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symbols, and bid them s^ek out and gaze upon the Invisible 1 Scrip-
ture gives the spirit, and the Church the hodij, to our worship ; and we
may as well expect that the spirits of men might be seen by us without
the intervention cf their bodies, as suppose that the Object of faith can


be realized in a world of sense and excitement without the instrumen-
tality of an outward form to arrest and fix attention, to stimulate the
careless, and to encourage the desponding. But observe what follows ;
— who would say our bodies are not part of ourselves 1 We may apply
the illustration ; for in like manner the forms of devotion are parts of
devotion 1 Who can in practice separate his view of body and spirit ?
for example, what a friend would he be to us who should treat us ill,
or deny us food, or imprison us ; and say, after all, that it was our
body he ill-treated, and not our soul 1 Even so, no one can really
respect religion, and insult its form. Granting that the forms are not
immediately from God, still long use has made them divine to us ; for
the spirit of religion has so penetrated and quickened them, that to
destroy them is in respect to the multitude of men to unsettle and dis-
lodge the religious principle itself. In most minds usage has so identi-
fied them with the notion of religion, that the one cannot be extirpated
without the other. Their faith will not bear transplanting. Till we
have given some attention to the peculiarities of human nature, whether
from watching our own hearts, or from experience of life, we can
scarcely form a correct estimate how intimately great and little matters
are connected together in all cases ; how the circumstances and acci-
dents (as they might seem) of our habits are almost conditions of those
habits themselves. How common it is for men to have seasons of
seriousness, how exact is their devotion during them, how suddenly
thej'^ come to an end, how completely all traces of them vanish, yet
how comparatively trifling is the case of the relapse, a change of place
or occupation, or a day's interruption of regularity in their religious
course ? Consider the sudden changes in opinion and profession, reli-
gious or secular, wliich occur in life, the proverbial fickleness of the
multitude, the influence of watchwords and badges upon the fortunes
of political parties, the surprising falls which sometimes overtake well-
meaning and really respectable men, the inconsistencies of even the
holiest and most perfect, and you will have some insight into the
danger of practising on the externals of faith and devotion. Precious
doctrines are strung, like jewels, upon slender threads.

Our Saviour and His Apostles sanction these remarks, in their treat-
ment of those Jewish ceremonies, which have led me to make them.
St. Paul calls them weak and unprofitable, weak and beggarly ele-
ments.* So they were in themselves, but to those who were used to
them, they were an edifying and living service. Else why did the
Apostles observe them ? Why did they recommend them to the Jews

* Hebr. vii. 18. Gal. iv. 9.


whom they converted ? Were they merely consulting for the preju-
dices of a reprobate nation ? The Jewish rites were to disappear ; yet
no one was bid forcibly separate himself from what he had long used,
lest he lost his sense of religion also. Much more will this hold good
with forms such as ours, which, so far from being abrogated by the
Apostles, were introduced by them or their immediate successors ; and-
which, besides the influence they exert over us from long usage, are
many of them witnesses and types of precious gospel truths ; nay, much
more, possess a sacramental nature, and are adapted and reasonably
accounted to convey a gift, even where they are not formally sacra-
ments by Christ's institution. Who, for instance, could be hard-
hearted and perverse enough to ridicule the notion that a father's bless-
ing may profit his children, even though Christ and His Apostles have
not in so many words declared it ?

