A very good place to consider the Christian walk; how appropriate that it is mostly babies who are brought here.
To say that we are about to enter the Cathedral, having been given Christian baptism, is to consider the church of which we are now a part. Like the cathedral, it has three levels of existence. At present only two of those portions are "inhabited" with Christians.
The Nave, or main part, is meant to resemble a ship that is journeying through life Heavenward. It is the church on earth. Since we still battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, all which we have renounced for Jesus at our baptisms, we are called the Church Militant.
The level in which the choir sits, and where the Gospel is proclaimed, is the Church Expectant. It represents all of the Faithful souls who are now with the Lord in Paradise awaiting joyously the coming of the General Resurrection wherein their mortal remains in the earth will be transformed, glorified as unto Christ's own Resurrected body, and enlivened by their owners. This then is the Church Expectant. They await to return with Christ and His angels and to see justice at last done upon the earth. Then our prayer will fully be realized: "Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven."
For All The Saints Who From Their Labors Rest (William Walsham How (1823-1897) For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy Name, O Jesus be forever blessed. All-le-lu-ia! A-ll-le-lu-ia! Thou was their rock, their fortress, and their might: thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight; thou, in the darkness drear, the one true Light. All-le-lu-ia! A-ll-le-lu-ia! O may thy soldiers, faithful true, and bold, fight as the saints who nobly fought of old, and win, with them, the victor's crown of gold. All-le-lu-ia! A-ll-le-lu-ia! O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. All-le-lu-ia! A-ll-le-lu-ia! And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the heart the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again and arms are strong. All-le-lu-ia! A-ll-le-lu-ia! The golden evening brightens in the west; Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest; sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. All-le-lu-ia! A-ll-le-lu-ia! But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day; the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the King of glory passes on his way. All-le-lu-ia! A-ll-le-lu-ia! From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. All-le-lu-ia! A-ll-le-lu-ia!
The final level where the High Altar is located represents our goal of Heaven. There all is being set into readiness by Christ who goes "to prepare a place for you that where I am there you may be also" (see John, chapter 14). We have but hints and holy intimations of what this final estate of holy blessedness will be like, for as scripture says: "Eye has not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered the mind of man what God has prepared for those who love Him." (I Corinthians 2:9) Here, in Heaven, we will be the Church Triumphant. How appropriate that the holiest part of a cathedral is here at the High Altar where the priest celebrates the Mass. In Heaven our High Priest is at the right hand of the Father; we shall be there at the end. Paradise, where the Church Expectant now resides, would seem to be a wondrous place of learning where souls are being prepared for the ultimate glory of glories.
The following on our Guardian Angels by the Blessed John Henry Newman:
Our Lady of Lourdes --
Lourdes waters and the baptism of our precious daughter.
[the following may not be reproduced except for use in private devotions]
The day after Nancy's death I found myself standing at the nursery window gazing at the tiny figure of my daughter. The nurses, trying to cheer me up, had teased me about the Methodist preacher's Catholic medal on her incubator. Now the medal gleamed brightly through my tears.
One of the nurses approached me. Placing her hand on my shoulder I heard her say , "Reverend, please, we must tell you." Then after a stammering pause she blurted out, "If you are going to baptize her ... you ... (she swallowed as she fought back tears) ... you must do so now." Maybe she was Catholic and thought that I shared the same sort of belief in the efficacy of infant baptism. I don't know. I let her lead me by the hand into the nursery.
I reached into my coat pocket and found the half empty vial of Lourdes water. The nurse took me to my baby's crib. She was so tiny that I wept aloud for a moment. The poor child she lifted to me was only three pounds and so ill. As she was placed in my arms my heart leapt to Jesus and Heaven. Then began to descend a blessedly catholic moment upon us within the sterile confines of that nursery. After the fashion of the Methodists I sprinkled her tiny forehead and then, my voice gaining its full strength proclaimed, "Laura Dawn, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." As the droplets ran down her face she could not cry, she only whimpered a bit and sighed deeply.
"Dawn" I thought, "Laura Dawn I could hear my wife saying what she said only hours before she died, "Call her Dawn". Was it then to be that a beautiful day would dawn for us in Jesus?
The words of the Apostle Peter lifted my spirit at that moment, "Baptism doth also now save us" (I Peter 3:21). I thought to myself, "Little girl, if God must take you from me as well, you will surely be in heaven with your sainted mother." Thus I performed my first Catholic baptism for from that day on I have believed that though the little ones do not recall their baptisms, Jesus takes the promises made on their behalf very much to heart and saves them. Any doubts that I had ever entertained vanished.
What I couldn't know at the time was that from this moment of holy grace there
was also physical healing. It seemed that the healing waters of Lourdes were
flowing through Brownsville General Hospital. All praise be to Jesus our
Lord, for with each passing day she grew stronger, astounding the doctors and
the nurses with this totally unforeseen development, this rescue from the
brink of death.
