Project Canterbury

Sermons Preached on Various Occasions
by James de Koven, D.D.

with an Introduction by Morgan Dix, S.T.D., Rector of Trinity Church, New York
New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1880.

(Preached at Convocation, Milwaukee, 1872.)

"In Thy presence is the fullness of joy."—PSALM xvi., part of verse 12.

EARTHLY joy is ever imperfect. I need not say this of that laughter of fools which, we are told, is like the crackling of thorns under a pot; nor of the wild merriment of sin; for these are not joy, but rather deepest sorrow. But the best things of earth, those that are full of true joy, are necessarily imperfect. Change and chance, time and decay, happen to them all. They have their season, and their season passes. A time to be born, but ah! a time to die; a time to plant, but ah! a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to laugh, but ah! a time to weep; a time to dance, but ah! a time to mourn. "Go thy way," says the wise man, "eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart. Let thy garments be always white, and thy head lack no ointment." But ah! "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill; for time and chance happeneth to them all." "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh. . . . The sun ariseth and the sun goeth down. . . . The rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full. . . . The thing that hath been is that which shall be .... for all things are vanity."

But the text speaks of a joy which is not imperfect—a joy from which nothing can be taken away—the plenitude, the entirety, the fullness of joy. This joy, it tells us, is in God's presence.

Let us consider, then, what is meant by the presence of God. God is present everywhere, upholding all things by the word of His power. Nor yet present merely as they who hold to pantheistic views would say—as a subtle essence pervading all things, but present in the entirety of His person in every place at the same time. And because God is everywhere He has His influence in all things. All things partake of Him. They are His offspring; He sustains, supports, preserves. The planets move in their courses, the sun pours forth its mysterious power, the vast frame of the world is uplifted by His will; the mountains lifting their heads to Heaven, the rivers rolling their waters to the sea, the ceaseless beating of the waves of the ocean, the lions roaring after their prey, the eagle soaring to the sun, the sparrow falling to the ground, the tiniest thing that crawls, and man, the noblest of his creatures—in Him they live and move and have their being. Beyond the laws that govern, behind the powers that control, mightier than all forces and ruling them all, His judgments unsearchable, His ways past finding out, is the personal will and personal presence of the Personal God". And this is true of each person of the blessed Trinity, of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.

To unfallen man the omnipresence of God was the fullness of joy, but to fallen man it has ever been a source of dread and fear. Hence it is that scientific unbelief to put His own laws instead of Him. Hence it is that philosophic unbelief trembles at His personal presence, and seeks to explain it away. Adam hid himself from God's presence; Cain went out from His presence a fugitive and a vagabond. Even the saints were terrified at it. Jacob, when he lighted on a certain place, tarried there all night and dreamed, and, beholding a ladder set upon the earth and angels ascending and descending, declared, "How dreadful is this place!" Holy Job proclaims, "I have heard of Thee with the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." When Isaiah saw the throne high and lifted up, and above it the seraphim, and heard the Thrice Holy sung by angelic forms with faces bowed and veiled feet, he poured forth the lamentation: "Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."

And thus it became the voice of humanity. "No man can see God and live." Nay, St. John says something which seems to contradict all the rest of the Scripture when he says, "No man hath seen God at any time," but in the same breath explains the contradiction, and pours a flood of glory on every vision of God recorded in the Old Testament, when he adds, "The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." It needs not to be proved, then, that this fullness of joy of which the text speaks, for fallen man, is to be found, and only found, in the presence of the Incarnate Son of God. For so St. John declares it: The Word was made flesh and was tabernacled among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth." Nor let it be thought for a moment that St. John meant by this that the glory of the only Begotten of the Father was only seen when men could hang upon His words, or gaze into His countenance, or kiss the hem of His garment, or behold Him transfigured before them, or lean upon His bosom, or see Him bending in agony, or outstretching His arms in everlasting benediction upon the Cross. He was to be for ever tabernacled with men. When about to leave His disciples He said, "Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy"; and, as if commenting on the text, He also said, "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." And, in some sort, though not as yet in its highest and fullest meaning, has the vision of St. John already been fulfilled. "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, arid there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying."

But the question arises, In what sense is there in this world the presence of the Incarnate Son of God? As the Second Person of the adorable Trinity, Christ the Son of God is everywhere present; but in His human nature He has ascended into heaven and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. His human nature, glorified though it be, still bears the marks of His Passion. He is very man now, as well as very God. His human nature has place and form and substance, and every limitation which the fact of its being human nature—though human nature glorified—demands. It can not be omnipresent; it can not be everywhere at the same time. According to its natural mode of existence, it is in heaven and not on earth; so that when the English Prayer-book declares that the natural body and blood of Christ are in heaven and not here—it being against the truth of Christ's natural body to be at one time in more places than one—it only utters what the whole Catholic Church, even in its divisions, Roman, Greek, and Anglican, has at all times maintained.

Is there then no presence of the Incarnate Son of God here on earth other than His omnipresence as God? Is the God-man, as man, present only at the right hand of His Father, and nowhere else? It is a subject which needs to be approached with careful steps and awe-stricken reverence, lest we should say more or less than God has revealed. And yet it must be considered, for upon one's belief in respect to it turns all the practical part of Christianity.

