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The Church's Care for Her Lost Treasures.

 

by the Rev. John Keble

Sermon IX. from Sermons for the Christian Year:  Sermons for the Sundays after Trinity

Part I, Sundays I - XII

 

THIRD SUNDAY IN TRINITY.

1 S. Luke.  xv.  8. 

"What woman, having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep, the house, and seek diligently till she find it?  

EVERY year at this season the Church brings before us this parable of the pieces of silver, together with its fellow-parable of the lost sheep.  We are used to hear of the lost sheep, and we know its general meaning at once, how that the Good Shepherd, looking after His sheep which was lost, and rejoicing over it when found, represents our Lord looking after us sinners, and blessing us with the fulness of His mercy when we repent.  We are used to the parable of the lost sheep, but of this other parable spoken at the same time, the parable of the ten pieces of silver, we are not used to hear so much.  Yet we may be quite sure, that our Lord had some special meaning in it.  He would not have said the same thing twice over, under two different parables, had He not meant us to take particular notice of both.  I wish, therefore, this day to consider a little with you, my brethren, what may be the particular meaning of this parable of the piece of money, as distinguished from that of the lost sheep, by the side of which it stands in our Lord's teaching. 

 

One thought, which I have sometimes had concerning it, is, that it may be an instance of our Blessed Master's wonderful condescension, His way of suiting His instruction to all sorts of people.  I mean, that, as the parable of the lost sheep is clearly one which would come home to the hearts of shepherds, and others who have care of animals without doors, so this of the piece of money seems intended on purpose for women, and others who have the care of valuable things within doors.  We find our Lord in other instances doubling His parables (so to speak) after the same fashion.  The kingdom of heaven, He says, is like unto a treasure hid in a field, which he that findeth, being overjoyed, buyeth, with the field which contains it, at the price of all that he hath.  And in the very next verse the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls: who, when he hath found one pearl of great price, for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth it.  Here is one parable for persons in the country, another for persons in towns and among shops: both teach the same lesson, only the one sort find the treasure without seeking, the others seek diligently and find at last.  So again, in one Gospel we have the parable of the talents, in another that of the pounds: alike in their general meaning that all are trusted; but differing in that the one speaks of those who are trusted alike, the other, represents men, as we generally find them mingled together in the world, some having greater talents and privileges than others. 

 

Thus we may perceive that it was not unusual with Him Who is the Wisdom of God to repeat the same lesson in more parables than one, altering it so that each might find something to suit him.  Accordingly, having first set forth the joy of the shepherd at the recovery of the lost sheep, He takes up the same strain a second time, and tells us of the joy of a poor woman, who, having but ten pieces of silver (in all about seven shillings), should have the misfortune to lose one of them, and after an anxious search should find it.  Her joy would of course be great; we all know that it would be so: those who have but a very little, feel it very bitterly when they lose some of that little, and are proportionally comforted when they find it again.  It is a joy which we can all understand, but none perhaps so well as poor women keeping house, and having to provide for many mouths out of a very small allowance.  They well know what a trouble, what a calamity it would be, to lose, some week, one tenth of their scanty allowance, how anxiously they would look for it, how thankful they would be on finding it.  And He who knows their lowly and simple hearts, and all the thoughts and feelings that are in their hearts, He here speaks to them accordingly.  He speaks to the wives and mothers of poor working people, labourers and tradesmen, and tells them, "I know what you feel when you lose and recover part of your scanty maintenance; now you are to believe and know, that in heaven ten times more joy is felt, when a soul, that had been lost in sin, is recovered to true repentance by God's special grace. 

 

This is the general meaning of the parable.  But no doubt the several circumstances of it have, each one, their special meaning also; deep and holy and comfortable truths are contained in them.  First of all, as each Christian in the former parable had been represented as a sheep of Christ's flock, so in this parable each one of us is likened to a piece of money laid up in God's treasury, the place where (as the Prophet says) He storeth up His jewels; whereby we may understand that as a poor woman values highly each separate coin in her little stock, because it is what must buy the children's daily bread and supply the wants of the house, so our gracious Saviour sets very great store by every single soul of man, rich and poor, great and small, because it is that which He came to save, and for which He laid down His life. 

