The Solemn Collects of Good Friday With Meditations

18 April, 2014

Let us pray.
Let us bow the knee.

For the holy Church of God …

    Almighty and everlasting God, who in Christ hast maintained thy glory to all nations: keep, we beseech thee, that which thine own mercy hath wrought; that thy Church, spread abroad throughout all the world, may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of thy Name. Through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.

It is most appropriate that we should begin our Good Friday collects with a prayer for the Church, the continuing visible presence of Jesus Christ in our midst. In the Old Testament, the word “Zion” is often used to mean the Church, God’s people gathered together. The Prophet Isaiah makes the divine establishment of the Church clear when he says: Isaiah 14:32b  That the LORD hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it. These words were spoken by the prophet at the time that Hezekiah had successfully re-established the Jewish nation, and they are spoken to make clear that it is not the work of Hezekiah, but rather the Lord God, who has re-established this nation in the face of its many enemies.

Our Savior Jesus Christ claims the Church for His own in His words spoken to St. Peter: Matthew 16:18b  And upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Notice how Christ speaks of “my church,” and He claims to be its founder when He says, “I will build…” Jesus spoke these words at the very first confession of the truth of the Incarnation, St. Peter’s confession of faith. The Church is the kingdom of Jesus Christ here on earth, the kingdom of the Incarnation.

Thus, in this first Collect we pray for the continuation and strengthening of Christ’s kingdom here on earth, the kingdom won for us by Christ in His sacrificial death on the cross this day. We pray that His kingdom may grow and prosper, that it may spread throughout all the world, while faithfully carrying His message of salvation without any hint of modification or adulteration.

For our Bishops …

    Almighty and everlasting God, by whose wisdom all things are established: favourably regard our prayers, and preserve our chosen Bishops by thy goodness; that the Christian folk governed by thine authority may increase in the merit of faith under such worthy rulers. Through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.    

At the time of Christ, Judaism was led by the Jewish priests, members of the tribe of Levi, and descendants of Aaron. This was a purely hereditary priesthood, and it has since disappeared from the world, leaving the Jews to be led by rabbis who are simply teachers. When Jesus Christ came into the world, He took upon Himself the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king for our salvation. In His Incarnation He became
1. Our prophet, the one who would teach man about God;
2. Our priest, the one who would reconcile man to God;
3. Our King, the one who would subdue man to God.
All of this harkens back to the mysterious Melchizedek, who was prophet, priest and king in Salem according to Genesis 14. Like Melchizedek Jesus Christ holds these offices in Himself, not as a hereditary inheritance. Today, Jesus Christ no longer exercises these offices among us directly, but has instead delegated His authority to men. The first of these representatives to whom he gave authority to act where the Apostles. This delegation of authority occurs just before His Ascension in Matthew 28:18-20  And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Christ’s words, “even unto the end of the world,” indicate that this delegated authority was to live on beyond the mortal lives of the Apostles, and it is from this that we have the Apostolic Succession of Bishops.

The modern experience of the Church indicates two reasons why it is urgently important that we pray for our bishops:
1. The burden of the bishops is very heavy, the struggle to maintain the faith once delivered to the saints intact, without a addition or omission, in the face of an antagonistic and unbelieving world;
2. It is clear that we have not always chosen wisely those we would have as bishops, so that false teachers have been allowed to enter their ranks. We must pray for the conversion of these false teachers, that they do no harm to the Church, and that they may avoid the extreme punishment that awaits those who have misled the Church of Jesus Christ.

For all Christians in their service to God …

    Almighty and Everlasting God, by whose spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before thee for all estates of men in thy holy Church, that every member of the same, in his vocation and ministry, may truly and godly serve thee. Through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.

There is a tendency at times to think that only the ordained clergy actually serve God, but this is clearly false. Every Christian is called to serve God in their daily life, whatever their work may be. This is true whether they work in an office, in a school, in a factory, or at home. Jesus Christ calls everyone of us in our daily lives to serve Him, reflecting His teaching and bringing others to Him. We do this by the way in which we live, the attitudes we reflect, and the self-discipline that we exercise. We do it by showing concern for others, particularly for the spiritual welfare of others, even much more so than for their physical welfare. In the summary of the law, we are told (1) that we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul with all our mind, and (2) that we must love our neighbor in exactly the same way.

There is much emphasis today on the matter of “loving our neighbor.” Unfortunately, it is often misunderstood, taken in strictly worldly political terms. Thus it is construed to mean having warm, fuzzy feelings toward our neighbor and to be concerned for his physical welfare. Neither of these is wrong, but it misses the point entirely. To love our neighbor means to want the highest and best spiritual good for him to bring him into a relationship with Almighty God. In some cases, this is facilitated by concern for his physical welfare, but in other cases, giving him what he wants, may do him spiritual harm (if his desires are for those things that damage his soul). Thus in our everyday lives, we are called upon to evaluate, yes, to discriminate, in what we do for and to other people, always with a view to their eternal good. This is not a popular perspective, but it is true.
For those in civil authority …

    Almighty God, whose kingdom is everlasting and power infinite: have mercy upon this whole land; and so rule the hearts of thy servants, the President of the United States, the governor of this State, and all others in authority, that they, knowing whose ministers they are, may above all things seek thy honour and glory; and that we and all the People, duly considering whose authority they bear, may faithfully and obediently honour them, according to thy blessed word and ordinance. Through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.

God, who created the world, created an orderly world, a world with structure. If we read the Genesis account, we cannot help but notice that the whole order of creation is done in a specific sequence and that everything about it is orderly, rather than chaotic. The way of God is clearly the way of order. It is God’s will that we live ordered lives in an ordered society. This He has ordained that there should be a structure to civil society, and has put particular people in authority over us. St. Paul is very clear in his instructions to us about how we are to view civil authority: Romans 13:4  For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Paul is telling us that civil authority is instituted by God for our good, not to oppress us, not to do us evil, but for our good. Thus he is not advocating that we accept corrupt and unjust government, but that we evaluate the government to assure that it is for the good of all. On the other side, Paul affirms the role of government in suppressing evil, in punishing those who harm others. He tells all of us to expect punishment whenever we break the civil law.

Any person in authority will soon recognize that his authority is a burden if he seeks to do his job properly. This is true whether he is the President of the United States, a state Governor, the mayor of the city, or an alderman. It is even true in business where the responsibility of a business leader, a manager, a foreman or other lead person, all have responsibilities to those whom they supervise. They have to make sure the work gets done, that the work is properly distributed among the workers, resolve disputes, and see to it that all get paid their due wages. Likewise, authority leads to temptation, the temptation to take advantage of others and to exploit them, a temptation to do evil. That is why everyone in a position of leadership is in need of our prayer support that they may do their jobs properly and well, and that they not fall prey to temptation.

For those coming to the Christian faith anew …

    Almighty and everlasting God, who makest thy church, to be ever fruitful with new offspring: increase the faith and understanding of our catechumens; that being born again in the font of Baptism, they may be gathered into the number of thine adopted children. Through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.

As we have discussed, we note that it is the will of Christ for His church to continue,  even unto the end of the world, but we also know that all men are mortal. This points directly to the endless need to bring new generations into the Christian faith, to nourish them in that Apostolic faith that has come down to us from Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Not long ago, someone (was it N.T. Wright?) observed that the Christian faith is only one generation away from extinction. While we know that this will not happen because that would be contrary to the will of Christ, we also know that there is a continuing struggle (1) to bring new converts into the Christian faith, and (2) to teach them clearly and effectively so that the faith will be imprinted upon their soul in an indelible manner.

This is particularly a problem for our age when people are constantly searching for something that is “new.” It seems that many come to the Christian faith, looking for that ” new thing,” but tend to move on in search of something else when the “new” is gone. This is particularly a problem of catechesis, of sound teaching of the faith. Only when people are convinced in their minds as well as well as engaged emotionally will they become truly and permanently attached to Christ’s Church.

For an increase of faith among us …

    Almighty and everlasting God, the comfort of the sorrowful and the strength of them that toil: let the prayers of all that cry unto thee by reason of any tribulation come before thee; that they may rejoice to find the relief of thy loving mercy in their several necessities. Through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.

At first hearing, this may sound like a plea for a better world, that our lives in this world should be made easier and that God should give us more. But that is not the point at all. The point is our recognition of our total dependence upon God for both our physical needs and our emotional strength. We pray a prayer of this sort, not to remind God of His Own promises, but instead to remind ourselves of the promises of God to be our support in all things. God is faithful, not forgetful. It is we, fallible people that we are, who tend to forget that God is our only true source of strength and supply. We need to be reminded that God always hears our prayers. Sometimes we tend to forget that God hears us, because we do not immediately get the answer we seek. We need to remember that there are three possible answers to our prayers: Yes, No, and Not Yet.

It is the last answer, Not Yet, that most often tends to make us think God didn’t hear us. When our prayers are directly answer in the affirmative, we know that God has heard us. Similarly, when the entry is negative, when God closes off all possibility of what we have asked, then we know likewise that God has heard us and said No. But it is when He says Not Yet, that we do not see any direct answer and think he has not heard us. This is when we tend to neglect to pray.

