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, Septuagesima Sunday, 1867.)

"For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged."—1 COR. xi. 31.

SEPTUAGESIMA Sunday marks one of the less observed but most important changes in the Christian year. The very name shows the alteration. Heretofore the Sundays have dated from Christmas and the Epiphany. They have looked back to the Manger at Bethlehem and the star of the wise men. Now they look forward to Lent and Holy Week and Easter. In round numbers, Septuagesima Sunday is the seventieth day before Easter.

You notice the change in the very character of the services. No longer do the words of the Evangelical Prophet sound on the ear, but the sterner warnings of Jeremiah. The Collect prays that we may be delivered from our offenses: the Epistle speaks of "keeping under the body, and bringing it into subjection," and the Gospel closes the story of the laborers in the vineyard with the solemn warning: "So the last shall be first and the first last; for many be called, but few chosen."

The shadow of Lent begins to fall upon us. Alleluias pass from our lips, and are lost in the memories of Christmastide. The angels that sang at Bethlehem have gone away into heaven; the wise men have returned to their own country another way. No more is heard the voice of weeping in Ramah, for the Holy Innocents are at rest with Jesus. Simeon and Anna are no longer in the Temple, for they have departed in peace. Faded and dead are the Christmas greens. The time of merriment and of dancing, the time of music and of laughter, are past and over, and the words of the Apostle sound on the ear like the blast of a trumpet: "Know ye not that they which run in a race, run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain."

It is in unison with such thoughts as these that I begin to-day the series of subjects upon which, with careful thought, I purpose to dwell during these coming weeks of preparation for Lent and the fasting and abstinence which are to follow. The subjects of sin and its consequences, of repentance, pardon, and forgiveness, will be brought before you.

And much it needs, my brethren, more and more does one feel, how here lies the solution of most of our difficulties, the answer to half our doubts and suggestions. This is the reason of trouble and anxiety and distress of mind, and ill temper and fretfulness. This it is which keeps boys from Confirmation, and men from the Holy Communion. This is the reason why, so often and in so many things, "many are called, but few chosen."

The subject of sin and its consequences becomes the most practical one into which I can enter. Every one before me, I care not who or what he is, is a sinner, and is more or less liable to the consequences of sin. I do not mean simply that each one of you was conceived and born in sin; I do not allude to the fact that some few of you are still in that sad condition which you received from your natural birth, and have never been washed in the Blood of Jesus, first applied in the regenerating waters of Baptism; but to this, that each one before me is an actual sinner. Nor is it needful for me to particularize in what respect you have sinned. Each one of you can recall acts of sin committed: sins of the noonday and of the night; sins of word and thought and deed; sins that you have flaunted in the face of men; sins that you blush to remember; sins that others have seen and talked about; sins which none beheld save the watchful eye of the angels and the awful glance of the Eternal Judge.

You are guilty, and you know it. Some of you remember single acts of sin—a lie, an oath, an act of disobedience; some of you can recall habits of sin; some of you can remember long-continued habits. Some of you could tell of sins against light and knowledge, and warnings and entreaties, and grace given. Some of you could tell of sins done with the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit in your hearts. Some of you in speaking of your sins would tremble, and blush, and shrink from the gaze of others, and hide your heads in anguish; some of you could mention them without a tremor of the voice, or a flush upon the cheek, or a tear in the eye, as though they were the sins of another. But whatever the state you are in, from the smallest child to the oldest man, from the youngest scholar to the priest who ministers at the altar—brethren, we are all sinners.

What, then, are the consequences of sin? First of all, it is a law of God's providence which never fails, as sure as the relation of cause to effect, that somehow, in some way, here or hereafter, or both, punishment follows sin. It matters not what the sin is, be it little or great, sin of commission, omission, negligence or ignorance—of each and all are the words of the Lawgiver true: "Be ye sure your sin will find you out."

Mark you, I am speaking now of the law of natural religion. In the Kingdom of Grace it is true that the Blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin, but that cleansing only takes place when the Blood of Christ is applied to the soul, and only fully takes place when that blood is fully and efficiently applied. How this may be, it will be my duty to show you by and by.

But this one law I desire to impress upon you, that punishment must follow sin. The Bible is full of such instances. I need only allude to them. Cain murders Abel, and becomes a fugitive and a vagabond. Ham is guilty of an act of filial impiety and is cursed, himself and his descendants. Lot chose to dwell in Sodom, and his wife was changed into a pillar of salt for looking back on the sin she was bidden to leave. Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, and despised his goodly heritage, and found no place for repentance—that is, for recovering his lost estate—though he sought it carefully with tears. Rebecca tempted her son to lying and false swearing, and then bade him go away for a few days until his brother's wrath should be over, and never saw again the son of her love, and for the sake of whom she had sinned. Moses smote the rock in anger and in presumption, and never saw, save in the distance, the Promised Land to which he had so wearily journeyed.

What is the whole history of the Jewish people, but the story of God's visitation upon sin? Nor does it end with the Old Testament. Ananias and Sapphira lie unto the Holy Ghost, and fall down dead in the presence of the Apostle. The people shouted at the speech of Herod, "It is the voice of a god and not of a man"; and because he gave not God the glory the angel smote him. He was eaten up of worms, and died. St. Paul says of those Corinthian Christians who received the Holy Communion unworthily, "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep."

What is true of sacred history is equally true of profane. You have only to read the story of nations and of kings to find over and over again repeated the terrible law that punishment follows sin. Nay, what does our everyday experience prove? Murder and lust, cruelty and wrath, blasphemy and dishonesty, meet their due reward. Awhile the judgment tarries, awhile the sentence pauses, for a while space is given for repentance; but evermore are the words of the Psalmist true: "I myself have seen the ungodly in great power, and nourishing like a green bay-tree. I went by, and lo! he was gone. I sought him, but his place could nowhere be found." And ever are the words of the poet true:

"Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though He stands and waits with patience,
With exactness grinds He all."

