Project Canterbury

The Realization of God's Presence

By William Mercer Grosvenor

New York: no publisher, 1916.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2010

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee: how much less this house that I have builded?"--I KINGS VIII. VS. 27.

"Whither shall I go from thy spirit, or whither shall I go then from thy presence? If I climb up into heaven thou art there: if I go down to hell thou art there also. If I take the wings of the morning, and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there also shall thy hand lead me and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say Peradventure the darkness shall cover me; then shall my night be turned to day."--PART OF THE 139th PSALM.

GOD is everywhere. And if God is everywhere, we can think of Him and commune with Him and pray to Him and realize His presence everywhere. God is Spirit and they who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth, and spirit and truth are in the hearts and minds of men, so that the prophet could say, "For thus saith the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place with Him that is of a contrite and humble spirit to revive the spirit of the humble and to revive the spirit of the contrite ones."

The meaning of Christianity is [3/4] Emmanuel, God with us. St. Paul said, "For me to live is Christ." Every moment of his life, everywhere, under all circumstances and under all conditions, he is in the presence of the Risen Christ, who is with His disciples always, even unto the end of the ages. The Holy Spirit, who is like the wind blowing where it listeth, permeating and inspiring all things, everywhere takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto us, He bears witness with our spirits that we are the sons of God.

Now all that is the commonplace of religion, and the fundamental idea of Christian teaching, so that we are glad to agree at once with any man, who says to us that he finds God in nature, that he can worship Him in the forests and in the fields, that God's way is in the sea, and that in the daily work, the trivial task, the ordinary experiences of joy and sorrow, he can commune with His Heavenly Father: that often in silence and isolation, in the mystic mood of inward contemplation, in the secret and unuttered aspirations of his prayers, he finds God and learns how to conquer life's evil and to do the divine will.

[5] Thousands of people never go to church. Thousands never think of it; it just does not occur to them, nor enter into the routine of their lives. Thousands go to church occasionally, when it is convenient. Thousands tell you that the churches do not appeal to them, that they are too formal, or too aristocratic, or too tiresome, or too expensive; that the creeds are outworn; the liturgies archaic; the music uninspiring; the preaching dull and without any vital message for their intellectual and spiritual life; or they do not believe, and so they do not care to trouble themselves. They work hard during the week, Sunday is the one day when they can rest and take exercise, and enjoy an outing with their families. They seem to get on very well without the Church, and if they need any religion they can get it in God's beautiful universe, in sky and field and in the happiness of their normal and natural human life. We know the arguments, and how many, even of Christ's disciples, begin to make excuse.

God is everywhere, and we can worship Him everywhere, and pray always, everywhere. We grant the argument at once; the point is conceded. But we [5/6] must ask a very straight and direct question: Do we really go to seek and find God, in our rambles in the fields, as we rest and read our newspapers or books, or sail our boats or play our golf or tennis? Do we seek God as we meet our friends in social entertainment on Sunday? No doubt God approves of all these perfectly innocent and human things, and each man and woman and child must answer the question in the light of the truth. Some people do worship better as they walk and play and read and talk; some people do find the divine presence more in silence than in, what we might sometimes call, the distractions of public worship. I am not judging, I am only asking questions. When we turn our faces away from the Church, do we go apart and away from public worship that we may realize more fully Christ's presence, and listen to His words of life? Our Blessed Lord taught not only in the synagogues and in the temple, but more largely in the fields and mountains and by the shores and lakes and along the roads and in the homes of the people. He constantly went apart to pray. Jesus felt with deep and intense distress the formalism and unreality of the Scribes [6/7] and Pharisees and their perfectly mechanical and unspiritual worship. He condemned it all and He proclaimed God's law that the Sabbath was made for man.

But it is evident that Solomon built his Temple, that all religions have built their temples, and the disciples have built their Christian churches, just because so many people find it so difficult to be religious, and to keep up praying, and to remember God. Life is so diverting and the work and the pleasures and the human interests are so engrossing, that it is not easy for ordinary men and women to concentrate their minds on anything, much less on spiritual things. Life is a battle; it is a constant struggle to keep our health. How we have to work for it day by day. It is difficult to get a living. Business is a constant competition, an endless strain. What a battle it is to know! Education is a wrestling. It is arduous, mental toil that alone makes us efficient. Purity and honor must fight their daily battle with sensualism and greed. It is all a splendid struggle for life and knowledge and truth and goodness. Why should we think that we can be religious without [7/8] effort, and work. Doubt, half the time, means drifting. Unbelief is often nothing but intellectual and spiritual laziness. Indifference to God is often just spiritual ignorance. The pressure and stress and sweep of the world's work so exhausts us, that when we come to the problems of religion we are left inert and lifeless, and the easiest thing is to call ourselves agnostic and let it all go. Thousands of people are just ignorant of spiritual things and they forget that it is only by striving to know God that they can ever really win moral victory and spiritual truth. Against all this human inertia, against all the drift of the world, we, who care for Christ's truth, must give aids to faith, and help to those who forget.