For those who follow false religions …

    Almighty and everlasting God, who savest all, and wouldest not that any should perish: look upon the souls that are deceived by the craft of the devil; that laying aside all malice and heresy, the hearts of the erring may recover wisdom, and return to the unity of thy truth. Through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.    

There can be little doubt among Christians that there are many false religions in the world today. It is easy to name many of the formal false religions, beginning most prominently with Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, animism, and so on. But there are also others which we may not think of so readily. Atheism is a religion, despite all its claims to the contrary. Socialism and communism are also religions, again while they claim not to be. Each of these would like to claim the ultimate allegiance of the human heart, an allegiance that should belong only to God and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Some are violent and spread their belief system by murder, such as Islam and communism. Others are nonviolent, such as Buddhism, or socialism, they do not threaten their neighbors. But whether violent or nonviolent, they are all false, leading people away from the true faith in Jesus Christ, the only Savior of mankind.

Those who follow these false religions are ultimately condemned to eternal death. It is not considered politically correct to say such things, but it is the truth. We have these words from Christ himself: John 14:6  Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. It makes no difference which of these false religions a person follows; they all lead directly to hell.

It is the will of God that all men should be saved. This was His reason for sending His Son, Jesus Christ into the world to save all men from sin. He has opened the door wide to the whole world, but be not deceived: God is holy and just and will judge righteously at the final judgement. Those who have chosen to follow any faith other than that of Jesus Christ are truly damned.

For the Jews …

    Almighty and everlasting God, who deniest not thy mercy to the unbelieving Jews: hear our prayers which we offer unto thee for the blindness of thine own People; that acknowledging the light of thy truth, which is Christ, they may be brought out of their darkness. Through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.

The Jews are the Chosen People of God, our elder brothers in the faith of God, our Father. The entire Old Testament is about God’s working with and through his Chosen People, the Jews. Their special status as the Chosen People of God is reflected in the words of Christ, Matthew 15:24  But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And yet, in spite of all of this, we know that the Jewish nation rejected the Messiah, the Christ of God, sent to them.

When we look at Judaism today, the sight is not encouraging for the most part. Almost all that survives is derived from the Pharisaic Judaism at the time of Christ. The party of the Sadducees was wiped out with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Pharisees were sufficiently dispersed to survive that catastrophe, but now they exist as a diaspora spread over the entire world. This may well be a punishment for their rejection of the Messiah. There is, of course, a small messianic group within Judaism that appears to accept Jesus, but it is hard to be certain what to make of this. Much of modern Judaism in the Western world appears almost atheistic, entirely focused on this life with no knowledge or interest in God and life eternal.

We may be certain that God is not through with the Jewish nation. He has bound to them through a covenant, and God is faithful to His covenant. So the ultimate destiny of the Jews is not clear to us, and fortunately not up to us to determine. We know without a doubt that the Jews can be saved if they will accept Jesus Christ, so this must be our prayer for them.
For the heathen …

    Almighty and everlasting God, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live: mercifully accept our prayers, and deliver the heathen from the worship of idols; and for the praise and glory of thy Name, admit them into thy holy Church. Through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.

When we think of the heathen, at least two types come to mind. On the one hand there is the bushman in Borneo or the African tribesman who has never heard of the true God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so usually worships idols made of wood, stone and metal. There is also a second type much closer at hand. These live among us, and they worship power, success, athletic fitness, personal physical beauty and appearance, and money. The pursuit of all these goals often overshadows any interest at all in Jesus Christ and eternal life. They live for now, for the present moment, and struggle in vain to achieve these transient objectives.

Jesus Christ died for ALL men, and in the Great Commission has sent His Church to convert them all, the primitive savage and the modern materialist man. It is the will of the Father, that ALL men should be saved, and it was for this reason that He sent His only Son to be our Savior. We must pray for the conversion of all those who do not know Christ and are drawn away by their various idols.


Here end the Solemn Collects of Good Friday and these meditations upon them. May you each reflect upon them profitably as you prepare to celebrate the glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Day, the day when everything is changed for all eternity. May the blessings of Easter remain with you day by day throughout the year.

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Charity — Quinquagesima 2013

First Corinthians 13:1-13
Saint Luke 18:31 – 43

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Well it has finally come. This is the weekend commonly known in the secular world as Mardi Gras, and we stand on the verge of passing into the season of Lent. And nothing makes this any more plain than the words of our Gospel lesson where Jesus says Luke 18:31b  Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. Our Lord’s announcement makes it very plain that we must now prepare for the journey.

But before we get into the Gospel lesson, we must give some thought to the Epistle lesson. The Epistle for today is the famous passage from First Corinthians that is so popularly misused at weddings. In verse 1,  and repeatedly thereafter, we hear the word charity –  St. Paul says “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity,…” as it is translated in the Authorized Version (KJV).  The major difficulty comes in the word agaph, (which transliterates as agape’)  the word which the Authorized Version has translated as charity. Many more modern translations (TEV, NIV, NEB, etc.) have translated this word as love. Now both translations are correct as far as they go, but they communicate differently to a modern English-language speaker. In the original Greek in which St. Paul wrote the word agaph means love, the unique spiritual love that exists between God and His people. Most significantly, this is the love of self-sacrifice. This is in contrast to eros, the type of sexual love that exists between a man and a woman, and also in contrast to phileos, the sort of affection and fellow feeling that exists between friends and family members. In this respect, the Greeks had a more precise linguistic capability than we English speakers have. So what ever translation of the Bible we read, when we read this passage, we must be certain that we understand the word translated from agaph to refer specifically and only to the self-sacrificing spiritual love between God and His people.

At the end of the Epistle lesson, St. Paul tells us that charity is the greatest of all the virtues because it endures forever: 1 Corinthians 13:13  And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. This is certainly not to denigrate the virtues of faith and hope, but simply to observe that charity, that is the true love between and among God and men is the virtue that endures even into eternity. When we get to Heaven we will not have faith because faith is a trust in something yet beyond our reason and grasp, and in Heaven, the thing desired will be ours. Similarly, we will no longer have hope because hope is also based on something to come in the future, but in Heaven, that future will have arrived. But charity will remain, because charity is the mutual love between God and His people, a virtue continuing throughout all eternity.

In our common everyday use of the word charity, we tend to think of alms giving and not too much more. But in verse 3, St. Paul makes it clear that charity must be much more than that. 1 Corinthians 13:3  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. St. Paul is here telling us that merely giving alms does not rise to the level of charity but is something else altogether. He also says that alms giving, done without charity is of no value whatsoever. Thus we see that our usual understanding of the word charity, and the self-satisfied feeling that we associate with alms giving, are in fact not charity at all.

The development of agaph love, or charity, whichever words we choose, occurs within man in four steps. Let us consider each of them.

The first step is when we learn to love ourselves. This happens when we become sufficiently self-aware to realize how important our own welfare is to us. Before that point, we love no one or no thing, but when we come to appreciate our own welfare, we naturally begin to love ourselves. This is the first love, the germ of our understanding of charity. Now you may think that this is so elemental as to be trivial, but it is not. Think about all the people you know who, in fact, hate themselves. Some will admit this while others will not but their desire for self-destruction shows that this is in fact the case. We are surrounded with people like this every day, people who do not see themselves as having value, either in their own minds or the eyes of anyone else. Thus learning to love ourselves is indeed, a significant first step in the development of charity within each of us.

The second step comes when we discover that our own welfare is directly dependent upon God who provides for us. All who are truly Christians understand this, but the world is filled with people who do not recognize their dependence upon God, and therefore find it easy to ignore or deny God. They certainly do not love Him because they have not yet recognized their own need for Him. As long as anyone thinks themselves self-sufficient, able to provide for themselves by their own devices, they most certainly will not achieve the second step in the development of charity.

Those who have accomplished the first two steps, who appreciate their own welfare and to understand that their welfare is directly dependent upon God, will gradually move through the third step. This is when we become better acquainted with God, come to know who He is, and come to appreciate His nature. This is when we come to see Him as He truly is, the sum of all perfections and supremely lovable in and for Himself alone. In the third step, we have moved past love based on what we receive from God, to a love based purely on the nature of God Himself. This is the appreciation of God as all beauty, all knowledge, all power, and all goodness in Himself. When we come to love Him simply because of who He is, then the third step is completed.

The first three steps are as far as things go in this life. The fourth step is accomplished only at the general Resurrection of the Dead, the time when our mortal bodies cease to be in conflict with our eternal souls. When this happens we will be in union with God our Creator, and at that point, we will finally be able to love even ourselves for God’s sake.
The concept of being in union with our Creator may seem a little bit obscure, but consider the way it is explain by CS Lewis in his theological novel, The Screwtape Letters. In his book, Lewis has the senior demon, Screwtape, writing to a junior demon, Wormwood, who is his nephew. Thus, in the words of the senior demon:

… But the obedience which the Enemy demands of man is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk of His love for men and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself – – creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His (Letter VIII).

What Lewis has identified for us is the fact that, in Heaven after the general Resurrection, we will be like God because our wills will be perfectly conformed to His will. When that happens, we will in fact love ourselves just as God loves us, and for God’s sake. This last point may be difficult to grasp, because it is completely beyond our capability in this present life. In that last step, we will no longer be concerned for our own welfare which has been a factor in our love for God at each step up to the last.

