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The Companion of the Saints'.


by the Rev. John Keble

Sermon XLII.

from Sermons for the Saints' Days and Other Festivals




PS. cxix.  63.


"I am a companion of all them that fear Thee; and keep Thy commandments."

THE epistle for this day instructs us to think of the evangelist S. Luke as the companion of the Apostle S. Paul; and that more especially, when he was very near his end.  Being in prison and expecting before long to be martyred for his Lord's sake, S. Paul writes to Timothy to come to him, saying, that he would be quite left alone, if it were not for one true friend; and that friend was S. Luke.  "Only Luke," he says, "is with me."


It was no new thing for S. Luke to be with S. Paul.  The Acts of the Apostles shew that he had been his companion in many and great dangers, before his first imprisonment in Rome; for he continually says, "We came to such a place," " We kneeled down and prayed," "We all got safe to land," and other such expressions; by which a diligent reader may very well make out, where he first joined the Apostle, and how long he continued with him.


And again, if we look into those epistles, which we know were written by S. Paul when he was first imprisoned in Rome, we find that S. Luke was still with him; for he sends greeting from S. Luke to Philemon, and to others at a distance.


And here we find them still together in S. Paul's second imprisonment, and as near his death as the New Testament history gives any account of him. 


Now undoubtedly this, to the eye of faith, was a very great privilege given by the Almighty to the holy evangelist S. Luke.  Even a careless, unthinking person, if he be not quite an unbeliever, will perceive and acknowledge that so it is.  We are all quite ready to say, "Truly, it must have been a blessed thing to be present at the last hours of such a person as S. Paul; to be with him in prison; to hear his high and noble thoughts, as the Holy Spirit opened to him more and more the true meaning of the Scriptures of God; to pray with him night and morning; to listen to his instructions; to partake with him in the Church services, and especially in the Holy Communion; and, perhaps, to be by him in the very moment of his martyrdom, when he was beheaded for the sake of Jesus Christ."


There is not one of us but feels, when he really thinks of this, that it was a great and blessed thing to be the companion of such a man; and, perhaps some of us may imagine, that it would have made all the difference to themselves, if God had cast their lot in such company.  If we had been with such persons as S. Paul, especially in their dying hours, we are apt to fancy, we should never have forgotten such instructions and such an example.


But let us not be too sure.  The company and example of the saints of God, like all other spiritual and heavenly privileges, takes effect upon men, according as they are prepared by their own former conduct, and disposed in their own hearts. The company and example of our blessed Lord Himself, we know, did not amend nor save Judas, because he brought to it a perverse and covetous heart, and refused to be the better for it.  Yet, I suppose, even Judas himself, had he heard at a distance of such a person as Christ, at least of some parts of what He said and did; even Judas, I say, would have admired Him, and thought it good to be with Him.  And so it may be in the case of the saints of Christ, living and dead.  Many men may be touched with what they read or hear of them, and may seem to themselves, as if they longed to be with them, who, if they really were brought into their company, would very soon be tired and disgusted, and long to be away from them.  Many may have engaging dreams (if one may so call them) of S. Paul in prison, who would never have profited as S. Luke did, by being companion of the blessed Apostle.


For let us consider the case more nearly.  Here is a person, poor, despised, of weak bodily presence and contemptible speech, shut up in a prison, from which he has no earthly hope of escape, and out of which he is daily expecting to be led to a cruel death: and it will be a shameful death too, for he will be punished as a criminal, and most part of the people will insult him, believing him guilty.  What is there in this to tempt or delight anyone, except it were one who had a faith like the faith of S. Paul himself; such a faith as could look through all this cloud of troubles to the glorious end, the crown of righteousness?


Again, what if the Apostle spake, almost as never man spake, about the love of God to His people, and the things prepared for them that love Him?  All this would fall dead and useless on the ears of men, taken up hitherto with the diversions, and business, and imaginations of this present evil world.  To associate with him from morning to night, and hear his good and holy sayings, and observe the Christian use he would make of all things, would be but flat and wearisome work to a mind taken up with the love of this world; a mind selfish and impatient, sensual and greedy.


To take an instance which everyone can understand: How would a mere ordinary person, a child of this world, used always to indulge himself, how would such an one like to be with the Apostle on his fasting-days?  We know that he did keep fasts; that he restrained his body and brought it into subjection: he denied himself in many things, which the generality of men, even such as were called respectable, took freely, as of course.  In such respects his company could not be very agreeable to them, however much they may have admired him on other accounts, when they heard of him at a distance.  But S. Luke had been long used to delight in the same things as S. Paul.  He had been, as one may say, in training for this life of imprisonment and self-denial.  When he first joined himself to S. Paul, he knew that he should have to suffer affliction, and I it came on him very soon; for the very next place they preached in, we read of S. Paul and Silas being scourged and imprisoned, and delivered only by a miracle.  Thus he was used to danger, pain, and shame: he had his soul, as the Psalmist says, "always in his hand;" that is, he felt continually, how very uncertain his life was; he knew he could not count on it for a moment, nor yet on any of the comforts which make life tolerable; and thus he was well prepared to attend the teacher, whom he had so long loved, both in prison and to death.


