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.)

"Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them."—2 COR. vi. 16.

VERY wonderful is the power ascribed to faith in the Bible. It is insisted on, over and over again, as bearing some marvelous relation to our salvation. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," we are told, "and thou shalt be saved." "If thou shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised Christ from the dead, thou shalt be saved." "If ye believe not that I am He," says our Lord to the Jews, "ye shall die in your sins." We are said to be justified by faith. Our hearts are purified by faith. We are sanctified by faith. We stand by faith; we walk by faith, not by sight. St. Paul says he lives by faith of the Son of God. We are children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. Christ dwells in our hearts by faith. Through faith we inherit the promises. And much more. You all remember, too, the power evidently ascribed to faith in all the miracles of our Lord. "If thou canst believe," He said to one; "All things are possible to him that believeth"; to another, "Thy faith hath made thee whole"; and to another, "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." And then, in words of deepest marvel, "If thou have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, thou shalt say unto this mountain, Be thou removed and be thou cast into the sea, and it shall obey thee." As if summing it all up, before He ascended, He commissioned His disciples to go unto all the world, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and He adds, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."

The same thing is true of repentance. "Except ye repent, ye shall perish." "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins." "God commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent," says St. Paul at Athens. In his farewell speech to the elders of Ephesus he declared that it had been the burden of his preaching to a testify both to Jews and Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." As to the importance of these two graces, no Christian ever doubted. Whatever varying places they may occupy in their systems, the lowest Protestant and the most extreme Ultramontane are agreed that, without faith and repentance, where they are needed, salvation is impossible.

here is, however, another doctrine upon which there is an almost similar agreement, namely, that man, by his own unassisted efforts, can not repent and believe. "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh," says St. Paul, "dwelleth no good thing." "The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither can it be." "They who are in the flesh can not please God." "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." In short, it is the faith of the whole Christian Church that man is fallen, and can not by himself attain to good.

Thus, God commands, He affixes penalties to disobedience; and yet man, the subject of His rule, can not of himself obey the command. Nay, we are met to-day with this striking fact that the Church of God not only commands men to repent, and believe, but actually appoints a certain time, like this Lenten season, when she requires her children to do both, as if they could not only perform them, but actually could do them also on such a day and at such an hour. Now, there is a creed, theoretically held at present by comparatively few Christians, which solves all these difficulties—except the last, for which it leaves no place—by a stern and logical system. With cruel exactness it defines the relation of God to man, with clear logic it settles all these difficulties. It leads on those who accept its premises to a conclusion which, if it satisfies the reason, deprives the unhappy reasoner of a loving Father and a merciful Creator. It declares that God, from all eternity, elected some to salvation, some to damnation; that Christ died only for the elect; that man is totally depraved, and that, consequently, when elected by God, he is acted upon by an irresistible grace, and, once the subject of that grace, he can not fall away, but must persevere unto eternal life. You all recognize the Calvinistic heresy—a heresy held theoretically but by few, and only needful to be stated to be discarded, but which, alas! leavens the greater part of our practical theology, and lies at the root of much of the persistent rejection of Catholic truth which is so sad a sign, of the times.

How does the Church of God explain these difficulties?

First of all, she says that, accompanying God's commands, grace is always given. Christ died for all the world, and from the uplifted Cross flows forth a power which draws all men unto it. The "Word of God is life-giving. If it says "Repent," it is no mere barren sentence, but with the command the power to do whatsoever is commanded is vouchsafed. If it says "Believe," there is a flashing of Christ's power and glory upon the soul of him who hears. When the Apostles went forth to preach the Word, whether it was in synagogue or in city, in the market-place or in the Golden House of Nero, an invisible Presence and invisible power accompanied them. They preached Christ; and as they preached, Christ revealed Himself. He spake to every heart. He moved one in one way, another in another. Each soul He had created, for each soul He had died. Each soul He loved with a love that passes understanding. He knew what each one needed, how each one might be moved; and, as the Word sounded on the ear, it penetrated the lust and cruelty and heaped-up sin of a lifetime, and the heart felt it. It was the power of God unto salvation.

