Thursday, June 18, 2015

Soul Flight

A human soul went forth into the night,
Shutting behind it Death's mysterious door,
And shaking off with strange, resistless
might
The dust that once it wore.
So swift its flight, so suddenly it sped--
As when by skillful hand a bow is bent
The arrow flies--those watching round the
bed
Marked not the way it went.


Through the clear silence of the moonless
dark,
Leaving no footprint of the road it trod,
Straight as an arrow cleaving to its mark,
The Soul went home to God.
"Alas!" they cried, "he never saw the morn
But fell asleep outwearied with the 
strife"--
Nay, rather, he arose and met the dawn
Of everlasting life.

                      "My Flight For Heaven"

Friday, June 5, 2015

Keeping Under The Body

"Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now, they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we are incorruptible. I, therefore, so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body and bring it into subjection." 1 Corinthians 9: 25-27

       Standing upon the threshold of another Lent, with an earnest desire to make the most of its sacred opportunities, we must today strike out some line of thought which we can follow through this holy tide. It ought to be one rich in spiritual suggestion, and full of practical helpfulness. Such a theme is suggested to us by St. Paul: -- Striving for the Mastery; the mastery over self, over satan, over the world, over adversity, over sin, over suffering, over death. Let us try to set before ourselves this great theme in all its many-sidedness.
       Today let us consider the mastery which we need to gain over that lower part of ourselves which the Bible speaks of as "the body" or "our flesh."
       St. Paul, drawing a vivid and forceful illustration from the Corinthian games, lets us into the secrets of his spiritual life, and gives us a glimpse of the methods by which his splendid character was matured. With possibly some pathetic allusion to the bodily weakness which they had despised and to that "thorn in the flesh " which so sorely troubled him, he reveals to his Corinthian converts the tactics of his spiritual warfare. " So fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body and bring it into subjection." Grasp the force of these words. They mean, "It is no unreal contest in which I am engaged. It is a deadly conflict. I am face to face with my enemy. Every blow must be delivered directly at him with the most telling effect. I fight fiercely, desperately, doggedly. I strike, not at random, but with all my skill and with all my might. I crush my adversary with repeated heavy blows. I humble him and keep him low." Such was the struggle which St. Paul assured his followers he was accustomed to carry on.
       But who was his opponent in this hard-fought fight, the recipient of these deadly blows? None other than his own body, his flesh, the old Adam within him. This was the enemy against whom he had to contend and whom he was determined to subdue. Here was a foe within his own borders against whom he must wage unceasing warfare. Here was a rebellious force which must be crushed and kept under close restraint, if he was to dwell in safety and possess his soul in peace.
       To this same warfare we are called all our life long, and especially during this Lent. The body with its pleasures, its exacting requirements, its incessant demands, is the enemy of our higher life. "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other." There is an irrepressible conflict between the two.
       How is the body to be subdued? By scourgings, by severe asceticism, by punishing the body for the sins of the soul? Some of us have seen that great painting of The Flagellants, in which a multitude of young and old are pictured as lashing themselves fiercely to turn aside the wrath of God. Is it thus that our bodies must be subdued? Must we cut, and bruise, and starve our flesh into subjection to the soul? Which is right, the ascetic spirit of the past, or the easy living of today? Neither of them is wholly right, they are both perilous extremes. When St. Paul spoke of keeping under his body, he included in that expression all those claims originating from our existence in bodily form which war against the soul. Everything which is wisely adapted to overcome them ought to be used. There are some sins which only fasting and prayer can cast out. There are some natures for whom severe bodily discipline is a necessity. For all of us the Church evidently considers some measure of abstinence from the gratification of the desires of our flesh as a most wholesome discipline. So long as we are in the body we shall not become spiritual by means wholly spiritual. We shall need a wise combination of disciplme for the soul and body both. We must keep under the body while we educate the soul.
       In this great conflict with our lower selves we have need of absolute sincerity. We must recognize our body, with all its strong animal appetites, its downward tendencies, its almost incorrigible selfishness, as an insidious and deadly enemy of our spiritual life. The deceitful lusts of the flesh which war against the soul are cruel and cunning foes. We must have no sham fighting, no beating of the air. The contest is a very real, a very anxious, a very momentous one. We cannot afford to deceive ourselves or to be deceived. We must be in dead earnest, must know exactly what we are about, and must make every blow tell. Has there been any unreality in our Christianity? Has our warfare against self been in the past somewhat feeble and faltering? Let us renew it today with a determination to fight as did St. Paul. Let us cast aside all secret tenderness for ourselves, and fight a good fight against the evil that is within us. Let us mercilessly buffet and mortify our fleshly lusts until we have brought them into complete subjection and gained the mastery over them.