But if his life had been, from the beginning, a life of ease and self-satisfaction, how different would it all have seemed!  Even if his love for his friend had caused him to wait diligently on him, yet he could not have done it so effectually.  His devout and affectionate purposes would have been continually more or less interrupted with thoughts of his own uneasiness.  He would have missed very much of S. Paul's good example, and of his holy and instructive words, from being so greatly taken up with himself.  And much of what he did see and hear, he would not at all have understood, the Christian ways being altogether new to him.


For we may depend upon it, that as it is a hard thing to enter into the meaning of the Scriptures or of the Church, or what is called in the Bible "the mind of Christ," so it is no easy matter to understand and value the behaviour of any of Christ's saints, in such measure as they really come up to the name.  There will always be things in every good man's conduct, which will seem strange, and harsh, and unaccountable, to those who are below him in goodness.  He will often keep silence where they would expect him to speak; he will be grave, where they look for encouragement from him; composed and calm about matters, in which they think it impossible to be too eager; and he will very often see deep meanings, and act accordingly, on occasions which they would turn from, as merely trifling.  In short, it must require a good deal of Christian practice, to enable a man to enter into the spirit of any one who is worthy to be followed, and really to make the most of his example.


S. Luke seems to have been a pattern of this.  His whole manner of writing proves, that he answered well to David's description of a good Churchman, one worthy to abide in God's tabernacle, as in other respects, so in this: that he "made much of them that fear the Lord." [Ps. xv. 4.]  That, no doubt, was what he looked to: he did not seek after amusing companions, nor such as would better his condition, or advance his credit and consequence in the world.


Nor, even among Christians, did he seek to be with eloquent or learned persons, or persons called wise, or much followed by the people.  But the one thing which he sought was this, a heart set upon fearing God, and a life spent in keeping his commandments.  Where he found that, to such an one he was presently ready to become a companion.  Or, as it is in another psalm, “All his delight” was “in the saints that are in the earth, and in such as excel in virtue.” [Ps. xvi. 3]  These are very sacred words, for they are spoken in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  And they shew plainly, what sort of company we must keep, if we would be minded like Christ, and approved by Him.  We must not look on things after the outward appearance; we must not be carried away with beauty, or strength, or skill, or what is called cleverness, or with learning, or with mirth and amusing ways, or with any such thing: we must always stop and ask ourselves, "Does this man fear God? Does he keep His commandments?" before we choose any to be our friend.  And, on the other hand, when we clearly see that anyone is truly devout in his life and conversation, a lover of God and good men, a humble and watchful servant of Christ, and an obedient member of His Holy Catholic Church, we ought not to draw back  from him on account of any outward disadvantages, or for any of the thousand fanciful reasons which, as weak vain mortals, we are apt to be so much governed by.  S. Luke did not so withdraw himself from the great Apostle, because "his bodily presence was weak, and his speech contemptible."  He was superior to such childish unworthy feelings.


And this is the more remarkable, as it seems from S. Luke's writings, and from what is told concerning him, that he was a person of more education, higher breeding, as it is called, than the holy writers were in general.  No doubt he was a judge of good speaking, fine writing, and other such matters, and of what is beautiful and otherwise.  There was a tradition among the ancient Christians, that he was a painter of no smal1 skill.  But none of these things moved him, neither outward beauty, nor ready speech, nor worldly wisdom and accomplishments; but he chose to be with S. Paul, because he saw that S. Paul was chief among those who feared God and kept His commandments.  It was not for his own pleasure, or credit, or consequence, that he joined himself to the Apostle, but for the salvation of his soul; and therefore he did not look to those things in his friend, which the world might take notice of and admire, but to his bright and pure example, and to the grace of God which was in him.


And having made his choice, he kept constantly to it.  Others fell away from S. Paul's company, when times grew bad and death seemed to draw near.  Demas forsook him, as thinking himself well off in this present world; and not only Demas, but many others: for he writes, that when he first appeared on his trial before Caesar, no man stood by him, but all forsook him.  "Only Luke," he says, "is with me."  Thus we see how constant their friendship is, which is founded on the fear of God, and keeping His commandments.  It fails not, for it is builded on a rock, and that rock is Christ; Christ, in Whom such friends are firmly knit together, as members of the same body, and cannot, therefore, fail to have the same care one of another.


