How that we are called upon to arise from our sins, and to conquer our foes, looking for the glorious coming of Our Lord in our souls.
Rom. xiii.11. -- "Now it is high time to awake out of sleep."
THIS day we celebrate the beginning of the season of Advent, that is to say, the coming of our Lord; and now, indeed, we enter on an exceeding sweet and blessed time, concerning which very devout and joyful words are read and sung by the holy Church. For as May excels all other months in gladness and delights, so is this season specially dear to our hearts, and sacred above all other festivals. For these are the days which the prophets and righteous men of the Old Testament for five thousand years have longed and sighed for, crying out -- "Oh that thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down, to enlighten those who are sitting in darkness and the shadow of death." And, indeed, all the histories and symbols of the Old Testament are designed to shadow forth the greatness of Him who should come, and who now has come. O let us, therefore, give thanks and praise to God without ceasing, that He has made us to live in this His time of grace, and is ready to bestow all His gifts and riches upon us if we are but willing to receive them.
And now, as at this time, does the holy Apostle call upon us to arise from the sleep of sin, "for the night is far spent, and the day is at hand; let us, therefore, cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light, and let us walk honestly as in the day."
Now to this end, let us mark diligently, first, how it is that we have fallen; and, secondly, how we are to arise from all our sins and infirmities into our first state of innocence.
God created man to the intent that he should possess those mansions in the kingdom of heaven from which Lucifer and his angels were thrust out. The same Lucifer, for his deadly hatred towards man, hath seduced him likewise into disobedience against God, by the which he lost all the graces and endowments that were intended to make him like unto God and the angels, and poisoned his own pure nature, so that it became corrupt. And through this poison man has wounded himself mortally with blindness in his reason, with perverseness or malice in his will, with shameful lusts in his appetites, and with loss of his just indignation at sin. Man, being in honour, understood it not, and is become like unto the beasts that perish.
And hence it has come to pass that three foes have risen up against him, who, alas! on all sides have got the upper hand, and are ruling in the hearts of the people: these are, the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Where these three have their will, that noble thing, the Soul, is lost, on which God hath looked with such great love; for those in whom they obtain the mastery do most surely walk in a way that leadeth unto eternal death. How cruelly and perilously these three enemies now reign in numbers of men, both in the Church and in the world, standing in God's place, is bewailed with bitter tears by the friends of God, who love Him and seek His glory. For the everlasting injury of their fellow-creatures is a sore grief to such men, insomuch that their heart is ready to dry up within their body for anguish, when they see self-love so rooted in men's hearts, that there be few left who wholly love God and have a single eye to His glory.
The World rules through pride, outward or inward. How many are members of this Devil's Order! They desire to be and appear to be somewhat; while their sins and infirmities are not to be numbered.
The Devil's government leads to bitterness, to hatred and anger, to suspicion, to judging others, to revenge, to ill-will, to discord. All his disciples are quarrelsome, unloving, envious of their neighbours.
The will of our own Flesh is set upon earthly pleasures and sensual delights, and it craveth to have the best of everything, and continually to find enjoyment in all things. How great is the mischief that springs from this fountain, people do not know, especially those who are themselves blinded through it. By these three foes are nearly all men led astray to their eternal loss.
Now he who desires to rise again to his first honour and dignity, which Adam at the beginning, and we after him, have lost through sin, and to make way for the coming of Our Lord in his soul, must flee the world, overcome the Devil, bring his flesh under dominion to his reason, and exercise himself diligently in these six points following: --
Man fell in Paradise through two things, -- lust and pride; so likewise we must return by means of two things, for nature to win back again her original powers. We must resist and die to all irregular desires, after a manly and reasonable sort. In the second place, we must humble ourselves, and bow our nature down to the earth in deep humility before God and all men against whom it had lifted itself with pride. Take always the lowest place, and so shalt thou rise to the highest. By these two things nature recovers her original powers.
Next, in two things man must become like unto the angels. He must pardon and forgive all those who do him wrong, and be from his heart the friend of his enemies, like the angels, whom we ofttimes vex with our sins. Further, he must serve his neighbour with a willing spirit, as the holy angels are ever ministering to us for God's sake.
Lastly, in two things man must become like unto our Lord Jesus Christ. First, in perfect obedience, as our Lord was obedient to His Heavenly Father, even unto death; secondly, he must persevere and grow in obedience and in all virtues, unto his life's end.
