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 CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD.
(Preached at St. Paul's, Milwaukee, Lent, 1865.)
"The Church of the Living God."—1 ST. TIMOTHY iii., part of v. 15.
HOLY Scripture, and the Church, and our own experience, alike declare that there is a flaw, an imperfection, in our common nature, which theologians call by the name of original sin. The remedy which the Gospel proclaims for this flaw and imperfection is the incarnation of the Son of God, and all that flows therefrom: the being made one with Him in holy Baptism, the being nourished by every gift of the body of Christ, the being fed with the life-giving food of the Eucharist, the dwelling in Christ by faith and love, the ever drawing nearer and nearer unto Him, until, through the grave and gate of death, we pass to a joyful resurrection. As you would expect, beloved, this flaw and imperfection, which exists in each individual being, is still more painfully manifested.
Thus far, in these lectures, I have endeavored to bring before you the things which relate to each man's soul, and the salvation of individuals. Last week I showed you the flaw, the imperfection, which exists in our common human nature. I showed you how insufficient are the doctrines of repentance and faith—the conversion of the soul, important as it is—to remedy this imperfection. I declared to you the Scriptural remedy, the incarnation of the Son of God, the partaking of His nature, which alone can remedy the ruin of the nature we inherit from Adam; in short, that we must be one with Christ. We must be sharers of the nature of the second Adam if we would reign with Him in glory; we must be new-born in holy Baptism, and fed with the perpetual food of the Eucharist, if we would live the new and better life.
In the relationships which man bears to his fellow man, take, for example, family life, and it has the same imperfection as the life of the individual man. It does not fulfill all that it promises, even where it most nearly does so; it is frail, and uncertain, and ever dissolved by sickness, and change, and death. In national life it is the same. There is uncertainty, after all, about the best form of national government. Though you and I may not doubt about it, yet other people, as wise, think differently; and even if we do succeed in finding a perfect system of government, yet there is still the most terrible imperfection in carrying out the system: corruption, and bribery, and venality will spring up, and tyranny of some sort or another can be found, and politics take the place of patriotism, and good men are sot aside for those who are less scrupulous; and, as nations grow mightier, they ever grow less and less virtuous.
When we consider the universal brotherhood of man, the unity which should exist between all races and kindreds and languages, it is found nowhere save in the dreams of the philosopher. Mountains and rivers and oceans, and different races and opposing beliefs, divide men with barriers which none can pass over. And if, at times, some mighty conqueror overleaps these obstacles, and sets up a so-called universal empire, its very transitoriness proves its impossibility. The empires which have been said to rule the world have only ruled a comparatively small portion of it; and Nebuchadnezzar, and Alexander, and Augustus Caesar, and Napoleon have but for a moment dazzled the world with their glory, and the old divisions and disunions have resumed their sway.
"Within the past fifty years, it has been thought by hopeful men that the diffusion of knowledge, the marvelous conquests of time and space, which steam and electricity have effected, would do what conquest could not; that where physical force has failed, science would be mighty to accomplish; yet wars and hatred abound as much as ever, and there is no nearer approach to unity to-day than in the times long ago. The nations stand each in their appointed place, the Lion, and the Bear, and the Eagle, with a marvelous company of lesser beasts and birds. They growl and howl, and are ready to spring on one another, and woe to the weakest! On the seas the opposing fleets are sailing, on the land the hosts are ever marshaled for battle. Savage nations war with knife and club, civilized people with cannon and rifle and strange devices of destruction; but peace, universal peace, the brotherhood of man—where is it?
Nay, there are other questions, as to the relationship of man with his fellows, which may well perplex. We are taught to believe that all men are born free and equal; and yet, one may ask, Why, then, are some talented and some stupid, some healthy and some sick, some rich and some poor, some blessed with every advantage and some with none? And if these inequalities exist, ought they not in some way to be set right, and how shall it be done?
Nor are these mere theoretical difficulties. I need only suggest that awful question which has deluged our land in blood, the terrible difficulty of the relationship of a race, which time or something else has rendered inferior, to a race its superior in intellectual and physical power. That difficulty will not be remedied even by universal freedom, though that will be a step toward it. The problem will still lie at our door, and rest like a heavy weight on heart and conscience through the ages yet to come.
What, again, shall you say of a race melting away, as the Indian race does, before our own? Ought one people to be so swallowed up by another? Is there nothing which can civilize and unite? Are we not all of one blood and of one common parent? Vain questions! The difficulties still exist, and no human theories can settle them, and we can only gaze in hopeless despair on troubles which no earthly power seems able to remedy.
Now I have started a host of difficult questions, which I do not propose to answer in detail. I desire only to ask one question: granted that there is a revelation, would you not expect that it would give some answer to these and similar questions?
