You're here: oChristian.com » Articles Home » John Tauler » Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Sermon for Ash Wednesday

By John Tauler


      Gal. ii. 20-"I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me."

      THE holy Apostle Paul, whose endeavours towards a perfect life were all founded upon endurance and true resignation, shows us in himself how a righteous, spiritual man, being nailed with Christ to the cross, and whose sufferings bring forth in him the living fruits of the Spirit, now no longer liveth through himself, but Christ liveth in him, as is taught in the words which he writes to the Galatians, saying: "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Again he continues; "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." In these words we have a wholesome admonition to strive after such a life as that Christ may be glorified in us, and His bitter grief and cross may be manifested in our mortal body, to the bettering of our neighbour and ourselves. Wherefore we ought to observe here, that though there be many kinds of cross and suffering, of which each has its own length, and depth, and breadth, and height, yet there is only one on which our eternal redemption was accomplished; that is, the cross of Christ's humanity, which again points us to a still higher cross (yet, so to speak, without cross and pain), of His divine nature. So likewise there were two crosses which stood beside the cross of Christ; the one bearing the malefactor on His right hand, and the other on His left. From all which we purpose to gather some spiritual emblems that may help us to discern what sort of cross and grief it is that we are bearing, and to which of these three crosses it may be compared. This we may tell by the following tokens.

      By the cross of the malefactor on Christ's left hand may be understood those who have made a religious profession, and are hanging on the cross of continual exercises and outward austerities which they have bound themselves to practise; they have well-deserved this cross, but it brings them no profit, because they have not died on it to self-will and other sinful failings. It is possible for them after this crucifixion to go down to eternal torment with the unjust malefactor; so that, to use a common proverb, they drag the barrow here and the waggon in the world to come. The height of this cross is the spiritual pride and self-complacency which they have in the strictness of their life, on account of which they set themselves up above others; for none can be good enough for them, and they lay great stress on such austerities, despising all who do not lead such a life as themselves.

      St. Augustine said to his brethren: "Dear brethren, rather than you should say or think yourselves to be different from or better than other men, I would that you should return to the world. You ought to say, as Christ did by the mouth of his Prophet David: 'I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people;' and with the publican: 'God be merciful to me a sinner.'"

      The depth of this cross is a type of the depth of sin into which such men fall; and that comes hence, that their inward principle is false through and through, and they have never taken pains to look within and examine their evil unchanged hearts, and amend them; they lean altogether on outward exercises, which at the same time they hate, and perform with backward hearts. They know nothing of a union with God, or of His mysteries; nay, they no more reach after anything of this kind by questioning, or inquiring, or seeking, than they think of the Sultan over the sea, and take no more thought about it than if it in no wise concerned them. If they hear talk of divine things, they understand as much of them as a German does of Italian. They say their prayers and read their Bibles, and perform their dry works of obedience with the outward man and their senses; and with this they are well satisfied. Let God unite Himself with whom He will, what does that concern them? But if it were a question of outward advantage in respect of gain, or honour, or other things that might be turned to account, which any one had obtained thereby, then we should see whether it concerned them or not. Hence, in spite of their pious acts, it comes to this, that when they are called on to renounce their own way and will, they behave as if they were deaf or senseless. Thus St. Augustine writes: "I do not know wickeder, more utterly corrupt men than those who fall away while maintaining a religious profession; for not seldom they fall so deeply into sin, that they come to err from the faith and the things touching the Holy Scriptures, and thus sink under the cross to which they are bound and fastened."

