The Last Two Sermons Preached in Christ Church, New Haven
By George Brinley Morgan, D.D., Rector, 1887-1908.
New Haven: Christ Church, 1909.
REVELATION XIV. 13.
I heard a voice from Heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours.
We are gathered together here on this All Saints morning to remember before God that great multitude of the redeemed whom no man can number, and more especially those of our own dear ones whom we have loved and lost awhile, those who once worshipped with us in this church and departed this life in God's faith and fear, those who were its benefactors and whose memorials, as visible reminders of them, are seen at every hand. Two things are told us about them in the text: first, they are blessed who die in the Lord, and second, they rest from their labors.
Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord; that is, in union with Christ. We were placed in such a state of salvation when we were made members of Christ in Holy Baptism; the risen and ascended life of Christ became then our life. And the apostle tells us as we are, each one of us, members of Christ, so we are by that fact members one of another. We are united together in a spiritual bond, knit together in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of Christ's Church, in a far closer, more real bond than that which exists [3/4] between the members of an earthly family, and that because it is spiritual and eternal.
The members of a family, brothers and sisters, are knit together because they are the children of the same parents; the same blood flows in their veins. They meet, so to speak, in their parents. Because each one is a member of the parents, so they are members one of another, knit together in the parents. But we have a far closer union than that in the Church of God. Christ's life is in us, and so we are knit together in the one life of Christ. We already sit together with Him in heavenly places, as the Apostle tells us, because we have that life within us which is there at God's right hand, and the life is drawing us up to the place which He has prepared for us.
As this bond in Christ is spiritual, as it is so close, death cannot sever it. Those who sleep in Jesus shall God bring with Him. They who sleep in Him are still united to Him. We here in the portion of the Church on earth, and they who have entered into that portion of the Church within the veil, are bound together. We are their members and they are ours, and so close is the union, the apostle tells us, that if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and if one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. In the earthly family we know something of this. If the member of a family, say a son, goes far away from home, the members left behind are every day thinking of him, every day praying for him, as he still [4/5] thinks of his father, mother, brothers and sisters at home. And if that son attains some high distinction, it is not merely the one person who receives it who is gaining the honor, but the whole family is lifted up. If, on the other hand, instead of gaining honor and distinction, this absent son had done something to disgrace his family, the fact would come to them as a crushing blow. They would say, "We do not like to meet our friends; we feel that the family is disgraced." The people at home are innocent; but yet the one member of the family is dishonored, and all the members are dishonored with it.
If that is so in the earthly family, still more is it true in the spiritual family, because the bond is closer, because the things of this world are temporal and the things that are unseen are eternal. And there is a closer relationship between us and our fellow Christians, because we meet in Christ, and death itself cannot sever the bond. If one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, and if one member be honored, all rejoice with it.
Is it not something of that which we mean when we express our belief in the Communion of Saints—the fellowship of all the baptized in the riches of the Church of God? We are not taught to say "My Father which art in Heaven," or, "Give me this day my daily bread"; but we recognize that we are simply one in a great family, that we cannot merely pray alone when we offer up that prayer to Almighty God. It is not merely something we are [5/6] doing for ourselves; but the whole Church of God, living and departed, is the richer for that prayer which we say with faith and devotion; because if one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. And so when those members of the Church of God who are passing away are still lifting up their hearts to Almighty God, still in Christ, praying to Christ, it is not merely they who are getting onward and being lifted up, but we all of us gain by each prayer that comes up from the mystical Body of Christ, because they are in the Lord.
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. It is union with Christ which brings this about. Union with Christ alone brings about the power and the acceptableness of any prayer of any member of Christ that is lifted up to the throne of grace. Prayer unites all His members, whether on earth or in Paradise, who are not apart from Him. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.
