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The Door Opened in Heaven.
by Isaac Williams

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

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day

Rivingtons, London, 1875, pp. 1-13..
Second part of Sermon XLVII. for Trinity Sunday.
(for the first part, on the Epistle...
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the FATHER, 
and of the SON, and of the HOLY GHOST.—ST. MATT xxviii. 19. 

...The Gospel is of the mystery of Baptism, and Baptism is by the saving Word of the Three Persons in one God.  But to come to it more particularly, we may observe that St. John says that “a door was opened in Heaven,” that he “was in the Spirit,” when he beheld the throne in Heaven, and Christ sitting on His throne.  And in the Gospel our Lord declares to Nicodemus that no man can see and understand heavenly things unless he is born of the Spirit.  “Hardly do we guess aright,” says the Wise Man, “at things that are upon earth; but the things that are in Heaven, who hath searched out, except Thou give wisdom, and send Thy Holy Spirit from above ? “ (Wisd. ix. 16, 17.)  We may consider the Gospel therefore as bringing down to us that great mystery of which the Apocalypse speaks in figure.  For Baptism in the Name of the Three Persons in one God is as the “door opened in Heaven ;“ in like manner as at our Lord’s Baptism the heavens were opened, the Father’s Voice was heard, and the Spirit was seen.  To us, as born of water and of the Spirit, are the mysteries of Heaven made known, which eye hath not seen nor ear heard.  In other words, to us “a door is opened in Heaven,” and the mystery of the Godhead is reflected in the sea of glass which is before the throne.  At the first Creation the Spirit moved on the face of the waters; so even now is it in the Christian kingdom.  “There were seven lamps of fire before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; and before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal.” This is the description of Christ’s kingdom after the Day of Pentecost; and it is this which our Lord would explain to us in the Gospel for to-day by earthly similitudes.  For who is equal to these things ? and who should understand them, if God did not come down to us in our weakness, and meet us in our infirmities, overcoming by His humility our pride?

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, one of station and of learning in the Holy City, and therefore ashamed in the light of day to give any heed to the lowly Teacher of Galilee and Nazareth.  The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto Him, Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest except God be with him.  Nathanael had said on far less evidence, “Thou art the Son of God;” but this is all that the wisdom of the Pharisees could reach unto, “except God be with him!" Yet how patiently did Christ bear with him and teach him, not quenching the smoking flax! for his coming at all, even though it were under covering of the night, and acknowledging Him as a Teacher from God, was as a spark ascending in the smoke,—like the beginning of a faith, however weak; and even this our Lord did not despise.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.  He cannot “see” it, however near it be to him, for he has no eyes to discern God; and where God is, there is His kingdom.  Alas! how vain are all outward signs, unless God Himself teach us by His Spirit within, and reveal Himself unto our hearts as God! And here let us observe the difference between this man and all those creatures of God, in the Revelation:—they fall down; they worship with all prostration of soul and body; they rest not day or night from giving Him glory; the Saints in Heaven cry aloud, “Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord ?" But the learned ruler of the Jews questions, and inquires, and doubts.  He seems to stand erect in His presence; to look with half-suspicion; and to think such a change as a new birth absurd, if not impossible.  Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Surely we may say, to be born again of’ his earthly mother would be no better than his former birth in sin; for to be a child of the Resurrection, he must be born of a new mother, which is the Church of God, and of His Spirit.  He understood and spake of it carnally, as they of Capernaum did of the other Sacrament, when they said, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” and His disciples, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" (St. John vi. 52. 60.)  “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. ii. 14.)

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water, and of the Spirit, lie cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is horn of the Spirit is spirit.  The great truth which our Lord here expresses, is as needful for us to consider as it was to Nicodemus.  The doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, into which we were baptized, is not to be understood, except by a spiritual mind; carnal knowledge is of no avail; it must be revealed by the Father from above, because the knowledge of these things is made up of faith and love.  How can it be otherwise.  For to know this truth in the Scriptural sense of knowledge is everlasting life; and to know God, even here below, is rest and peace for the soul; then to know Him must be the first and best gift of the Spirit.