At the outset, one would suppose that there would be in the Christian Church some especial presence of the Incarnate Son of God, a presence distinct from His omnipresence as God, or else Christianity had been less blessed than the patriarchal or the Jewish Church. The Son of God appeared to Abraham under the form of an angel. The Jehovah angel wrestled with Jacob. In flame and thunder and lightning, the Son of God was manifested on Mount Sinai. Between the cherubim, overshadowing the Mercy-Seat, dwelt the Shechinah. "When, at the dedication of the Temple, Solomon had made an end of praying, the glory of the Lord filled the house, so that the priests could not enter because of the glory, and the people bowed themselves with their faces upon the ground, upon the pavement, and worshiped, and praised the Lord. It is but a cold and narrow interpretation which could imagine that the antitype received its entire fulfillment when the Divine Word trod the hills and valleys and rested by the well-side, and for thirty-three years was seen of men.

As the Second Person of the adorable Trinity, Christ is present everywhere; and, because the human nature He assumed subsists in His Divine Person, this human nature, which can not have in itself universal presence, hath it, after a sort, by being nowhere severed from that which everywhere is present. It derives presence indeed only by reason of its conjunction with Deity, yet, as Hooker says, "Presence by way of conjunction is in some sort presence." More than this, because of the hypostatic union, marvelous are the powers which have flowed to the human nature of Christ. His human will ever corresponds with, ever consents to, the eternal will of the Godhead. His human understanding ever basks in the light of Divine knowledge, is ever filled with the fullness of Divine power, ever reflects the eternal and unapproachable majesty of the Divine wisdom. Nay, in some sort His human nature may be said to be everywhere present because it cooperates everywhere with the Deity. The Godhead of Christ, which before the Incarnation wrought all things without man, now works nothing in which that human nature which it has assumed is idle. Wheresoever the mighty power of God operates, whatsoever it effects, moving on and on into infinite results, with it Christ's human nature moves and operates also. It is the vesture the Son of God has folded around His Person. In it He rules, governs, conquers, and is set down at the right hand of God, above all principalities and powers, and every name which is named in this world or that which is to come.

But, more than this, robed in this human nature, He represents, He impersonates, He pleads for the race of beings to which it belongs. It has become the instrument by which He connects Himself with the human race. It has become life-giving. What Adam was to all mankind, it has become, only in an infinitely higher degree. In holy Baptism, Christ imparts Himself to there generated Christian. In Baptism the Christian dies with Christ, he is buried with Christ, he is quickened with Christ, he rises with Christ, he is filled with the life of Christ. He is made a new creature, he is renewed in the image of Christ. His moral being is reconstructed; and, above all, he dwells in Christ and Christ dwells in him. His soul and body are the temple of Christ. Jesus Christ dwells in him except he be reprobate, and thus he becomes one of that mystical body of which Christ is the Head, and is a member of the Church, because he shares in the life-giving humanity of his Lord. Thus the Incarnate Son of God is present in the sacrament of holy Baptism, because then and there He unites to Himself those whom He regenerates by imparting His human nature unto them.

Hence comes the honor of humanity. For honor is ever the respect due to a superior, and personal honor is that respect which we owe to ourselves as sharers in the humanity of our Lord. Once lose the idea of the Divine indwelling, once fritter it away by rationalistic explanations, even make it less than it is, and a blow is struck at civilization, at the advancement of the human race, at ennobled Christian manhood. Then, sins against the body are thought little of; then, continence is no longer valued; then, self-denial loses its grace, and the Christian man falls a helpless prey to the world, the flesh, and the devil.

But, more than this, because the human nature of our Lord is for ever united to his Godhead, for ever subsists in His Divine Personality, while, according to its natural mode of existence, it is in heaven alone, can it have no other mode of existence? May it not have a supernatural mode of existence? May it not be present, after the manner of a spirit, elsewhere? What we are told of the powers of our Lord's resurrection body would seem to imply as much. ""When they were assembled together, the doors being shut, came Jesus and stood in the midst of them." Afterward, He appeared in another form to two of them, as they walked and were sad, also to Mary Magdalen. "When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus." "Jesus stood on the shore; but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus." Who can explain that marvelous indwelling of Christ in us, whereof it is said that we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones? "There are bodies celestial," says St. Paul, "and bodies terrestrial; and the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." And thus it has ever been the faith of the Church for a thousand years undisputed, that when, on the eve of His Passion, in the upper room, He took bread in His hands and said of it, "This is My Body," and said of the cup, "This is My Blood." He instituted for ever an ineffable, sacramental, supernatural, spiritual, but real and true presence of His own humanity, to be for evermore the fullness of joy to all believing and loving souls. There and then, and for ever since then, in every Eucharist, His presence has been the fullness of joy.

During the past three hundred years, in the weary controversies that have centered around the Altar of God, the attempts to explain away our Lord's words, or to rob them of their full power, may be divided into two classes.

"When our Lord said, "This is My Body; this is My Blood," it is said by some that He meant merely, by a significant symbol, to remind us of His body broken, of His blood shed for us. This is Zwinglianism.

