God’s Seal

From “Self Denial,” Sermons for the Christian Year (1878)

Of all church ceremonies there is none which so distinctively sets before us our call to suffer as that which has, from the beginning always gone along with baptism: the signing of the newly baptized with the sign of the cross. The cross is the very height and depth of suffering. The very name presently tells us of a soul exceedingly sorrowful even unto death, of sweat like great drops of blood falling down to the ground, of a burden too heavy to be borne, of reproach, scorn, shame, spitting, of scouring, and a crown of thorns, of hands and feet and side pierced, of crying with a loud voice and yielding up the ghost. All this and more, more than man’s heart can understand, comes into a Christ’s mind when he hears of the cross. What, then, can we understand by the cross marked on us from our very childhood, but that we too are to on in suffering and self-denial and that, though our Lord’s yoke is easy and his burden light to such as are renewed by his Spirit, yet in itself it is very bitter, “full”, as the prophets says: “of gall and travail,” (Lam. 3:5)?

Christ sanctified our lesser sorrows, mortifications, and vexations, as he was afterward to sanctify in his agony and passion our more grievous and heart-searching trials: our great disappointments, our shame, want, sickness, and death… It does seem strange that we should, any of us, expect to pass this life in ease and quietness or think it hard if we have not our own way in all things. “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his Lord. It is enough for the disciple, if he be as his master, and the servant as his Lord” (Matt. 10:24-25). Thus, whether look to our Lord’s example or to the sacramental ways which he has ordained, both of old and now, to bring his people near him, either way we are taught to count them happy who endure” (James 5:11), to consider affliction and trouble as God’s seal set upon those who particularly belong to him, and to fear nothing so much as to receive our consolation in this world.

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 retired from teaching at Oxford in 1836 to become the vicar of Hursley, a village in Hampshire. Many of his parish sermons were published in a posthumous collection called Sermons of the Christian Year, from which this sermon is taken. Keble is commemorated on March 29 on the liturgical calendars of many Anglican churches.

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