The objection may possibly arise in your minds, that such cases as I have mentioned are cases of great and crying wrongs; but, while the law is true of such instances which are intended as examples and warnings, it is true of each and every sin which you and I may commit. Yes, beloved, you may not be able to point out the connection between the sin and its consequence. You may not be able to trace back through the years that have gone the effect to its cause. Time and change and circumstances may have altered the outward character of your life; youth may have changed to manhood, or manhood to age. But all the while the sin has been biding its time and waiting for the hour of vengeance. Could our eyes be opened and we see what the angels see, dreadful would be the spectacle we should behold. Men pursued by their sins. They follow them, they pursue them, they are close upon them, they seize them, they torment them. Remember that lie you told; no one suspected you; or if they did, you succeeded in disarming suspicion. It was not found out; no one knows about it; you try to forget it yourself, and you have almost succeeded. So long a time has gone by that it seems to you as though it had ceased to be the lie you told, but one of which you have heard. For evermore that lie, my child, is waiting for its punishment. The deeper you hide it, the more you forget it, the longer it remains unacknowledged, the more terrible will be its consequences. As hidden fires beneath the earth boil and rage and give no outward manifestation, save perchance the appearance of a more luxuriant vegetation, until at last the mountain burns with raging fires, and the red-hot lava pours its desolating flood over field and vale and the cities of men, so, within the soul, a hidden, unrepented sin but waits for the day of its manifestation. All this does not run counter to the observation of thoughtful men, and of those who have most carefully studied human nature; but to thoughtless people it may not at first be self-evident. A simple illustration may make it clear to all. Oftentimes, children have very severe illnesses, and meet with terrible and painful accidents. As time goes on they forget all about them, though they may have suffered very greatly. They have altogether forgotten it, and when it is told them, it seems as though it were the history of another person. And yet these sicknesses and accidents leave marks upon the frame, and seeds of weakness in the constitution, and the beginning of the death that is to come, though the cause and the occasion have passed out of the memory. Again, it is true, even in later life, that physical troubles, of one sort and another, leave permanent effects upon the body, even though none but the skillful physician can point out the relation between cause and effect.

Or again, how often do you see a man in apparently good health, his head clear, his eye undimmed, hand and arm his own; and yet there may be some one organ diseased, of which he is not conscious, that is as yet hidden and unperceived, which is sure to bring death—perhaps sudden death—in the end.

So it is with each and every sin. As death follows the use of poison, as fire produces heat, so does punishment succeed to sin. Mark it, consider it, weigh it well, when you are tempted to sin. Mark it, weigh it well, when you hide-your sins, and do not repent of them. Mark it, most of all, when you succeed in doing all this.

There is something to me very terrible in that dreadful proverb which one so often hears about young men: "They must sow their wild oats." Yes, my brethren; but alas for the avenging reapers! Alas for the awful harvest time! Alas for the fire which consumes!

There is only one thing to be noted in regard to the law laid down. We do sometimes find instances, both in history and our own experience, where sin does not meet its punishment. From these cases you must take out those instances where the not receiving the punishment is rather apparent than real. Men, before now, to human eye, have had all that heart could wish for, and in their very prosperity have found their punishment. God gives to some their desire, and with the giving sends leanness withal into their souls. Honor and riches and high estate and gratified ambition have been the curse of them who have wickedly sought them. Could we see it as the angels see it, there would seem to us no punishments so awful as those hidden scourges men oftentimes bear, and bear with the more terrible pain because they must bear them alone. But find if you will, and as no doubt you may, the instance where the law is not true. Bring forward the exception. "Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment," says the apostle, "and some men they follow after." God hath appointed a day when He shall judge the world in righteousness. The judgment—the judgment, my brethren. The throne is set, the books are opened. I hear the rush of the chariot wheels; I catch the far-off sound of the clarion trumpets; I see the flashes of the morning light. "Behold, He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him." Well in the sorrowful Litany we may pray, "In the hour of death, and in the day of judgment, Good Lord, deliver us! " I conclude with one word. Is it true or not true that each one of you has sinned? Is it true or is it not true that punishment follows sin? Is this the law of natural religion? Is there any escape from it in the Kingdom of Grace? Is it possible so to judge ourselves that we be not judged of the Lord? Can we be so chastened that we may not be condemned with the world? If there be a way provided in the Church of God, if it be by the discipline of repentance, if it be by the pouring of the Blood of Christ upon the soul through the ministry of the "Word and the Sacraments, what avails the putting off the evil day? It must come, and, alas for the guilty soul! the longer the hidden sin is unrepented, the more sure will the punishment be. You shrink now from the judgment of your fellows, from the sentence of the priest, from the vows of Confirmation, from the searching gaze of Jesus in the blessed and holy Communion; but ah! my brethren, are you prepared for the hour of judgment, for the terrors of that dreadful day, for the wrath of the Lamb?

Imagine that scene. You stand alone; you see before you the myriads of angels; about you are the unnumbered multitudes of men of every age and clime. Chiefly are you conscious of the presence of those whom" you have known and loved. But all things else are lost in the sight of the uplifted throne, in the dazzling radiance of the King of kings. Happy then will you be, if from the depths of your anguish you can cry aloud, "I sought Thee by penitence; I was absolved by Thy Word; I found Thee in Thy Eucharist. Hide me, loving Saviour. Shelter me with Thy arms; cover me with Thy wounds; with Thy thorn-crowned brow pity me; and in Thy mercy receive me!"

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