May be able to comprehend with all saints what are the breadth, and length, and depth, and height. (Eph. iii. 18.)
In these words four things are noted, which are necessary to us for salvation. Firstly, charity, by which we love our friends and enemies. What is the breadth? This signifies the expansive nature of charity, which extends even to our enemies. Secondly, perseverance that we finally continue in charity: The length. That which is the length of charity is the length of perseverance. Thirdly, right intention, which we may set before ourselves God only as the reward of our actions: The height. This is that which lifts the soul on high, that God may be expected for a reward. Fourthly, that we may not fail in all these things through pride: The depth. It is humility, which places man in the lowest state in regard to Man, but in the highest state in relation to God. He that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (St. Luke xviii. 14)
I. On the first head it is to be noted, that for three reasons we ought chiefly to love our enemies.
(1)On account of the precept: But I say unto you, love your enemies…bless them that curse you, bless and curse not…That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven (S. Matt v. 44, 45)
The First Thing necessary to our salvation is Charity. Charity is God’s Love of the Goodness that He generates. It is the good of every nature and thus the hoped for perfection of every creature. To love all men, friends and foes, is simply to love them in God and God in them. It to love what they are made to be in the Mind and Heart of God, and thus it is to see and treat them as God does always. Charity suffers long and thus the heart is broadened to include the faith and hope in God for what all men might become.
(2) On account of the example of God. God commendeth His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom. v. 8-10)
The Love of God has been made Incarnate in the joining of humanity to Divinity in Jesus Christ. The Love of God has come down from Heaven to fetch us home to our Heavenly Father. The Love of God is made flesh in Jesus Christ most especially in His Salvific Death. For while we were yet sinfully nailing Him to His Tree, He loved us, He forgave us, and He still desired us to become His Friends on the Morrow of His Resurrection. Now that we believe and feel the power of His Resurrection, now that we are reconciled to the Father through the Love made Flesh that shed such Blood, we must perfect this love by sharing it with all other men.
(3) On account of our profit. For charity towards our enemies causes us to become sons of the Most High God. Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (St. Matt. v. 44)
If we would embrace the Forgiveness of Sins made Flesh, Jesus Christ, into our hearts, then we must pray especially for those who use us contemptuously and maliciously. We must pray for those who cannot bear or endure the love of God alive in our hearts. We must love them and pray that God will illuminate them to their sin and convert them so that they may join us on the journey to salvation.
II. On the second head it is to be noted, that for three reasons we ought to persevere in good.
(1) That we may avoid blame, since he is greatly blamed who begins and does not persevere. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. (St. Luke xiv. 28-30)
The Second Ingredient for our salvation is perseverance in goodness. We persevere that we might not be blamed for failing to embrace the means to our salvation. What we must embrace in an ongoing way is the charity of God given to us in Jesus Christ. The cost of salvation is our willingness to surrender to Jesus Christ, God’s Charity made flesh. We must set our eyes on our end, salvation, and the means to it, habitual surrender and submission to God’s will for us in Jesus Christ. We do this by daily dying to ourselves and coming alive to Him. In order to finish running the race to the Kingdom, we must persevere, with all resolution and determination, in opening up to God’s Grace and its sanctification of our souls.
(2) That punishment may be avoided; for he deserves a greater punishment who, having tasted how sweet it is to perform good works, has not persevered in them. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them, according to the true proverb, the dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. (2 St. Peter 21, 22)
We persevere in God’s goodness and charity so that we might not be punished. Should we fail to persevere, we shall be punished far more severely than those that know not God, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. ‘Only Christians go to Hell’, as my Grandmother used to say. Then we shall be like brute beasts and dogs that have returned to their own vomit or jumped from the bath into the swamp! If once we have known God and His Son Jesus Christ, woe betide us if we fail to persevere in the love once tasted with delight.
(3) On account of the reward to be acquired, for the reward is earned by perseverance alone. He that endureth to the end shalf be saved. (St. Matt. x. 22)
The point or purpose of perseverance is salvation. We hope to be saved. Salvation is not automatically guaranteed to us. We believe, we hope, and we love. If we persevere in embracing and perfecting these virtues, we shall be rewarded with salvation. So we persevere in order to be blessed with the vision and love of God. We seek to be blessed with the reward of unbreakable communion with our Lord.
III. On the third head it is to be noted, that for two reasons we ought to expect God alone to be our reward.
(1)Because He alone is the true reward. I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward. (Gen. xv. 1) S. Augustine says, that God will be the reward of all in all, because He will be to us life and salvation, strength and plenty, honour and glory, peace and joy, and all good things.
The Third Thing necessary for our salvation is right intention. God alone is our reward. Any other reward is less than the reward of God’s perfect being, knowing, and loving forever.
(2) Because He will be an eternal reward. This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent. (St. John xvii. 3)
God’s reward of Himself will be eternal to those who are saved. So what God bestows upon those who have the right intention of reaping the reward of God is eternal life with Him. One could be rewarded with a lesser gift, but all lesser gifts are possessed in Hell and thus in utter isolation from God, forever.
IV. On the fourth head it is to be noted, that humility, in three ways, preserves man in good.
(1) By defending him from his enemies. The Lord preserveth the simple : I was brought low, and He helped me. (Psalm cxvi. 6)
The Fourth Ingredient that procures salvation is humility. Humility keeps us simple, uncomplicated, like dependent children who must rely wholly and completely upon their parents. We are called to rely upon God our Heavenly Father. He condescends to us when we know ourselves to be ‘men of low estate’ in our own eyes.
(2) By promising increase of grace. God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (St. James iv. 6)
Humility promises us Grace. What we cannot do because we confess that we are weak, fragile, tempest-tossed, unpredictable, and sore tempted, God will do for us by the infusion of His Holy Spirit. We must confess throughout every day that we are in need of His Strength and Power to fight sin. We must ask the Holy Spirit to have the predominance and influence over our thoughts and desires. We must ask the Holy Spirit to realign our voluntary nature to that of God the Father.
(3) By leading man to eternal glory. Honour shall uphold the humble in spirit. (Prov. xxix. 23)
If we are filled with humility, un-selfing, a radical acknowledgement of our utter need and then expanding desire and appreciative love and gratitude for God’s Grace, we shall be saved and carried into God’s Glory. Glory is that unspeakably beautiful, true, and good Nature of our God that He longs to share with the faithful. Glory is that end for which we were made. Let us begin to surrender to its irresistible Power beginning today. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons