I. The Will of God (First Day)
LET us contemplate our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of the Will of God--living in the Garden, surrounded by all the pleasures which the good Will of God had provided for them--the Supreme Gift of Union with God's Will before their eyes--the Tree of Life.
Let us contemplate our first Parents defying the Will of God--rejecting God's Will--driven out of the Garden--separated from God. And Satan said, "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of it...... and the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die.....ye shall be as gods."
Let us contemplate our Mother Mary in her perfect acceptance of the Will of God: "And behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son and shalt call His Name Jesus. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy Word"--she yielded [24/25] herself to the Authority of her God: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."
Let us contemplate the perfect revelation of God's Will on earth, in the Garden of Gethsemane: "And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast and kneeled down and prayed, saying, Father, if Thou be willing remove this cup from me: nevertheless not My Will, but Thine be done. And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground."
O my God, I believe in Thee. I believe Thou hast made me for Thyself. I believe that outside Thee there is neither life nor happiness. I confess before Thee my unworthy service, my many sins. O my God, I bless Thee for the Blood of Jesus, for the hope of sanctification, for all the gifts of Grace. O my God, I give myself to Thee. Send me the Holy Spirit, teach me to surrender myself to Thee. I want to be Thine, Thine only, Thine for ever. Hear me, O my God, for Jesus' sake. Amen.
THE WILL OF GOD
The Will of God is not a thing, not a theory, not an explanation of things that have happened--the Will of God is personal. I cannot in my thoughts separate God from the Will of God. The Will of God is God Himself, and as far as I know it, the Will of God is revealed in Jesus--"God Who in sundry times...... hath in these last days spoken to us by His Son Whom He hath appointed Heir of all things, by Whom also He made the world......the brightness of His Glory and the express Image of His Person."
When I talk about the Will of God as being active in the world, when I talk of surrendering my will to the Will of God, or about disobeying the Will of God, I mean just this one thing: I mean the Eternal God Himself and the Eternal God revealed to me in Christ Jesus my Lord. "My God and my All"--doesn't that sum it all up? I must not think of the Will of God as though it were something [26/27] with which I could make a bargain, as though it were some great law much mightier than human laws, and yet in the last resort something that can be altered. I want to learn not to think of the Will of God as something separate from Him. I want always to gaze upon Him Whose very Being and Whose actions shew me His Will--God Who is my Will.
From all eternity God's Will is expressed in the Person of His Son, in Whom He is eternally satisfied. That is why the Son is called "the Image of God's Person." Here, of course, we are in the region of things that human language cannot explain. We are in the region of things of which we only get an understanding in mystical union with the only-begotten Son of God.
The Eternal Father reproduces Himself in His Son from all eternity: "In the beginning was the Word .... and the Word was God." The Father in His Eternal Love reproduces Himself and contemplates Himself in His Son, the Son being the very image of the Father. So we speak in our foolish words, in our [27/28] very feeble inadequate words. There is the mystery that we contemplate in our prayers.
He is called the Eternal Word, the Eternal Wisdom of the Father, because He is the mirror to the Father's Mind. The Father's Mind is reproduced in the Mind of the Eternal Son; He is the Eternal Word, the Eternal Wisdom of the Father. In the moment of creation it is He Who makes known the Eternal Mind of the Father, it is He Who gives form to all the thoughts of the Eternal Father: "By Him all things were made, and without Him was not anything made that was made." It is the Eternal Son, the Eternal Wisdom, the Eternal Word Who upholds all things by the Word of His Power from the beginning of creation down to this present time. From all eternity the Will of God includes creation. And the Will of God, which orders the gradual growth and development of all that is in the world, is expressed to us, is made known to us, in the Eternal Person Whom we call God's Son.
And therefore it is that in the great work of re-creation or redemption, God's Messenger was not a created being, nor chosen [28/29] from the Angels--God's Messenger is the Eternal Person, the Eternal Word, the Eternal Wisdom Himself. It is the Son Whom He sends and through Whom He speaks, and of Whom He asks the great surrender.
Now that is a difficult point on which to meditate. We hear the world speaking of God's Providence, and we ourselves have got into habits of talking of the Will of God much on the same lines as we talk about the will of men. We mean well, but we need to be careful. In Retreat we must get down to the bed rock, and understand that there is no Will of God apart from the living personal God Himself, and no conceivable way of altering God's moral will unless you can alter God's Person.
Realize the one thing that matters is my union with God, Who is Will and purpose, in Whom Will and purpose are absolutely one with His own Life. It narrows down, does it not?--it narrows down all possibilities of bargaining with God, or arguing with God about His Will. It brings us down to this, that to meet God and to love God and to be at one with God must mean to the creature absolute surrender of will; just [29/30] as the Eternal Word Himself, the Son, has nothing of His own, but only what He receives from the Father; He has nothing but what the Father gives, and He gives it all back, He surrenders all.
What a vocation for us! Do you wonder that in the history of the Church men and women have adopted what to us sometimes seem hard and unnatural ways of finding union-with God? Is it wonderful, if that be the reality that lies behind it? Do you wonder at the hardness, the bitterness of death, when death is the last discipline of life to prepare us for union with a God like that? And does not our own pettiness, our self-assertiveness, seem intolerable as we contemplate the Eternal Will, the Eternal Purpose Who is the Living God?
