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THE FEAST OF THE OLD CREATION AND THE NEW.
“How great is His goodness, [and how great is His beauty! Corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids.”
ZECHARIAH wrote this prophecy when he and his brethren of the captivity were in Babylon. All through the earlier part of the book he has been foretelling the return of God’s people and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. This is the literal intention of his words: “Thus saith the Lord; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of 229boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.”128128 Zech. viii. 3-5. “The seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew.”129129 Zech. viii. 12. “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. Again I will build thee, and thou shalt be built, O virgin of Israel: thou shalt again be adorned with thy tabrets, and shalt go forth in the dances of them that make merry. Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria: the planters shall plant, and shall eat them as common things.”130130 Jerem. xxxi. 3-5. “They shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the Lord, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow. And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, saith the Lord.”131131 Jerem. xxxi. 12-14. “Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things. Be not afraid, ye beasts 230 of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig-tree and the vine do yield their strength. Be glad, then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for He hath given you the former rain moderately, and He will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil.”132132 Joel ii. 21-24. “Your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. And I will give peace in the land, and ye shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid.”133133 Levit. xxvi. 5, 6. “The ploughman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt. And I will bring again the captivity of My people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them.”134134 Amos ix. 13, 14. In all these prophecies there is a blessed vision of peace—a time of joy after sorrow, of freedom after bondage: every man calling his neighbour “under the vine and 231under the fig-tree.”135135 Zech. iii. 10. And the symbols by which the goodness of the Lord is exhibited are corn and wine. “It shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel.”136136 Hosea ii. 21, 22. “Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil.”137137 Joel ii. 19. “Israel shall dwell in safety alone, and the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine.”138138 Deut. xxxiii. 28. “How great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty! Corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids.”
In all these passages there is a voice of joy, a grateful and festal gladness: the city “full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof;” the waste cities inhabited; virgins rejoicing in the dance, “old men and young together.” As corn and wine are chief symbols of the Divine goodness, so the feast of harvest is a chief symbol of a divine joy. It is spoken of as the special token of gladness; and its taking away, as the special token of affliction. “Therefore I will bewail with the weeping of Jazer the vine of Sibmah; I will water thee with my tears, O Heshbon, and Elealeh; for the shouting for thy summer fruits and for thy harvest is fallen. 232 And gladness is taken away, and joy out of the plentiful field; and in the vineyards there shall be no singing, neither shall there be shouting: the treaders shall tread out no wine in their presses; I have made their vintage shouting to cease.”139139 Isaiah xvi. 9, 10. And so, when God poured out blessings on His people, the prophet says, “They joy before Thee according to the joy in harvest.”140140 Ibid. ix. 3.
Surely all this is not only history, but prophecy. All these visions of earthly blessing have their heavenly substance. They shew us the joy and the feast of the old creation; God’s people rejoicing under His benign Fatherhood, eating the fruits of the earth with a holy gladness. But what are all these,—the joy of God’s people in Jerusalem, the holy mountain, the cities of peace, the fair lands, the fruitful vineyards, the corn and the wine, the harvest and the vintage, the shouting and the feast of ingathering,—what are they all but one great prophecy, a symbol and a sacrament, the old creation in its earthly festival witnessing and waiting for the new?
In this same chapter, the prophet, by one word, lights up the whole mystery. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon 233an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”141141 Zech. ix. 9. This reveals all. It is “the Israel of God,”142142 Gal. vi. 16. after long waiting and affliction, redeemed from death; the whole election, both the elder and the later, not of Israel alone, but of all nations, gathered into the city of God. “When the eyes of man,” that is, of all mankind, “as of all the tribes of Israel, shall be toward the Lord;”143143 Zech. ix. 1. “and all nations shall flow unto” Him.144144 Isaiah ii. 2. “The Lord their God shall save them in that day as the flock of His people: for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon His land;”145145 Zech. ix. 16. that is, they shall be gathered to the Word made flesh; to the cross high and lifted up on Calvary; unto which, by His love and power, He draws all hearts.146146 St. John xii. 32. What is this but the rejoicing of His mystical body, the Church, in all the world; the song of His saints: all kindreds and people coming up out of dark lands and the shadow of death, to the light of eternal life, worshipping “the brightness of His rising;” lifting up their oblations and their hands, with the voice of adoration: “How great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty!”
