“A sower went out to sow his seed, and as he sowed, some fell by the way side. . . . and other some fell upon a rock and other some fell among thorns and other some fell upon good ground, and brought forth fruit a hundred fold” Luke, viii. 5, 8.
OUR attention, my beloved, is again awakened by a repetition of the dreadful truths which were the subject of my last discourse. In this parable, the elect and the reprobate are plainly designated; and the comparatively small number of the elect is discernible to the slightest observer. In the first place, out of that immense multitude of people who either know not God, or refuse obedience to his authority, and throw off the restraints of religion, none are chosen; the parable does not even notice them: and the reason is, because, according to the scripture, they who believe not are already judged. In the second place, out of the seed which God hath sown in his Church, watered with the dews of Heaven, and nourished with the manure of his holy word, only one of the four parts described forms the number of the elect. The man who hears the word of God, but never follows it in practice, is rejected. The man whose sloth and tepidity, like the dryness of a rock, prevent the word of God from taking root in his soul, and whose only efforts for salvation consist in attending at the service of the Church, and in performing a few exercises of devotion without the spirit and without the fervour of divine love, is rejected. The man whose heart is divided between God and the world, and whose entanglement in the thorns of riches and pleasures draws off his attention from the duties of religion, is rejected. He alone who hears the word of God and keeps it he alone who seeks the kingdom of Heaven in the first place, and makes salvation the great business of his life he alone who, notwithstanding the opposition of his own nature, and the influence of public example, serves his Maker in spirit and in truth, and brings forth fruit in patience he alone is admitted into the number of the elect, and entitled to the rewards prepared for the saints.
But, my brethren, where shall we find men of this description? That you may be enabled to form an idea of the comparative smallness of their number, I will describe in detail the obligations of a Christian, and I will examine how far they are observed by mankind in general. Be attentive, for the subject is applicable to every individual in this assembly.
1. By the title and character of Christian, which we bear, we are obliged to renounce the world and all its pomps, the Devil and all his works, the flesh and all its concupiscences. These are our engagements. These are the essential articles of the treaty concluded between us and God. On the fulfilment of these we shall be entitled to the promises, and not otherwise.
In the first place, we engaged in baptism to renounce the world and all its pomps. This engagement we made at the foot of the altar of God; the Church witnessed and sealed it, and on this condition alone received us into the society of the faithful.
But what is this world which we engaged to renounce? I reply, that it is the world, to which the greater part of mankind are attached; and by this mark we may always distinguish it. The world is that multitude of sinners, whose desires and fears, whose hopes and solicitudes, whose joys and griefs are excited by the goods or evils of this life alone. The world is that great portion of the human race, who fix their affections on the Earth, as if it were their true country; who dread the world to come, as if it were a land of banishment; who are less anxious about their eternal inheritance, than about their temporal pursuits; who consider death as the greatest of all evils the extinction of every hope and the end of every enjoyment. The world is that temporal kingdom, where Christ is not known, or, if he be known, is not glorified as God; where his maxims are reprobated, his faithful servants despised, his blessings abused, his sacraments neglected or profaned, his worship abandoned. This is the world which we have engaged to renounce, to avoid, to hate, to oppose by our good example, and to resist with all our heart and mind and strength. This is the world which ought to be crucified to us that is, ought to be the object of our aversion, and to which we ought to be crucified that is, ought to be the objects of its censures and ridicule.
Now, my beloved, in what manner do we fulfil this engagement? Do we loathe the enjoyments of the world? Are we grieved at the sight of its abominations and crimes? Do we sigh after our true country, and lament that the time of our pilgrimage is prolonged? Do we wish to be dissolved and to be with Christ? No: we do nothing of the kind; or rather, we do directly the reverse. Our thoughts and affections are centred in the world; its laws are our laws; its maxims are our maxims; we condemn what it condemns; and we commend what it commends. When I say we, I mean the generality of Christians. I know that there are many who complain bitterly of the world; who accuse it of injustice, ingratitude, and caprice; who discharge upon it the coldest venom of invective; and who describe its errors and abuses in the strongest terms. But, notwithstanding all this, they still continue to love it; they court its favours; they cannot live without it. Where is the man who can say from his heart that he hates the world, and that he has renounced its pleasures, its customs, its maxims, and its expectations? All are pledged, all, without exception, have entered into a most solemn covenant to do this, and not one will do it.
We engaged, in the second place, to renounce the flesh and all its irregular inclinations and desires: that is to say, we engaged to shun indolence and sensuality, to resist the cravings of a corrupted heart, to chastise the body, to crucify it, and to bring it into subjection. This was our vow; and we are obliged to fulfil it: it is one of our principal duties: it is inseparable from the character of a Christian. And by whom is it fulfilled?
Lastly, we engaged to renounce the Devil and all his works. If it be asked, what these works are, I reply, that they are the works which form the history of the most considerable part of our lives. They are ambition, pride, hypocrisy, vain-glory, and deceit: they are fraud, injustice, double-dealing, and lies: they are hatred, dissension, envy, and jealousy: they are worldly pomp and show, plays, comedies, and unprofitable parties of pleasure.
