Project Canterbury

Sermons on the Black Letter Days
Or Minor Festivals of the Church of England
by John Mason Neale

London: Joseph Masters, 1872. Third edition.


S. Martin. November: 11.


NEXT to the Blessed Apostles, no Saint has ever been more regarded than the Saint of to-day, the great Bishop Martin. Many and many a church is dedicated to him in England; many and many a one more in his own country, France. The oldest church in this land, S. Martin's, at Canterbury, is named from him. And not only so, but he has given a title to all this part of the year; Martinmastide we call it, just as we speak of Christmas or Candlemas.

Now why is this? It is not because S. Martin was a Martyr, for he was not; not because he suffered great things for CHRIST'S Name, for though he did suffer, it was but little in comparison with that which other Saints have undergone; nor because he left many books for the teaching of the Church, for he scarcely wrote anything. No: it was on account of the greatness of his faith, which enabled him to perform greater miracles than any other Saint in this Western Church has been able to work. Wherever men heard that he was coming, there they brought sick and impotent persons, that he might pray over them and heal them. And just as from the body of S. Paul handkerchiefs and aprons were carried to those who were sick, and cured them, so it was with S. Martin.

It was the greatness of his faith, I said, which enabled him to do all these things. But then, this faith must have shown itself by good works; as it is written: "Faith without works is dead:" and again: "I will show thee my faith by my works." And the first action that is recorded of S. Martin shows how closely he trod in the footsteps of Him, Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor. Before he was baptized, and therefore before we might expect that the grace of the HOLY GHOST would have been so mighty in him; while he was yet a soldier, the very situation, of all others, and especially at that time, to harden and close up the heart, he showed a rare instance of love. In the depth of winter, and that in a place where the winters are far more bitter than here, a beggar, miserably clad, asked an alms of him for the love of GOD. Silver and gold had he none, but that which he had he gave him. His soldier's cloak was all that he could call his own. He drew his sword, cut it in half, gave one portion to the poor man, and was content himself with the other. And we may most truly use our Blessed SAVIOUR'S words: "Verily I say unto you, he had his reward." That night, in a vision, he beheld our LORD on His throne, and all the blessed company of heaven standing around Him. And as he looked more steadfastly on the SON of GOD, he saw Him to be arrayed in his own half cloak; and he heard from those Lips that spake as never man spake,--"This hath Martin, unbaptized, given to Me." Think then of this, you who have (and who has not?) the opportunity of doing some, the smallest, act of kindness to one of CHRIST'S poor. The cup of cold water, the crust of bread, the single penny, shall in no wise lose its reward. Think that, if you could see our dear LORD, as that Saint of old beheld Him, you might hear the selfsame words concerning your offering, worthless and vile as it might be in itself,--"This hath My servant given to Me." You cannot see Him, it is true, but what of that?--"Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

So again we read, that as S. Martin was in prayer, a glorious spirit presented itself before him, with a crown of gold, purple raiment, and a beautiful sceptre, like the kings of the earth. And as he still continued instant in prayer, his visitor proclaimed himself to be the CHRIST, and commanded the Saint to arise and worship him. But Martin, full of the HOLY GHOST, answered,--"The LORD JESUS CHRIST never spake of coming as a king, with a crown, and sceptre, and precious jewels. Unless therefore I see Him as He was, with the print of the nails, and the mark of the spear, I will not worship." And no sooner had he thus spoken, than the spirit uttered a loud shriek and disappeared; clearly proving that it was nothing else than Satan transformed into an Angel of Light.

Somewhat of the same faith we also may often be called on to show. Things may come before us which seem bright and glorious, which have all the appearance of goodness at first sight, and which yet may be nothing but temptations, sent to lure us to our perdition. What are we then to do? What, but to ask, with S. Martin, for the marks of the Cross? Whatever we find with that, is safe and profitable: whatever cannot show it us, from that we must fly at once. GOD forbid that we should glory, save in the Cross of our LORD JESUS CHRIST!

It is a common belief, and I know that in this part of the country it is more particularly common, that an easy death is a sign of GOD'S grace; whereas a hard death, as men speak, shows His anger. Often and often we hear the speech,--"Ah! poor thing! I hope she is in a better place; for she went off like a lamb." Nothing can be a greater mistake than to think that a hard or an easy death proves anything, one way or the other. We may every day see that this is so. Baptized infants, who are most undoubtedly saved, die, generally speaking, "very hard." And it is of the wicked, not of the good, that David tells us, "There are no bands,"--that is, there are no great pains,--"in their death." Yes: many an evil man has gone out of the world like a child falling asleep; many a good man has suffered, not only great agony of body, but great fear and sorrow of spirit, in his last hour. So it was with S. Martin. His disease was a fever, and when it seemed that he was drawing nigh to death, his disciples stood around him and besought him not to leave them. "After your decease," they said, "grievous wolves will enter in among us, not sparing your flock. Who will feed us then? Who will protect us? Who will show us the truth? Who will keep us from harm?" Martin wept; and raising his eyes to heaven, said, "LORD, if I am still necessary to Thy people, I refuse not labour: Thy will be done!" And so he continued for some days, hanging between life and death; till at length those that stood by saw that his spirit was indeed about to pass away. Just before his departure, the devil, knowing that this great Saint was about to escape out of his power for ever, appeared to him to trouble him, and perhaps thought that even now he might be able to destroy him. Martin said, "What dost thou here. Beast of Blood? Thou shalt find no part in me: I am going to the bosom of Abraham." And having thus spoken, he fell asleep in the LORD. It was the 11th of November, one thousand three hundred and forty-eight years ago.

Thus the Faith that had wrought so many miracles in Martin's life, triumphed over the devil in the hour of his death. Martin knew our LORD'S words, "My FATHER, which gave them Me, is greater than all: and no man is able to pluck them out of My FATHER'S Hand." He might have said, with S. Paul, "I am not ashamed, for I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day."

The days are getting short, and the wind cold, and the leaves have nearly all fallen; and everything reminds us that the year is very near its end. So it is with most of you. Your strength is gone, weakness and sickness have come upon you; and though for a few years you may still hold out, you feel "the end of all things"--to you--"is at hand."

There is but one thing that I know of that can comfort you now, and keep you safe when that end really comes. It is the same thing which made Martin able to do his mighty works,--Faith. Faith, we are told in Holy Scripture, is the gift of GOD; and of Him therefore we are to ask it. So, if when your hour is come to depart out of the world, Satan should try to vex and distress you, as he did of old time to Martin, you will be able, like Martin, to say, "What dost thou here, cruel beast? Thou hast no portion in me: I am going, to Abraham's bosom."

To which place GOD bring us all, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake; to Whom, with the FATHER and the HOLY GHOST, be all glory for ever. Amen.

Project Canterbury