with us. But more than this--He not only shows us that He had this trial, but in this Word He teaches us how to meet it. The words themselves are the inspired utterance of the Psalmist, expressing the perplexity which we often feel in regard to God's providential dealings with us, especially in that large class of experiences which makes us feel as though God had indeed forsaken us.
The answer to the question is found in the promise, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee," a promise so many times given to us in Holy Scripture, a promise resting upon God's own Word.
So in times of despondency and darkness, when we cannot see our way, and no ray of hope lightens our path, let us reflect on this promise. It is impossible that God should forsake us, as impossible as that the sun, around which this earth constantly moves, can forsake the earth. There are periods of days, and even weeks, when we do not see the sun, when we do not feel its warmth. And yet we know that the sun is there, for we know that our earth could not go on in its daily revolutions around the sun, if that which attracts it and holds it in its orbit had departed. We know, as a matter of physical science, that the sun is just as near to the earth on a dark, gloomy day as it is on a bright day. We have faith in the physical laws which regulate the motion of the earth around the sun, and we must have faith in those spiritual laws which regulate our soul's life in its attraction to the Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ.
There are periods when God seems hidden from us; when, though our eyes search into the darkness, we can see nothing; though our ears are strained, we cannot hear His Voice. Then, perhaps, in our perplexity we may ask the question which our Lord asked, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" and find the answer in the promise, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee"; find the answer where our Lord found it when He said, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit."
There must be in our spiritual life seasons of darkness, coldness, and desolation; there must be night and day, summer and winter, just as there are in our physical life. But at such times we must exercise the virtue of faith and trust in God, and fall back upon our remembrance of God's goodness to us in the past.
When we see the sun set, and darkness comes on, we accept the night without alarm, because we know that the sun will rise again the next morning. How do we know this? Chiefly by the experience of the past. It has happened so many times that we have come to consider it a practical certainty, and call it--or miscall it--a law of Nature. But the day will come when the sun will not rise again. We do not know how near we are to that day, the day of the Second Advent of our Lord.
But while the time will come when day and night, summer and winter, shall be no more, the time will never come when God will forsake any one of His children. We may forsake Him and refuse to have Him for our God, for our Father. And He may allow us to persevere in our wilful choice, for He has given us the gift of free will, and will not override or take from us that gift which He has bestowed upon us. But of this we may be certain--He will never forsake us.
"My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" In these words which our Lord quotes from the 22nd Psalm He manifests the theological virtue of Faith, which is the fundamental virtue of all Christian life, without which no man can please God. Some might say, "Do these words manifest faith? Do they not rather manifest doubt?" No, they manifest faith. If our Lord had said, "O God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" there might be room for such a suggestion. But He said, "My God." He never for one instant faltered in His faith in God. He asked, as we may ask with reverence, "Why am I treated thus? Why do I suffer this sense of desolation?" He shows us that He did taste of this common trial of human life, as He tasted of all life's trials, but without any of its sins.
We may have many sorrows to bear which we cannot understand, many trials to meet which we cannot explain. We see the righteous afflicted in the world while the ungodly flourish "like a green bay-tree," as the Psalmist says. And if we ask the reason, we can only answer, in the words of Holy Scripture, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth."' While as for the ungodly, the Psalmist himself supplies the answer, "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay-tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found."
This life is not the end of all things for man. The Lord chasteneth those whom He loves, that they may be by discipline pre_ pared for eternity. But the ungodly who have rejected Him He often allows to flourish in mere worldly prosperity, for their punishment will be the loss of the world to come. Why, then, should they also have punishment in this world, for which they have sacrificed their eternity? It would do them no good, and God does not punish except for our good.
"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" In times of desolation and perplexity we ask this question. And surely we know the answer. It is to test our faith and not only to test it, but to develop it. Faith is not merely an intellectual acceptance of certain theological propositions, but a moral conviction of the truth of all God's revelation, and therefore of all God's promises, from which must flow trust in God.