Much might be said on this subject, which is a very important one.
In these times especially, we should be on our guard against those, who
hope by inducing us to lay aside our forms, at length to make us lay
aside our Christian hope altogether. This is why the Church itself is
attacked, because it is the living form, the visible body of religion ; and
shrewd men know that when it goes, religion will go too. This is why
they rail at so many usages as superstitious ; or propose alterations and
changes, a measure especially calculated to shake the faith of the mul-
titude. Recollect then, that things indifferent in themselves, become
important to us when we are used to them. The services and ordi-
nances of the Church are the outward form in which religion has been
for ages represented to the world, and has ever been known to us.
Places consecrated to God's honour, clergy carefully set apart for His
service, the Lord's-day piously observed, the public forms of prayer, the
decencies of worship, these things viewed as a whole, are sacred rela-
tively to us, even if they were not, as they are, divinely sanctioned,
liites, which the Church has appointed, and with reason, for the
Church's authority is from Christ, being long used, cannot be disused
without harm to our souls. Confirmation, for instance, may be argued
against, and undervalued ; but surely no one in the common run of
men wilfully resists the Ordinance, but will thereby be visibly a worse
Christian tlian he otherwise would have been. He will find (or rather
others will find for him, for he will scarcely know it himself,) that he
has declined in faith, humility, devotional feeling, reverence, and so-
briety. And so in the case of all other forms, even the least binding in
themselves, it continually happens that a speculative improvement is a
practical folly, and the wise are taken in their own craftiness.

Therefore, when profane persons scoff at our forms, let us argue with


ourselves, thus ; and it is an argument which all men, learned or un-
learned, can enter into. " These forms, even were they of mere human
origin, (which learned men say is not the case, but even if they were,)
are as least of as spiritual and edifying a character as the rites of Ju-
daism. Yet Christ and His Apostles did not even suffer these latter to
be irreverently treated or suddenly discarded. Much less may we suffer
it in the case of our own ; lest stripping off from us the badges of our
profession, we forget there is a faith for us to maintain, and a world of
sinners to be eschewed."



Isaiah Ix. 1.
Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

Our Saviour said to the woman of Samaria, " The hour cometh, when
ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the
Father."* And upon to-day's Festival I may say to you in His words
on another occasion, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears."
This day we commemorate the opening the door of faith to the Gen-
tiles, the extension of the Church of God through all lands, whereas,
before Christ's coming, it had been confined to one nation only. This
dissemination of the Truth throughout the world had been the subject
of prophecy, " Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth
the curtains of thine habitations. Spare not, lengthen thy cords, and
strengthen thy stakes. For thou shalt break forth on the right hand
and on the left ; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the

* John iv. 2L

254 THE EPIPHANY. [Serm.

desolate cities to be inhabited."* In these words the Church is ad-
dressed as Cathohc ; which is the distinguishing title of the Christian
Church, as contrasted with the Jewish. The Christian Church is so
constituted as to be able to spread itself out in its separate branches
into all regions of the earth ; so that in every nation there may be found
a representative and an oflshoot of the sacred and gifted Society, set
vip once for all by our Lord after His resurrection.

This characteristic blessing of the Church of Christ, its Catholic na-
ture, is a frequent subject of rejoicing with St. Paul, who was the chief
instrument of its propagation. In one Epistle he speaks of Gentdes
being " fellow-heirs " with the Jews, " and of the same body, and par-
takers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel." In another he en-
larges on the " mystery now made manifest to the saints, viz. Christ
among the Gentiles, the hope of glory. "f

The day on which we commemorate this gracious appointment of
God's Providence is called the Epiphany, or bright manifestation of
Christ to the Gentiles ; being the day on which the wise-men came
from the East under guidance of a star, to worship Him, and thus be-
came the first-fruits of the heathen world. The name is explained by
the words of the text, which occur in one of the lessons selected for to-
day's service, and in which the Church is addressed. " Arise, shine ;
for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For
behold the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people ;
but^the Lord shall rise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee,
and the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and Kings to the brightness of
thy rising. . . . Thy people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit
the land for ever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that
I may be glorified.":!^

That this and other similar prophecies had their measure of fulfilment
when Christ came, we all know ; when His Church, built upon the
Apostles and Prophets, wonderfully branched out from Jerusalem as a
centre into the heathen world round about, and gathering into it men of
all ranks, languages, and characters, moulded them upon one pattern,
the pattern of their Saviour, in truth, and righteousness. Thus the pro-
phecies concerning the Church were fulfilled at that time in two respects,
as regards its sanctity and its Catholicity.