But again, we see that the evangelist was not content with merely admiring, and loving, and following the Apostle, but that he also employed himself in many things, which did great service to the Church.  He wrote that precious Gospel, which was and is his praise in all the Churches.  He was sent by S. Paul on errands of charity, being chosen to go a long journey, in charge of a sum which had been collected for the saints at Jerusalem.  And as S. Paul calls him in one place "the beloved physician," so we may well believe, that the experience he had in his first profession helped him much in that charitable waiting, both on the souls and bodies of men, which belonged to him in his second and higher office of evangelist and physician of the soul.  I will mention one more circumstance in S. Luke's character, which particularly qualified him to be a companion of good and holy men, namely, the delight which he plainly took in watching and remembering their exemplary ways; making much of them, and setting them down, that they might not pass away as in a dream; and again, in observing and noting down the wonderful turns and order of God's Providence, in regard of them and of His whole Church.  Being so minded, the Almighty chose out S. Luke from among all the disciples, to write the Church history, from the birth of S. John Baptist to the imprisonment of S. Paul in Rome.  This was a glorious privilege indeed, for one whose delight was in the saints, or, rather, in the Lord Jesus, both in Himself, and as manifested in His saints.  And surely it is a great encouragement also; to all such as humbly and obediently apply themselves to watching and copying the examples of holy men departed; seeking praise, not for themselves, but for them, and for the God Who sanctified them.


We have seen the high privileges of the evangelist S. Luke, and how he was trained and prepared for them, and made much of them.  It is a matter to be much considered, and laid to heart by everyone of us.  For certainly, whether we consider it or no, we are sharers, to a great degree, in those divine favours which S. Luke enjoyed; and if we are not trying to make the same use of them as he did, if we are not greatly the better for them, we must be greatly the worse.


All of us, I say, are partakers in S. Luke's privileges; I mean, in the spiritual advantages he enjoyed as a companion of the fervent Apostle S. Paul.  For we, too, are in a measure companions of S. Paul; we are made acquainted with him by his sacred writings, and by S. Luke's own history of him: we read and hear of him a great deal, both in school and in Church.  Now, what is S. Paul to us? Why did God's providence take order, that we should so often be brought to remembrance of him, except because it was His will, that we should follow S. Paul's example?  Are we, generally, trying to follow it?


Again, most of us know some one or more friends, whom we believe, without any question, to be serious in God's service, trying to do all their duty.  We have, perhaps, all of us, more or less, opportunities of intercourse with such persons.  Let us understand that those opportunities are so many favours and privileges from God Almighty; they are talents, of which we must give account; if abused or hidden, they will add to the weight, which will sink us down irrevocably in the Day of Judgement.


Why is it that people do not consider this more? Why are many of us so little the better for the goodness of those, among whom we live?


One reason is, I suppose, that we have not generally chosen our companions for being good, and holy, and devout.  If we have lived among such, it was God's mercy that brought us near them; it was not at all our own doing.  As for us, when we could choose, we became, like the heathen, "vain in our imaginations:" our foolish hearts chose out to be our friends, showy, pleasant people, or people of consequence in the world; if they chanced also to be religious people, no thanks to us for it; and no wonder, therefore, if we were little the better for their friendship.  Plainly, then, for the time to come, our duty is, when we have a choice, to join ourselves to none but such as really fear God.  If we thus watch for heavenly goodness, and go out of our way to seek it, we shall, of course, deal reverently with it, when we find it, and God in His mercy will give us a portion in it.


Next, let us take care, that being their companions, we do not abuse their kindness to any worldly purpose whatsoever; any more than S. Luke made use of his friendship with S. Paul to increase his own influence in the Church.  This will leave our minds free to receive all the good, which He, by such companions, intended us.


And let us be very doubtful of our own constancy; very much afraid what might happen, if at any time our friendship with them called on us to deny ourselves severely.  S. Paul had a Demas among his companions, who forsook him when danger came on: and who knows what our case might be, if tribulation and persecution arose for our Lord's sake?  It is one thing to be with good men, and enjoy their sweetness and kindness, and admire their noble thoughts and Christian wisdom, when all seems quiet and easy around; and it is quite another thing to stand by them, and cleave to their good ways, when it brings reproach and self-denial, poverty, and pain, and toil, and perhaps even danger.


To prepare us, therefore, for such severer trials, let us be very attentive to the ways in which they are preparing themselves.  Let us carefully notice, how they use silently to prefer other persons' pleasure and profit to their own; how they give up their own opinions, submit to affronts, refuse to have their own way: and let us be sure that what they do in secret in thus inwardly disciplining themselves, is a great deal more than what they do in our sight.  God Almighty sees in them very many self-denials and restraints, which none of us can know any thing of.  We are too much used to say, "I love and admire such an one, and I wish I could be like him; but I cannot, it is not in my nature."  The true way is to say little about them, but to think and pray a great deal; and to copy, as we may in little things, their humble and holy ways, that the world may not prevail against us, and separate us from them, when great occasions arise.


One thing more: we must be on our guard, that we sin not, before we are aware, in idolizing these, the earthly members of our Lord; thinking on them, and depending on them, when all our thoughts and trusts ought to mount up to Him, Who is their Head and ours.  Our knowledge of holy men, living and dead, should ever lead us back to Jesus Christ, such as He manifested Himself on earth; even as S. Luke's intimacy with S. Paul qualified him to write his Gospel.  Let it be our labour in this world to please Him by following His saints, and it shall be our joy and crown of rejoicing, in His Presence, at His coming.