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by the Rev. John Keble
Sermon XIX from Sermons for the Christian Year: Sermons for Lent to Passiontide

S. LUKE xi. 21.

"When a strong man armed keepeth his palace,
his goods are in peace."
THAT is, as long as the devil in his full power has possession of the soul of a man, the man is apt to be in a sort of peace and quiet, his conscience not disturbed, but well enough contented with himself. 

This was plainly our Lord’s meaning, because the words are part of what He said when He was discoursing with the Pharisees about a miracle which He had just wrought in casting an evil spirit out of a man.  They in their profaneness and malice said, “He casteth out devils by Beelzebub the chief of the devils:” as if it were a sort of agreement between our Blessed Lord and the evil one, Satan consenting to seem to be cast out, in order that he might in the end have the more power through the people’s faith which they should have in his false prophet, for such they blasphemously accounted our Saviour to be.  With such a thought they said, “He casteth out devils by Beelzebub.”  But our Lord shewed them that could not be, because Satan was too wise and crafty to be divided against himself.  He, Jesus Christ, as they might plainly see, was altogether against the devil.  They might plainly see it, if they would open their eyes and look.  They might see that not only did He by His word drive away the unclean spirits, so that they could no longer hurt men’s bodies, tear them to pieces, cast them into the fire, or the water, but also that by His holy teaching, if men would but receive and obey it, He would no less free their souls.  The devil is an unclean spirit, but Jesus Christ is all for cleanness of heart and life: the devil is all cruelty and malice, but Jesus Christ is love: the devil is the father of lies, but Jesus Christ is the truth: the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, but Jesus Christ went about doing good, seeking whom He might heal and save.  Therefore they might plainly see that our Lord was against the devil, not oniy by His outwardly casting him out, but by the whole course and train of all His ways, and all His sayings. 

After our Saviour had shewn them this, and so corrected their error, He goes on to tell them the true state of the case.  “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.” Those who heard our Lord speak, would at once understand that He was describing the warfare between Himself and the evil one: how the devil indeed, was mighty, but He, the Son of the Most High, was far mightier, so that when He came upon him, He would at once overcome him: He, the true Seed of the woman, God the Son, made man in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, would, in His own good time, bruise the head of the tempting and corrupting serpent.  He, the true David, would cast down the true Goliah, would take from him all his armour wherein he trusted, his coat of mail, his sword, his spear and his shield; and would divide his spoils, that is, would deliver out of his hand, the unhappy souls of whom he had made spoil, and would appoint each one of those souls to do some work in the service and kingdom of God.  This is called “dividing the spoils,” because in war it was usual for the conqueror to take all the armour and precious things of the conquered, and divide them among his soldiers and followers: and so our Lord having overcome the devil, and taken out of his power all the precious things of this world, will employ them all, sooner or later, to His Father’s Glory, in one way or another.  It is a short way of describing the great victory, of which we read so much in the book of the Revelations: in which the kingdoms of this world were to become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He to reign for ever and ever. 