Then we go on to hear of another cause of blessedness. They are blessed that die in the Lord, yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors. Rest! Is it not rest that we all yearn for—rest, in all the turmoil of this world, in all the anxiety of this life? Everyone craves for rest, for true joy, true happiness; this is what the world is seeking—happiness. Its idea of happiness is in self-indulgence, and it never gets it. One indulgence after another people think will gain some happiness; but it never comes; there is still unrest. [6/7] We are struggling on here with temptations against sin, the world and the devil. We all long for rest; and that is one cause of blessedness in them that die in the Lord, that they may rest. But, after all, the only thing that really gives men unrest is sin. There is no rest for the wicked. There may be many things to try us in daily life; and yet there still may be, down beneath all the suffering of the surface, rest of soul; just as down in the depths of the sea there is perfect rest, although the storm ruffles the surface. Although there may be no rest in the outward things of the world, there may be a certain amount of peace of soul for those who are living in Christ. Do we know what it is to feel that smiting of conscience after a sin has been committed, and what it is, after penitence, to feel the rest that comes with the assurance of pardon and forgiveness? That is the rest in which everyone must pass out of this world if he is to gain that true rest which belongeth unto the children of God.
Those who have passed away, the faithful departed in union with Christ, have passed out of the world with the rest of having made their peace with God. And further rest have they gained that we can never gain in this life—the rest from all temptation. "O my son, if thou come to serve the Lord, prepare thy soul for temptation," says the saint of old. We know what that daily battle of temptation is if we are really trying to serve the Lord—the going forth into the world day by day with the same difficulties to strive against. [7/8] "Surely," we say, "this will cease as time goes on." But no, as we grow older, temptation is still about our path. We are to take part in the battle till the end of our life. This is the battle time of our existence. We are in the Church militant, and till we close our eyes in death we shall be in the battle. But those who have died in Christ are blessed, for they rest from the battle of temptation. They are the Church Expectant. They rest further because they know that nothing can ever separate them from their Lord. We here on earth pray that we may persevere unto the end. We pray that through our own wilfulness we may not fall away out of union with Christ. We know that "he that endureth unto the end, the same shall be saved." We know that there is a possibility through our own wilfulness of falling away. They are resting from that. They know that they have passed away in Christ, having made their peace with Him. They know that nothing can ever now pluck them out of His hand, that they are safe in Him.
Again, they have the rest of a will surrendered to the law of God. Whatever they may be passing through at the present time, whatever may hinder them from the attainment of that final joy of those who see God face to face, whatever they may endure in their souls in the way of preparation for that blessed vision—still they have the joy of a will perfectly surrendered to the Will of God. To entirely surrender our will to the Will of God, to say from the heart, Thy will be done, is almost the [8/9] hardest of our difficulties in this earthly life. That is part of our endurance of suffering here, to conform our will entirely to the Will of God. But they have the rest of having so entirely conformed their wills, and they feel themselves now wholly in His hand, for Him to do His will, knowing that there is no hindrance now to the work of God. Here on earth we put so many hindrances in the way of God. We bar the door to the Holy Spirit. But with their souls God has His own way. There is no barrier set up between God and themselves. They know that God is performing His perfect work until the day of Jesus Christ. In the midst of all the purification that is going on, their wills are surrendered—God has entire sway within their souls, to drag down any barriers that still remain between them and that perfect joy of the Vision of God.