What was true of the Apostles has been true ever since. Christ, in His Church, offers grace in every word she utters and in every act she does. The Bible, read by her, is no mere record, but, in every text, is "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and is a discerner of thoughts and intents of the heart." The words of her ministers, weak and poor though they be, are instinct with the life of the Eternal Spirit. The Mystical Presence still flashes forth from font and from altar, and speaks in every gentle act and noble deed and self-sacrificing effort, of those who give up their lives for God. God commands nothing which He does not give us the power to obey. If He bids us cry, "Abba, Father," He for ever sends forth the spirit of His Son in our hearts that we may do so. Because of this power of God's Word, there is nothing more terrible than what is said of the rejection of it. "He that heareth you," says our Saviour to His Apostles, "heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me; and he that despiseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me." If "they shall not receive you, nor hear your words," He says in another place, "shake off the dust of your feet. Verily, I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment, than for that city."

Not that visible judgments were to follow the rejection of God's Word. The loss of that Word was to be the punishment of the refusal to hear it. The Jews rejected the Apostles, and they went unto the Gentiles. When they were persecuted in one city, they fled unto another. The awful Word, without might or power or compulsion, converted the nations unto the obedience of the faith; and when it was not heeded, still it pursued its life-giving way, and left to their confusion the souls that slighted it. Invisible Power, a Grace unspeakable, a Presence that could not be seen, accompanied, and still accompanies, God's commands. More than this, there was that in each soul, though unregenerate and unjustified, which could accept the grace of God. Fallen though the soul of man is and far gone from original righteousness, still marks of the Creator's hand remain, some vestiges of its primeval glory, some longings after Him who made it. It hears the call, the soul is aroused, moved, excited by it. It does not reject it. It knows it can merit nothing, do nothing, accept nothing of itself. But, lo! there dawns upon it a vision of another world. With a certainty which knows no doubt, it possesses the conviction of eternal realities. Louder than all earthly voices, above the clash of gold, the din of arms, the voices of sense, it hears the precious words: "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

The Cross with its outstretched arms is before the sinner. The bleeding Saviour is gazing at him. It is His voice which calls. He knows Christ died for him, and, humbled, penitent, stricken to the ground, he lifts his blinded eyes to heaven, and cries: "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" And the answer comes, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the Name of the Lord."

But, it may be asked, how does all this apply to those who are already baptized—to us, who are "members of Christ, children of God, heirs of the kingdom of Heaven"? Do you know what you are asking, my brethren? Have you ever analyzed what your real condition is? Do you have any clear idea what it is to be a member of the kingdom of God, a partaker of Christ? Remember, first, what things are said of Holy Baptism in the Scriptures. It is not only "he that believeth," but "he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved." Our Lord says, "Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." St. Paul says, "Know ye not that so many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ"? He says in another place, "Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?" He tells us, "we are buried with Christ in Baptism," nay, that we are risen with Him in that holy Sacrament. St. Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, fully illumined by the Divine Spirit: "Repent, and be baptized, every one, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, for the promise is to you and to your children." Nay, he expressly declares that as Noah was saved in the ark from perishing by water, so "Baptism doth also now save us."

"What is the gift which every one receives in Holy Baptism? "What is that hidden power which makes a man a Christian, which for evermore he bears with him for weal or woe, until the awful Judgment Day shall try his work of what sort it is? Viewed in one light, it is sometimes called our justification; viewed in another, it is styled our regeneration; but, leaving these theological terms, I ask what the gift is? Is there any one before me who doubts whether there is any gift at all? God Himself has appointed Holy Baptism. He says it saves us. He tells us that without it we can not enter into the kingdom of God. He assures us that in some mysterious way we are grafted into Christ by it, we become partakers of His death, His burial, His resurrection. Nay, He promises to us and to our children the gift of the Holy Ghost by it. And will you make it a solemn sham? Will you regard it as no better than the initiation into some human fellowship, an Odd-Fellows' society or a Freemasons' lodge? Nay, my brethren, inscribed upon the Font are the same awful characters which are written around the Cross of Calvary; and, if the one be unreal, the other is also, and the rationalism which denies the truth of the former is sure, in the long run, to deny the latter also.