This is the general meaning of the parable; but I wish now to draw your attention to one particular expression in it: viz, the saying that the strong man’s goods are in peace, so long as he, in his armour, is allowed to keep his palace.  We shall find a serious warning in this if we consider it earnestly.  For the strong man armed, as I said, is the great enemy.  He is strong, for he is a mighty angel, and although for his sin cast down from Heaven, yet he is still permitted to retain a great deal of the strength and subtlety, in which he was at first created.  He is therefore a strong one, strong to make war against us: and he is armed, for besides the power and cunning, which as I said was left him at his fall, he is more able to do us harm in consequence of our fall.  We have ourselves armed him against us.  He has seen, and knows too well, how frail and weak we are, and in what respects—he is like a soldier who has won one victory, and is afterwards called to fight against the same enemy.  Something like this has been the case with Satan ever since he won that first victory over our parents, Adam and Eve: he has come to each fresh temptation in more and more hope of prevailing, because of each fresh sin which he has prevailed on us to commit.  This is his armour, wherein he trusteth, the wilful sin and wickedness of men: and because this has so abounded in all generations since the fall, therefore the strong one has kept his palace, i. e., Satan has kept in a manner for his own, this fallen and corrupt world.  God indeed made it very good, there was no spot of evil, nor poison of sin and death in it: but by man’s frailty and Satan’s wickedness, sin too quickly entered into it, and it went on from bad to worse, until that became true which S. John writes, “ The whole world lieth in wickedness,” (S. John v. 1.) and he was in a certain sense, the prince of this world; the wicked world was his palace and castle, his stronghold, which he held so firmly, that in order to dispossess him it was needful for God the Son to be made man, to suffer and die for us.  The world was Satan’s palace, and what were his goods, that it was stored with? What, but the lost and fallen souls and corrupt bodies of miserable men, into whom he had entered, as he did into Judas, possessing them for his own, and urging them to commit all kinds of sin, and especially all uncleanness, with greediness? These were the goods, the property of Satan; his stolen goods, his usurped property; he had his will and his way with them from all uncleanness to all idolatry.  And so in a manner they were at peace, they had no uneasiness, no misgivings, concerning what might come hereafter, they went on undisturbed in their sins.  So it was with the world generally, before our Lord came into the world.  So it is now, with the heathen and unconverted world.  Satan has dominion over them: they sin on, and sin on, from morning to night, without any misgiving at all: they are in darkness, and have no longing for light.  The God Who made them is in the world which He made; He is around them, close to them on every side; but they know Him not, nor have any desire to know Him.  This is perfect heathenism, this is what Satan rejoices in; that people should altogether forget God and their souls, and go on quietly pleasing themselves, taking all liberties that come in their way.  Thus lived nearly the whole world, before Jesus Christ was born, and thus lives the heathen world now. 

But are the heathen, and the men who lived before Christ, the only persons concerned in this saying? are there none among Christians, of whom there is reason to fear that Satan has possession of their souls and bodies too? quiet possession, so that in respect of them also it may be said, “his goods are in peace”? Alas, it is too true as concerning Christians also, that they may, and do, too often fall away from the grace that made them Christians, and give themselves up to the evil spirit, who was driven out of them in Baptism.  The holy Church has always believed and taught, that whereas we were born in sin, the children of wrath, and therefore in a manner the property, the slaves of Satan, that chain is broken in Baptism, and the devil commanded to depart, as truly and really as when S. Paul, or any other Apostle, said to any evil spirit, as to that damsel at Philippi, “I command thee in the Name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” Yes, my brethren we are to believe, though with our outward eyes we see it not, that whenever an infant is baptized, that miracle is wrought which our Lord in this Gospel describes.  Jesus Christ, being stronger than Satan, drives him away from that child, overcomes him, and divides his spoils, takes that child to be His own.  So it is for the time; the child is surely delivered, and if it were to die presently, it is saved.  But what if that child growing up, turn aside unto the wrong path? what if its parents live like heathens, and bring it up to live so too? Too well do we know what will happen in such a case.  The child, though a Christian, will be like a heathen or worse: he will go on, without remorse or trouble, in sins not fit to be named.  His mouth will be full of cursing and bitterness, his heart exercised in covetous and unclean practices: he will be dishonest, false, envious, self-willed: and in all this he will be in a manner at peace; i. e., he will pass his time without fear about his soul: for why? it will not really come into his mind that he has any soul at all, any eternal being, dependent on his present behaviour.  And thus in him, though baptized and living in a Christian laud, the strong one, the destroying spirit, will have recovered his palace, and will keep it, and reign in it at will, his goods being at peace. 

