SERMON I. ALL SAINTS' DAY
Westminster Abbey. November 1, 1874.
Revelation vii. 9-12. "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen."
To-day is All Saints' Day. On this day we commemorate--and, as far as our dull minds will let us, contemplate--the saints; the holy ones of God; the pure and the triumphant--be they who they may, or whence they may, or where they may. We are not bidden to define and limit their number. We are expressly told that they are a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues; and most blessed news that is for all who love God and man. We are not told, again--and I beg you all to mark this well--that this great multitude consists merely of those who, according to the popular notion, have "gone to heaven," as it is called, simply because they have not gone to hell. Not so, not so! The great multitude whom we commemorate on All Saints' Day, are SAINTS. They are the holy ones, the heroes and heroines of mankind, the elect, the aristocracy of grace. These are they who have kept themselves unspotted from the world. They are the pure who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, which is the spirit of self-sacrifice. They are those who carry the palm- branch of triumph, who have come out of great tribulation, who have dared, and fought, and suffered for God, and truth, and right. Nay, there are those among them, and many, thank God--weak women, too, among them--who have resisted unto blood, striving against sin.
And who are easy-going folk like you and me, that we should arrogate to ourselves a place in that grand company? Not so! What we should do on All Saints' Day is to place ourselves, with all humility, if but for an hour, where we can look afar off upon our betters, and see what they are like, and what they do.
And what are they like, those blessed beings of whom the text speaks? The Gospel for this day describes them to us; and we may look on that description as complete, for He who gives it is none other than our Lord Himself. "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for their's is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peace- makers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for their's is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven."
This is what they are like; and what we, I fear, too many of us, are not like. But in proportion as we grow like them, by the grace of God, just so far shall we enter into the communion of saints, and understand the bliss of that everlasting All Saints' Day which St John saw in heaven.
And what do they do, those blessed beings? Whatever else they do, or do not do, this we are told they do--they worship. They satisfy, it would seem, in perfection, that mysterious instinct of devotion--that inborn craving to look upward and adore, which, let false philosophy say what it will, proves the most benighted idolater to be a man, and not a brute--a spirit, and not a merely natural thing.
They have worshipped, and so are blest. They have hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and now they are filled. They have longed for, toiled for, it may be died for, the true, the beautiful, and the good; and now they can gaze upward at the perfect reality of that which they saw on earth, only as in a glass darkly, dimly, and afar; and can contemplate the utterly free, the utterly beautiful, and the utterly good in the character of God and the face of Jesus Christ. They entered while on earth into the mystery and the glory of self-sacrifice; and now they find their bliss in gazing on the one perfect and eternal sacrifice, and rejoicing in the thought that it is the cause and ground of the whole universe, even the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.
I say not that all things are clear to them. How can they be to any finite and created being? They, and indeed angels and archangels, must walk for ever by faith, and not by sight. But if there be mysteries in the universe still hidden from them, they know who has opened the sealed book of God's secret counsels, even the Lamb who is the Lion, and the Lion who is the Lamb; and therefore, if all things are not clear to them, all things at least are bright, for they can trust that Lamb and His self-sacrifice. In Him, and through Him, light will conquer darkness, justice injustice, truth ignorance, order disorder, love hate, till God be all in all, and pain and sorrow and evil shall have been exterminated out of a world for which Christ stooped to die. Therefore they worship; and the very act of worship--understand it well--is that great reward in heaven which our Lord promised them. Adoration is their very bliss and life. It must be so. For what keener, what nobler enjoyment for rational and moral beings, than satisfaction with, and admiration of, a Being better than themselves? Therefore they worship; and their worship finds a natural vent in words most fit though few, but all expressing utter trust and utter satisfaction in the worthiness of God. Therefore they worship; and by worship enter into communion and harmony not only with each other, not only with angels and archangels, but with all the powers of nature, the four beings which are around the throne, and with every creature which is in heaven and in earth, and under the earth, and in the sea. For them, likewise, St John heard saying, "Blessing and glory, and honour, and power, be unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever."