From a sermon upon baptism by Glenwood Davis:
The following sermon was preached by me at the Greensboro Baptist and Presbyterian Churches on August 24, 1986 and is entitled,
The Bible teaches that our nature is utterly fallen and in need of a new life. No matter how morally upright or how lovable we may be, we are fallen from grace from our births. Let me illustrate: a charming young man had just married and was taking his bride to their new home. Suddenly the old mule pulling their wagon just sat down! The young groom who had never been heard to speak anything but sweetness was visibly agitated. Angrily he shouted at the beast: "Get up!" There was no compliance with the angry command. "All right" he said, "that's one." Again he shouted: "Get up with you!" Still no response. "That's two!" Finally he shouted, the veins standing out on his neck, "Get up!" The mule stubbornly ignored him. "That's three" he yelled, and taking his rifle he shot the beast dead.
His sweet little wife was astounded to see this side of her new husband. "Oh honey, how could you?" "That's one!" he said. And so it is with even the most restrained of human natures for in the sweetest, kindest frame lurks that fallen nature from Eden. There's a need in us humans for honesty about it and even more, there's a need in us for spiritual rebirth.
I believe in the New Birth because Jesus instructed us all, "You must be born again!" He meant that for everybody, even nice people. In this particular instance he was addressing Nicodemus, a very nice fellow. I'm glad it was Nicodemus, otherwise we'd be tempted to think conversion is just for those we deem to be the "bad people". Understand, Nicodemus was by all human standards just what I called him, very nice, a very good and quite religious chap. He was a national leader, he was morally upright, he knew and respected the Bible, he prayed, he was in every sense a gentleman and a very gentle sort.
Here's a key to the uprightness of Nicodemus: his greeting to Jesus was an honest compliment. He liked Jesus; he wanted to talk religion with Him. "Surely", said Nicodemus, "no man can do the works you do unless he's sent from God!" How many of even our finest churchmen talk that way? Come now, what more could be asked for in any Christian? I'd surely be impressed as a clergyman. I'd surely be happy to count Nicodemus on my side of any issue, as pulling with me on any worthwhile endeavor. Heaven knows that our Age needs millions of such decent, orthodox, godly souls.
But Jesus quickly came to his startling point, as though He heard not a thing, as though all Nicodemus' goodness wasn't enough. Ignoring the sincere compliment of a most sincere man, ignoring the gentlemanliness being demonstrated before him, a quality all too rare in this old world, Jesus abruptly announces: "Ye must be born again!" Naturally Nicodemus is perplexed. He can't imagine the meaning of such a paradoxical observation. Desiring to know what the Lord meant he humbly mused: "Can I somehow return to my mother's womb, is there some way of going through the birth process once more even as an old man?"
Jesus is very much to the point with us as well. He cuts through our genuine religious sentiment, our obvious admiration of Him and He says to us: "Ye must be born again!" And what advantage have we over Nicodemus? None really. We may suppose we have for after all we've been raised in Christianity, we know better than to reply with Nicodemus' perplexity. We know it to be a spiritual thing the Lord is asking of us. But really, we don't fare any better for all of that. We still give some very pedestrian responses to such an eternally profound commandment. Our responses are of a piece with Nicodemus' initial response: "Shall I then join this church? ... Shall I then go forward in some evangelistic crusade? ... Shall I join the monastery and pray all of my life until the end? ... Shall I be confirmed? Shall I be baptized? Shall I obtain some charismatic gift?" And to all of this and all else we may ask our Lord responds the same: "You must be born from on High for the wind blows where it will, and you do not know from whence it comes or to whence it goes except you see its effects in the moving of the tree limbs, the fluttering of the leaves. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
By the way, many of us may well have found Christ at a religious meeting or at a confirmation or in some wonderful church service. I think I found Him as a little boy in a Bible School class. But that's not the point; millions join churches, millions go forward in evangelistic crusades, millions more are confirmed and all to later forsake Jesus whom they say they've found. It is not the where of it happening, it is not the how of it happening, it's the Who of it happening. I may go forward a hundred times, join church a thousand times, but has Jesus happened to me? Have I been truly turned around, reborn in all that I am with my old sinful nature now fighting with my better self, my Christian self, until death ends that struggle? Is the Christ-nature, quite in spite of myself, set in me by God's Holy Spirit?
Back to the original language of Jesus that night -- He actually was saying, "You must be born from on high; you must be born from above." Why the choice of the term "born"? Why not reformed? Can it be that He wants us to realize that even as we did not initiate our own natural births nor can a man initiate his New Birth. We are given birth, so to speak. Birth is not our creature, it is something we have done to us, something we go through, something that happened despite our prenatal protest of wanting to remain in the warmth and security of our mothers' wombs. And although we are given New Birth as well, we are never its author; another Authors it.
