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Sermon XIX: 


by John Keble

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Sermons for the Christian Year

Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday




S. LUKE xviii. 42.
"And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee."
LENT is a special time, as the Church put us in mind last week, for coming out in answer to our Lord’s call: coming out of our hiding places, that is, out of the shelter of our vain excuses, and confessing our sins one by one, and humbling ourselves in true self-denial before Him Who will soon come to be our Judge.  Day after day and, if it may be, hour after hour, it will be good for us now to exercise ourselves in thoughts of this kind.  The more we shrink, as plainly most of us do shrink, from opening our minds and owning our faults to God’s ministers, the more earnestly ought we to try and judge our own selves.  The Communion Service has some very grave words about this.  We are to “search and examine our own consciences, not lightly, and after the manner of dissemblers with God, but so that we come holy and clean to His heavenly Feast.”  This of course means that we must take a great deal of trouble about it.  It will be very dangerous for a person, just glancing over his past life, to say, ‘Thank God, I see nothing particularly bad, nothing that seems to me a weighty matter, nothing that greatly troubles my conscience.’ This can never be safe: for in the first place, how very forgetful we all are; and how apt to think little of a thing, merely because it happened a good while ago: as if the mere tract of time wore it out and did it away.  And in the next place, if we have not been very particular with ourselves in time past, how can we be sure that we are not even now under the dominion of some grievous sin, blinding our mind’s eye, and hindering us from truly judging of ourselves? so that we have need of deep thought, and earnest prayer, over and over again, before we can so much as find out our grievous sins: much more, before we can properly repent of them.

Now, some persons will be ready to cry out, ‘How can we ever get through such a task as this? it will be so painful, so strange, to search out in this way all the dark corners of our own heart, and force ourselves to read over again the miserable history of our own evil-doings, which we had rather have forgotten both by God and man.’ Yes indeed, brethren and fellow sinners; it will be very strange, very painful: and if you have ever done it once thoroughly in a true penitential spirit, I do not say that it is your duty to go over it all again so very particularly.  Though even in such a case it is generally good for persons to repeat their special confessions before God at such solemn times as this of Lent, so far at least as to bring it quite home to themselves, that they ear the persons who did such and such kind of evil things, in spite of such and such warnings: and how can they ever be humble and watchful enough?  But for others, who have never told before God on their knees the sad story of their own particular sins, but have been content to call themselves miserable sinners as all others are—for such it cannot but be wholesome, yea necessary, to look back as minutely as they can over the past years of their life, and reproach themselves in the bitterness of their soul for their earliest fall from baptismal innocency: for their many relapses when God had called them to repent, for their coming unworthily to Church and perhaps to Holy Communion, for their mingling their prayers with their sins, for contriving hypocritical excuses, for turning away from the warnings of the good Spirit, for not caring how they tempted others.  Alas! how shameful, how miserable a feeling it is, to go over thoughts like these in our mind, to dwell on them, to put it home to ourselves, that we, we are the persons of whom all this is true: we, we have the stain of all this guilt upon our souls: but the shame, the misery that such thoughts bring now will prove nothing, nothing at all, in comparison with what it will be to have the same wretched story read in our ears out of God’s book, when we shall indeed be forced to confess it, but our confession will be too late, it will do us no good, it will be the beginning, not of true repentance, but of eternal incurable punishment.  If our eyes were but really opened to see what is fast coming upon us; death and judgement, heaven or hell; Christ on His throne, the saints and Angels around Him, the graves opened and the dead raised, the judgement set and the books opened: surely we should think little in comparison of the trouble and anguish of confessing our sins here, whether it be to God or man, with the comfortable hope of having them forgiven and cured, for Jesus Christ’s sake, and by the help of His Holy Spirit.  If our eyes are not thus opened, if we do not as yet seem to ourselves at all to behold these great truths as they really are, surely we must in the bottom of our hearts wish that our spiritual sight were better: surely we cannot always go on well pleased with ourselves, knowing what is close at hand, yet feeling as if we could not open our eyes and see it, because our long habits of sin and carelessness have blinded us to all but worldly things.  We know we are on the very edge of a steep pit, a bottomless pit: would we not wish to have our sight strengthened, that we may not fall into it unawares: that we may find and follow the paths that lead away from it?  What if it be frightful to see one’s danger, to see on what a hair’s breadth we stand, and over what a gulph?  Is it not much better than to fall over and be lost for ever?  What if it be distressing and shameful to look our sins one by one in the face, in order to bid them begone in the Name of Christ: will it not be much worse if they should come bye and bye and look us in the face, never more to depart from us?

Let no man therefore be afraid of having his eyes opened to his own true condition; rather let us all come to our Lord in earnest prayer to Him, that He would “enlighten our eyes, that we sleep not in death.”  (Ps. xiii. 3.) Let us ask of Him with all our hearts to give us so far a right understanding of ourselves, that none of our serious faults may remain, this Lent, unconfessed and unrepented of: that no part of God’s holy will may continue to be slighted and disobeyed by us.

