Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dean Church’s 1885 Advent sermon on Hope

Richard William Church (1815-1890) was a well-known priest of the Church of England who served as Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, from 1871 to his death. He wrote a number of books, including a definitive history of the Oxford Movement. The following is a passage from his sermon on Hope, taken from his  book of Advent Sermons preached in 1885 and available online HERE.

Is it not a duty, in solemn and quiet self-recollection, to put before our thoughts that unbroken and continuous line, which joins this very present moment with that hour which certainly is to arrive, when we must be changed, when we may be changed into the spotless blessedness of the saints of God? You - you yourself - with your trouble, your temptations, your sin, small or great, your conscious weakness, your insensibility and ignorance; yet you yourself are one of those of whom, if you will, all this wondrous future will, must, come true. 

There is no blessedness of the soul of man, no rest from weariness, no refreshment after toil, no opening of the eyes to beauty never seen by mortal eye, no delight in goodness, no rejoicing in perfect love, no ineffable sense of the sweetness and tenderness of God's mercy - none of these that may not be hoped for; hoped for with all the warrant of the Almighty's promise, by each soul here present, with its identity unbroken, with that individual character which makes it what it is. And is that great hope to be practically all a blank to us?

It is not to be told how much we lose of strength, of gladness and enlargement of heart, of power to do God's service cheerfully and happily, by not realising and dwelling on the great hope "set before us." We let ourselves be blinded, fretted, disheartened by the present, because we will not look up and see what is as certain as the present, in the not very distant future. Many of us, today, remember with more or less regret that this is the last Sunday of the year; that another year has gone out of our tale of days. Its days are gone and will never come back; nor that which they brought, and took away with them; the pleasant times which those days gave us, the glad meetings, the sunny holidays, are gone; gone, with the happiness which its days wrecked, with the health that they have broken, with the old friends, the lives, some of them noble and precious ones, which they have taken with them into the past. 

Here, as at a deathbed, we feel the close of all earthly things, the inevitableness and the drawing near of death. With us the natural thing is to look back to the past; the word that naturally rises to our lips is, "Another year gone." It is natural with us: with St Paul it is just as natural to reflect, "Now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand" (Romans 13:11). It is the last Sunday, and that must give us much to think of. But it is not only, it is not chiefly that. About us are the songs, and the joy, and the innocent gladness of Christmas. About us, as we are reminded today, are the "bright beams of light which God casts upon His Church" (Collect for St. John the Evangelist’s Day) bright indeed to us now, but only the faint quivering of the dawn of that Eternal Day. 

We, at least, if we are not Christians in vain, can join the stern and awful thoughts that accompany the lapse of time - awful enough, indeed, to make the boldest anxious - with the deep and chastened sense of realities beyond it, certain, final, ineffable, over which time has no power, which are warranted to men. We can pass on to the great hope which from end to end fills the Bible - the hope which ennobles and gladdens our mortal life; such a hope as carried St Paul in strength and joy through the long "daily dying" of his Apostleship, and burst forth in such impassioned yet most reasonable conviction - "For I count," he says, "that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in 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" (Romans 8:18, 38).


Post a Comment