“What!” methinks I hear you say, “is the Christian to be debarred the theatres, and other public places of resort?” Certainly, if his innocence be exposed to danger. Every action that we perform must have for its object the greater honour and glory of God, or it is not innocent. Every work that is not placed to our account in the book of life, is recorded against us. The weakness of human nature, indeed, requires pastimes and relaxations; but those pastimes and relaxations only are innocent, which may be referred to the honour of God, and which will enable us to apply with more vigour to our more holy and more serious duties.
Now, according to this universally received point of Christian morality, I leave you to decide whether the public amusements above mentioned are innocent or not. Do they unbend the mind only for a time, and thereby enable it to apply with more earnestness to the great affair of salvation? Can they be referred to the greater honour and glory of God? Is it possible to frequent them through motives of religion and virtue? No: the most profane Christian would blush to make the assertion. Consequently, your innocence is not only endangered, but injured by them; and consequently, as often as you frequent them, you violate the sacred engagement to renounce the Devil and all his works, which you contracted in baptism, and which you ratify by your public profession of the Christian faith.
2. These, my brethren, are our baptismal vows. They are not matter of counsel only: they are what we call pious practices. They are obligations the most essential the most indispensable. And yet how few observe them! how few give them a place in their thoughts! Ah! did you but seriously reflect on the extent of the duties which the name of Christian imposes on you were you but once thoroughly convinced that you are obliged to hate the world and all that is not God, to live the life of faith, to maintain a constant watchfulness over your senses, to be conformed to Christ crucified did you but seriously consider, that the great command of loving God with your whole heart and strength, is violated by every thought, every action, which is not referred to him; oh! you would be seized with fear and trembling; you would shudder at the sight of the immense chaos which your infidelities have formed between you and God; you would exclaim with astonishment: “Who can be saved? if these are our duties if this constant watchfulness, this pure and fervent love are required of every individual, who can be saved?” This would be your exclamation; and I would immediately answer: “Very few indeed will be saved: you will not be saved unless you reform your lives; they who live like you will not be saved; the multitude will not be saved”.
Who then will be saved? The man who, in these days of irreligion and vice, walks in the footsteps of the primitive Christian “whose hands are innocent, and whose heart is pure; who has not received his soul in vain” Ps., xxiii. 4; who has successfully struggled against the torrent of worldly example, and purified his soul; who is a lover of justice, “and swears not deceitfully against his neighbour” ib.; who is not indebted to double dealing for an increase of fortune; who returns good for evil, and heaps favours on the enemy that had laboured for his destruction; who is candid and sincere, and never sacrifices truth to interest, nor conscience to civility; who is charitable to all in distress, and a friend to all in affliction; who is resigned in adversity, and penitent even in prosperity.
He, my dear brethren, will be saved, and he only. Oh! how alarming is this truth! And nevertheless, all the chosen few only excepted, who work out their salvation with fear and trembling all, I say, live on in the greatest peace and tranquillity of mind. They know that the greater number is lost; but they flatter themselves with the assurance that, although they live like the world, they shall die like the just: each one supposes that God will favour him with a particular grace: each one looks for ward with confidence to a happy death.
These are your expectations likewise. I will therefore say no more about the rest of mankind, but address myself solely to you as if you were the only inhabitants of the Earth. Now this is the thought which occupies my mind, and strikes terror into the very centre of my soul. I suppose that the last day is arrived; that the trumpet has sounded; that you are risen from the dead; that you are assembled together in this place, to await the coming of the great Judge; that the heavens are about to open; and that you will shortly behold the Son of Man descending with great power and majesty to pronounce upon you the sentence either of election or reprobation.
Rouse your attention, my brethren. Are your accounts in order? Are you prepared for the trial? Are you ready to meet your Judge? Do not say that you will prepare yourselves here after. This is a delusive hope. What you are now, the same will you probably be at the hour of death. The intention of reforming your conduct, which has so long occupied your thoughts without effect, will continue without effect as long as you live. This is testified by the experience of ages.
Now I ask you I ask you with dismay, and without meaning to separate my lot from yours: Were the Son of Man to appear in this assembly, and separate the good from the bad, the innocent from the guilty, the penitent from the impenitent, how many would he place on his right hand? Would he place the greater number of us? Would he place one half? Formerly, he could not find ten just men in five populous cities; and could he find as many, do you think, in this small assembly? How many, then, would he place on his right? You cannot give an answer, neither can I. Thou alone, my God, knowest thy elect, thy chosen few.
But if we cannot say who will be placed on his right hand, we can say at least that sinners will be placed on his left. Who, then, are sinners?
They may be divided into four classes. Let every individual attend, and examine whether he may not be ranked in one of them.
1. They who are immersed in vice, and will not reform: 2. They who intend to reform, but defer their conversion: 3. They who fall into their former habits as often as they pretend to renounce them: 4. They who think that they need not a change of life.
