A Sermon preached on Septuagesima Sunday. January 29, 1899 in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York.
By the Rev. Arthur Ritchie, rector of St. Ignatius' Church, New York.
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. --1 COR. ix. 24.
THERE were mournful days in Israel in Eli's time, more than 1,100 years before our Lord came, for the weak-natured old man who judged Israel would not restrain his godless sons, who were priests, Hophni and Phinehas, from their shameless impieties; therefore the face of the Lord was turned away from His people, and He gave them up into the hand of the Philistines. In desperation the men of Israel as a last resort against their foes brought the Ark of God from Shiloh into the camp, with the superstitious feeling that as some mighty talisman it would overcome all the power of the Philistines. It was a vain hope, for so soon as the battle was joined Israel was defeated with great slaughter, the two sons of Eli, those wicked priests who had gone with the Ark to the front, were slain, and the Ark itself was taken by the enemy. In the city, not far from the battlefield, blind old Eli was waiting trembling for news of the fight, for his heart misgave him.
When the messenger came and told him all, so soon as he heard that the Ark had been taken by the Philistines, he fell back from his seat, his neck broke, and he died. In the same city was the young wife of one of those wicked priests, and she was with child. When the grievous tidings came to her, she bowed herself in travail, and as she gave birth to the child she died, only having time to declare that his name should be Ichabod--that is, without glory--for she said, "The glory is departed from Israel," because the Ark of God was taken and because of her father-in-law and her husband.
I. Many times since the days of that unhappy Hebrew wife, men and women in God's Church have been wont to cry, "Ichabod, the glory is departed from Israel." You remember how it was in Elijah's day, when wicked Jezebel sought his life because he had slain the prophets of Baal. He cried in his misery, "The children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to take it away." As a matter of fact we know that it was not nearly so bad as discouraged Elijah felt it to be. God replied, "I have left me seven thousand in Israel, which have not bowed unto Baal." Again how grievous was the state of God's people in Jeremiah's day just before they were carried away captive to Babylon. Piteous, indeed, is the lamentation of the prophet who dearly loved his native laud; "I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of His wrath." Yet we know it was for only seventy years that God so sorely chastised His rebellious people, and then with great lovingkindness He brought them back to their own country again. They were to fall still more impiously when they should crucify the Lord of glory, yet there was to be hope even after that climax of iniquity. Israel was to be restored, not indeed as of old, but on larger lines, in a broader sphere of existence. The prophet represents the bereaved mother as hearing her children cry, "The place is too strait for me: give place to me that 1 may dwell. Then shalt thou say in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? And who hath brought up these? Behold I was left alone; these, where had they been? " For the promise of the Lord God has never failed of fulfilment. He had said, "The remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward"; and this we know that He brought to pass in the establishment of the Catholic Church.
II. The same law of life has held good in her case as in that of Israel of old. The dark days come, when men in their despair cry out, "Ichabod, the glory is departed from Israel "; nevertheless, He has His own way of reviving His Church and of sending her on her way rejoicing. She has to stop, however, for a little space to take new root downward in order that she may bear fruit upward. It is the law of nature. The trees must die in the autumn, to all outward appearance, yet so soon as the springtime has come they are found only to have taken deeper root in the ground, while they seemed to be dead, in order that they might bear more abundant fruit on their branches than they had ever borne before. How grievously in the fourth century did the whole Church suffer from the Arian heresy, supported so often by the whole power of the secular arm. Athanasius seemed to stand against the world. Again in the fifth century the onslaught of the barbarians in the West appeared to take away all hope for Christianity, and two centuries later the East was similarly threatened by the armies of the false prophet. In the West, in the tenth century, the Church of Christ seemed to have sunk into the extremity of degradation, shameless women governing the Church of Rome, and putting into the papal chair their infamous creatures to rule as the vicars of Christ. It is not wonderful that many looked for the end of the world at that time, so frightful was the triumph of iniquity. At later periods, though perhaps not to the same terrible degree, the gates of hell appeared to be prevailing against the Church, and devout men everywhere were crying Ichabod. Nevertheless the Bride of Christ was but taking root downward that she might bear more abundant fruit upward.
