Sermons Preached on Various Occasions
by James de Koven, D.D.
with an Introduction by Morgan Dix, S.T.D., Rector of Trinity Church, New York
New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1880.
THE LIFE-GIVING PRESENCE OF THE INCARNATE SAVIOUR.
(Preached at Racine, Commencement Sunday, 1867.)
"And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall he His people."—REV. xxi., part of verse 3.
WHILE the world goes hurrying on, with its noise, its outcry, and its angry din, it is difficult for one who is in the midst of the rushing tumult to understand the character of the movement. He can not well say whether it is forward or backward. He is too much occupied in keeping his own footing, in pushing and crowding, or in helping those who sink all weary and overpowered, to know exactly whither he is being hurried. The movement is on too vast a scale, as well, for him to be at all certain of his own observations, even if he can make them. He can only see at best the eager rush of the small company of which he is a member. So he hurries and struggles, and presses on, and pushes and crowds, and tramples under foot or is trampled on, until, at last, he sinks to rise no more.
They who fight with Amalek beneath the mount, hear only shrieks and shouts and clash of arms. They know not whether Israel prevails, or the accursed race. It is only Aaron and Hur, who stay up Moses's hands upon the mount above until the sun goes down, who see full well that the Eternal God is still the refuge of His people, and "underneath are the everlasting arms."
The observers of the world's history have ever divided themselves into two classes: those who have felt that its progress is ever onward, toward a golden age that is to be, and those who have believed that, wearily and sadly, as it grows older and feebler, it but recedes ever more and more from the heroism of the days that are gone, from the golden age which can never return. Indeed, there are expressions in Holy Scripture which seem to confirm this sad view of a declining world. "When the Son of Man cometh," says our Blessed Lord, "shall He find faith on the earth?" Awful are these descriptions of the latter days, of which we read that "nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines and pestilences "; that ye shall be betrayed by parents and kinsfolk and friends, and "shall be hated of all men for My name's sake"; that "there shall be great tribulation, such as was not from the beginning of the world unto this time, no, nor ever shall be "; and those terrible words of the angel in the book of the Revelation, "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabiters of the earth!" and the sounding trumpets, and the opened seals, and the poured-out vials of the wrath of God.
But, in spite of all this, men in every period, and in the better ages with more glowing expectations, have longed and hoped for the new heavens and the new earth.
Ay, even in heathen times, men could not believe that Paradise was altogether banished from the earth. If it lay not near, yet somewhere in the distance—in the happy Iran, among the remote Hyperboreans, in the far land of the Ethiopians; or, if it had vanished, it was soon to be again. And so it has ever been; now in this age and now in that, it has shaped itself into one belief or another. It is shown in that fond delusion of a millennium which is to dawn, which, however erroneous as an interpretation of Scripture, however great an error, bears witness to the longings of the world. A time is yet to come, the voices of the hopeful seem to say, when nature is to be subdued to man; when there shall be no more seas, or mountains, or opposing languages, to divide the human race; when all the world shall be at one again; when peace, universal peace, shall overspread the globe; when barbarism and slavery, when sorrow, and poverty, and disease shall grow less and less, and age transmit to age one ever-increasing flow of happiness and joy.
There are words in Holy Scripture which seem to confirm these high expectations. "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them," says the prophet, "and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose." "A king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment." Then, "the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance for ever." St. Paul says: "The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God"; for the "creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." Our Blessed Saviour says: "When ye see these things begin to come to pass, then lift tip your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh." He declares that these tribulations are only the beginning of the birth-pangs of a new-born world. And if the Book of St. John's Revelation be full of terrible woes, it paints in still more glowing imagery the new heavens and the new earth, the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down like a bride adorned for her husband. "Behold," it exclaims, "the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."
O wondrous hope! O joyous expectation! O future full of glorious promises! "Well may the eager world, however blindly and feebly, long and plead for the new-born time that is to be.
It must not be thought, however, that this feeling of sadness and of gloomy anticipation—this minor note which in the midst of the harmonies of the world has ever sounded out its wail of mourning, which the most thoughtful in all ages have felt most deeply, which every one, however hopeful, at some time or another has realized—is not true and real. No such note of sorrow could have echoed on, age after age, and found an answer in so many breasts, without its being the voice of truth.
