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 STRIFE OF TONGUES.
(Preached at Racine College, October, 1873.)
"Thou shalt hide them privily by Thine own presence from the provoking of all men: Thou shalt keep them secretly in Thy tabernacle from the strife of tongues."—PSALM xxxi. 22.
THE time in which we live is one of restlessness and hurry. It is a period of eager movement and unceasing activity. It is a day of argument and searching into the foundations of truth. It is a period when authority is disregarded, and little is taken for granted. Whatever the virtues or vices of the age, whether it is advancing or going backward, this at least is true of it, that it is a time of the provoking of all men, and full of the strife of tongues. The eager and thoughtless find happiness in all this. It is a part of the excitement and noise which satisfies shallow hearts. They would not have it otherwise if they could; and, as in the Babel-like confusion voice answers to voice, and no one comprehends, they find their happiness in the eager rushing to and fro of an activity which has no result. But to the old, the sick, and the mournful, or to those who, though none of these, yet have learned to weigh carefully the realities of life, the words of the text fall on the ear with a message of peace: "Thou shalt hide them privily by Thine own presence from the provoking of all men: Thou shalt keep them secretly in Thy tabernacle from the strife of tongues."
To be hid privily by God's presence, to be kept secretly in God's tabernacle—these are the blessings promised in the text.
There are various ways to which God may be present to us, and I suppose we shall not be wrong in interpreting the words of the Psalmist as referring in some sort, not to one alone, but to all of these, with, however, as is evident from the last part of the text, an especial reference to that presence which is in God's tabernacle, whatever that may mean.
1. God is omnipresent.
2. He is manifested in and through the Incarnate Word.
3. He will be the endless joy of His saints, when He vouchsafes to them at the last the beatific vision.
What is meant by the omnipresence of God?
1. He is the mighty Law, the eternal Force, the invisible power, which moves, controls, and orders all things. The wondrous system of the universe, the order and movement of the heavenly bodies, the marvelous forces, a portion of which science has feebly investigated, and with all its diligence and wondrous discoveries only begun to comprehend; the birth, and growth, and death, and resurrection of all animate life, which in Him lives and moves and has its being; the varied movements of the free will of man, which within certain limits is uncontrolled, and yet, though it freely make every movement a finite nature permits, comes at last to a point where it hears a voice proclaiming, "Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther"; the movement of races and peoples; the whole order and progress of the world's history, the law of which the wisest philosopher has scarcely imagined; all these, and manifold other things, are guided by His ever-present power.
But this, after all, is rather the result of God's omnipresence than that omnipresence itself. This omnipresence must be the personal presence of a personal God. Nor yet that He is in all things, and all things in Him, as an extended force, as some affirm, but that the one and undivided Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in the entirety of each Person, is in all things, upholds, rules all things; so that the Psalmist could say, "Whither shall I go then from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I nee from Thy presence? If I climb up into heaven, Thou art there; if I go down to hell, Thou art there also. If I take the wings of the morning, and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there also shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me."
Now, if this be true, that God's personal presence is everywhere, one would expect that God of His goodness would manifest some way whereby we could consciously enter into this presence. Is not this, after all, the simple explanation of what prayer is? It is the placing one's self in God's presence, and, being there, the pouring forth the mingled burden of penitence and praise, and the imploring of grace and strength. He, then, who prays most earnestly, is hidden by God's presence from the provoking of all things. "Who that has at all learned, or only-begun to learn, to pray, but realizes this? Prayer is a stay in weariness, a means of counsel in bewilderment, a source of strength in weakness and comfort in sorrow. When friends forsake, or trials assault, or temptations surround, it brings us into that presence which is the fullness of joy. The power to pray, then, is the response of the soul, the answer back of man created in God's image, to that eternal and invisible presence which is in us, and above us, and around us; as much man's gift as any other gift of his marvelous being; as much a real law as any other law of his nature; a power that is his, because he is a spiritual being, that he can withdraw himself from earthly things, shutting out sight and sense—can stand before the presence of a personal God, and ask for what he needs. He may ask foolishly, as children ask often of a father; his petitions may not always be granted; but in that presence ask he may, and a father's heart will answer, and for bread never return a stone. Brethren, it is a power almost unused with most men. It is a power, the full force of which is comprehended only by the saints. Happy they who have learned to hide themselves thus from the strife of tongues! There is another point, however, to which the universal instinct of mankind and the inspired records of Holy Scripture both bear witness. God omnipresent has at times become visible. Not that He Himself in His ineffable glory has been seen; for no man can see God and live. "No man," says the Evangelist, "hath seen God at any time." But, somehow, a showing of His power, a manifesting of His glory, has been revealed, so that men knew and saw that God was there. Nay, let it be noted that the same God who proclaimed, "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth," for purposes of worship, has often revealed Himself under some visible form. Now He talks with Adam in the shades of Eden in the cool of the day; now He takes the shape of some angelic messenger, and for blessing or for wrath reveals Himself to man. Now, in the pillar of cloud and fire, He leads the way for His chosen people. Now He comes down upon the tabernacle and talks with Moses face to face, as a man talketh with his friend, or fills the temple with such a glory that the priests could not enter into the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord's house. And however else He manifested Himself, ever between the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy-seat—either always appearing, or only at times revealing Himself—dwelt the Shechinah or the visible presence of Almighty God.