Secondly, let us meditate in this way: that the Will of God, Who is God, is made intelligible to you and me in Jesus the Son of Mary. There came a moment in time, a moment in which God, as it were, made Himself subject to time. There was the moment in the Eternal Union of the Father with the Word when the Father's requirement and the Father's claim called forth from the Eternal Word "Lo, I come to do [30/31] Thy Will, O God." That, in human language which we can understand, is the translation of the mysterious movement within the Godhead by which the Eternal Word surrenders Himself, once and for all, that He might come forth and take flesh and live and die on earth. "Lo, I come to do Thy Will, O God"--and in that promise, in that pledge, the Eternal Word accepts Manhood and the limitations of Manhood and all that Manhood must mean. He accepts it once and for all, never to draw back, never to change, but through all Eternity to bear Manhood at God's right Hand, and make intelligible to you and me the Eternal Will of God. How shall we think of it?
Let us consider it from three points of view. This morning we will think of the Lord Jesus as God's Will revealed to us in human life. This afternoon we will think of the Divine Will as the ground of our penitence. And to-night we must face our choice between Christ's Will and our own.
JESUS WHO IS GOD'S WILL REVEALED
First. Think of how in the Life of Jesus His human will was developed from stage to stage, that it might become the perfect expression of God's Will. We can contemplate Him at His Mother's knee. The Babe on Mary's knee is none other than the Eternal God, and yet in so far as He is the Babe, in so far as He is Incarnate, He leads the life of perfect self-surrender in the terms of Babyhood. That is the beginning, and as years pass on, we find Him as a boy of twelve conscious of the purpose of His Father, conscious of a peculiar relation to His Father, accepting another eighteen years of human discipline and human trial in His own home. He endures it. He reaches a higher level of human service in His Baptism, accepts three years' ministry, committing Himself to His Father, going out to experience for Himself all that that ministry will mean. He makes an act of self-committal, an act of self-surrender [32/33] in response to the coming of the Holy Ghost upon His Manhood, and during those three years He learns obedience by the things that He suffers. And then, on the highest level, on the level of the Passion, we find the Eternal Word Incarnate abandoning Himself and all that He is and all that He has to the Father's Glory. Stage by stage the Eternal Will unfolds Himself in language we can understand. All nature manifests God's purpose to man. To that the Eternal Will submits Himself at every turn. All things to which He submits Himself become uplifted, sanctified, redeemed, I and acceptable at the price of Blood. So from stage to stage the Eternal Will becomes intelligible, visible, and Jesus remains the perfect expression of human life.
Or again, meditate this way. Meditate upon the self-surrender which lives behind the Incarnate Life: "Lo, I come to do Thy Will." Meditate upon the gradual experience of all that that involved. I think that one of the most striking things in the whole story of the life of Jesus is the way in which He submits Himself to the inevitable in human life. I [33/34] see Jesus, I see the Eternal Word on the brink of His Incarnation, giving Himself to the Father--"Lo, I come to do Thy Will." A little later I see Him as an innocent child in Mary's arms and I know that it is only the beginning. From that moment until He leaves the earth, He faces whatever is inevitable to human beings in this world of sin, He will accept whatever shall prove to be inevitable to a perfect man living amongst sinners.
And at any moment of the Life of Jesus we can see Him with His Head bowed before the storm of rebellion and rejection, His Heart' always uplifted, filled with a certain glory, and with confidence in His Father's Will. We see the Image of the personal Will of God moving through this world of sin, bearing on His way, gently yet firmly, through the whole mob of sinful wills, keeping His way undismayed. And as the mob takes arms to slay Him, we see the Eternal Will bending to the storm, not resisting, not refusing. And so, accepting everything, He develops His Soul and becomes the perfect expression of trust and confidence. Until in the last moment of His Life, as He bows His Head to the final [34/35] storm, the cry is "Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit."
Meditate on the inevitable, and on Jesus committing Himself to it once and for all. He was obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.
That is the Glory of the Life of Jesus! It is the Glory of His Life that, while bowing to the inevitable, He lived free from the fetters of earth in a life of true liberty. He enjoyed the freedom of the Son of God. Independent of everything except the Father, He recognized no limit to His actions but the Will of the Father with Whom He was one. That is the Glory of Jesus. I want to get it fixed in my mind once for all, deeper than ever, that Jesus, Whose Name is ever on my lips, is the Will of God. God does not send me a prophet to remind me of His wishes, He does not send me a judge to condemn me for failing to carry out His wishes; He sends me One Who comes to me with outstretched arms to draw me right into His Heart, and that One is the Son of God Himself. To kiss the Feet of Jesus is to be one with the Will of God. To quarrel with and to reject the Will of God is [35/36] without doubt to treat Jesus harshly. To turn in fear from Jesus is to refuse to give to God that confidence in His Will He has the right to expect.
