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 Racine College, Lent, 1873.)

"Know ye not, your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?"—2 COR. xiii., part of verse 5.

THE words of St. Paul are very startling. He says "except ye be reprobates." What is a reprobate? The word is only used a few times in the New Testament, and in every case denotes the sad result of long-continued indulgence in sins of the flesh, and in the unbelief which seems to be the spiritual consequence of such sins. At the end of that fearful list of abominable crimes which St. Paul enumerates in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, as the sins of the heathen, he says: "Therefore God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient: being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of murder, debate, deceit, malignity," and a still further catalogue of sins which make the soul tremble. But this was the estate of the heathen, and of heathenism in its most corrupt condition. In the text it is affirmed as a possibility for Christians. In another of his epistles St. Paul shows when such a result may ensue, and again he connects it with sins of the flesh and consequent unbelief. He says: "Unto the pure all things are pure; but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving"—notice the connection—"is nothing pure; but ever their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; in works they deny Him, being abominable and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate." Again, St. Paul, in language which ought to make every Christian, but chiefly those who bear the priestly commission, tremble, still connecting it with the flesh, says: "I beat under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a reprobate." So, too, in that terrible passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the apostle speaks of the impossibility of the renewal to repentance of those who crucify the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame, he compares their state to the condition of that land which, though the rain comes oft upon it, bear-eth only thorns and briers, and so is "reprobate, nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned."

In the only other passage besides the context in which the word occurs, it is spoken of as one of the characteristics of the last days and the perilous times, that men shall arise having the same characteristics with the heathen of whom he speaks in the Epistle to the Romans: "lovers of their own selves, covetous, proud, boasters, disobedient to parents, without natural affection, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith." Alas! alas! how does the heart beat, and the blood flush the face, as one reads the catalogue, in sudden fear, as if these might be those days, and this no unreal description of the world as we behold it now!

Again, no one could help noticing the appeal St. Paul makes to the consciousness of his hearers, as if it were something they could not fail to be certain of. "Know ye not," he says, "your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" Would such an appeal convey a clear idea to your minds, my brethren? Those of you who are most in earnest, most devout, were a priest to ask a question of this kind nowadays, would expect him to put it in different words. You would expect him to say, "Do you struggle against sin? Do you love God? Do you have some fondness for prayer? Do you frequent the Sacrament? Is your conscience quiet? Do you feel at peace?" Good enough questions, and very necessary; but the words of the text sound forth with a startling power, and show, after all, the difference between primitive Christianity and our own. "Know ye not, your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" It was doubtless the same spirit which made the martyr Ignatius of Antioch, when the Roman ruler asked his name, reply that his name was Theophorus —that is, one who bore Christ in his breast.

"Jesus Christ is in you." I do not think it is a sufficient explanation of the words to say that a Christian is one who loves the Lord Jesus, whose heart and soul are fixed on Christ and heavenly things. Of course a Christian is all this; but it is too frigid an interpretation of the Apostle's glowing words. This is the more evident because it is no isolated expression. Christians are said to be "one body in Christ." It is said, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." Churches, apostles, and men are said to "be in Christ, and to speak in Christ. Christians are said to be baptized into Christ, to have put on Christ in baptism. All things, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, are gathered together in one, in Christ. And then, on the other hand, the Apostle says, "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Christ is said to "dwell in our hearts by faith." The glory of the mystery of the faith is said, in another place, to be "Christ in you, the hope of glory." And so we are told that "we are members of Christ's body, of His flesh and of His bones"; and St. Peter declares that we have received exceeding * great and precious promises, that by these we might be made partakers of the divine nature.

Now, there is an interpretation of all these passages, held from the very first in the Catholic Church, and only forgotten where the rest of the Catholic faith has also been ignored. Adam, our first parent, was created in the image of God. God breathed into him the breath of life, and he became a living soul. In him everything was perfectly constituted; each part of his nature, will, conscience, passions, all moved in due order, in proper subjection to their appointed ends, in harmony, and in peace. It will not be amiss for us, when only in a paper of^ this week one reads that a certain professor in a neighboring city would explain how life is developed from a monad to man, to enlarge somewhat upon the condition of Adam. First, as to his physical powers: If he was created at his full maturity—say at sixty-five years of age, which is about the time when the antediluvian patriarch arrived at maturity, for, even fallen as he was, he lived a thousand years—his intellectual powers were perfect; he had entire freedom of will; he had dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. To him was given the gift of language; nay, he was its fountain and source, for he gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.