An objective faith in the dogmas of religion will not benefit us, unless we have that subjective faith which can say, "O God, Thou art my God."' And if we can say this, we shall not expect always to understand the mysteries of God's providence; but we shall, with loving resignation, always accept God's Will for us. And though from the darkness of suffering we may ask the question, Why? He will always be my God, my God, in Whom I have put my trust, so that I never shall be confounded. "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." Though the darkness around me be so impenetrable that I cannot see one ray of light, yet will I trust Him, even more in adversity than in prosperity; for, "O God, Thou art my God." I do not ask to know why Thou dost treat me thus. Or, if I ask, I know I have already received the answer. It is enough for me that Thou art love, and can only deal with me in the spirit of love.
Faith is the theological virtue which governs and perfects the reason. By its aid we attain to the knowledge of mysteries which are concealed from every created eye. And we receive truth, not on the testimony of human evidence, but on the testimony of divine revelation. There is a natural virtue of faith in the things of this world, which all men possess, and without which human life could not go on; for, as has often been pointed out, men in their business affairs act, not on mathematical certainty, but on probability; that is, on faith. How much more, then, in the affairs of the soul do we need to act on faith, to trust God's promises which can never fail; to believe God's revelation, which is the truth.
Faith gives to the soul two things, strength and light. The intellect is strengthened by faith, so that it leaves the toilsome, difficult investigation of mere natural knowledge, and wings its way to the throne of revealed truth.
Our natural knowledge--how slowly we acquire it, and how uncertain is its truth when acquired The tremendous strides of science in the past century have consisted far more in showing us the mistakes and errors in the science of past generations than in the positive acquisition of new truth. And there is no reason to doubt that the next century will make the same sort of progress, that is, will find errors in the science which we think so certain. For every year it is our experience that the dogmas taught so arrogantly by scientists are rejected by their successors.
But this is not so with the truth which God has revealed. That never has changed, never can change. The opinions of theologians may prove erroneous, as all human theories are liable to be; but the truth which God has revealed in His Word has never been overthrown, and never can be!
The natural virtue of faith, on which all our business life depends, is a belief in human evidence--in a sense, a belief in one another. And yet how untrustworthy human evidence is; how often those in whom we put faith prove to be unworthy! How different is the supernatural virtue of faith, upon which our soul's life depends! This rests upon nothing less than God's truth, and gives us, as I have said, both strength and light; strength to climb to the mountain-top, from which we may gaze upon the land of promise, which is to be our home in eternity.
But not only does faith give strength, but light, supernatural light. A man born blind may hear a very accurate and perfect description of various objects which other people see; but his ideas of them will always be imperfect, and in many cases quite incorrect. Try to describe to a man born blind the beauty of colour. You cannot do it; at least, I cannot conceive of any words which would in the slightest degree convey to the mind of a man born blind the difference between the colours red and blue. And yet how large a place colour occupies in human evidence; how dull this world would be if the glorious colours of nature were all blotted out!
So it is with divine truth to a man who has not supernatural faith. You may teach him intellectually the dogmas of Christianity what Christ is, what God is, in His attributes and character; so that he may know a great deal about these things. And he may be able to tell you, from reading books, many things which you yourself do not know about theology. But without faith this knowledge is merely intellectual, and produces no effect upon the man's spiritual being. Such a man knows about God, but he does not know God. Nothing but faith can enable us to know God and His revelation.
We must, however, remember that, while supernatural faith is an infused virtue, a gift of God; yet, like all the virtues, it is given only potentially. For its glorious possibilities to be realised, faith must be exercised. We all know this in regard to natural intellect. It must be exercised, in order that it may be developed. A man of immense mental power, if he has never learned to read, and so never come in contact with the thoughts of others, cannot realise the possibilities of his intellect. They are potentially there; but for lack of exercise they are never developed.