Well then, what shall we meditate about for ourselves? In what way shall we pray that we may come closer to Him? We might think of ourselves and our conversion. What do we 'mean by being converted? Surely it means an act of self-committal. What I look back upon as my first conversion is my first conscious act of coming to Jesus, my first conscious act of committing myself once and for all to Jesus, that with Him I might move through life facing what inevitably would prove to me to be temptation, pain, or suffering. And therefore reconversion is normal in my life, because over and over again Jesus calls upon me to make some new act of self-committal. The Christian life is not on a dead level. The Christian life from one aspect is as it were a system of terraces and Jesus lifts me on to each terrace in turn. He draws me as it were up the steps as I make a committal of myself to Him. We cross together a terrace, and the question comes: Have I the confidence to [36/37] follow Him up another flight of steps? He accepts from me a free act of self-committal, and He takes me up upon a higher level. So from terrace to terrace I follow Him, till in His mercy He brings me to the unveiled Vision of the Eternal Glory. Isn't that it? Am I able to come to Jesus, to trust Him? So much of life depends upon committing myself to Jesus and trusting Jesus at the right moment when the call comes. Am I converted? Are my ears open to Jesus? When I know that He is asking me to commit myself to Him that He may lead me a little bit higher, am I ready to trust Him? We aren't very trustful people, are we? We look back over the past and we see things that make us doubtful as to whether it is any good offering to go with Jesus any further. Like the fools that we are, we look into the future, and in our vision we see difficulties round which we perceive no way to pass. We think it is dangerous and rash to trust Jesus. Whereas the only thing that ought to matter to you and to me in any moment of our life is, that we look up to Jesus! We see the present before our eyes, and the Lord of all that is past and [37/38] the Lord of all that is to come, Jesus, forbids us to worry over the past or to be anxious over the future. Jesus, Who is in literal fact God's Will manifested to my eyes, God's power and God's love, is waiting to embrace me, and my business is, at each moment in the present, to commit myself, to surrender myself, and not to care in the least what comes afterwards.
Or again, for ourselves it would be a good thing that we should consider this with Jesus: the consecration of our circumstances. I wonder if you follow me when I say that so many of us need to learn to pray to God in spite of the circumstances in which God puts us? We wish to make for ourselves circumstances in which we think we could pray--we look upon our difficulties, troubles and trials as real hindrances to prayer--we imagine that it must be God's Will that we should escape from them in order that we may be able to pray! So we divide our lives into the spiritual on one side, and what we call the outward circumstances on the other side; and there we go wrong. Because it is in the consecration of all the circumstances [38/39] of our present life that our chance of fulfilling God's vocation lies. It is so important to remember that God is not only redeeming you and me: He is redeeming through you and through me the circumstances in which we live. We must imitate Blessed Jesus Himself. To live in union with Jesus, Who is the Eternal Son Incarnate, and therefore to be perfectly certain that we are fulfilling the Will of God, we must face our circumstances, our present circumstances, as part of the inevitable work, the inevitable lot that it is God's Will we should endure. Therefore the home life and the claims of our relations are of paramount importance--apart from any special vocation. Of course if there is a special vocation and it is genuine, it is easily proved--but it always seems to me that there is a great temptation to Christians to think that special vocations exist just because their present circumstances are hard and difficult. Any movement of Jesus in the soul is supposed to mean a call to something new and separate, whereas He probably means it as a warning against the shallowness of our relation towards our present circumstances. [39/40] The whole life of prayer for us who have to live in the world, the whole meaning of prayer, primarily, is the consecration of our circumstances, the redemption of the spheres in which God has put us, the creation of the atmosphere in which the Will of God can be manifested and in which Jesus can work. So let us in Retreat, lifting up our hearts to Jesus, not repining over the past, gladly go forward hand in hand with Him to redeem our present circumstances.
It is absolute nonsense to say that pious people and the people that live nearest to Jesus are generally misunderstood in the world--it is a deceit of the devil. It is our own fault over and over again that life is hard, and when it is not our own fault we fall back upon the certainty that we shall be helped and that we share the temptation and the work of Jesus. Even He had to face difficulties in His home life with His step-brothers--those sons of Joseph by his first wife. He had to face those difficulties, and to redeem them, as also to redeem His brothers. So we have our difficulties to face and to redeem. Just as the ordinary work and ordinary claims of home life, and [40/41] the ordinary trials and troubles of life in the world, are a struggle, just as all these things are real to us, so Jesus Himself faced them--Jesus the Carpenter of Nazareth. Thus in our circumstances we meet Jesus face to face and seeing in Him the Will of God revealed, we find in Him our power of consecration. We must not try to run away from them, nor must we be in any sense despairing about them. They are inevitable. Lift up your hearts and bow your heads to the inevitable, and for God's sake don't run away from your circumstances.
Think finally of this: The Inner Union with Jesus, the Inner Union with the Divine Will in Jesus. In Retreat we have to pull ourselves together in the presence of our Lord. What is the Will of God for you and for me? I answer to myself, The Will of God is in the living Jesus. How then does the Will of God touch me? And I answer to myself, The living Jesus comes to me in certain well-defined ways. He comes to me in sacrament, He comes to me in prayer; and sacrament and prayer will one day become one in perfect mystic union, which will mean the Beatific Vision.
 What then is the Will of God for me? I go out to meet the Will of God, and I meet it. in sacrament, in absolution and communion. That chiefly. If it is true that communion is Jesus, then communion is the living link between me and the Eternal Will, it is the meat and power in the strength of which I can fulfil His Will. If it is true that absolution is Jesus--it is Jesus pardoning, it is Jesus giving power--then to neglect absolution or in any way to refuse to receive absolution is to run enormous risks of wounding the Heart of Jesus.
