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.
(Preached extempore at Berkeley Chapel, Middletown, Conn., 1864.)
"Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the vail; whither the Forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus."—HEB. vi. 19, and part of v. 20.
LIFE is full of changes and chances. It sounds commonplace to say so, and yet more and more one learns to realize that the commonplaces of life are the things we most frequently dwell on, and the things we most often need comfort about. Poverty and riches, sickness and health, prosperity and adversity, joy and sorrow, succeed one another in our lives in a way that men call chance, and Christians know to be the will of God. All external circumstances change and alter; friends fail us or are taken away; death breaks up family circles; we move away from the scenes of youth and dwell in other places; cities and towns lose their familiar appearance; nay, in this our day things that should be most stable shake and totter, and government and order seem about to fail, and the very Church itself partakes of the universal disquiet; and only the eye of faith can discern the sure and immovable foundations against which the gates of hell shall never prevail.
But, even if there were no external changes, the changes within us are still harder to bear. We are not what we were. Time more surely alters our inner selves than even it does what is without us. We do not love what we loved, we do not seek what we sought, we do not fear what we feared, we do not hate what we hated. We are not true to ourselves. However brave a front we may present to the world, we are compelled to acknowledge to ourselves our own inconsistencies. There is often a broad chasm even between the intellectual convictions of one period of life and of another; and our very religious convictions, except they are built on the unchanging rule of the catholic faith, contradict each other; and the weary heart, uncertainly reaching forth in the darkness, longs with an ever deeper longing for that immutable One "with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
Blessed, then, is it to hear of an anchor of the soul. The imagery is simple enough. The ship, beaten by waves, tossed by tempests, driven by winds, takes refuge in the harbor. The anchor is cast from the stern. The ship rides securely; the danger is over. The ship-master sleeps in quiet, and dreams of home and of peace on the morrow. And yet we know that ships ere now have dragged their anchors and been driven forth in the dark night upon the broad deep, and met with unexpected disaster and unlooked-for shipwreck. But the anchor of which the text speaks is both sure and steadfast. That reaches downward, this upward. That takes hold on the stones and slime beneath the waters, this passes through the clouds. It goes beyond the stars. It sinks deep down within that sea of glass before the throne, whose unruffled bosom no storm, of human passion or of human sin can ever disturb, and whose calm depths reflect for evermore the four and twenty elders golden-crowned and lamps of fire before the throne, and that unnumbered host who rest not day nor night, but sing for evermore the praises of the Lamb.
It has been the peculiar property of the saints of God that they have been thus anchored. Whatever other impress they have made upon the age in which they lived, by their genius, their power, their statesmanship, or their bravery, in so far as they have been saints, they have added to it the impress of unchangeableness. They have been anchored amid ^storms. Passion and fury and rage, the vain imaginations of men, nay, even persecution, agony, and death, have not shaken them. What is still harder to resist, the temper and tone of the day, popular applause or popular favor, have not allured them, and they have stood like their Divine Master, and through His might, the same yesterday, the same to-day, ay, and because they have fought the fight and won the crown, the same for ever. The anchor which anchored them, as the text declares, is Christian hope; and Christian hope is a longing desire for the rest of paradise and the joys of heaven, and an expectation, growing brighter as life grows older, that this rest and those joys shall be ours.
Earthly hope has one peculiarity which we shall do well to notice. We never honestly hope for anything of which we do not already possess some germ, which, either by our own labor or the labor of others or the mercies of God, may be expanded into what we hope for. Whatever day-dreams or wild fancies or castles in the air we may please ourselves with, we never honestly hope for anything without this being the case. Nor is it otherwise with Christian hope. The Apostle tells us that the husbandman that laboreth must first be partaker of the fruits, that he that ploweth may plow in hope, and he that thresheth in hope may be partaker of his hope.
What, then, is the germ which we must possess, if we would have the grace of Christian hope?
Some one answers at once: It must be a life of holy obedience, straightforward honesty, purity, truthfulness. It must be the keeping of God's commandments, the being a good father and husband, or son, or brother, or wife, or daughter, or sister. This surely must be the germ. And yet we know that "all our righteousness is as filthy rags"; that, when we have done our best, all we can say is that we are unprofitable servants. Nay, St. Paul expressly declares that it is "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."
No, my brethren, necessary as good works are, much to be insisted on as they are in this age of self-indulgence, they are not the germ of Christian hope. Nor yet can it be that which no doubt most readily presents itself to your mind—faith in the promises of God, faith in the death and passion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, faith by which the elders obtained a good report, faith which caused men to endure as seeing Him who is invisible; for faith is the substance of the upostasuV, the firm trust in things hoped for, and thus can never be the germ which is to be expanded into the thing hoped for itself. Nay, faith has this peculiar property, that while it is the hand that reaches forth and lays hold upon truth, it ceases to exist when sight is attained. Perhaps the proof which comes most home to our hearts is, that we have with sorrowing hearts laid some little child, whose brow still glistened with baptismal dew, in his long, last home. When we have turned with deepest anguish from the grave of the loved one, still for him of all the dead in Christ, though the gift of faith has never been his, we have the surest hope of eternal joy, and far beyond the weary voices of earth behold him resting in the arms of Jesus.
