Sermon 25. Feasting in Captivity

"The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace." Zech. viii, 19.

[Note 1] {381} WHEN we reflect upon the present state of the Holy Church throughout the world, so different from that which was promised to her in prophecy, the doubt is apt to suggest itself to us, whether it is right to rejoice when there is so much to mourn over and to fear. Is it right to keep holiday, when the Spouse of Christ is in bondage, and the iron almost enters into her soul? We know what prophecy promises us, a holy Church set upon a hill; an imperial Church, far-spreading among the nations, loving truth and peace, binding together all hearts in charity, and uttering the words of God from inspired lips; a Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, that is at unity within itself, peace within its walls and plenteousness within its palaces; "a glorious {382} Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish." And, alas! what do we see? We see the Kingdom of God to all appearance broken into fragments—authority in abeyance—separate portions in insurrection—brother armed against brother—truth, a matter not of faith but of controversy. And looking at our own portion of the heavenly heritage, we see heresies of the most deadly character around us and within us; we see error stalking abroad in the light of day and over the length of the land unrebuked—nay, invading high places; while the maintainers of Christian truth are afraid to speak, lest it should offend those to whom it is a duty to defer. We see discipline utterly thrown down, the sacraments and ordinances of grace open to those who cannot come without profaning them and getting harm from them. Works of penance almost unthought of; the world and the Church mixed together; and those who discern and mourn over all this looked upon with aversion, because they will not prophesy smooth things and speak peace where there is no peace. On us have fallen the times described by the Psalmist when he laments, "Thou hast broken the covenant of Thy servant, and cast his crown to the ground. Thou hast overthrown all his hedges and broken down his strongholds ... Thou hast put out his glory and cast his throne down to the ground. The days of his youth hast Thou shortened, and covered him with dishonour." The days of age have come on us, "the evil days" "when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;" [Eccles. xii. 1.] the days when the Bridegroom has {383} been taken away, and when men should fast;—how then in the day of our fast can we find pleasure and keep festival?

What profit is the full gathering and the concourse of men, when all the families of Israel that remain should rather mourn, "every family apart and their wives apart"? Music is for the merry; Darius put away his instruments of music when the Prophet was lost to him. The father of the family had music and dancing, and killed the fatted calf, when the wanderer came home. Tobit in captivity attempted to eat the bread of joyfulness on the feast of Pentecost, and was suddenly reduced to "eat his meat in heaviness," remembering the prophecy of Amos, as he said, "Your feasts shall be turned into mourning, and all your mirth into lamentation." Flowers are for the innocent and gay; how suit they with the dark prison and the fretting chain? Harmony in form and colour, the high arch and the rich window, what have these in common with the fallen and the polluted? Beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness,—these surely should be reserved for the year of Jubilee, and when the season of redemption draweth near. This is what may be said, not without plausibility.

Nay, not said plausibly but felt acutely; so acutely felt, as to hinder the mind from taking part in the rejoicing to which it is invited. When men discern duly the forlorn state in which the Spouse of Christ at present lies, how can they have the heart to rejoice? "The ark and Israel and Judah abide in tents," said {384} Uriah, "and the servants of my lord are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house to eat and to drink? ... as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing." The desponding soul falls back when it makes the effort; it is not equal to the ceremonial which comes natural to light hearts, and at best but coldly obeys what they anticipate without being bidden. What is to be done with this dull, dispirited, wearied, forlorn, foreboding heart of ours? "By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered thee, O Sion. As for our harps, we hanged them up upon the trees that are therein. For they that led us away captive required of us then a song, and melody in our heaviness,—Sing us one of the songs of Sion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?"

Yet, since there is some danger of over-sensitiveness in this matter, it may be useful here to make some remarks upon it.