"When our Lord said, "This is My Body; this is My Blood," He meant, say others —"This is My Body in power, virtue, efficacy; this conveys my body, as a title-deed conveys an estate, as a bank represents a real value! "This is Calvinism. There are those indeed who hold this latter view, who have renounced all the other doctrines of Calvin save this alone. They love oftentimes to dwell, with tender care, upon the greatness of the gift conveyed. They speak so earnestly upon the indwelling of Christ's humanity in the faithful heart, that one would fain believe them to be better than their creed, and that they acknowledge a real though spiritual presence of our Lord's humanity, prior to and apart from reception.

Against Zwinglianism and Calvinism the Church has ever protested, by declaring that the Body and Blood of Christ are, verily and indeed, yet none the less spiritually, not simply received, but given, taken, and received in the Lord's Supper. She says with St. Paul that "the bread which we break is the communion of the Body of Christ; the cup which we bless is the communion of the Blood of Christ;" and with the same Apostle, that "whosoever eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh condemnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body."

On the other hand, the Church has equally protested against all explanations of the mode of presence which seemed in any sense to declare that the natural properties of the bread and wine were destroyed. She asserted, on the one hand, that after consecration they had not ceased to be earthly elements, though endowed with new powers; while, on the other hand, she declared that they were after a supernatural manner the Body and Blood of Christ. How this could be, she did not define; why it was, she did not explain. It was the mystery of the Eucharist. Christ had said it, and she believed it. Bread and wine, yet body and blood; the one naturally, the other super-naturally; the one for the senses, the other to the eye of faith, joined by that ineffable, sacramental union, which by the power of God unites, after consecration, the outward sign to the inward part or thing signified.

Marvelously does the Church Catechism bring forth this truth, in those remarkable distinctions which it makes between holy Baptism and the Holy Communion. In Baptism there is the outward part of form, which is water; which, to use St. Augustine's careful distinction, which the Catechism follows, is the Sacramentum. There is again the inward and spiritual grace, which is the death unto sin, the new birth unto righteousness, which is the Virtus Sacramenti. In the Holy Communion there is stated, first, the object of the institution, "for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ." Then the Sacrament is said to consist, first, of the outward part or sign which is the Sacramentum, and is said to be the bread and wine which the Lord hath commanded to be received; secondly, of the inward part or thing signified, which is the Res Sacramenti, and is said to be the Body and Blood of Christ, spiritually taken and received by the faithful. Then follows a declaration of the benefits whereof we are partakers thereby—the Virtus Sacramenti, which is said to be the strengthening and refreshing of our souls.

Thus, in holy Baptism, there are merely the Sacramentum and the Virtus Sacramenti, the outward sign and the benefits received; whereas, in the Holy Communion, there are the Sacramentum, the Res Sacramenti, and the Virtus Sacramenti—the outward sign, the inward part, and the benefits whereof we are partakers thereby. In holy Baptism there is no Res Sacramenti; in the Holy Communion there is. In the former, the grace is received; in the latter, the inward part is both taken and received, or, as the Article says, "given, taken, and received." In Baptism, the consecration of the outward element forms no integral part of the Service. In the Holy Eucharist it is essential to the Sacrament. In holy Baptism, Christ may be said to be present because He then and there imparts His human nature to the baptized; in the Holy Eucharist, Christ is there because His body and blood are there. Hence it is that all Calvinistic views of the Eucharist confound together the Virtus Sacramenti and the Res Sacramenti, and thus deny the former. Hence also, if the views of Calvin be correct, Baptism and the Eucharist are precisely the same Sacrament. Again, there is another striking difference between the two views. According to the neo-Calvinist view, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist depends upon the faith of the recipient; while the true churchman, preserving ever St. Augustine's careful distinction between the Res Sacramenti and the Virtus Sacramenti, believes the presence to depend upon consecration, but the benefits of the presence upon faith. If the presence depends simply upon the faith of the recipient, then consecration is useless, the work of the priesthood unnecessary, the sacrifice of the Eucharist is merely symbolical, Christian worship loses its chief glory, and sacramental doctrine fades away.

"In Thy presence is the fullness of joy." Never, my brethren, will the Church be able to do her full work until with clear, ringing voice she proclaims, with no bated breath she utters, the truth and the power of the presence of her Incarnate Lord. When holy Baptism is known and believed to be union with His life-giving humanity, when Christian training is the rearing of a child as the temple of God, when thronging crowds, trembling yet believing, know that their Lord is present in His own Eucharist, then will benediction descend, then will sorrow be changed into joy, then will souls be filled with peace that passeth understanding. For the glimpses of God's presence in the world, in nature, in providence, in history, in the life of man, in the house of God, in the preached word, in the ministrations of the priesthood, in the imparted life of the Sacrament of Baptism, in the veiled majesty of the Eucharistic glory—what are these but a preparation for the eternal showing forth of the glory that shall never end?

See that ye use them wisely; see that ye accept them as God willed it; see that ye behold Him by faith, that yours may be the pleasures at His right hand, for evermore!

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