Grace and Cleansing

From “Sermon XXIX,” Sermons Occasional and Parochial (1835)

[Jesus] in his divine compassion at once saw fit to heal them, but in his no less divine wisdom healed them not without putting them on their trial. “Go,” he said, “show yourselves to the priests.” That is, Go, fulfil that which Moses commanded; seek this great blessing which you long for, not in proud separation  from  others, but as members  of God’s Church and family; seek it according to his own ordinance, use the outward means of grace and acknowledgments of mercy, and trust to the Father of all grace and mercy for the result.

“‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And it came to pass that as they went they were cleansed.” Are not these words truly emphatic, words of peculiar force and significance, when we set them against the disposition unhappily so strong in our times, the disposition to undervalue the holy sacraments and outward ministry of the Church of God. Men say, they come in faith to be healed, why should not that be enough; why should so much stress be laid upon the doctrine of baptism and of laying on of hands; if in their minds they embrace the Cross, why should they be required to come to God’s holiest altar and nourish themselves, from time to time, with the flesh and blood of the Son of Man?  These questions too many, even among those who account themselves faithful Christians, are accustomed to ask in our day, and is it not as if those lepers had asked, “Why should we go shew ourselves to the priests? why not cleanse us at once, seeing God knows our real trust in him as well as he could know it by all the outward signs in the world?

A plain answer to which would have been. Nay, but here is the express command of him who alone can order, both what he will do with your diseased bodies, and how he will do it. It is but a heathenish unbelieving pride, if you, like Naaman the Syrian, turn away, and care not to show yourselves to the priests, as he cared not to wash in Jordan, because you cannot understand how it should heal you. These lepers did not so; if any of them were so inclined, they so far submitted themselves to the judgment of the wiser and more faithful among themselves, as to set out forthwith in the way that our Savior had appointed them, and presently they had their reward. “It came to pass that as they went they were cleansed;” even as it will always come to pass that whoever with true faith receives Jesus Christ in either of his holy sacraments, not standing to argue or object, will undoubtedly receive that measure of grace and cleansing which the Holy Ghost by that sacrament intended to convey.

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. He preached this sermon in the Oxford Movement’s early days at Cirencester. Keble is commemorated on March 29 on the liturgical calendars of many Anglican churches.


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