So it is in regard to faith. You ask me, perhaps, "How can I develop faith?" The answer is simple. By the practise of the much-neglected duty of meditation. It is in meditation that the Holy Spirit makes known to us the deep things of God. There are many persons who say, "I cannot meditate. I have tried so often, and I have always failed." My reply is, be holiest with yourselves. Tell me how many minutes--nay, perhaps hours--you spend every day in meditating on the things of this world, in thinking over the interests of your business--life; or perhaps in that fascinating though dangerous pastime or building castles in the air, imagining your selves in some different position, and thinking what you would say, and how you would act, under these circumstances. How often you spend half an hour in building one of these castles, in squaring each stone and fitting it in its place; laying out the grounds which surround it, and even furnishing each room. And then you live in it, and people it with inhabitants, the creation or your own fancy.
All this is meditation; only it is meditation upon things which are unreal, untrue! But you find no difficulty about it--nay, you find it a very pleasant pastime, which it is hard to give up.
Do not tell me you cannot meditate, because it is not true; only say, "I do not like meditating on the things of God, because I am so unspiritual, because I am so engrossed in the things of the world."
The Psalmist says, "Oh that I had wings like a dove for then would I flee away, and be at rest." He wrote this when he was in great trouble. And sometimes when we are in trouble, and tired, in this disappointing world, we, perhaps, wish that we had the wings of a dove that we might flee away, and be at rest. But we have the wings of the Dove, the Holy Ghost; and in meditation we can spread those wings, and flee away from the things of earth to heaven itself and rest there awhile in the contemplation of divine truth, and in communion with our dear Lord!
If only you would put halt the effort into your spiritual life which you do into the things which pertain to your earthly life, you could meditate without difficulty. And in meditation, more than in any other way, you exercise and develop faith; you transform the potential faith which is infused into you soul, into the actual faith which enables you to live that life of faith by which you please God, and taste, even now, of the happiness which belongs to God's children.
Use the virtue of faith in meditation, and it will be the rock upon which you will build, not a castle in the air, but a castle, a house eternal, not made with hands, in heaven itself!
THE climax of the Passion has passed. It is generally supposed that the three last Words were uttered in quick succession just at the end of our Lord's life. After the Word which told of His sense of dereliction, our Lord remained silent for awhile; and then, as the end approached, He said, "I thirst." And in these words He manifested to us the cardinal virtue of Temperance. His whole life was a great example of this virtue, and in His death He preaches it from the Cross.
Temperance is a word which is sadly misused, and generally confined to one sphere--temperance in drinking; whereas the virtue of Temperance should enter into every act of our life. For Temperance is the virtue which governs the fleshly appetite in man, inducing moderation in the lawful use of all God's gifts and creatures, and leading to a spirit of detachment from things which are merely temporal. We must carefully notice that Temperance has only to do with the lawful use of God's gifts. For a Christian there can be no such thing as moderation or temperance in the use of what is unlawful.
Many persons speak of intemperance as though it referred solely to the use of things which are in themselves dangerous and un lawful. But this is not so. Intemperance is using to excess, or not using sufficiently, that which is in itself good and lawful; and the virtue of Temperance is the just use of lawful things.
It is, therefore, not only in eating and drinking that we are to practise the virtue of Temperance; not only in business and pleasure; not only in work and relaxation, that Temperance must guide our actions; but, like all the other Cardinal virtues, it claims supremacy over every action of our life.
There can be nothing in our lives too large or important, nothing too small or insignificant, to be exempt from the dominion of Temperance. And it is by the exercise of Temperance in things lawful that we acquire the habit of self-control. It may be gradually, with pain; it may be after disappointment and failure; but slowly and surely, through the exercise of Temperance, we gain the splendid virtue of self-control.
Throughout our Lord's most holy Passion this is manifest. From the moment when the servant of the high priest struck Him the dastardly blow upon the face, and He uttered no word of anger, but only said, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil but if well, why smitest thou Me?" to that last moment, when Jesus commended His soul into the hands of His Father, He manifested, with absolute perfection, the virtue of self--control, which is the result of Temperance.
