This sermon telleth us of four measures that shall be rendered unto man, and of two grades of a godly life, and how we ought to love our neighbour.
Luke vi. 36-42.
WE read in the Gospel for this day that our Lord Jesus Christ said: "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given unto you: good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again. And He spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye."
I will say a few words on the precept: "Be ye merciful, even as your Father in heaven is merciful." This noble virtue is, now-a-days, quite a stranger to the hearts of many, insomuch that it is grievous to behold. For each is called to exercise this mercy towards his neighbour, whereinsoever the latter may have need of it; not only as regards the giving of earthly goods, but also the bearing with his neighbour's faults in all gentleness and mercy. But no! each one falls upon his neighbour and judges him; and as soon as any mishap befalls a man, whether deserved or not, straightway, without waiting to take thought, another comes along and lends a helping hand to make matters worse, to put a bad face on them, and suggests the most evil interpretation that he can imagine; nay, it is thanks to God if he do not add a great piece from the stores of his own wicked imagination. This evil tongue (from which arise untold sorrows and vexations) is at work at once before a man has time to reflect and pass a deliberate judgment. Poor creature! as thou lovest thy eternal salvation, wait, at all events, till thou canst calmly reflect, and know what thou thinkest and sayest. For it is a base and scandalous thing for a man thus thoughtlessly and rashly to pass sentence, which may not even be deserved, upon his neighbours, with his sharp, ruthless words, whereby he, spiritually speaking, slays his neighbour in the hearts of others. And who has commanded thee to pass judgment? Wherefore Christ tells us that whosoever judges another shall be judged by God: "For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with the same measure that ye mete, shall it be measured to you again." Of this matter no more for the present; but let us consider those words of Christ: "For with the same measure that ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."
We read in the Gospel of four sorts of measure that shall be given to a man,-a good measure, one shaken together, one pressed down, and one running over. The doctors of divinity teach us that a good measure is for a man while in this present time, through the help and grace of God, to be in a state of salvation and holiness, whereby he may enter into eternal life hereafter. The second sort of measure is for the body of a justified man to be glorified with his soul at the day of judgment: this is the measure which is added to. The measure pressed down is, that a man should have his portion with all the saints and angels of God in eternal life. The measure running over is, that a man should have a perfect fruition of God directly without means.
Now, dear children, we will give you yet another exposition of these words, and ask: First, what is the measure whereby we shall be measured? Secondly, who is He that measures? The measure whereby we shall be measured is the faculty of love in the soul-the human Will. This is, properly speaking, the measure whereby all human words and works and life are measured, for this is neither added to nor taken from. By so large a measure as thou hast meted withal shall be meted unto thee again with thine own measure in eternity. And the meter is thine own enlightened reason and conscience. Now let us observe first concerning the good measure, that it is, when a man freely and heartily turns to God in his will, and lives circumspectly according to the commands of God and the Holy Church; and moreover lives orderly in the communion of the holy sacraments, in the true Christian faith, being truly sorry for his past sins, and having a thorough and steadfast purpose to abstain from them henceforward, and to live in penitence and the fear of God, loving God and his neighbour. Alas! there be few now-a-days who thus do, or even desire to live in the fear of God. Children, one who thus lives is said to and does lead a just Christian life, and is a true Christian man; and this is a good measure which, without doubt, hath a part in eternal life. These are rules which all really Christian men must needs observe. There are some whom God has invited and called to this "good measure," and of whom He demands no more than this. And it may very possibly be appointed and come to pass that such men may walk so unspotted and godly in this way, that after death they may enter into eternal life without any purgatory. Yet nevertheless this is the lowest path by which to approach to our merciful God.
After these, there is a second sort of men whom God has called to tread a much higher path, that they may reach a much higher goal, notwithstanding that some of these should have to pass through purgatory, inasmuch as they have not lived perfectly and faultlessly according to the vocation to which God had called them. These have to suffer such long and sharp anguish in the fire of purification as no human heart can fathom or express. But when they have reached the term of their purification, they rise a thousand degrees higher than the former class of men. With them it stands thus: that having set out in a spiritual, blessed, and holy life, they were overtaken by death ere they had reached their goal. Now when these men are in the beginning of their spiritual life, they practise many excellent outward exercises of piety-such as prayer, weeping, fasting, and the like; but they receive from God a heaped-up measure, in that they have also inward exercises, setting themselves with all diligence to seek God in the inmost ground of their souls, for therein is seated the kingdom of God. Their life is very far different from that of the first class I have described.
