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THE SERMON TO THE NUNS
BEFORE relating the history of the Master’s sermon, it is needful to say a few words without which many might be perplexed and misled. In our days, God, in His wonderful grace and love, has poured out a flood of Gospel light upon His Church, whose history has been so sad and humbling. To us is preached clearly, as perhaps never before since the days of the apostles, the blessed tidings of the work done for lost sinners by the Son of God.
We are told, as the Israelites were told by a sign in the wilderness, that looking up to Jesus, to Him who was made sin for us, to Him who took our place on the cross of judgment, we receive eternal life. We are told that by the work done for us long ago, we are saved from eternal death, from judgment and from sin. We are told that when the sword of the Lord smote the Shepherd, it was the judgment of God upon our sins, and that from the moment we believe in Him, we are stainless, spotless, and holy in the eyes of God.
But our forefathers in the days of Dr. Tauler were like men in a dense fog of error and of ignorance. It was not by Gospel teaching, but in spite of evil teaching, that some, we may hope many, saw dimly through the mists and shadows the Saviour who loved them, and who gave Himself for them. They could scarcely have given a truly scriptural answer to any who asked a reason of the hope that was in them, but they knew the Lord as an infant knows its mother, and alas for us! we find that in many a case their love was deeper, and their confidence stronger, than in us their children.
When the Lord spoke to Dr. Tauler on the night which he described to Nicholas, he knew it was the Lord. He knew that a Hand had touched him and had healed him, and now to him all things were made new. For whom had he now in Heaven but Christ, and whom could he desire on earth in comparison with Him? And now that he had seen Him, and heard His voice, he abhorred himself, and repented in dust and ashes. It was not with him as with many now, that his first thought was the joy that he was saved from hell. Rather was it a thought of sorrow, that in the face of such love, such grace, such tenderness, the people of God could be as he saw them all around, and most of all as he saw himself to be.
We know that in Peter’s life was a moment such as this. And to the Master it was at first much more clear that the Lord’s love was unrequited and lightly esteemed, than that by the power and value of the atoning Blood all guilt was once and for ever washed away from the souls of His own beloved people.
We must remember also, that the nuns in the convent, to whom the Master was to preach, were not in his eyes, as in ours, poor misguided women, who were building up a tower of their own righteousness, and neglecting their natural duties. On the contrary, the Master really in his heart regarded them as persons who had professedly chosen the better part, and who belonged to God accordingly, in a special manner.
And yet at the same time the contrast between their profession and their practice had grieved him to the heart. They called themselves the Brides of Christ — but now that the Master’s eyes were opened to see in any measure what was due to his beloved Saviour, he felt that the need for these poor women was a call to repentance — a solemn questioning of themselves, whether in heart and life they were fit for Him whom they called their Bridegroom.
In his last years the Master had a dear friend, who wrote a book, of which more will be said hereafter. He writes his own experience of the popes and cardinals, the priests and bishops, the monks and nuns. “So also the nuns,” he says, “they are helpful to none, on account of their ungodly and careless walk. They have forgotten all godly seriousness. They sing and they pray with their mouths, but their hearts are far from God. And if they see any who desire earnestly to turn to God, they mock at such persons, and despise them. And though, because they live in convents, they are called spiritual persons by the world, by God they are called the enemies of the Lord, for they drive Him from their midst by their ungodly ways. And some are ensnared by covetousness, and some by pride, and some by evil temper, and some by self-will, and some by impurity. And they love the creature more than the Creator, with an inordinate affection, and are impure in their language, and wear costly garments, and live in worldly pride, and love worldly persons. And they live in secret sins, whereof it is better not to write; but should they read these words, they will know full well of what I speak.”
And thus were the hearts of God’s dear people grieved and perplexed, at the sight of the high profession and the godless life.
And when the Master was called to preach in the Church of the Convent, his heart was full of that which the Lord delighted to see in those espoused to Him, and it was this contrast to themselves, which he desired the nuns to see, if by these means they might be brought to repentance.
Could he but show them Christ, and His path of rejection, and shame, and suffering; could he but show them the joy of the blessed meeting, when the Bride shall be presented without stain or spot to the Lord who loved her, when the marriage of the Lamb shall come, and the Bridegroom shall rejoice over the Bride; would they not turn to Him from the vain world they loved, and humble themselves before Him?
So the Master gave out his text in the vulgar tongue, and it was this: “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him.” “The Bridegroom,” he said, “is the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Bride is the Holy Church of all Christian people.” And he proceeded to say how unfit, alas! are most of those who profess the name of Christ, to meet the Bridegroom of the Church. “The true paths, and the straight highways,” he said, “are now-a-days quite deserted, and fallen into decay, till we have come hardly to perceive where they are. Nay, this highway is to many quite strange and unknown, so that they do not go out to meet the Bridegroom, for they know not how to find Him.”
And the Master said also that there are many who call the Lord their Bridegroom, and yet they are delighting in things which are displeasing to Him, and unfit for Him. The world, with the vain glory and pride and envy thereof, and the delights of the flesh, ease and self-indulgence, and riches and pleasures, have taken the place of Christ in the hearts of those who are called by His name. The Bride, he said, when she is well-pleasing in the eyes of the Bridegroom will have learnt to despise all these things, and she will earnestly beseech Him to show her that which is pleasing in His eyes. And He will teach her how to walk so as to please Him in all her ways, and they will not be ways of ease and pleasure, but in the footsteps of the Bridegroom — in ways of sorrow, and suffering, and humiliation, and He will give her the great and costly cup to drink, of shame, and persecution, and contempt and dishonour.
“And He will give her a humble spirit, so that she will not be pleased with herself for her self-denial, nor her endurance, nor anything that is her own, nor satisfy herself with her own works and sufferings; but find her satisfaction and delight in her Bridegroom only. And He will bring her to see, in herself, nothing but unworthiness, so that she will say in her heart, ‘I am not worthy that the earth should bear me.’
“And when she is thus emptied of herself, and filled with His love, so that she is willing and glad to suffer all things for His sake, He will yet leave her for a while in temptations, and tribulations, and He will cleanse her by the washing of water by His precious word, and at last the time cometh that He beholds her fair and pure, even without spot or wrinkle, having been cleansed by Him till all stain is washed away, and she is fair and unspotted in His eyes.
“Then doth He say, ‘Now rise up, my beloved, my pleasant, my beautiful Bride, for thou art pure, and without spot, and altogether lovely.’ And He looketh upon her with infinite, mighty, divine love.
“To this joyful high-tide cometh the Father of the Eternal Bridegroom, and saith to the Bride, ‘Rise up! my lovely one, chosen and beloved, for the time of the marriage is come.’
“And He taketh the Bridegroom and the Bride, and marries them to each other, and binds them together with divine love. Yea God doth bind them together in bonds so fast that they can never be parted, in time or eternity.
“And on this great day of His espousals, the Bridegroom sheds forth by the Holy Ghost the torrent of divine love upon the Bride, and this love flows out unto the Bridegroom, insomuch that the Bride loseth herself, and is intoxicated with love, so that she forgets herself and all creatures also, and beholdeth the Bridegroom only.” We must not suppose that the Master was here speaking of the marriage of the Church with Christ in the future glory. It was rather the soul of each believer which he had in his mind, as being each one espoused to Christ the Bridegroom. And the wedding-feast of which here he speaks, is the joy which he had now tasted for the first time, and which he desired for others. “In whom, though now we see Him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” It was to this present blessed feast that the Master had entered in, and of the fulness of his heart his mouth spake. Would that all amongst us knew it as richly and as fully!
“Now,” continued the Master, “he only who is bidden to such a spiritual, glorious marriage-feast, and has obeyed the call, does for the first time perceive and taste the real, true, blessed, gracious sweetness of the Holy Spirit.
“And this Bride is a true worshipper, for she worshippeth the Father in the Holy Spirit. In this marriage-feast is joy upon joy, and there is therein more peace and joy in one hour, than all the creatures can yield in time or in eternity. The joy that the Bride hath with the Bridegroom is so measureless, that no senses or reason can apprehend it or find it.”
As the Master spake these words, a man cried out with a loud voice, “It is true!” and fell down as if he were dead.
Then a woman called out from the crowd, and said, “Master, leave off, or this man will die on our hands.”
Then the Master said, “Ah, dear children, and if the Bridegroom take the Bride and lead her home with Him, we will gladly yield her to Him, nevertheless I will make an end, and leave off. Dear children, let us all cry unto the Lord our God in Heaven. And indeed verily we have all need so to do, seeing that, alas! our hearts are dull and foolish, and there are few who are willing to fight their way against the flesh, and follow the Bridegroom, in order to reach a nobler joy, and a glorious wedding-feast. It behoveth therefore each one to look at himself, and consider his ways with great earnestness. For the time is at hand — nay, it is already come — when it may be said of most who are now living here, that ‘they have eyes and see not, and ears and hear not.’
“Dear children, let us all strive to enter into this wedding-feast, most rich in joy, and honour, and blessedness.”
And then as the Master ended, and was to come down again to the path through the wilderness below, he said —
“See, when the Bride has to come back for a while from the festival into which by faith she had entered, she says within herself, ‘O woe is me! that I am here again!’ Yet is she content to do and suffer yet awhile the will of her Bridegroom, and He doth not for a moment forsake her, but looketh on her all day long because He well knoweth, that none will or can comfort her, but Himself alone.
“And now that you have heard this, let it not surprise you that I have not told you how lovingly the Bridegroom talketh to the Bride. It might well happen that none would believe me (except such an one as had tasted it himself).
“We find too, in the Scriptures, that the loving soul ofttimes holds such converse with her Beloved as words cannot express.
“Now, dear children, I fear that I have kept you too long; but the time has not seemed long to me — and I could not well this time make my sermon shorter — therefore receive it kindly.
“That we may all become true and real, and perfect brides of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in sincere true humility go out to meet our glorious Bridegroom, and abide with Him for ever, may God grant us, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Thus ended the Master’s sermon. It was not preached as you have seen, to tell to sinners the way to be saved, but rather, as he was speaking to those who called themselves the “Brides of Christ,” to tell what the glorious calling is, wherewith the Church is called, and to warn them of that which was the hindrance in their hearts to communion with the Lord. And out of the fulness of his heart had the Master spoken the blessed words of love and consolation, which the Lord had spoken to his own soul since that wonderful night when he had “known for the first time,” as Nicholas had said, “the grace of God.”
He spoke of Jesus, Jesus only, as now he knew Him, and as he never had known Him before; and if we compare this sermon with the former one, how great and wonderful does the work of God appear, which had been wrought in the Master’s soul!
He had preached before the righteousness of man. He could now preach of nothing but the love of Christ.
We who have greater light can see that his light was yet in some respects dim and uncertain — but let us ask the Lord to fill us, each one who reads these words, with the love that was shed abroad in the heart of this His servant.
Dark he was still in many ways, and ignorant, and misled, but have we with our greater light, more to tell of the love and the beauty and the preciousness of his Saviour and ours?
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