It is often asked, have these prophecies had then and since their per-
fect accomplishment 1 Or are we to expect a more complete Christian-
izing of the world than has hitherto been vouchsafed it 1 And it is usual
at the present day to acquiesce in the latter alternative, as if the inspired
predictions certainly meant more than has yet been realized.

« Is. liv. 2, 3, t Eph. iii. 6. Col. i. 26, 27. I Is. Ix. 1-3. 21.


Now so much I think is plain on the face of them, that the Gospel is
to be preached in all lands, before the end comes : "This gospel of the
kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations ;
and then shall the end come."* Whether it has been thus preached is
a question of fact, which must be determined, not from the prophecy,
but from history ; and there we may leave it. But as to the other expecta-
tion, that a time of greater purity is in store for the Church, that is not
easily to be granted. The very words of Christ just quoted, so far from
speaking of the gospel as tending to the conversion of the world at
large, when preached in it, describe it only as a witness unto all the
Gentiles, as if the many would not obey it. And this intimation runs
parallel to St. Paul's account of the Jewish Church as realizing faith
and obedience only in a residue out of the whole people ; and is further
illustrated by St. John's language in the Apocalypse, who speaks of
" the redeemed from among men," being but a remnant " the first fruits
unto God and to the Lamb."f

However, I will readily allow that at first we shall feel a reluctance
in submitting to this opinion, with such passages before us as that which
occurs in the eleventh chapter of Isaiah's prophecy, where it is promised,
" They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain ; for the earth
shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
I say it is natural, with such texts in the memory, to look out for what is
commonly called a Millennium. It may be instructive then upon this
day to make some remarks in explanation of the state and prospects of
the Christian Church in this respect.

Now the system of this world depends, in a way unknown to us, both
on God's Providence and on human agency. Every event, every
course of action, has two faces ; it is divine and perfect, and it belongs
to man, and is marked with his sin. I observe next, that it is a pecu-
liarity of Holy Scripture to represent the world on its providential side ;
ascribing all that happens in it to Him who rules and directs it, as it
moves along, tracing events to His sole agency, or viewing them only
so far forth as He acts in them. Thus He is said to harden Pharaoh's
heart, and to hinder the Jews from believing in Christ ; wherein is
signified His absolute sovereignty over all human aflairs and courses.
As common is it for Scripture to consider Dispensations, not in their
actual state, but as His agency would mould them, and so far as it
really does succeed in realizing them. For instance ; " God, who is
rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we

* Matt. xxIt. 14 . + Rom. xi. 5. Rev. xiv. 4.

256 THE EPIPHANY, [Serm,

were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ."* This
is said as if the Ephcsians had no traces left in their hearts of Adam's
sin and spiritual death. As it is said afterwards, " Ye were sometimes
darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord."f

In other words, Scripture more commonly speaks of the divine design
and substantial xcork, than of the measure of fulfilment which it receives
at this time or that ; as St. Paul expresses, when he says that the
Ephcsians were chosen, that they "should be holy and unblameable be-
fore Him in love." Or it speaks of the j^rofessioii of the Christian ; as
when he says, " as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have
put on Christ ;" — or of the tendency of the Divine gift in a long period
of time, and of its ultimate fruits; as in the words, "Christ loved the
Church, and gave Himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it
with the washing of water by the word, that He might present to Him-
self a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing,
but that it should be holy and without blemish,"^ in which Baptism and
final salvation are viewed as if indissolubly connected. This rule of
Scripture interpretation admits of very extensive application, and I pro-
ceed to illustrate it.