Not all the movements of the world are a real advance; not all so-called progress is true progress; not all which the noisy throng applauds as going onward, deserves applause. The world recedes as well as advances; it goes back as well as forward. There is in it a twofold movement: one toward Paradise, another away from Paradise; one toward regeneration, the other toward destruction; the one to God, the other away from Him. In the life of the world, just as in the life of each human being, there is a struggle between two opposing forces—the better indeed, thank God, destined to conquer, and the worse, in the awful judgment of fire, to meet its due reward; but a struggle still, as Amalek or Israel prevails.
Nay, we would expect that the power of evil should grow mightier as the world grows older. It will increase and multiply, whatever truth may do. It will substitute false progress for true; false liberty for true freedom; false knowledge for Divine truth; some sad mockery of the Church for the Bride of Christ; an Antichrist instead of the Saviour. Ever, as men catch glimpses of its progress, they will break forth in the words of the Prophet: "Behold, the earth mourneth and fadeth away; the world languisheth and fadeth away;" until at last, hand to hand, face to face, for life or death, will come the closing struggle, when, just as hearts are fainting, one shall ride forth conquering and to conquer, "and on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords."
Ah! my brethren, take good heed. Each deed of evil, each unconquered lust, each deliberate wrong, each willful denial of the truth, each attempt to explain away the Word of God, each deliberate rejection of His Church, each attempt to set nature and revelation at odds, tends to barbarism, destruction, and the power of the Evil One.
Meanwhile, consider. God made the world by His Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He revealed Himself in Nature by that very Son, by whom afterward He redeemed us. He made the first man in the image of the Incarnate God. Still in man, however fallen, remain some traces of that image, and still His blessed Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and is sent by the Son, lighteneth every man which cometh into the world. Whatsoever good there has been in humanity, whatever is noble and true and pure, whatsoever there is in philosophy, or poetry, or art, has come from Christ. It is a trace of His image, a mark of His spirit, a breath from His life. He has not left Himself without witness in heathen lands, and amid the darkness of paganism.
Beyond all this, not differing in degree, but in kind, He revealed Himself unto His chosen people by the oracles of prophets, the music of psalms, the awful solemnities of the Levitical worship; and, at last, in the fullness of the time, He u sent forth His Son made of a woman, made under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." The Son of God became incarnate; God was manifest in flesh. The hidden glory was revealed. Then the angels sang: "Peace in heaven, good will to man," and the hymn goes sounding on for evermore. In that nature He lived, in that nature He wrought wondrous victories, which we call miracles, over sickness and sorrow, and disease and death. To Him did storm and tempest yield, and the angry waters of the deep. He was Lord of nature, and of man. Nor did He live alone. He died, a sacrifice for the sins of the world. He died, and in dying conquered death, because He rose again. He bore our nature into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, for ever expecting, until His foes be made His footstool.
This is the central fact of the world's history; this is the hope of humanity; from this, whether before or after it, all true progress springs. The "Word made flesh "—this is the touchstone which alone can try all knowledge, all progress, all reform, all efforts for the amelioration of the human race, and which shows whether they are for God or for the devil.
My brethren, the one great fact of Christianity which we need this day to realize, which is the Gospel that should be preached to dying souls, which men want even though they know it not, is the doctrine of the presence of the Incarnate Saviour—not then alone, nor in the past, but now and here; and how we may approach to Him and be united unto Him.
Do you suppose that He who had revealed and still reveals Himself in nature; who speaks in sunshine and storm, in flower and in dewdrop, in mountain and in vale, in rock and river and the resounding sea; who revealed Himself even to the heathen by voices they could not comprehend; who proclaimed Himself on Sinai and at Shiloh, in the glories of the Shechinah, and in vision and in trance, to prophet and to seer; who was born in Bethlehem, and by miracle and parable, by warning and entreaty, by life and 'sacrificial death, manifested forth His glory—that He, when He ascended up on high, ceased to reveal Himself to man by some especial way, higher than ever before, through His Incarnation? Can it be, as some suppose, alas! that all that He has left is His blessed and inspired Word, by reading and hearing which, and reflecting on its consoling truths, we may remember what He is and what He has done for us? Can it be that by any mere use of our intellectual faculties, by any process which is simply within ourselves, by any warmth of feeling or glow of fervor, by the exercise of anything that is merely a part of ourselves, we shall find within our own souls that presence which we seek? Alas for that poor heart who knows no presence of his Saviour but what his own excited feeling or his own religious fervor may supply!