If you were without bodily sight, and knew of some skilful surgeon, who would and could cure you if you applied to him, would you not make all haste to do so?  Would you draw back under a notion that your eye-sight would make you acquainted with a great many disagreeable objects, and that you should then be better able to work, and consequently have more trouble?  No such thought, I am sure, would have power to keep you back: the gift of eye-sight would be far too precious to you, for you to mind such trifles: you would go at once to be cured, and be very thankful.  Think of those blind men by Jericho, of whom we hear in the Gospel today.  For a long time, perhaps for years, they had been used to sit by the wayside, begging: all their care had been to ask an alms, to obtain a pittance for prolonging their poor and hard life: no thought had they of so great a blessing as recovering the use of their eyes.  And so far they may perhaps be truly likened to some of us, who have gone on helpless and spiritually blind, day by day, seeking only such poor vain help as this present world can give: having perhaps, from time to time, a dim thought of something better and higher, as those blind men might have a dim remembrance of the light: but as they never expected to receive their sight, so too many Christians, I fear, go on for many years with no real hope or intention of ever being truly religious.  They see and hear of others around them who find their happiness in serving and obeying Christ, but they do not understand it at all, it seems quite beyond them, just as those blind men were surrounded with others who had the use of their eyes, but took it as a matter of course that they were not ever to recover their own.

Thus it went on, we know not how long, till on a certain happy day, appointed before by the good providence of God, our blessed Saviour passed by, on His way to Jerusalem, where He was now going to lay down His life for us: and as He drew near to Jericho, the blind man, whose name was Bartimaeus, sat by the way side begging: and hearing a multitude pass by, he asked what it meant: and they told him that “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”  No doubt he had heard of Jesus of Nazareth, and God gave him a heart to believe in Him and His mighty works: and he calls earnestly on His Name: that Name, besides which there is none other under Heaven given unto men, whereby they may receive sight or health or salvation, or any good thing:—the blind man cries out, as we do in the Litany, “Thou Son of David, have mercy upon me:” and when our Lord, to try his faith, seems as though He would pass by without making him any answer, and when the bystanders sought accordingly to quiet him, rebuking him that he should hold his peace, he did but cry so much the more, “Thou Son of David, have mercy on me:” and so Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called.

Now I say, that this affecting history, besides being a most lively instance of the care which our good Saviour takes of all His poor and afflicted people, is also a special encouragement for all those to turn to Him, who feel themselves more or less blinded in heart, bewildered by their sin and ignorance.  Suppose, for instance, this very season, some one who has been all his life long blind and dead to heavenly things should find himself more than usually inclined to attend to them: this will be like Jesus of Nazareth passing by, Christ our Saviour passing by on His yearly progress from Christmas to Easter, from His birth to His cross and grave: if you feel inclined to call on Him, and ask His help as He goes along, beware how you part with such a good and holy thought: make much of it, let it not go, recall it again morning by morning: if nothing seem to come of the prayer, yet persevere, as the blind man kept on, “Son of David, have mercy upon me:” bye and bye He will shew that He regards your prayers.  As He stood still, and commanded the blind man to be called, so He will put it in the hearts of His servants and ministers to say comfortable words to you, and read comfortable Scriptures: His providence will in one way or another encourage you to come near Him: as the persons round Bartimaeus said, “Be of good comfort, rise, He calleth thee.”  And as then the blind man cast away his outer garment, that he might the more quickly and easily arise from his place on the ground and follow Jesus, so let every one who would be a true penitent make haste to get rid of his evil ways and unnecessary cares, of all that clings about him and would hinder his obeying Christ’s call.  For instance, one man would fain come to his Lord, and have the eyes of his soul opened, but he has some evil companion to whom he is attached, and who will perhaps ridicule him for making a change to the better: that evil companion is like the garment, whom he must cast away that he may come to Jesus.  Or perhaps it is some bad custom that he has got into, of staying away from Church, or of using bad words, or of drinking rather more than he ought, or of idling away his time or his money, or of disrespect towards his elders and betters, or of not turning away his eyes when he ought: well, these bad customs are like garments which a man is used to, and which it is more or less unpleasant to him to give up: but if he wants in earnest to come to Jesus, and recover his spiritual sight, given up they must be; any one such evil habit, wilfully indulged in, is certain to keep you in blindness, and away from Christ.

And if you would know what a person loses by being so kept from his Saviour, follow in spirit along with blind Bartimaeus, and see what a blessing he obtained.  When he came up, our Lord asked him, “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?”  Not that the holy Jesus needed to be to]d, but He would try the poor man’s faith, and shew it to others: even as He expects us to tell Him our wants in prayer, and our sins in confession, though He cannot but knew them full well before we ask.  The blind man answers, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.”  Other things, no doubt, he wanted, but he did not hesitate for a moment, he was quite clear what was his principal want.  He prayed to have his bodily eyes opened: and we, if we know our own good, shall pray in like manner that the eyes of our understanding may be opened to discern heavenly and spiritual things.  Such a prayer, sincerely offered, our Lord Christ is sure to hear: as He heard and granted immediately the blind man’s petition.  “Receive thy sight,” said our Lord: “thy faith hath saved thee.”  And immediately he received his sight: And what did he see?  What was the first object on which his eyes rested?  What but our gracious Saviour Himself, with His eye of divine mercy turned towards him?  No wonder he was so struck with what he saw, and what had been done to him, that he could not find in his heart to part from his Divine Benefactor; no wonder the next thing we read should be, that “he followed Jesus in the way.”  And we too, my brethren, since at this moment Christ is inviting us to Him: since He is in a manner standing still, and commanding us to be called; let us not doubt, but hasten to Him, casting away our evil customs and fancies, and present ourselves to Him by saying our prayers earnestly, and He will assuredly command our inward eyes also to be opened; and we shall see Him by faith: we shall see Him, God made Man for us, in all His mighty and merciful works and sufferings.  This very Lent will shew Him to us, from His fasting and temptation going on to His Agony and Death.  May we only find grace to follow Him Whom we shall see! to follow Him, with that blind man, along the only true way, the way of the saving, life-giving Cross!