There is a tendency to confuse charity with emotion, but this is wrong. Charity is a clearly a duty when we properly understand the words of Christ John 13:34  A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another, where the word is translated as love is again a form of the word agaph. We see this again in Matthew 22:37-39   Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, where once again, agaph is the root word. Thus we must understand that charity is not optional, but rather is an absolute commandment upon us. True charity consists in keeping the goodness of God paramount in our minds and being absolutely determined to do His will. This is far more than our usual, limited, modern understanding that identifies charity simply with giving alms. It is this limited understanding that causes us to confuse charity with emotion.

While an absolute commitment to serving God is the central characteristic of charity, charity does not allow us to neglect our fellow man. The second half of the Summary of the Law reminds us vividly of this aspect. We must always be concerned for the welfare of our fellows, remembering however, that this refers to their eternal welfare far more than to their temporal welfare. Thus we may not do any action, even those which may appear to improve their temporal condition, if it is in any way damaging to their relationship with God. Now that may sound a bit abstract, but it is actually very down to earth and concrete. Let me give you a few examples.

One of the hot button issues for our current day is the homosexual agenda and the “rights of homosexuals.” Society today is deluged with demands for “tolerance” which in fact turns into the endorsement, full acceptance and promotion, of the homosexual agenda. As Christians, we certainly must not call for burning these people at the stake, we must not call for their persecution, we must not do anything that is harmful to them. They are created in the image of God just as we are, and His Son Jesus Christ, died for them just as He died for us. It this last fact that compels us to be opposed to the homosexual agenda for acceptance and endorsement because we know that this lifestyle pushes them further from God. Our first and foremost concern for them must be with their eternal welfare, not their temporal welfare. It would be easier for us, and would make them immediately and superficially pleased, for us to simply accept their demands, ignoring the damage done to their souls. But charity, the mutual love between God and all of his people, compels us to oppose these evil ideas for their own eternal good.

To cite another example, consider the demands of the relativists that  hold that all religions are of equal value, or some might say, of no value, and that we must therefore accept them all on that basis. As Christians we know this claim is utterly false, and a source of grave error, leading souls astray and away from God. We are therefore bound by charity, by our concern for the souls of those others, to point out this obvious falsehood and to demand that they look at the question again with rational minds rather than blank minds.

The modern Progressive agenda is based upon the idea of human perfectibility – “every day, in every way, we are getting better and better.” This is a complete denial of the fallen nature of mankind, and avoidance of the concept of sin, and an elevation of man to the role of God. Those who advocate the Progressive agenda readily put themselves in the role of God, quite prepared to enslave everyone else under the rule of a worldwide, socialist/communist government. This is an evil that seeks to destroy human welfare, both in this world and in the next. As Christians, charity absolutely compels us to oppose this great evil.

I could go on, but I am sure that it is evident to all who think about it that many of the issues that are presented today as politics, are in fact moral issues, subjects that demand our attention and action in charity. We may not address them, that is to say we are not allowed to address them, purely from the standpoint of self interest. The Gospel and the words of Christ Himself demand that we consider the welfare of others, most particularly their eternal welfare.

Thus as we begin the journey to Jerusalem, let us implore God the Father to fill our hearts with that most wonderful gift of charity, the true love of both God and man, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then we will be ready to travel with Christ.

+ In the Name the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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Epiphany 5 2014

Colossians 3:12 – 17
St. Matthew 13:24b – 30

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Let us begin this morning by a brief examination of the Collect for the day. The Collect reads: Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The key phrase in the Collect is this one: “to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion.” In this phrase, the Collect shows us the theme for our meditation this morning. Certainly we are all aware, particularly in the current age, that the Church is constantly under assault from the devil and his agents. It is only through the power of Jesus Christ that the Church is protected, day by day. With these thoughts in mind then, we turn to the Gospel lesson.

Our Gospel lesson for this morning is the familiar parable of the wheat and the tares sown together. Let me begin by re-reading that to you:

Matthew 13:24-30  Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?  He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

On first reading, we might be inclined to take the parable as simply a description of agricultural sabotage. The word “tares” refers to a noxious weed, quite possibly the darnel. The enemy comes at night, quietly sowing weeds in the crop, so that the farmer is induced to continue to invest his resources and labor in a crop that will ultimately produce little. Because the farmer does not know the damage has been done, he will continue to water and fertilize this crop, only to discover later that his yield has been corrupted. Does this seem far-fetched? It is reported that, in Ireland, a tenant farmer who had received notice of eviction, sowed wild oats in his fields which later proved almost impossible to eradicate. Similar stories come from India as well. While this is very sly, and perhaps interesting to us as an act of Machiavellian intrigue, what is that to us today?

But then we didn’t read very closely. The opening words of the Gospel lesson say, “the kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field…” The kingdom of heaven is definitely a matter of concern to us, so we need to pay more attention to what is being said.

This particular parable is remarkable in that we have the interpretation of the parable also, given by Christ himself, and we find ourselves identifying closely with the disciples.

Matthew 13:36-43  Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;  The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;  The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;  And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Look what Jesus has said. Jesus tells us that he Himself is the farmer, the one who sowed good seed which is His message of salvation to the world, where the world is represented by the field. The wheat, grown from good seed, represents the kingdom harvest, those that will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Conversely, the tares represent those who have chosen evil and will ultimately be condemned. That condemnation is a dreadful and final end, as indicated when He says, “the tares are gathered and burned in the fire.”

In the original recitation of the parable, the farmer says, “an enemy has done this.” It is particularly significant, and entirely correct, that Jesus identifies the devil as His own enemy. Thus the words of the parable reflect the eternal truth of conflict between the Lord God and his son Jesus Christ on the one hand, and the powers of evil led by the devil on the other. The parable shows vividly the active efforts of the devil to subvert the will of God and destroy mankind.

In the seed form, both the wheat and the tares look very much alike and are essentially indistinguishable. As the parable says, “but when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.” This is exactly how it is in the world. While life goes on, we cannot completely distinguish between the “good people”who will inherit eternal life, and the “bad people” who will be condemned, until the fruit of their life is completely  evident. If the farmer had chosen to act too quickly, telling his servants to go into the fields and pull up all the tares, then it is obvious that much of the wheat would have been uprooted and some of the tares, no doubt, overlooked. As Jesus says in His words of explanation, the proper separation can, and will be, made at the final harvest, the end of the world. Then, the fruit of every life will be evident, and there will be no mistaking the wheat and the tares.

So what does this all mean for us? In particular, what does this mean for the Church? The parable is telling us that good and evil are allowed to coexist in the world, but that we must not think that God does not notice. There will be a judgment, a dreadful judgment,  not in our time but rather in God’s time. Until then, both the wheat and the tares must live together in the world, until the fruit of each is fully manifest. Then, in His time, at the judgment, God will separate them. The good will go on to their reward in the kingdom of heaven, and the bad will go to their reward in hellfire. We must not let our impatience drive us to try to uproot the tares among us, but rather wait for the Lord’s judgment. In the meantime, the Lord will continue to cultivate His field, the world, providing for it and protecting it.

Jesus ends His explanation with the ominous words, “who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” He is telling us that the meaning of the parable is plain, and that we avoid this truth at our own peril. And so it is. We must understand that we are planted in the Lord’s field, His field to manage as he sees fit. We dare not think that we know better than the Lord Christ how His field should be managed. Our role is simply to be faithful and true to the end, trusting in Christ for all things.

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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The Feast of St. Thomas of Canterbury – 29 December, 2013

Hebrews 5:1 – 6
St. John 10:11 – 16

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Merry Christmass!! Yes, the Feast of Christmass continues, despite the fact that the post-Christmass sales are in full swing, and many, probably most have “moved on.” They are looking to the big secular holiday, New Years Day, with Bowl Games, the Rose Parade, and the dropping of the great ball in Times Square, NYC. But, it is still Christmasstide, even if many don’t know it and others deny it.

For those still aware of Christmass, in the Christmass spirit, as it is commonly phrased, the common images are (1) the birth in the manger, with Mary, Joseph, and the Babe, along with the oxen, donkeys, etc., (2) angels announcing over the hills of Judea that the Christ is born, (3) Christmass dinner, with far too much food for a week, (4) candy canes, snowmen, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and other similar thoughts.

But then, remember the words of Jesus Christ, Matthew 10:34   Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. No sugar plums and gingerbread men there!

Let us look again at the Kalendar for Christmasstide:
December 25, the Feast of the Nativity, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ;
December 26, the Feast of St. Stephen, Deacon and first Martyr of the Church;
December 27, the Feast of St. John, Evangelist, writer of the Gospel and Letters of John;
December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the infant boys slain by King Herod;
December 29, the Feast of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Bishop and Martyr;
December 30, Christmass Feria;
December 31, Christmass Feria;
January 1, Circumcision of Christ;
January 2, Christmass Feria;
January 3, Christmass Feria;
January 4, Christmass Feria;
January 5, Christmass Feria;
January 6, The Feast of the Epiphany, the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.
Of course, somewhere in there the First and Second Sundays after Christmass come, but the listing above is the general scheme.

