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 HIDDEN LIFE.
(Preached at Racine College, winter of 1870.)
"For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known."—ST. LUKE xii., 2.
THESE words of our blessed Lord seem to have been uttered on two or perhaps more occasions. They appear to have meant at one time what the Psalmist said, "Commit thy way unto the Lord, and put thy trust in Him, and He shall bring it to pass. He shall make thy righteousness as clear as the light, and thy just dealing as the noonday." In the passage from which the text is taken they seem to have a meaning the very opposite of this; for He was bidding His disciples beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees, which is hypocrisy; and then, in solemn warning, He adds, "For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; nor hid, that shall not be known."
In these two opposite senses, St. Paul appears almost to have been commenting on the words when he warned the Corinthian Christians to "judge nothing before the tune, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God"; or in those very solemn words to St. Timothy, "Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand, and they that are otherwise can not be hid."
First of all, in one sense, the words were true of our Saviour Himself. He was the brightness of His Father's glory, the express image of His person. In Him was hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He was the Word of God, who was with God, and who was God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; upholding all things by the word of His power. All this He was when he lay, a babe in His Mother's arms, and went down to Nazareth, and was subject to His parents, and increased in. wisdom and stature. But the glory was a hidden glory. He was God manifest in flesh; and because manifest in flesh, the majesty and splendor of His Godhead were, so to speak, covered. Always the same eternal, unchangeable God, men did not apprehend Him. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." Even His Blessed Mother, who, of all other mortals, had had the most revealed unto her, only seemed to realize His Divinity, as it were, by degrees. Nor was it otherwise with His apostles.
Something they must have felt of His everlasting might, when they heard the tones of His voice, or gazed into His countenance, or beheld Him transfigured before them. Much they must have realized when at His bidding the lepers were cleansed, and the sick were healed; when He trod upon the waters, and rebuked the winds and waves; when He multiplied the loaves and fishes; and when, at His bidding, the shrouded form of Lazarus came forth from the sepulchre, a living man. When upon the cross He hung, and—not with the feeble wail of the dying, but with the loud cry of the conqueror—He bowed His head and gave up the ghost—even the centurion said, "Truly, this man was the Son of God." St. Thomas's words, when at His Master's bidding, after the Resurrection, he put his finger into the print of the nails, and thrust his hand into His side, and cried, "My Lord and my God," must have been the expression of every disciple. When they saw Him ascending—when the clouds of angels received Him—when the voice proclaimed, "This same Jesus who is taken from you, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven "—they knew Him as the King of glory, whom the heavens were to receive until the times of the restitution of all things; but it was not until the Holy Ghost descended in tongues of flame, that the full glory was manifested in their hearts. Then all things were brought to their remembrance; then were they led into all truth. Before, they had seen and heard Him; now, they were one with Him, and He with them: before, they had hesitated and wavered; now, they were ready to die for Him. Then was that which had been covered revealed, and that which was hidden known. The same thing has been true of Christ's presence in the world and in the Church ever since. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. He rules the world, and uses all things as He will. Empires rise and fall, kings come and go, nations change, and boundaries; there are victories and defeats, there is progress and retrogression.
We understand parts of what we hear and know. We get up a philosophy of history; we have our theories as to how things are to result; with Scripture and experience to guide us, and in proportion as we follow them, we come to conclusions more or less likely. Now and then the clouds are lifted and the sun shines through; we catch a glimpse of God's purposes and His glory. But as yet His way is in the sea, and His paths in the great waters, and His footsteps are not known.
What is true of God's providence in general is still more true of His Church. There are wondrous promises. It is to be a kingdom mightier than all kingdoms; against it the gates of hell are never to prevail; but as we watch its checkered history—now resisting unto blood, now triumphing over the world; now with kings its nursing fathers and queens its nursing mothers, now a wanderer and exile; now strong in its unity, now torn asunder by schisms—we know indeed that Christ's presence is in it. that it is His body, His spouse; but its full manifestation is not yet, and, so far as these are concerned, the words of the text are a prophecy of the time when He shall present to Himself "a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing."
