Saturday, September 02, 2006

Spiritual voice (28): from John Henry Newman's "The Invisible Presence of Christ" (Sermon 21)

What our Lord announced came to pass. The Kingdom of God came; it filled the world; it took possession of the high places of the earth; but it came without observation.

All other kingdoms which have come, have sounded a trumpet before them, and have challenged attention. They have come out with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield. They have been the ravenous beast from the north; the swift eagle, or the swarming locusts. "A fire devoured before them, and behind them a flame burned. The appearance of them has been as the appearance of horsemen, and as horsemen, so did they run; ... and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle." [Joel. ii. 3, 4. Rev. ix.]

Such has been the coming of earthly power; and a Day will be, when that also will have a fulfilment, and find its antitype in the history of heaven; for when our Lord comes again, He too will come with a shout, "with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God." This will be with observation; so will He end, but so did He not begin, His Church upon earth; for it had been foretold, "He shall not strive, nor cry, neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets; a bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench, till He send forth judgment unto victory." [Matt. xii. 19, 20.]

And that noiseless, unostentatious coming was rendered still more secret, because, in spite of His own assurances, men would not believe that it would be secret. The Pharisees asked for a sign from heaven. They would not believe He could come, unless He came with a show; they looked out for a temporal prince, with a sword of earth; and thus, through the unbelief of men, He was "as a thief in the night," and He was come and in possession before they well understood that He was coming.

The kingdom of God," says the Divine Speaker, "cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for the kingdom of God is within you." He tells us why He was not observed; it was that He came, not as the world cometh, not by an influence from without, but by an inward power; not subduing the outward man through the senses, but touching the secret heart.

Kingdoms of this world spread in space and time; they begin from a point, and they travel onwards, and range around. Their course may be traced: first they secure this territory, then they compass that.

Of course the Kingdom of Christ also, as being in this world, has an outward shape like this world, though it be not of this world; and, as viewed with the eyes of this world, it has an aspect of growth and development like other kingdoms; but after all this is not the true process of its rise and establishment. It came by an inward and secret presence; by outward instruments, indeed, but with effects far higher than those instruments, and really by God's own agency.

He who is Omnipresent and Omniscient, touched many hearts at once in many places; they forthwith, one and all, spoke one language, not learning it one from the other, but taught by Him the Song of the Lamb; or if in one sense by man's teaching too, yet catching and mastering it supernaturally, almost before the words were spoken. Men broke out all at once in His praises, in the east and in the west, in the north and in the south; and the perplexed world searched about in vain whence came that concord of sweet and holy sounds. Upon the first voice of the preacher, upon a hint, upon a mere whisper in the air, a deep response came from many lips, a deep, full, and ready harmony of many voices, one and all proclaiming Christ. For the Spirit of the Lord had descended and filled the earth; and there were thrilling hearts, and tremulous pulses, and eager eyes in every place. It was a time of visitation, when the weak become strong, and the last become first. It was the triumph of faith, which saith not, "Who shall ascend into heaven? or, Who shall descend into the deep? but what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach." And thus, as Nineveh and Babylon were surprised of old by the army of the enemy, so was the world then surprised by Him who "rode upon a white horse, and was called Faithful and True;" and as it befell Egypt, that there was not a house where there was not one dead, so now, on this more gracious visitation, there was not a house where there was not one alive.

For God had come down among them, and was everywhere; the Lord of Angels was walking the earth; He was diffusing His Presence, and multiplying His Image; and in this sense, as well as that in which He spoke the words, "a man's foes were those of his own household." The despised, the hated influence, insinuated itself every where; the leaven spread, and none could stay it; and in the most unfavourable places, in the family of the haughty senator and fierce soldier, amid the superstitions of idolatry, and the debasement of slavery, the noblest and ablest and the fairest, as well as the brutish and the ignorant, one and all, by a secret charm, became the prey of the Church, and the bondsmen of Christ. And thus a great and wide-spreading kingdom came into existence all at once, like spring after winter, from within.

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