And in Retreat we ought to think how we meet the personal Will of God Who comes in sacrament. Think of our communions and of our absolutions, of our confessions. Of course in a Retreat of this size there are sure to be some who still hold back from making confession. Think not of yourself, nor of the difficulty of confession, nor of the storm of controversy about confession, but of Jesus the incarnate Word of God. Is it God's will that you should make confession? Look up and ask Him. Is it His will? What does it mean, the Sacrament of Penance? It is [42/43] one of the many ways in which Jesus, the Eternal Will, touches the soul. Is there room for argument? Is there reason for holding back?
Then think of prayer, our meeting with Jesus in prayer. And in Retreat let us review a little our methods of prayer. The fundamental thing for every soul living in this world is this: that in whatever method we pray, in whatever way we are helping others to pray, we should always aim at a power of speaking to Jesus in our hearts, of listening to Jesus, that is ultimately independent of words. If we meditate in fixed forms with the help of books, let the meditations be only helps towards real communion with Jesus--heart to heart, and if possible with no words at all. If you pray by making great acts of faith, hope and love, let them also aim indirectly to the leading up to real silent prayer, a waiting upon Jesus--the realization simply of the Presence of the Eternal Will, Who is shewn to us in Jesus our Saviour.
Ultimately, if this be the aim of each one, then in whatever isolation from other people we may be, in our hearts we shall [43/44] be in real Union with Jesus Himself. That is prayer. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy Will"--"Not my Will, but Thine be done."
LET us contemplate our first parents being driven out of the Garden of God's Will: "The Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken. So He drove out the man and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden Cherubim and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the Tree of Life"--driven out of the Garden of the Will of God to spend his life with the things his will had put before God's Will. Sin put him outside God's Will.
Let us contemplate the Incarnate Word restoring us into union with the Divine Will--"Come unto Me all ye that are heavy laden and I will refresh you." "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the Tree of Life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."
O my God, I pray Thee to have mercy upon me. I confess before Thee all my [45/46] rebelliousness, my utter faint-heartedness, my daily failure. O my God, I put all my hope in Thee. For love of me Thou hast created me. Thou didst not count the Blood of Jesus too big a price to pay for my redemption. My God, *I hope in Thee. Grant me sufficient penitence, break my hard heart, and in all times of darkness and temptation grant me to see Thee and hear the Voice of Thy dear Son. Hear me, O my Father, for the same Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.
THE DIVINE WILL AS IT IS THE GROUND OF OUR PENITENCE
The incarnate Will shewn to us in Jesus, Son of Mary, is the Divine Will to save. It is the Divine Will moving out to get into closer touch with His children. It is the Divine Will opening the door of the Divine Heart to all who will come in. It is true that in the Old Testament we are continually brought face to face with sentences of judgment, but we understand that all the judgment of which the Old Testament is so full is meant chiefly to prepare for a revelation of Love and Mercy and of Pity. In the New Testament, always, the Divine Will is to save, to forgive and to set men free from sin and to give men the power of forsaking sin. And it is on that that we should dwell first: "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Do we, in our religious life, really begin with the certainty of the Divine Will to [47/48] save us? Do we begin with the certainty of the Divine power to carry us through temptation? Are we not inclined to think of God as a little bit apart from us and to think of ourselves as those who have gone out on a long search to look for God? We are convinced that if we had more opportunities, and a little more grace, we should do better. Aren't we too often convinced that if God would do a little bit more for us we could become like Saints? This is all entirely wrong, and it leads us into all kinds of despair and despondency; it leads us into all kinds of difficulties with the people with whom we live, with those we love and work for, and for whom we pray.
The Divine Will is above all things a Will to grip men--a Will to hold men and to walk hand in hand with men through all that shall come upon them. Whatever may be true of my life this at least is true, that God from the very beginning has always been close to me, knocking at the door of my heart; that abundant Grace has always been ready to my hand; and that what God wants is that I should co-operate with Him in fighting against sin. For is it not true that the Incarnation, the coming of [48/49] our Lord into flesh through the obedience of Mary, is above everything a proof of God's entire desire that men should cooperate with Him? God looks upon the human race, not as something entirely unworthy, not as something to be beaten down under His Feet, but as always possessing high possibilities in spite of centuries of rebellion. He trusts the human race to come to its right mind, and will not move a step without man's co-operation. Therefore we are to honour above all Mary the Mother. She was the first to understand the reality of the Fatherhood of God. It is Mary who, helped by the Angel, came to a clear understanding of how men are to stand with God against sin. What a difference it makes to you and me.
In politics in the old days the conquered race went under; in our times we at once admit them into the fullest self-government, side by side with ourselves. That is a picture of what God has done with the human race. We need to get this home into our hearts. We need to remember it next time we have a dark hour. We must not complain and whine, but recognize the unspeakable honour God [49/50] has done to us. He whom God honours suffers with God.
Secondly. The Incarnate Word is of one Manhood with the rebel. God became Man because man had rebelled against God. Nobody has ever found an adequate answer to the question, Why did God become Man? but there are certain things which stand out from the many answers that have been given. And first, we may safely answer this: God became Man in order that He might claim a natural right to act for man.
I sit here a sinner, and I lift up my heart to God, and God reminds me that such was my sin, and such was His Love, that he actually became Man in order to be able to act and to speak in my name and for me: "The Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me." Doesn't it take all pride, all self-conceit out of one's penitence, does it not crush us down to the ground, when we remember that whatever our own opinion of ourselves may be, and whatever other people in their generosity may think of us, it is eternally true, that we are so sinful that the Incarnate Word took our Manhood in [50/51] order to act for us? What did it cost Him? Take into your hand your Crucifix--that teaches you, doesn't it? "The Cup of Blessing which we bless, is it not the Communion of the Blood?"