But although the faithful departed have passed away from this life in Christ and in forgiveness, although there is complete surrender of the will, still there must be many hindrances remaining to the perfect Vision of God, to the attainment of that which is called that perfect holiness without which no man can see the Lord. How many people pass from this life who have responded to the light that shines in upon them, who are in Christ, but yet in whom we see many imperfections! How many " imperfections we are conscious of in ourselves! If we were to pass away to-night in union with Christ, how many imperfections there would be still within [9/10] us. And all these must be entirely cleared away before we can attain to the holiness without which no man can see the. Lord. The Vision of God is the end for which we have been created. To see God, to know God, to serve God forever—it is for that we were made. And what number of imperfections there must be still to be cleared away before we have attained to that holiness! How much work there must be for God to do within our souls! How could we be taken straight from this world to gaze up into the very face of the Sun of Righteousness with all our imperfections? There must be a preparation, a process of purification, before we can see the Beatific Vision. And so, without having attained to this true joy, this perfect rest, although they have attained to greater rest than we have,—we pray for those gone before that they may enjoy rest eternal, that true rest, that joy of being able to be so cleansed through and through of all sin, that they may attain that true holiness, that they may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ. Sincerity brings before us something that is tested in the sunlight; and when the soul is cleansed through and through it can be held up and tested in the light of the Sun of Righteousness, in the perfect sunlight of Him who is the Light of the world, and His image and His likeness perfectly reflected there. And so the soul will be able to gaze upon the Vision of God. That is what we are praying for,—perfect rest, and that Light eternal may shine upon them; that [10/11] they may be so cleansed as to be able to gaze into the face of the Sun of Righteousness, and so given that perfect joy and perfect rest which remaineth to the people of God.
Those who are at rest are helping us, and we are members one of another in Christ. We must help them, and so we pray that they may go on towards the attainment of their perfect joy and rest, that they may be entirely transformed into the likeness of Christ, even as we pray for ourselves. We have that power of prayer and we must exercise it; but there is something more. The more we purify our own lives, the more availing our prayers will be. Each'one who endeavors to purify his own life here will be of greater use to the mystical Body of Christ. The whole family of Christ is richer for each temptation over which we triumph; and as we purify our own lives more and more, so our prayer will have greater power: "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." It is our duty to exercise this power of prayer, and so to purify our own lives that we may be in Christ, and that Christ in us may work His work not only of transforming our own souls, but of helping others to be transformed into His likeness, that we may have the joy at last of seeing Him face to face.
Preached in Christ Church, New Haven, Sunday, Nov. 1, 1908.
S. JOHN XIV. 2. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
At this season of the year, when the Church especially directs our minds to the thought of the departed, it seems appropriate to consider the question of the intermediate state and the condition of souls in the interval between death and the final judgment. Are they conscious? Do they know what is passing on earth? Is there mutual recognition in the spiritual world? that is, does a soul, on entering the spiritual world, know intuitively all those whom it meets, as well as those whom it has known on earth? Are souls in the intermediate state in a perfect, or in an imperfect condition? Are they capable of progress, and of an increase of happiness, and can the prayers of the living benefit them? How are they employed? Are there different spheres of life in the intermediate state, as there appear to be in heaven? What do we mean by the Communion of Saints, in which we profess our belief every time we repeat the Apostles’ Creed? What is meant by the Beatific Vision?
These are questions which sometimes come unbidden into our minds, especially in seasons of sorrow and bereavement; and it may be profitable to consider them in the light of Holy Scripture as interpreted by the primitive Church; for that is the [12/13] criterion by which our Church bids us test the soundness of all doctrines or inferences which are not plainly matters of necessary faith. Let us begin with the first of the questions which we asked. Are souls conscious in the intermediate state? But for the fact that devout Christians have held the contrary opinion, it would hardly seem necessary to ask such a question, so natural is it to believe that the soul retains its consciousness in its disembodied condition. The story of Dives and Lazarus leaves us in no doubt as to what our Lord wished us to believe. The Rich Man and Lazarus and Abraham are all represented as in the full enjoyment of consciousness and mental activity. In the Transfiguration, again, we find Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus about His approaching Passion. Our Lord's promise to the penitent robber is another side-light on the subject, plainly implying consciousness on the part of disembodied souls. And St. Peter's declaration, that Jesus went and "preached unto the spirits in prison,"—that is, the generation who disregarded the preaching of Noah—is a still more emphatic assertion of the continued consciousness of the soul after death. St. Paul echoes the same belief when he desires "to depart and be with Christ, which is far better." The souls under the altar, too, in St John's vision, are conscious; for they cry for retribution on the persecutors of the church on earth, and are soothed with white robes and a message of peace. The doctrine, then, of the consciousness of the soul in the intermediate state is [13/14] attested by our natural instincts, by Holy Scripture, and by the Church of Christ throughout the world.