It is a luminous prophecy of the Word made flesh, revealed first by personal manifestation upon earth, and then by His Spirit through the Church. 234 What is this “goodness” and this “beauty,” but the perfect mystery of His divine manhood? They are not so much two attributes as two aspects of His person. Goodness is inward beauty, beauty is outward goodness. They are inseparable; and express to us the perfection of Him who is God and Man: perfect alike in both; in majesty and meekness, in love and in humility, in His passion and in His power.
And as it is a prophecy of the Incarnation, so it is also of the holy Eucharist, the feast of the new creation. For He is this “corn” and “wine” of gladness. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”147147 St. John xii. 24. “The bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto Him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life. . . . . The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”148148 Ibid. vi. 33-35, 51.
“Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth 235in the wine-fat? I have trodden the wine-press alone.”149149 Isaiah lxiii. 1-3. This is the true corn and wine of God’s kingdom, the harvest and the vintage of the cross. He was bruised by a divine agony in the garden of oil-presses: He gave His body to be broken, and His blood to be poured out for us. “For this” the true “Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, . . . King of righteousness, . . . King of peace,”150150 Heb. vii. 1, 2. “brought forth bread and wine,”151151 Gen. xiv. 18. and “blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”152152 St. Matt. xxvi. 26-29.
“Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast.”153153 1 Cor. v. 7, 8. We have the wine of Cana; the bread of the five thousand in the wilderness, the feast of joy and love, of goodness and beauty, as “the joy of harvest, and singing, when the vintage is done.” This is the feast of the new creation, which the Church on earth keeps by a perpetual celebration, until, when our toil is over, 236 we shall sit down with Him at the “marriage supper of the Lamb.”
Let us see now from what deep fountain the joy of this feast overflows. There is something sad and repulsive in the tone of command with which the blessedness of the holy communion is forced upon sated and reluctant minds. If there be a precept in the kingdom of God, this is indeed a commandment sanctioned by the most awful realities of love and fear. It is our Redeemer who said, “This do in remembrance of Me.” It is the command He gave in His night of agony, when His “soul was sorrowful even unto death.” If love and gratitude can awaken obedience, who then can disobey? or if gratitude and love cannot obtain it, will not even fear prevail? “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.”154154 St. John vi. 53. And yet, after all, there is something unloving and cold in alarming and upbraiding those that will not come. It may be necessary to alarm cold and unloving Christians; but it is a sad necessity, convicting us of being cold and loveless. If we see no goodness or beauty in His sacrament of love, words of chilling duty will never kindle our hearts, or open our eyes. What we lack is love: this would give us the prophet’s sight to say, “O how great!” But perhaps 237we believe that we do already honour the holy sacrament, duly frequent, and worthily receive it; perhaps at times we have a perception of its sweetness, or at least we think so: and yet to how many communicants would He say, “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.”155155 Rev. iii. 17, 18. This is the state of too many. They are as men that have no eye for beauty, no ear for harmonies. With too many of us “He hath no form nor comeliness,” nor any “beauty that we should desire Him.”156156 Isaiah liii. 2. And what is this incapacity for the blessedness of His presence but the beginning of that state in which His face shall be no more seen?
Let us, then, endeavour, by His help, to meditate, not on the worthiness required in us, but on the blessings which the Lord of the harvest pours out on those who come to this supper, where He is both the Master and the Feast.
1. The first grace He gives is rest. “Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until 238 the evening.”157157 Ps. civ. 23. But the Master stands in the midst, ever saying to His servants, “Come unto Me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This is the labourer’s reward when the work is done: at eventide, when the toil is over, and the sun is down, when the burden and the heat of the day have been endured, then comes rest. But we serve a pitiful Master, and He, in His compassion, gives us rest, not only once for all, when this toilsome life is over, but oftentimes all through our life; all day long He breaks in upon our toil with times of resting. Month by month, week by week, day by day, if our hearts were ready and yearned for the food of life, He would restore our strength.