By these means the heart is made pure and heavenly, and the man becomes of one mind with God through deep humility, free self-surrender, patient long-suffering, true poorness of spirit, and fervent love to God. And all who do verily seek the kingdom of God (of whom, alas! how few is the number), do prevail against their foes, and God delivers them from their heavy burdens, and helps them to bear all their afflictions. For He lays upon them much suffering of many kinds; but the righteous God does this to the intent that four ends may be accomplished in them. The first, that they may come to themselves, and see whence their trouble cometh, and that their thoughts may be turned upon themselves by reason of the pain, and so be fixed. The second, that they may examine why God has laid the burden of pain upon them; and when they perceive God's purpose in their sufferings, let them strive to fulfil that, and resign themselves wholly to His divine will. The third, that they may come out from themselves, and from all creatures. The fourth, that they may learn true patience under diverse afflictions. But what is true patience under affliction? Is it to remain unmoved by outward things? No. True patience is that a man should feel in his inmost soul, and in utter sincerity thus judge, that no one could or might do him a real injustice, but always remember that he is receiving no worse than his deserts, for he might justly have far more to suffer and endure; insomuch that he may feel nothing but gentleness and compassion towards all who do him wrong. Such men are followers of Christ, our humble Master, in whom He reigns, and to whom He said: "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
Now there are two sorts of men who follow after the word of Christ. The one sort hear it with joy, and follow after it as far as they are able with their reason to perceive its truth, and take it in just in the same way as their reason takes in what is concerned with the world of sense; and all this they do by means of their natural light, but they make no account of anything that they themselves do not feel or enter into; but with these natural powers of theirs, they are ever running out to catch up and understand some new thing. They have not learnt by experience that they ought to die to this restlessness; but if they are ever to grow better men, they must try another road.
But the other sort turn their thoughts inward, and remain resting on the inmost foundation of their souls, simply looking to see the hand of God with the eyes of their enlightened reason, and await from within their summons and their call to go whither God would have them. And this they receive from God without any means; but what is given through means, such as other mortal men, for instance, is as it were tasteless; moreover, it is seen as through a veil, and split up into fragments, and bears within it a certain sting of bitterness. It always retains the savour of that which is of the creature, which it must needs lose and be purified from, if it is to become in truth food for the spirit, and to enter into the very substance of the soul. For those who perceive God's gifts and leadings from within, whether by the help of means or without means, do receive them from their fountain-head, and carry them back again unto their fountain-head in the Divine goodness. These are they who draw and drink from the true well, of which Christ said: "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst." But the first of whom we spoke are seeking their own things; wherever they are, and whatever they do, they are always standing upon their own foundation. Yet, in truth, they can never find their own good so certain and so unmixed, as in its inward source, without the aid of means.
Now you may ask, How can we come to perceive this direct leading of God? By a careful looking at home, and abiding within the gates of thy own soul. Therefore, let a man be at home in his own heart, and cease from his restless chase of and search after outward things. If he is thus at home while on earth, he will surely come to see what there is to do at home, -- what God commands him inwardly without means, and also outwardly by the help of means; and then let him surrender himself, and follow God along whatever path his loving Lord thinks fit to lead him: whether it be to contemplation or action, to usefulness or enjoyment; whether in sorrow or in joy, let him follow on. And if God do not give him thus to feel His hand in all things, let him still simply yield himself up, and go without for God's sake, out of love, and still press forward, setting ever before him the lovely example of our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ; who did all his works for three ends:
The first was, that in all His doings He sought the glory of His Heavenly Father only, and not His own in any matter, whether great or small, and committed all things into His hands again.
The second was, that with His whole heart He purposed and sought the salvation and blessedness of men, that He might lay hold on all men, and bring them to the acknowledgment of His Name, according to the words of St. Paul: "God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth."
The third end which He kept in view, in all His words, and works, and life, was, that He might give us a true example and model of a perfect life in its highest form.
The men who thus tread in His steps do become, in very truth, the noblest and most glorious of their race; and those who are thus born again into His life, are the rich and costly jewels of the Holy Christian Church, and in all ages they work out the highest good, while they look not to the greatness or meanness of their work, nor to their success or failure, but look only to the will of God in all things; and for this cause all their works are the best that may be. Neither do they look whether God will place them high or low, for the only thing they care for is, that in all things alike God's will may be done. God grant that it may be thus with each of us. Amen.