S. JOHN vi.12.
"Gather up the fragments that remain."
The fragments that remain! What are they? Something more than the remnants of that miracle of feeding. We have come to the last Sunday of the Church's year, only a few more fragments, a few more days, remain, and then Advent will have come, and we shall begin a new year. Again we shall hear the warning cry -- "Prepare to meet thy God." Brothers, are we ready to meet Him? We are one year nearer the day when we must render in our account; one year nearer the time when the Master will come to reckon with His servants; one year nearer the return of the Bridegroom. What of our lamps, are they burning? What of our talents, have they yielded interest? Another year gone -- eternity nearer by twelve months; surely this is a solemn time for us all. Let us gather up the fragments of time that remain before Advent. Do not put off making resolutions, or giving up bad habits, till next Sunday. We know not how few fragments of our life remain. As says a Bishop of our Church, "they who dare lose a day are prodigals, but those who dare misspend it are desperate. Time is the seed of eternity, the less that remains the more valuable it becomes. To squander time is to squander all." The events of one brief day have often influenced a whole life, aye, a whole eternity. The flight of a bird determined the career of Mohammed; a spider's spinning that of Bruce; and a tear in his mother's eye that of Washington. Voltaire, when only five years old, committed to memory an infidel poem, and grew to live and die an unbeliever; whilst Doddridge, as a child, studied the Bible from the pictured tiles at the fireside explained by his mother. Use the moments, the fragments, that remain, and so begin this Advent season rightly, your lamp burning, the works of darkness cast away, the armour of light girded on. But not only must we look forward, the end of the Church's year is a fitting time for looking back. Some of us can do so joyfully, thankfully, peacefully. Week by week the teachings of Holy Church have shown them the life of duty, and they feel that they have tried to live that life by the help of God's Holy Spirit. The first half of the year's teaching showed us God's love for us, the second half taught us how we can show our love to God. Last Advent told us of the battle of life, the good fight of the faith, and the love of God strengthening us in the conflict, and promising the crown of victory. Christmas brought us once more the dear, glad, tidings that Jesus is our brother, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. Epiphany showed us our Saviour manifested in our work, in the changed character of a believer who out of weakness is made strong, in the cleansed sinner whose leprosy is healed, in the storm of life made calm. The star of Epiphany led us to Jesus, to hope, to rejoicing, and gladly we offered our gifts, to the King our gold, to the Great High Priest our incense, to the Crucified our myrrh. Lent showed us the sterner side of the life of duty, and brought its lessons of self-denial and self-restraint. Those of us who went out into the wilderness of this world with Jesus, "glad with Him to suffer pain," resisting the tempter, found their reward at the glad Easter-tide. The sorrow which had endured for the night of Lent gave place to the joy which came with Easter morning. And so in every Sunday of the year we trace the golden thread of God's loving mercy lying along the narrow way, the path of duty. If we have tried to keep in that path, then we can look back joyfully over the year that is gone, and for the future we can, like S. Paul, "thank God, and take courage."
They tell us that the fishermen of Brittany, when going forth on a voyage, offer this prayer -- "Save us, O God, thine ocean is so large, and our little boat so small." That may well be our prayer as we begin another year. "Gather up the fragments." For some of us that will be a sorry task; we are like children crying in the midst of the broken pieces of some costly vase, shattered by our carelessness. The fragments that remain! How many remain of the lessons and warnings of the past year? How much of the good seed remains undestroyed by the choking thorn? Some of us made good resolutions last Advent, we started well with the beginning of the Church's year, we girded on our armour, we determined to make a fight for the true faith, and we took a firm stand on the promises of the Gospel. And now nothing remains of those good resolutions except the broken fragments to witness against us and upbraid us. As for the good fight, we have fled from the battle beaten, our shield has been left disgracefully behind, we have turned ourselves back in the day of battle. My brother, what is that dark stain upon the white robe of your purity? It was not there a year ago. Last Advent you could look father and mother, aye, the whole world, in the face. And now you have a guilty secret spoiling your life. You may cry with Macbeth --
"Had I but died an hour before this chance
You cannot wash away that stain, even though you could "weep salt oceans from those eyes." To look back mournfully will not help to undo the past. To lament over the fragments of a misspent year, or the memory of broken resolutions, vows unfulfilled, and chances lost, will not bring back "the tender grace of a day that is dead." The thought would be maddening if we did not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The knowledge that we cannot recall one lost day, nor alter one past page in our life's story, would bring a remorse cruel as the fabled vulture which ever fed upon the vitals of the chained Prometheus. But thanks be to God, Jesus says, "He that sitteth upon the throne saith, Behold, I make all things new." Dear brothers and sisters, some of us need to turn over a new leaf, to make a fresh start, how shall we do it? Let us take our secret sin, our secret sorrow, to Jesus now. Let not the sun go down and find us impenitent, unpardoned. Let us no longer go through life like galley slaves, chained and labouring at the oar. Jesus waits to strike off our chains, He came to preach liberty to the captives. Think of that, you who are yet prisoners, slaves of some sin. Jesus will set you free. As long as you hide your fault you are a slave, you are torn and bitten by remorse, the worm that dieth not, the fire that is not quenched. Tell the story of your sin to Jesus now. Never mind how sad, how shameful it is. He is the same Jesus, remember. The same who cleansed the Magdalene, who pardoned the adulteress. Can you, will you, say to-day --
"We come to Thee, sweet Saviour,
We come to Thee, sweet Saviour,
"Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost." Let Advent find us once more fighting the battle from which some had retreated. Let the marks and scars upon our armour teach us our danger, and help us to fight more watchfully, more humbly. Let the mistakes, the weaknesses, the negligences, the ignorances of the past, be warnings to us for the future.
"Saint Augustine, well hast thou said
Deem not the irrevocable past
Do you remember the Eastern story of the magician, who gave a ring of vast beauty to a certain prince? Not only was the ring set with priceless gems, but it had this wonderful quality. If the king indulged in any evil thought or wish, or devised any sinful act, the ring contracted on his finger, and warned him by its painful pressure. My brothers, does the ring of conscience press no finger here to-day? Is there no one here now who says in his heart: "Would to God that I were as in years past?" If so, cling to the cleansing Hand of Jesus now. A well-known Scottish physician tells us that, during a terrible outbreak of cholera, he was summoned to a small fishing village where the plague had broken out. As they approached the place by boat, they saw a crowd of anxious watchers waiting for the doctor's arrival. Suddenly an old man, of great height and strength, dashed into the water, reached the boat ere it could reach the land, and seizing the doctor in his mighty arms, carried him helpless through the crowd to the bedside of his cholera-stricken grandson.
Brethren, if the plague spot of sin is upon you, seize upon the Hand of the Good Physician, clasp Him in your arms, cry to Him now: "wash me throughly [Transcriber's note: thoroughly?] from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sin!"