As I have said, some people confine Temperance to one thing--to the restraint or drinking. But it touches everything in life. It has various names; but it is always the same virtue. Under certain circumstances we call Temperance self-mastery. In regard to the senses, we speak of it as self-control in regard to food and drink, as temperance, or abstemiousness; in regard to the sexual appetites, continence; in regard to anger, forbearance; in regard to temper, self-command. In action, we should call it modesty in success, humility; in defeat, hopefulness in desire, self-conquest; in pleasure, self-denial. In all things we should speak of it as moderation.
So we find that Temperance finds a place, though under different names, in every act of our life.
Time does not allow me to dwell upon all the different manifestations of Temperance to which I have referred. I will, therefore, take only two as illustrations, and these somewhat outside of what you are probably accustomed to associate with the idea of Temperance--one the special sin of men in our day, the other of women; in both, the sin of intemperance in regard to reading, though manifested in different ways.
Our age is certainly not a thinking age. I believe there has probably never been an age in the world's history when there has been so little thinking done. But our age is, par excellence, a reading age. We simply devour reading matter so intemperately that we do not digest it.
The sin of a large number of men is intemperance in reading newspapers. The sin of women is intemperance in reading works of fiction, novels. Of course, I do not mean that all men, or all women, fall into this sin, but, speaking generally, I think you will acknowledge that the accusation is just.
There are a large number of men who seem to think that they must wade through I do not know how many columns of a daily newspaper in the morning, and again of another in the evening; columns which are filled with every sort of sin, or buy; crimes against life, against purity, against honesty; society news, which is largely gossip and scandal. Every day it is the same grind to read through so many columns of a newspaper. And probably it is no exaggeration to say that the greater part of what we read is use less, and a very large part positively harmful. It would be a wise resolution for some men to make--some, perhaps, who are here to-day--to devote less time to reading the daily newspapers, to be more temperate in the matter.
I was once asked to contribute an article, among a series of similar articles in a Sunday newspaper, on the subject, "Why men do not go to Church on Sunday mornings as they used to." I declined; first, on the ground that I did not write for Sunday newspapers; secondly, that I did not need the column which they offered me, since I could condense what I had to say into one sentence--that I thought the chief cause was that they stayed at home to read the Sunday newspapers. This, at least, is so in America; though public opinion of the better class has, so far, prevented the publication of Sunday newspapers in England.
Then, in regard to women. Their temptation is to intemperance in reading novels. How much fiction many women think it is incumbent on them to read! They say they must read the last novel. And before they have read it, another has taken its place, and they have to read that, and so on. The press simply teems with works of fiction, by far the greater part of which are absolutely rubbish.
You cannot fill your stomach with indigestible food without ruining your digestion nor can you fill your mind with such trash as the ordinary novel of to-day without ruining your intellect.
How much difficulty people find in reading serious literature, in reading the standard authors of their country. And why is this? Because they have ruined their power of concentration, their mental digestion, by devouring newspaper articles and works of fiction.
Some of you may remember that one of the greatest minds of the last century, John Henry Newman, in one of his earlier essays, pointed out the danger of the multiplication of magazines, which was then beginning, and prophesied that they would be the destruction of all real scholarship; that people, instead of mastering a subject, would read a magazine article, perhaps hastily written by an incompetent contributor; that they would, probably, only imperfectly understand what was written; and then they would talk about the subject as though they had studied it.
His prophecy has been fulfilled; magazines have multiplied enormously, and their reading matter has degenerated in about the same proportion. To this may be traced the superficial knowledge which is often displayed in conversation upon subjects which demand careful study before any one can be able, or ought to be willing, to express any opinion upon them.
But not only does this habit lead to superficial and erroneous views; it positively destroys the power of concentrating the mind on serious subjects. Many of us are pain fully conscious of this in prayer and meditation. Our thoughts wander. We say it is impossible to keep them fixed on what we are saying, or what we are thinking about. And the cause is intemperance, a lack of restraint and self-control in regard to what we read.