O Spirit of love! how shall we keep this great day, unless Thou givest us to do so by prayer and communion with Thee; to know the Father our Creator, and commit the keeping of our souls to Him in well-doing; to know Jesus Christ, Whom He hath sent, and to find peace in His cleansing Blood; to know Thee the Sanctifier, and to feel in our hearts Thy holy flame ever ascending upward, in prayer and devout aspirations to Heaven, from whence it came.  And, surely, if we are baptized into this faith— if by the Spirit of God alone we can understand it—what more suitable lesson could there be for this Sunday, than to consider this mystery of the new birth by water and the Spirit! what more edifying, than that we should be brought to behold ourselves in that “sea of glass, like unto crystal,” to look on ourselves in that mirror of Baptism, that we may know of what Spirit we ought to be!

Marvel not, adds our Lord to the astonished Pharisee, Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.  The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit.  On Sunday last we read of the Spirit coming “as a mighty wind,” and here we read of His effects on the hearts of men throughout the world.  The sincere Christian is a marvel upon the earth; he is not of it, but is from above.  Of him in some sense, as of our Lord Himself, it may be said, “He cometh from God and goeth to God.”  This sanctifying Spirit is the free gift of God, coming and going when He wills; His effect is known by its fruits, but He comes and goes unseen; He comes, but not unsought for or unasked; He comes to those who wait for Him in brotherly love, “with one accord.”  He makes present on earth the things of eternity; He reveals to the heart the mysteries of Heaven.

Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?  Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?  Does not the law itself teach you that a washing is necessary before you can appear in God’s presence?  Does not David speak of a spiritual washing that must be of God, Who requireth truth in the inward parts, and teacheth wisdom secretly?  Do not Moses and the Prophets point to this when they speak of the need of sacrifices and cleansings? of passing through the Red Sea before seeing the promised land of rest? of the winds of God coming on the dead bones before Israel can live?

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.  You look on Me as on a Man come from God, because of the miracles you have seen; but yet, notwithstanding this, you receive not My witness.  Or rather, “Our witness ;“ that of the Father, of the Son, and, of the Spirit.

If I have told you earthly things, such things as are explained by earthly similitudes, such as take place hero on earth in the heart of man, in the operation of the Spirit and the mysteries of the new birth; and ye believe not; are still incredulous, and say, How can it be? then how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? of those eternal things which are in the bosom of God; of the kingdom in Heaven prepared for those that love Him; of the eternal generation from the Father, and the deep mysteries of Godhead.  Of such things our Lord spake to the disciples at the last; of the Three Persons, each and all eternal, infinite, incomprehensible; One God; One in Substance, One in Majesty, One in Power.

And no man hath ascended up to Heaven, there is no one who can bear witness, from his own knowledge of those heavenly things, from having been in Heaven, but He that came down from Heaven,—He alone can bear the key to these mysteries,—even the Son of Man, Who is in Heaven; Who, being ever One with the Father, and in His bosom from all eternity, is still in Heaven.  For God and man He is but one Christ; He is with God in Heaven while seen with men below.  And He maketh the members of His Body, even while they are on earth, to sit with Him in heavenly places.  None can see the kingdom of Heaven, none can ascend thither but they who are parts of His Body, and who are clothed with His Spirit, which He sends down from thence to bring them thither.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  “Should have life ;“ not bodily and temporal, as that in the wilderness, but spiritual and eternal.  The Son of Man is ever in Heaven, yet the Son of Man is also on earth, and as here on earth must be lifted up as the only sacrifice well-pleasing to God.

Wonderful indeed was that symbol of faith in Christ crucified, when, bitten by the fiery serpents in the wilderness, they gazed on that sign, and in gazing on it were healed; the likeness indeed of a serpent was it, but the semblance only, for it never had within it the life and poison of the serpent; and Christ was, on the Cross, “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” being “made sin for us” as bearing sin and its curse, but differing from all men in this, that the natural infection of sin was not in Him.  And “in His death,” as says St. Augustin, “sin died.”

That Cross was to Him as His Throne, on which the title was inscribed, “This is the King ;“ the throne before which all created things must bow.  His saints gaze on Him there on His Cross, and in looking to Him obtain life, and in living to Him and for Him they rest not day and night; but, all “wings” without, in ever ready obedience, and “full of eyes within,” as filled with the light of His Holy Spirit, with Divine intuition and enlightened conscience, watching within over themselves; they give glory to Him, and in Him to the Three Persons in One God, saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Which was, and is, and is to come.”

And if crowned by Him with any spiritual blessings or gifts, then all the more in humiliation of themselves they fall down before Him, and cast their crowns before His throne, ascribing all glory, and honour, and worship to Him alone; adoring the depth of those mysteries which they cannot comprehend; believing in Him Whom as yet they see not; and in faith loving to be the most where He is most revealed.