These are the reprobate: separate them from the rest of this assembly, for they will be separated from them at the last day. Now, ye chosen servants of my God ye remnant of Israel, lift up your heads; your salvation is at hand: pass to the right: separate yourselves from this chaff, which is destined for the fire. O God! where are thy elect! How few of us will be comprehended in the number!
Beloved Christians, our perdition is almost certain; and why are we not alarmed? If a voice from Heaven were heard in this temple, proclaiming aloud that one of us here present would be consigned to eternal flames, without disclosing the name, who would not tremble for himself? who would not examine into the state of his soul? who would not, like the apostles at the last supper, turn to Jesus, and say: “Is it I, Lord?” And, if time were still at our disposal, who would not endeavour to secure his own soul by the tears and sighs of repentance?
Where then is our prudence? Perhaps not more than ten of my present auditory will be saved; perhaps not even so many; perhaps But, O God! I dare not, I cannot fix my eyes on the dreadful, unfathomable abyss of thy justice: perhaps not more than one of us will see Heaven. And yet, we all flatter ourselves that we shall be the happy souls that will escape: we all imagine, without considering either our virtues or vices, that God will have mercy on us in preference even to those who are more innocent and deserving.
Good God! how little are the terrors of thy justice known in the world! The elect in every age withered away through fear, when they contemplated the severity and the depth of thy judgments on the sins of men. Holy solitaries, after a life of the severest penance, were terrified at the thought, and when stretched on the bed of death, shook their hard couch of poverty and mortification by the trembling motions of their emaciated frame. They turned towards their weeping brethren, and with a faltering and dying voice asked them: “Do you think that the Lord will have mercy on me?” Their fears bordered on despair, and their minds were in the greatest agitation, until Jesus himself appeased the storm, and produced a calm. But now, the man who has lived like the multitude, who has been worldly, profane, sensual, and unthinking, dies with the assurance of a happy immortality: and the minister of God, when summoned to attend him, is necessitated to cherish this false confidence, to speak only of the infinite treasures of the mercies of God, and in some measure to aid and assist him in deceiving himself. Good God! what wrath is stored up by thy justice against the day of wrath!
What conclusion, my beloved, are you to draw from these alarming truths? That you are to despair of salvation? God forbid. The impious man alone, in order to indulge his passions with less restraint, endeavours to convince himself that salvation is unattainable, and that all mankind will perish with him. My object is, that you should be undeceived respecting that almost universally received opinion, that it is not unlawful to do what is done by others, and that universal custom is a sufficient rule for your conduct. My object is, that you should be convinced, that in order to be saved, you must live in a different manner from the generality of mankind, that your piety must be singular, and that you must be separated from the multitude.
When the captive Jews were on the point of departing from their beloved country for the land of bondage the great Babylon the prophet Jeremiah, who was commanded by God to remain in Jerusalem, addressed them in words to this purpose: Children of Israel, when you arrive in Babylon, you will behold their gods of silver and gold borne on the shoulders of the inhabitants, and the multitude before and behind adoring them; but do not you imitate their example; on the contrary, say in your hearts: “Thou alone, O Lord, art worthy to be adored” Bar., vi. 6.
My advice to you at parting is nearly in the same words; and I earnestly exhort you never for a moment to lose sight of it. As soon as you have left the house of God, you will find yourselves in the midst of Babylon.
You will behold the idols of gold and silver, before which are prostrated the greater part of mankind: you will see the gods of this world wealth, glory, and pleasure, surrounded by their numerous votaries and adorers: you will witness abuses, errors, and disorders, authorized by universal example. Then, my beloved brethren, if you are Israelites in deed, you must turn to God, and say: “Thou alone art worthy to be adored”.
I will not take part with people who are strangers to thee: I will follow no other law but thine. The gods which the senseless multitude adores are not gods; they are the work of men’s hands, and they shall perish with them. Thou only art immortal: Thou alone art worthy to be adored. The laws of Babylon have no connection with thy holy laws. I will adore thee in the society of thy elect, and with them I will ardently sigh after the Heavenly Jerusalem the seat of bliss. The world, perhaps, may attribute my conduct to weakness, my singularity to vain-glory; but do thou, O Lord, give me strength to resist the torrent of vice, and suffer me not to be seduced by evil example. The days of captivity will have an end. Thou wilt remember Abraham and David, thy servants. Thou wilt deliver thy people from slavery, and lead them into Sion. Then shalt thou alone reign over Israel, and over the nations that refuse to know thee. Then shall the former things pass away, and thou alone shalt remain forever. Then shall all nations know that “thou alone, O Lord, art worthy to be adored”.
In order therefore to profit by this discourse, you must be resolved to live differently from the rest of men: you must bear constantly in mind that the greater number are lost: you must disregard all customs which are not consistent with the law of God: you must reflect that the saints in every age were men of singular lives. Then, after having been distinguished from sinners on Earth, you will be gloriously separated from them for all eternity.