A Serious Joy

From “Sermon XXIV,” Sermons Occasional and Parochial (1831)

The woman whose case we are now considering, she was, it seems, more or less in doubt whether she was doing right or no; for even after her cure was performed, she came not without fear and trembling to cast herself at the feet of Jesus. We need not then make any question that our Savior is better pleased to have a sinner draw near to him in fear and trembling, than with such bold and familiar confidence as is sometimes mistaken for faith.

Indeed, if one seriously recollected but for a moment who he is, and what we are, surely reverential fear must accompany every thought of ours concerning him: he, the great Creator of the world; we, his creatures, breathing only by him; he, the judge of men and angels; we, sinners and condemned by his law; he, the Redeemer of lost mankind at the price of his own precious blood; we. his redeemed, yet too often guilty of leaving him out of our thoughts and doing what we know will displease him.

Surely there must be some mistake, if ever men are taught to appear before him without deep and unfeigned reverence. Joy there may be, and gladness of heart; gratitude and affection cannot rise high enough to answer what he has done for man; but let it be always a serious joy, a devout gratitude, a filial affection. Whilst men remember that Christ is their Savior, let them not forget that he is their God. While they rejoice in what has been done to save them, let them recollect that they are not out of danger.

Such being the temper of mind which our Lord by His kindness to that distressed woman recommends to all who at any time draw near to him, the best time of all for seriously considering and trying to practice it, is when you are invited to the Holy Sacrament of his most blessed Body and Blood. All that has been said of our duty to our Redeemer will apply at once with peculiar force to that which of all outward services brings him nearest to Christian souls.

Thus, there may, there must be, many things in the Lord’s Supper, far beyond what you can understand, but Christ will not therefore count you unworthy, provided you understand so much as this. That you cannot be good or happy without him; and provided also you really intend to try and please him as long as you live. But this again is not to be understood as if willful ignorance were excusable in respect of receiving this Holy Sacrament, any more than in your other duties to Jesus Christ; God’s word encourages none to communicate, but those who really mean well. And such will of course acquaint themselves, according to the best of their power, with what the Bible and Prayer-book teach concerning this awful subject. But having so endeavored in earnest, if you still find yourself ignorant (as no doubt you may) of many things, still that ignorance need not keep you from drawing near with this faithful woman, and touching if it be but the hem of his garment; the Holy Spirit is sure to be with you, so doing and living accordingly; your ignorance, as well as your other infirmities, will gradually grow less and less, and you, like all that ever came near and touched our Lord Jesus Christ in faith, will be made, in time, perfectly whole.

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. Sermon XXIV was written early in his ministry, when he was assisting his ailing father at the Church of St. John the Baptist at Coln St. Aldwyn, Gloucestershire. Keble is commemorated on March 29 on the liturgical calendars of many Anglican churches.

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