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 UNITY OF CHRISTENDOM.
(Preached at St. Augustine's, Canterbury, England, on St. Peter's Day, 1868.)
"Neither pray I for these alone, hut for them also which shall believe on Me through their word; that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou has sent Me."—ST. JOHN xvii., 20, 21.
THE words of the text were spoken the very night in which our Lord was betrayed. The darkness of Gethsemane, the gloom of Calvary, the shadow of death, were already upon him. We are wont to regard the last words of one about to die as the most worthy of consideration of any he may utter—a prayer offered by one then, even if he were but an ordinary Christian, to be more than all other prayers. We would look for an answer to that, if to none other. But this was the prayer of the Son of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the God-man, Christ Jesus, standing, as it were, beneath the very cross of His Passion. The outstretched hands were soon to be pierced with cruel nails, the uplifted brow to be torn by the thorny-crown, the pleading voice to utter the closing words, "Into thy hands I commend my spirit." The words of the text are the dying prayer of the Saviour of the world.
But even this, solemn as it is, does not convey the full power and effect of the prayer. The prayer was uttered when our Blessed Lord was offering up the first Eucharist. It was presented to His Almighty Father when, in will and in word, He offered that Blessed Sacrifice, which, in suffering agony and death, was so soon to be consummated in deed upon the altar of the Cross. It was the sacrificial intercession of the great High Priest at the offering of that one sacrifice, begun in the upper room, continued in Gethsemane, consummated on the Cross, continually presented in heaven, and for ever re-presented on every altar until the end of time. Thus, it is not simply the dying prayer of the Saviour, though that indeed were enough, but that burthen of prevailing entreaty, then begun, and never to end till the consummation of all things of the great High Priest of our profession, who ever lives to make intercession for us. It is the priestly prayer which, for the first time, was heard by mortal ears in the upper room of the first Eucharist, which has been blended into every petition offered here on earth before the Altar, and which, amid the adoring angels, is for ever pleaded by our dear Lord in heaven for His militant Church on earth. "That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me."
Another thing is worthy of notice, in seeking to understand the full force of the prayer. One whose words are of weight says we should rather read the text in this way: "Neither pray I these things for these alone, but for them all which shall believe on Me through their word, that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee," etc. In these words the unity of Christians is the whole object of whatsoever else He has prayed for. Whatsoever is the subject matter of His prayer—whether in words the meaning of which are far beyond us, "Glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify Thee "; or, "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one as We are"; or, "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil"; or, "Sanctify them through Thy truth "—whatsoever is its subject matter, it has for its one object and end the unity of Christians,- that the world may be converted. The words of the text, then, sum up that burthen of prayer, that pleading entreaty, that everlasting intercession of our crucified and ascended Lord: and that burthen is, I repeat it, the unity of Christians, that the world may be converted. The first point upon which I would remark is, that the unity for which our blessed Lord prays for all who shall believe on Him, through His disciples' word, that is, for His whole Church, is specifically described in the words of the text. It is that Christians may be all one: "as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee, are one, that they also may be one in Us." The unity which exists between the eternal Father and the eternal Son, naturally and eternally given by the Father, naturally and eternally received by the Son, is expressed in those words of the Creed in which the Son is said to be of the same substance with the Father. But when our Lord prayed that the disciples might be one, as He was in the Father, He surely could not have meant that they should be sharers of a common human nature; for that they had already. Nay, from that common human nature, corrupt and ruined, flowed all their discord and trouble. The world was full of disunion because of it; man struggled with man, for wars and fightings had arisen on every hand, because of men's lusts which warred in their members. God had indeed made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on the face of the whole earth; but the strong followed up the weak, and cruelty, and tyranny, and bloodshed, and iron rule were on every side. Nor could He have meant simply (though this indeed was to be the result of His prayer) that men should so realize their common humanity, that peace and love and concord should be the result of the endeavor. None knew better than He how vain the attempt would be. Far gone from original righteousness, with the image of God marred, the best that man could attain to would be that state of which St. Paul writes when he says, "The good I would I do not, but the bad I would not, that I do. I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin and of death. O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" No! He prayed that they might be sharers, not of that common nature which they derived from the first Adam, but of that new-born life, that regenerate nature, which He Himself, as the second Adam, came into the world and died that He might impart. He prayed that they might be one in Him and in the Father. He prayed that they might receive those exceeding great and precious promises whereby they might be partakers of the Divine nature. He prayed that, by being baptized into Christ, they might put on Christ. He prayed, as in the very presence of the first Eucharist, that they might eat His flesh and drink His blood, and thus dwell in Him and He in them. He prayed that, by faith and love and obedience, they might grow in the life He imparted to them. He prayed that thus, being members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones, they might grow up unto Him, the Head in all things. He prayed, in short, that, having thus called them in one hope of their calling, there might be "one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all"—one three-fold ministry for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till all should come, in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Yes! it was for the unity of His own body; the oneness of His Holy Catholic Apostolic Church; the perfect life which should flow from Him, the Head, into every joint and member and portion of that body; the glow of love which should pervade it all, bringing all men into the obedience of the faith, converting the nations to the knowledge of the truth, until He should be able to present His body unto Himself as a glorious Church, not having spot nor wrinkle nor any such thing, but holy and without blemish—it was for this He poured forth, and for ever pours forth, His sacrificial intercession.