Or again, we may certainly say this is true, that the Incarnate Word took our Manhood in order to offer to the Father the obedience that mankind had never offered, or could have offered. The Gospel is a story of thirty-three years of perfect obedience, perfect detailed obedience. It is the life of One Who never said a word that was not a perfect word, Who never did a deed that was not a perfect deed; perfect in this sense, that it exactly fulfilled the desire and Will of the Eternal Father; perfect in this sense, that in fulfilling the Will of the Eternal Father the cost was never counted. The obedience of Jesus, in every moment of His life, just exactly covered the disobedience of the human race. If we meditate upon it on the broad lines of general loyalty to His Father, the general complete obedience covered and obliterated the general disobedience and rebellion of the race; or if we think of the detailed obedience of [51/52] Jesus it is in a special sense an offering for detailed disobedience.
Lift up your eyes to Calvary and there you have it all before you in symbol. There is the human race typified in Jew and Gentile, all engaged in crucifying Jesus--their disobedience consummated on the Cross: and there upon the Cross is the one obedient Man. Think of the acts of any particular class of sinners who annoy you, or of sins that trouble you in your conscience, and you will find in the Life or the Passion of Jesus, some particular suffering, some particular offering, some particular obedience that in a mysterious way stands out as an offering in reparation for those sins. For Jesus gave to the Father for us what we would not give of ourselves. It is true of you and of me, that the particular sins which are ours are covered by something in the sacred Passion of Jesus.
If you watch the development of the Religious Life of the Church, in the rule' of life, you will find that the Founders of all the big Orders seemed to be possessed by special desires to offer reparation to God for this sin or for that. Each Order, [52/53] in so far as it differs and is separate from another Order, owes that different spirit to the Founder or co-Founders who seemed in some particular way to have been attracted by God to make obedience and offerings for some particular kind of sin. This is true of them because it is true of Him Who is their great Exemplar, in Whose Heart is summed up all that will be offered in reparation down the ages by one religious body or other. What we have to understand for ourselves is, that we were of such a kind that it was necessary for Jesus to make reparation for you and me, that He actually gave obedience in the kind of circumstances in which we are to-day and in which we are offering disobedience.
And then, it is good to meditate on this. When Jesus took our flesh and became one of us, He did it in order to pay our debt. It is not fashionable nowadays to dwell upon the debt Jesus paid, because when you think of the debt He paid, you have to think of His death, and of His actual death in some way satisfying the claim that God had on the human race. This is unpopular with modern theology. Yet [53/54] we must thank God for it in Retreat. God so made me that I live under a spiritual law, the effect of which is, that if I sin, I die in soul and body. When He made me under that law and saw me drawing towards destruction, then, looking upon me with love, He sent His only-begotten Son to take my manhood, to be made under that same law. The law of sin is actual suicide in soul and body. Without any action of God the sinner kills himself. Jesus took that manhood, lived under that law, knowing no sin, making Himself one with me. He came under the penalty of my sin deliberately, of His own choice, making Himself mine, my own Brother, that He might carry my guilt in the sight of God. He passed under the law, and, in obedience to the law, death overtook Him--death of body, and then that darkness of soul that was nearly death, and which to anyone but Him, Who is the Eternal Son of God, would have been actual death of the soul: "My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?" And I know that in the darkness He did pay for me a debt to natural law; and had He not paid it, never could I have [54/55] returned to the God Who loves me, and Who desires me.
Now let us lift up our hearts, let us rejoice with a strong, robust, spiritual joy. He looks down to you this afternoon from His Throne in Heaven. He shows you His Wounds, He pierces your hearts with a sense of the sin that made Him die, but you daren't look away, you daren't look down, you daren't look inwards; darkness has no place, despair is ruled out. Jesus is loving, Jesus is looking at you, and looking up to Him, you must move out in glad response, taking His message as one of real joy and new hope. "If God be for me, who shall be against me?" Isn't that what we need? And so, fortified with joy and hopefulness, we go on to meditate upon the nature of our sins. We must do it, but only in this spirit of joyful hope.
Sin is a personal matter between myself and Jesus. There is very little hope of our being set free from our sins, until we come to that conclusion. Thus we must be finding new sins revealed to us as the years go on. We need not be surprised or disheartened that little by little, as [55/56] grace is given, God makes us see that small things, which we thought had nothing to do with Jesus, hare, in fact, a great deal to do with Him; sins we had not noticed before and which put us out of personal touch with Jesus.
Sin is a personal matter, but why? What is the essential truth about sin? If it is true that the Will of God is the moral law, and that the Will of God is incarnate in Jesus, then, any the least sin is really and truly an effort on our part to do without Jesus, and so to drive Jesus out of the world. You know some people think that there is an air of unreality about those who preach the Cross as a symbol of the rejection of God. They tell us that of course people didn't really understand that in crucifying Jesus they were driving out God. But that is not true. It really in fact is the perfect symbol of rejection, because holiness and goodness are primarily the qualities of the personal God. He who fights against goodness and holiness is really fighting against Jesus the Son of Mary; and whenever I sin, I am, without any exaggeration, classing myself with Pilate, I am over against the Lord [56/57] Jesus. If I am logically developing my self-will, if I am logically proceeding in my self-assertion, the Lord Jesus has no room in my life.