God is the Father, not simply of you and me, but of the whole human race. I can not suppose that He loves a child because he is born in New England, and has the advantage of a common-school education, more than some poor Hottentot, or Pawnee of the far-off West. There can be no cry of our poor humanity, no agonizing entreaty of fallen nature, no feeble uplifting of hands which grope in darkness, which His all-attentive ear and ever-watchful eye do not hear and see. If He sent His Son to redeem the world, there must be some redemption for it. If our dear Lord was lifted up from the earth, that He might draw all men unto Him, there must be such a drawing. In short, there must be some remedy which shall meet, not only the ills and the wants and imperfections of individual man, but the same ills and wants and imperfections in all the relationships which man bears to his fellows.
Now, my brethren, I ask you, what remedy does the popular religion of the day propose for these difficulties? I do not ask you what scheme of philanthropy it has for this or that trouble I have mentioned. It is its peculiar note; it is ever uneasy, ever unsettled, ever presenting some new plan, for the amelioration of different classes. The weapons of its warfare are not spiritual, but carnal. It is of the earth, earthy. Nor would I for a moment say that in this it does not do a certain amount of good; the point to which I would call your attention is, that in all its uneasy labor it never reaches the root of the difficulty. However much it may help a trouble here or a trouble there, however philanthropic and useful it may be, it can not reach the seat of the disorder. It is like a kind-hearted but ignorant nurse, who watches by the bedside of one ill of some mortal disease. She tries to relieve this or that symptom: she bathes the aching head; she kindly moves the pillow for the uneasy sufferer; she gives now a morsel of food, now a drop of some cooling drink; she moves round the room on tiptoe, spares neither time, nor pains, nor talk; but, all the while, the unknown disorder gnaws at the vitals, and Death, with hurrying footsteps, mounts the creaking stairs, and breathes his icy breath in the passageway, and pauses on the threshold, and waits a moment longer before he enters in and takes the watcher's place at the bedside, and stills the throbbing heart for ever.
What is the remedy which the popular religion of the day gives for the disunion, and want of harmony, and separation, and inequalities, and divisions of men? I hardly dare to mention it, lest I should seem to be satirical. A division infinitely more minute; a more disunited disunion; separation more intensely separated. Is the great family of man divided by races, and geographical separations, and varying traditions, and habits, and languages? The Christianity which is to remedy this shall be still more divided than the human race itself. There shall be no phase, erroneous or not, which the human mind can assume which shall not be embodied into a sect. There shall be Baptists, and no one knows how many subdivisions of the body, and Methodists, and Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, and Episcopalians, and Catholics, and Quakers, and Shakers, and Universalists, and Unitarians, and the ten thousand other sects and bodies.
Brethren, can you believe that this was the unity which was to supply the needs of the human race; that this was the oneness which was to bind together all peoples, and nations, and languages, in the Body of Jesus Christ the Lord? Can you think that this was the revelation that the Second Person of the adorable Trinity came down from heaven to proclaim to His people, and to be to them whom He made of one blood, and sharers of a common nature? Far different is the theory which the early Church believed, far different the view which has been taken by the Church of God in every age. Let me briefly state it.
The remedy for the imperfections of our fallen nature is found in union with the Incarnate Son of God—the second Adam. The remedy for the ills of a divided humanity is to be found, and only found, in the uniting together of every human being in the Body of Jesus Christ, which Body is the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. With His own blood the Saviour purchased a Church, which was to gather together in one the children of God which are scattered abroad. In it there was to be neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ was to be all and in all. I need scarcely remind you how full the Holy Scriptures are of this idea. The Church is compared to the human body: it has many members, and all the members have not the same office; and yet, as the blood is poured from the heart, and comes through every vein, and throbs in every artery, and unites each part of the frame with the other, so the Holy Ghost quickens with invisible life every portion of the Church, and binds with His ever-penetrating harmony its various members in one.
It is, again, compared to a building. The corner-stone is Christ; the apostles and prophets are the chief foundation-stones. Every Christian is a stone in the vast temple; some shine with dazzling brilliancy where every eye can see them, some are hidden away in corners where none behold them, but each one has his place, and adds to the strength and compactness of the vast and ever-increasing edifice. It rises higher and higher, it spreads under and under, until its foundations are as broad as the habitable globe, and its battlements pierce the stars; and heaven and earth, angels and men, dwell together within its all-embracing walls. Beginning in the Jerusalem of old, it is transformed and transfigured, until it becomes that New Jerusalem whose gates are pearl, whose streets are of gold, which needs no sun or moon to lighten it, where the multitude, which no man can number, abide for ever and ever.
The very parables which describe it reveal its universal character. It is a field, in which tares and wheat grow up together. It is a net, which is cast into the sea, and gathers of every kind. It is a little leaven, which leavens the whole lump. It is the mustard-seed, which is less than the least of all seeds, but which grows into so mighty a tree that the birds of the air rest under its shadow. It is, as Daniel describes it in his wonderful prophecy, a stone made without hands, which smites and breaks in pieces the kingdoms of iron and brass, and silver and clay, and becomes itself a mountain which fills the whole earth. In short, it was to be coextensive with the human race, and supply all the wants and needs of families, and nations, and the universal brotherhood of man. Nor am I making any mere theory: what it promised, what it was prophesied it should be, it began to fulfill. During the first three centuries it converted nearly all of the known world. There is not one of the difficult questions that I have mentioned which, at some time or another, it has not solved. Roman slavery was as hard a question as African slavery, and yet the Church grappled with it, and, without anger, or wrath, or rebellion, for ever settled it.