Have you ever thought how wonderful is the witness of a church building? Take a little church like St. Martin's in Canterbury, England. On that site a little church has stood since Saxon days, prior to the arrival of St. Augustine. If that tower could speak, what a wonderful story it would tell of the whole of English history! There were times when no doubt St. Martin's was an empty church, and the people of Canterbury [8/9] tried to worship God in the fields, or forgot Him in their pleasures, but when the days of doubt and forgetfulness were over, there was the witness standing, and the sweet bells forever sounding over the wide fields of Kent and calling out, "Oh! Why will ye turn away? Come unto Christ once more, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and He will give you rest." Perhaps even more striking is the marvellous witness of the Church of St. Sophia in Constantinople. Never will there be peace in the Balkans until the cross shines once more upon the golden dome of that splendid basilica. A thousand things might have been forgotten had that great church been destroyed, but it is to-day the most powerful witness gripping the hearts and imaginations of the whole Eastern Church and calling them forever to a divine unrest, until once more the sacred mysteries of Christ's religion are celebrated at its altar.

Some of the theologians and Christian teachers have become engrossed in their speculations and theories about the Eucharist, discussing transubstantiation and consubstantiation, and what they mean by the real presence, and how [9/10] Christ is present, and when and where and to whom He will reveal Himself, and often they have ignored those simple words, "This do in remembrance of me." It is as though the Saviour was forever saying, "The trouble with you all is that you will so easily forget." It is so human to forget. We forget everything. Even the most precious loves that ruled our lives are dulled and forgotten in the hardening process of the years. You are sure to forget me, my words in Galilee, my deeds of mercy, my teachings concerning your Heavenly Father, my new Commandment of love. You will forget the days and nights as we wandered over the Syrian fields, or when we toiled in the Sea of Gennesaret. You will forget the significance of my manhood, and the true vision of God revealed in my Incarnate life, the value of my sacrifice upon the cross. You will forget even the wonder of my Resurrection. You will forget that I am pleading for the sins of the world at God's right hand. The Holy Spirit will abide with you, but you will forget Him, for His teaching is so subtle and inward and elusive. So the night in which Jesus was betrayed He took bread and break it, and He took the [10/11] cup and blessed it--those simplest things in human life, the common food and drink of ordinary human people--and said, "Remember me." Make these simple elements, blessed and broken and poured out, the means of remembering me. Let them bring into your hearts all that my whole Incarnation means. It was all lest we forget. So around the table of the Lord, humble and glorious shrines have been built, and men who are forever forgetting and forgetting, discern once more the Master in the breaking of the bread.

And what is it that we forget when we go rushing on with no moment for prayer, no quiet for worship, with no time for inward thought and no pause in which we can hear the voices of the soul? What is it that we forget when every day is just crowded full with earthly plans and we never cease from troubling about things that have consumed the week? Well, we forget, do we not? That everything in our human life, everything we think or say or do, is shaped and moulded by our conscience; our wills, by our characters. We have forgotten that the spiritual part of us is really the master of our lives. That, protest [11/12] as we may, our souls rule our daily life; our spirits determine the quality of our daily living. And then we forget that what will save us for better living and for richer happiness, is more spiritual rest. The trouble with our bodies is so often found in our spirit. If we would only go to church we might learn to trust more in God than we do. It might mean that the heavy burden over which we are forever worrying, might be eased for a moment, and cast down at Jesus' feet. That faith might be the solution for a thousand troublous hours that harass us. And then we forget that after all brief life is here our portion; that swifter than a weaver's shuttle flee our days; that the best of this brief life is in the moments of the spirit; that our real life is life eternal; beginning here and now, beginning in the spirit of our minds; begun and continued in human associations, in human loves, in our personal relations with men and women; begun and continued in the strength and sweetness, the brightness and joy of our spirits, and that it is this life eternal that makes all life worth living and leads us on in glorious hope to the life across the sea.

[13] And meanwhile, as we live and will to live, we forget the uncertainties of this brief life; how the vision splendid fades into the light of common day. "Let him who thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." For the days that are to come we must be prepared, ready for the Master's call, fit to do the Master's work, made meet to enjoy life eternal. From somewhere, somehow, we must get the moral strength, the spiritual vigor, the clearness of vision, and the purity of heart, to face the crises and the tests of life as they come to us one by one. From some one, some living Master, from Christ Jesus our Saviour, we can find how to win life's battle, for in Him is the victory of life eternal.

Project Canterbury