December 2010 - Vol. 45
.To watch with Christ
by John Henry Newman
Let us consider this most serious question – What is it to watch with Christ? I consider this word watching a remarkable word; remarkable because the idea is not so obvious as might appear at first sight, and next because our Lord and his disciples inculcate it. We are not simply to believe, but to watch; not simply to love, but to watch; not simply to obey, but to watch; to watch for what? For that great event, Christ's coming...[Note: The following is excerpted from Newman's sermon "Watching," first published in 1838 (in Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 4). Minor changes, including capitalization style, were made to allow the text to be more accessible to modern readers. Sub-headings were also added. Editor]
Now what is watching?
Do you know what it is to have a friend in a distant country, to expect news of him, and to wonder from day to day what he is now doing, and whether he is well? Do you know what it is so to live upon a person who is present with you, that your eyes follow his, that you read his soul, that you see all its changes in his countenance, that you anticipate his wishes, that you smile in his smile, and are sad in his sadness, and are downcast when he is vexed, and rejoice in his successes? To watch for Christ is a feeling such as all these; as far as feelings of this world are fit to shadow out those of another.
He watches for Christ who has a sensitive, eager, apprehensive mind; who is awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in seeking and honoring him; who looks out for him in all that happens, and who would not be surprised, who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, if he found that he was coming at once.
And he watches with Christ, who, while he looks on to the future, looks back on the past, and does not so contemplate what his Savior has purchased for him, as to forget what he has suffered for him. He watches with Christ, who ever commemorates and renews in his own person Christ's cross and agony, and gladly takes up that mantle of affliction which Christ wore here, and left behind him when he ascended. And hence in the Epistles, often as the inspired writers show their desire for his second coming, as often do they show their memory of His first, and never lose sight of his crucifixion in his resurrection.
Thus if St. Paul reminds the Romans that they "wait for the redemption of the body" at the Last Day, he also says, "If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." If he speaks to the Corinthians of "waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ," he also speaks of "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body."
If he writes to the Philippians of "the power of [Christ's] resurrection," he adds at once "and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." If he consoles the Colossians with the hope "when Christ shall appear," of their "appearing with him in glory," he has already declared that he [Paul] "fills up that which remains of the afflictions of Christ in his flesh for his body's sake, which is the church." [Rom. 8:17-28; 1 Cor.1:7; 2 Cor. 4:10; Phil. 3:10; Col.3:4, and 1:24.]
Thus the thought of what Christ is, must not obliterate from the mind the thought of what he was; and faith is always sorrowing with him while it rejoices. And the same union of opposite thoughts is impressed on us in holy communion, in which we see Christ's death and resurrection together, at one and the same time; we commemorate the one, we rejoice in the other; we make an offering, and we gain a blessing.
This then is to watch
...Year passes after year silently; Christ's coming is ever nearer than it was. O that, as he comes nearer earth, we may approach nearer heaven! O, my brethren, pray him to give you the heart to seek him in sincerity. Pray him to make you in earnest. You have one work only, to bear your cross after him. Resolve in his strength to do so. Resolve to be no longer beguiled by "shadows of religion," by words, or by disputings, or by notions, or by high professions, or by excuses, or by the world's promises or threats.
Obey with the best heart you
If you are to believe the truths he has revealed, to regulate yourselves by his precepts, to be frequent in his ordinances, to adhere to his church and people, why is it, except because he has bid you? And to do what he bids is to obey him, and to obey him is to approach him. Every act of obedience is an approach – an approach to him who is not far off, though he seems so, but close behind this visible screen of things which hides him from us. He is behind this material framework. Earth and sky are but a veil going between him and us. The day will come when he will rend that veil, and show himself to us. And then, according as we have waited for him, will he recompense us.
If we have forgotten him, he will not know us. But "blessed are those
servants whom the Lord, when he comes, shall find watching... He shall
gird himself, and make them sit down to eat, and will come forth and serve
them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch,
and find them so, blessed are those servants" (Luke 12:37, 38). May this
be the portion of every one of us! It is hard to attain it; but it is woeful
to fail. Life is short; death is certain; and the world to come is everlasting.
John Henry Newman, 1801-1890, was an influential writer and major figure from the Church of England in the Oxford Movement. In 1845 he became a Roman Catholic priest and was made a Cardinal late in life in 1879.
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