There are other points on which we might advantageously examine ourselves with respect to this virtue of Temperance, such as sleep. Are we intemperate in the amount or sleep we take? And then, wasting time, a few minutes here and there during the day in absolute idleness, thus yielding to the deadly sin of sloth, which has been defined as "the body rejoicing in its own incapacity."
In our speech, are we not often intemperate, giving way to exciting chatter, or inane trifling? And yet, for every idle word we must give account.
Lastly: with respect to money, are we temperate in its use, not wasting it upon ourselves, but loving to use it in Christ's service, for His Church, for His poor, thus laying up treasure in heaven?
Temperance is one of the most important virtues of daily life; and in this Sermon on the Cross, by word and by example, our Lord teaches us Temperance.
As I have already reminded you, Temperance has to do only with those things which are lawful. Before His Crucifixion, our Lord was offered "vinegar (or wine) to drink mingled with gall": and we are told that, "when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink."'
This draught was given in mercy. It was drugged wine, to deaden and blunt the mental faculties of the Victim, so that He might not feel so acutely His sufferings. Our Lord was not temperate in the use of this; He refused it altogether; for it was unlawful to go to His death drugged and stupefied.
Alas! how many are treated thus, in our own day; and during the precious hours in which they might prepare to meet their God they are lying like a log, unconscious, and pass out of life drugged!
Our Lord would not accept anything which could deaden His sensibilities to suffering, or render Him incapable of doing His duty to the very last. But when He had suffered for a long while, He said, "I thirst," and received the vinegar which was offered Him in a sponge, to assuage His thirst. This was not mingled with myrrh, not drugged, but the ordinary light wine which the soldiers used, the common drink of the people. He accepted it, and used it with temperance. And in this, as throughout His life, He teaches us the great lesson of Temperance in all things.
IN these words we may study the virtue of the Victor Who has endured to the end, the triumphant cry of the Hero Who has won the fight. Fortitude is the virtue which our Lord manifests in His sixth Word from the Cross. Fortitude is the virtue which regulates the irascible appetite of man, and enables him to surmount all obstacles and to overcome all difficulties in his path, by giving him courage to choose the lesser evil or harm, in order to avoid a greater.
Fortitude is the mean or middle course between cowardice and rashness. It will make a man circumspect in his ventures and moderate in his fears. But this very fact implies that a man has fears, that he does recognise and shrink from danger. For the recklessness or foolhardiness of the man who is blind to danger is not courage, is not fortitude. The brave man looks real danger in the face, weighs it, and goes through it, because it is right to do so; because to meet it and endure it is a lesser evil or harm than to flee from it. The man who knows no fear is not really a brave man. The brave man is the man of high intellectual and nervous development, who recognises to the full the danger before him, and naturally shrinks from it; but who, being governed by fortitude, meets it, because it is his duty to meet it.
Fortitude and temperance are closely allied. Indeed, they are described by Plato under the image of a charioteer driving two horses. These horses represent the two sides of man's animal nature--the concupiscible part, that which desires gratification, and stimulates man to effort; and the irascible part, which dreads danger and shrinks from effort. The former needs to be curbed by Temperance, lest it should lead to excess; the latter to be urged on by Fortitude, lest it should turn tail, and shy, and run away. The charioteer is Prudence, aided by Justice.
Fortitude, then, is not the blind courage which sees no danger; but that which, guided by the strong hand of Prudence and Justice, meets the danger. And among the virtues which go along with Fortitude are, Courage, Patience, Endurance, Constancy, and Perseverance.
Like all the Cardinal virtues, Fortitude is manifested towards God, our neighbour, and ourselves;--towards God, in a steady and constant obedience to His laws, even though our lower nature shrinks from His Commandments, and craves after that which is forbidden;--towards our neighbour, in doing our duty to him, even when it is against the grain and hard to do;--and towards ourselves, in the cultivation of self-control.
How splendidly Fortitude is manifested throughout our Lord's Passion! That delicate, intensely sensitive human body--intensely sensitive, because it was so absolutely perfect; that wonderful human mind, realising to the full all the suffering and humiliation of the Passion, alike shrank from the pain and shame of the scourging Crucifixion. And yet, there was no wavering of our Lord's human Will.
