Project Canterbury

Are You Being Converted?

A Course of Sermons on Serious Subjects.
by Alexander Penrose Forbes, D.C.L.

Bishop of Brechin.

London: Joseph Masters, Aldersgate Street, 1856.

2 TIM. II. 8.


THE discipline of Lent is now over, and the Church begins to rejoice with her risen Spouse. The life of JESUS in humiliation is over, the life of JESUS in glory is begun. Lent has been the type of our pilgrim-life on earth,--Easter that of our happy home in heaven. Lent has been the recollection of the suffering life of our Blessed LORD, Easter is the celebration of Him, as He is now, surrounded by the countless myriads of adoring angels, the centre of a whole universe of worship, "the chiefest among ten thousand," the Lamb that was slain, and who now stands in the midst of the celestial Sion with His hundred and forty and four thousand, who have His FATHER'S Name written in their foreheads; the great High Priest of the new law, who in the glittering pontificals of righteousness and judgment grasps the censer of the prayers of the saints, and, corresponding with the Sacraments of the Church on earth, for ever reminds that FATHER of His adorable Passion, and moves Him to look upon the face of His Anointed.

As in Lent we were called upon to sorrow with that holy LORD, and for the sins within us, that had done Him to an ignominious death, so now we are called upon to rejoice with Him risen from the base and squalid tomb, for the bright prospect that lies before the Christian, and for the earnest of that prospect which he gets by faith and obedience here. Yet, alas! frail mortals as we are, it is better to go into the house of mourning than into that of feasting; we are less likely to offend GOD when we are "brought very low," than when we ''rejoice and be glad." In other words, there is a danger of relaxation, lest we lose the improvement we made during Lent by want of watchfulness now; lest we weaken and unspiritualize our whole selves, and find that instead of going forward we are going backward. Many have found this, and their Easter day has thus soon been darkened by sin, and the bright season of life, the bright fresh spring whose outward beauty is but the type of the inward renewal of spiritual vigour, which it brings to the devout soul, has become a season of death and decay, of the loss of graces, of the weakening of the soul, of the quenching of the Paschal light, of the withering of the sweet flowers which deck the altar of the heart at holy festivals.

And yet this ought not to be, for as at the time the glorious rising of our LORD brought confusion to His enemies, as well as triumph to His chosen ones, so now the remembrance of the resurrection while it gladdens the hearts both of innocents and penitents, only adds fresh condemnation to those who in spite of all that has been done for them still live on in worldly ways. For the resurrection is the pattern of the spiritual resurrection of our souls, and constrains us to live a new life, a life holy and godly. Our adorable SAVIOUR was delivered up to death for our offences and raised again for our justification. His resurrection was a passing from death unto life; ours must be a resurrection from sin unto grace, from vice to virtue, from self-love to Divine love, from the inclinations of the old man to those of the new. For "we have been buried with Him by Baptism unto death, that like as CHRIST was raised up from the dead by the glory of the FATHER, even so we also should walk in newness of life."

Our souls must therefore acquire within them the qualities that are found in His glorious Body, impassibility, agility, subtlety, bright and dazzling beauty. We must show it has such power over our passions as to seem exempt from them and to have wholly lost them. We must apply ourselves without weariness to all that regards the service of GOD and the practice of good works. We must courageously pass through all difficulties which hinder our perfection, and adopt a way and conduct rather spiritual and angelic than corporal and human. Finally, the inward light of the HOLY SPIRIT must enlighten our understanding, filling it with the knowledge of things Divine, with the light and dazzling beauty of holiness.

Let us dwell more upon this thought. The attributes of the risen humanity of our LORD are to be displayed in our humanity, if we would become worthy of the eternal Easter of heaven. The LORD broke through the closed doors of the tomb in the same body in which He was born into the world, and in which He suffered on the cross. When He commended His spirit into the hands of the FATHER His innocent and sinless soul descended into hell, while His holy body remained upon the tree. For a time they were separated, but the Divinity which was united to His manhood continued united both to His body and to His soul. It was GOD'S soul which descended to the shades, and it was GOD'S body that was laid in the tomb. It was GOD'S soul that went down to triumph over the devil and the wicked spirits, it was GOD'S body that was rolled in the fine linen. It was GOD'S soul that preached to the souls in prison, which sometime were disobedient, and which opened the kingdom of heaven to all the believers who had with sighs and earnest desires been waiting for Him; it was GOD'S body that was embalmed with spices by the devout care of the holy women. And when according to the old prophecy "after three days I will revive Him," and in correspondence with the announcement of our LORD Himself, part of these days had passed, His glorious soul returned to quicken His body in the tomb, He miraculously reunited it to that body which He restored to life, feeling, colour, strength, and motion; and shaking off the linen clothes and the napkin in which It had been enveloped, and endowing it with new glory, He burst from the tomb, triumphing over death, and sin, and hell.