I know that careless readers of Holy Scripture—and those (alas! that there should be any such) whom the sad troubles of a divided Christendom have made to doubt the visibility of God's Church, and substitute for its outward unity that invisible bond which, thank God, still unites in one love churches and men who are at variance on grave and fundamental points—interpret the text as referring simply to that hidden oneness of faithful hearts, known only to the Eternal God. No doubt it does refer to this. Outward unity, without this inner oneness, would be of no avail. But this proceeds from that. Inward oneness is the direct result of visible unity. For a while, in abnormal conditions, it may exist apart from the other, but it is only because the bond is not so wholly broken as it seems to be. Indeed, how can it be otherwise? The unity of God's Holy Church is the unity of a living body: for as the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body being many are one body, so also is Christ. Separate in any measure any portion, any member of that body, and just in proportion to the measure of the separation must be the loss of the life of that portion of the body and in the body itself. And, inversely, just in proportion to the existence of life in any member of the body, in that proportion, be it never so small, it still partakes of union with the Head. But, ah! my brethren, all breaches of the unity of the body of Christ tend toward death—slowly it may be, with many a convulsive movement, with a power we could not conceive it to be capable of, but ever nearer and nearer to the quiet stillness of decay. Outward and inward unity—the indwelling of the Church in Christ, the abiding of Christ in it—life, vigor, power, unbroken oneness, a mighty conquest, in this way it should make over sin, the conversion of a lost world—it was for this our Lord prayed.
The second point upon which I would remark is, that our Lord makes the conversion of the world, the success of what we call missionary labor, to depend upon the unity of the Church—"that they all may be one, and that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me." There is a deep spiritual connection between the two. It is not simply that there is loss of power in anything where there is division; that opposing voices make opposing action, where oneness is more especially needed; that it is infinitely more difficult to convert the heathen to a faith about which its own converts are at variance—it is not because of these or any other disadvantages, but because there is an inherent connection between the two. Just as the Eternal Son dwelt in the bosom of the Eternal Father; just as the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world; just as the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and is sent by the Son; just as all God does for man flows from the essential unity of the Godhead—so, by some mysterious law of God's grace, this, our Saviour's prayer, teaches us that from the unity of the Church, outward and inward, proceeds the conversion of the world. No student of ecclesiastical history needs to be informed that the theory is borne out by the fact. "With what marvelous power, with what resistless advance, with what success in the face of obstacles, with what prodigality of blood and devotion, did the undivided Church obtain its victories over heathenism! As disunion and discord increased without the Church, as inward unity diminished, how much feebler and poorer were her conquests! From that day when the Roman legates laid upon the altar of St. Sophia the sentence of excommunication, and the great schism was accomplished, through the long ages of discord that have followed, wonderful as has been the zeal displayed, great as have been at times the results, has the Church more than held her own? Compare the Church of the nineteenth century with the Church of the fifth, and is its condition what one would have the right to expect from the promises of God, from the power of the Spirit, from the blessed command, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature"? And, as we pause and wonder at the thought, the words of our Saviour's prayer sound on the ear, "that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me."
I remark in the third place—and here is the point of my discourse—that our Lord's prayer must be fulfilled. It were treason to doubt it. If it be true of the humblest Christian, that if he ask, he shall receive; if he seek, he shall find; if he knock, it shall be opened unto him; if it be true, that whatsoever he shall ask, believing, he shall receive, can we doubt that the sacrificial prayer of the Great High Priest must be heard and answered? Brethren, the day will come—however long we may have to wait, through whatever patience and toil and prayer and martyrdom the blessing may have to be purchased, however unlikely or even impossible it may seem to the eye of sense—when God's Holy Catholic Church, now rent and torn and divided, shall be at one again, and the Gospel be preached to all nations, as it never has been preached since those blessed days when confessors witnessed, and martyrs died, and nations bowed in humble adoration at the feet of the Crucified.