More About Controlling The Body:

Striving for the mastery: a free day-book for Lent

The Incarnation illustrated with scenes from the
Old Testaments and the Gospels, with the Trinity in the
 central column, by Fridolin Leiber, 19th century.
DAILY LESSONS FOR LENT
BY
WYLLYS REDE, D.D.
Canon of the Cathedral and Rector
Atlanta, Georgia. 

"Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things."

       These meditations were made with my people  at the close of Evensong, day by day, last Lent.
They are now put into print with the hope that two classes of people may welcome them.
       1. Hard-worked parish priests, who find no time for the preparation of such a series year by year, and yet desire to help their people to draw nigh to God in the practice of devout meditation during Lent.
       2. Devout Christians, who are accustomed to spend some part of each day in Lent in spiritual reading, and many of whom are deprived of in Church privileges. The number of such earnest souls is increasing every year.
       It has proved impossible, amidst the busy activities of parish life, to revise as carefully as I might have wished, the work which was struck off under pressure day by day. But perhaps after all it is best that the meditations should retain the simple and sometimes fragmentary forms into which they first shaped themselves, rather than the more symmetrical outlines which a colder criticism might have given them. Traces may be found in them of "books which have influenced me," but it is manifestly impossible to give credit in detail to the authors from whom in the heat of hasty preparation suggestions were received. My only motive in giving to the world this book, of whose imperfections I am painfully well aware, is to encourage some souls to renew the spiritual combat, and fight it to the end.

Wyllys Rede.
St. Andrew's Day, 1895

CONTENTS:
FIRST WEEK IN LENT. "The Mastery Over Self"
SECOND WEEK IN LENT. "The Mastery Over Temptation"
  • Monday: The Trial of our Faith 
  • Tuesday: Does God Lead us into Temptation?
  • Wednesday: Is it a Sin to be Tempted? 
  • Thursday: Temptation to Distrust God
  • Friday: Presumption and False Confidence
  • Saturday: Doing Evil that Good may Come
THIRD WEEK IN LENT. "The Mastery Over the World"
  • Monday: Is the World our Friend or our Enemy?
  • Tuesday: Overcoming the Evil that is in the World
  • Wednesday: Overcoming the World by Faith
  • Thursday: Nonconformity to the World
  • Friday: Crucifying the World
  • Saturday: The Profit and Loss of World
FOURTH WEEK IN LENT. "The Mastery Over Adversity"
  • Monday: The School of Life 
  • Tuesday: The Poverty of Spirit 
  • Wednesday: By Meekness 
  • Thursday: By Mourning 
  • Friday: By Making Peace
  • Saturday: Through Persecution
FIFTH WEEK IN LENT. "The Mastery Over Sin"
  • Monday: The Mystery of Iniquity
  • Tuesday: The Pervasiveness of Sin
  • Wednesday: The Deceitfulness of Sin 
  • Thursday: The Lawlessness of Sin
  • Friday: The Malignity of Sin
  • Saturday: The Mystery of Godliness
PASSION WEEK. "The Mastery Over Suffering"
  • Monday: Betrayal
  • Tuesday: Misjudgment
  • Wednesday: Poverty
  • Thursday: Bodily Suffering 
  • Friday: Mental Suffering
  • Saturday: The Reward of Suffering
HOLY WEEK. "The Mastery Over Death"
  • Monday: What is Death?
  • Tuesday: Obedience unto Death
  • Wednesday: Love Stronger than Death 
  • Maundy Thursday: The Blessing of a Finished Life 
  • Good Friday: The Surrender of the Soul 
  • Easter Even: After Death 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Faith Like A Child