As then during His days of suffering, He existed as perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting, so after a temporary separation of these He again stood upon earth with the same united, He now spoke with a human voice as before, He could render Himself palpable to the touch of the doubting Thomas, He could eat a broiled fish and a honeycomb to convince His disciples of His identity, but He had besides this acquired certain other properties of mysterious and strange significance. As the Apostle says, He was raised "a spiritual body." He was no longer subject to all the laws of matter. He was anticipating the session of His glorious Body at the right hand of GOD.

First of all His Body was impassible. Death had no more dominion over Him. The common accidents that occur to mortal man ceased to have effect upon Him. The divine nature which is essentially free from passion, for the ALMIGHTY changeth not, nor repenteth, had communicated its virtue to the instrument of man's redemption. He did not now hunger, and thirst, and be weary, neither did He live as He formerly did with His disciples; He now secluded Himself from them; appeared to them only on set occasions, and at strange times; and where He spent the rest of His times besides the various visits to the disciples, when He showed Himself manifestly to them, has not been revealed to us. Now this superiority over the laws of matter which was illustrated in the LORD'S Body, must also be shadowed forth in the disciples of that ascended LORD, i.e. we are not to change our identities, but we are to be transformed as It was. The body of the LORD was the same body as it was before, but it had now a change of circumstance. And so with the Christian. Retaining his identity, carrying along with him the peculiarities of temper, disposition, and turn of mind, which GOD has given him, the Christian is to be renewed in the spirit of his mind. All that is earthy in him must be rarefied and made subservient to the heavenly. He must etherealize his nature, destroy the grosser particles which bind him to the things of this earth, and by means of prayer, and contemplation, and conversation in heaven, dwell in heavenly places with CHRIST, must seek those things which are above, where CHRIST sitteth at the right hand of GOD.

The next power of the LORD'S Body was Its agility, or power of passing through space in an incredibly short time. We find that within a few hours He was in Galilee and Judea. We find Him in one moment at a supper at Emmaus, at the next in an assembly of the disciples at Jerusalem. We find Him conveying Himself super -naturally away from Mary in the garden, and passing through closed doors as if matter had no influence upon Him.

To this also, the Christian must be conformed in spirit. His soul must be ever ready for its LORD'S behests. He must make up his mind that the service of GOD for which he was created demands an exacting obedience. CHRIST'S claim upon us cannot be compromised. We must labour, strive, run, that we may enjoy, conquer, attain. Now do think of this, my dear brethren. How many of us are content to sit still if so be that we keep ourselves free from mortal sin. We are content with moral lives. A man who is unmarried argues, "I never get drunk, or exceed the bounds of decency, I never break in outward act the seventh commandment, therefore I am a good Christian." The householder says, "I go to Church of a Sunday, I have family prayer, I make my children learn their lessons, I do not violate the rules of my companions in business, therefore I am in a state of grace." The mother of a family says, "It is true that I think little about religion, but I have so much to do, and I am no worse than my neighbours, and, I believe in my secret heart, a great deal better than many who make more show, therefore I am sure to go to heaven." Or a younger person may say, "I know that I idle away a great deal of my time, I spend much thought upon my dress, I am fond of admiration, but then I keep my position in society, and when I get older I shall have time to think more, and why should I trouble myself about these things? People will give me a nickname if I go to daily service, or visit the poor, and in the meantime I will just not trouble my mind about the matter, but trust in the merits of JESUS CHRIST."

My brethren, can you honestly say that such thoughts as these have not passed through your minds unchecked? And I ask you, how are such thoughts as these compatible with the practice of the religion of our risen JESUS? O! I beseech you, put away such vain and deceitful imaginations. Be sure that if you would go to heaven you must have both faith and love; you must believe something, you must do something. You must accept bitter incomprehensible mysterious truths, which revolt against your intellects, and shock the pride of your understandings; you must labour along the thorny path of holy obedience and strict principle, and earnest diligent prayerful advance, if you would allow to shine forth in your LORD the agile properties of the Body of your ascended LORD. O may that LORD shine in your hearts; may He teach you what you have to do, and give you grace to do it. May He move your hearts to a really religious life of love to Him, and care of His poor, and devotion to His service, and piety, and peace, and righteousness.