1. In our own times the Catholic movement in the Anglican Communion has passed through similar experiences. One cannot read such a life as that of Pusey and not marvel at the wonders which God hath wrought. Beginning so well, so fairly, with the sun of popular approval shining upon them, the Tractarians bore onward their glorious standard with highest enthusiasm. But presently the dark days came; the authorities were alarmed, the rank and file of the Church were roused to a fury of distrust, and sharp persecution assailed the movement. Newman cowered before the storm; he cried Ichabod, and fled to Rome, with an host of terrified followers in his train. Yet the Catholic revival was not slain, nor even grievously maimed, by that miserable defection. It went on to accomplish greater things than Newman had ever dreamed of in the Anglican Church. One autumn day the Bishop of London sent Dean Stanley to St. Alban's, Holborn, to see just what Father Mackonochie was doing there, and to report. "Well," said his lordship, "Mr. Dean, what did you see?" "My lord," replied the dean, "I saw three men in green, and those three men in green are going to trouble the Church of England sorely." I need not detail to you the history of the Catholic movement in the old country; you know how it has gained point after point at the cost of persistent persecution by determined perseverance, and how, when each fresh wave of assault has swept over it, it has risen from the storm stronger and more assured in its position than ever.
2. In our own country the conditions are not nearly the same. We do not take church matters so seriously here as they do on the other side, and it is a pity that we do not. We escape persecution to a great extent, but we lose the earnestness and reality of life which persecution develops. The Catholic movement would be far stronger in the American Church to-day if some of us had been tried and punished for our fancied misdoings. We are looking with dismay upon the strength and ominous front of Broad Churchmanship, and it is good that we should be disquieted concerning it, for it is full of mischief to souls. Nevertheless, we need not fear it as a permanent factor of opposition to the development of the Catholic faith and practice among us, for it will soon spend itself, and its power will wane. Broad Churchman-ship has no strength except in destruction. It can demolish the old faith and the old Bible wonderfully, but when the work of demolition is complete it has no new structure to raise upon the ruins of the old. And then men begin to find out that in the stead of religion it will not do; religion must be constructive, not destructive. Nevertheless, we cannot but feel painfully how weak the Catholic cause still is in our Church in this country, and therefore we bewail with more than ordinary mourning the taking away from us in their full manhood of great leaders of the movement, the strong towers upon whom we all had learned to depend.
III. It is right that we should mourn for the fall of our chiefs. "Devout men carried Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation over him." Yet we ought not to lose heart. The onward progress of the Catholic life of the Church is too great to be seriously crippled because the noblest and best-beloved of its leaders are so taken from us into the land which is above. God finds others to take up and go on with His work here below. I know your Rector Elect well. I have known him for more than thirty years. He is tried and true. The good work so well begun here will not languish under him, but will go on to yet greater things than the past has seen. One cannot help contrasting the course of our Bishops in these days with what it was thirty years ago. Then there was narrow timidity, a great dread of anything looking to the bringing of our Anglican Communion into touch with the historic Churches of Christendom. Now we are very grave and dignified about it all. Now we talk bravely of Catholic antiquity, and love to fraternize with the venerable Popes of the Orthodox East. When the Bishops in their quadrilateral insisted upon the Historic Episcopate as fundamental to all true Christian unity, they sounded the knell of the hopes of Protestantism in our Communion. We are more and more sure every year that the progress of the American and English Churches toward a sound and healthy Catholic life is irresistible. What we are learning besides, and what some of us who are getting older have found it hard to learn, is that the result is too great to be achieved speedily. The Catholicizing of the Anglican Communion is assured, but it is not going to be completely effected in the first decade of the twentieth century, even though we should get so far as to drop the name Protestant Episcopal. It is a great thing to feel that the procession is moving on and that we are having our part in it. But there is danger always of our forgetting that the individual cannot evade his individuality. We are modest very often and would like to avoid ever coming into prominence; we would escape the eyes of men, and perhaps, indeed, we may be able to do that, but we must not forget the eye of God.
IV. The Apostle in the epistle for to-day cries: "Know ye not that they which run in a race, run all; but one receiveth the prize?" There is great comfort, I think, in the reflection that the celestial race is different from the races of this world. Here it is literally true that there must ever be competition, rivalry. There are but a few prizes, and for every man who obtains there are hundreds who lose. There is nothing more miserable in life than the envyings and hatreds and despairings which are caused by the fierce struggle ever going on for this world's goods. Each one knows that if he is to secure them he must do so at the cost of his fellows, and so suspicion and lying and treachery and violence encompass all our secular life. But in the race for heaven there can be no rivalry of one with another, unless it be the rivalry of self-denial, each one seeking to give place to his fellow, that he may the more closely follow our Lord. Howbeit there is a sense in which the Apostle's words apply very strikingly to the true Christian life. We may all, indeed, win the prize, for God's good things are not limited, yet we are to try for that prize, one by one, and one by one we are to be called forth to receive our recompense, whether of success or of failure. So we might paraphrase the text thus: Know ye not that they which run in a race run all together, but one by one they receive the prize? We shall not probably live, any of us, to see the end of the great warfare of the Church with the powers of evil, after the sore days of Antichrist. We shall not probably, any of us, live to behold the full triumph of Catholic principles in our own Communion. Yet we may live our lives in calm confidence that all such triumphs of our Lord's cause are surely to come in His good time. We can afford to be patient, to endure whatever hardness be our lot in bearing our part in the struggle. We can afford to be unmoved in our certainty as to the right of that side we have espoused; and there is great comfort in this.