This then must be ever kept in mind, when such thoughts arise within us, that cheerfulness and lightness of heart are not only privileges, but duties. Cheerfulness is a great Christian duty. Whatever be our circumstances, within or without, though "without be fightings and within be fears," yet the Apostle's words are express, "Rejoice in the Lord always." That sorrow, that solicitude, that fear, that repentance, is not Christian which has not its portion of Christian joy; for "God is greater than our hearts," and no evil, past or future, within or without, is equal to this saying, that Christ has died and reconciled the world unto {385} Himself. We are ever in His Presence, be we cast down, or be we exalted; and "in His Presence is the fulness of joy." "Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted, but the rich in that he is made low." [James i. 9, 10.] "He that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman; likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant." [1 Cor. vii. 22.] Whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, to His glory must we do all, and if to His glory, to our great joy; for His service is perfect freedom: and what are the very Angels in heaven but His ministers? Nothing is evil but separation from Him; while we are allowed to visit His Temple, we cannot but "enter into His gates with gladness and thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise." "Is any," then, "among us afflicted? let him pray; is any merry? let him sing psalms."

Such even was the conduct of the devout Israelites, who had no promise such as we have, of a continual Divine Presence, which is our spiritual life,—which is the life of our very sorrow, if it be godly, the life of our repentance, our fear, our self-chastisement; and in which we must rejoice, because through it we repent, are in fear, and afflict ourselves. Even Jews, we see, attempted to rejoice in captivity, though it was prophesied against them, "I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation;" [Amos viii. 10.] whereas the very reverse is graciously assured in the text to the Gospel Church, that her times of humiliation should be times of rejoicing. "The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the {386} seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace."

What did Hezekiah and Josiah in those mournful times when wrath hung over the chosen people? In the Paschal Feast held by the former king, he prayed, "The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary." And the children of Israel kept the feast seven days with great sadness, and the Levites and priests praised the Lord with loud instruments, and Hezekiah spake comfortably to the Levites,—so that "there was great joy in Jerusalem; for since the time of Solomon ... there was not the like in Jerusalem." And of Josiah's passover it is said, "for there was no passover like to that kept in Israel, from the days of Samuel the Prophet."

Again, what could be more miserable and forlorn than the state of the Jews when they returned from captivity? yet, in spite of the ruins among which they dwelt, God had shown them mercy, and thereby given them hope; He had begun to be gracious to them, and though they had no heart for the work of rebuilding the Temple, when so many things were against them, and the new fabric would for certain be so poor and unworthy at the best, yet it was their duty to look to the future and rejoice. "Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built." [Haggai i. 2.] And He {387} added for their encouragement, "According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not." [Haggai ii. 5.] And still more appositely, as we read elsewhere, "Nehemiah and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord; neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." [Neh. viii. 9, 10.] The sacred narrative proceeds; "So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them." And after this they proceeded to keep the feast of tabernacles, with "olive branches and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written ... And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun, unto that day, had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness."

We have a still more remarkable and solemn instance of the duty of keeping festival and rejoicing even in the darkest day, in our Lord's own history. If there was {388} a season in which gloom was allowable, it was on the days and hours before His Passion: but He who came to bring joy on earth and not sorrow; who came eating and drinking, because He was the true Bread from heaven; who changed the water into wine at a marriage feast, and fed the hungry thousands in the wilderness; even in that awful time when His spirit fainted within Him, when, as He testified, His "soul was troubled," and He was led to cry, "Father, save Me from this hour," and more solemnly and secretly, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me;" He, our great Exemplar, kept the feast—nay, anticipated it, as if though He Himself was to be the very Paschal Lamb, still He was not thereby excused from sharing in the typical rite. "With desire" did He "desire to eat that passover" with His disciples before He suffered. And a few days before it, He took part in a public and (as it were) triumphant pageant, as though the bitterness of death had been already passed. He came to Bethany, where He had raised Lazarus; and there they made Him a supper; and Mary took the precious ointment and poured it on His head, and anointed His feet, and the house was filled with the fragrance. And next the people took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet Him, and strewed their garments in the way, and cried, "Hosanna, Blessed is the King of Israel, that cometh in the Name of the Lord!"