And why? I think, with all humility, that the key to all these hymns-- whether of angels or of men, or of mere natural things--is the first hymn of all; the hymn which shows that, however grateful to God for what He has done for them those are whom the Lamb has redeemed by His blood to God, out of every kindred, and nation, and tongue; yet, nevertheless, the hymn of hymns is that which speaks not of gratitude, but of absolute moral admiration--the hymn which glorifies God, not for that which He is to man, not for that which He is to the universe, but for that which He is absolutely and in Himself--that which He was before all worlds, and would be still, though the whole universe, all created things, and time, and space, and matter, and every created spirit likewise, should be annihilated for ever. And what is that?
"Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come."
Ah! what a Gospel lies within those words! A Gospel? Ay, if you will receive it, the root of all other possible Gospels, and good news for all created beings. What a Gospel! and what an everlasting fount of comfort! Surely of those words it is true, "blessed are they who, going through the vale of misery, find therein a well, and the pools are filled with water." Know you not what I mean? Happier, perhaps, are you--the young at least among you--if you do not know. But some of you must know too well. It is to them I speak. Were you never not merely puzzled--all thinking men are that--but crushed and sickened at moments by the mystery of evil? Sickened by the follies, the failures, the ferocities, the foulnesses of mankind, for ages upon ages past? Sickened by the sins of the unholy many--sickened, alas! by the imperfections even of the holiest few? And have you never cried in your hearts with longing, almost with impatience, Surely, surely, there is an ideal Holy One somewhere, or else how could have arisen in my mind the conception, however faint, of an ideal holiness? But where, oh where? Not in the world around, strewed with unholiness. Not in myself--unholy too, without and within--seeming to myself sometimes the very worst company of all the bad company I meet, because it is the only bad company from which I cannot escape. Oh, is there a Holy One, whom I may contemplate with utter delight? and if so, where is He? Oh, that I might behold, if but for a moment, His perfect beauty, even though, as in the fable of Semele of old, the lightning of His glance were death. Nay, more, has it not happened to some here--to clergyman, lawyer, physician, perhaps, alas! to some pure-minded, noble- hearted woman--to be brought in contact perforce with that which truly sickens them--with some case of human folly, baseness, foulness--which, however much their soul revolts from it, they must handle, they must toil over many weeks and months, in hope that that which is crooked may be made somewhat straight, till their whole soul was distempered, all but degraded, by the continual sight of sin, till their eyes seemed full of nothing but the dance of death, and their ears of the gibbering of madmen, and their nostrils with the odours of the charnel house, and they longed for one breath of pure air, one gleam of pure light, one strain of pure music, to wash their spirits clean from those foul elements into which their duty had thrust them down perforce?
And then, oh then, has there not come to such an one--I know that it has come--that for which his spirit was athirst, the very breath of pure air, the very gleam of pure light, the very strain of pure music, for it is the very music of the spheres, in those same words, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come;" and he has answered, with a flush of keenest joy, Yes. Whatever else is unholy, there is an Holy One, spotless and undefiled, serene and self-contained. Whatever else I cannot trust, there is One whom I can trust utterly. Whatever else I am dissatisfied with, there is One whom I can contemplate with utter satisfaction, and bathe my stained soul in that eternal fount of purity. And who is He? Who save the Cause and Maker, and Ruler of all things, past, present, and to come? Ah, Gospel of all gospels, that God Himself, the Almighty God, is the eternal and unchangeable realisation of all that I and all mankind, in our purest and our noblest moments, have ever dreamed concerning the true, the beautiful, and the good. Even though He slay me, the unholy, yet will I trust in Him. For He is Holy, Holy, Holy, and can do nothing to me, or any creature, save what He OUGHT. For He has created all things, and for His pleasure they are and were created.
Whosoever has entered, though but for a moment, however faintly, partially, stupidly, into that thought of thoughts, has entered in so far into the communion of the elect; and has had his share in the everlasting All Saints' Day which is in heaven. He has been, though but for a moment, in harmony with the polity of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem; and with an innumerable company of angels, and the church of the first-born who are written in heaven; and with the spirits of just men made perfect, and with all past, present, and to come, in this and in all other worlds, of whom it is written, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for their's is the kingdom of heaven." Great indeed is their reward, for it is no less than the very beatific vision to contemplate and adore. That supreme moral beauty, of which all earthly beauty, all nature, all art, all poetry, all music, are but phantoms and parables, hints and hopes, dim reflected rays of the clear light of that everlasting day, of which it is written--that "the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof."
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