 

Each one of them is a coin of His; for it is stamped with His Image, and marked with His Name.  Our souls are all stamped with Christ's Image, for we are new-born in Holy Baptism after the image of Him Who created us: restored, by participation of Christ, to the righteousness and true holiness, in which our first father and mother were originally made.  This image and likeness is stamped upon us in our Baptism, invisibly indeed, but as certainly and as effectually as the King's or Queen's head is stamped on any coin of the realm: and as we know that coin, when we see the sovereign's head on it, to belong to this realm and to no other, so the Angels, beholding Christ's likeness imprinted on us in Baptism, know and understand that we belong to Christ's peculiar people, and take interest in us accordingly.  Again, as each coin has its superscription, i.e.  the letters engraven round the head, and containing usually the name and title of the sovereign, so are we all, spiritually and mystically, marked with our Saviour's Name, with the Name of the most Holy Trinity, put upon us also at our Baptism; for when we were baptized, Christ said to us by His minister, "I baptize thee in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."  The Name of the most Holy and Undivided Trinity was then called over us; it was put upon each one of us; we were baptized into it; we cannot be, as if we were quite strangers to it.  Thus are we in His sight as so many precious coins in His Treasury, whereof He cannot afford to lose one. 

 

But supposing one or more to be lost, as too many are lost daily, by sin.  What is to be done? Is there no remedy? Yes, He will Himself look after the lost.  He had told us so before, in His parable of the Good Shepherd.  But here, since it is not a sheep that is lost, but a coin, you might expect some one to be mentioned as looking after it, whose business would seem to be especially caring for coins: a banker, a shop-keeper or a money-changer.  Instead however of any of these, the person mentioned is a woman.  A woman, having ten pieces of silver, loses one, lights a candle, and sweeps till she finds it.  Why should a woman be especially mentioned? No doubt, because our Lord meant us to think of that Power, which is always represented in Scripture as a woman; His holy Catholic Church, the mother of us all.  The holy Catholic Church is alone that Power, to whom our Lord has so entrusted the spiritual good and salvation of His people, that the trust may never be taken away from her.  The Church is as a housekeeper, an upper servant entrusted with the care of the whole family.  She is the true Godmother of us all.  Those who stand forward at the Font as godfathers and godmothers are but speaking, in away, for the whole congregation: they are appointed, as I have often heard say, because what is everybody's business is nobody's business, and there must be some special officers to do what the whole congregation is bound to do: but when, by any chance, there are no special godfathers and godmothers, the child is not the less baptised, nor the less presented to God by the whole Church, which is bound in such case especially, to do the remaining office of sponsor for it, i.e. to prepare and present it for confirmation.  The Church then being, as I said, the true godmother of us all, this is represented by her being entrusted with the whole ten pieces of silver: for the number ten, in the holy Scriptures, is often put for the whole of a thing.  If one of us, one of the Church's godchildren, fall away, what will happen?  Much the same as if a careful mother of a family should lose one of ten coins, that she depended on for her children's bread.  She will seem for a while to forget and neglect the rest: not that she has become indifferent to them, but because, having them safe by her, they are no present care to her: otherwise, if one of them too should be lost, you would soon see that she cares as much for that, as for the one, she is now thinking of.  So it is with the holy Church, the Mother of us all.  When any of us go astray, she is so taken up with seeking the lost and wandering, that some, seeing it, are almost tempted to complain, like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal son; they wonder, how so much more tenderness should be expressed towards those who have so grievously gone astray, than towards others who seem in comparison to have kept their vows.  But these parables help us to understand it: the penitent is like a sick child, or a lost sheep, or a piece of money mislaid: it is impossible not to pay more attention to him for the time; but it does not follow that the owner or parent loves the sick or lost thing better than he does the rest; much less, that he would rather have it in danger than in safety, in order that he may exercise his love upon it.  Neither may we imagine that God our Father and the Church our Mother think lightly of sin because of their love for sinners: only, because there has been more anxiety about them, there is a keener and more thrilling joy when they come right at last.  Well!  The woman, the Church, is in this anxiety about a missing piece of money, a soul that is being ruined.  What does she set about?  She lights a candle, and sweeps the house, and searches diligently till she finds it.  Admire her, my brethren, and you, my, sisters especially, can you help admiring the most exact picture which our Lord, in His condescending love, has vouchsafed to draw of so simple and familiar a thing, a thing which is witnessed, I suppose every day by one or another of us?  Is it not aweful to think of Him so near at hand, witnessing all our ordinary ways, as we move about the house?  Do you not almost see with your eyes the eagerness, the anxiety, the vexation and self-reproach, with which the woman in the parable begins her search?  She loses no time, but lights a candle at once, and does not trust her eyes only, but takes the best helps she can find for sweeping the house, the whole house; not the room only, where the money had been kept: and she leaves not off for one failure or two, but seeks diligently till she finds it.  So it is with our Mother the Church of God, and with all who enter into her spirit and are likeminded with her, when a soul is being lost and has to be looked after.  She lights a candle: and Scripture seems to tell us that this means our using our best judgement and our natural feelings, with continual prayer to God, that we may find out the best way of dealing with unhappy wanderers, and bringing them to a better mind.  For, as the wise man says, "the spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, lighting all the inmost parts of the belly;" i.e. if, for another's good, you want to judge what is going on in his secret heart, you must consult your own spirit, your own feelings, because one man's heart answereth to another.  This must be your candle, and you must light it with fire from heaven, i.e. you must obtain by earnest prayer the light of God's Holy Spirit to help your natural feelings in shewing you, how you may best find the lost treasure, the soul of your brother or sister, and win it back to God and goodness.  Then, the Church sweeps the house, she looks everywhere and all around, here and there, up and down, within and without, in likely and unlikely places; she is instant in season, out of season, if God peradventure would give the sinner repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.  Neither is she soon tired, or daunted, or ashamed; her love will not let her be so: she sweeps the house again and again, carries the light everywhere, and moves it here and there, in every corner and in every room, tries all ways over and over, and will not leave off, until the lost treasure is found, until in answer to her labours, prayers, tears and self-denial, the soul that had sinned appears in God's house again; not indeed in its first baptismal innocency, (for that cannot be restored in this world,) but as a real penitent in the way of salvation. 