But are souls in Paradise conscious of what is passing on earth? Here the evidence from Holy Scripture is not so clear; it is more to be inferred. From the brief narrative of the Transfiguration we may gather that Moses and Elijah had knowledge of the Incarnation and Passion, which would seem to mean knowledge of our Lord's life on earth, past and to come. The souls under the altar were made unhappy by the continued persecution of their brethren on earth; which of course implies knowledge. It was in the invisible world, and before He joined them, that Jesus heard the conversation of the two disciples as they were walking sadly to Emmaus. And when Thomas protested that nothing would convince him of his Master's resurrection but the sight of the nail prints in His hands and the touch of the spear-wound in His side, he little knew that his words were audible in the spiritual realm and were heard by Him from whom the doubting apostle, out of the very passion of his despairing love, demanded this carnal proof of victory over death. No hint is given that this knowledge reached our Lord in the spiritual world through the medium of His divine nature. We are rather left to infer that it reached Him as knowledge of events on earth reached Samuel and Moses and Elijah, and the souls of the martyrs in Paradise.
So far, then, as Holy Scripture has shed any light upon the subject, it encourages us to believe [14/15] that departed spirits do enjoy some means of communication with the world which they have left. That also would seem to be the view of the Church always, of which we have an indication in the Trisagion: "with angels and arch-angels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious Name": and in the Article of the Creed which asserts "the Communion of Saints,"— that is, the unbroken fellowship of the Church on earth and the Church in Paradise. Notice, too, how strong a hold this view had on St. Paul's mind. In his belief the faithful on earth and the faithful in Paradise were still one" company,— "the whole family in heaven and on earth." The fact that we are not conscious of our nearness to the inhabitants of the spiritual world no more proves their absence or distance from us, than the inability of Elisha's servant to see with his natural eyes the angelic host that guarded his master proved that it was not there. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says expressly that the spirits of the departed are watching the struggles of Christians still on earth. After an eloquent summary of the sufferings and bravery of some of the souls of the Old Testament, he exclaims, "Let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." The cloud of witnesses literally means the martyrs, and evidently refers to the multitude of departed saints whose faith he had just [15/16] been eulogizing in glowing terms. He is picturing the ancient Olympic games, and the great cloud of witnesses are the spectators who are watching them with the keenest interest. It would be difficult to express more emphatically his intense realization of the closeness of the departed to us, and their lively interest in the battle against sin, the world, and the devil, in which we all are, or ought to be engaged.
The mistake we make in reasoning on such subjects is that we are apt to measure spiritual possibilities by our knowledge of natural laws. But the truth is that natural laws have no relation at all to the spiritual world. And yet, on the other hand, our experience of the laws which govern this world may help us wonderfully to realize the mysteries of the spiritual kingdom. Think, for instance, of the rapidity with which discoveries in modern physical science have enabled men to communicate with each other at immense distances. The electric wire along which messages are sent means in effect almost the annihilation of space, while wireless telegraphy and the telephone are annihilating it altogether. And these masteries of man over nature seem to be but a process to greater marvels still. Why should we then think it strange or incomprehensible that spirits should be able to hold communication with the earth which they have left, or to be able to learn the passing events of a world so full to them of varied memories? When we see the wonderful discoveries of modern physical science, why [16/17] should we find it hard to believe in the Communion of Saints—in the nearness to us of those who have simply passed out of sight?
The laws of matter do not exist for spiritual beings. For them there is no such thing as distance or nearness; they do not go from place to place by locomotion. They do not travel at all in our sense of the word; they are instantaneously wherever they wish to be. Space and time no more impede them than they impede our thought, which reaches any part of the globe in a moment. The researches of scientific men have proved that there are innumerable sights and sounds, colors and voices in this world which we inhabit, of which we are unconscious merely because we have no organs fine enough to apprehend them. A distinguished scientist says: "When we reflect that there are waves of light and sound of which our full senses take no cognizance; that there is a great difference even in human perceptivity, and that some men more gifted than their fellows can see colors and hear sounds which are invisible or inaudible to the great bulk of mankind, we can appreciate how possible it is that there may be a world of spiritual existence around us, inhabiting this" globe, enjoying the same nature. In fact, the wonders of the New Jerusalem may be in our midst, and the songs of the angelic host filling the air with their celestial harmonies, although unseen and unheard by us. Myriads of organized beings may exist, imperceptibly to our vision, even if we were among them."