Rest is manifold, and in the holy Sacrament He gives it in its fulness. First, He gives rest from the burden of sin, assuring us of forgiveness. If we come with true contrition, and with a pure and humble confession, He will unbind the burden, and take it from our shoulder. He will make us to feel that He is at peace with us; that between Him and us there is no veil of fear; that our sins past are put away; and that the long chain by which we have dragged a load of many iniquities, galling and wearying our soul, is broken asunder. This is the rest He gives to contrite hearts. And 239if we may kneel before Him loosed from our sins, what more can we desire? Is not sin the one thing that makes life unhappy, and death terrible? Why should we fear to die, but because “we are tied and bound with the chain of our sins;” because “the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, and the burden of them is intolerable?” The sting of guilt and the stain of sin, these are our chief unrest. To be free from these would be the beginning of bliss; and in the holy Sacrament of His death and passion, if only we would believe, He would perfect our absolution. The mortal sins which in times past we have committed, having been penitently confessed, He will make us to feel that it is in the power of His Church to loose. All through life this assurance grows deeper in the devout communicant. The past is not forgotten, it does not lose its blackness; nay, it is more keenly perceived; it is seen to be even darker than we saw before; and yet we seem to pass through the holy communion farther and farther from our former selves, into the depth of His presence. The consciousness of past guilt remains, but it is suspended in a consciousness of present rest. It abides for our humiliation, and as a mark of shame within; but it loses its angry and awful countenance. It condemns no more, but is itself condemned. We can hate it, and fear nothing; for our Redeemer 240 loves us, and in Him we are “clean every whit.” In like manner of the sins which we commit daily. Happy is the man who passes from one act of holy communion to another without laying up a score of sins needing to be forgiven. I do not mean deliberate and wilful, though these, alas, too often mingle with the throng of lesser offences; but sins of weakness or surprise, of strong and sudden temptations. These cleave to us; and though no number of them make one deadly sin, yet their effect upon the soul is dangerous, preparing it for greater evil. Often falling needs often cleansing; and this fountain stands ever open to us. Who that knows the world and sin, the tempter and himself, and will not rather need a fence, lest he come too easily, than a goad to force him to this sacrament of pardon?
For, again, it is not only in the peace of forgiveness that the holy communion gives us rest. It also sets the heart and will free from the misery of inward faults. It is a remedy, all-healing, never failing, except through our fault, against anger, pride, luxury, sloth, envy, and the like. And what but these are our chief tormentors? What holds us in bondage but ourselves? We are our own scourges: we carry our miseries within. What makes us fretful, sensitive, wincing, sick at heart; what, as we say, galls and stings us, but 241our inward heart sins? While these live in us, we can have no rest. Though all the world go smooth and fair without, these would make our days bitter and our nights sleepless. Now it is from these also that the power of Christ’s presence sets us free. He plucks up the very roots of this bitterness, and quenches the smouldering heats which sear the heart. But none can speak of this rest, except he that knows it by experience j and none know it but the sincere and watchful. It is a foretaste of that sinless calm which remaineth for the people of God.
2. And when He gives rest, He gives also refreshment. He does not only say, “I will give you rest,” but in words that mean, “I will refresh you,”158158 Compare St. Matt. xi. 28, with the “Office for the Holy Communion.” He renews our strength for labours still to come. We are not yet at the great Harvest Home. The sun must go down again and again upon our reaping field before our work is over. We all know what is the exhaustion of bodily strength, the drying up of powers, and almost of life, by heavy toil; but how few are conscious of the perpetual decays of the spiritual life, that is, of humility, sincerity, patience, gentleness, devotion, which come upon us all day long! The soul wastes faster than the body. Every night gives 242 back to the body what every day takes from it: but with the soul, not so. The pride, sloth, impatience of to-day fret and prey upon the grace which is in us, as a blight upon the promise of harvest. The spiritual decays of to-day run on into to-morrow, and to-morrow begins with an inclination to a lower tone; its own temptations swell the evil: one day heaps its sin upon another, and our spiritual decline gains in speed as it gains in time. In this there is one specially alarming thought. The degrees are so shadowy, and the transitions so imperceptible, that it is like a motion too slow to be measured by the eye, or so intense as to seem like rest. These decays are always advancing in every soul not supported by habitual communion with Christ. Even the most devout complain of them, and fear them more than others. And this is one cause why frequent communion is a special mark of a devout life. Such persons feeling in themselves a perpetual inclination to decay, seek in the blessed Sacrament a perpetual supply of restoring grace. It is this that keeps them from declension. “In the strength of that meat” they toil on “to Horeb, the mount of God:” by the sustaining corn and wine of His elect, they “go from strength to strength.” If any one, then, has some peculiar temptation which habitually besets him, and often 243gains the mastery, that is a special reason for frequent communion. Let him not disquiet himself by alarms, as by remembering that he has lately fallen, and fearing to fall again; if only he be truly sorrowful and ashamed, out of a sincere love of Christ, and a sincere hatred of his sin, let him by all means return to the blessed Sacrament as a strength and remedy against relapse. If he refuse strength, fall he must. If he say, I will not come till I have got the upperhand of this temptation, when will he come? And how can he get the mastery? Can he overcome without the grace of Christ? Can he have it if he turn away from it? Now here is an unspeakable consolation for the tempted; for all who feel the lowering and blighting effect of the world, of dangerous companions to whom duty binds them, of trying positions from which they cannot escape, of fiery temptations searching their inmost thoughts. Let them be of good heart. Only stand firm against the assaults and crafts of Satan, only divide your sins from you by the barrier of fear and hatred, by the opposition of your will and prayers; the blessed Sacrament shall then be your strength, and the presence of Christ shall restore all your spiritual decays. What you have lost shall be made up to you; what you have still to encounter you shall be abundantly strengthened to endure. Be 244 your path never so rough and sharp, “thy shoes shall be as iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be.”159159 Deut. xxxiii. 25. Come and cast yourselves upon His full forgiveness for the past, and upon His omnipotence for the future. What more can you need? And this not once, not twice, nor for a third time only, but always, and for ever; continually bringing to Him your sorrows and your complaints: pleading against yourselves, then, go forth again refreshed, as if to begin anew, and as for the first time, another life of hope.
