"My brethren, be strong in the Lord,"
A weak and cowardly soldier is a pitiful object, but a weak-kneed, cowardly Christian is still more so. S. Paul told the Ephesian Christians to be strong in the Lord, and in these days especially we need strong Christians, strong Churchmen. I do not mean that we want men to presume on their strength, to repeat the sin of the Pharisee of old, and talk of their righteousness, or condemn their neighbours. I do not mean that we must be noisy and violent, and quarrelsome in our religion. None of these things are a proof of strength. A giant of power is ever the gentlest, having the hand of steel in the glove of silk. So the stronger a Christian is the more humbly he bears himself. A writer of the day says very truly, "if the world wants iron dukes, and iron men, God wants iron saints." Much of the unbelief and indifference of these days is caused by the weakness of professing Christians. When a man can point to a soldier of Christ who has deserted his post, and fled from the battle, it is no wonder that he hesitates to join an army which has such weak and cowardly warriors. When the enemies of the Church can show us unprincipled Churchmen, who have no firm faith in the doctrines which they profess, who have drifted away from their moorings, and, like ships without ballast, are blown about by every wind, it is not surprising if these enemies still remain outside the Church. Can we marvel that some should sneer at Holy Baptism, when they can name those who have tried to wash out the sign of the Cross with every kind of sin? Can we marvel that they make light of Confirmation, when we have so many who have been confirmed going back from holiness, forsaking their Church, and joining the world, the flesh, and the devil? Or need we wonder that they neglect the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, and try to keep others from it, if they lay their finger on the Communicant whose life is bad? My brothers, we need to set our own house in order, we of the Church are as a city on a hill, men look at us, and woe unto us if the light within us be darkness. What we want are strong Christians to set a strong example. Teaching, argument, may do much with a careless world, but the example of a consistent, holy, life will do far more.
Brethren, be ye strong, first of all, in Faith. Be quite sure that you do believe; be quite clear what you believe, and then show your faith strongly. Our faith is not built on sand, but on a rock. It is not founded on such words as -- perhaps, I suppose, I hope. No, the Creed of the Church says, I believe. There are crowds of people outside who will all tell you what they do not believe. There is the infidel who says he does not believe in God. There is the man who says he believes in God, but not in the Blessed Trinity. There is one who tells you that he believes in Jesus Christ, but not as God, only as Man. Then comes another and declares that he does not believe in eternal punishment. One says that he does not believe we are born again in Holy Baptism, another will not believe in the Baptism of infants. Some will not believe in Bishops, and others refuse to credit any sect but their own. But the Church says plainly and boldly, I believe. The Faith once delivered to the saints, the Faith which Jesus taught to the first Apostles, the Faith which S. Paul preached, and for which he died, is ours. Let us hold fast to it in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Be ready to give a reason for the faith that is in you. There are mysteries which none of us can understand, but, thank God, we can believe. And we must show this faith of ours not only by believing in the doctrines of the Church, but by putting our full trust and confidence in the mercies of God. Where is the use of talking about our faith if we are poor, fearful, unhappy people? If our faith is not strong enough to let us trust God for to-morrow it is not worth having. It is the melancholy, over-anxious, troubled about many things Christian, who is always anticipating misfortunes, who does so much harm. Brethren, trust God all in all, be strong in the Lord, be strong in your faith.
Next, brethren, be ye strong in your language. Now, do not misunderstand me. I do not mean that you are to copy those who, in pulpit and on platform, declare their favourite views and theories in words of the most violent and intemperate kind. But I do mean that when the time comes to speak out, you should speak boldly and plainly. Let the world know that you do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrines of His Church, and that you are not ashamed to own it. Never be afraid to show your colours, or to declare the name of your Leader. When Lord Nelson was going into his last battle, they wished him to cover, or lay aside, the glittering orders of victory which adorned his breast. But the hero refused, and perhaps his refusal cost him his life. Well, let us never hide the marks of our profession as Christian soldiers, even if we have to suffer, let men know that we bear about in our bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh! we want these strong Christians in shop, and factory, in omnibus, and railway carriage, in soldiers' barrack-room, in schoolboys' dormitory, in servants' bed-chamber, -- Christians who speak out strongly for Jesus.