Well, then, if everybody takes that line, it becomes clear that the Lord Jesus has no room in the whole universe. Sin is the negation of Jesus. Sin is the real assertion of the human self as against Jesus, and its logical conclusion is to drive Jesus out. Now I understand why, after going on for some hours indulging in some mood, shall we say, which Jesus has forbidden me, I constantly find that I cannot pray. Of course I cannot, because I have been asserting my own will as one person against the Other Person, and the Other Person has been driven out. He does not strive, He does not use force. Not that I am to think He deserts me. He is there, in the background, waiting for the least motion on my part to call Him in. But I have driven Him out by self-will. We who in some ways are protected by God's Providence from many a big temptation, we who probably have lesser anxieties than many people in the world, we who live sheltered lives, do we show less self-will [57/58] than others? Is it not true, and don't we confess it with shame, that Christian people, Communicants, earnest Communicants, devout workers, devoted disciples of Jesus, on inspection prove to keep, somewhere in their lives, little spheres marked off within which they will brook no interference from anybody, little spheres into which Jesus cannot enter? We have our own relationships in which we serve Jesus as well as we can, and we have relationships with people which the Hand of Jesus never touches or sanctifies because they are relationships based entirely on self-will--the negation of the claims of Jesus. Again, there is this about sin, and it is this that I would above all things realize and fully believe if I could, that my sin is a personal injury done to Jesus. In order that I should know good from evil God has clothed goodness in human form, and sent goodness in human form to dwell with me. He has given me goodness, not only in human form but in sacrament. Jesus the Eternal Good One would dwell in me, in my heart. Thus I know that sin, big or little, is a personal injury that I do to Jesus, to God. "Father, forgive them, [58/59] for they know not what they do." Only in very small measure can that be true of me. I can't say it, because I have known and believe that He came forth from God. I know and believe that He dwells in me. I know that the moment will come some day--it may be near--it may be far off--when I shall see Him face to face. I know that in the moment that I meet Him, everything that He in any sense could regard in me as an injury done to Him, everything will live in my memory, it will possess me, and the shame of it will blind my eyes to Him. I shall not dare to look into His Face, because sin cannot be undone! His love for which there is no word adequate, and my love, my love that has been no love at all--shall meet!
Since sin is a personal matter between me and Jesus, penitence must mean a readiness to pay the price of sin. I must be ready to pay the price of sin. If I have hurt somebody amongst my friends on earth, if I have grossly offended him, it dawns upon me that my friend, however truly he loves me, has on his side a certain difficulty in getting back to the same relationship of love with me. The [59/60] difficulty, though felt by him, is all on my side. I cannot help but shew that I am conscious of my sin, and the very fact of having been able to offend him so grossly shews there is something in me that must be altered and completely changed and done away, before I can ever get back to the original friendship. He took me originally and trusted and believed in me, and I seemed to be living up to his level and his standard, and I failed. Although he forgives me, I must exercise great patience before I can become anything like worthy of his friendship. How much more between me and Jesus! In the dark times of temptation, in the dark times of prayer, in those wrong moods in which we perhaps give way to half rebellion against the whole thought of religion and devotion, we must remember that Love has conquered, and Love has forgiven us. But inasmuch as it is a personal matter, there is something in me which must be purged out of me before Love and I can meet on anything like true terms of joy and peace. I have to recognize that I have built up barriers between myself and Jesus that not even His love can break down. The barrier is something [60/61] within me--it needs patience, an enduring patience, to get rid of that which hinders Jesus from coming to me, which hinders Jesus from any real approach to my soul. Have I the courage for it?
Now you see the real meaning of the point of view we are taking this afternoon. Of course you have the courage for it, and of course you have every reason to hope and to trust in Him. It is the divine will to save, to redeem, to empower, to sanctify. There is no divine will to punish and to curse. It is only we who have punishments and curses on our side, and they are all on our side. Jesus has made Himself one with us; Jesus is also on our side. He is one with you and me; He has paid the debt; He has offered the obedience we could not offer; He has moved us to penitence--He Himself, with His own life of courage. So beautiful has He made Himself in our eyes, so glorious in His apparel, that we have ourselves broken down before Him, at His Feet--stayed to repent of our sin--withdrawn ourselves from the world to be with Him. So tender has His Love been for us that the injury our .sins have done has come [61/62] home to us. What can hinder us now? What can hold us back from confident hope, from the endurance of the consequences of our sins?" We indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our sins, but this Man has done nothing amiss." Only for a little time you must live, I must live, under the sense of failure. We must live in darkness now and again; we must live as though God had forsaken us, now and again, for a little time. "What, could ye not watch with Me one hour?" In this Retreat, then, open your hearts to Him Whose love is so great, Whose pity is so wide, Who entirely understands you, Who will never let you go, and as penitent as He gives you power to be, heartbroken as He gives you the grace and power to be, do Him the honour of trusting Him!
My God, in Thee have I trusted, let me never be confounded.
LET us contemplate the chosen Disciples of Jesus in their choice. The mother of Zebedee's children said: "Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand and the other on the left, in Thy kingdom, but Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask, are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptised with? They say unto Him, We are able."