3. Lastly, in this great feast of joy He gives us the conscious perception of His love. I say the perception, because we already have the knowledge, the tokens, and the pledges. He has said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”160160 St. John xv. 13. We have His word, we have His holy passion, we have the benedictions and mercies of our whole life long. Is not this enough? Enough on His part, and to spare; but not enough on ours. We know it, confess it, believe it; but we do not feel it. Love alone, by its own kindred perception, feels love. And this crowning grace the Master gives to His servants, at this feast of rest. He “sheds abroad” His “love in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.” His love falls as a light of fire, making hearts that 245long for Him to burn. Then all is revealed: His cross and our sin, His goodness and our evil, His beauty and our deformity of soul. Love is the light in which He is seen, and all things in His presence. “The love of the Lord passeth all things for illumination.”161161 Ecclus. xxv. 11. If we would see ourselves as we are, we must first “see Him as He is.” And this gift of light He infuses into the lowliest penitent, howsoever slow of intellect, howsoever dull of understanding. If the heart be pure or broken, He will pour in oil and wine, His spirit and His blood, the gift of light and love. This is the source of all devotion. To feel His love shining down upon them draws them in love to Him again; binds them in love to all the creatures of His hand, to all for whom He died; kindles in them repentance and compunction, holy patience and holy obedience; cleanses and consumes away the sins of flesh and spirit, and makes their whole life a living sacrifice, in likeness of His own. O words easily spoken; too high and excellent for such as we; still, spoken they must be. May He not lay them to our charge, or judge us by them! Blessed life, to which they who know it say nothing of earth may be compared. They have seen His goodness and His beauty, His passion and His purity, the “Rose of Sharon and the 246 Lily of the valleys;”162162 Song of Solomon ii. 1. and the burden of their heart all day long is, “O how great!” Nothing in this world allures them, for they have seen fairer things than these; nothing dazzles their eyes, for they have looked upon a brighter glory; nothing draws them aside, for they have tasted of the eternal sweetness. The Beauty, ancient but always new, drowns all lights of earth. And not fair and bright things only, but crosses and sorrows, rods and afflictions; these have no terrors and no sharpness, They can see by whose hand these gifts are stretched forth to them, and in each they count the print of the nails, the pledges of His love and nearness. They have one great longing, in which all other desires are lost; not wealth, honour, power, learning, home, or happiness; nothing of time, or in time. Their whole soul is an hungered to “eat bread in the kingdom of God;” to drink of the fruit of the vine, “new with Him in His Father’s kingdom.” They are athirst for the great Harvest Home, where the feast shall be eternal. When the white cloud shall be seen in heaven, and the Son of Man shall sit upon it, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle; when He that was reaped, bruised, and garnered, and hath given Himself to us for our spiritual food in power and 247mystery, shall reap the earth; when the harvest of the elect is stored in heaven, and the eternal feast is spread in the new creation of God: O blessed and glorious fellowship! O holy feast! O banquet of desire! where care is not, nor cloying, but fulness with endless desire; when we shall for ever rest, and shall behold how sweet the Lord is, and how great the multitude of His sweetness. O blessed vision, to see God in Himself, to see Him in us, and ourselves in Him, with blissful joy and joyful bliss; to sit at that feast ineffable, “where Thou, with Thy Son, and the Holy Ghost, art unto Thy saints true light, perfect fulness, everlasting joy, gladness consummate, endless bliss!” “To whom be blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might for ever and ever. Amen.”248
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