To individual souls in the Church the text receives its fulfillment. Christ's presence is revealed to the faithful. In His word, in His poor, in the ministrations of His priests, in the hidden but real glory which transports the soul in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the true believer knows and sees by faith the Lord who bought him. To others they are hard duties merely, or unmeaning forms, signs that have no thing signified; but to him the Church is indeed the house of God, the gate of heaven. It is the Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of us all; and in the midst of it is Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, which speaketh better things than that of Abel. Nay, to the Christian, the things which we most shrink from and avoid are fullest of this hidden glory. Pain and sorrow, sickness and death, the trials and the crosses, the troubles we can not explain or account for, the misfortunes that come upon the good and pure, the weary nights and the desolate days —these, seen in the light of the crucified, become far more precious inheritances than houses, and lands, and easy days, and goods laid up for many years. The shadow of the Cross transfigures them, and makes them exceeding white and glistening.
But there is a meaning in the text full of warning to each one of us.
How solitary, after all, is the real life of each human being. "We are born alone, we must die alone. In our deepest trials, as far as human help goes, we must stand by ourselves. I do not say this as undervaluing sympathy and love and kindness, which go so far to alleviate sorrow, but merely as expressing the thought that sympathy and love and kindness have their limits. Even in that highest and best of all human relationships, to which God has given a sacramental glory, and which He has made the type of the union of Christ and His Church—the consecrated union of man and wife—even where there is the fullest sympathy and love, there is a point in which each stands apart from the other. The life of each individual being is in some sort a hidden life. There are heights and depths in human nature which are hidden and covered from every eye but the All-seeing gaze. Man is made in the image of God, though that image is marred. The baptized man has been recreated in that image; he has been made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an heir of the kingdom of heaven. There are capacities in his regenerate nature which can never be fully brought out, until that regeneration is completed by the redemption of the body. Meanwhile the struggle is going on between regenerated man and the world, the flesh and the devil. With whatever helps counsel or advice or prayer may give, he fights his battle alone. He puts on his armor. With sword and shield and helmet he enters the lists. Myriads, indeed, are watching him; hosts upon hosts behold him. The Eternal Eye is upon him; the loving Master sees him, and strengthens and supports; and human prayers, with agonizing entreaty, intercede for him; but still, so far as his fellow man is concerned, he fights alone. Nor does he merely fight and conquer. He fights and falls, he rises and falls again, and falls and rises. He is covered with wounds, and blood, and soil, and stain, until the day is done, and the crown is won or lost.
Now, it is of the Christian life, of its warfare and its struggles, of its heights and its depths, of its mysteries and its secrets, of its sins and its conquests, of all this in which we stand alone, which is hidden from others, and in part even from ourselves—of this are the words of the text true: "There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; nor hid, that shall not be known." The Christian man is hidden from himself in some sort, and from others:
First, because of the mighty capacities of his regenerate nature:
Secondly, because, in so far as he has sinned against that nature, he has become blinded; and
Thirdly, because, in proportion as he has sinned willfully, and is impenitent, in that proportion he more or less seeks to hide from God, from himself, and much more from the world, the hidden sins which must prove his destruction.
And yet the things covered are revealed even in this life; the things hidden do become known. It is unnecessary to prove this about great virtues or great vices. The works of the flesh are manifest, the higher works of the spirit are like ointment poured forth; but how is it true of ordinary people, who keep up a respectable face to the world and to themselves, who are moral and well behaved, who are more or less devout, who go to church on Sunday, and are either communicants, or at least as good as the average of communicants? What self-revelation do they make?
Consider, first, the revelation which a man makes by his conversation. There are his studied and careful words; the talk by which he would like to be tried; the words which seem to say, "How refined, and pleasant, and gentlemanly, how honest, and true, and straightforward, and pure, and manly I am!" Then, on the other hand, there are the unstudied words, the jests and idle talk, the nonsense and trifling. Then there are the real words of passion, when anger, and wrath, and malice bear the soul away, when evil desire heats the blood, and out of the abundance of the heart, whether one will or no, the mouth speaketh. Then there are lies and slanders; then there are the words by which others are tempted, or the words by which others are counseled. In short, could all the words each man has spoken be read, as no doubt they are recorded, they would make a complete self-revelation, and we would understand the full force of those words of our Lord: "By thy words, thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."
