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Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent
(From the Gospel for the day)
Luke xxi. 31.—“Know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”
OUR Lord says here that the kingdom of God is nigh to us. Yea, the kingdom of God is in us; and St. Paul says, that now is our salvation nearer to us than we believe.
Now ye ought to know, first, how the kingdom of God is nigh at hand; secondly, when the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
Now we must give earnest heed to take note of all that is contained in these words, “The kingdom of God is nigh at hand.” For if I were a king, and did not know it, I should be no king; but if I were fully convinced that I was a king, and if all men deemed me so likewise, and further, if I knew that all men deemed me such, I should be a king, and all the riches of the king would be mine. But if any of these three things were wanting, I could be no king. 208In like manner does our blessedness depend upon our perceiving and knowing the Highest Good, which is God Himself. I have a power in my soul which enables me to perceive God: I am as certain as that I live that nothing is so near to me as God. He is nearer to me than I am to myself. It is a part of His very essence that He should be nigh and present to me. He is also nigh to a stone or a tree, but they do not know it. If a tree could know God, and perceive His presence as the highest of the angels perceives it, the tree would be as blessed as the highest angel. And it is because man is capable of perceiving God, and knowing how nigh God is to him, that he is better off than a tree. And he is more blessed or less blessed in the same measure as he is aware of the presence of God. It is not because God is in him, and so close to him, and he hath God, that he is blessed, but because he perceives God’s presence, and knows and loves Him; and such an one will feel that God’s kingdom is nigh at hand.
Often, when I meditate on the kingdom of God, I cannot speak for the greatness thereof. For the kingdom of God, what is it but God Himself with all His riches? The kingdom of God is no small thing. If we think of all the worlds that God could create, that is not the kingdom of God. When the kingdom of God is manifested in a soul, and she knows it, you need not to preach or to teach; for that soul is taught of God, and assured of eternal life. He who knows and perceives how nigh God’s kingdom is, may say with Jacob; “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.”
God is alike near in all creatures. The wise man says; “God hath spread out His nets and snares 209over all creatures, so that he who desireth to perceive Him, may find Him in every one of them.”
A Master has said: “He knoweth God aright who knoweth him in all things alike.” He who serveth God with fear, it is good; he who serveth Him with love, it is better; but he who in fear can love, that is the best of all. That a man should have a life of quiet or rest in God is good; that a man should lead a painful life in patience is better; but that a man should have rest in a painful life is best of all. Whether a man walk out in the fields and say his prayers, and feel God’s presence, or whether he be in the church and feel God’s presence, does he perceive Him any the better because he is in a place of rest? If he do, it comes from his own infirmity; the difference is not on God’s side, for God is in all things and places alike, and is ever alike ready to give Himself to us, in so far as we are able to receive Him; and he knows God aright who sees Him in all things.
St. Bernard says: “Why does my eye perceive the heavens, and not my feet? Because my eye is more like the heavens than my feet.” Thus, if my soul is to perceive God, it must be heavenly. Now what will bring the soul to see God in herself, and know how nigh God is to her? Consider! The heavens cannot take any imprint from other things, neither can they, by any violence or force, be turned from their order. In like manner, the soul that would know God must be so grounded and built up in Him, that neither hope, nor fear, nor joy, nor sorrow, nor weal or woe, nor anything else, can so move it as to force it from its place in Him.
The heavens are everywhere alike far from the 210earth: thus shall the soul be alike far from all earthly things, that she be not nearer to one than to another, but keep herself alike far from all, in joy and sorrow, in prosperity and adversity, for she must be utterly dead to all that is of the earth, earthly, and altogether raised above it.
The heavens are pure and bright, without a speck; they have nought to do with time or space; no bodies have a fixed place therein; neither are the heavens subject to time: their circuit is swift beyond belief; their course is without time, yet from their course cometh time.
Nothing hinders the soul so much in its knowledge of God as time and place. Time and place are parts, and God is one; therefore, if our soul is to know God, it must know Him above time and place, for God is neither this nor that, like these complex things around us, for God is one.
If the soul is to see, she must not look at the things that exist in time, for so long as she is looking at time and place, or at the phenomena dependent thereon, she can never perceive God Himself: just as, if mine eye is to perceive colour, it must first be cleared of all tint in itself. If the soul is to know God, she must have no fellowship with that which is Nought. He who sees God, knows that all creatures are nought; for when you compare one creature with another, it indeed appears beautiful and is somewhat, but when you compare it with God it is nothing. I say more: if the soul is to know God, she must forget herself and lose herself, for while she is looking at and thinking about herself, she is not looking at or thinking about God; but when she loses herself in God, and lets go of all things, then she finds herself 211again in God. When she comes to know God, then does she know to perfection in Him, both herself and all the things from which she has separated herself. If I am truly to know the Highest Good, or the Eternal Goodness, I must know it in that wherein it is good, namely, in itself,—not in those things in which it is only in part. If I am to know real Being, I must know it in that where it is self-existent, that is, in God. In God alone is the true Divine Substance: in one man you have not all humanity, for one man is not all men; but in God the soul knows all humanity, and all things in their Ideal, for she knows them in their Substance. When a man has been within a beautifully-painted house, he knows much more about it than another who has never been inside it, and is able to tell much about it. So I am as certain as that I live and God lives, that if the soul is to know God, she must know Him above time and space; and such a soul knows God, and knows how nigh God’s kingdom is; that is, God with all His riches.
The Masters have set forth many questions in the Schools as to how it be possible for the soul to know God. It is not of God’s severity that He requires much from man; it is of His great kindness that He will have the soul to open herself wider, to be able to receive much, that He may bestow much upon her. Let no one think that it is hard to attain thereunto. Although it sound hard, and is hard at first, as touching the forsaking and dying to all things, yet, when one has reached this state, no life can be easier or sweeter, or fuller of pleasures; for God is right diligent to be with us at all seasons, and to teach us, that He may bring us to Himself when we are like to 212go astray. None of us ever desired anything more ardently than God desires to bring men to the knowledge of Himself.
God is ever ready, but we are very unready; God is nigh to us, but we are far from Him; God is within, we are without; God is at home, we are strangers. The Prophet says: “God leadeth the righteous by a narrow path into a broad highway, till they come unto a wide and open place;”4242The Translator has not been able to determine what is the passage referred to in the original, which runs thus: Gott führet die Gerechten durch einen engen Weg in die breite Strasse, dass sie kommen in die Weite und in die Breite. that is, unto the true freedom of that spirit which hath become one spirit with God. God help us all to follow Him, that He may bring us unto Himself! Amen.
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