      The width or breadth of this cross is that they go the wide, broad, well-trodden way that leadeth unto hell; for they live after the flesh, and therefore they do not seek after the sweetness of the spirit; for he who liveth to the flesh cannot please God. He who will not seek the narrow path that leadeth unto eternal life, must needs often be delayed and lose the way, by which means he is made too late to find the way that leadeth unto life. This is the case with those who seek and intend themselves in all things, and are always wanting to get some ease and to gain some indulgence from the Lord, now for this, now for that forbidden thing; in a word, to have nothing to bear is what would suit them best. For this very reason they are obliged to bear a heavy cross in their conscience whether they like it or no, and have no confidence towards God whom they have set at nought, nor yet any consolation from the world which despises them. Ah! dear children, what a hard life and cross is theirs! They would fain be without pain, and have the very bitterest pain; which will, moreover, be followed by eternal pain, unless they repent and turn to God.

      The length of this cross is, that they remain and persevere impenitent and without virtue unto the end; and this comes from their great ingratitude, inasmuch as God has bestowed on them such great grace before other worldly people who would have made better use of it, and has visited them in so many good influences and admonitions, inward and outward, as often even to raise their own wonder; and for all that they do not turn from evil. Of these says Paul: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame." And He gives us a likeness for them: "For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing: whose end is to be burned." As much as to say, Of these men who have received great grace from God, and to whom He has showed special tokens of His secret favour, when they are notwithstanding obstinately perverse and unfruitful, it is to be feared, if they persevere in such a course, that they will fall under the eternal curse of God. Therefore beware that you be not hanged on this cross of condemnation, and meet your last end thus.

      The second kind of cross is good, and is that of the malefactor on Christ's right hand, who had indeed well deserved his punishment, but it became unto him fruitful and profitable. This cross we may take as a type of the hardship and sufferings needful to be borne by those who have turned with their whole heart from this world and sin to a life of repentance; who have indeed well deserved to suffer much for their sins, because they have wasted their time so unprofitably in fleshly and natural pleasures, doing their own will; but now they wish to forsake all these things for God's sake, and on the contrary to suffer whatever God shall appoint for them. To these the cross is not only profitable and fruitful, but also consoling, sweet, and lovely. For to them it brings, as it did to this malefactor, a strong faith with a firm hope in the unspeakable love and mercy of God. Ah! children, what greater good could befall this criminal hanging on the cross, in this short space of time, than to hear those comfortable words: "Verily I say unto thee, this day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." And what can better comfort these rightly disposed converts of whom we are speaking, than for Christ to exclaim unto them: "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." That is, I will receive you into my favour, and help you to bear your burdens, and after a short season of travail most sweetly quicken and refresh you.

      The depth of this cross is boundless humility, not deeming ourselves higher than other men, but having our eyes always open to our own shortcomings; like this malefactor, who acknowledged that he was suffering the just reward of his misdeeds. So let it be with all these converts; in all their sorrows let them remember that they might justly have suffered more, and that no suffering on earth or in hell would be a sufficient retribution for their sins. This makes them not to despise, nor judge, nor condemn any but themselves; and when they are brought to this point, then their cross begins to blossom and bear fruit.

      The height of this cross is a mind directed upwards to the contemplation of divine and heavenly things, and a forsaking of outward things; that is, they shall learn to look upward toward eternal things, without letting their eyes wander after earthly things, and fix their looks on the admirable life and walk of our dear Lord, his sufferings, his bitter death, his resurrection, ascension, and everlasting reign. This makes a man's suffering and cross light unto him, as it did to this malefactor when he said: "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." Behold, dear children, how his mind and thoughts were filled with the eternal world.

      The breadth of this cross signifies a hearty, all-embracing love to God, men, and all creatures; for those who are on this cross pray with lip and heart, not alone for themselves, but also for all men, even for their enemies: thus their prayer extends unto all, and they are ever ready to devote themselves, body and soul to their fellow-creatures; and thus they do what in them lies to make amends to God, whom they have aforetime dishonoured and provoked in his creatures. Thus love, as St. Peter saith, covereth a multitude of sins; and, as Christ said of Mary Magdalene: many sins are forgiven her, for she loved much.