Now, children, would a man attain to such a point that the outward things should not hinder the inward workings of the soul, that would be indeed above all a blessed thing; for two things are better than one. But if thou find that the outward work hinders the inward working of the soul, then boldly let it go, and turn thou with all thy might to that which is inward, for God esteemeth it far before that which is outward. Now we priests do on this wise: for during the fast days in Lent we have many services, but at Easter and Whitsuntide we shorten our services and say fewer prayers, for the greatness of the festival. So likewise do thou when thou art bidden to this high festival of inward converse; and fear not to lay aside outward exercises, if else they would be a snare and hindrance to thee, except in so far as thou art bound to perform them for the sake of order. For I tell thee of a truth, that the pure inward work is a divine and blessed life, in which we shall be led into all truth, if we can but keep ourselves pure and separate, and undisturbed by outward anxieties. So in thy hours of meditation, when thou turnest thy thoughts within, set before thy mind whatever thou shalt find most helpful to thee, whether it be the noble and unspotted life of our Lord Jesus Christ, or His manifold sharp and bitter sufferings, or His many painful wounds and His precious blood-shedding, or the eternal and essential Godhead, or the Holy Trinity, or the Eternal Wisdom, or the Divine Power, or the gentle and compassionate kindness of God, or the countless benefits that He has bestowed on thee and all men, and will bestow evermore on thee and all those who deserve them and are found in God's grace at their end.
Therefore, dear children, among all these excellent things, whichever most stirs you up to true devoutness and fervent desire, take, and humbly sink down into the abyss of God, with great thankfulness, and wait for God with this preparation. For, by such exercises, with love, the soul becomes very quick to feel God's touch, far more so than by any outward practices of devotion. For the inward work is always better than the outward; and from it the outward works of virtue draw all their power and efficacy. It is as if thou hadst a noble excellent wine, of such virtue that a drop of it poured into a cask of water would be enough to make all the water taste like wine and turn it into good wine. This would be a great miracle; and so it is with the noble, excellent, inward work of the soul compared to the outward.
Now, we find some men whose love is like a very broad vessel; that is they can meditate a great deal upon our Lord, and with great desire and fervour, but they are hardly two inches deep. That is to say, they lack humility and a common godlike love toward all mankind. For, as St. Augustine says, "Salvation does not depend on the length of time that a person has been converted to God, nor on the number of good deeds performed, but solely on the greatness of his love." This we see in the example of the husbandmen who, with great labour, till the wheat-fields and precious vineyards, yet partake not themselves of these best fruits of the earth, but have only rye to eat and water to drink. So it is with many persons, in a spiritual sense, with regard to the outward good works which they do, that other more noble-minded and devout persons reap the fruit and benefit thereof.
Next comes the measure that is shaken together; and this signifies an overflowing love which draws all things into itself; that is to say, all good deeds and all sorrows, nay every good which is brought to pass in the world, whether by good or wicked men, does this overflowing love draw into its own vessel. And he who possesses this love has a much larger ownership and delight in the good actions of another, who does those actions but lacks this love, than the doer himself. Therefore, of all the pious acts, the masses, vigils, and psalters that are read and sung, the many great sacrifices that are made for God's sake,-of all these good things is more meted and allotted to such loving men than to those who may have done the good works, but do not stand in this overflowing love. For I tell thee that God will not accept the works of which He is not the beginning and the end; but, as St. Paul tells us, "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." Hence this virtue of godly charity is the greatest of all virtues; for by love it draws unto itself all good deeds, customs, and services, in heaven or on earth, which are the fruits of grace: what evil a man has remains his own, but what good he has is the property of love. Even as when we pour corn into a vessel, all the grains do hurry forward and press together as though they desired to become one, so doth love swallow up all the goodness of angels and saints in heaven, all suffering and pain, and all the goodness that is found in any creature in heaven and on earth, whereof more than can be told is wasted and thrown away, as far as we are concerned, but love doth gather it all up into itself, and will not suffer it to be lost. The godly doctors of Holy Scripture tell us that in heaven the elect do ever bear such great love one to another that, if one soul were to perceive and see that another soul had a clearer vision and greater fruition of the Deity than herself, she would rejoice with her sister as though she herself had won and enjoyed this blessedness. Therefore, the more while here on earth we approach and are made like unto this overflowing love, the more shall we enjoy of its blessedness hereafter in eternal life; for he who most entirely rejoices in good works here on earth in a spirit of love, he alone shall possess and enjoy love in eternal life hereafter. But this same spirit of love is what the Evil One always hates in a man: wherefore he is ever trying to bring such as have it into a false self-righteousness, and into displeasure with their neighbours' ways and works, so that the man conceits within himself that his neighbour's works are not so good as they ought to be, and so in a moment he falleth away from this love, and begins to judge his neighbour and pass sentence on him. And then from the depth of this judging spirit darts forth a stinging venomous tongue, that wounds and poisons the soul unto eternal death. This same arrow of judgment will smite and slay all the excellent and virtuous works that thou hadst stored up unto thyself through an overflowing love, and thus thou wilt find thyself despoiled and laid waste, and thy peace destroyed within thee, and then thou wilt be in a miserable and dangerous condition. Wherefore, in godly faithfulness, I counsel thee ever to keep thy tongue with all diligence, if thou wouldst be, and call thyself, a friend of God.