 

And is it not an unspeakable joy to her, think you, when this great thing, this miracle of grace, takes place? Yes indeed; the woman, when the lost piece of money is found, calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying; "Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost ;" and "there is joy in the presence of the Angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." There is joy, great joy, unspeakable joy, among those who are the Church's friends and neighbours in Christ, when she succeeds in winning back one of her lost children to Him.  When, for example, any poor young Christian woman, who has been tempted to leave the paths of uprightness and to walk in the ways of darkness, to forget the guide of her youth, and to break the covenant of her God, when such an one is moved by the grace of God to true repentance, and is forgiven because she hath loved much, as feeling that she has sinned greatly!  There is joy, great joy, in such a case, among the Church's "friends and neighbours." And who are the Church's "friends and neighbours?  All good people on earth, all who have the mind of Christ: all the blessed saints in heaven who pray and long to have things, as Christ would have them: all the holy Angels who give glory to God at Christmas and Easter for our salvation.  And what shall I more say? Is not Jesus Christ Himself a "friend and neighbour" to the holy Church, seeing it is His own Body? And doth He not, as truly Man, rejoice with the Church in the recovery of a backslider with that peculiar joy which men feel, when anything falls out better than could have been expected? Yes surely, the joy which our Lord speaks of as being felt in the presence of the Angels of God over one sinner that repenteth, is His own joy; He Himself feels it.  "He sees of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied," as often as a sinner truly repents; it is sharpness and bitterness indeed to himself for a time, but it is joy, real joy and comfort to his Saviour in heaven. 

 

There was a time, my brethren, when the Church of God manifested this her deep feeling for fallen Christians much more openly and in a more regular and effectual way than she has done now for many years.  You may read of it in the Commination service, and in the Acts of the Apostles, how grievous sinners came, and confessed and shewed their deeds, and submitted themselves to shame and penance in this world, that their spirits might be saved in the Day of the Lord.  That was indeed the woman in the parable, seeking diligently for the lost piece of silver; and great was the joy in heaven for the many penitents who were so recovered to their Saviour.  We in our days, until the same discipline can be restored again, which is much to be wished, what can we do less than strive and pray to have in our hearts thoughts more and more serious and alarming of what wilful sin is in a Christian?  How can we ever feel horror enough of the sin, and love enough for the sinner?  How can we ever take pains enough, watch and labour earnestly enough, persevere patiently enough in finding those who have so lost themselves, or at least in praying that others may find them?  Especially in our own families.  There may perhaps be men and women here, who have lost out of their households infinitely more than one among so many pieces of silver.  Some soul perhaps, which God had given them to watch over, has fallen and lost itself in the snare of the enemy.  Let such parents or parental friends, learn here out of the mouth of Christ what He would have them to do.  They are not to give up the matter in despair: God forbid! but they are by the light of God's grace to do their very best, with prayer and supplication, to recall their wandering and outcasts to a better mind.  We must not despair.  The commonest things, such an ordinary matter as losing a piece of money and finding it again, are a token from God, as this parable shews, to encourage us in hope, and prayer, and charitable work, for the recovery of those who are fallen.  When you go home from Church today, perhaps the next thing that happens to you may be losing something and finding it in this very way.  I advise you to take everything of the kind as a token from our gracious Lord of His neverfailing mercy to sinners repenting.  O, indeed, if we would but believe and attend to it, heaven and earth, the world and the Church, all that happens to us and all that is around us, is for ever repeating the same good and gracious tidings.  "It is an evil thing and bitter to forsake the Lord," but "there is joy in heaven, in the presence of the angels of God, over one sinner that repenteth."