From “Tract 54, A Sermon on the Annunciation,” The Tracts for the Times (1835).

This day, though named from the Blessed Virgin, is one of the greatest festivals of our Savior. And, therefore, in former times the Church of England reckoned it the beginning of the year; thereby especially giving intimation, that the church would have the whole year dedicated to Jesus Christ. For this day, with which the church began the year, marks the time of Christ’s gracious incarnation, upon which all that we have or hope, both in heaven and in earth, entirely depends.

For, as St. Paul argues concerning another link in the chain of God’s mysterious mercy, “If Christ were not truly made man, then he did not truly die for our sins: if he did not, then was he not raised again: and “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, you are yet in your sins.” Such was the adorable will of God Almighty, in his counsels for redeeming lost mankind. There was to be no communion between God and humanity, except through the everlasting son, himself both God and man.

This is the foundation laid from the beginning, besides which no one can lay any other. People may think little of it, but the evil spirits know it well; and accordingly, they have busied themselves from the beginning in nothing so much as in perplexing the minds of the unwary with regard to the incarnation of our Lord and Savior, and our communion with God through him. Church history is little else than a record on the one hand, of their unceasing endeavors to corrupt the faith on these two points; on the other of his watchful providence, meeting and baffling them, in every age, by ways of his own, prepared also from the beginning, for their confusion, and our trial.

The very chief of these precautions was Christ’s appointing persons in his church to watch the treasure of divine truth… The apostles were to take precautions, not only that their ministry might be fruitful for the time, but also that it might flourish and abound forever… Even during the apostolic age, there were many, who under pretense of purer doctrine, refused to confess “Jesus Christ come in the flesh.” This we know from the later books of the New Testament, especially from the writings of St. John.

And by the records of the two next generations, we learn that the corruptions were of two kinds, apparently opposite. Some, out of pretended reverence for our Lord’s divine nature, refused to own him, made very man for us. They would have it, that his blessed body was no more than a dream or vision, and all that he did here, a scene as it were enacted by the will of the Almighty to make an impression on our minds. Others, on the contrary, denied his divine being, pretending, no doubt, extraordinary reverence towards God the Father Almighty, they would not hear the Gospel doctrine that he who is one with the Father, had vouchsafed to become one of us. They would have it that the crucified Jesus was either a mere human saint or at best a sort of good angel.

Against both these blasphemous errors St. John himself had given warning, pronouncing as it were the Church’s anathema beforehand. “There are many deceivers entered into the world, who confess not Jesus Christ come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an anti-Christ… [In the early church] the bishops and pastors were considered as the chosen apostolical guardians of the true faith.

John Keble (1792-1866) was an Anglican priest, theologian, and poet, one of the principal leaders of the Oxford Movement, Anglicanism’s nineteenth century Catholic Revival. He is best known for The Christian Year, a popular set of devotional poems that inspired support for liturgical renewal, and for his 1833 Assize Sermon, widely regarded as the spark of the Oxford Movement. He was among the principal authors of The Tracts for the Times, a series of 90 pamphlets that announced the Oxford Movement’s aims to the wider church, and Tract 54, part of a series of sermons for holy days, is among these. Keble is commemorated on March 29 on the liturgical calendars of many Anglican churches.