Let us contemplate the promise of Jesus given to us by S. John: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my Voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with Me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My Throne even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father in His Throne."
O my God, I desire to love Thee, for [63/64] Thou art alone worthy of love. I desire to give my whole heart to Thee, to keep nothing back. Fill me with Thy Holy Spirit of Love. Kill in me all that is of myself. Help me to resist all that is not of Thee. O Holy Spirit of Love, lift me up in faith. Thou knowest I desire to love Thee above all things. I desire to love all things in Thee and for Thee. Amen.
The first day of a Retreat is always the most difficult, partly because of ourselves and our habits. We don't get used to it. The peace of retreat doesn't come until we have made an act of self-committal, until we really have put self away, and registered our surrender of ourselves to Jesus. That doesn't mean that in the past we have never given ourselves to Him; it doesn't mean that with all our hearts we may not be surrendered to Him; but it does mean that as the years pass and Retreat follows Retreat, our Lord asks us to come up higher, and we commit ourselves again in that thought which is our peace. And I would have you, if you will, take some thoughts that may perhaps occupy you some little time [64/65] to-night, and may perhaps bear fruit in your spiritual intention in your Communion to-morrow.
THE WILL OF CHRIST AND OUR CHOICE
Let us meditate upon the will of Christ and our final choice. Of course we all admit, don't we? that the will of Christ, His human will that reveals the purpose of God, will be the standard by which we shall be judged, and it is good to think of it in relation to our own ultimate choice. When we are asked to make the choice between good and evil, God and Satan, God and self, it is not put before us as a choice of things that are almost equal; it is not that the attractiveness of good and evil are so nearly the same that it is difficult to make the choice. It is not that we are choosing between two, one God and one myself--it is not that. I am choosing between the whole universe and myself. On one side there is the whole universe, and on the other side there is myself. God bids me choose between [65/66] them. But, you will say, then, "is God the universe?" No! I don't mean that. Looking up to our Master Who bids us make our choice, we understand that the whole universe is summed up in Him! He asks me to choose Him. He it is Who demands that I pay Him all my worship, and for His Sake surrender everything else. Who is He? Jesus, the Son of Mary. Yes, Jesus the Son of Mary, but Jesus the King; Jesus the true Man, but Man Conqueror of sin and death; Jesus true Man, but Man seated upon the Throne of God Himself. It is He Who asks me to choose Him I It is into the Kingdom of the Great King that you and I are invited; it is to share the Kingship, it is to share the royalty of that Great King Who passed triumphant through the grave: it is to share the royalty, to share the lordship of Him before Whom all creation bows and trembles: it is to that you and I are called; it is for that we are bidden to reject ourselves.
Or think of that wonderful communion between God and Man. It is summed up in the two words, Grace and Worship. To-day, as ever, there in Heaven, Jesus, [66/67] Son of Mary, stands as Priest. In His Perfect Manhood, risen and glorious, dwells the Eternal Spirit of God, and from the Heart of Jesus out into this world of sin flows the life-giving stream, the precious Blood, the Blood which is the very medium of the coming of the Holy Spirit to you and me. From the Heart of Jesus that power comes out which is His very Self, on which we feed, and it is into that that we are called to come. It is for partnership in that mystery of Grace that we are asked to reject ourselves. So also we are called to co-operate with Him in worship. For standing there, in His own Throne that belongs to Him as triumphant Man, the Throne so little lower than the Divine Throne, the Throne of Eternity, He dwells with His Father, and there in His Manhood He stands, and in His Heart the Spirit has taken possession, and the Spirit gathers the worship of all men and women of every age who have been made members of Jesus; offers it on the lips, by the hands and through the Heart of Jesus, Son of Mary. It is into that worship and into that grace that you and I are bidden to come, if we will.
 It is not a hard command to choose right, to choose duty and to discipline yourselves. No, it is the opening up of all that can most attract and most inspire a really human heart. It is the invitation to come and share that which is wonderful in its attractiveness. Jesus makes it beautiful, in order that He may attract us, in order to entice us to commit ourselves to Him. And I sit and think, is it worth while, this Kingship, is it worth it? Who but a madman could doubt that it is worth it all? To be absolutely one in mind and heart and life with Him Who rules the universe, and that at the small cost of an act of self-committal! Indeed, I choose Him: "Lord Jesus, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou leadest." And this Priesthood, who that honours the name of man would doubt that it is worth while, absolutely and utterly worth while, if only we can have a distant share in the life-giving ministry of grace, or in that unspeakable mystery of worship? And to-night, as I prepare for my Communion, I make my choice. He will make it real for me to-morrow, for I shall meet Him--Jesus the King, coming to me in virtue of His Kingship, proving [68/69] His real authority over creation, taking to Himself the Bread and Wine, the symbols of creation, and binding them to His Will, moulding them to His. own spiritual purpose, doing with them what He pleases, raising them to become His very Body and His very Blood. He will come to me in the morning, true Priest, bringing grace, speaking truth, and He will assemble around Him in the morning all who are in any way desirous of pleading the Sacrifice before the Father. And everything depends in this Retreat, as everything finally depends for our final salvation, on our ability to give ourselves once and for all into the keeping of Jesus.
