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The Church in Bondage

By R. A. Hilary Knox
Chaplain Fellow of Trinity College Oxford

London: The Society of SS. Peter and Paul, 1914.

Sermon 8. Sexagesima

AS IT WAS IN THE DAYS OF NOAH, SO SHALL IT BE ALSO IN THE DAYS OF THE SON OF MAN. These words are written in the twenty-sixth verse of the seventeenth chapter of the holy Gospel according to Luke.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[50] This is one of those cases, dear brethren, in which we have a special warrant, from our Lord's own lips, for understanding one of the events of the Old Testament as a type of the future; and for drawing from it a lesson suitable to our own altered times and circumstances. We might be tempted to ask, What has the story of Noah, and the Flood, and the Ark, got to do with us nowadays? And the answer is, that Jesus himself explained to us, how the world in these last days, with its wanton carelessness about God, its worldly and sensual ideals, its thoughtless and reasonless unbelief, is like nothing so much as the days of Noah, when men ate and drank and married and were given in marriage, with the great peril of the Deluge hanging every moment over their heads.

Let us never forget that when Jesus Christ talks of the end of the world being at hand, it applies every bit as much to our own time as it did to the time at which he was speaking. Whether the end of the world is coming to-morrow, or a thousand years hence, or a million years hence, it should be all the same to us: it is our duty as Christians to live each day as if Christ would come to-morrow, to live in constant remembrance that this world is not the real world, that the fashion of it passes away, that our affections are to be set, not on things of the earth, but on the things above. We have to remember that even our harmless amusements--eating, and drinking, and marrying, and giving in marriage,--what could be more harmless than these?--are not the important things: that our true life lies elsewhere, that a trivial accident, a tiny microbe, a false step in the street, or a wrong signal on a railway line, may land us at any moment in eternity. And this is what the world around us is forgetting, it is losing its sense of the nearness of eternity. We in England have gone on too long now without a dangerous war or a devastating plague to wake us up. The world is to-day, to that extent, as the world was in the days of Noah.

[51] And if the world of Noah corresponds to the world Xx. of our day, what corresponds to the Ark? There is only one answer we can give, that either common sense or Christian tradition will allow us to give. Amid the terrible dangers that surround us, of sin in this world, and judgment in eternity, God has provided us with an Ark, the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was Noah that built the Ark, but it was God who told him: how to. And it was the holy Apostles who laid the foundations of the Church, but it was the holy Spirit guiding and inspiring them who told them how to found it. And if you hear anybody argue that the Church is a human institution, and therefore no part of the true Christian religion, you can point out to them that the Ark was a human institution in the same sense, but it was seaworthy when other human institutions were not. And you will notice that holy Scripture says, when Noah had gone into the Ark, the Lord shut him in. Just so the Church is shut in by God from outside, not by man from inside. And if you hear people saying that the Church is too exclusive, that we shut out from ourselves many good people, who don't quite see eye to eye with us in matters of religion, you can point out to them that it was God, not man, who shut Noah up in the Ark, and it was God, not man, who fenced in our Church with sacraments and ceremonies. It was not a Christian, but Christ himself, who said, "Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God." It was not a Jesuit, but Jesus himself, who said, "Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his Blood, ye have no life abiding in you."

The reason why so many people were drowned in the Flood, instead of saved in the Ark, was because they never even tried to get in. And the reason why the Church is so small, compared with the number of the people in the world, is because so many people will not even try to get into the Church. It has become very fashionable nowadays to write books and magazine articles, asking why it is that the Church is out of touch [51/52] with the nation. I think that is putting it the wrong way about, the question is why the nation is out of touch with the Church. You might as well ask why it was the Ark was out of touch with the world: the point was that the world was out of touch with the Ark. The chief reason why people stay away from Church now is because they think it old-fashioned, and they want to be in the swim. And doubtless there were people who stayed outside the Ark because they wanted to be in the swim. And they were, too, before they knew what had happened.

All the objections that are raised to the Church nowadays would have been raised against the Ark. The people who refuse to join the Church because the Church cuts you off from the world, would have refused to join the Ark because the Ark cut you off from the world.

