Project Canterbury

Sermons for the Christian Year
by the Reverend John Keble

Oxford: Sold by Parker and Company, 1876.



Ps. xxxiii. 6.

"By the Word of the Lord ivere the heavens made, and all the hosts of them by the Breath of His Mouth."

WHY should the history of the creation of the world be read in the Church on Trinity Sunday? Because Trinity Sunday, coming after all the great days, doth as it were complete the Church's witness of God's manifestation of Himself in the Gospel: and the creation of the world, and more especially that of man in God's own image, was the beginning of that manifestation. The making heaven and earth out of nothing, which is what we call creation, was, as far as we are told, the first work whereby the Holy Trinity began to reveal and make Itself known. From all eternity God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, had dwelt in His own Light, "the Light which no man can approach unto," rejoicing in the glory and blessedness of His own Eternal Being, the bliss and glory, of which the Son saith, He had it with the Father before the world was; living and reigning with Him in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Thus it was, until it pleased the Father by His Word and Spirit to create this visible world, and also the invisible world of Angels and spirits. God the Father, the First Person in the Trinity, is especially called the Maker and Creator of the world, because He is the First Person, the Root, the Fountain, the Beginning of all: as the holy Creed says "He is made of none, neither created, nor begotten." "Of Him are all things," therefore He is especially our Creator: but not without His Son and His Spirit: as we read, "The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters;" and God spake by His Word or Son, the Second Person in the Everlasting Trinity, and said, "Let there be light, and there was light:" and so all along, all through the six days of creation God said, "Let it be so, and it was so." It was His Word, His Son, by Whom He brought all into being. "All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made." By Him, i. e. by Jesus Christ, "c were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and for Him." Thus Scripture teaches that all things were created by the Son; and of the Spirit's part in the beginning of the world it saith, "The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters;" and again, "Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand?--Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or, being His counsellor, hath taught Him?" And thus in part we understand the word put into the mouth of the Psalmist, "By the word of God (i. e. by His Son Jesus Christ our Saviour) were the heavens made, and all the hosts of them by the Breath of His mouth," i. e. His Spirit; of Whom another Psalm told us last Sunday, "When Thou lettest Thy Breath go forth, they shall be made; and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth."

By this we understand that the same holy Saviour, Who is all in all to us sinners, is the great Lord, Creator and Upholder of all things; able therefore to make all work for good to them that love Him; and that the same Holy Ghost, in Whom we trust to be our Sanctifier, is the very Being, Who first began to brood like a Dove over the earth, when it was without form and void, and to prepare it for all the order and beauty, that God intended to bring out of it: whereby we know that He is able to sanctify us to the uttermost, able to change the fallen and corrupt heart, and new-create it, after the image of God, unto righteousness and true holiness.

Further (and this, my brethren, is the point to which I would especially draw your attention today) as the very first words of the Bible tell us how that "in the beginning God created the heaven:" so the Psalmist in the text teaches that "by the Word of God were the heavens made, and all the hosts of them by the Breath (or Spirit) of His Mouth;" i. e. the Blessed Son and Spirit were with the Father in the beginning, and bore Their part with Him in the creation of the heavens. The heavens, I say, and the very heaven of heavens; not only this deep blue sky, this firmament with its sun, moon, and stars, so vast bright and aweful to look up to, but the highest heavens and their inhabitants, the Angels and Archangels, the Cherubim and Seraphim, the Thrones, Dominions, Principalities, Powers, and whatever else there may be beyond sight and thought; all, of which the Apostle speaks, were the work and are the property of Jesus Christ, our Bedeemer, and of the Holy Spirit our Guide and Comforter; and, belonging to Christ and His Spirit, they do in a manner belong to each good Christian. "All," saith hef, " are yours," as surely as "ye are Christ's." Now, my brethren, consider a moment; what a great unspeakable thought is this! Suppose the child of some great rich person, the son and heir of such a monarch as Nebuchadnezzar, taken up to some high hill, in the midst of a grand city like Babylon, and told, "Now cast your eyes around: all these lands and houses and gardens, all these streets and palaces, and the treasures and wealth of every kind which they contain, all belongs to your father: he means it for you; it will be all yours, if you will only be dutiful, and please him." What would be the thoughts of that person? We do not perhaps know exactly: the heart of man is very wayward, and none of us, I suppose, can tell quite for certain, what his own thoughts would be in such a case: but one thing, I imagine, is quite certain: we should any one of us, if we believed the saying, think a great deal of it: we should regard it as making a great difference in our condition: we could not forget it: we could not be, as if we never had heard it. Well: but this very thing is true: the word, not of a man but of God, has really come to each one of us with this very assurance, not concerning any earthly estate, or domain, but concerning the glorious heaven which we see above us. Our Lord saith, as it were, to each one of us, "Is not this the great and glorious home which I have builded for the house of the kingdom of My people; I have builded it even for thee, by the might of My power, and for the honour of My majesty?" He hath said--we heard it a very little while ago: "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." As in the beginning He, Who is the Wisdom of the Father, established the visible heavens; as He said, "Let there be a firmament, and lights in the firmament;" so He is now, by His Intercession in His kingdom, preparing the spiritual and invisible heavens to be our everlasting home. And when it is prepared, and we prepared for it, He "will come again, and receive us unto Himself; that where He is, there we may be also." He will take His Church, purified from earth and sin, released for ever from danger and suffering, He will take it up with Him through the everlasting gates, which will be lifted up for Him and the hosts of His redeemed, and they will follow after Him, and abide with Him, and see His Face for ever.