The principle under consideration is this ; that, whereas God is one,
and His will one, and His purpose one, and His work one, whereas all he
is and does is absolutely perfect and complete, independent of time and
place, and sovereign over creation, whether inanimate or moral, yet that
in His actual dealings with this world, that is, in all in which we see
His Providence, in that man is imperfect, and has a will of his own, and
lives in time, and is moved by circumstances. He seems to work by a
process, by means and ends, by steps, by victories hardly gained, and
failures repaired, and sacrifices ventured. Thus it is only when we view
His dispensations at a distance, as the Angels do, that we see their har-
mony and their unity ; whereas Scripture, anticipating the end from the
beginning, places at their very head and first point of origination all that
belongs to them respectively in their fulness.

We find some exemplification of this principle in the call of Abra-
ham. In every age of the world it has held good that the just shall
live by faith ; yet it was determined in the deep councils of God,
that for a while this truth should be partially obscured, as far as His
revelations went; that man should live by sight, miracles and worldly
ordinances taking the place of silent providences and spiritual services.
In the later times of the Jewish Law the original doctrine was brought
to light, and when the Divine object of faith was born into the world, it

* 1 Eph. ii. 4, 5. t Eph. v. 8. t Eph. i. 4. Gal. iii. 27. Eph. v. 25—27.


Avas authoritatively set forth by His Apostles as the basis of all accept-
able worship. But observe, it had been already anticipated in the in-
stance of Abraham ; the evangelical covenant, which was not to be
preached till near two thousand years afterwards, Avas revealed and
transacted in his person. " Abraham believed God, and it was counted
unto Him for righteousness." "Abraham rejoiced to see My day;
and he saw it, and was glad."* Nay, in the commanded sacrifice of
His Beloved Son, was shadowed out the true Lamb which God had
provided for a burnt -offering. Thus in the call of the Patriarch, in
whose Seed all nations of the earth should be blessed, the great out-
lines of the Gospel were anticipated ; in that he was called in uncircum-
cision, he was justified by faith, he trusted in God's power to raise the
dead, he looked forward to the day of Christ, and he was vouchsafed a
vision of the Atoning Sacrifice on Calvary.

We call these notices prophecy, popularly speaking, and doubtless
such they are to us, and to be received and used thankfully ; but more
properly perhaps, they are merely instances of the harmonious movement
of God's word and deed, his sealing up events from the first. His in-
troducing them once and for all, though they are but gradually unfolded
to our hmited faculties, and in this transitory scene. It would seem
that at the time when Abraham was called, both the course of the Jew-
ish dispensation, and the coming of Christ, were (so to say) realized ; so
as in one sense, to be actually done and over. Hence, in one passage,
Christ is called " the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world ;" in
another, it is said, that " Levi paid tithes'' to Melchizedek, " in Abra-

Similar remarks might be made on the call and reign of David, and
the building of the second Temple.:]:

* Rom iv. 3. John viii. 56. t Rev. liii. 8. Heb. vii. 9.

t In the instance of the first [Temple] there clearly is not the same combination
of the Mystical sense with the Temporal. The prediction joined with the building
of Solomon's Temple is of a simple kind ; perhaps it relates purely and solely to
the proper Temple itself. But the second Temple rises with a different structure of
prophecy upon it. Haggai, Zechariah. and Malachi, have each delivered some sym-
bolical prediction, connected with it, or with its priesthood and worship. Why this
difference in the two cases ? I tlnnk the answer is clear ; it is a difference obviously
relating to the nearer connexion which the second Temple has with the Gospel.
When God gave them their first Temple, it was doomed to fall, and rise again, under
and during their first economy. Tlie elder prophecy, therefore, was directed to the
proper history of the first Temple. But when he gave them their second Temple,
Christianity was then nearer in view ; tlirough that second edifice lay tlie Gospel
prospect. Its restoration, therefore, was marked by a kind of prophecy, which had
its vision towards the Gospel." — Davison on Prophecy, Discourse vi. part 4.