      The child lying at night in its little crib by its mother's side cries out because of the darkness its eyes can not penetrate, and wants to get up. The mother says, "Lie still and wait till daylight, child.‚ And the little one asks, "When will that be? The mother says, "it will be daylight after a while," and taking the tiny hand in hers the restless child calmly drops into peaceful slumber, confident that at morning's dawn light will come. So with God‚'s grown-up children. Amid the impenetrable gloom of limited knowledge we grow restless and uneasy because we can not see Him face to face, but by faith, putting our hands in His, we may confidently expect the dawning.

And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven," Matthew 18:3

I'll trust You Richard Smallwood

Habakkuk's Hymn by Edgar DeWitt Jones, D. D.

For though the fig tree shall not flourish, Neither shall fruit be in the vines; The labor of the olive shall fail, And the fields shall yield no food; The flock shall be cut off from the fold, And there shall be no herd in the stalls : Yet I will rejoice in Jehovah, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Jehovah, the Lord, is my strength; And He maketh my feet like hinds' feet, And will make me to walk upon my high places. Habakkuk 3:17-19.

      This noble Scripture is a rich discovery in an unexpected place. For that matter, life is full of surprises. How often we come unexpectedly upon new discoveries. We take up a book more or less familiar; we think we know it by heart; and lo! among its score of chapters and thousands of words we find in some obscure paragraph a passage of extraordinary worth. We set out to journey over a familiar road; we think we know its every landmark, and then, to our surprise, we come suddenly upon a landscape of great beauty. We enjoy the association of a dear friend, of such long standing that we believe we know him thoroughly, only to discover some day as by a flash of lightning a new trait, a surprising courage, or some talent we never dreamed of his possessing. Thus it is with this Book of books; we think we know it fairly well, only to discover sometimes in the most casual way, new riches, new beauties, new wisdom.
      Comparatively few readers of the Bible are familiar with the book of Habakkuk. An exceeding great number would find it difficult to turn to it promptly. We know nothing of Habakkuk save what may be inferred from this book that bears his name. He probably flourished in the reign of Jehoiakim, that evil King  who deliberately cut to pieces certain portions of the Scriptures that were disagreeable to him. Habakkuk is known as one of the minor prophets, yet here is an utterance worthy of a Jeremiah, an Isaiah or an Ezekiel. Thank God minor prophets may sometimes be majors in the army of the Lord !
      While it is true that Habakkuk is unknown to most readers of the Scriptures, his brief but valuable book has rewarded many diligent students of the Word.
      Daniel Webster, in a conversation with some friends, was asked his preference as to portions of the Bible. In reply he said, "The masterpiece of the New Testament, of course, is the Sermon on the Mount. As to the Old Testament writings, my favorite book is that of Habakkuk; and my favorite verses in chapter three, seventeen and eighteen : 'For though the fig tree shall not flourish, neither shall fruit be in the vine; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the field shall yield no food; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stall; yet I will rejoice in Jehovah, I will joy in the God of my salvation.' This," continued Webster, "I regard as one of the sublime passages of literature; and often have I wondered that some artist equal to the task has not selected the prophet and the scene of his desolation as the subject of a painting."
      The fact that this unusually fine passage is in an obscure book of the Bible suggests that other undiscovered jewels are scattered throughout the Scriptures. Every one who searches the Scriptures for worthy goals may expect to be amply rewarded. One would hesitate to say that we are too familiar with the fourteenth of John, the twenty-third Psalm, the thirteenth of First Corinthians, or the eighth of Romans; but it is lamentably true that we are unfamiliar with many portions of the Scriptures wrongly deemed unimportant and commonplace.