Brethren, the text declares what the germ of Christian hope is. It "entereth into that within the vail; whither the Forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus." The imagery is taken from the Temple which of old stood on Mount Zion. Between the holy of holies and the holy place was the vail of the temple. Within this vail the high priest went once a year with the blood of bulls and of goats, to sprinkle the mercy-seat in the presence of God. When our Blessed Lord in agony and death hung on the cross on Calvary, the vail of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, the Holy Ghost thus signifying that the way into the holiest of all was then laid open. For we must understand, as one has said, that the veil hanging between the Divine presence and throne in the holy of holies was a figure of Christ's human nature veiling the Godhead; and when that veil of the body of the second Adam was rent on the cross by His death, then the obstacle which was placed between God and man by the old Adam was removed, and the new and living way was opened into the heavenly oracle. Into this heavenly oracle, into the eternal presence of God as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, Christian hope enters; there it anchors us. It brings us into that presence which is the fullness of joy.
But, my brethren, we know full well that thither, except first we are ingrafted into the second Adam, we can not enter. We must be one with Him. We must be in Him. Flesh and blood can not enter into the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. "Know ye not," says St. Paul, "that as many of you as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Know ye not that as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ?" "Except," says our Blessed Lord, even still more clearly, "a man be born of water and the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." And St. Paul sums it all up when, in this very connection, he declares, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water." Union with Christ, my brethren, oneness with Him in the Church and through the Sacraments, the being made members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones, the being made partakers, as St. Peter tells us, of the Divine nature—this and this only is the germ of Christian hope; as St. Paul tells us, summing up in few words the whole argument, "Christ in you the hope of glory." Mark the words and weigh every one of them. Christ IN you the hope of glory. The life of Christ in the soul, the indwelling of the soul in Christ, that mystical abiding in Him which begins in holy Baptism, which is quickened by every ordinance of the Church, which is nourished by faith and strengthened by obedience, which is sustained and supported by the immortal food of the Eucharist, which in the resurrection will quicken our mortal bodies which in the eternal presence of God will live and glow for ever—this is the germ, of Christian hope.
When this is once fully apprehended, the language of St. Paul concerning faith and obedience becomes abundantly plain. Let it be clearly understood that the Divine life in the soul must die without faith and obedience. We dwell in Christ by the Sacraments. Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. We are one with Him in Baptism and the Holy Communion. He is one with us by trust and love. Thus we are told that "whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." And what is the patience and comfort of the Scriptures? What is it but faith, blessed faith in all the promises, in all the warnings, in all the teachings of God's Holy Word? What is it but trust, unceasing trust in that dear Lord of whose birth and life, whose death and passion, whose resurrection and ascension it reveals the history?
Again, St. Paul tells us that he glories in tribulations also, for tribulation worketh experience, and experience patience, and patience hope, because the love of God is spread abroad in the heart. What is declared here, but that hope is the result of obedience in its most perfect form? The truest obedience is only learned by suffering. Our Blessed Lord Himself learned obedience by the things which He suffered, and so is it evermore with His children. Tribulation and patience are the parents of obedience, and obedience is at once the mother and the child of love. The bruised soul pours forth the sweetness of charity, just as they say, in the far-off East, from the broken leaves of the spice-plant flows out the sweetest fragrance.
Brethren, if all this be true, I bid you in the name of God to beware of false hope. It is a false hope to expect to go to heaven and yet willfully neglect holy Baptism. It is a false hope to expect to be saved, and turn your back upon the broken body and blood of your Lord. It is a false hope to feel you have a claim to eternal peace, and yet to go on sinning without repentance. It is a false hope to expect to dwell with Christ and yet deny His incarnation, His atonement, the glorious promises of His Word, the inspiration of His prophets and apostles, the majesty and power of His Holy Catholic Church. It is a false hope to expect to hear the reward of the faithful servant, and yet neglect the good works which God has prepared for you to walk in.
But ah! my brethren, true Christian hope, once let it dwell in the soul, no storm or tempest, no billows or waves can ever move you. The loss of friends, hardest of earthly trials, can never overwhelm you, for you sorrow not as others which have no hope. Death itself, with the darkness of its shadow, the coldness of its waves, the long, weary time of waiting which it brings, can never separate you from the love of Christ; for even your very flesh, as the Psalmist tells you, "shall rest in hope." Bury the body deep down in the earth, scatter its ashes to the four winds of heaven, sink it beneath the caverns of the sea, still Hope shall tenderly care for it and quicken it with invisible life, and waken it at the resurrection morning. Nay, hope as a grace of the soul does not end with the glories of the resurrection. It is the dream of the sensual poet that—
"Faith and her sister Hope were given
But as our guides to yonder sky;
Soon as they reach the verge of heaven,
Lost in that blaze of bliss they die."
Ah! in that happy home in the streets of the golden Jerusalem, evermore reality shall be heightened by anticipation, and anticipation rewarded by reality. Ever shall we hope, ever shall we receive, ever shall we obtain, ever shall we desire. Thither may God in His mercy bring us all!
Pray, then, for Christian hope, my brethren, and seek for it as for hid treasures. Labor for it, even unto tears, that, being saved thereby, and resting in the hope of a blessed resurrection, ye may not be ashamed before the Son of Man at His coming.