Now look again at the list above: We have martyrs celebrated on the 26th, the 28th, and the 29th of December, three of the first four days following the Feast of the Nativity itself. Why?

That is a difficult question to answer definitively, but consider what St. Thomas Becket himself had to say about the matter.  He first observes that at the Mass on Christmass Day, we remember both the birth of Christ – an occasion of Joy, and the sacrifice of Christ – an occasion of shame, regret, and sadness. He then continues,
Consider one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord’s Birth and Death, but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of His first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the date of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and morn at once in the Birth and Passion of Our Lord, so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and morn in the death of martyrs. We morn for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven for the for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.

    Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world’s is. A Christian martyrdom is no accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man’s will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence; it is the action of impurity upon impurity. Not so in Heaven. A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, seeing themselves not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.

    I have spoken to you today, dear children of God, of the martyrs of the past, asking you to remember especially our martyr of Canterbury, the blessed Archbishop Elphege; because it is fitting, on Christ’s birth day, to remember what is that Peace which He brought; and because, dear children, I do not think I shall ever preach to you again; and because it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr, and that one perhaps not the last. I would have you keep in your hearts these words that I say, and think of them at another time. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The boldfaced words seem to indicate that St. Thomas of Canterbury was anticipating his own martyrdom. Why was this? Of what was he afraid?

Let us look at history here. Thomas was in a hot dispute with King Henry II of England. Earlier in his life, Thomas had served the King, and was his friend and confidant. Theobald, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, had named Becket to be Archdeacon of Canterbury in 1154 (although I cannot determine if he had been previously ordained Deacon, or not). In that position, he had served the King as Chancellor of England and had enforced the King’s traditional sources of income, taxes extracted from one and all, including churches and bishoprics. On the death of Theobald, in April, 1162, Becket was selected to become Archbishop of Canterbury and was made Priest on 2 June, 1162, and consecrated Bishop on 3 June, 1162 – a speedy rise, to say the least! But, after he was elevated to Archbishop of Canterbury, he resigned as Chancellor and began to oppose the King in various matters, recovering and extending the rights and privileges of the Church.

In 1164, the King called a council that promulgated an agreement known as the Constitutions of Clarendon. Becket first opposed the Constitutions, but eventually agreed not to object while personally refusing to sign them. The King called Becket to appear before the Great Council on 8 November to answer charges of contempt of royal authority and malfeasance in the Chancellor’s Office. Becket was convicted, but stormed out of the session and left immediately for the Continent where he stayed for a number of years under the protection of the King of France and various monastic houses. Becket wanted to fight Henry — he was still Archbishop of Canterbury, even in exile – threatening to excommunicate the King and place the entire nation under interdict. The Pope refused to back him in this, and in 1170 sent Papal Legates to arbitrate and force a settlement. Henry offered a compromise that would enable Becket to return to England.

In June 1170, the Archbishop of York, and the Bishops of London and Salisbury, had jointly crowned the heir apparent at York. This was a major violation of the traditional privilege and status of Canterbury as the only place for a coronation. In November of that year, Becket excommunicated all three of them. The three excommunicated bishops went to the King, then in Normandy, for redress. This was the occasion for the famous exclamation by Henry (variously reported as): “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” (this as reported by Edward Grim, a witness to the events). There are, of course, other variations, such as “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”, etc. Whatever were the exact words of Henry II, they were understood by four knights as license to confront the Archbishop.

It is reported that they first went, unarmed, into the cathedral where they confronted the Archbishop, insisting that he go again before the King. When he refused, they retrieved their weapons, and went back to find him and murder him. Here are the words of Edward Grim, witness to the events:

The wicked knight leapt upon him, cutting off the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated to God. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still stood firm and immovable. At the third blow, he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, “For the Name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood,  white with the brain, and the brain no less red with the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, “Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.

One of the most currently popular presentations of the story of St. Thomas of Canterbury is that of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. While it is not entirely accurate from a historical perspective, it does present the main points of the story in a very compelling manner.  It was written and first performed on stage in 1935, and has been repeated many times.

There is a very interesting line of parallel events that we can associate with Jesus Christ, St. Thomas Becket, Murder in the Cathedral, and our present day. Consider –

Jesus Christ (d. 33 AD) was born into the world to suffer and die for the redemption of mankind. His Passion is the prototype for all the martyrs to follow Him. He came to save man from a tyranny, not the Roman Empire, but the tyranny of sin; sin reaching into every human life and enslaving man to the devil.

Thomas Becket (1118 or 1120 – 1170 AD) was martyred for opposing a greedy, aggressive and grasping King who had no respect for Christ’s Church. While many today do not agree with the positions taken by Thomas Becket, there can be no doubt that he was pursuing what he saw as service to Christ and His Church.

Murder in the Cathedral (1935 AD) was written, at a time when the Bolsheviks had already deposed the Czar (1917) and Hitler was rapidly rising to power in Germany. Both of these were powerful secular forces that opposed the Church and sought the oppression of many millions of men.

Today (2013 AD) We stand today when the forces of world government in various forms (communism, socialism, fascism, etc.) seek to oppose the Christian faith and to enslave all of humanity under its yoke. Right here in the United States of America, we see this happening at a frightening rate, something most of us thought would never be possible.

These events are certainly not all identical by any means. The coming of Jesus Christ, His birth, His Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, out weigh the others by far. But, that said, there is a certain parallel. The other three events show a more clear parallel, and the time for martyrdom for some is near at hand. Where do we stand? Are we with Jesus Christ and His Church, or will we crumble and run? Think now, while there is still some time, about what you will do. Will you join the endless line of Saints and Martyrs serving Christ and going on to eternal glory, or will you serve self and the world?

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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More on the Incarnation

While today is actually the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the boy babies slaughtered by King Herod in his attempt to kill the Christ child, I would ask you to consider the sermon I preached yesterday at Mass for St. John Evangelist.

Feast of St. John Evangelist
27 December, 2013

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Merry Christmass!! Today the great feast of Christmass continues for Christians, although, for the secular world, Boxing Day (the Feast of St. Stephen) has come and gone, and, in the common parlance, “the world is moving on.” The post-Christmass sales are in full swing, and folks are looking forward to the next secular holiday, New Years Day (the Feast of the Circumcision), with no idea or thought at all that Christmasstide continues.

It is particularly appropriate today that we ask the question, “What is Christmass about, really?” Ask 10 people this question, and you will probably get 15 different answers. The truth is, however, that Christmass is about one, and only one, supremely important idea, The Incarnation of Jesus Christ, true Son of the Father, taking human flesh and coming into the world. Everything else is either secondary or superfluous. But of the 15 answers you get, the Incarnation may, or may not, be mentioned.

Since the earliest days of the Christian Church, the Incarnation has presented a problem for the Church and for people at large. It requires us to address the question, “Who/What is Jesus Christ?” This is not an easy question for many people, for various reasons that we consider here.

Particularly for modern man, steeped in rationalism, the Incarnation is a logical paradox.  If he is inclined to believe, he may say, (1) it is agreed that man is not God; (2) it is agreed that God made man; (3) God was not made, and we have no idea of the origin of God; (4)  so how is it possible that God could become man? If the reasoner is not inclined to believe, he may say, (1) there is no God, (2) since there is no God, how could this nonexistent entity become human? Both of them are likely to conclude that the Incarnation is simply nonsense.

For others, the idea of the Incarnation is an offense. They may be rationalist intellectuals for whom no God exists. For them, the Incarnation is offensive because it is simply nonsense. For others, if they accept the existence of God, the idea of the Incarnation, God coming to earth in human form, is an offense because it is seen as God intruding into their lives, making demands upon them, and meddling in their affairs. This is unwelcome, particularly if they see themselves as able to do for themselves. At the very best, this becomes God challenging their self-sufficiency.

But as Christians, we know that the Incarnation is real. This means that we have no out; we must confront the question, “Who/What is Jesus Christ?” I would suggest that there are two sources we ought to consider in this regard today (there are actually many more, but we will consider only two today). It is particularly appropriate that today, on the Feast of St. John Evangelist, that we consider the words of the Evangelist in the opening words of his Gospel, the passage that we hear at the end of every Mass as the Last Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word,  . . . ” You and I have heard these words countless times; we can probably recite them by heart. But we need think seriously about they say in regard to the Incarnation.

First, we need to recall that these words are about the Logos, the Word of God, the true Son of God, Jesus Christ, our Lord. John begins by establishing that the Word is true God, John 1:1b  . . .  and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. St. John continues, John 1:2-5 (KEV)   2 The same was in the beginning with God.  3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.  4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There are many would say in their modern arrogance, “That is all well and good, but don’t let Him get in my way. He may have made the world, but it is mine today and I’m going to do what I want to do with it.” But that is exactly what happened in St. John’s time as well; note that he said,  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.  There were people then, just as there are today, who simply refuse to see the light, and they do not understand it.

