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The Faith that Overcometh the World.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Tuesday in Whitsun Week

Rivingtons, London, 1875.


Second part of Sermon XXXVII. for the First Sunday after Easter.

St. John v.  412.  St. John xx.  1923.

for the first part, on the Epistle.

Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that JESUS is the SON of GOD.                                                                         - 1 ST. JOHN v. 5. 


....But from the contemplation of ourselves we are called upon at this season to look on Him Who is our life and peace.  And from these statements of doctrine by St. John in the Epistle, we turn, in the Gospel, to his own account of first beholding his risen Lord after he had witnessed His sufferings and death It was now late in the evening of Easter Day; our Lord had early on that morning appeared to Mary Magdalene by the grave; later in the day He had shown Himself to St. Peter; and when this great and glorious day of days was now verging towards evening, He walked with two disciples going to Emmaus, and there in the house made Himself known to them in breaking of bread.  These two immediately returned to Jerusalem, which was about seven or eight miles from where they had seen Him, and had just now entered the room where the other disciples had assembled; they immediately heard from them of His having appeared to St. Peter, after which, no sooner had they themselves mentioned at length all His conversation with them by the way, and His making Himself known to them in the house, than while they were yet speaking, He Himself again appears, as St. John here describes.


The same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut, where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.  On His taking leave of them, He had said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  I go away and come again.” [St. John xiv. 27]  And now He returns and finds them again in the evening, for the first time, together; and pronounces and bestows His great blessing of peace—peace beyond all understanding, the gift from above.


And when He had so said, He shewed unto them His hands and His side.  O the gracious, the heart-moving sight! as if to say, “You saw it all three days since, you saw it all—the agony, the mockery, the wounds, and now you see it was for your sakes.  He that could overcome death could easily have refused such pains; but I, Who bore it, suffered it all for your sakes.  Here are the signs; here passed the nails, as you saw; and here the spear.”  Many, my brethren, are the wonders of Christ’s Resurrection; mighty indeed the gifts He then dispensed, the promises He made, the powers He declared, the manifestations of His Risen Body for a period of forty days; but, after all, nothing was so affecting as this—His bearing and showing His wounds!  Other things showed greatness, and power, and victory, but these love; love unspeakable! the door of that heart open for us, and open to us; here, by all that I have suffered, by that dreadful night, by that more terrible day, by the remembrances of all, here in My wounded side you may find refuge and shelter for evermore; a refuge from evil spirits; a refuge from the world and all its cares, its allurements, and its enmities; a refuge from your sin-laden, sorrowing, fearful selves.


And already did this sight of redeeming love, and His gift of peace operate in them, for St. Luke mentions that they were, at first beholding Him, greatly terrified.  Jewish enemies without, and, for a moment, alarm within.  But all troubles and fears, as St. John intimates, were at once dispelled.  Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.  Already were His words fulfilled, “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man taketh from you.”


But as we have observed that the Epistle for to-day is full of high and heavenly doctrine, so in like manner is the Gospel.  It contains the account of those mysterious gifts whereby Christ is to dwell in His Church unto the end.  For the appearance of our Lord on this occasion is not to mere witnesses of His Resurrection, but, like the Last Supper, to Apostles, and the imparting of a gift.  It is by the power of His Resurrection, and as the first fruits of it, in the presence of other disciples, to convey, as it were, and transfer to them His own mission from the Father, of which He had so often spoken.


Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you. This iteration of the gift was the fulness and confirmation of His own peace; that very form of benediction by which they hereafter were in His Name to confer His peace, even in like manner as Aaron and the priests of old were commissioned to bestow the blessing and peace of God.  “Peace be unto you,” as My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.  Of which an ancient bishop beautifully says, “As my Father Who is God sent Me Who am God, so I as Man send you who are men.  As the Father loved the Son, yet sent Him into the world to suffer, so have I loved you by the same love, though I send you My disciples into the world to suffer.” [St. Greg. Hom. in Evang. 26]  And oh! the blessed words of this Divine appointment, whereby His own gracious mission of health and peace is still continued in His ministers unto the end of the world; and our merciful Saviour is still present in them, imparting His own mysterious gifts!


And when, He had said this, He breathed on them.  As He had of old breathed into Adam the breath of life, so now, by the same creative breath, He breathes the new gift of life into His Church.  “When His breath goeth forth,” says the Psalmist, “He shall renew the face of the earth.” [Ps. civ. 30]  And how else can it be renewed but by removing sin, that covering which is over all nations?  “He breathed on them,” and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.


This great gift of the forgiveness of sins, which He had purchased for us by His death, and which was from henceforth to reside for ever in His Church, seems connected throughout with the lesson from the altar on this day.  Such is that expression of St. John, “This is He that came by water and blood, and the Spirit beareth witness.”  And again, such is our Lord’s showing them His side, from which that water and blood had flowed, and twice bestowing on them His gift of peace.  And then, thus having given them His peace, He bequeaths to His Church this ministry of reconciliation; this power of the Holy Ghost for rejecting and absolving sinners, which the Church at her Ordination Service commits in the same solemn words to everyone admitted by her into the order of the priesthood.  These are the gifts of which the Prophets speak so much; these are the living waters that were to go forth from beneath the temple of Jerusalem to the four quarters of the world.  [Ezek. xlvii. 1-12]  “On that day there shall be a fountain opened to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness.” [Zech. xiii. 1]   These are the keys of hell and of death, [Rev. i. 13, 18] committed to Him who appears in the dress of the High Priest on the great Day of Atonement.


St. John ever delights to speak at the same time of his Crucified and Risen Lord.  Thus in the Revelation he begins, “Peace from Him Who is the first-begotten from the dead.” …  “Unto Him be glory, Who hath loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” [Rev. i. 4, 5]


To conclude, the Epistle and Gospel for this day are so full of Heaven, of high truth, of deep mystery, that it would take long to unfold, a whole life to contemplate. But what is of more importance than barren speculation or study, let us ask in what is it all most realized to us in the present day and unto the end of the world; surely it is at the Holy Eucharist.  There do the words of absolution fall like drops of dew on the dry heart of the penitent; there is our faith nourished in the Son of God, so that we may overcome the world; there is He that came by water and blood, inviting us by that water and blood to be made in very deed one with Himself.  There is the Spirit of Truth, without which the flesh profiteth nothing.  There are the Three that bear witness on earth, by which we are raised into unspeakable communion with the Three that bear record in heaven.  There by faith the penitent refreshed hath the witness in himself.  There he hath the Son, and he that hath the Son hath life.  The sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel abundantly testifies to all this.


And again, take the Gospel likewise as fulfilled to us in this feast of love; it is here that the disciples are assembled on the first day of the week, and have shut the doors of their heart against the world; here Jesus stands in the midst of them gathered together in His Name.  It is here by His Ministers He proclaims peace and forgiveness of sins; it is here that He shows unto them His hands and His side.


These are not, my brethren, mere figures of speech, they are not images and representations from what once took place on Easter Day, but they are all solemn truths contained in the words of Christ; and we know that Heaven and earth shall pass away, like shadows of a cloud over a summer field, but His words shall not pass away.