Ofttimes too does the Evil One come and seduce thee into anger with a pious and good man. If thou utterest this by passing a judgment on him, in thus cutting thyself off from the fellowship of his love, thou art also cut off from participation in the benefits of the gifts with which God has endowed him, and the works of his virtue. Of this brotherly fellowship the Psalmist says: "It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments." Now the beard has many hairs, and the precious ointment flows into them all; but if one hair be cut off, it receives none of this precious ointment. In like manner, so long as thou hast a whole and undivided love towards all men, a share of the virtues and divine influences bestowed upon all flows out unto thee through this love. But I tell thee, if thou dost sever any one from this spirit of universal love, thou wilt not receive the precious benefits of the outflowings of love. Wherefore give diligent and earnest heed to yourselves in this matter of divine love, and maintain a hearty good-will towards all men, and bear no grudge against any, and despoil not the sacred temple of God, which has been sanctified by our highest pontiff, Christ; and beware that ye do not call down upon your heads God's everlasting Interdict. But, alas! now-a-days, nature is so perverted in many, both clergy and laymen, as touching brotherly faithfulness and love, that if they see their neighbour fall, they laugh at him, or stand by and let it go on, and care nought for it. Take heed to your failings, and look how it stands with your inward love to God and your neighbour, and keep ever alive within you the fear of God; for I tell you that that which you fail to obtain here through your own neglect, you will lose for ever. After this life nothing will be added to you or taken from you, but ye shall receive according to that ye have deserved, whether it be good or whether it be evil. I tell you that then, though our Lady and all the saints should intercede for a man with tears of blood, it would not help him. Therefore give heed to yourselves; for now God is alway at hand, waiting for us, and ready to give us much more than we are ready to desire of Him. St Paul says, Love never faileth, it doeth all things, and endureth all things. Therefore seeing that the love of God is never standing idle, so be ye constantly abounding in good works, enduring all that befalls you cheerfully, for God's sake. And then shall ye be made partakers of the overflowing measure, which is so full, so rich, so generous, that it runneth over on all sides.
God touches this brimming vessel with His finger, and it overflows, and pours itself back again into its Divine source, from whence it has proceeded. It flows back into its source without channel or means, and loses itself altogether; will, knowledge, love, perception, are all swallowed up and lost in God, and become one with Him. Now God loveth Himself in these men, and worketh in them all their works. The gush and outflowing of this love cannot be contained within the man's own soul, but he hath a yearning desire, and saith: "Oh! my beloved Lord Jesus Christ, I beseech Thee to have compassion upon poor sinners, and to forgive them their sins and misdoings; and especially upon those who, after having done good works, have lost the same again by reason of sin; and grant them, dear Lord, the crumbs that fall from the rich table of Thy grace; and of Thy goodness turn them from their sins through the pains of purification, and impart unto them the overflowings of Thy grace, that through Thy merits they may be kept unto the end." Thus do these Elect men carry up all things, themselves and all creatures, to their true source in God, and take all things that are done in the holy Christian Church, and offer them up, from a joyful, humble, submissive heart, to their eternal, heavenly Father, for themselves and for all men, bad and good; for their love excludes none here in this time of grace, and they are always in unity with all men. No love or blessedness that the saints or angels possess is lost to them, but all is poured into their measure.
Verily, had we none of these godlike men among us at this present time, we were doubtless in evil case. Therefore let us all beseech the God of all mercy, that we may fulfil and receive again this measure that runneth over. Amen.