The third power of our LORD'S Body was its subtile and ethereal nature. No obstacle overcame it. No closed doors were a bar to it. He could at His will enter the most secret chamber. In a moment He could withdraw Himself from the beholder's eyes. Now this typifies to us the nature of a soul really in earnest about its SAVIOUR'S service. Every one must have confessed with shame and sorrow the degree with which they have allowed themselves to be daunted by the external or internal difficulties that beset their Christian course. Difficulty and disheartening failure generally attends every effort in GOD'S service. So much so that one suspects a cause which has the smile of the world bestowed upon it. Satan lets things go on as they are when no effort is made; the moment, however, a real energetic effort to cast off his toils is made, or the moment an attack upon his kingdom is determined, he puts forth his power and raises obstacles and difficulties, and by his command over this lower world creates many hindrances in the way of well doing. This may be illustrated either from within or without. What good cause ever yet prospered without being persecuted? What true religious opinions ever yet prevailed among men without experiencing opposition? Look at the revival of religion in the last twenty years, look at the course of the progress of Christianity! And so with regard to ourselves, when did we ever get rid of a bad habit without a severe struggle, and many disheartening falls? when did we ever carry out a virtuous resolution without a great battle with the evil one? How many have fallen after their confirmation, or more awful still, after their first communion, because Satan overcame them in their effort to free themselves from his snaky folds!

An undaunted spirit in the things of the soul is a great grace to be prayed for from GOD. And it is astonishing how plentifully GOD accords it if it be earnestly sought after. Evil habits, that seemed almost ingrained in our nature, have been rooted out. Graces, so absolutely contrary to the natural disposition as to excite the wonder of all, have been acquired; and in external difficulties, obstacles have vanished away before the omnipotence of prayer; and the feeblest and the weakest instruments have been employed by the Hand of GOD for the first of purposes. Do not then be disheartened by the length and the steepness of the way before you. There is one That can supply you with a rod and a staff. He will lighten your burden, and give you refreshment. Only trust in Him, and distrust yourselves. Fear, in order that you need not fear.

The last property of the Body of the Risen LORD which must be reflected in our souls, was its dazzling beauty. Although in His Passion it was prophesied of Him that He should have no form nor comeliness, although the care, and the sorrow, and the troubles of the LORD which He endured from His youth up had so worn Him that the Jews took Him for nearly fifty years old when He was in the prime of youth, yet doubtless there shone forth in Him some fulfilment of those prophecies on which the minds of the devout Jews rested. "My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand. His head is as the fine gold. His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters. His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers. His lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh" Doubtless as goodness enlightens the homeliest features, that quality, in its perfection, beamed forth from His worn and gentle Countenance. Doubtless the Majesty of Almighty GOD reigned on His lofty brow; doubtless the uncreated-Wisdom of the FATHER spoke from His dovelike Eyes;-doubtless the love of the FATHER, with which He had been anointed, rested on those lips full of grace. Yes, fairer than the sons of men, He doubtless exhibited in His Sacred Person the outward evidences of those eternal qualities and attributes of love and power which had ever existed in GOD; and in the fragile form, for He was to "grow up as a tender plant" we see the manifestation of that everlasting Beauty of GOD, which is so lovely in nature, its dimmest out-shadowing, and so amiable in grace, its more decided image, and which never realized by the mind of man, though oft dreamed of in the poet's vision, at last found a fitting exhibition in the Person of the Sweet Son of the Virgin of Nazareth.

My brethren, we do not think sufficiently of the exquisite beauty of the SON of GOD. We do not dwell in spirit sufficiently on that royal but marred Form which is the object of our adoration. Did we behold Him in very presence, would not our hearts be drawn after Him? why then are we so slow of heart to believe? why so cold in realizing what is placed before us, by our most holy faith? If you thought more of this, you would cling less to those perishable objects by which you surround yourselves. You would find in Him a friend, more true, more loving, more worthy of affection than the vain, deceitful children of men. You would meet in Him that which alone can satisfy the heart and soul--the embodiment of that mysterious perfection, for which the heart pants, and rests not, till it rest in it.

And this beauty of GOD must, in its degree, be shown forth in your souls. This loveliness of the Risen SAVIOUR must be symbolized in you who are "of His Body, of His Flesh, and of His Bones." And think not, in spite of the lowering cares and degrading circumstances of human frailty, that this is beyond you; for exquisitely fair is the sight of a soul in grace, adorned with the jewels of the LORD. Think not, because you are doomed to disease and death, and liable to sin, that you may not yet, in the end, shine forth as the Angels. At present all creation groaneth and travaileth; but there is a bright day of resurrection in store for us--the day of the restoration of all things--the great Easter-day of Eternity. And meanwhile, in expectation of that blessed time, (the day which the LORD hath made, the day of days, the consummation of the elect) it is our bounden duty to remember how that day is hastened or retarded by the way we individuals live now. The elect must be gathered ill before the consummation of all things: are we making our calling and election sure? The jewels of the LORD must be made up: are we contributing our individual living stone to the celestial diadem of CHRIST? The Church must be presented to her Spouse without any spot or wrinkle, or any such thing: are we, by the beauty of goodness and the loveliness of truth, contributing to her adornment?


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