In His prophecy of the end of the world and the destruction of Jerusalem, our Blessed Lord said that the Gospel must first be preached in all nations, and then shall the end come. After the day of Pentecost we read that all Christians were of one heart and one soul; and so wondrous was the work that St. Paul could say to the Colossian Christians, before the destruction of Jerusalem, that the Gospel had been preached to every creature which is under heaven. It is in accordance with the analogy of all prophecy to believe that what took place before the destruction of Jerusalem is but a type of what shall take place before the end of all things. Another outpouring of love, a restoration of lost unity, the one heart and the one soul again vouchsafed, the Gospel preached anew in every nation, and then the time of the end.
We keep to-day the Feast of St. Peter. Those two wondrous miracles, so much alike, and yet so different—the one at his call to the ministry, the other when, after our Saviour's resurrection, he was anew sent forth to wield the pastoral staff and the keys of heaven—serve to bring out this wondrous truth. In the first miraculous draught of fishes, St. Peter and his companions were bidden to cast out their net for a draught. "And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes, and their net brake. And when they had called their partners, they came and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink." Notice in this, the first miracle, the miraculous draught, the broken net, the sinking ship. Far otherwise was it when, after His resurrection, once more the risen Saviour commanded the self-same apostle, in that very sea, to cast his net upon the right side of the ship, with the promise that he should find. Simon Peter, we read, went up and drew the net to land full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three; and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. Notice in this, again, the miraculous draught, the unbroken net, the ship, and the taken fish brought safe to land. Ah! may not the loving heart believe that in the daybreak of the everlasting morning, once more, through the mist and the shadow, the watching soul shall see that form divine, once more Peter who has denied Him, and the others who have forsaken Him, and St. John the faithful, may bring the multitude of the nations to His feet, in the unbroken unity of the Church, there to abide for ever!
Brethren, it seems to me that the faithful heart can see in these strange and wondrous times in which we live the signs of some such approaching blessing. You know how carefully, in all late histories of the Church, thoughtful writers have striven to show the marvelous preparation which for centuries had been going on, unknown and unmarked, for the first advent of our Lord. In the Jewish Church and without it, among God's chosen people and among the heathen, all things were being made ready for Him who was to be not only the King of Israel, but the desire of all nations. Externally, the dispersion of the Jews made them ready in every land to be the seed of the Gospel. The Greek language, spoken wheresoever in the mighty cities of the East the learned and the rich were gathered together, seemed prepared to be the language of theology. Rome, with its iron rule and resistless power, was binding all the nations of the known world into a visible unity. It was multiplying gigantic roads, and increasing the facilities of travel, and thus preparing the way for those whose hurrying feet were to bear the glad tidings into every land. Internally, from sin, and misery, and shame, and lust,, and dishonesty, and cruelty, and wrong, went up a cry for Him who was to be the Deliverer and the Saviour. Philosophers had gone as far as natural religion could carry them, and stood upon its outermost verge, with straining eyes, and groping hands, and longing souls. The world, with ten thousand voices, was pleading for the angelic music which proclaimed at Bethlehem, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." May not the earnest and thoughtful see now the preparation going on, in a manner somewhat analogous, for the restoration of lost unity, for the conversion of the world, and the glorious triumph of the Bride of Christ? "Wars and discords prevail as aforetime, and yet nations are being drawn closer and closer together by ties which tend toward unity. ~No thoughtful traveler can fail to notice how the increased facilities of travel and intercourse are destroying peculiarities of dress and manner and custom, and changing the very aspect of cities, and thus in some measure making countries far apart less unlike one another. The conquests of science and skill, though by no means the moral agents they are sometimes supposed to be, at least are binding men closer together, and drawing them nearer and nearer. It can not be for nothing that from one end of the world to the other the English-speaking race, now for curiosity, now for scientific research, now for exploration, are everywhere to be found. It must mean something, that lands hitherto deemed inaccessible are being yearly opened to travel. It must mean something, that upon the Anglican Church a spirit of missionary zeal unknown before, in the midst of difficulty, and poverty, and Erastianism, and heresy, and such persecution as the nineteenth century permits, has been poured by the loving grace of the Holy Spirit. Nay, perhaps the very spread of unbelief, that very rationalism which all the world over, now in pleasing and seductive shapes, now in the naked deformity of its bitter end, fills the soul with such anxiety for individual souls, may be but the preparation for the fuller embracing of the Catholic faith. They, who for a generation have been watching the results of rationalistic theories, know that there is a phase of unbelief just beginning to appear, unnoticed by the thoughtless when, from the denial of all things—the dry and parched land of negations—with a wail of agony, the soul away from God, without God, longs and pleads for Him and all that He reveals. The depth and the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God may be shown, and was of old, in the concluding of men under unbelief that He may have mercy upon them. May Jesus grant it!