The prologue closes with these words: John 1:14 (KJV)   14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. Here, St. John is boldly declaring to us and to all people that, in the Incarnation, the Word has taken flesh, He has come to live among us, and that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man, like us in every respect – He ate, drank, got tired and slept, laughed, cried, felt pain and pleasure, – but remained without sin. John proclaims that the Incarnation is real. Indeed, the whole Gospel of John is about the Incarnation, and as he says, near the end, John 20:31 (KJV)   31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

The second source that we ought to consider is the Nicene Creed. Recall that there are three great ecumenical creeds: he Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. All three are attempts to set forth the faith of the Church, which revolves largely about what we say about Jesus Christ, who/what He is, but it is generally agreed that the Nicene Creed is the most precise, clear description of the Christ. The Nicene Creed consists of three paragraphs, the first dealing with God the Father, the last dealing with God the Holy Ghost, but the second and by far the longest paragraph deals with Jesus Christ.

In that second paragraph, in attempting to describe what/who Jesus Christ is, we find strange phrases such as “… God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; begotten, not made …” Now, admittedly, these are not the ordinary sort of words that you might hear on the street, at the grocery store, or at work. But they are attempting to perform a unique service for us, to describe the divinity of Jesus Christ. Words are not completely adequate for such a task, but that is what they attempt anyway. Reading on a little way, we read, “… And was Incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man.” There it is again, that incredible, offensive, illogical idea, the Incarnation. The Church believes, and has believed from the earliest days, that Jesus Christ is both divine and human; He is God in the flesh, God incarnate.

What do we believe? Are we truly of the Church, standing with  her, or are we modern humanistic rationalists who simply cannot believe? Be assured that without the divinity of Christ, He becomes nothing more than a great teacher, a healer, and a prophet, but still just a man. This is a popular view among many today. Further, without the humanity of Christ, He is not able to truly take our sins upon Himself, to stand for us in our place before the Judgement of God. Without humanity, He would be only a god, unable to truly represent us because He would not be one of us. But Jesus Christ is truly both God and man. Thus the Creed says, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.” That is why He came down, that is why He took on human flesh and became a man, all the while remaining true God from all eternity. This is the answer to who/what Jesus Christ is.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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The Feast of St. John Evangelist

For the feast of St. John Evangelist, please consider these words from St. Augustine regarding the latter part of the Prologue to St. John’s Gospel:

A Sermon of St Augustine on the Gospel (Tractate II in Vol VII, NPNF (1st))

John I. 6-14.It is fitting, brethren, that as far as possible we should treat of the text of Holy Scripture, and especially of the Holy Gospel, without omitting any portion, that both we ourselves may derive nourishment according to our capacity, and may minister to you from that source from which we have been nourished. Last Lord’s day, we remember, we treated of the first section; that is, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was nothing made. That which was made, in Him is life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” So far, I believe, had I advanced in the treatment of the passage: let all who were present recall what was then said; and those of you who were not present, believe me and those who chose to be present. Now therefore,-because we cannot always be repeating everything, out of justice to those who desire to hear what follows, and because repetition of the former thought is a burden to them and deprives them of what succeeds,-let those who were absent on the former occasion refrain from demanding repetition, but, together with those who were here, listen to the present exposition.

2. It goes on, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” Truly, brethren beloved, those things which were said before, were said regarding the ineffable divinity of Christ, and almost ineffably. For who shall comprehend “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God “? And do not allow the name word to appear mean to you, through the habit of daily words, for it is added, “and the Word was God.” This Word is He of whom yesterday we spoke much; and I trust that God was present, and that even from only thus much speaking something reached your hearts. “In the beginning was the Word.” He is the same, and is in the same manner; as He is, so He is always; He cannot be changed; that is, He is. This His name He spoke to His servant Moses: “I am that I am; and He that is hath sent me.”1 Who then shall comprehend this when you see that all mortal things are variable; when you see that not only do bodies vary as to their qualities, by being born, by increasing, by becoming less, by dying, but that even souls themselves through the effect of divers volitions are distended and divided; when you see that men can obtain wisdom if they apply themselves to its light and heat, and also lose wisdom if they remove themselves from it through some evil influence? When, therefore, you see that all those things are variable, what is that which is, unless that which transcends all things which are so that they are not? Who then can receive this? Or who, in what manner soever he may have applied the strength of his mind to touch that which is, can reach to that which he may in any way have touched with his mind? It is as if one were to see his native land at a distance, and the sea intervening; he sees whither he would go, but he has not the means of going. So we desire to arrive at that our stability where that which is, because this alone always is as it is: the sea of this world interrupts our course, even although already we see whither we go; for many do not even see whither they go, That there might be a way by which we could go, He has come from Him to whom we wished to go. And what has He done? He has appointed a tree by which we may cross the sea. For no one is able to cross the sea of this world, unless borne by the cross of Christ. Even he who is of weak eyesight sometimes embraces this cross; and he who does not see from afar whither he goes, let him not depart from it, and it will carry him over.

3. Therefore, my brethren, I would desire to have impressed this upon your hearts: if you wish to live in a pious and Christian manner, cling to Christ according to that which He became for us, that you may arrive at Him according to that which is, and according to that which was. He approached, that for us He might become this; because He became that for us, on which the weak may be borne, and cross the sea of this world and reach their native country; where there will be no need of a ship, for no sea is crossed. It is better then not to see with the mind that which is, and yet not to depart from the cross of Christ, than to see it with the mind, and despise the cross of Christ. It is good beyond this, and best of all, if it be possible, that we both see whither we ought to go, and hold fast that which carries us as we go. This they were able to do, the great minds of the mountains, who have been called mountains, whom the light of divine justice pre-eminently illuminates; they were able to do this, and saw that which is. For John seeing said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” They saw this, and in order that they might arrive at that which they saw from afar, they did not depart from the cross of Christ, and did not despise Christ’s lowliness. But little ones who cannot understand this, who do not depart from the cross and passion and resurrection of Christ, are conducted in that same ship to that which they do not see, in which they also arrive who do see.

4. But truly there have been some philosophers of this world who have sought for the Creator by means of the creature; for He can be found by means of the creature, as the apostle plainly says, “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and glory; so they are without excuse.” And it follows, “Because that, when they knew God;” he did not say, Because they did not know, but “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” How darkened? It follows, when he says more plainly: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”2 They saw whither they must come; but ungrateful to Him who afforded them what they saw, they wished to ascribe to themselves what they saw; and having become proud, they lost what they saw, and were turned from it to idols and images, and to the worship of demons, to adore the creature and to despise the Creator. But these having been blinded did those things, and became proud, that they might be blinded: when they were proud they said that they were wise. Those, therefore, concerning whom he said, “Who, when they had known God,” saw this which John says, that by the Word of God all things were made. For these things are also found in the books of the philosophers: and that God has an only-begotten Son, by whom are all things. They were able to see that which is, but they saw it from afar: they were unwilling to hold the lowliness of Christ, in which ship they might have arrived in safety at that which they were able to see from afar and the cross of Christ appeared vile to them. The sea has to be crossed, and dost thou despise the wood? Oh, proud wisdom! thou laughest to scorn the crucified Christ; it is He whom thou dost see from afar: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.” But wherefore was He crucified? Because the wood of His humiliation was needful to thee. For thou hadst become swollen with pride, and hadst been cast out far from that fatherland; and by the waves of this world has the way been intercepted, and there is no means of passing to the fatherland unless borne by the wood Ungrateful one! thou laughest Him to scorn who has come to thee that thou mayest return: He has become the way, and that through the sea:3 thence He walked in the sea to show that there is a way in the sea. But thou who art not able in any way thyself to walk in the sea, be carried in a ship, be carried by the wood: believe in the crucified One, and thou shalt arrive thither. On account of thee He was crucified, to teach thee humility; and because if He should come as God, He would not be recognized. For if He should come as God, He would not come to those who were not able to see God. For not according to His Godhead does He either come or depart; since He is everywhere present, and is contained in no place. But, according to what did He come? He appeared as a man.

5. Therefore, because He was so man, that the God lay hid in Him, there was sent before Him a great man, by whose testimony He might be found to be more than man. And who is this? “He was a main” And how could that man speak the truth concerning God? “He was sent by God.” What was he called? “Whose name was John.” Wherefore did he come? “He came for a witness, that he might bear witness concerning the light, that all might believe through him.” What sort of man was he who was to bear witness concerning the light? Something great was that John, vast merit, great grace, great loftiness! Admire, by all means, admire; but as it were a mountain. But a mountain is in darkness unless it be clothed with light. Therefore only admire John that you may hear what follows, “He was not that light;” lest if, when thou thinkest the mountain to be the light, thou make shipwreck on the mountain, and find not consolation. But what oughtest thou to admire? The mountain as a mountain. But lift thyself up to Him who illuminates the mountain, which for this end was elevated that it might be the first to receive the rays, and make them known to your eyes. Therefore, “he was not that light.”

6. Wherefore then did he come? “But that he might bear witness concerning the light.” Why so? “That all might believe through him.” And concerning what light was he to bear witness? “That was the true light.” Wherefore is it added true? Because an enlightened man is also called a light; but the true light is that which enlightens. For even our eyes are called lights; and nevertheless, unless either during the night a lamp is lighted, or during the day the sungoes forth, these lights are open in vain. Thus, therefore, John was a light, but not the true light; because, if not enlightened, he would have been darkness; but, by enlightenment, he became a light. For unless he had been enlightened he would have been darkness, as all those once impious men, to whom, as believers, the apostle said, “Ye were sometimes darkness.” But now, because they had believed, what?-” but now are ye light,” he says, “in the Lord.”4 Unless he had added “in the Lord,” we should not have understood. “Light,” he says, “in the Lord:” darkness you were not in the Lord. “For ye were sometimes darkness,” where he did not add in the Lord. Therefore, darkness in you, light in the Lord. And thus “he was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of the light.”