The people who think the Church is no use, because the world is getting better and better every day anyhow, would have thought the Ark unnecessary because every morning the rain seemed certain to stop. And probably people would have made themselves patent collapsible boats to escape the Deluge, just as they make themselves patent collapsible religions nowadays, Spiritualism and Christian Science, and so on, to escape from the sense of sin and the fear of death. And of course, from the point of view of a person who didn't believe the flood was coming, the Ark must have looked a very foolish and awkward object: what could look more foolish than a man setting out to build a huge boat with no water to float it in? Just so, to people who do not believe in sin and the punishment of sin, the Church looks foolish and awkward. But it is another thing when you look at it in the light of eternity.

Of course, I know it is possible to point to people outside the Church who live good lives, and earnestly desire to find out the truth, and even have a strong religion of their own. Of course it is not easy to think of souls such as these being lost; and indeed we may well believe there will be many people, who have [52/53] never in their lives consciously served Christ, to whom it will be said at the last day, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." But that doesn't alter the plain fact that there is only one set of terms on which salvation is offered to us, only one Name whereby we must be saved, only one Church founded by Jesus Christ with special promises of his grace. If he has shown to us, in our holy religion, the way to get into the kingdom of heaven by the front door, what is the point of trusting to our chances of scrambling in at the last moment through the pantry window?

I don't know if you've ever reflected why it is that everybody refers to a ship, not as "it," but as "she." We don't--that's to say the ordinary person doesn't--talk about a train, or a motor-car, or an electric dynamo as "she." And I suppose that the reason is this: with all these modern inventions we feel that they are deliberately leading us into danger, flying in the face of Providence. But with a ship it is just the other way; we feel that at every moment it is saving us from destruction, that if it were not for these few planks we should be swimming about in a hopeless struggle for our lives. We have a sense of motherly protection: every ship, at any rate to an island people like ourselves, is an Ark. And it is the same feeling which we have about the Church, which makes us say, "The Church demands this of her members," or "The Church claims that for her doctrines," not "its members," or "its doctrines." The Church, like a ship, is something that compasses us round, and buoys us up, and makes us feel comfortable when we are all the time so close to the deep water-floods of iniquity. We speak of the Church as "she," not merely because she is the Bride of Christ, but because she is our Mother; she teaches us and feeds us and disciplines us; she has a mother's tender heart for us, when we come and confess to her our wayward disobedience; she carried us on her breast when we were children, and in her arms we hope to die.

[54] In the three Sundays before Lent, we have the stories of three great patriarchs, Adam, Noah, and Abraham. Adam represents to us the state in which Jesus found us--damnation. Noah represents the gift he brought to us--salvation. Abraham, when we read of his going out, not knowing whither he went, represents what God demands of us in return--our vocation. In entering upon Lent, we must not forget how precious was the means of our salvation, a wooden instrument like the Ark, the Wood of the holy Cross on which our Savour suffered.

"Thou alone wast counted worthy this world's ransom to uphold,
For a shipwrecked race preparing Refuge, like the Ark of old."

We must not forget, I say, the bitter Wood from which the carpenter's son fashioned us this second Ark of Salvation, our Holy Mother the Church. And as we remember our sins, our wanderings from his grace, and recognize how perilous are the waters of sin, how little rest they really offer for the soles of our feet, we must be ready to come back, like the wandering dove, and demand fresh entrance into the Ark by the Sacrament of holy Penance before our Easter Communion. As the dove came back with the olive-branch in her mouth, so we must come back with an olive branch, a branch of penitence plucked from the Mount of Olives, where we shall have watched our Saviour enduring his bitter Agony, his Bloody Sweat. May he grant us all the grace of perseverance, that the waters of this world may not drown us, nor the stream go over our soul, till we come at last to the heavenly Mountain where the Church will be at rest for evermore; till we see, like the rainbow which God showed to Noah, the rainbow round about the throne, which shall be a sign to us that sin and death are to be no more, because the former things are passed away; till we see our Saviour, who walked dryshod upon the water, there on the other side, and Mary, the Star of our troubled Sea, shining brightly to welcome her children in the glory of her Son.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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