There is another point which, did time permit, I could wish to enlarge upon. In this age and land, especially, sectarianism has been allowed free scope. It has had time, place, opportunity, and freedom to work itself out. Where the Church has been weak, it has been powerful; where the Church has been small, it has been numerous; where the Church has been poor, it has been rich. It has had all that it could have desired. And of it, it is literally true that multitudes are asking their way to Zion, with their faces thitherward. They cry in one way or another for Sacraments. Nay, they long for unity itself. They strive to join on every platform in which they can possibly agree. They even invent platforms for the sake of agreement. They perpetually protest against their own schisms. They rejoice over all unions, be they never so poor, as marks of God's Holy Spirit, and, in ten thousand ways, plead and call for the Catholic Faith and the Catholic Church. Nay, from that form of error which it were a shame to connect with the better forms of dissent, from the Satanic misery of Spiritualism itself, comes a cry whereby decayed and dying ultra-Protestantism bears witness to the faith. The one half-truth with which the foul imposture seeks to delude the unwary—what is it, let me ask,, but a pleading voice, which asks for that intercommunion of love and of presence, those voices that call and answer, which exist in prayer, and in the Eucharist, between the living and the dead, in the blessed doctrine of the Communion of Saints?
Brethren, I know no sign of life in our own Communion as full of hope and promise as the longing prayers and earnest labors, in the midst of reproach and contumely, which go up to Almighty God for the corporate reunion of Christendom. It is, no doubt, the drawing of our own dear Lord. It is the response on earth to His increasing intercession in heaven. It is the answering cry of the Members to the gentle voice of their Head. In the dome of St. Sophia at Constantinople, pious hands wrought long ago, in costly mosaic, an image of the Divine Redeemer. When, for the sins of His people, the stately temple was transformed into a mosque, the unbelievers hid with paint and whitewash the Sacred Form. Centuries have rolled by, and now, they say, above the throngs which come and go, the dim outlines of the colossal figure, growing clearer, begin to be manifested, as if heralding the day when, once more, the Divine Liturgy shall be heard, and the holy sacrifice be offered on the noblest shrine in Christendom. And so, it seems to me, above the noise and din of an unbelieving world, as Christ's own children have drawn nearer unto Him in His Eucharist, His own priestly voice begins once more to be heard. His own dear form, only fully to be discerned in the unity of His Church, begins to be manifested. Our prayers, joined unto His prevailing intercession, begin to be answered. Nor does prayer plead alone. Each act of missionary labor, each deed of faith, each bearing of poverty and loss in foreign lands, each act of self-denial, known or unknown, each victory over the world, the flesh, or the devil, each act of self-surrender in any brave young heart, all unions and associations for any Christian work, each offered Eucharist, each sincere confession, each life devoted unto God—these works for Christ join and blend with the prayers, and bring nearer and nearer the day when all shall be at one again, and the kingdoms of the world become the kingdoms of the Lord and of His Christ. Nor is this all. There are other voices which plead and must be heard by the Judge of all. From those far-off lands where the name of Christ is never named, no prayers are prayed, no sacramental rites are offered—from those who live up to the light and knowledge that they have, and who long for more, from children dying, unstained as yet save by the common burthen of us all, a cry of helpless misery and innocence is going up to God. It is louder than the heartless prayers of Christians; it is mightier than the intercession of worldly churches. It pierces the clouds of heaven. It mingles with the ceaseless raptures of the angels. It is caught into the loving bosom of the Saviour of men, and wails in its lament, before the throne of the Father of all. Nor yet from heathen lands alone, nor from the toil-worn Church, which, with banners torn and weapons blunted, sways to and fro in the agony of the contest, but from that land where all is over, the battle done, and the souls in peace—from the Church at rest in Paradise, from the company of the elect, from the saints beneath the altar—goes up the ceaseless petition, checked by no discord, harmed by no disunion, its power lessened by no sin: "Lord, how long? Lord, how long? "And evermore, above them all, and mingling with them all, and making them powerful with a power not their own, the prayer of Jesus, "That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me."
Soon the day will dawn, soon the New Jerusalem descend, soon the Bride be ready for the Bridegroom! It is not a question of days and months and years. It depends not on the changes of centuries and generations. It is as near at one time as another. Whenever the mystical number of the elected is completed, whenever that which is behind, of the sufferings of Christ in His body the Church, is accomplished, then will He present it to Himself a glorious Church, no longer torn and divided, but without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. Remember, beloved, each offered Eucharist, prayer and fasting, labor and toil, penitence and tears and devotion, giving up all things, and the bearing of persecution and contumely—these bring nearer and nearer the unity that is to be, the conversion of the world which Christ promises, the unending joy of the faithful.