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 at Racine College, Quinquagesima Sunday, 1867.)
"For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged."—1 COR. xi. 31.
I SHOWED you on Septuagesima Sunday, that because each, one of us has sinned, each one is liable to the punishment of sin. Here or hereafter, in body, soul, or spirit, or in all, as sure as the relation of effect to cause, our sin will find us out. It may tarry, it may seem to have missed us; but nearer and nearer comes the hour of judgment and the terrible sentence. Can we escape it? Can we mitigate it? Can we so judge ourselves now as to forestall God's judgment? And if so, how, and in what manner?
Fit thoughts are these to-day, and meet to be considered, when the Church calls us to repentance.
Ash Wednesday is at hand, with its woe and tears and lamentation. "Turn ye even unto Me," says God, "with weeping and with fasting and with mourning, and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God." The rending of the heart—repentance—the turning to God—without these what avail all things else? What avail happiness, or easy days, or high spirit, or the freshness of youth, or riches, or pleasure, or joyous prospects, if for ever more it sounds in our ears that "for all these things God shall bring us unto judgment"?
I ask then your consideration of the first step toward a true repentance—self-knowledge. In the first place, I remark, that there is no knowledge so difficult, none in which we are so liable to make mistakes, as in the attempt after self-knowledge. "He that trusteth in his own heart," says the wise man, "is a fool."
I must appeal to your own experience for the proof of this assertion. There is one whom you have known, and known intimately, for many years. You have seen him under many and various circumstances. He has been tried in your presence, and you have discovered just how far he can be depended upon. You know his weakness and his strength, his failings and his virtues. You have seen him in times of joy and of sorrow. You feel that if you know any person, you know him. You make allowances, in forming your judgment, for either your affection or your dislike. You remember also that even under the most favorable circumstances, no man can fully understand or read another man. But with these allowances, you sit in judgment on your friend, and either to yourself or to others pronounce your sentence. You say he has such and such qualities, such gifts, such powers, such faults, such weaknesses, such virtues; you say he is selfish, or cowardly, or hard-hearted, or covetous, or quick-tempered, or proud, or envious; or that he is gentle, and generous, and forbearing, and humble. If this sentence of yours upon your friend be coincided in by other people, if it be not only your own judgment, but the judgment of others who know him as well as yourself, you feel as certain of it as you can be of anything earthly. But now does this person upon whom you pronounce judgment agree with you? Would you dare to tell him exactly what you think of him? Would you expect that he would coincide with you? Has he not an entirely different, and most often a much more favorable opinion of himself than you can possibly admit? Is he not angry with you if you hint at the truth? Nay, is he not most angry and most vigorously protesting about the very points in which you feel that you are most correct? Let me appeal also to your own experience. Have you never become conscious that, at some past period of your life, you have been in a state of the most utter delusion in regard to a course of conduct which you adopted? Some one did you a wrong; you resolved to meet it as you thought in a proper spirit. You felt that you were dignified, and self-restrained, and high-toned, and justified by circumstances; you flattered yourself that in a trying position you had acquitted yourself as you ought to do; you prided yourself on your manliness, and self-respect, and proper pride; and the occasion passed by. Now you look back upon it, perhaps after a lapse of years. The provocation, and he who provoked it, are things of the past-How does the course of conduct you thought so well of then look to you now? Has not the manliness become sinful self-assertion; the proper pride, eager self-will; the dignity and self-restraint, unforgiving anger? In short, do you not now see that you did not know yourself at all, but were walking in a vain shadow? And if this be so about one thing, may it not be true about many? If it be true of the past, may it not be true of the present? May you not be utterly and wholly ignorant of yourself? Like Ephraim of old, may you not have gray hairs upon you here and there, and know it not? And, if you thus know less of yourself than your fellow-men, how far short must your knowledge fall, of what the angels see, of what Almighty God beholds! In His presence and theirs, all disguises and deceits are stripped off, and, naked and bare, we stand revealed. He reads us through and through. He searches the inmost corners of our hearts. He knows the full enormity and extent of our sins; for there is no creature who is not manifest in His sight, "but all things are naked and open unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do."
I suppose, my brethren, if we could see ourselves as God sees us, if we could know ourselves as He knows us, the sight and the knowledge would prove our destruction. It will be one of the most dreadful horrors of the Judgment that then we shall stand revealed to ourselves. Then we shall have full self-knowledge; and that knowledge, except we have learned it in a measure in this life, and it has produced repentance, will be the first beginning of the pangs of eternal death. What more terrible pang can an immortal being have than to be ruined, lost, and degraded, and to be fully and entirely aware of it; and, hopeless, prayerless, and despairing, to live for ever and ever in the knowledge and full realization of the unspeakable misery of his own perdition?
The cause of this want of self-knowledge is worth considering, because therein is to be found its remedy.