 If this be true, we are never alone: the air around us is resonant with voices which we do not hear, full of beings moving to and fro whom we do not see. St. Stephen saw the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Do you suppose the dying martyr's eyes penetrated into a world beyond them? No, the heavens into which he gazed were not separated from him by distance in space, but by difference of spiritual condition; and the rift through which he beheld them was made in him, not in them! His spirit was enabled to see through its bodily tabernacle into the spiritual world. And when the persecuting Saul heard the voice of Jesus calling to him out of heaven, it was not with his bodily ears that he heard it, but with a spiritual sense.. We may reasonably conclude, then, from various intimations in the Bible, from the probabilities of the case, and from the light cast upon the subject by modern science, that souls in the intermediate state may know of what is going on in this world.
But may we go on to say that there is natural recognition in the intermediate state? Do souls arriving in the spiritual world know by intuition every one they meet? What does the Bible say? Does it encourage the hope that we shall know at once the souls we meet when we leave this earth? Can we, when our end is near, take comfort in the thought that we shall soon find ourselves in the company of those whom we have loved and lost awhile, or those of whom we have heard or read [18/19] and would in this world have liked to know? Certainly Holy Scripture encourages this hope so far as the question of recognition goes. Dives in Hades recognized at once, not only the beggar Lazarus, but Abraham also, whom he had never seen before; and the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration recognized Moses and Elijah as they talked with Jesus. There is here implied some means of recognition of which we have but faint experience now,—the touch of spirit by spirit. Very remarkable are the accounts of Christ's various appearances after His Resurrection. He was the same, yet different. Mary Magdalene did not recognize Him at the tomb even when He talked with her. She supposed that He was the gardener, till He called her by her name, and probably in the old tone of voice she remembered so well. We read that He appeared to His disciples on one occasion in another "form." And He walked and talked and argued with the two disciples who went to Emmaus without their recognizing Him until He chose to be known. When He appeared, too, on the shore of the Lake of Galilee as some of His disciples were fishing, they did not know Him, although they had seen Him twice before since His Resurrection. He spoke to them, asked them if they had any food, bade them "cast the net on the right side of the ship and they should find"—yet they knew Him not, till the disciple whom Jesus loved, with that superior sensitiveness which deeper love imparts, divined the truth and whispered it to [19/20] Peter. But it is evident that even then their recognition of Him was spiritual rather than bodily; for we read that when they joined Him on shore, "none of His disciples durst ask Him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord." That is to say, their spiritual understanding recognized Him, but His bodily form was strange to them. The Roman guards who watched His tomb for the purpose of keeping Him imprisoned, did not see Him as He passed them. To the sceptical Thomas, and even to the other disciples who were so slow to recognize Him, He exhibited the visible marks of His Passion. Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, He commanded not to touch Him. She recognized Him through the intensity of her love the moment He pronounced her name, and needed no visible or tangible proof of His identity; and accordingly no such proof was granted her. To each He appeared according to the spiritual state of each. A certain spiritual condition is necessary to the reception of spiritual truth, and the degree of light granted is regulated by the spiritual sensitiveness of the recipient. We may conclude, then, that recognition in the spiritual world will be by means of spiritual apprehension, rather than by such bodily proofs of identity as we are familiar with here, and that souls there will know each other by that kind of intuition which is independent of sense and superior to reason, and of which we have, in this world, only occasional glimpses.
Preached in Christ Church, New Haven, Sunday, Nov. 8, 1908.