He faced the consequences of His choice, He weighed the results of His action. And then, knowing what it would cost Him, He made His choice, He took the step, because it was part of that work which He had come in the world to do; because it belonged to that Will of the Father which He had come to fulfil. He met His Passion, because it was right to do so; because He loved mankind, and knew that by His Passion man would be redeemed. Yes, it was a magnificent manifestation of the virtue of Fortitude!
How much this virtue is needed in the Christian life--not only in meeting things which are painful; not only in enduring humiliation; but in completing the work God gives us to do! Surely this, above all, is the lesson taught us by the words, "It is finished." Jesus never turned back from any work He had begun, until it was completed. He did not turn back from the work of Redemption, though it cost Him His life, until His Father's Will had been accomplished, until sin had been atoned for, until man had been saved.
"It is finished." We look into our own lives, and how little there is finished. How much we have begun; how much more, perhaps, we have thought of and meant to do. But, as we look back upon our life, how little has been really finished. And why? Largely because of our lack of Fortitude. We had not courage to endure difficulties, and so we turned back. We had not patience to bear with opposition, and so we gave up. We had not constancy of purpose, and so we did not persevere.
Fortitude is necessary if we are to persevere to the end. The loss of perseverance, which involves the loss, sometimes, of the soul, may be traced to the lack of this Cardinal virtue. Think of our Lord's life as one long example of Fortitude. And think of these words--almost His last words upon the Cross, "It is finished." Consider them as preaching to you the most eloquent and convincing sermon upon the virtue of Fortitude.
IN these, the very last words our Lord uttered, He manifested the Theological virtue of Hope. The Theological virtues are three: Faith, Hope, and Love. As I have already reminded you, Faith, Hope, and Love exist as natural virtues in every man, and so enter into the life of the man or the world whose business ventures are largely directed by faith and hope, and whose social and domestic life afford opportunities for love, though that love is more or less tinged with selfishness.
The Theological virtues, which are infused into the soul at Baptism, differ from the mere natural virtues in their motive and in their end. The motive is the love of God; and the end is His glory.
Hope, the virtue which is brought before us in the last words of our Lord, is an advance upon the virtue of Faith. For we may believe in things in regard to which we have no hope. The devils believe in God, but they have no hope of salvation.
Supernatural Hope, then, is largely occupied with God's glorious promises in regard to the life beyond the grave. It is especially the virtue of a death-bed. And the Collect in our Burial Office reminds us that God "hath taught us, by His holy Apostle Saint Paul, not to be sorry, as men without hope, for them that sleep in Him."
We may have faith in the resurrection of the dead. Indeed, if there be no resurrection of the dead, as S. Paul says, "We are of all men most miserable." But is not enough to believe that the dead will rise. We must hope that we shall be amongst those who attain to the resurrection of the just. Have we this hope? Without it, faith is useless; with it, our death will be full of consolation.
Hope is, in many ways, an intermediate virtue. It stands intermediate between Faith and Love; not by arbitrary position, but as the connecting link between them. You cannot pass from Faith to Love, except through the virtue of Hope. You must first believe in God's promises, then apply them to yourself by Hope; and when Hope has grasped them, then you will come to love God.
Again, it is intermediate between the two dangers of the spiritual life--presumption and despair. Probably all men who are lost will be able to trace their loss to pride or sloth. Some will trace their shipwreck to pride, which led them to think that they were good enough for heaven, which led them to presume upon God's mercy;--like the man who went in to the marriage feast without the wedding garment, and who was cast out into outer darkness. This man had been bidden by the king, and seems to have thought himself quite fit for the king's banquet, and so took no trouble to obtain the fitting garment which, doubtless, was provided for him by the king. He thought he was good enough as he was. His mistake, which was irreparable and eternal, may be traced to pride, which led him to presumption.