7. But where is that light? “He was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” If every man that cometh, then also John. The true light, therefore, enlightened him by whom He desired Himself to be pointed out. Understand, beloved, for He came to infirm minds, to wounded hearts, to the gaze of dim-eyed souls. For this purpose had He come. And whence was the soul able to see that which perfectly is? Even as it commonly happens, that by means of some illuminated body, the sun, which we cannot see with the eyes, is known to have arisen. Because even those who have wounded eyes are able to see a wall illuminated and enlightened by the sun, or a mountain, or a tree, or anything of that sort; and, by means of another body illuminated, that arising is shown to those who are not as yet able to gaze on it. Thus, therefore all those to whom Christ came were not fit to see Him: upon John He shed the beams of His light; and by means of him confessing himself to have been irradiated and enlightened, not claiming to be one who irradiates and enlightens, He is known who enlightens, He is known who illuminates, He is known who fills. And who is it? “He who lighteth every man,” he says, “who cometh into the world.” For if man had not receded from that light, he would not have required to be illuminated; but for this reason has he to be illuminated here, because he departed from that light by which man might always have been illuminated.

8. What then? If He came hither, where was He? “He was in this world.” He was both here and came hither; He was here according to His divinity, and He came hither according to the flesh; because when He was here according to His divinity, He could not be seen by the foolish, by the blind, and the wicked. These wicked men are the darkness concerning which it was said, “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”5 Behold, both here He is now, and here He was, and here He is always; and He never departs, departs no-whither. There is need that thou have some means whereby thou mayest see that which never departs from thee; there is need that thou depart not from Him who departs no-whither; there is need that thou desert not, and thou shalt not be deserted. Do not fall, and His sun will not set to thee. If thou fallest, His sun setteth upon thee; but if thou standest, He is present with thee. But thou hast not stood: remember how thou hast fallen, how he who fell before thee cast thee down. For he cast thee down, not by violence, not by assault, but by thine own will. For hadst thou not consented unto evil, thou wouldest have stood, thou wouldest have remained enlightened. But now, because thou hast already fallen, and hast become wounded in heart,-the organ by which that light can be seen,-He came to thee such as thou mightest see; and He in such fashion manifested Himself as man, that He sought testimony from man. From man God seeks testimony, and God has man as a witness;-God has man as a witness, but on account of man: so infirm are we. By a lamp we seek the day; because John himself was called a lamp, the Lord saying,” He was a burning and a shining light; and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light: but I have greater witness than John.”6

9. Therefore He showed that for the sake of men He desired to have Himself revealed by a lamp to the faith of those who believed, that by means of the same lamp His enemies might be confounded. There were enemies who tempted Him, and said, “Tell us by what authority doest thou these things?” “I also,” saith He, “will ask you one question; answer me. The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they were troubled, and said among themselves, If we shall say, From heaven, he will say unto us, Why did ye not believe him?” (Because he had borne testimony to Christ, and had said, I am not the Christ, but He.7 “But if we shall say, Of men, we fear the people, lest they should stone us: for they held John as a prophet.” Afraid of stoning, but fearing more to confess the truth, they answered a lie to the Truth; and “wickedness imposed a lie upon itself.”8 For they said, “We know not.” And the Lord, because they shut the door against themselves, by professing ignorance of what they knew, did not open to them, because they did not knock. For it is said, Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”9 Not only did these not knock that it might be opened to them; but, by denying that they knew, they barred that door against themselves. And the Lord says to them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.”10 And they were confounded by means of John; and in them were the words fulfilled, “I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed. His enemies will I clothe with shame.”11

10. “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him.” Think not that He was in the world as the earth is in the world, as the sky is in the world, as the sun is in the world, the moon and the stars, trees, cattle, and men. He was not thus in the world. But in what manner then? As the Artificer governing what He had made. For He did not make it as a carpenter makes a chest. The chest which he makes is outside the carpenter, and so it is put in another place, while being made; and although the workman is nigh, he sits in another place, and is external to that which he fashions. But God, infused into the world, fashions it; being everywhere present He fashions, and withdraweth not Himself elsewhere, nor doth He, as it were, handle from without, the matter which He fashions. By the presence of His majesty He maketh what He maketh; His presence governs what He made. Therefore was He in the world as the Maker of the world; for, “The world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.”

11. What meaneth “the world was made by Him”? The heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things which are therein, are called the world. Again, in another signification, those who love the world are called the world “The world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.” Did not the heavens know their Creator, or did the angels not know their Creator, or did the stars not know their things from all sides gave testimony. But who did not know? Those who, for their love of the world, are called the world. By loving we dwell with the heart; but because of their loving the world they deserved to be called after the name of that in which they dwelt. In the same manner as we say, This house is bad, or this house is good, we do not in calling the one bad or the other good accuse or praise the walls; but by a bad house we mean a house with bad inhabitants, and by a good house, a house with good inhabitants. In like manner we call those the world who by loving it, inhabit the world. Who are they? Those who love the world; for they dwell with their hearts in the world. For those who do not love the world in the flesh, indeed, sojourn in the world, but in their hearts they dwell in heaven, as the apostle says, “Our conversation is in heaven.”12 Therefore “the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.”

12. “He came unto His own,”-because all these things were made by Him,-” and His own received Him not.” Who are they? The men whom He made. The Jews whom He at the first made to be above all nations. Because other nations worshipped idols and served demons; but that people was born of the seed of Abraham, and in an eminent sense His own, because kindred through that flesh which He deigned to assume. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” Did they not receive Him at all? did no one receive Him? Was there no one saved? For no one shall be saved unless he who shall have received the coming Christ.

13. But John adds: “As many as received Him.” What did He afford to them? Great benevolence! Great mercy! He was born the only Son of God, and was unwilling to remain alone. Many men, when they have not sons, in advanced age adopt a son, and thus obtain by an exercise of will what nature has denied to them: this men do. But if any one have an only son, he rejoices the more in him; because he alone will possess everything, and he will not have any one to divide with him the inheritance, so that he should be poorer. Not so God: that same only Son whom He had begotten, and by whom He created all things, He sent into this world that He might not be alone, but might have adopted brethren. For we were not born of God in the manner in which the Only-begotten was born of Him, but were adopted by His grace. For He, the Only-begotten, came to loose the sins in which we were entangled, and whose burden hindered our adoption: those whom He wished to make brethren to Himself, He Himself loosed, and made joint-heirs. For so saith the apostle, “But if a son, then an heir through God.” And again, “Heirs of God, and join-heirs with Christ.” He did not fear to have joint-heirs, because His heritage does not become narrow if many are possessors. Those very persons, He being possessor, become His inheritance, and He in turn becomes their inheritance. Hear in what manner they become His inheritance: “The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of me, and I will give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance.”13 Hear in what manner He becomes their inheritance. He says in the Psalms: “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup.”14 Let us possess Him, and let Him possess us: let Him possess us as Lord; let us possess Him as salvation, let us possess Him as light. What then did He give to them who received Him? “To them He gave power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on His name;” that they may ring to the wood and cross the sea.

14. And how are they born? Because they become sons of God and brethren of Christ, they are certainly born. For if they are not born, how can they be sons? But the sons of men are born of flesh and blood, and of the will of man, and of the embrace of wedlock. But in what manner are they born? “Who not of bloods,” as if of male and female. Bloods is not Latin; but because it is plural in Greek, the interpreter preferred so to express it, and to speak bad Latin according to the grammarian that he might make the matter plain to the understanding of the weak among his hearers. For if he had said blood in the singular number, he would not have explained what he desired; for men are born of the bloods of male and female. Let us say so, then, and not fear the ferule of grammarians, so long as we reach the solid and certain truth. He who understands it and blames it, is thankless for his having understood. “Not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man.” The apostle puts flesh for woman; because, when she was made of his rib, Adam said, “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.”15 And the apostle saith, “He that loveth his wife loveth himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh.”16 Flesh, then, is put for woman, in the same manner that spirit is sometimes put for husband. Wherefore? Because the one rules, the other is ruled; the one ought to command, the other to serve. For where the flesh commands and the spirit serves, the house is turned the wrong way. What can be worse than a house where the woman has the mastery over the man? But that house is rightly ordered where the man commands and the woman obeys. In like manner that man is rightly ordered where the spirit commands and the flesh serves.

