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WO beautiful creeping plants were set in front of two adjacent cottages at the same time. In a few months one cottage was almost covered with a mass of foliage and flowers, but before the other lay branches, and tendrils, and leaves, all crushed and dirty. The first plant had been trained with care and taste, the second neglected and trodden upon. Are there not scenes within many cottages which these plants ma serve to illustrate? Some families are trained in the way they should go, and others are neglected and trodden down in the mire of sin. Parent, whose eye may rest on these lines, what are you doing with those whom Providence has committed to your care? To train them aright requires watchfulness, firmness, and skill. You must be often at work. A little must be done at a time, and done tenderly, and then what a blessed recompense may you expect for your pains!
FOR THE TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
BY THE RIGHT REVEREND CHARLES JOHN ABRAHAM, BISHOP.
PRINCIPLES AND PROGRESS.
Ecclesiastes, xii. 11.- The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.'
HE great thought of this day's familiar Collect is the revival of our inner life by the outpouring of God's grace. It is a prayer to God, that now, as we stand on the verge of the ecclesiastical year, He would stir up the wills of His people,' that He would revive the dying embers of our faith and love by a live coal from the altar of the Cross.
This is the living thought of the Collect; and it is exactly in accordance with that thought that the Church has selected the lesson from Ecclesiastes which we have heard this morning, and which has taught us that the One Shepherd has given to the masters of assemblies, i. e. the ministers of His Church, wise words of Holy Writ, to serve as goads and spurs to our sluggish souls, to drive us and urge us onward, seeing we are so loth to be led; for that would be the more grateful and proper work and office of the Good Shepherd. But the Good Shepherd will at times use the staff to bring us back, and the goad to urge us on; and we acknowledge with humble thankfulness the goodness of God in thus rescuing us from sin and leading us back into the fold. "Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me.' This is the close relation between the Collect and the text.
2. But the words I have just read were only part, and not the whole text, and there is a great truth contained in the words I have omitted; and perhaps a still greater truth contained in the combination of both thoughts together. For in the text the Preacher said, 'The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by
the masters of assemblies, which are given from one Shepherd.' So then it is not only a stimulus and a spur onwards that we need, it is not only a revival of fervour and of zeal; it is not only that we must (in the language of the Collect) bear fruit upwards; but we must also take root downward. We not only need the goads to encourage progress, but we need the nails to fasten us and fix us firmly to the Cross of Christ. In a word, all true progress, in the natural life, in home, in social life, in mental and moral growth, and, above all, in spiritual life, must be the result of fixed principles; out of which all developments spring naturally. Whether it be spoken of a state, a nation, a family, or a man, it is equally true as a necessity of real growth that the child is father of the man.'
'And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.'
This I take to be the special meaning of the text, that 'nails,' or fixed principles, are absolutely pre-requisites to the employment of 'goads,' or incentives to progress.
Now I should suppose that most of us are aware that our particular characters may specially need one or the other of these instruments and forces to act upon us. I should suppose that some are more in need of fixed principles of action, and others more in need of incentives to progress; some are like children, tossed to and fro by every blast of opinion or vain doctrine, without any stability of character, or purpose in life; while others are slow and sluggish, content with the traditions of their forefathers, either in Church or State, asking no questions either of the past or the future, settled down on the lees of their own self-conceit, like Moab (Jer. xlviii. 11), and so have become spiritless and insipid. According, therefore, as we come under one or other of these descriptions, we either specially need the nails to fasten us down, or the goads to stir us up. Yet most of us require both; we can hardly be said to know what our principles are, or how deep down they go; probably they are very superficial and unstable, but such as they are, and so far as they are good, they need to be stimulated into finer action, they want the spur and the goad, they must be stirred up, and kindled into a glowing fire; but the live coals must rest upon the hearth; the spiritual life must grow out of the home and family life. The One Father reveals to us and has sent the One Shepherd, and both live in the unity of the One Spirit.
3. This great truth, that all real progress must start from fixed principles, is finely taught by that wise teacher, Lord Bacon, in his great work on the Advancement of Learning. He is quoting one of the most familiar texts of the Bible, a text that is quoted wrongly for a very different purpose from that for which Lord Bacon adduces it. It is Jer. vi. 16, and we all know the ordinary use and application of it; how the Prophet is supposed to bid us stand firm and immovable on the old paths, as being the good and right ways. But he really says, 'Stand ye in the ways, and ask for the old paths, which is the right and good way, and walk ye therein.' Antiquity deserveth that reverence that men should make a stand thereon, and [from thence] discover what is the best way; and when the discovery is well taken, then to make progression.' The words of the wise are
both nails to hold us fast and firm, and goads to urge us onwards. We have to start forth on the voyages of life in the spirit of a sailor, whose proverbial characteristic it is to be guided by the two apparently conflicting motives of love of home and love of enterprise. While he is being carried up to the heaven and down again to the deep' his heart leaps with joy at the whistling of the winds, and the straining of the shrouds, and the dashing of the waves against the ship's sides, and danger only seems to draw out his energies and his courage, and he is ever craving excitement on shore and duty on board; but all the while in the best recesses of his heart he is thinking of his home, and he is glad to look forward to rest and quiet, and oftentimes he prays to God to bring him back to the haven where he would be. This is the true image of the Christian life. We are tossed about on the waves of this troublesome world, but we pray God, who alone can order our unruly wills and affections, that we may love the thing He doth command, and amid all the changes and chances of this mortal life our hearts may truly there be fixed, where true joys are to be found. For Christ is the rock on which we cast the anchor of our souls.