"When Adam fell, the superadded gift which had been given him when God breathed into him the breath of life, the indwelling light of the Holy Spirit, was taken away. Before, it had illumined him, and beamed upon him, and lightened up his darkness. In that blaze of spiritual glory, he had seen and known himself; but, when this glory was removed, he walked on still in darkness, and groped in the noonday as though he had no light. Hence the blind man of whom we read in to-day's Gospel, sitting by the highway-side begging, is the type of fallen humanity, unable to behold when Jesus the Son of David passes by.
This superadded grace which Adam lost, no doubt, is restored, at least in the germ, in the regenerating grace of holy Baptism, and those who have never stained their baptismal robes have in its fullest sense the knowledge of themselves. But alas for those who have fallen, as most of ns have, into willful sin! It is one of the most terrible effects of sin that it blinds the sinner to his own condition, and that just in proportion to the willfulness of the sin. There can be no repentance without self-knowledge, and self-knowledge fades away and is lost in the awful darkness of a willful transgression. 'No one has watched his own spiritual state, or that of others, without being aware that there is a strange and terrible blindness, a darkness, like that Egyptian darkness which might be felt, which creeps over the soul after great and willful sin. The Holy Ghost hides Himself. The presence of Jesus is covered with a cloud. The knowledge of God fades away, and with it the knowledge of ourselves, until at last, as the night falls heavier and heavier, as the stars one by one are hidden by mist and storm, the unhappy sinner evokes a fire of his own kindling, and compasses himself about with sparks, and walks in the light of his fire, and in the sparks that he has kindled, until, stricken by the hand of God, he lies down in sorrow, to rise no more to newness of life.
Brethren, the lack of self-knowledge comes from one cause, and one only—the lack of the knowledge of God. In knowing Him, we know ourselves. In His light, we see light. There is one way, and one only, to penitent self-knowledge; and that is, through the knowledge of God revealed to us in and through Jesus Christ our Lord.
"When St. Peter had denied his Lord, immediately the cock crew. In the stillness of the night he stepped out upon the porch, and heard in the calm air the shrill clarion. Then, he must have known his sin with an earthly knowledge, and yet he went back and denied his Lord again. It was not until the Lord turned and looked upon Peter that "he went out and wept bitterly." Fully conscious was that woman who was a sinner of all that she was, and all that she had lost; but it was not until she came into the presence of Jesus that her pent-up grief was loosed, and she washed His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
Brethren, unlike St. Peter or the penitent Magdalen, we are members of Christ, made so in holy Baptism. Surely it must be easy for us to know Him whose very members we are, and in knowing Him to know ourselves.
Do you wish to hear how you may know Him and the power of His Resurrection?
"First, examine yourself and find out what your sins are, and ask Him to help you do so. Then, come to Him in the quiet stillness of private prayer, and confess your sins to Him, and implore His forgiveness. He will then reveal to you Himself and yourself.
Marvelous too, in respect to self-knowledge, is the confession of sin to God's ministers, which the Church permits to those who humbly and heartily desire it. It substitutes for our own judgment, the judgment of another; for our own self-indulgent decision, the decision of God's servant. And more than this, because He has said of His priests, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world," it gives in their pronounced judgment the awful but blessed presence of Jesus, in seeing and knowing whom, we know ourselves.
Lastly, remember what was said of those two disciples who, when the first Lent was over, went, on the first Easter, with one they knew not, a Sabbath day's journey from Jerusalem. We read: "He made as though He would have gone further, but they constrained Him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And He went in to tarry with them. And it came to pass, as He sat at meat with them, He took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew Him; and He vanished out of their sight." And straightway they knew themselves, for "they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?"
Blessed Eucharist! Happy Communion! Feast of Joy! Remember, beloved, in that Holy Supper is the presence of Jesus manifested, and with it the knowledge of ourselves.
In conclusion, I reverse the words of my text. We shall be judged if we do not judge ourselves. Have you ever thought why, in many cases, God sends sorrow and affliction and misery upon His servants? One has pain of body, uneasy days, restless nights; another has anguish of mind, and spiritual darkness and desolateness of soul; another has children, and dear ones, and friends taken away; another lives in poverty and humiliation, and in the scorn and contumely of men. Do you know why these things come? It is because Christ loves His children, and seeks to give them, even by pain and anguish, the knowledge of Him and the knowledge of themselves. Happy they who hear his voice, and see Him and their own condition, even when He thus speaks to them. Alas! alas! for those who will not hearken in this life, and wake up to the awful consciousness in the great and terrible Day.
This is the reason why the Church bids us to observe Lent. It is that we may judge ourselves. She bids us leave Jericho, and go up to Jerusalem. The way is steep and rugged, and robbers lurk in coverts and behind the gloomy rocks, and the plain of Jericho is fair to the eye, and blessed with the shadow of palm-trees, and with the coolness of running streams. On she bids us go. She will let us pause awhile at Bethany with the holy sisters, but only that we may be the more ready to cross to the top of Olivet, and find below the deep shade of Gethsemane, and beyond the place of a skull, and the uplifted cross thereon. Thither let us follow Jesus, though it be with tears, if haply some drop of His all-healing Blood may fall upon our hearts and wash our sin away.