      The length of this cross is perseverance and growth in good works; for these men never cease from their kind and virtuous labours, but undertake one after another with just discrimination, and give all diligence to put off their old man, and to put on a new man created after God in righteousness and holiness of life. And hence their inward man is renewed day by day, and groweth up amidst all their sorrow, pain, and temptation, so that they may well feel how truly Paul has said, that "this light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

      The third cross is the cross of Christ, and is a type of the perfect men, on whom their Heavenly Father has bestowed peculiar glory and honour, and fellowship with His only begotten Son, in that He sends them, after a special sort, all manner of contradiction, pain, assaults, tribulation, and crosses of every kind; and gives them to drink of the cup of which Christ, His only begotten Son, has drunk. As it was with the holy Apostles James and John, to whom Christ said: "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink off? and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" As much as to say, If ye desire to be the chiefest, dearest friends of God, ye must, like me, suffer the greatest contradiction beforehand; for the disciple is not above his master. If Christ must needs suffer and enter by the cross into the kingdom of His Father, without doubt so must every friend of God have somewhat likewise to endure.

      The depth of this cross is that they have at all times a childlike fear, and allow God to move them as He will, and keep a constant care not to offend God. Its height is the well-grounded hope which they have of eternal blessedness, not founded on their own merit or good life, but on a firm faith, in a humble principle of entire self-surrender to the perfectly holy will of God. And this hope maketh not ashamed; but, as St. Paul says, "the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto them." The width or breadth of this cross is that they love God with their whole hearts, and themselves and all men through God; and endeavour with all their might "to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." They shun all giving of offence and scandal, and are useful to all and hurtful to none. And therefore they suffer gladly all that befalls them in their work of love, that they may bring many souls unto God. The length of their cross stretches out into eternity: for they are ready to suffer gladly all that God shall appoint unto them in time or in eternity; it is their highest happiness to forward all that God chooses to do through them; however and whenever He will, they simply follow His leading, without murmuring or questioning. They are those who are able to say in sincerity with Christ: "Not my will, but thine be done." Nothing grieves them more than that they cannot utterly give up their own will, by reason of human infirmity and weakness. O, how blessed are these men, and how fruitful is their cross, not only to themselves, but also to all Christendom!

      This cross leads and brings them to the ineffable cross of the divine nature, of which Paul was thinking when he prayed for his friends that they might "be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length, and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fulness of God." The length is His never-ending eternity; the breadth His boundless goodness and mercy, which has been shed abroad, and is yet poured out over the whole creation and mankind; the height is His omnipotence, and the depth of His unfathomable wisdom. Now he who will reach up unto the cross of Christ's divine nature, must first be fashioned into the likeness of His crucifixion in the flesh. And all those who truly lead a life in the spirit, such as we have described, are thus crucified with Christ; for they shall keep themselves from all the works of the flesh, which God hates, and shall have an earnest love to all righteousness, so that they are united with the bonds of their soul unto His divine nature. They shall, moreover, be ever striving to fulfil God's will, continually fixing their thoughts on Him, and keeping themselves from all that would be displeasing in His sight, and thus be nailed with the right foot to the cross of the divine nature; and they shall further learn to hold themselves between these two, that they be neither carried away by unblessed happiness, nor yet shrink from blessed unhappiness, nor be led astray between these two; and thus are they bound with the left foot to the cross of the divine nature. Furthermore, they shall have an inward sympathy with God, for the dishonour that has been done Him from the beginning of the world, and will yet be done Him by men in the Church and in the world until the last day, and for the shame and dishonour of His dearest friends, who have yielded themselves to suffer on this cross with Christ, that His divine glory may be magnified through them; for God will guard them as the apple of His eye, insomuch that whoso entreateth them evil hath done it unto God.

      That we may thus be nailed with Christ to the cross of his humanity,-that we may be admitted to the eternal beholding of the brightness of His godhead, may the Almighty Trinity grant and help us. Amen!

Back to John Tauler index.

Loading

Like This Page?


© 1999-2016, oChristian.com. All rights reserved.