Why have I made so special mention of this sad, but too common case? why have I tried so particularly to set it before you? Not so much that I think it likely to be the exact case of any of you, my brethren, now here present: when a person is going on in such utter outrageous profaneness as I have now described, this is not the place where I should expect to find him: I trust that how fallen soever any of us may be, there are none here so entirely forgetful of God, and withal so entirely without fear about their own souls: but the special reason why I have now reminded you that there are such persons, is this: I want you to consider how dangerous it is for a man to account himself safe, and in a good way, merely because he is not troubled about his soul.  We know there are persons of that way of thinking: they say, they are quiet and comfort-al)le in themselves, they let nothing daunt them, they lie down at night with easy undisturbed consciences: and therefore they take it for granted, all is right.  If one tells them of any fault, or still more, if one remind them of any duty left undone, they reply confidently, it does not trouble them, it is not at all upon their conscience, whatever other people may think: and this they take for an answer and go on just as they were.  “We are at peace”, they say, “our consciences are quiet: what more would you have?”  A great deal more, my brethren: for only consider these heathenish Christians, of whom I have now been speaking, who never say any prayers, never come near the Church at all, never speak of God but to blaspheme; are not they too in a kind of peace? are not their consciences quiet? yet surely none of us would say that they were in a good way.  So it may be, that although you go on decently and religiously in many things, and persuade yourself that all is well enough; though you have all your life gone on taking this for granted, yet all the while your peace may be the false and deadly peace of the devil’s palace, he may be abiding in your soul and body, with all his armour, all the bad ways by which you have helped him to prevail against you, and so you may seem to be at peace, because you have no misgivings, no fear for your soul.  It may be so: till you have inquired, you cannot say but it really is so. 

Remember the case of those Pharisees, to whom especially our Saviour gave this very warning: they were not troubled about their souls: they thought all was going on well within them.  They fasted, no doubt, regularly; they kept to their rules of prayer; they were scrupulous in paying their tithes; many other things there might be in which they were careful to set a good example: and so they were on the whole well pleased with their own doings: they were ready to ask, as one did ask in his ignorance, “what lack I yet ?“ Surely they seemed to have peace: and yet these were the very persons on whom our Lord pronounced such heavy woe, eight times repeating it on one occasion.  Though their own consciences troubled them not, they were to His all seeing Eye full of hypocrisy and iniquity.  So may any one of us, who at this or any other moment may seem to himself most clear in conscience.  We must not trust that all is right merely because nothing troubles us.  Rather, if we be wise, we shall very seriously mistrust and suspect ourselves, when we find our souls free from misgiving.  When we set to work, as we all ought to do, to examine ourselves before our evening prayers, if we cannot remember anything to reprove ourselves for, instead of making ourselves easy, and being lifted up, let us rather be ashamed that we have not kept stricter account, and let us beg pardon and cleansing for those secret faults, which, if we had been more diligent, we should have been surely aware of. Let us take all the hints which our merciful God may give us, to help us in finding out the plague of our own hearts.  Instead of being angry or sullen, let us strive to be really thankful for every thing that at all helps us to know ourselves better.  If we thus watch and pray, no doubt He will quickly help us to see enough of evil in ourselves to alarm and make us careful: and so far, our peace of mind may seem in a certain sense to be disturbed: but what of that? it will be but like the noise made in a prison, when he comes who shall deliver the prisoners.  O my brethren, joyful and glad in the end will that hour be to you, in which by the light of God’s word, you shall come to know of some sin, perhaps some grievous wasting sin, in which you are now living, not aware how bad it is.  And let me add, to many of you, blessed will be the hour in which you shall be moved to open your mind concerning your soul, to God’s appointed servant, you will bless God by and by for this, and all the ways by which he convinced you concerning your sin, how wretched and how wicked you were becoming unawares.  Instead of the false, unreal peace, which you have hitherto seemed to enjoy in your worldly and carnal doings, you will taste the true peace of God, the blessing of them that mourn.  Hitherto you have said, we have no sin, no sin that need disturb us; thus you have deceived yourselves and the truth has not been in you; but now if you earnestly search out, and confess your sins, you will find Him here in His Church, faithful and just, to absolve you from your sins, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.