I.
      These winged words of Habakkuk, in which he vows that whether or not his fields prosper or his flocks increase, he will rejoice in Jehovah, approach a definition of the nature of real religion. Religion is a difficult term to define, and many misleading definitions have been written. In Acts, the seventeenth chapter, Paul in his speech in Athens tells his hearers that they are very religious, but the word literally means "superstitious" or "demon-fearing." In James, the first chapter and twenty-seventh verse, "pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father" is described as "visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction and keeping oneself unspotted from the world." This is not a definition of religion, but a description of a practical expression of the same, and a good one, too. In attempting to define religion, we usually fall into the error of selecting an aspect of religion and defining the whole by a part.
      There is, for example, a ceremonial religion,  a view of God that expresses itself in punctilious observance of form. The Pharisees stressed this kind of religion ; they made the form an end instead of a means. Forms have their places in religion and ceremonies their uses. We may properly think of forms and ceremonies as the A-B-C of religion. One should use them as he uses the alphabet; that is, having learned the alphabet, he passes on to the creation of sentences, paragraphs, and the formation of a vocabulary. But there are those who use form and ceremony as goals, instead of vehicles to the goal.
      There is also a propositional or creedal religion, an intellectual assent to a truth or doctrine. Now, correct thinking is good, yes, more, it is necessary, but it is not of itself sufficient. The Scriptures tell us that "even the demons believe and tremble." Devils are always orthodox. The assent of the mind to a doctrine, even a Christian doctrine, may or may not be really religious. Intellectual acceptance of Christian doctrine is the beginning of a saving faith in God through Jesus Christ, but belief itself is not trust save as the bud is the flower.
      Still again, there is a devotional religion. A worshipful service makes a direct appeal to the nature of some persons whose lives are not really righteous, but who are charmed by the esthetic effect of prayer or preaching, and the mystery and spiritual romance that halos the house of God. The devotional spirit enters largely into real religion, but it is not the whole of religion.
      There is likewise a practical or humanitarian religion which consists in deeds of mercy, a religion of ministry to body and mind; a religion that stresses the idea of burden bearing and succoring the unfortunate. It may ignore or profess to ignore the institutional side of religion and even repudiate the creedal and the formal. Such a practical and necessary serving of humanity is a large part of religion, but it is not all.
      Habakkuk was not a stranger to ceremonial religion. As a devout Jew the various rites of purification, the numerous sacrifices and offerings, the tithing even of the smallest herbs, all these were probably observed by him. Undoubtedly he had given intellectual assent to the truths that are embodied in the decalogue. We may well believe that he found pleasure in the stately temple service, the majestic order of worship, the antiphonal choirs ‚Äî that these found and fed the soul of the prophet. We know that his religion was practical and that it was social as well as individualistic. Was it not this same brave soul who wrote, "Woe to him that getteth an evil gain for his house, that he may set his nest on high that he may be delivered from the hand of evil! Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood and establish a city by iniquity."

II.
      Habukkuk avers in this personal confession of faith that his trust in God does not depend upon the success of his crops, the vintage of his grapes, nor his jars of olives, his flocks and his herds. He may lose a part or all but that will make no difference to his devotion to God. However distressing and hard his experience, he means that his faith shall triumph. He exclaims exultantly: "I will joy in the God of my salvation." He goes still further although it would seem that he has gone as far as possible in his avowals of loyalty and trust. He makes use in the closing verse of one of the most beautiful and poetic of allusions to be found in the Scriptures. He climaxes his great affirmation, that he will trust God whate'er befall him, with these pictorial words: "God maketh my feet like hind's feet and will make me to walk on my high places."
      Habakkuk must have been familiar with the mountain stag or gazelle, one of the most nimble, graceful, and fleetest of creatures. The hinds make their homes in the upper regions of the mountains where they are undisturbed by hunter's dog or his master. From these secure retreats they venture down the mountain-side to feed on the succulent roots and herbage. When disturbed in their grazing by an enemy they disappear as if by magic, their feet fairly twinkling in flashes of speed; and when next one sees them they are far up the mountain safe from harm in the high places with impassable barriers between them and their foe. Habak-kuk means to say that when the world seems against him and everything has gone wrong, his spirit bounds as the hind and is carried up into the high places where the armies of Jehovah are around and about him, protecting him. There is an echo of the same thought in Isaiah. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with the wings of eagles, they shall run and be not weary, they shall walk and faint not." It is an exultant faith when one is able so to live. It is a triumphant trust. It is real religion where God is loved for His own sake and not because of any material reward.

