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by the Rev. John Keble
Sermon XXI from Sermons for the Christian Year: Sermons for Lent to Passiontide
S. LUKE xi. 23
"He that is not with Me is against Me, and he that
gathereth not with Me, scattereth."

OUR Lord in to-day’s Gospel gives us an account of the kind of warfare which is continually going on between Him and the great enemy.  It is not so much like regular fighting in the open field, with large armies on the one side and the other, coming to one large conflict, which decides the matter once for all.  But it is a never ending course of severe and dangerous conflicts, in which one side disputes with the other the possession of every nation, every parish, every family, every individual person.  Thus in one of the parables which you just now heard, the devil is compared to a strong man, a great warrior, in full armour, keeping his palace.  We seem as we read, to have before our eyes one of the great lords of the Philistines, or one of those who in our own country, when times were unsettled, seized upon castles, and made them a kind of strongholds of robbery; so the prince of darkness and author of all evil, having once gained a footing in the world by the fall of our first parents, has never ceased to occupy, one after another, the houses and hearts, the souls and bodies of men.  Born in sin as we are, and children of wrath, each one of us is by nature a palace or castle of the evil one, a place where he abides, to do all the mischief he can, both to us and to all who come within reach of us.  And as long as the Almighty permits this, his goods, the possessions of the evil one, are in peace, he has his own way with the unhappy sinners who are possessed by him, there is no struggle, no distress, no misgiving of conscience: people come to be past feeling, they give themselves over to lasciviousness, to commit all uncleanness with greediness: they go contentedly down the broad way.  This is the full power of Satan of which S. Paul speaks, the condition of those who are without God in the world: a condition the more fearful, by how much those who are in it are less aware of it.  Out of this our natural heathenish condition, God delivers men when He converts them and brings them by holy Baptism to be members of Christ: as it is written, “He hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son:” (Col. i. 13.) and again to S. Paul He saith, “I send thee to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” (Acts xxvi. 18.)  And accordingly it has been very common in the Church of Christ, and still is practised in some countries, to use in the Baptism service a regular form of exorcism, the priest in the Name of Jesus Christ commanding the unclean spirit to depart from the child or person to be baptized: and we may understand in much the same sense our own short prayer which we offer up just before the blessing of the water: “grant that he may have power and strength to have victory and to triumph against the devil, the world and the flesh.” Jesus Christ thus coming to us in Baptism, or if we have sinned afterwards, by true repentance and Absolution, is that Warrior stronger than Satan, Who will not let him possess his goods, his ill gotten goods, our souls and bodies, in peace.  He cometh upon the old serpent as that Seed of the woman, promised of old time, to bruise his head, not without a severe combat, viz., His Death and Passion: that bruising of His Heel, His lower nature as man, by which from the very first He undertook to save us.  The Son of God coming thus upon the evil spirit to whom we were in bondage, overcame him, took from him all his armour wherein he trusted, his power, craft, command of the world, the honour in which he is held by poor deceived mortals; all this Christ taketh from Satan, when He getteth the victory over him, and divideth it as lawful spoil by the rules of war among His own servants, the enemies of Satan.  How is that? how may it be said that the spoils of Satan are divided among Christ’s soldiers? Partly perhaps because from that time forward whatever portion any of us may have in the good things of this world, riches, power, pleasure, skill, wisdom, knowledge, &c., it is all given up to Jesus Christ and His service: partly again because redeemed man is intended in some sort to fill up the place in God’s world which the fallen angels have left vacant: as it is written, “we shall judge angels,” and “we shall be made like unto the angels.” And so the spoils which Christ takes from Satan are the souls and bodies before lost, but now redeemed, regenerated, saved, and so far “divided,” in that each of them is employed by God’s grace and Providence in such particular work as the Great King knows to be most for His glory and the good of souls, and will each have assigned his own special reward, his own mansion in the Father’s house.

In short, our Saviour here teaches that not only those unhappy ones who were actually possessed by unclean spirits in the way the Gospel describes, but each one of us, every child of Adam, has by nature a spirit of an unclean devil, which can only be cast out by the Holy and Good Spirit entering into each one separately, and uniting him to the second Adam as by birth he was united to the first.  Every such case, every Baptism, every effectual repentance and Absolution, is a victory won over the strong man armed, by one stronger than he.  It is a warfare which goes on continually, and will go on, from Pentecost to the end of the world.

