AT last the Master had prepared his sermon, which cost him much time and much toil. Then he announced to the people that in three days they should come to the church to hear him preach. For, he said, he had been requested to teach how a man could attain to the highest point, to the greatest nearness to God, and to the best condition, during this life on earth.
When the day was come, much people came to the church, and the man from Switzerland, whose name was Nicholas, sat down in a place where he could hear well. And the Master went up into his pulpit, and began his discourse.
The Master spoke first about people who attain to a clear knowledge and reasonable judgment about things, but who do so by the help of images and forms, or by studying the opinions of other men. But by these means, he said, they will never attain to the highest good. Some men also, he said, trust to their own reason or imagination. They, too, not only do not attain to the knowledge of God, but they hinder God from working in their souls. But if a man would only die to himself, and humbly toil and press forward, God would find a resting-place in his soul, and would work in him, and draw him to Himself.
|But such people,| said the Master, |are rare, for they must have a boundless humility, an unclouded understanding, and a clear reason. And such people may be known by twenty-four marks.
1. They have love.
2. They are emptied of themselves.
3. They are utterly resigned to God.
4. They do not seek themselves.
5. By not seeking their own ends, they attain to true contentment.
6. They wait on God to know what He would have them do, and they try their uttermost to fulfil His will.
7. They daily give up their will to the will of God.
8. All their powers are brought into subjection to God.
9. They always have the sense of the presence of God, in all things, both sweet or bitter.
10. They receive all pleasure and all pain, not from the creatures of God, but from God Himself.
11. They are not led captive by lusting after created things.
12. They are never moved from the truth by contradiction or mishap.
13. They are not deceived by false appearances, but own things to be what they really are, and this in a spirit of kindness and love.
14. They are armed with all virtue, ready to fight against all sin and vice, and obtain the victory and prize in all conflicts.
15. They mark what God requires of them, order their life accordingly, and act up to their profession.
16. They are people of few words, but much inward life.
17. They are blameless and righteous, but not puffed up by the same.
18. They are upright and sincere, and preach more with their actions than with their lips.
19. They have no other aim than the glory of God.
20. They are willing to take reproof, and to give up their rights.
21. They do not desire their own advantage, and think the least thing too good for them.
22. They consider themselves less wise and less worthy than other men, and are thoroughly humble.
23. They copy the example of the Lord Jesus in all things, and put away from them everything unbecoming those who follow Him.
24. And lastly, if they are despised by many, this will be more welcome to them than all the favour of the world.
The Master's sermon was ended. Some of his hearers perhaps remarked, on their way home, that they had heard a good, practical sermon. For we like by nature to be told to do this, or not to do that, in order to make ourselves pleasing to God. It does not follow that we betake ourselves diligently to doing the thing we have been directed to do, nor do we refrain from all that is evil, because we are warned against it. It is a singular thing that the people who most commonly need to be told that they cannot be saved by their good works, are the people who trouble themselves the least about doing them. A man who is in earnest, and who really, and honestly sets to work to gain for himself eternal life is far more likely to be awakened from his delusion. Just as if a man were bent upon flying with a pair of wings of his own construction, he would speedily be convinced of his delusion by making a trial of his wings. But the people who go on in a contented way in the course of this world, and seldom have a thought beyond that of pleasing themselves, will generally be found at last resting upon the reflection that they have done or felt something which will recommend them to God. They have at some time or other given money for which they were entreated for a charitable purpose, or they have gone to church, or they are communicants, or, what is there not upon which their hopes may be founded! |My family was always a respectable one, and I have a nephew who is a clergyman,| said one poor sinner at the point of death, when the solemn question was put to him, |Are you saved?| |You take such pains to prove,| said some one, |that people can never be saved by their works. But I don't find the people that are trying to do these good works. There is much more danger of their doing nothing but please themselves.| This is so far true. But the person who said it had never remarked that it is just those people who never trouble themselves about working, who are most confident that they have something of their own which God will own at last. And even if they can recall nothing but sin and folly, they will fall back at the last moment upon their repentance and their prayers.
The Master had described the imaginary figs, which he still believed might be made to grow upon thistles. And this was all he could do. He had once mentioned the Lord Jesus. But it was not to tell of His precious blood, and His love to the ungodly and to sinners, the only way by which a man could be brought near to God, and walk with Him here, and dwell with Him hereafter. He had but held up the Lord Jesus as an example to men and women, dead in trespasses and sins. He might as well have shown a beautiful picture to a dead man in his coffin. He did not understand that life must come first, and that work will follow. But the Master had done his best. And it may be he was as well satisfied with his sermon as the most devoted of his admirers.
Nicholas said nothing, but he went to his lodging and wrote the sermon all down, word for word, exactly as the Master had spoken it. And when he had finished, he went to the Master, and said, |I have written out your sermon, and if it be not troublesome, I should like to read it to you.|
The Master replied, |I shall be glad to hear it.| Thereupon the man read the sermon all through and then said to the Master, |Dear sir, pray tell me if there be a word wanting, that if so I may set it down.|
Hereupon the Master was greatly astonished and flattered, and said |Dear son, thou hast written down every word and phrase just as it came out of my mouth. I tell thee if any one would give me much money for it, I could not write it down as exactly as thou hast done.|
And the Master said also he was much astonished to think that he had never found out before how full of wit was so simple a man.
|Thou hast hidden thy talent,| he said, |so that I never perceived it.| To this the man only replied, |Dear Master, if God will, I am purposed to go home again.|
But the Master said, |Dear son, what shouldst thou do at home? Thou must eat there as well as here, therefore stay in this place, for if God will, I am minded to preach again of a perfect life.|
Then said the man, |Dear Master, you must know that I have not come hither for the sake of your preaching, but because I thought, with God's help, to give you some good counsel.|
Quoth the Master, |How shouldst thou give counsel? Thou art but a layman, and understandest not the Scriptures, and it is moreover not thy place to preach if thou wouldst. Stay here a little longer,| continued the Master meekly, |perchance God will give me to preach such a sermon as thou wouldst care to hear.|
Then the man said, |Dear Master, I would fain say somewhat to you, but I fear that you would be displeased to hear it.|
But the Master answered, |Dear son, say what thou wilt, I can answer for it that I shall take it in good part.|
Hereupon the man said, |You are a great scholar, and have taught us a good lesson in this sermon. But you yourself do not live according to it. Yet you try to persuade me to stay here that you may preach me yet another sermon. Sir, I give you to understand that man's words have in many ways hindered me, much more than they have helped me. And this is the reason; it often happened that when I came away from the sermon, I brought certain false notions away with me, which I hardly got rid of in a long while with great toil. But if the highest Teacher of all truth come to a man, he must be empty and quit of all else, and hear His voice only. Know ye, that when this same Master cometh to me, He teaches me more in one hour, than you or all the doctors from Adam to the judgment day will ever do.|