15. These, then, “were born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” But that men might be born of God, God was first born of them. For Christ is God, and Christ was born of men. It was only a mother, indeed, that He sought upon earth; because He had already a Father in heaven: He by whom we were to be created was born of God, and He by whom we were to be re-created was born of a woman. Marvel not, then, O man, that thou art made a son by grace, that thou art born of God according to His Word. The Word Himself first chose to be born of man, that thou mightest be born of God unto salvation, and say to thyself, Not without reason did God wish to be born of man, but because He counted me of some importance, that He might make me immortal, and for me be born as a mortal man. When, therefore, he had said, “born of God,” lest we should, as it were, be filled with amazement and trembling at such grace, at grace so great as to exceed belief that men are born of God, as if assuring thee, he says, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Why, then, dost thou marvel that men are born of God? Consider God Himself born of men: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”

16. But because “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” by His very nativity he made an eye-salve to cleanse the eyes of our heart, and to enable us to see His majesty by means of His humility. Therefore “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us:” He healed our eyes; and what follows? “And we beheld His glory.” His glory can no one see unless healed by the humility of His flesh. Wherefore were we not able to see? Consider, then, dearly beloved, and see what I say. There had dashed into man’s eye, as it were, dust, earth; it had wounded the eye, and it could not see the light: that wounded eye is anointed; by earth it was wounded, and earth is applied to it for healing. For all eye-salves and medicines are derived from the earth alone. By dust thou wert blinded, and by dust thou art healed: flesh, then, had wounded thee, flesh heals thee. The soul had become carnal by consenting to the affections of the flesh; thus had the eye of the heart been blinded. “The Word was made flesh:” that Physician made for thee an eye-salve. And as He thus came by flesh to extinguish the vices of the flesh, and by death to slay death; therefore did this take place in thee, that, as “the Word became flesh,” thou mayest be able to say, “And we beheld His glory What sort of glory? Such as He became as Son of man? That was His humility, not His glory. But to what is the sight of man brought when cured by means of flesh? “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Of grace and truth we shall speak more fully in another place in this same Gospel, if the Lord vouchsafe us opportunity. Let these things suffice for the present, and be ye edified in Christ: be ye comforted in faith, and watch in good works, and see that ye do not depart from the wood by which ye may cross the sea.

1 Ex. iii. 14.
2 Rom. i. 20-22.
3 Matt. xiv. 25.
4 Eph. v. 8.
5 John i. 5.
6 John v. 35.
7 John i. 20, 27.
8 Ps. xxvii. 12.
9 Matt. vii. 7.
10 Matt. xxi. 23-27; Mark xii. 28-33; Luke xx. 2-8.
11 Ps. cxxxii. 17.
12 Phil. iii. 20. [R.V.: “Our citizenship is in heaven.”
13 Ps. ii. 7, 8.
14 Ps. xv. 5.
15 Gen. ii. 23.
16 Eph. v. 28, 29.

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The Feast of Stephen, Deacon & Martyr

For the Feast of St. Steiphen, Deacon and Martyr, a part of the continuing celebration of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, please consider these words from John Henry Newman:

Sermon 16:  Christ Hidden in the World 

By John Henry Newman(Preached on Christmas Day)

“The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” John i. 5.

OF all the thoughts which rise in the mind when contemplating the sojourn of our Lord Jesus Christ upon earth, none perhaps is more affecting and subduing than the obscurity which attended it. I do not mean His obscure condition, in the sense of its being humble; but the obscurity in which He was shrouded, and the secrecy which He observed. This characteristic of His first Advent is referred to very frequently in Scripture, as in the text, “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not;” and is in contrast with what is foretold about His second Advent. Then “every eye shall see Him;” which implies that all shall recognize Him; whereas, when He came for the first time, though many saw Him, few indeed discerned Him. It had been prophesied, “When we shall see Him there is no beauty that we should desire Him;” and at the very end of his ministry, He said to one of His twelve chosen friends, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip?” [Isai. liii. 2; John xiv. 9.]

I propose to set before you one or two thoughts which arise from this very solemn circumstance, and which may, through God’s blessing, be profitable.

1. And first, let us review some of the circumstances which marked His sojourn when on earth.

His condescension in coming down from heaven, in leaving His Father’s glory and taking flesh, is so far beyond power of words or thought, that one might consider at first sight that it mattered little whether He came as a prince or a beggar. And yet after all, it is much more wonderful that He came in low estate, for this reason; because it might have been thought beforehand, that, though He condescended to come on earth, yet He would not submit to be overlooked and despised: now the rich are not despised by the world, and the poor are. If He had come as a great prince or noble, the world without knowing a whit more that He was God, yet would at least have looked up to Him and honoured Him, as being a prince; but when He came in a low estate, He took upon him one additional humiliation, contempt,—being contemned, scorned, rudely passed by, roughly profaned by His creatures.

What were the actual circumstances of His coming? His Mother is a poor woman; she comes to Bethlehem to be taxed, travelling, when her choice would have been to remain at home. She finds there is no room in the inn; she is obliged to betake herself to a stable; she brings forth her firstborn Son, and lays Him in a manger. That little babe, so born, so placed, is none other than the Creator of heaven and earth, the Eternal Son of God.

Well; He was born of a poor woman, laid in a manger, brought up to a lowly trade, that of a carpenter; and when He began to preach the Gospel He had not a place to lay His head: lastly, He was put to death, to an infamous and odious death, the death which criminals then suffered.

For the three last years of His life, He preached the Gospel, I say, as we read in Scripture; but He did not begin to do so till He was thirty years old. For the first thirty years of His life, He seems to have lived, just as a poor man would live now. Day after day, season after season, winter and summer, one year and then another, passed on, as might happen to any of us. He passed from being a babe in arms to being a child, and then He became a boy, and so He grew up “like a tender plant,” increasing in wisdom and stature; and then He seems to have followed the trade of Joseph, His reputed father; going on in an ordinary way without any great occurrence, till He was thirty years old. How very wonderful is all this! that He should live here, doing nothing great, so long; living here, as if for the sake of living; not preaching, or collecting disciples, or apparently in any way furthering the cause which brought Him down from heaven. Doubtless there were deep and wise reasons in God’s counsels for His going on so long in obscurity; I only mean, that we do not know them.

And it is remarkable that those who were about Him, seem to have treated Him as one of their equals. His brethren, that is, His near relations, His cousins, did not believe in him. And it is very observable, too, that when He began to preach and a multitude collected, we are told, “When His friends heard of it they went out to lay hold on Him; for they said, He is beside himself.” [Mark iii. 21.] They treated Him as we might be disposed, and rightly, to treat any ordinary person now, who began to preach in the streets. I say “rightly,” because such persons generally preach a new Gospel, and therefore must be wrong. Also, they preach without being sent, and against authority; all which is wrong too. Accordingly we are often tempted to say that such people are “beside themselves,” or mad, and not unjustly. It is often charitable to say so, for it is better to be mad than to be disobedient. Well, what we should say of such persons, this is what our Lord’s friends said of Him. They had lived so long with Him, and yet did not know Him; did not understand what He was. They saw nothing to mark a difference between Him and them. He was dressed as others, He ate and drank as others, He came in and went out, and spoke, and walked, and slept, as others. He was in all respects a man, except that He did not sin; and this great difference the many would not detect, because none of us understands those who are much better than himself: so that Christ, the sinless Son of God, might be living close to us, and we not discover it.

2. I say that Christ, the sinless Son of God, might be living now in the world as our next door neighbour, and perhaps we not find it out. And this is a thought that should be dwelt on. I do not mean to say that there are not a number of persons, who we could be sure were not Christ; of course, no persons who lead bad and irreligious lives. But there are a number of persons who are in no sense irreligious, or open to serious blame, who are very much like each other at first sight, yet in God’s eyes are very different. I mean the great mass of what are called respectable men, who vary very much: some are merely decent and outwardly correct persons, and have no great sense of religion, do not deny themselves, have no ardent love of God, but love the world; and, whereas their interest lies in being regular and orderly, or they have no strong passions, or have early got into the way of being regular, and their habits are formed accordingly, they are what they are, decent and correct, but very little more. But there are others who look just the same to the world, who in their hearts are very different; they make no great show, they go on in the same quiet ordinary way as the others, but really they are training to be saints in Heaven. They do all they can to change themselves, to become like God, to obey God, to discipline themselves, to renounce the world; but they do it in secret, both because God tells them so to do, and because they do not like it to be known. Moreover, there are a number of others between these two with more or less of worldliness and more or less of faith. Yet they all look about the same, to common eyes, because true religion is a hidden life in the heart; and though it cannot exist without deeds, yet these are for the most part secret deeds, secret charities, secret prayers, secret self-denials, secret struggles, secret victories.