Nor is this self-revelation made by speech alone. There is a revelation of silence as well as of speech. The unconscious, involuntary movements of countenance and gesture, the manner and gait and attire, the way in which we do things, rather than the acts themselves—all these serve to reveal the true character. For, as one has said, "Every human soul, incased in its earthly prison-house, seeks and finds publicity through countless outlets. The immaterial spirit traces its history, with an almost invisible delicacy, upon the coarse hard matter which is its servant and its organ." And all these things help in various ways to complete that self-revelation, which every individual character makes to all around, and which is studied by all in each.
But there is something more even than these. The very things which are most secret; the things which the world does not dream of; the sins that are hidden in the past, and we try to forget ourselves; the things which no tongue can utter, because no mortal eye beheld, nor mortal ear heard, or they who saw or heard have passed beyond our ken; the things of which there is no danger that any one can tell; nay, the things which perhaps we should not care if they were revealed, like pride, or ambition, or the love of money, or the sins which have so become a part of our very natures that they have ceased to attract our notice, like selfishness, or vanity, or covetousness, or self-indulgence; there is, in all these, be they never so hidden, a tendency toward being revealed. They crawl to the surface, they come to light; they flaunt themselves in the glare of noonday, and are proclaimed upon the housetops; they find the sinner out; either directly or indirectly, either by a chain which plainly connects effect with cause, or by some subtle, spiritual connection which is perfectly plain to the conscience, and to the observer, they become manifest. Sickness or misfortune, sometimes even prosperity and happiness, sometimes ordinary events which place the man under a varying set of circumstances, proclaim him. He is what he is. Voices say to him, "Thou art the man"; fingers point at him, and proclaim, "Thou didst it"; and with bowed head, and cheek red with shame, he stands convicted of his own conscience.
And what are all these things, my brethren, but types and shadows of that awful hour, of that judgment which ever draws nearer and nearer? The saints beneath the altar lift their ceaseless intercession. The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. Soon the eternal beauty shall be revealed. The Son of Man shall come in His glory, with all his Holy angels with Him. The things that are unseen shall be made manifest. Faith, and prayer, and the mysteries of Grace, and the power of the Sacraments, and the victories which love and truth have won, these shall be proclaimed with the archangel's trump. Then shall the heavens pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat, and each soul shall be in that awful Presence, at whose glance the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed.
My brethren, let us learn from all this, first of all, the great benefit of plainness, and simplicity, and honest truthfulness; the benefit of seeking to appear just what we are —no better, no worse. Let us learn, too, to bear injustice, and misconception, and want of appreciation with quiet calmness; because so soon it will all be right. Let us learn also the great benefit of the honest shame, that takes away shame, in the penitent acknowledgment of sin; judging ourselves, that we be not judged of the Lord. And last of all, let us seek, even while we have earthly blessings, and are thankful for them, in the midst of summer days and happy hours—much more, in times of trouble and distress—to have our hearts safely stored with Him who knows all that we are, and accepts, not because of what we are, but because with humble penitence we put our trust in Him.
The world tosses and rages, it is full of unrest and disquiet; by hidden forces which it does not perceive, it is ever preparing for the end that is to be. The Church itself, as well it may, partakes of the universal movement. There are those, alas! who seek to overthrow its ancient heritage, and strip it of its vesture of glorious beauty. But far away, beyond these voices, the lamps of fire are burning before the throne of God. There is the sea of glass like unto crystal; the seraphim veil their faces; the four and twenty cast their crowns before the throne; the angels bear the vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints; and in the midst of the throne is a Lamb, as it had been slain.
O clouds of heaven, roll away! Illimitable ether, melt and pass, that our eyes may behold the King in His beauty, that we may rest for ever in the land which is very far off!