To rejoice, then, and to keep festival, is a Christian duty, under all circumstances. Indeed, is not this plain, by considering the obligation, yet the nature, of that chief Gospel Ordinance which we celebrate today? {389} There is an ordinance which we are bound to observe always till the Lord come: is it an ordinance of humiliation and self-abasement, or is it a feast? The Holy Eucharist is a Feast; we cannot help feasting, we cannot elude our destiny of joy and thanksgiving, if we would be Christians.

As I have already remarked, the same rule is to be observed even in the instance of personal penitence, which is on no account to be separated from the duty of Christian cheerfulness. Penitents are as little at liberty to release themselves from Christian joy as from Christian love; love alone can make repentance available; and where there is love, there joy must be present also. The true penance is not to put away God's blessings, but to add chastisements. As Adam did not lose the flowers of Eden on his fall, but thorns and thistles sprung up around them; and he still had bread, but was forced to eat it in the sweat of his face; and as the Israelites ate their Paschal lamb with bitter herbs; so in like manner we show our repentance, not in rejecting what God gives, but in adding what sin deserves.

And I will add, that there is much which is expedient as well as dutiful in this simple adherence to the plain formularies of Christian devotion and practice, even under circumstances unsuitable to them. For if these observances are inconsistent with our actual state, they will force themselves upon our minds as a mockery, and thus suggest to us of what we ought to be, and make us discontented with what we are. Our Lord gives us a pattern of this in His very Prayer, in which we ask that our trespasses may be forgiven, as we forgive them that {390} trespass against us; words which are quite out of place, or rather words which will do us harm, if we are not what Christians should be in spirit, but remember injuries and cherish malice. And thus, in like manner, when we profess to hold the Apostolic faith, yet take up with modern notions of Gospel truth, what is this but a great inconsistency?—yet a profitable one withal, if through God's grace the profession of what is ancient at length overcomes our attachment to what is novel and unauthorized. And, again, what can be more incongruous than for the run of Christians of this age to call themselves Catholics? yet their calling themselves so may be the first step to their becoming so. And how little fitted are we to discharge ecclesiastical censures, or to enforce ecclesiastical discipline, or to live by rule! yet, by attempting to do so, we may learn our wants, and seek the supply of them. And how unlike are the best among us to the Saints and Martyrs of old time; to St. Cyprian, or St. Basil, or St. Ambrose, or St. Leo! and what an utter mockery it is to couple their names with modern names, and to compare their words with our words, as is sometimes done! yet, if true love be the tie that binds us to them, since they most certainly cannot move towards us, we through God's mercy perchance may be drawn to them. And in like manner, poor and mean and unworthy as may be our attempts at a ceremonial on days such as this, yet we trust He will accept it, as He did her offering, who did "what she could," and will vouchsafe to bless it and to make it a means of teaching us a deeper reverence and a more constraining love, and will draw us on into the {391} very bosom of Catholic sanctity and the very heart of Catholic affection, by observances and usages which in themselves are little worth, and excite the jeer or the criticism of the worldly or the profane. In a word, if we claim to be the Church, let us act like the Church, and we shall become the Church. Here, as in other matters, to doubt is to fail, and to go forward is to succeed.

One danger there is,—that of our attempting one of these aspects or constituent portions of the Christian character while we neglect the other. To attempt Apostolical Christianity at all, we must attempt it all. It is a whole, and cannot be divided; and to attempt one aspect of it only, is to attempt something else which looks like it, instead of it. "All is not gold that glitters," as the proverb goes; and all is not Catholic and Apostolic which affects what is high and beautiful, and speaks to the imagination. Religion has two sides, a severe side, and a beautiful; and we shall be sure to swerve from the narrow way which leads to life, if we indulge ourselves in what is beautiful, while we put aside what is severe.

