Project Canterbury

Lectures on Church Difficulties.

By the Rev. J. M. Neale, M.A.
Warden of Sackville College.

London: J. T. Hayes, N.D.


"In His time shall the righteous flourish: yea, and abundance of peace, so long as the moon endureth. His dominion shall be also from the one sea to the other: and from the flood unto the world's end."—Psalm lxxii. 7, 8.

THIS Psalm seems to have been the last which King David wrote: for we read at the end, like a note, "The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended." If so, then, just as Moses, before he fell on sleep, gat him up to Mount Pisgah, and saw all that goodly land, which the LORD had promised to Israel, so David also, before he rested from his labours, was allowed to go up to this holy mountain of prophecy, and thence to behold the good things which GOD had prepared for his elect people, the History of the True Church of the Future. And let us for a little while try to forget the burden and heat of the day which we are still bearing, let us forget the battle which is raging around us, and go up with David to that hill, whence he saw the vision which he has written down in the present Psalm. So we shall be more prepared to fight the good fight of GOD against sin, the world and the devil, knowing that only through much tribulation can we enter into the possession of those good things of which he here speaks.

In His days shall the righteous flourish. And therefore, first we ask, whose days? The prophet is no doubtful guide: he will give us full satisfaction herein. For thus he begins the Psalm—Give the King Thy judgments, O GOD: and Thy righteousness unto the King's Son. Who is the King but He of whom it is written, He shall reign for ever and ever, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords—even He That for our sakes was once crowned with thorns, but has now put on the diadem of everlasting glory? And who is the King's Son, but the same our LORD JESUS CHRIST, of Whom it is written that, though He were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things which He suffered? Therefore, in that He is called a King, the excellent glory of His Majesty is set forth: in that He is called the King's Son, the depth of His humiliation is displayed. In His days, then, that is, in the days of our LORD CHRIST, shall the righteous flourish.

But now, what are His days? Seeing that He is from everlasting to everlasting, what is that time of which David now speaks? No doubt, in the fullest sense of the word, these days mean the blessed estate of the Saints of GOD in Heaven: when, like Ahasuerus, our LORD shall make a feast to all his princes and servants, when He shall show the riches of His glorious kingdom, and the honour of His excellent Majesty many clays, even an eternity of them. Then, indeed, the righteous shall flourish: for into that city there shall in no wise enter anything that defileth: then Jacob shall become Israel; that is, the earthly man shall pass into the heavenly, and with the new nature receive the new name; then, as our LORD shall be exalted far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, so His faithful servants and friends, who, when they were in this naughty world, drank of the cup that He drank of, and were baptised with the Baptism that He was baptised with, shall be seated at His side, reigning in His heavenly mansion for ever and ever. But yet, as we shall see presently, we must rather take the days of this King to be the time in which His Church is militant here upon earth: the time between His ascension into heaven, and His corning again to judge the quick and the dead; and therefore, among others, this time at which I speak, and at which you hear.

The righteous shall flourish in them. But how can this be? Do we not read that a fiery trial is to try us? that we can enter into the kingdom of GOD by no other road than by tribulation? that our way to eternal life is to suffer here with CHRIST? that it is they who mourn that are to be comforted? that it is they who are reviled and persecuted for CHRIST'S sake of whom, is the kingdom of heaven? And how then can it be said that the righteous flourish? Compare this with another passage of Scripture; and there we read that the righteous shall flourish as a tree. Now a tree flourishes for being pruned; a tree flourishes for being sometimes cut down almost to the ground; for being dug about and tended; nay, for being shaken with mighty tempests. Ask any ship-builder which oaks are the best, and he will answer: Those which grow on high places near the sea, on the wild tops of hills, on desolate heaths, where there is no shelter; because in all these situations they are constantly struggling and striving with the wind, and in that very strife and struggle they gain strength. So we do not here read that the righteous shall be free from warfare and danger and affliction, for most assuredly ho shall not: but he shall flourish notwithstanding all; yes, and through all, yes, and because of all. Of our LORD Himself it is said that He is a fruitful vine, even a fruitful vine by a well, whose boughs ran over the wall; that the archers sorely shot at Him, and wounded Him, and grieved Him; yet, nevertheless, He abode in His strength. That which He endured, all His faithful servants must expect.

But now David proceeds, "Yea, and abundance of peace, so long as the moon endureth." By the moon we understand the Church militant. For just as the moon has all her light from the sun, and shines only in His absence; so the Church has all her beauty and glory from her LORD, and was set here by Him to give light during His absence from us. And so it is written that GOD appointed two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, even our LORD, Who is Light of Light, to reign for ever and ever in the day of heaven, and the lesser light, which is the Church, to rule the night of this world. But in that it is said, so long as the moon endureth, we are not to think that the Church can ever end; for as her LORD will reign for ever and ever, so must she also. But she will not then be like the moon: because the true Sun will always there shine upon her, and where there is perfect day, there we cannot need an imperfect light.