V. Howbeit we ought not to overlook the individual part which each one plays in the great onward movement of the Church. We believe in vocations, not only for priests, but for laymen as well. God has not put any one of us into His Church without a definite purpose for us there, and that we might accomplish a work peculiarly assigned to ourselves as individuals. And we are greatly concerned to make sure that one by one, as individuals, we shall receive the prize of the faithful. We think of the brave and loyal priest to whom we looked up, whom all admired, and we mourn his taking away; we dwell lovingly upon the various features of his life-work as we have personally known it. We are amazed at the magnitude of what he accomplished. We knew that he was a great worker, a tireless pastor, yet all was done so systematically, so unobtrusively, so humbly, that we did not realize the volume of his doing. But he put all that aside when he went forth from the poor wearied body. Bright angels bore his wondering soul far from the scenes of this world of sense before the great white throne, There in the presence of the awful but most gracious Judge was the account of his life rendered; the hidden life--such as he was in that secret realm in which so much of our true being is spent, a mysterious mansion to which only God has the key, and of which we open the door so far as we will to those to whom we choose to give our confidence. Not the great work done, not the many trials borne, come at that judgment most into evidence, but rather the heart's desires and secret thoughts, the yearnings of penitence, the deep thrillings of true love for the dear Lord. In the hush of that high and sombre tribunal the hidden truth of each man's inner self is all laid bare, and but one receiveth the prize of God's elect--that one, every one, who has lived in genuine loyalty to the divine good pleasure for him. Aye, truly, they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize. There is the same searching judgment for every one.
1. But for the priest there must be such keen and sharp inquiry, inasmuch as he was chosen to live very close to God. You look upon his life and it may seem to you very pure and unselfish, wholly devoted and most completely surrendered to the Master's will. But the priest himself knows better. He cannot forget what he ought to be, as an angel of God in sanctity, in ardor of love; and then what he is in his worldliness, in his unspiritual subjection to the natural desires and appetites. He cannot forget his miserable shepherding of the sheep, his unworthy living as an example to the flock. As he kneels before the Judge in his daily heart-searching, heavy with the consciousness of utter unworthiness, he cries in the solemn words of the Office for the Dead, "How many are mine iniquities and sins? Make me to know my transgression and my sin"; and his deep soul-prayer is every day that he may not die impenitent: "Lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
2. The layman has no such fearful responsibility as the priest, yet it must be true that those who have been vouchsafed the knowledge of the Catholic faith and given so freely every opportunity to avail themselves of the privileges of the Catholic religion, shall be judged with far stricter judgment than those who have not been permitted by the Lord God to appreciate these things. We are so apt to come to look upon our churches and our beautiful services and the frequently administered sacraments as so many delightful accessories of our religion, which we are grateful for, and not to reflect upon the immense responsibility which such privileges entail. We run in the race, all of us jubilantly, eagerly, for we like our religion; it appeals to us in many ways. We ought never to forget, however, that only one can receive the prize--the one whose deep, inner-heart loyalty can endure the sharp test of the high judgment of God.
VI. The Apostle ends his solemn warning with a gracious word of encouragement and a little fatherly lesson of practice drawn from his own actual life. "So run that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. ... I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." It is a good spirit with which to begin Lent, as we so soon shall--the spirit of a great discouragement about ourselves, in the consciousness that we have made so poor a showing thus far in the race of life. Here they come on the home-stretch, the great crowd of athletes, running like the wind; bold, gallant leaders, sure to win prizes, but alas, so many behind them lagging on the course, sure to miss the reward of good runners. They are not half bad sort of people, but they do not try to keep under the body and to bring it into subjection. They cannot win prizes more easily than the Apostle, and he was heroic in his training. It is good to be deeply discouraged about ourselves, while we are full of undying hope for the Church. And if our discouragement shall stimulate us to fresh efforts of self-denial, we may find that the mortifications of our self-discipline shall be a taking root downward, in order that we may bear fruit upward. Then we shall be in a fair way indeed to find place among the prize-winners.