Let me call to your attention also that, whensoever this glory of the Lord became visible, it was a call to worship. The bush in the desert of Sinai had grown for many a day, God's fair creation; but when it blazed with the heavenly glory, the voice proclaimed to Moses, "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." When the tabernacle of the congregation was pitched in the wilderness afar from the camp, as Moses went out to it to meet the Lord, the people eagerly watched their leader until his receding form had disappeared within the curtained door. Then, as from on high, to wondering eyes, the cloudy pillar descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses, all the people, we read, rose up and worshiped, every man in the door of his tent. When Solomon had made an end of praying in the newly consecrated temple, and the fire from heaven had descended, and the glory of the Lord filled the house, the people, we are told, bowed themselves with their faces to the ground, upon the pavement, and worshiped and praised the Lord. With seven days of purification, and the "blood of sacrifices, and solemn confession, and mysterious worship, with clouds of incense and with sprinkled blood, on the great day of atonement, the high priest entered the holy of holies and adored the glory that shone between the cherubim.
Have you ever thought, my brethren, what that glory of the Lord was—in the burning bush, on Mount Sinai, in the tabernacle, in the temple on Mount Zion, in the holy of holies between the cherubim? If no man has seen God at any time, but if, as the same text goes on to tell us, "the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath made Him known," this glory must have been the glory of the eternal, only begotten Son of God, which, hidden behind the veil of bush and pillar and cloud and blazing light, the devout Israelite worshiped. And what is this but the type of that time when the glory of the Lord shone round about, "and the "Word was made flesh, and was tabernacled among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth"? Then the angels of God worshiped Him; then the shepherds adored; then the wise men, as they presented their mystic gifts, bowed before Him. The leper and the blind man, the woman of Canaan, the ruler of the synagogue, the struggling demoniac, the loving mother of St. James and St. John, the women who met Him after His resurrection and held Him by the feet, the disciples who saw Him in His risen glory, St. Thomas, who, awakened from doubt to faith, cried out, "My Lord and my God!"—-all these, as if embodying every state and condition of God's creation, worshiped the Lord Christ, the eternal Son of God, hidden by the veil of His human nature, but manifesting forth His glory.
But Christ has gone up on high. He is set down at the right hand of the Majesty of God. Somewhere in space is His glorified human nature, bearing still—so Christian people have been reverently wont to believe—the marks of His adorable Passion. If He manifested Himself to Moses in the burning bush and in the tabernacle, in the temple of God and between the cherubim, under the old dispensation; if He showed Himself on earth, and manifested forth His glory through weakness and sorrow and death, and miracle and parable and glorious resurrection; it is a question worth asking, whether there be any presence of Christ's human nature, now on earth, which is a call to the worship of Him, to whose Divine Person that human nature is for ever inseparably united. We answer, Christ is present in His Holy Catholic Church. It is His mystical body, His spouse; nay, it is once called by an apostle—Christ.
2. It is, we are told, the fullness of Him who filleth all in all. Whensoever God's Church—I do not mean any branch of that Church, but God's Church—speaks, Christ speaks. Whensoever God's Church acts, Christ acts; whensoever any officer of that Church speaks or acts, as that Church by her divinely commissioned power bids him to do, the word or act of the officer is the act of Christ. Be it to rebuke or exhort, to preach or to read the holy Word, to pour the mystic laver or offer the Christian sacrifice, to remit or to retain sin, the human agent vanishes, and the Divine Word remains. Nay, because the Church is Christ's mystical body, who can say what latent powers there may be in her, obscured by the loss of outward unity and ardent holiness? They may yet blaze forth to gladden the world, to convert the nations, to turn many to righteousness, to confound the ungodly, to comfort and sustain the downhearted.