As a great bishop has said, What single man among all the philosophers since the fall—what Plato, what Aristotle among the ancients, what Descartes, what Gassendus among the moderns—nay, what royal society durst have undertaken this? Hence, Plato himself acknowledges the man who first imposed names on things to have been the wisest of mortals; nay, he affirms him to have had something more than human in him. His words are these: "I suppose, O Socrates, the truest account of the problem to be this, that a certain power more than human imposed the first names on things."

Have you ever thought, too, my brethren, of the glory of that primeval morning, when earth and air were still, and every flower poured forth its sweetest fragrance; when birds burst into joyous carols; when the gold of Havileh and bdellium and the onyx-stone gleamed in the new-born sunshine; when the fourfold river murmured softly by; and Eve, God's fairest creation, was presented to Adam? Have you considered what it was which then broke from the lips and the heart of our first parent, to be the fountain of all purity, and honor, and family life, and society, and civilization, to the end of time? "She is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh." Have you ever considered that our Saviour attributed these words to God? showing thereby that Adam not only was filled with God's wisdom, but uttered them also in the spirit of prophecy.

From all these things it is certain that, over and above his natural powers, our first parent had infused into his soul a supernatural grace, a superadded righteousness, a heavenly gift, a power of divine grace, a union with that divine Lord in whose image he was created.

But Adam fell, and we inherit a fallen nature. It needs no proof. "What parent that has had the care of children; what teacher that has tried to train the young; nay, what human being who once has inspected his own heart and known the depths of moral evil of which it is capable, will venture to deny this? Not totally fallen, not entirely depraved. God forbid! The conscience which still remains in unregenerate man, the freedom of the will, the burning longing after God and the unseen, which never have ceased to assert themselves, are proofs of this. Nor will it satisfy either the thoughtful reasoner or earnest lover of his kind, to be told that the religion of Socrates, the temperance of Zeno, the justice of Aristides, the patriotism of Regulus, the continence of Scipio, the vast powers of a Caesar, were only a development of the fidelity of the dog, the local attachment of the cat, the affection of the monkey, and vast victories of some conquering hordes of rats; any more than it will to require us to believe, against all our sense of what is true and just, that these were but works of the devil, totally corrupt. Nay, fallen nature stands like some fair ruin—arch, and pillar, and buttress, mighty stones which none can move, beautiful carving which none can surpass; but, as you gaze more nearly, and tear away the ivy that makes decay so beautiful, lo! lizards crawl upon the walls, and the wind blows rudely through the mullioned windows, and the stones crumble slowly away; and in all its glory, and in all its beauty, it is a ruin.

Now, then, understanding the estate of our first parent, comprehending the terrible nature of the Fall, knowing that all men inherit a fallen nature, consider the Incarnation of the Son of God. Eternal God, consubstantial with the Father, the Second Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, He took upon Himself our flesh, and was made man. Well, as we say the words, may we bow our heads in reverent adoration. He united to Himself not any particular man, not any human person; He joined by an unspeakable union to His divine nature and His divine person the very beginning and original element of our common human nature. As a great divine has well said, in golden words: "The flesh, and the conjunction of the flesh with God, began both at one instant. His making and taking to Himself flesh was but one act; and thus Christ has but one Personality, and that the Divine Personality which subsisted from all eternity."

I should need to write a theological treatise instead of a sermon, did I dwell upon all that ought to be said in regard to the mystery of the Incarnation. I will simply enumerate some of the points which need to be reflected upon. First: The union of the two natures in the person of the Lord Jesus is an inseparable union. Not even when the soul forsook the tabernacle of His body, and Jesus died, did His Deity forsake either body or soul. He is man now, as well as God. Secondly: The natural properties of the divine and human nature suffer neither loss nor gain by their union in the person of the Son of God. The divine nature can not change, else it would cease to be divine. The human nature can not lose its natural properties, else it would cease to be human.

Thirdly: It is to be noticed, however, that while our Lord's human nature had every essential property of our nature, and consisted of body, soul, and spirit like unto ours, sin only excepted, glorious were the effects which flowed to His human nature, by its union with the Deity. To Him, as man, was given to have life in Himself, even as the Father has life in Himself. He was made the way, the truth, the life. He became wisdom, sanctification, and righteousness. He was appointed the heir of all things, the peace of the whole world, the hope of the righteous. In short, to Him as man was given all power in heaven and in earth.

Fourthly: Since Christ has ascended into heaven, the human nature of Christ, so far as it has an existence in space, so far as it has a local presence—and because it is human nature, it must have a local presence—it is in heaven and nowhere else, it being against the truth of Christ's natural body that it should be in more than one place at the same time. Yet, though this is true, there are three senses in which Christ's human nature may be said to be everywhere:

1. Because it is nowhere, nor at any time, separate from God, who is everywhere present. It is united to the person of the Son of God, and that Divine Person is in all things, because He is Infinite, and upholds all things by the word of His power.