I have a hope, my brethren, that we are not committing this fault; for to be aware of the danger is one special preservative against it, in the case of those who wish to do what is right. Had we no other memento of the duty of combining strictness of life with our attention to external religion, this very day would remind us of it, occurring as it does in so close a connexion with the Ember-week. We commemorate the dedication of this Chapel to God's service, either, {392} as in this year, in the midst of the fast [Note 2], or, as on other years, just after it. If, in the words of the text, our fasts issue in cheerful feasts, still this is only saying, in other words, that our feasts spring out of fasts.

And there are other reasons why we should be preserved (through God's mercy) from the temptation of indulging in (what may be called) the luxuries of religious worship; still there is great cause to fear that others are not equally out of danger. It were well, if others had more of that despondency and trouble of mind about the state of the Church, which I described when I began; it might preserve them from a very hurtful excess. Too many men at this time are for raising a high superstructure ere they have laid a deep foundation. They shrink from sowing in tears, though they would fain reap in joy. The austere doctrines of the Gospel they turn from them, like him who said, "Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee;" [Matt. xvi. 22.]—they stumble at the doctrine of post-baptismal sin; and what part of their creed can be profitable to them, if this is neglected? They are slow to admit that our times are like those of backsliding Israel, or treacherous Judah; and how can they attempt to mend them, if they see them not as God sees them? They scoff at the ascetic life of the Saints as an extravagance or corruption; or they slur over their austerities, as if they were an accident of their religion peculiar to their times; and they would live like the world, yet worship like the Angels. These things being so, misgivings of mind arise of necessity about the present growing attention, {393} which is seen on all sides of us, to church architecture and church decoration; not as if all this were not right in itself, but lest we should be too fast about it; lest it be disjoined in the case of the multitude from real seriousness, from deep repentance, from strict conscientiousness, from inward sanctity, from godly fear and awe. There are other things to be done first. However, we can but leave the issue to God's Providence; and pray Him, who seems at present engaged in a great work among us, to overrule all our mistakes to His glory, and to the welfare of the Catholic Church, and to our salvation.

Let us recollect this for our own profit; that, if it is our ambition to follow the Christians of the first ages, as they followed the Apostles, and the Apostles followed Christ, they had the discomfort of this world without its compensating gifts. No high cathedrals, no decorated altars, no white-robed priests, no choirs for sacred psalmody, nothing of the order, majesty, and beauty of devotional services had they; but they had trials, afflictions, solitariness, contempt, ill-usage. They were "in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness." If we have only the enjoyment and none of the pain, and they only the pain and none of the enjoyment, in what does our Christianity resemble theirs? what are the tokens of identity between us? why do we not call theirs one religion and ours another? What points in common are there between the easy religion of this day, and the religion of St. Athanasius, or St. Chrysostom? How do the two agree, {394} except that the name of Christianity is given to both of them?

O may we be wiser than to be satisfied with an untrue profession and a mere shadow of the Gospel! May God raise our hearts on high to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, that all other things may he added to us! My brethren, let what is inward be chief with you, and what is outward be subordinate! Think nothing preferable to a knowledge of yourselves, true repentance, a resolve to live to God, to die to the world, deep humility, hatred of sin, and of yourselves as you are sinners, a clear and habitual view of the coming judgment. Let this be first; and secondly, labour for the unity of the Church; let the peace of Jerusalem and the edification of the body of Christ be an object of prayer, close upon that of your own personal salvation. Pray that a Divine Influence may touch the hearts of men, and that in spite of themselves, while they wonder at themselves, not to say while others wonder at them, they may confess and preach those Catholic truths which at present they scorn or revile; that so at length the language of the prophecy from which the text is taken, and which has been read in the course of the Service, may be fulfilled to us; "I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem," and "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;" and "many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord."

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Notes

1. Preached on the anniversary of the consecration of a chapel.
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2. Thursday, Sept. 22, 1842.
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