But in the mean time they too (we cannot be reminded of it too often) must have had their preparation on earth. For this is our Lord's word, confirmed by His oath: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Not every one is fit to be one of the Lord's host, the host of heaven, the happy company who shall follow their Saviour through the everlasting doors, when He shall ascend the second time; but those only who shall have been marked with His mark, and transformed into His likeness, here on earth: and that is a work which none but His Spirit can accomplish: therefore we understand how the prophet should say, all the host of heaven were made by the Breath of the Lord's Mouth. As the Angels, the good and pure spirits, were created in the beginning by the Holy Spirit, or Breath, of the Father and the Son, so we sinners, if ever we are to become good and pure, and come to heaven, must be new-created by the same Holy Spirit. His grace is that blessed and heavenly Fire, which our Lord came to send upon earth; to kindle upon one denied soul after another, and purge and refine it as gold and silver, that it may be a worthy offering to the Father, through the merits of Christ, now in Communion, and hereafter at the Day of Judgement. By the Word of the Lord, i. e. by His Son Jesus Christ, are the heavens even now being prepared for each good Christian, and all the host of them--all the saints and penitents who are one day to be received there, are being prepared by the Breath of His Mouth, i. e. His Holy and life-giving Spirit.

Do we believe these things, my brethren? Do we really believe in the Life everlasting, purchased for us by the Blood of Christ, prepared for us by His Intercession, sealed to us by His Holy Spirit? Yes, we believe it, one and all, we dare not deny it: we know and feel in the bottom of our hearts that it is the only way to be happy. But alas! my brethren, what signifies our belief, if we permit ourselves to go on, almost or altogether, as if we had never heard of these things? Our Lord is in heaven preparing a place for us; the Holy Spirit is here on earth to prepare us for the place; and we; what are we ourselves doing? Here, in this our village, we are one thousand Christian souls: how many of us, being of sufficient age, are seriously trying to obey the godly motions of the good Spirit? We are all in Christ's school: how many of us are learning His lessons? O how can we give ourselves up to these ordinary things: a little more money, a little more worldly credit, a little more amusement and pleasure: while thrones are being got ready for us in the royal palace of heaven, and the Holy Comforter close at hand, offering to shew us the way, and help us along it? Observe how it is when a person is possessed, as happens not uncommonly, with a longing to be a sailor or soldier, or in any other special profession: or with a strong attachment to any particular person. In such a case, men live upon the hope which possesses them: it occupies their minds night and day: it brings every thought into captivity: it is their meat and drink: as He said, Who set us the great example of like zeal in the only sufficient cause, "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work." O why should not we follow Him? Why should not we, every one of us, seek and obtain grace to live upon the thought of heaven and of Christ preparing it for us, as men, earnest in any earthly desire, live upon the remembrance of the person or thing that they long for? Let no man say, "It is not in me: I long for such a Christian mind, I think those most happy who have it; but I cannot feel it, and I cannot force myself to do so." Of course, no man can change his own heart: but he may wish and pray that God would change it: and in the mean time he may, by God's help, carefully keep himself in word and deed from the things which he knows God hates.