Nay, beloved, there must be a presence of Christ in this world since His Incarnation, which is not figurative, which is not subjective, which is not material or physical, but higher, other than them all—real, literal, true, certain, objective, independent of our frames and feelings, supernatural, spiritual, heavenly, mystical, sacramental. There must be some way of drawing nigh unto Him, nay, of being united unto Him; for that, both nature and revelation tell us, is our blessed privilege without ourselves, yet which shall answer to every need of body, soul, and spirit. Nor need it surprise us that God has chosen for the spiritual life some other means than material, physical, or intellectual forces. The mightiest forces which we know here on earth most nearly resemble spiritual agencies. Gravitation, electricity, magnetism, those mighty gases of which the natural philosopher tells us—how strange, how marvelous, how impalpable, yet how powerful and mighty they are!
Brethren, it is through the Revelation of God that we draw nigh unto Christ, that we are made one with Him; not materially—God forbid!—not figuratively—God forbid!—but really, truly, in a sacramental manner, in the Church of God, and through its Sacraments. Christ in His Church, Christ present, Christ in His Sacraments, Christ revealing Himself in His worship, Christ being made one with His people—this is the hope of the world, this is the earnest of the future glory that is to be.
Nor let me be misunderstood. By the Church of God I do not mean merely that branch of it of which I am a priest and most of you are members, but that Catholic Church of Christ, of which there are many branches, now, alas! disunited. I mean the Latin communion, corrupted though it be; I mean the great Oriental body, which, more than all others, has handed down unchanged the traditions of earlier and better days; I mean the Anglican Church and her American daughter; nay, I mean those numerous individuals who, in the various sects, have perchance the Baptism of the Church, and, sinning not through willful wrong, exhibit blessed signs of her life. I mean not one of these alone, but them all, disunited though they be. In them is the hope of the world. In them, and through their Sacramental life, is the blessed presence of the Incarnate Saviour.
The one great question of the day is how they may be made at one again. If the presence of Christ is the hope of the world, if this presence is found in the Church and through the Sacraments, then the question of the restoration of the lost unity of the Church becomes the most practical one into which they who are interested in the real progress of mankind can enter. Ay, and it will come. When, in His last priestly intercession, our Saviour prayed on the very night of His Passion that "they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they all may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou has sent Me," it could have been no fruitless prayer. It must be yet fulfilled. The day may tarry long, and obstacles be many; but already the cock-crow gives signal of the morning, and the watchman on the walls of Zion, as the cry goes round, "Watchman, watchman, what of the night?" makes answer, "The morning cometh!"
Better than all other unions, mightier than all other victories, will be that glorious uniting, that bloodless conquest, when the Church of God shall be at one again. Then will the knowledge of the Lord cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea; then, mightier will be the triumphs regenerated man will make over sin and sorrow, disease and death; then, more and more, will he assert his true lordship over nature; then will the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of the Lord; then, face to face with the powers of evil, will the last battle be fought, and the victory won. Then, in bridal array and vesture of needle-work, will the New Jerusalem descend like a bride adorned for her husband. Then, indeed, will the "tabernacle of God be with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people."
Ah! my brethren, what better words of counsel can I give you than to bid you to hold fast to that Saviour into whom you were grafted in Baptism, who has fed you with Himself in the Blessed Eucharist? Live for Christ; live in Christ; seek Him by penitence; find Him in His Eucharist. Die in Him; die for Him! Count no labor worth the effort which has not His mark upon it; fight His battles, gain His victories. Then in the shadow of death He will support you, and in the day of Judgment succor you, and make you reign with Him in that newborn earth for which the weary world is waiting.