The Exaltation of Their Spiritual Selves

From “Sermon at Sewanee,” Turning Points in My Life (1911)

We do not forever want new things; we want the art of keeping things forever new. The change we need is not in the things, it is in us and our hold upon the things — our life in them, our use of them, our labor for them.

Let us remember that our Lord taught absolutely nothing new — the gospel was older than the law, God’s love than man’s obedience. He himself, the incarnation of our faith, our hope, our life, was before Moses, before Abraham, before Adam, before the foundation of the earth, as old as God, because he was God’s love-disposition, love-purpose, self-realization in us and in his world. Our Lord spoke only of God and of man, and their mutual relations; on God’s part, of love, grace, and fellowship or oneness with us (coming down) — and on our part (going up) of faith, hope, and love that make us one with him.

Our Lord uttered no new word, gave no new commandment, even instituted no new sacrament — water and bread and wine were already in themselves not only symbols or signs, but instruments and agents of birth and life.

He took all the old things as they were, and he made them all living and new. When he took his disciples up with him into the very high mountain, it was not really in himself, but only to them that he was transfigured. They saw him as the sun and his raiment as the light; they heard words from heaven, claiming him for God and declaring him to man. But their seeing and hearing in this way was only through the exaltation of their own spiritual selves and faculties. Jesus was always so, if their senses could but have perceived it.

We do indeed live only in our supreme moments. Things are monotonous, dull, dead enough, day after day, perhaps year after year, until somehow we are taken up — let me say, however, that we are never taken up, except as also, with all our spiritual cooperation, we take ourselves up — into the exceeding high mountain, and there all our world becomes transfigured before us. “Old things are passed away: behold all things are become new.” Mind, not all new things have become, or come to pass, but all things, the old things, have become new. God and heaven are everywhere and always here if we could but see them; but alas! almost nowhere, and so seldom here, because so few of us can see them, and we so seldom.

William Porcher Dubose (1836-1918) was an Episcopal priest and theologian, a longtime professor at the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, and dean of its School of Theology for twelve years. He wrote extensively on the New Testament and was among the most creative American theologians of the late nineteenth century. This sermon was preached in the chapel at Sewanee the year after his retirement.


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