The Church was powerful enough, when the Roman Empire was wasting away, to mold into one people the barbarous hordes which overcame it, and the civilized race they overcame. Nay, it made the conquerors, conquered.
The Church has answered, in the only way in which they could be answered, the problems which arise from inequalities of state and condition. Gentle Charity has made the rich poor; lofty virtue has dignified and ennobled poverty; she has fused and melted into one brotherhood learned and ignorant, great and humble, king and peasant. The hands, unused to toil, of high-born women, have carefully tended the sick and wounded and miserable. In short, beyond all differences of color, and race, and circumstance, and condition, has been the union and brotherhood which men have had in the Church of God, in the Body of Christ. It has overleaped every barrier which man or nature has made, and those whom no tie, or kindred, or nation, or language has bound together, have been one in the blessed bond which, in uniting them to Christ, united them to one another.
"No distance breaks the tie of blood;
Brothers are brothers evermore;
Nor wrong, nor wrath of deadliest mood,
That magic may o'erpower;
"Oft, ere the common source be known,
The kindred drops will claim their own,
And throbbing pulses silently
Move heart toward heart by sympathy.
"So is it with true Christian hearts;
Their mutual share in Jesus' blood
An everlasting bond imparts
Of holiest brotherhood."
Ah, my brethren, you say, What a beautiful picture!
You look around on the Christianity of the present age, and you ask, Is it now realized? You look about on that branch of the Church of which we are members, and you inquire, Do we show that this mutual share in the Blood of Jesus is our own blessed heritage? Brethren, it forms no part of my purpose this evening to enter into the question of the reasons why the progress of the Church of God has been checked, until scoffers and unbelievers have dared to deny her divine mission.
Consider one thing only: never was the world so sunk in wickedness, never had the law of God so perished among men, as when the shepherds watched their flocks on the hills of Bethlehem, and the angels sang, Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Unseen to mortal eye, unknown even to the very actors, a mighty preparation had been going on for ages, for the fullness of the times; and when the hour had come, when a weary world was stretching out its hands in agony, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
So, now there is a preparation going on. The watchful eye can detect it, the watchful ear can hear it. Louder than the din of war, clearer than the clash of gold, there is a stir, a movement, a going in the tops of the trees; there are streaks of light in the distant east, and rosy hues begin to glow on the summits of mountains, and the far-off cock-crow heralds the approaching morning.
But, my brethren, I do not wish to deal in vague generalities. What kind of religion would to-day satisfy the wants and spiritual needs of American men and American women? Our people are not an irreligious people; they do not take naturally to scoffing and unbelief; they are ready to hear and attend to anything which claims to give a message from God; they not only desire to learn the way of salvation, but rush hither and thither in search of it.
First of all, the Church which would claim the obedience of the American people must be an historical church. It must be able to prove its lineage, and trace its connection with the Apostolic Church. It must be no upstart, scarcely older than the nation it seeks to convert. The American mind may believe in a self-made man, but never in a self-made Church.
Next it must have a Creed, at once positive and definite, and broad and comprehensive. It must teach with definiteness and positiveness what it does teach, and require exact belief in the faith which it lays down; while, at the same time, this faith must be as broad and liberal as exact compliance with the never-changing truth of God will permit. It must dare to overleap the gloomy and dreary controversies of the past three hundred years. It must cut itself loose from German, or Anglican, or French Reformation tradition, and dare to hold, one and undefiled, the faith of the primitive Church of Christ. In short, it must be not only American, but catholic; not only of the nineteenth century, but of the first; and bind our young and new-born people, with a mighty bond, to the ages that have gone and the ages that are to be. It must have not a ministry merely dependent on the people, driven about by vestries, hired for so much a year, who reflect every tone and impulse and change of the people of to-day; but a divinely sent priesthood, who shall guide the weary soul nearer and nearer to the feet of Jesus.
It must be a practical Church; it must be prepared, beyond all things else, to care for sick, and poor, and desolate, and wounded, and dying. It must be ready for every emergency and contingency of the national life. It must have its orders of men and women. It must be ready for war and pestilence, and not, when the hour of danger comes, gaze in feeble and helpless apathy on agony and misery it is unable to help. It must be strong and mighty and vigorous. It must burn and glow with ever-renewed life. In short, it must be the Body of Christ, the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the faith, the fullness of Him which filleth all in all.
Brethren, I ask you, is there a possibility of such a Church? I ask you, not as people prejudiced by the notions of this or that sect, this or that school of Churchman-ship, but in the face of problems, and cries, and pleadings, and distresses, which rend the heart, and fill the soul with agony.
I believe, beloved, it is to be. I see the far-off morning, I catch a glimpse of the rosy light, and I strain the weary eye, and lift the entreating prayer, for the better day which is to dawn!