Of birth and of New Birth I offer this further observation: when you were first born, you breathed, for that is part of birth. Did you invent your breathing? No! God gave you breath. This is also true of the New Birth. To all appearance we made a decision, we repented of sin, we changed. Yes, all of that is so, but as far as the breathing reflex of a soul just brought to life, don't suppose this to be your doing, your initiative. The repenting, the changing, and the breathing spiritually are from on high! They are a gift from God to a fallen nature incapable of such things in itself.
And prior to birth we are, as a general rule, carried inside our mother's for nine months. We are hidden from the world for this season; we are not our own for this dark and miraculous span. In that hidden time we are formed, and our potential frames encoded. And so it is with that other birth, the New Birth. Your lives God has been secretly forming by grace, carrying you in His mercy until you are born from on high. What influences? What forces? What circumstances have impinged upon your seclusion and all for your eternal good? How did God prepare your heart to openly receive His Good News about the Savior?
How were you formed to cry out for His salvation and to live? Was it in that time of "darkness" you were prepared to trust Christ's sacrifice, to walk with both eyes and heart upon Christ's righteousness alone?
"Born how?", we ask with Nicodemus. From on high! Of heaven's mercy, of heaven's choice. Whose choice? I supposed it was mine as a young lad. No, my dears, for the Savior makes it all too clear: "You have not chosen Me but I have chosen you". It is Christ who lovingly corrects us, and we need to be corrected if we proudly suppose we somehow changed our inward lives. We are chosen to be changed, chosen to be reborn, chosen to breathe a Christly spirit, chosen to endure the crucible of fire, chosen to battle the old fallen will, and the old ways, to be carriers of the cross and in time chosen as well to be crucified with Christ. Chosen in this life's little day, until at last we see Him Face to face. Chosen for heaven!
Yes, we feel Nicodemus' perplexity quite keenly when we intelligently look at the meaning of God's grace. "How can such a thing happen? Why should it happen to me, a sinner? Is it all really true? Dare I hope I can start anew? I would so love to start anew." Yes, it is all true because of Christ's victory over sin and death, and because of Christ's sitting now at the right hand of the glory of the Father. It is just as true that some stillborn infants have been resuscitated, recapturing life's promise. All humanity is at first spiritually stillborn. Never mind morality just now, never mind religiosity or goodness or a reverential bent of mind. Oh how we need them all desperately in the Church! These are admirable qualities, qualities we must instill in our children, qualities we must prayerfully seek for ourselves, qualities of a sound mind and a good heart. But our reality, even in such wonderful qualities, is the stark reality of dead men according to Holy Scripture. We are dead in trespasses, dead to righteousness before God, dead to any eternal impulse until that moment of New Birth. Then this same Scripture can say of us what it says of heaven: "all things are new . . . old things are passed away!"
Really it is not, "Can I be born again?" No, not can but MUST. Of all that life can do to us, of all that life asks of us, of all that a life involves, there is but one MUST, "Ye must be born again." This one thing must happen to us, must happen in us. Just as we must first be born in order that we might live our lives, even so we must be born from on High that we might live our eternal lives both here and hereafter. We may long to "grow up" when we're children: if only we knew! But of growing up there is no MUST, no inherent necessity. I have buried many little children, more than I care to remember. To bury a little boy, a little girl, is perhaps the most painful thing that a clergyman must ever do. And though marriage is great, there is no "must" to it. We are perfectly capable of surviving without that blessed estate, perfectly capable despite what the media would tell us, of being unmarried and chaste and holy and happy and fulfilled. Many still want children in this infanticide culture of ours for many still know that children are a blessing from God but there is no MUST to it. Countless couples haven't children, can't have children, choose not to have children for whatever reasons and they survive. It is normal to long for success but it is not a MUST for survival, is it? We may survive as successes, or mediocre, or failures, but we do survive. We'd love a home, something I'll never have as a minister. You may have homes, you are of course blessed in this until tax time rolls around as it does. But either way, it shall not be the end of us! But we MUST BE BORN AGAIN if we are to live forever with the Lord!
The Bible says, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the spiritual
man." It cannot be reasoned out, thought out, or figured out. God's mercy
happens to us at His initiation and until it happens who could suspect such
a thing? If I would try to explain flight and its principles to a caterpillar
he'd surely not know what I was talking about (even if I could speak
Caterpillarese!) No, not until he was transformed into a butterfly could he
know or experience the miracle of flight. But until he is changed how could
he suspect? It is therefore a humbling thing to consider this New Birth. Our
poor intellects desert us and with the caterpillar we must come to the
appointed time, to the crisis. We must then come to the crisis which is the
Cross of Jesus, to the shed blood, to the Amazing Grace, to the blessed hour
"I first believed". We must someday seriously say, "I once was lost but now
am found, was blind but now I see." Amen.
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