But now observe the next thing, as concerning this warfare, which the great Captain of our Salvation most expressly warns us of.  It is a warfare in which it is utterly impossible for any one to stand by and be neutral.  In all wars and quarrels here we know there are many who take no part at all, but only just look on.  But in this war between Christ and the devil, that cannot be the case with any one.  We must all take a part in it, whether we will or no.  “He that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth.”  Even as in another place He says, “he that is not against us is on our part.” Do you hear this, my brethren? it is a fearful sound, surely, for us all: more fearful than if a trumpet sounded from Heaven, for a signal which we must obey, to range ourselves on the right hand or on the left, on the side of Christ’s enemies or of His friends.  For such a trumpet would only be an angel’s voice, but these are the very words of the Judge, spoken to the very inmost conscience of every one of us.  Some of us may find it hard to receive them, just as it is hard, very hard, to bring it home to ourselves that we must all without exception, every single one of us, either go away at last into everlasting punishment with the wicked, or with the righteous into life eternal.  O! if we could indeed realize this, if we could keep it steadily before our mind’s eye, how would it help us in the right way! what power would it give us against temptation! and in like measure, if we could really settle it in our hearts to feel that we are, even now, in one or other of two great armies, if we could by faith constantly discern our King on the one side, and our enemy on the other, and ourselves ranged under this banner or that, would it not make us very serious? would it be possible for us to go on as if our conduct signified little?

One thing at any rate is clear, if we will take our Lord really at His word, that such as feel quite easy in their minds, such as have no anxiety concerning their duty and their souls, can hardly be on Christ’s side, and in the way of salvation.  For as on the one hand we read, “happy is the man that feareth always,” (Prov. xxviii. 14.) so on the other hand when the strong man armed keepeth his palace, our Lord tells us his goods are at peace: i. e., when the devil has his own way with us most entirely, then we are quite entirely free from spiritual anxiety and misgiving of mind.  We say to ourselves, peace, peace, most confidently when there is no peace.  I have heard people boast that they let nothing daunt them, that they always kept up a good heart, and I have had reason to fear that their hope was little better than an ignorant deadness to spiritual things; that they were going on at the very time in plain, open, grievous sin.  Therefore, I beseech you, let us greatly beware of indulging easy views of our condition: I mean our condition towards God: let us shrink from the thought that all is safe, let us say often in our hearts, What if after all I should be lost? Whatever else is right or wrong, this we are quite sure must be wrong, for a soldier in the midst of the battle to go on as if there was no enemy, no danger at all, for a Christian in the wicked world to feel entirely at ease about his soul and his behaviour, as if all would go right of itself.  Such an one is surely against Christ, if he did but know it.

So, too is he (no uncommon sort of person I fear,) who thinks he may stand off for a while, and take no part in this warfare, until he is older, or differently circumstanced: then he fully means to be religious, but he thinks he may be otherwise as yet; not irreligious, from such a thought he unfeignedly shrinks; but still not disposed to serve God entirely and always.  What shall we say to such a man? that he is like a soldier in sight of the enemy, refusing to put on his armour, and declaring the hour of the battle to be not yet come: as if, when the order was given to charge, some should stand still, and say to themselves and to another, it will be time enough by and by to take up our arms.  Nay, who told you that you should be here to take them up? who told you that they should still be within your reach? who told you that you shall not by that time be in the other world?

Bear with me, my brethren and sons in the Lord, if I say distinctly that this way of putting off your duties is far too common among you.  I will just mention one instance: and many of you will guess beforehand what I am going to say.  You all know in your hearts, you have been taught it from your childhood, and you have no doubt of it, that to be a good and thorough soldier of Christ, to be really and truly with Him and against His enemy, you must be one with Christ and Christ with you, and you know also that this is promised to those only, who eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, as He bade them, in remembrance of Him.  How can you put this duty away from you, and yet hope to be counted on our Saviour’s side? Good intentions I dare say you have.  I daresay you think you shall begin to prepare yourselves, and come by and by.  But remember that a wise and good man used to say, “hell is paved with good intentions.”  The greater number of those who go down that miserable road mean to repent at some time: only the time never quite comes.  Our Lord did not say, he that does not purpose at some time or other to be with Me, but He said distinctly, he that is not with Me, not with Me now, not fighting now on My side, now at this very time, he, be he who he may, is against Me.  He needs a great change, he is still in the snare of the devil.