4. I said before that nails and goads, that is to say, fixed principles and free progress, are the ideal of the life of the Church, and of the individual soul. As regards the Church, you cannot fail to observe how St. Paul asserts in the same breath the unchanging stability of the faith, and the gradual growth and development of its life. Eph. iv. he prays that we may all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man. Observe the manifold fibres and sinews, joints and limbs of the Body, growing and perfecting themselves and one another by faith and love. Here are the nails of the one faith, and the goads of true love, all given by one Shepherd, Jesus Christ the righteous.
But it is true of the individual soul as well as of the Church, and it is to each one of us that the Preacher applies the text, and into the mouth of each one of us the Church puts the prayer, Stir up, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the wills of Thy faithful people.' Now what are the nails, the fixed principles that the masters of assemblies, the ministers and stewards of God's Word and Sacraments, have fastened, or have to fasten, into our souls, as given from the one Shepherd ? Of course these 'nails' have been forged on the anvil of God's revealed truth; and I would venture to say that the few words we learnt in our Church Catechism really contain the whole duty of man-his duty towards God, his neighbour, and himself—when we say, 'First, I learn to believe in God the Father, who made me and all the world.' So, then, God is my Father; and not only mine, but the Maker of all the world, visible and invisible; and I have communion by adoption and grace with angels and archangels, and all the company of Heaven, as well as ties and duties towards every creature upon earth. 'Secondly, I believe in God the Son, who hath redeemed me and all mankind. So, then, God is my Saviour; and not only mine, but the Redeemer of all mankind; and every man is my brother, not only by creation, but still more by redemption. Thirdly, in God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me and all the elect people of God.' And so I must be holy, or sanctified, as He is holy, pure as He is pure; and I
must be humble, for it is by the grace of God I am what i am; and 1 must be charitable and loving to others, and honour and respect them, because they are partakers of the same saving grace and spirit of holiness as myself.
But now, with these fixed nails and principles what have I to do? Am I to sit down with folded arms, and pretend that I am tied and bound, nailed and fastened, hand and foot? or with this grace of God am I to work out my own salvation in fear and trembling? Doubtless I have need of the goads to stir up my halting will, as well as of nails to fix and stablish my heart; and this is the special lesson of the day, 'Stir up the wills of Thy people, O Lord.'
Yes, the warning to each one of us on the last Sunday of Trinity season is against Slothfulness, that most insidious enemy of the soul. Which of us does not know how distasteful oftentimesexertion is of any kind? How we dread having to sit down to some hard task involving effort of brain and mind, as well as physical restraint! How we put it off till the last moment! How we indulge our ease and our own inclination by listless talk, by slipshod reading, by idle loitering! Therefore the Apostle Paul said, 'Be not slothful in business, but fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.' Sloth steals upon us in various forms; upon some it comes in the form of bodily laziness. upon others in the form of mental inactivity, upon us all in the form of spiritual unwatchfulness, and therefore the Preacher says, 'The words of the wise must be as goads.' Brethren, what progress in the spiritual life have we to show during this past year? Have we more refreshment and enjoyment of private prayer? of meditation on the Word of God? of blessed Communions at the holy altar? Have we gained any real victory over self? Are we less selfish, and more considerate of others? These are the vital questions for each to answer. The fact is, that our steps have not gone up the ladder that leads to God, but on the treadmill without the least advance or progress. Do you remember St. Augustine's description of a true ladder? The words are familiar to many in an English garb of poetrv :—
'St. Augustin! well hast thou said,
That of our vices we can frame
A ladder, if we will but tread
Beneath our feet each deed of shame.'-Longfellow.
That is one mode of real progress: but then, besides this ladder of our dead selves, like the heaps of fallen soldiers under the wall of the assaulted city, which make steps for the men that follow into the breach, there are the several rounds of that ladder set up from earth to heaven, each one leading up higher and higher into the presence of God. Listen, then, to St. Peter: Above all, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity,' i.e. universal love. This is progress upon fixed principles; this is the ladder of faith. Onwards and upwards,' must be our motto. O Lord, stir up the wills of Thy people! O Thou one Good Shepherd of the sheep, give unto us, give unto the masters of Thy assemblies, 'nails' to fasten us closer to the Cross, goads' to make us run in the way of Thy commandments. Lead, kindly Light, lead Thou me on.' Amen.