III.
      One sees in this seraphic passage of Scripture a spiritual declaration of independence. The soul is no longer in bondage to the letter of the law, the ceremony or the creed. The world, the flesh and the devil have lost their power to enthrall. God is served for His own sake. Here is a religion with all of self washed out; a spiritual yet practical faith needs no defense, and is impervious to criticism. Here is a confidence in thq Divine like that of the afflicted patriarch who cried amid his suffering , "Though he slay me yet will I trust him." Here is a real religion‚ no artifice, no hypocrisy, no mistaken emphasis or reversing of the Divine order. Here is the top round of the ladder of faith. This is the kind of religion that Paul had in mind when he wrote, "But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control. Against such there is no law." Here is a sublime confidence in God such as Jesus taught in the sermon on the Mount. "If God
doth so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?"
      We praise God for Habakkuk, that brave soul of the long ago. We know so little about him; we know less of him than the world knows of Shakespeare, and that is precious little. We do not know how this prophet looked ; the color of his eyes, the profile of his face, the tone of his voice. Yet, notwithstanding, we can almost feel the throbbing of his heart as we read his great hymn of faith. Across the centuries he speaks to us and bids us to be brave ; he calls upon us to love God for His own sake and to serve Him without fear, regardless of the storms that beat upon us and the doubts and
difficulties that pursue us.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Behold, We Go Up To Jerusalem!

      That is the special tidings our little Messenger in this issue would bring you. By the time it is in your hands, we shall have entered again upon a blessed Lenten season, when the closing events of the life of Jesus will be the subject of our meditations, events which play so infinitely great a part in our eternal salvation. Dear reader, are you interested in such scenes? Would you behold Him who was the “Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief”?
      Then let us go up to Jerusalem! Let us in our thoughts be present at the “Feast of the Passover” where, already, the dark shadows begin to crowd in upon Him, as the traitor, Judas, lays his treacherous plots against His life. Let us follow that “Man of sorrows” on His via dolorosa across the dark vale of Kidron on to Gethsemane, where He “treads the wine press alone,” where He bears upon His shoulders the burden of a world of sin. We stand upon His shoulders the burden of a world or sin. We stand beneath the cross on Golgatha as the shadows deepen; we look up at the bruised and bleeding form, and hear Him groaning: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!” And the words of the prophet come to us: “Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow.”
      The parched lips move, and we hear the words: “It is finished.” The very foundations of the earth tremble; the veil of the temple, and even the rocks, are rent asunder; the tombs are opened, and the dead go forth unto life.
      “It is finished,” indeed! The “Rock of Ages” has been cleft for you and me, and in its bosom we find a safe retreat from sin and death, yea, from the powers of hell. We can say triumphantly with the apostle of old: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?. . . 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.”Sermon by Rev. Carl J. Segerhammer.

More Sermons by Segerhammer:

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

You Raise Us All Up Lord


Easter by Irvine Innes.
That Jesus lived, that Jesus died,
The ancient stories tell;
With words of wisdom, love, and truth,
That he could speak so well;
And all so great his work for man,
I hail him, brave and free,
The highest of heroic souls
Who lived and dies for me.

That Jesus rose, that Jesus reigns,
The hearts that love him know;
They feel Him guide and strengthen them,
As on through life they go.
Rejoicing in His leadership,
The heavenward way I see,
And shall not stray if I can say,
He rose and reigns in me.