But some might say, surely we are on Christ’s side, the other day we resisted such a temptation, yesterday we performed such and such a good work, and though we have perhaps to-day fallen under the same temptation, and failed to do the same kind of good work, yet will not one tell against another? are we not on the whole with Him and not against Him? I would ask you, my brethren one question.  Suppose in battle you saw a soldier striking a blow or aiming a shot or a dart now against his own comrades, now against the enemy: on which side should you imagine him really to be, in the purpose and intention of his heart? Should you not judge this of him, that his secret purpose was rather on the side of the enemy, and that what blows he struck at them were rather to save appearances, or for some other selfish reason, than for any loyalty or duty which he had in his heart? In like manner you may be quite sure that as long as you allow yourself in any known wilful sin, you cannot be quite sincere in any part of your duty, you are not a faithful soldier and servant, you do not love your King and Master.  He Who sees into your heart cannot reckon you to be with Him.

Besides, what is the real consequence, even outwardly and before men, when Christians thus allow themselves to be half on the devil’s side? Much the same as it would be in an army, when the soldiers should now and then turn against their own leader, in the very moment of action.  There would be no confidence, no one would know on whom he could depend: the end would be confusion and flight, as our Lord goes on to say, “He that gathereth not with Me, scattereth.” We see and hear and feel daily, the like sad effect of our many backslidings and inconsistencies.  The unlearned and unbelievers say, behold how these Christians, these men professing godliness, do in their hearts and works deny it.  Why then need we care for it? And they are bold to break off from God more and more.  O! depend on it, it will never do, it is what neither God nor man will endure, for Christ’s soldiers wilfully to go on striking one blow for Satan and another for Christ.  They will find in the end that they have been against their Lord altogether.

Neither again will it answer in this warfare if any man think to be passively on Christ’s side, i.e., to lie still and merely do nothing against Him.  We cannot do so, my brethren if we would.  Even if the hands could be idle, the mind, the will, the heart, must be employed, the whole soul must be tending this way or that, upwards or downwards, towards hell or towards Heaven.  I suppose there are not a few, who looking on the sad falls and strange inconsistencies of such as have appeared earnest in religion, are inclined to shrink from being earnest themselves, as though there were some deceit in it: and so they are contented to go on, not only cold and indifferent in their devotions, but careless too, and loose in their rules of life, to their own and others’ great danger and harm.  I wish they and all of us considered more what the Great Shepherd here assures us, he that is not actively engaged gathering the flock with Me, is really scattering it.  It is vain to think of being on Christ’s side, and not being earnest and active in His cause.  Remember the wicked and slothful servant: what cast him into the outer darkness? not his ill using his talent, but his not using it at all.  Look round you, my brethren, and see, see what comes of luke-warmness, and ordinary ways, of being or seeming indifferent to the cause of God and His Church.  The bad example speaks: one after another says, my neighbour is not particular, why should I be? my friend, my father, my master does not communicate, why should I? my mother, my mistress, my elder sister bears with unwomanly discreditable conduct, why may not I keep company with whom I will? Look into your own hearts, consider how much you are losing of God’s grace and blessing.  You might be fervent in prayer, you might be full of all good thoughts, holy seasons and communions might be a joy and crown to you: what a pity to lose all this for want of courage and exactness in your doings! Look again towards the enemy, see how you encourage him.  Depend upon it, he rejoices in every moment you lose, every opportunity you neglect.  Look, above all, to that which you know, or may know, to be written in God’s book, as concerning your daily falls and backslidings: the positive sins, of will and temper at least, into which you are continually betrayed, for want of a courageous purpose of being entirely and zealously on God’s side.  O! if we will but turn our minds towards it, we shall see that Heaven and earth all around us, are full of tokens how blessed a thing it is to serve Christ with our whole heart, how fatal to serve Him with half a heart.