Abundance of peace, so long as the moon endureth. What abundance of peace in this world, which is one long battle! abundance of peace in a Church, which is called militant, that is, at war! abundance of peace, when our LORD said, I came not to send peace, but a sword! Even so. He saith not, continual peace, or entire peace, or perfect peace, but abundance of peace—that is, peace enough and to spare. And even thus also spoke our blessed LORD; Peace I leave you, My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth give I unto you: that is, not rest from outward battle —not calm from outward storm—anything but ease from outward struggle—but peace, abundance of peace still. Peace, in knowing that if we only be GOD'S true servants, all things shall work together for our good. Peace, by having the Spirit of peace in our hearts—peace, in knowing that all that can happen to us cannot touch our souls—peace, that the world gave not and cannot take away: so a dove may make its nest in the spray of a waterfall, and a marten build under the eaves of a manufactory. And thus it is written of a church in warfare with the world, Cry unto Jerusalem, that her warfare is, not shall be, but that her warfare is accomplished; that her iniquity is pardoned. Yes, abundance of peace, so long as the moon endureth; and in that city which hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon to lighten it, infinite, perfect peace. For its very name is Jerusalem, which is, by interpretation, the Vision of Peace.

And now we come to the reason of this. His dominion also shall be from sea to sea. And where does our LORD'S dominion, as our Redeemer, over us begin, but at baptism? Here, as so often, that blessed Sacrament is brought before us in a place where, at first, we should little seek it. I am persuaded, that if all the passages in the Psalms which touch on baptism were brought together, they would be so perfect a treatise on it as no writer of the Church has yet devised. And it is remarkable, that the four great divisions of the Old Testament—the Law, the historical books, the devotional and practical books, and the Prophets, have close to their beginning, a marked reference to baptism. Thus, at the opening of Genesis, The Spirit of GOD moved upon the face of the waters. At the beginning of Joshua, Arise, and go over this Jordan, thou and all this, unto the land which I shall give them.

At the beginning of the Psalms, He shall be like a tree that is planted by the rivers of water. And so, in the first chapter of Isaiah: Wash you, make you clean. So, all through Old Testament history, we have the same reference. Noah and his family are saved in the Ark from perishing by water. Israel is so baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. The stricken rock pours forth water. Israel cannot enter Canaan till they have passed the Jordan. When the kings came and fought against GOD'S elect people, they are overthrown at Taanach by the waters of Megiddo. When Gideon's soldiers are to deliver Israel, they are brought down to the water. When the three kings are delivered from Midian, it was because there came waters by the way of the wilderness. And so I might go on. The blessed virtues of baptism are not written only in the New Testament, but in the Law, and the Psalms, and the Prophets, so that they who deny them are without excuse. It is the LORD That commandeth the waters—the rivers of the flood shall make glad the city of GOD —CHRIST'S servants shall grow up as willows by the watercourses—Balaam speaks of the Church of GOD as of cedar trees beside the waters—Job tells us that GOD cutteth out the rivers among the rocks—the promise is, I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground—the blessing is for them that sow beside all waters.

And I was the more willing to speak to you of this text to-day, because of those false teachers who have denied that we are born again in holy baptism, thus giving the lie to the HOLY GHOST, and who now, in the wise providence of GOD, are permitted to vex the Church. Of them we may well remember that which S. Paul writes of Jannes and Jambres, and be well assured, that when they have done their work, they shall proceed no further, for their folly shall be manifest to all men, as theirs also was.

In the meantime, in your patience possess ye your souls. It is hard, I know, to hear on all sides blasphemy poured forth against one of the most sacred articles of our faith. It is hard to hear the grace of GOD reviled, and the HOLY GHOST mocked, in ignorance though it be, to His face. It is hard that we can scarcely take up a common newspaper without therein finding some attack on a truth, which we hold dearer than life. Yes, as dear as eternal life, because we know that eternal life has its origin in that which is thereby set forth. But all this is yet not without its use. It should lead us to examine ourselves, and see whether we are in the faith. It should open our eyes to see—what I have partly been endeavouring to show you—how, not in the New Testament alone, but in almost every page of the Old Testament is that truth set forth, which modern unbelievers, with worse than Jewish blindness, reject. Into how great clearness of knowledge concerning the divinity of the SON of GOD was the Church led, by the Arian heresy, which so long vexed it! And not only may the like thing now happen; but many who have hitherto held baptismal regeneration indeed with their lips, but held it as a dead letter, may, under GOD, be brought to see it as it is, and so seeing it, call to mind what manner of persons they and theirs ought to be, in all holy conversation and godliness. Then will this heavy chastisement indeed fulfil its work; not joyous for the present though it be, but grievous, it may thus bring forth the peaceable fruits of righteousness in us who are exercised thereby.

His dominion shall be from sea to sea. It begins, as we have seen, at the sea of baptism; and what is that other sea, but the sea of glass which is before the throne? Or we may take it in yet a more blessed sense, the Red Sea of Martyrdom, through which the highest and greatest saints have been called to pass. But whether we or they, whether ordinary Christians or elect martyrs, still it is one King Whom we serve. His dominion shall be from sea to sea. And so the Prophet repeats it, that in the mouth of two witnesses this word also may be established. His dominions shall be from the Sea of Baptism to the Sea of Glass, and from the Flood, wherein our sins were washed away, to the world's end; yea, and beyond the world's end, even for ever and ever.

And now to GOD the FATHER, GOD the SON, and GOD the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.

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