But, again, I ask what the gift is? First, it is the presence of the Eternal Trinity—" God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost"—in the soul. Our Saviour says, "At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me and I in you. . . . He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. . . . My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him." And so St. John says, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." More than this, the Scriptures seem to imply that this presence, besides being that of the Holy Trinity, is specially the presence of Christ, and the Word made flesh is in some sort mysteriously imparted to us. Our Lord says, "If any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in unto him and sup with him, and he with Me." Again, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever, and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." And again, "We are members of Christ's body, of His flesh and of His bones." In other words, the presence of Christ imparts to us a new life. "As in Adam all die," we are told, "even so in Christ shall all be made alive." "The first Adam, was made a living soul, the last Adam a quickening "(or life-giving) "spirit." As from our first parents we derive a fallen nature, and are partakers of sin and heirs of eternal death, so from Christ we receive a new nature, and are partakers of righteousness, and become heirs of eternal life. And this is the point I would insist upon. It is no mere imputation of Christ's righteousness to us, no mere fictitious regarding us as holy because Christ is holy; but it is a mysterious union with Christ, a grafting invisibly into Him, a fellowship in all His grace and blessedness, a sharing in His power and glory. It separates us from the other children of Adam. It is our badge and distinction in the presence of the unseen world. It is an angelic glory, which good spirits honor and devils tremble at, and which we are bound reverently to cherish. It is the robe of righteousness, the rich garment of salvation, the fine linen, clean and white; nay, it is "Christ in us the hope of glory." It is an awful thought to dwell upon, but the Scriptures seem to speak as though some of God's attributes were given to the Christian. We read of the glory of the Lord appearing in the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord shining round about the watching shepherds. We are told that Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father and then our Saviour says, "The glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them." St. Peter says, "We are called to glory and virtue." He says, "the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us"; and St. Paul says, "We are made powerful with all power, according to the might of God's glory."

Again, this presence is also the presence of God the Holy Ghost, and the fellowship that we have with the Son, and with the Father in the Son, is through the Holy Spirit. The beloved disciple declares, "Hereby we know that we dwell in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit." So St. Paul speaks of the "fellowship of the Holy Ghost," and, in words of deepest import, that "we are the temple of God," that "the Spirit of God dwelleth in us," that "our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in us, and we are not our own." So our Saviour said, "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever, even the Spirit of Truth, for He dwelleth in you, and shall be in you." And then He adds, "I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you."

Need I pause, my brethren, to prove that this indwelling of the Holy Trinity involves every gift we need for working out our own salvation—the supernatural gift of faith, the gift of love, the power to repent, the ever-pleading voice of the Comforter, the unutterable plaints of the Spirit, the mysterious union with every other Christian, the sharing in all the powers of the mystical body of Christ, the glow of immortal life which throbs and beats among the angels, and quickens saints and the dead in Christ, and binds redeemed humanity by the cords of love fast to the throne of God? And such are you, each baptized one, before me. Oh! shame and misery that, being all this, we are such as we are! With powers like these, with opportunities like these, with responsibilities like these, yet so vain, so idle, so fretful, so niggardly, so false, so impure, so foul, so debased, so little, so ungenerous, so impenitent! Vainly the Church calls us, vainly she bids us to prayer; in vain her altar is ready, her feast is spread, her sacrifice waiting to be offered. It does not move us. She calls us to repentance, she exhorts us to watch and pray, but we go on as heretofore. The very world itself is full of marvels. There are signs in the sun, and on the earth distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring, but, while the Bridegroom tarries, we slumber and sleep.

Who knows what work God has prepared for him to walk in? Who knows what mighty deeds for God might be done by some of you? Children of God, temples of the Holy Ghost, kings and priests, awake while you may, lest, failing to watch and pray, you lose your robe and your crown.

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