Vol. L— 17

268 THE EPIPHANY. [Serm.

In like manner the Christian Church had in the day of its nativity-
all that fulness of holiness and peace named upon it, and sealed up to it,
which beseemed it, viewed as God's design, viewed in its essence, as it
is realized at all times and under whatever circumstances, viewed as
God's work without man's co-operation, viewed as God's work in its
tendency, and in its ultimate blessedness ; so that the titles given it
upon earth are a picture of what it will be absolutely in heaven. This
might also be instanced in the case of the Jewish Church, as in Jere-
miah's description ; "• I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the
love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness,
in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and
the first-fruits of His increase."* As to the Christian Church, one
passage descriptive of its blessedness from its first founding has already
been cited ; to which I add the following by way of specimen : " The
Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory ; and thou
shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.
Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, and a royal
diadem in the hand of thy God .... As the bridegroom rejoiceth
over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee." The mountains
shall depart, and the hills be removed ; but My kindness shall not depart
from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saif h the
Lord that hath mercy on thee. All thy children shall be taught of the
Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy Children." " Behold, I have
graven thee upon the palms of my hands ; thy walls are continually

before me Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold ; all

these gather themselves together, and come to thee. As I live, saith
the Lord, thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an orna-
ment, and bind them on thee as a bride doeth." "Violence shall no
more be heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders;
but thou shalt call thy walls salvation, and thy gates praise."! In
these passages, which in their context certainly refer to the time of
Christ's coming, an universality and a purity are promised to the Church,
which have their fulfilment only in the course of its history from first
to last, as foreshortened and viewed as one whole.

Consider, again, the representations given us of Christ's Kingdom.
First, it is called the •' Kingdom of Heaven,'' though on earth. Again,
in the Angels' hymn, it is proclaimed " on earth peace," in accordance
with the prophetic description of the Messiah as '• the Prince of Peace ;"
though He Himselt; speaking of the earthly, not the divine side of His
dispensation, said, He came '• not to send peace on earth, but asword.":|:

*Jer. ii. 2. 3. t Isa. Ixii. 2, 3. 5 ; liv. 10.13; xlix. IC IS ; k. 18. I Matt. x. 34.


Further, consider Gabriel's announcement to the Virgin concerning
her Son and Lord ; " He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of
the Highest ; and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His
father David ; and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever,
and of His kingdom there shall be no end." Or, as the same Saviour
had b3en foretold by Ezekiel ; " I will set up one Shepherd over them,
and He shall feed them .... I will make with them a covenant of
peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land ; and they
shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods. And I
will make them and the places round about My hill, a blessing ; and I
will cause the shower to come down in his season ; there shall be
showers of blessing ;"* It is observable that in the two passages last
cited, the Christian Church is considered as merely the continuation of
the Jewish, as if the Gospel existed in its germ even under the Law.

Now it is undeniable, and so blessed a truth that one would not wish
at all to question it, that when Christ first came, His followers were in
a state of spiritual purity, far above any thing which we witness in the
Church at this day. That glory with which her face shone, as Moses
of old time, from, communion with her Saviour on the holy Mount, is
the earnest of what will one day be perfected ; it is a token held out
to us of a dark age, that His promise stands sure, and admits of accom-
plishment. They continued " in gladness and singleness of heart, prais-
ing God, and having favour with all the people." Here was a pledge
of eternal blessedness, the same in kind as a child's innocence is a fore-
shadowing of a holy immortality ; and the baptismal robe, of the fine
linen, clean and white, which is the righteousness of saints ; — a pledge
like the typical promises made to David, Solomon, Cyrus, or Joshua
the high-priest. Yet at the same time the corruptions in the early
Church, Galatian misbelief, and Corinthian excess, show too clearly
that her early glories were not more than a pledge, except in the case
of individuals, a pledge of God's purpose, a witness of man's depravity.

The same interpretation will apply to the Scripture account of the
Elect People of God, which is but the Church of Christ under another

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanParochial sermons (Volume 1) → online text (page 29 of 76)