Others there are whose loss will be traced to sloth, who have given way to despair, because they thought God's service so difficult, the salvation of their soul so hard a thing, that they gave up in despair and without effort. They were like the man who had one talent, and because he thought his lord a hard man, he was afraid, and went and hid the talent in the earth, but the lord addressed him as a wicked and slothful servant, and he was cast, like the man without the wedding garment, into outer darkness. The one thought salvation too easy a thing; the other thought it too hard. The one sinned through pride, the other through sloth.
Now, Hope stands midway between these two dangers, presumption and despair; between these two sins, pride and sloth. Hope saves us from presumption; it forbids us to be so sure of our salvation that we need to make no effort. Hope also saves us from despair; for, as the very derivation of the word suggests, despair is the absence of hope.
Hope, like Charity, has its seat in the will of man, not in the intellect. For the will of man has two different actions. By the one it takes pleasure in good, so as to love it; and by the other it pursues that good with earnest activity and firm confidence, so as to possess it. The first action is love; the second is hope. Love and hope belong to the will, perfecting it, as faith does to the intellect. And as Faith bestows upon the intellect the supernatural gift of understanding, so the infused virtue of Hope bestows upon the will the divine power of supernatural confidence, by which it actively pursues and securely attains the highest and infinite good. Hope rests upon the rock of God's Omnipotence; it fills the soul with a joyous consciousness of power, and transports it with an enduring happiness.
As Hope is the spring of all human action, so in the spiritual life it is the stimulus to all spiritual effort, and is the pioneer of love. It has been said that all sin is sin against the virtue of Hope; for all sin is an attempt to possess some passing pleasure in the present moment, at the cost of future happiness. That is, it is the more or less deliberate forfeiture of the hope of future reward for the possession of present pleasure. So that all sin may be reduced to a transgression of; or failure of, supernatural Hope. If our hopes are fixed on things beyond the grave, those hopes will stimulate us to lay aside, to renounce, many a passing pleasure, in order that we may attain the joys of eternity.
Hope, however, like the infused virtue of Faith, needs to be exercised. It is given us through Baptism potentially; but we must develop it by exercising it. And as Faith is exercised especially by meditation, so is Hope developed by prayer. Prayer is the breath of spiritual life. It has been said that you might as well try to find a living man who does not breathe, as a living Christian who does not pray. And our spiritual life is vigorous, in proportion as prayer is earnest and frequent.
We most of us know what it is to leave the city in the hot summer weather, and seek a refuge in the mountains. And when we first begin to breathe the invigorating air of the mountain-top, we feel able to do anything--it is so stimulating.
So is it--at least, so ought it to be--with prayer. We leave the stifling atmosphere of earth, and spreading the wings of the Dove, the Holy Ghost, we flee away to the Throne of Grace, there to rest at God's footstool, breathing in the invigorating air of heaven, as we pour out our soul in earnest prayer!
A very common disease in hot countries is what we call "Malaria," the result of breathing in noxious exhalations from the earth. Its best cure is change of air, to the seaside or to the mountains. Malaria is rarely a disease which has fatal results; but it wrecks the health, and renders life a burden.
There is a similar disease in the spiritual life--the Malaria of bad prayers; when, instead of breathing, through our prayers, the atmosphere of heaven (on account of their imperfection, their want of effort, the wandering, worldly thoughts, by which they are distracted), we merely breathe in the exhalations of our earthly life.
The symptoms of this spiritual disease are not unlike those of its physical counterpart--a general feeling of depression and despondency, an inability to rouse ourselves, or to take an interest in life and work.
How many Christians suffer from this complaint! They find their spiritual life so monotonous, so uninteresting; their prayers so cold and difficult. The remedy is, to be earnest and collected at the time of prayer, and to use prayer so perseveringly, that it may develop in us the virtue of Hope, and that Hope will be the spring and stimulus to an active and happy spiritual life.
Surely, it is most suggestive that our Lord's last words should be an act of Hope; that on the death-bed of the Cross, when He had manifested every other virtue, His last act should be the act of Hope, by which He commended His soul into the hands of His Father.