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Sermon for the First Sunday after Easter
(From the Gospel for the day)
How we are to ascend by three stages to true peace and purity of heart.
John xx. 19.—“Peace be to you.”
PEACE be with you,” said our beloved Lord to His disciples after His resurrection. All men by nature desire rest and peace, and are ever striving after it in all their manifold actions, efforts, and labours; and yet to all eternity they will never attain to true peace, unless they seek it where alone it is to be found,—in God. What, then, are the means and ways to find true peace, and the purest, highest, and most perfect truth? Now mark, I will speak unto you in a parable. As our blessed Lord drew His disciple St. John to Himself in a three-fold manner, even so does He now draw all who ever arrive at the deepest truth.
The first way in which our Lord drew St. John to Himself was when He called him out of the world and made him an Apostle. The second was when He suffered him to rest on His bosom; and the third and most perfect was on the holy day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost was given unto him, and a door was opened unto him through which he was taken up into heaven.316
Thus, like St. John, is each man first called out of the world, when all his lower powers come to be governed by his highest reason, so that he learns to know himself and to exercise his free self-guiding power; so that he sets a watch over his words, saying nothing to anyone which he would not wish to be said to himself;—over his impulses, marking whether they proceed from God and tend towards Him;—over his thoughts, that he do not voluntarily indulge in any evil or vain imaginations, or that, if such suggest themselves, they should be made only an incentive and stepping-stone to better things;—over his works, that in his undertakings he may have a single eye to the glory of God and the welfare of mankind. On this wise does the Lord call thee out of the world, and make thee an apostle of Christ to thy fellow-man, and so thou learnest to convert the outward into the inward man, which is the first step in the Christian course.
Secondly; wilt thou with St. John rest on the loving heart of our Lord Jesus Christ, thou must be transformed into the beauteous image of our Lord by a constant, earnest contemplation thereof, considering His holy meekness and humility, the deep, fiery love that He bore to His friends and His foes, and His mighty, obedient resignation which He manifested in all the paths wherein His Father called Him to tread. Next call to mind the boundless charity which He showed to all men, and also His blessed poverty. Heaven and earth were His, and He called them not His own. In all His words and deeds, He looked only to the glory of His Father and the salvation of mankind. And now ye must gaze much more closely and deeply into the glorious image of our Lord Jesus 317Christ than I can show you with my outward teaching, and maintain a continual, earnest effort and aspiration after it. Then look attentively at thyself, how unlike thou art to this image, and behold thy own littleness. Here will thy Lord let thee rest on Him. There is no better and more profitable way to this end while in our present state, than to receive worthily the sacrament of the body of Christ, and to follow the counsel of one on whom the light of grace has shone more brightly than it has on thee. In the glorious likeness of Christ thou wilt be made rich, and find all the solace and sweetness in the world.
But there are many who, haying advanced thus far, think in their haste that they have conquered for their own the ground on which they stand, while yet they are far from the goal. Although St. John had lain on Christ’s bosom, yet he let his cloak fall and fled when the Jews laid hands on Christ. Therefore, however holy may be thy walk in these two paths, look to it that, if thou art assailed, thou do not let thy mantle fall through thy hasty thought for thyself. It is good and holy that thou shouldst exercise thyself in these two ways, and let no creature turn thee aside therefrom, until God Himself draws thee up into a closer union with Himself. If He thus draw thee up, then let go all forms and images, and suffer Him to work as with His instrument. It is more well-pleasing to Him, and more profitable to thee, that thou shouldst leave Him to do as He will in thee for a moment, than that thou shouldst exercise thyself in lower things for a hundred years. Now some may ask: Art thou not yet got beyond all this? I answer: No; beyond the image of our Lord Jesus 318Christ may no man come. Thou shouldst ask: Art thou not got beyond the ways and works that thou hast called thine own? Look to it diligently and be quick to perceive the commands of God, and let each good work be followed by another.
In the third place, when the Holy Spirit was given to St. John, then was the door of heaven opened unto him. This happens to some with a convulsion of the mind, to others calmly and gradually. In it are fulfilled those words of St. Paul: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him; but God hath revealed them unto us by His spirit.” Let no man boast that he is continually drawing nearer to the highest perfection possible while here on earth, unless the outward man have been converted into the inward man; then, indeed, it is possible for him to be received up on high, and to behold the wonders and riches of God. Believe me, children, one who would know much about these high matters, would often have to keep his bed, for his bodily frame could not support it. Further, know ye that before that can come to pass, of which we have here been speaking, nature must endure many a death, outward and inward. But to such death, eternal life answers. Children, this is not the work of a day or a year. Be not discouraged; it takes time, and requires simplicity, purity, and self-surrender, and these virtues are the shortest road to it. Through such exercises as we have described, a man obtains true purity of mind and body, such as St. John possessed in a high and peculiar manner; what our Lord meant when he said: “Blessed are the pure in 319heart, for they shall see God.” A pure heart is more precious in the sight of God than aught else on earth. A pure heart is a fair, fitly-adorned chamber, the dwelling of the Holy Ghost, a golden temple of the Godhead; a sanctuary of the only-begotten Son, in which He worships the Heavenly Father; an altar of the grand, divine sacrifice, on which the Son is daily offered to the Heavenly Father. A pure heart is the throne of the Supreme Judge; the seat and secret chamber of the Holy Trinity; a lamp bearing the Eternal Light; a secret council-chamber of the Divine Persons; a treasury of divine riches; a storehouse of divine sweetness; a panoply of eternal wisdom; a cell of divine solitude; the reward of all the life and sufferings of Christ. A pure heart is a tabernacle of the Holy Father; a bride of Christ; a friend of the Holy Ghost; a delight to the eyes of all saints; a sister of the angels; a cause of joy to the heavenly hosts; a brother of all good men; a terror to the Devil; a victory and conquest over all temptation; a weapon against all assaults; a reservoir of divine benefits; a treasury of all virtue; an example to all men; a restoration of all that has ever been lost. Now, what is a pure heart? It is, as we have said before, a heart which finds its whole and only satisfaction in God, which relishes and desires nothing but God, whose thoughts and intents are ever occupied with God, to which all that is not of God is strange and jarring, which keeps itself as far as possible apart from all unworthy images, joys, and griefs, and all outward cares and anxieties, and makes all these work together for good; for to the pure all things are pure, and to the gentle is nothing bitter. Amen!
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