Again, brethren, be strong in self-sacrifice for Jesus. We must not forget our cross. The surest mark of a Christian is a willingness to deny ourselves for the sake of others. Let me tell you the stories of two simple servant maids who, under very different circumstances, gave up their life for the life of little children. The scene of the first story was in America, nearly five and twenty years ago; that of the second story was in London, only a few weeks since. A young English girl had taken service in a family going to America, and her special duty was the charge of the three motherless children of her widowed master. One cold day in December they all embarked in a great Mississippi steamboat bound for the far North West. Day after day they steamed through the swollen river, where pieces of ice were already showing, past dark and gloomy shores, lined with lonely forest. One night, near the end of their voyage, the girl had seen her charges, two girls and a boy, safely asleep, and now, when all the other passengers had retired, she was reading in the saloon. Suddenly the silence was broken by a terrible cry, which told the frightened passengers that the steamboat was on fire. The captain instantly ran the vessel for the shore, and ordered the people to escape as best they could, without waiting to dress. The faithful servant had called her master, and then carried the children from their beds to the crowded deck. Quickly the blazing vessel touched the muddy bank, and the father placed the shivering children and the servant on one of the huge branches which overhung the river. A few other passengers, fifteen in all, reached other branches, the rest went down with the burning steamer. But what hope could there be for the children, just snatched from their warm beds, and now exposed unclad to the bitter December night? Their father had no clothing to cover them, and, as he spoke of another steamer which would pass by in the morning, he had little hope of his children holding out. Then the servant maid declared that if possible she would keep the little ones alive. Clinging in the darkness to the icy branches, she stripped off her own clothing, all but the thin garment next her body, and wrapped up the shivering children. Thus they passed the long, dark hours of that terrible night. I know not what prayers were spoken, but I know that Jesus, who suffered cold and hunger for our sakes, made that servant girl strong to sacrifice herself. During the night one of the children died, but in the morning, when the first light came, the little girls were still alive. Then, when her work was done, the freezing limbs of the brave girl relaxed their hold, a deadly sleep fell on her, and she dropped silently into the rushing river below. Presently a steamer came in sight, and the two children, for whom she had died, were safe.
Only quite lately there was a great fire in London. In the burning house were a husband and wife, their children, and a servant maid. The parents perished in the flames, but the servant appeared to the sight of the crowd below, framed, as it were, in fire, at a blazing window. Loudly shouted the excited crowd, bidding the girl to save herself. But she was thinking of others. Throwing a bed from the window, she signalled to those below to stretch it out. Then, darting into the burning room, she brought one of the children of her employers, and dropped it safely on to the bed. Fiercer grew the flames, but again this humble heroine faced the fire, and saved the other children. Then the spectators, loudly cheering, begged her to save herself. But her strength was exhausted, she faltered in her jump, and was so injured that death soon came to her. My brothers, no one will raise a grand monument to Emma Willoughby, and Alice Ayres, who passed, the one through water, the other through fire, for Christ's dear sake. But surely in God's great Home of many mansions their names are written in letters of gold.
Lastly, brethren, be strong in fighting the battle. You know that life is a great battle-field. And you know, too, that as Christians yours is the good fight. Put on, then, the whole armour of God. Do not trust to any newly-invented weapons. Take the same armour in which S. Paul, and many another veteran soldier of Christ, fought and conquered. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood." No, our battle is with Satan and his hosts. One of old says that we must strip if we would wrestle with the devil. We must cast aside every weight, strip us of all the hinderances, and worldly cares, which weigh us down; and be clad in the spiritual armour of God. Hold fast to the old armour, the shield of faith, the breastplate of righteousness, the sword of the Spirit. Be strong in the strength of the Holy Ghost, for your strength shall be made perfect in weakness. Stand, as Christ's soldiers, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with your faces to the foe. When Napoleon retreated from Moscow, and the main body had passed by, the mounted Cossacks hovered around the stragglers, who, overcome by cold and fatigue, could only force their way slowly through the snow. Many a weary Frenchman thus fell beneath the Cossack lances. Presently a band of these fierce horsemen saw a dark object on the snowy plain, and dashed towards it. They were face to face with a small body of French who had formed into a square to resist them, their bayonets at the charge. The Cossacks rode round and round, seeking for a weak place for attack, and finding none. At length they charged the square, and found it formed of frozen corpses. The Frenchmen had died whilst waiting for the foe. Brothers, may death find us fighting the good fight. "Be strong in the Lord."