Of course in proportion as persons are brought out into public life, they will be seen and scrutinized, and (in a certain sense) known more; but I am talking of the ordinary condition of people in private life, such as our Saviour was for thirty years; and these look very like each other. And there are so many of them, that unless we get very near them, we cannot see any distinction between one and another; we have no means to do so, and it is no business of ours. And yet, though we have no right to judge others, but must leave this to God, it is very certain that a really holy man, a true saint, though he looks like other men, still has a sort of secret power in him to attract others to him who are like-minded, and to influence all who have any thing in them like him. And thus it often becomes a test, whether we are like-minded with the Saints of God, whether they have influence over us. And though we have no means of knowing at the time who are God’s own Saints, yet after all is over we have; and then on looking back on what is past, perhaps after they are dead and gone, if we knew them, we may ask ourselves what power they had over us, whether they attracted us, influenced us, humbled us, whether they made our hearts burn within us. Alas! too often we shall find that we were close to them for a long time, had means of knowing them, and knew them not; and that is a heavy condemnation on us, indeed. Now this was singularly exemplified in our Saviour’s history, by how much He was so very holy. The holier a man is, the less he is understood by men of the world. All who have any spark of living faith will understand him in a measure, and the holier he is, they will, for the most part, be attracted the more; but those who serve the world will be blind to him, or scorn and dislike him, the holier he is. This, I say, happened to our Lord. He was All-holy, but “the light shined in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” His near relations did not believe in Him. And if this was really so, and for the reason I have said, it surely becomes a question whether we should have understood Him better than they: whether though he had been our next door neighbour, or one of our family, we should have distinguished Him from any one else, who was correct and quiet in his deportment; or rather, whether we should not, though we respected Him, (alas, what a word! what language towards the Most High God!) yet even if we went as far as this, whether we should not have thought Him strange, eccentric, extravagant, and fanciful. Much less should we have detected any sparks of that glory which He had with the Father before the world was, and which was merely hidden not quenched by His earthly tabernacle. This, truly, is a very awful thought; because if He were near us for any long time, and we did not see any thing wonderful in Him, we might take it as a clear proof that we were not His, for “His sheep know His voice, and follow Him;” we might take it as a clear proof that we should not know Him, or admire His greatness, or adore His glory, or love His excellency, if we were admitted to His presence in heaven.

3. And here we are brought to another most serious thought, which I will touch upon. We are very apt to wish we had been born in the days of Christ, and in this way we excuse our misconduct, when conscience reproaches us. We say, that had we had the advantage of being with Christ, we should have had stronger motives, stronger restraints against sin. I answer, that so far from our sinful habits being reformed by the presence of Christ, the chance is, that those same habits would have hindered us from recognizing Him. We should not have known He was present; and if He had even told us who He was, we should not have believed Him. Nay, had we seen His miracles (incredible as it may seem), even they would not have made any lasting impression on us. Without going into this subject, consider only the possibility of Christ being close to us, even though He did no miracle, and our not knowing it; yet I believe this literally would have been the case with most men. But enough on this subject. What I am coming to is this: I wish you to observe what a fearful light this casts upon our prospects in the next world. We think heaven must be a place of happiness to us, if we do but get there; but the great probability is, if we can judge by what goes on here below, that a bad man, if brought to heaven, would not know He was in heaven;—I do not go to the further question whether, on the contrary, the very fact of his being in heaven with all his unholiness upon him, would not be a literal torment to him, and light up the fires of hell within him. This indeed would be a most dreadful way of finding out where he was. But let us suppose a lighter case: let us suppose he could remain in heaven unblasted, yet it would seem that at least he would not know that he was there. He would see nothing wonderful there. Could men come nearer to God than when they seized Him, struck Him, spit on Him, hurried Him along, stripped him, stretched out His limbs upon the cross, nailed Him to it, raised it up, stood gazing on Him, jeered Him, gave Him vinegar, looked close whether He was dead, and then pierced Him with a spear? O dreadful thought, that the nearest approaches man has made to God upon earth have been in blasphemy! Whether of the two came closer to Him, St. Thomas, who was allowed to reach forth his hand and reverently touch His wounds, and St. John, who rested on His bosom, or the brutal soldiers who profaned Him limb by limb, and tortured Him nerve by nerve? The Blessed Virgin, indeed, came closer still to Him; and we, if we be true believers, still closer, who have Him really, though spiritually, within us; but this is another, an inward sort of approach. Of those who approached Him externally, they came nearest, who knew nothing about it. So it is with sinners: they would walk close to the throne of God; they would stupidly gaze at it; they would touch it; they would meddle with the holiest things; they would go on intruding and prying, not meaning any thing wrong by it, but with a sort of brute curiosity, till the avenging lightnings destroyed them;—all because they have no senses to guide them in the matter. Our bodily senses tell us of the approach of good or evil on earth. By sound, by scent, by feeling we know what is happening to us. We know when we are exposing ourselves to the weather, when we are exerting ourselves too much. We have warnings, and feel we must not neglect them. Now, sinners have no spiritual senses; they can presage nothing; they do not know what is going to happen the next moment to them. So they go fearlessly further and further among precipices, till on a sudden they fall, or are smitten and perish. Miserable beings! and this is what sin does for immortal souls; that they should be like the cattle which are slaughtered at the shambles, yet touch and smell the very weapons which are to destroy them!

4. But you may say, how does this concern us? Christ is not here; we cannot thus or in any less way insult His Majesty. Are we so sure of this? Certainly we cannot commit such open blasphemy; but it is another matter whether we cannot commit as great. For often sins are greater which are less startling; insults more bitter, which are not so loud; and evils deeper, which are more subtle. Do we not recollect a very awful passage? “Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him.” [Matt. xii. 32.] Now, I am not deciding whether or not this denunciation can be fulfilled in the case of Christians now, though when we recollect that we are at present under the ministration of that very Spirit of whom our Saviour speaks, this is a very serious question; but I quote it to show that there may be sins greater even than insult and injury offered to Christ’s Person, though we should think that impossible, and though they could not be so flagrant or open. With this thought let it be considered:—

First, that Christ is still on earth. He said expressly that He would come again. The Holy Ghost’s coming is so really His coming, that we might as well say that He was not here in the days of His flesh, when He was visibly in this world, as deny that He is here now, when He is here by His Divine Spirit. This indeed is a mystery, how God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, two Persons, can be one, how He can be in the Spirit and the Spirit in Him; but so it is.

Next, if He is still on earth, yet is not visible (which cannot be denied), it is plain that He keeps Himself still in the condition which He chose in the days of His flesh. I mean, He is a hidden Saviour, and may be approached (unless we are careful) without due reverence and fear. I say, wherever He is (for that is a further question), still He is here, and again He is secret; and whatever be the tokens of His Presence, still they must be of a nature to admit of persons doubting where it is; and if they will argue, and be sharpwitted and subtle, they may perplex themselves and others, as the Jews did even in the days of His flesh, till He seems to them nowhere present on earth how. And when they come to think him far away, of course they feel it to be impossible so to insult Him as the Jews did of old; and if nevertheless He is here, they are perchance approaching and insulting Him, though they so feel. And this was just the case of the Jews, for they too were ignorant what they were doing. It is probable, then, that we can now commit at least as great blasphemy towards Him as the Jews did first, because we are under the dispensation of that Holy Spirit, against whom even more heinous sins can be committed; next, because His presence now as little witnesses of itself, or is impressive to the many, as His bodily presence formerly.

We see a further reason for this apprehension, when we consider what the tokens of His presence now are; for they will be found to be of a nature easily to lead men into irreverence, unless they be humble and watchful. For instance, the Church is called “His Body:” what His material Body was when He was visible on earth, such is the Church now. It is the instrument of His Divine power; it is that which we must approach, to gain good from Him; it is that which by insulting we awaken His anger. Now, what is the Church but, as it were, a body of humiliation, almost provoking insult and profaneness, when men do not live by faith? an earthen vessel, far more so even than His body of flesh, for that was at least pure from all sin, and the Church is defiled in all her members. We know that her ministers at best are but imperfect and erring, and of like passions with their brethren; yet of them He has said, speaking not to the Apostles merely but to all the seventy disciples (to whom Christian ministers are in office surely equal), “He that heareth you, heareth Me, and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me, and he that despiseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me.”

Again: He has made the poor, weak, and afflicted, tokens and instruments of His Presence; and here again, as is plain, the same temptation meets us to neglect or profane it. What He was, such are His chosen followers in this world; and as His obscure and defenceless state led men to insult and ill-treat Him, so the like peculiarities, in the tokens of His Presence, lead men to insult Him now. That such are His tokens is plain from many passages of Scripture: for instance, He says of children, “Whoso shall receive one such little child in My Name, receiveth Me.” Again: He said to Saul, who was persecuting His followers, “Why persecutest thou Me?” And He forewarns us, that at the Last Day He will say to the righteous, “I was an hungered, and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took Me in; naked, and ye clothed Me; I was sick, and ye visited Me; I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.” And He adds, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” [Matt. xviii. 5. Acts ix. 4. Matt. xxv. 35-40.] He observes the same connexion between Himself and His followers in His words to the wicked. What makes this passage the more awful and apposite, is this, which has been before now remarked, that neither righteous nor wicked knew what they had done; even the righteous are represented as unaware that they had approached Christ. They say, “Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered, and fed Thee, or thirsty, and gave Thee drink?” In every age, then, Christ is both in the world, and yet not publicly so more than in the days of His flesh.

And a similar remark applies to His Ordinances, which are at once most simple, yet most intimately connected with Him. St. Paul, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, shows both how easy and how fearful it is to profane the Lord’s Supper, while he states how great the excess of the Corinthians had been, yet also that it was a want of “discerning the Lord’s Body.” When He was born into the world, the world knew it not. He was laid in a rude manger, among the cattle, but “all the Angels of God worshipped Him.” Now too He is present upon a table, homely perhaps in make, and dishonoured in its circumstances; and faith adores, but the world passes by.

Let us then pray Him ever to enlighten the eyes of our understanding, that we may belong to the Heavenly Host, not to this world. As the carnal-minded would not perceive Him even in Heaven, so the spiritual heart may approach Him, possess Him, see Him, even upon earth.

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