Now, what does it mean to give myself to Jesus? As we understand it, all the power of God that ever comes to man is brought to us by the Holy Spirit. To the Holy Spirit we ourselves have offered, as His Temple, our body, soul and spirit. It is therefore in union with Jesus first that we come under the influence of the Power of God which the Spirit brings. It is as we grow in union with Jesus and become indwelt by the Holy Spirit that we find ourselves co-operating with the Divine Power [69/70] Who made and upholds the universe, and become ourselves empowered in ministry, powerful each in his own degree, powerful in the Work of God.
Now, What is the fundamental union with Jesus, the fundamental act of choice that we ought to try and make quite early in Retreat? If we might put it simply: I want to choose to depend upon Jesus, Jesus only: that first! It is quite astonishing sometimes to wake up to the fact that one depends on many other things than Jesus. We depend, some of us, almost entirely on routine and outward circumstances. We are absolutely lost if the outward side of our life gets changed for any length of time. We dpened upon books, we depend upon poeple, we depend upon this priest or upon that priest; the one Person in the whole wide universe that we cannot depend upon entirely is Jesus.
It is a good thing to make once more one's real choice: "I choose Thee, Lord Jesus." That does not mean that we are not to use in moderation all the help that people or things can give us, but it does entirely mean that we must become more zealous for the honour of Jesus, and that [70/71] we ought to be able, as time goes on, to trust Him and learn to stand alone. I have been wondering whether we really sufficiently have learnt what the author of the Epistle to the Hebews tried to make his people understand--that there is a time for living on milk, and a time for strong meat. Don't you think that some of us, all of us, have need to learn that? We are to depend upon Jesus, primarily Jesus, and Jesus only.
Secondly, we must deliberately choose to become enthusiastic for Jesus; we must choose to become zealous for Jesus. We cannot have this great heavenly movement, of which this Ascended Lord is the Sun, going on round about us without trying to throw ourselves into it. We ought not to be able to tolerate our own indifference to these marvellous spiritual forces which were set in motion at the Ascension and at Pentecost. Now, of course, enthusiasm for Jesus does not mean talking about Him; it certainly does not mean being fussy, or making oneself a nuisance or a bore to other people. It does mean just this: when the Lord Jesus looks down upon us, he is to find burning in our hearts the desire for the fulfilment of what He desires. We have [71/72] to choose to keep our hearts from many other things that the interests of our Lord Jesus may find room within us. And of course it also means that when work has to be done, when people have an obvious claim upon us, upon our interest, upon our spiritual endeavour, upon our words to them, our Lord can see us trying to meet the need. We ought to require no external prompting. We choose to be enthusiastic for Jesus; we choose here on earth, as far as lies in our power, to be caught into the great spiritual movement, of which the consummation is the day of God's great glory.
And lastly, we must choose to aim at an inward union with Jesus. The most inward and secret thing in my life must be my endeavour to come into closer union with Jesus. Now, that is a matter of deliberate choice, because there are things that have to be given up, if that is to become possible. Isn't that what S. Paul means when he says "the life that I now live, I live by the faith in the Son of God"? Isn't that what the Prayer Book means when it speaks of Jesus dwelling in us and we in Him? Doesn't it mean that there is a secret point of contact [72/73] between us and those heavenly forces that are moving the universe and us? And the secret point of contact is in our inner union with Jesus, a union we have most deliberately chosen, and for which we are prepared to pay, in Christ's strength, whatever it may cost us.
Now before my Communion to-morrow it would be a good thing if I thought of these things: the measure of my dependence upon Jesus--how far I am able to stand alone with Jesus and face what comes; my enthusiasm for Jesus; and this inward secret union with Him. These are the things that go to make up my choice. There are many others--I suggest these three.
And then, when we have thought that out, there comes the great act of self-committal. Now this is nothing new, because every time we make our Communion we make an act of self-committal, don't we? Only in Retreat, and at the end of the first day of retreat, we do so want it to be a real one. Well now, what is the act itself? Surely in making an act of self-committal to Jesus, we bar out completely all thoughts of time, of [73/74] the future--the whole essence of the act is one of absolute and complete confidence in Him. I come to Him and He comes, to meet me, and in the Blessed Sacrament He reaches out to me: "My son, my daughter, give Me thine heart. Canst thou drink of the cup that I shall drink of and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" And we don't answer. We neither say, "I am able," nor do we say, "I am not able," but in absolute silent prayer, in silent self-surrender, we cast ourselves into the arms of Jesus, shutting out the future as He in His mercy has shut out the past, and in the very silence of our self-committal we yield ourselves to Him, for whatever He shall please to bring upon us, or allow the world to bring upon us. That is what we want. That is the test of the great self-committal in death. That is the seed, the only seed, that bears fruit to perfect life eternal.
He comes, then, in the morning, my King, the Priest of the whole universe. He comes to gather me to His Father, He comes to put me in subjection to His Father, He comes to gather up from me [74/75] whatever of obedient worship, whatever of humble penitence He may find in me, to offer in His Spirit. He comes to take me into co-operation with Himself, me who am so imperfect, so useless, who have so often disappointed Him, who have hardly dared to think that it was worth while beginning again. Still, He is coming for that one purpose. And I am making a new choice--new, yet always the same--new in the strength in which I offer it, in the determination with which I mean to abide by it, please God. I offer my self-surrender, and I come at His Call, because He wants me, and because His power is greater than my weakness.
It is the Lord, it is the Lord!
Jesus, my Lord and my God.