2. It is everywhere present, because it everywhere co-operates with Him who is everywhere present. The two great powers of the soul are the will and the understanding. In the human soul of Christ, His human will ever corresponds, ever assents unto, ever submits to the divine will. The human understanding of Christ ever basks in the light of divine knowledge, and is ever illumined by the omniscience of the Eternal God. Thus, He who as man descended into the lower parts of the earth, now is ascended up far above all heavens, and fills all things.

3. His human nature, though present locally in heaven alone, has also a spiritual presence in the Eucharist, and through both the sacraments unites our natures unto Christ, and makes Him dwell in us and us in Him. I will enlarge upon this for a moment, for it is the explanation of the words of the text.

The Bible tells us of the marvelous power of the resurrection body of Christ. It passed through closed doors; it vanished out of the sight of the disciples; He was with them, and yet they did not know Him; He passed from place to place as only a spirit could. Nay, have you considered what is meant when we say, "He ascended into heaven"? The sun, which is in the second heaven, is ninety millions of miles away. What shall we say of that mode of motion which in ten days could bear the human body of our Lord up far above all heavens!

Indeed, St. Paul tells us that there is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. The two terms seem contradictory, but are not more contradictory than the facts in regard to the body of our Lord which the Scriptures state. Thus, we can understand how His local presence may be in heaven, and yet, as being a spirit, His mode of approach —the mode in which He makes Himself present here or there—may be, for what we know, as different from the mode in which material bodies approach and come, as a spiritual presence is more perfect. Thus, too, we can understand how there may be a union of our natures with the spiritual body of Christ, and yet no mixture of our flesh with his bodily substance.

Mark now, in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism we first receive this union. We are then incorporated into the spiritual body of the Lord Jesus Christ. God is indeed in everything; He upholds all things by the word of His power; Christ is the true light which lighteneth every man which cometh into the world. In Him we live and move and have our being. But the corporation is something more than this: it is the especial work of the Holy Ghost. It is given, so God has appointed, in the Sacrament of Baptism. Just as Adam's nature is in every one of us, though Adam himself is not personally present in his children, so Christ's human nature is spiritually imparted to us in our regeneration. "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." "The first man was of the earth, earthy; the second man was the Lord from heaven. The first Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit." So when from the lips of the Apostle burst the words, "Christ is in you," it was no mere figurative expression. All that Christ had done for us, all the humiliation of His Incarnation, all the benefits of His Atonement, all the workings of His Holy Spirit, all the blessings of sonship, all the hopes, all the possibilities of glory, all the rewards of eternity, were involved in the phrase. It was for this he endured, and suffered, and watched, and fasted, and had no certain dwelling-place, and was ready to bear storms and ship-wreck and death, because he knew that Christ was in him, and he fain would give the blessing to others.

But to conclude, this must be noticed: Incorporation into Christ in Holy Baptism does not wholly restore us to the estate of Adam before the fall. God has willed to give us a higher glory than Adam had. After Baptism our own experience proves that there remains something to be conquered. The Bible confirms our own experience, and the Church proclaims it. Concupiscence remains; of this concupiscence, the Church of Rome and our own are agreed in saying—the former, that it is of sin and leads to sin; the other, that it hath the nature of sin. Hence, the life of the baptized Christian is a life of struggle, and was meant so to be. He was to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts; the life of the Christian was to be a life of warfare, if he would win the crown. But it was to be a life of conquest as well. By prayer, by the Bible, by Confirmation, by the offered Eucharist, by the feeding of the soul with Christ's Body and Blood, by the perpetual worship of Christ's invisible presence, the Christian was to be more than conqueror. Nay, by humiliation, and repentance, and confession, and absolution, his very sins and falls were to be made the stepping-stones to higher virtues. "When St. Paul uttered those mournful words, "I delight in the law of God, after the inward man; but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin and of death! O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" he was speaking of the unregenerate soul. When he would describe the estate of God's children, his words sound like a hymn of victory. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Has all this, if you have listened to me—and, alas! that my words are so feeble, and ye so dead of heart—made you understand the power of St. Paul's appeal in the words of the text? "Know ye not, your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" He was appealing to people who were victors in the Christian struggle; to men, the grace of whose regeneration asserted itself in deeds of self-conquest, not to men sunk in sins of the flesh, always defeated, always falling, cowardly, little, without prayer, without zeal, without love. He was speaking to men who dared to be self-denying, who dared to believe, who dared to worship, who dared to do penance, who dared, if need be, to die. It was to them that he said—ah! may it be, O loving Jesus! to me and to you also—" Know ye not, your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?"

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