To such as faithfully endeavour this, He Who is the Truth has promised full success. As surely as a father would give good gifts to his children, so surely will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him. And He can and will change the heart, and teach you to love what now you cannot care for. The very season of Whitsuntide reminds us what a change He wrought in the blessed Apostles. They had been "unstable as water," forsaking their Lord as soon as ever they understood that He was really to suffer: but when the Holy Comforter had descended on them, they were all on fire with boldness and fervent zeal, to do and suffer all His Will: and he was happiest who could give up most for his Lord. He is the same Spirit that He was then, and we in our measure have the same need that they had. As He gave strength and energy to S. Peter and the rest, so He hath ever since, and will to those who shall come after, making each generation of faithful men in its turn His hosts, His soldiers, His angels, to serve Him duly in His Church, and wage war courageously against His enemies. Only, as was said to the hosts of the Lord when they entered on the wars of Canaan, "be ye strong and very courageous." Christian courage---that is the virtue, the want of which ruins so many good beginnings. Young persons, we will suppose, have learned what is right, their hearts are more or less touched; they make good resolutions, and enter on a better way of life: bye and bye comes a strong temptation to commit what seems but a little fault: they know it is wrong, but they dare not be so very particular as to shrink from what so many others do: it is so very unpleasant to be scorned or pointed at: in short they are cowardly and give way: and when they have done so once, it is but too easy to do it a second and a third time. Now all this sin and misery would be effectually stayed, if persons would first make a good and brave resolution to resist the first temptation with all their might; and secondly, if they would humbly and regularly ask the aid of God's good Spirit to keep their resolution. Again, it is a point of Christian courage, in which we are most of us sadly wanting, to do the right thing, when we know it, at once; not to stand parleying and doubting about it, but to strike your blow at once, like a valiant soldier, who knows what his commander expects of him, and what will most baffle his enemy. For want of this it is that so many fall into a kind of irresolute, half-obedience; even if they do a good deal of their duty, they lose many a blessing for want of doing it at the right time: but a good and brave man will, as I said, act at once.

A third point of Christian courage is the not fearing to engage ourselves beforehand, by strong resolutions and promises before God, when we are quite certain of our duty. Fear not, by the help of the Holy Spirit, to pledge yourself to what is right, and to keep your pledge.

Fourthly, and very particularly, courage requires of you to do without the countenance of men. It is plain common sense: man cannot help your soul in your need: man cannot change your heart, nor obtain forgiveness of your sins. Why will you think so much of man, when you have the Eternal God offering Himself to be your help and your refuge? Have pity on your own soul: do not so throw it away: and have pity, too, on the souls of those whom you are tempted to follow in the wrong way: your weakness is sure to do them harm; your firmness might do them a very great deal of good. Finally, pray and strive to be courageous under long weariness and disappointment. Let nothing daunt, nothing dishearten you, when you may reasonably hope you are following Christ. Remember what He endured, and grudge not tedious waiting, grudge not missing your earthly comforts, the sense of being helped, sympathy from others, good done to them, and the like: never mind missing all this, if such be His will.

Wherever you are, and whatever you are about, remember, in all dangerous trials especially, that you carry about you, as a holy spell and charm (if we may use such a word) rather let me say, as a saving seal and token of protection from the Lord, the Most Holy Name of the Trinity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, into which Name you were baptized. With this, the weakest of us will be strong: strong enough against the fiercest and most subtle temptation, like David coming to Goliath in the Name of the Lord God of Israel. You cannot fail, if in heart and act you be true to yourself and to God.

Too sadly I feel, that as in former years, so it will be also in this: too many will be found to have heard the word of God, speaking to them in His great and holy seasons, one after another, with little or no real fruit. But whether men hear, or whether they forbear, we must not cease to warn: and you know in your hearts, every one of you, that it will be well in the end for those who take our warning; for every one of them, and for them only.

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