Christ is present in every man whom He regenerates. We are made one with Him in holy Baptism, and this union is strengthened, refreshed, and renewed in the Holy Eucharist. We are made one with Christ, and Christ with us; Christ dwells in us, and we in Christ. There is a grafting of our nature into His, in some marvelous spiritual way, whereby He becomes our second Adam, and we become His own dear children. Our life is hid with Christ in God. Jesus Christ is in us, except we be reprobates.
And yet, in both these cases, there can hardly be said to be the presence of Christ's human nature. They are rather, in the individuals and in the body, the results of that presence, than that presence itself. Though nowhere nor at any time separated from His Divine Person, so that, wheresoever His Divine Person is, in some sort His human nature must be, because of the hypostatic union; though, at all times and in all His actions, His human will ever cooperates with every act of His divine will, yet is His human nature, locally, at the right hand of God. As the sun in the heavens is ever distant but ever near, almost beyond our human comprehension in the remoteness of space, yet pouring light and heat on sea and land, on man and beast, on radiant flower and tiny drop of dew; so, from Christ's human nature, far away at the right hand of God, may come cleansing, union, regeneration, strength, and refreshment.
3. And yet, the heart will ask, blessed and full of consolation as such a thought is, is it all? Beyond His gifts, beyond His indwelling grace, beyond even the union with His blessed nature—nay, because of these—does not the yearning heart long after Him, human as well as divine, man as well as God? If St. Mary Magdalen, as she embraced His sacred feet, was commanded not to touch Him because He had not yet ascended, the longing soul inquires, may it not be ours to do so because He has ascended, and is set down at the right hand of God? If, in the Jewish dispensation, there was at least one spot on earth where the hidden glory shone, and toward which, even when far away, the weary exile wafted his sorrow-laden prayer, is there not for us as well even a greater benediction?
St. John, in the Apocalyptic vision, ''beheld, and lo! in the midst of the throne, and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain; . . . . and the four living creatures, and the four and twenty elders, fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of saints." "And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them," joined in the ceaseless worship, crying, "Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever." The Lamb as it had been slain—Christ under a veil—Christ in His passion—the object of the worship of heaven and earth.
Brethren, there are two points upon which the Bible and the Church for ever insist. The first is, that Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; that by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified; that there is no more offering for sin; that on Calvary He offered one perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. On the other hand, while the singleness of the sacrifice is thus fully declared, the perpetuity of Christ's Priesthood is as carefully revealed. He is constituted a Priest "after the power of an endless life." He is "a Priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedec." He hath an intransmissible Priesthood, "because He continueth ever." "He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them." In short, the Priesthood of Christ being perpetual, yet employing but a single sacrificial act, must consist in a constant reference to that sacrifice. This constant reference must be the for ever presenting in the midst of the throne, as subsisting in His Divine Person, His blessed human nature, bearing the immortal marks of His adorable Passion.
I can not pause here. What is the Sacrament of the Altar but the self-same act, done in His earthly kingdom? And, if this be so, must not His blessed human nature—the presenting of which as once slain to God, is the perpetual reference to the one sacrifice once offered—be on every altar, as well as in the midst of the throne? There locally, here spiritually; there after the manner of a body, here after the manner of Spirit; yet, in both, really, truly, certainly, the one and self-same Humanity, the same blessed Person, Sacrifice, and Priest; and a call for men on earth, and angels in heaven, and the redeemed in paradise, to worship and adore the Lamb as it had been slain. Thus, the vision of St. John—"behold 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."
" Thou shalt hide them privily by Thine own presence from the provoking of all men: Thou shalt keep them secretly in Thy tabernacle from the strife of tongues."
In Christ's Passion ever commemorated, in Christ's sacrifice ever represented, in the presence of the Incarnate Son of God, as Priest and Sacrifice, in the wounds of Jesus, in the silence of His Eucharists, amid the adorations of the faithful and the strife of tongues of the unbelieving, in the peaceful hiding-place of the weary, struggling Christian, in the tabernacle of God—day by day, whenever the sacrifice is offered, ever overshadowing the altar, and protected by the watching angels, is this presence of the Lord. It will continue, whether we heed it or do not heed, whether we slight it or love it, until this same Jesus, who is gone into heaven, shall come again in glory, to judge both the quick and the dead. Then shall they who have sought Him and found Him in His Eucharists, rest for ever in that presence, where the provoking of all men comes no longer, and where there is rest for the weary soul from the strife of tongues!