... Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.—Revelation 15.3.
TRANSLATED FROM THE LATIN
C.W. HEISLER, A.M.
The Lutheran Publication Society.
THE DIGNITY OF THE CHURCH.
The Church is Christ's Bride.
CONSIDER, O devout soul, how greatly God hath loved thee in calling thee into the fellowship of His Church. "My beloved is one" says the Bride groom in Canticles 6.1; truly one, seeing that there is but one true and orthodox Church, the beloved bride of Christ. Out of the body of Christ, or the Church, we may not look for the Spirit of Christ. "Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His" (Rom. 8.9), and he who is not Christ's cannot be a partaker of eternal life. All those who were not admitted into Noah's ark perished miserably in the flood (Gen. 7.21); and so all outside the spiritual ark of the Church are involved in eternal destruction. No man will have God for his father in heaven who refuses to have the Church for his mother upon the earth. Just think, O devout soul, of the many thousands who go down to hell every day, for the reason that they are outside the bosom of the Church; and it is not thy nature, but only the grace of a merciful God, that makes thee different from them. When Egypt lay in thick darkness, there was light only among the Israelites (Ex. 10.23); so it is that only in the Church do we have the light of the knowledge of God. Those who live without the Church pass, from the dense shades of ignorance in the present life, into the darkness of eternal condemnation in the life that is to come. He who has no portion in the Church militant upon earth shall never share in the glories of the Church triumphant above; for there is the closest union between these: God, the Word, faith, Christ, the Church, and life eternal.
The holy Church of God sustains the relations of mother, virgin, bride. She is as a mother because she daily bears spiritual sons to God. She is as a chaste virgin, because she keeps herself pure from all unholy alliances with the devil and the world. She is a bride, because Christ hath betrothed her to Himself by an eternal covenant, and hath given to her the pledge of the Spirit. The Church is that ship which carries Christ and His disciples (Matt. 8.23), and which will bear us finally into the haven of eternal blessedness; the Church thus sails in a blessed course over the sea of this world, furnished with faith as a rudder, having God for her pilot, angels for her oarsmen, and all the company of the godly for her passengers; on her deck is erected the cross of our salvation as her mast, upon which are suspended the sails of evangelical faith, and with these filled with the breezes of the Holy Spirit she is conducted to the haven of eternal rest. The Church is that vine which God hath planted in the field of this world, (Matt. 21.33; Is. 5.2); which He hath watered with His own blood, which he hath hedged round about with the protecting influences of holy angels, in which He hath digged the wine-press of His own bitter passion, from which He hath removed the stones (Is. 5.2) and whatsoever might offend. The Church is that woman clothed with the sun (Rev. 12.1), because she is arrayed in the righteousness of Christ; she treads the moon under her feet, because she looks down upon earthly things as subject to various change and decay.
Contemplate, O devout soul, the exalted dignity of the Church, and render due thanks therefore to Almighty God. Great indeed are the benefits which God bestows upon us in and through the Church, but these are not open to us all; in a sense it is as a garden enclosed, as a fountain sealed (Canticles 4.12); no one may behold the beauty of such an enclosed garden without entering it, so no one can know of the blessings that God gives through His Church, except those who are actually in it. This bride of Christ is black without but comely within (Cant. 1.5); for the King's daughter is all glorious within (Ps. 45.13). This ship is tossed about with various tempests of persecution (Matt. 8.24); this vine is sustained in an upright position by being bound to supports, and it is pruned that it may bring forth more fruit (John 15.2); and for this woman the infernal dragon himself lies in wait with hellish snares (Rev. 12.3). Beautiful as a lily is the Church, but it is as a lily among thorns (Cant. 2.12). A most beautiful garden is the Church, but when the keen blasts of tribulation blow through it, then only do its precious spices flow out. The Church is the daughter of God, but she is greatly despised by the world; she looks forward expectantly to a heavenly inheritance, and for this reason she wanders as a stranger and pilgrim upon the earth; in her wanderings she is oppressed, and yet in her oppression she is silent, and in her silence is brave, and by her bravery she overcomes all her enemies. The Church is our spiritual mother, and yet like Mary, the mother of Christ, she must stand weeping at the cross of the Saviour (John 19.25). The Church is like a palm tree, in that the heavier her burden of tribulations and temptations the more she grows.
Meditate, O devout soul, upon the worthiness of the Church, and take heed lest thou do anything unworthy of her. The Church is thy spiritual mother; take care that thou despise not her voice as she speaks to thee. She is thy mother, and through word and sacraments thou oughtest draw all thy spiritual nourishment from her. The church is as a chaste virgin; if thou then wouldst be true to her, abstain from the embraces of the world; thou belongest to her, see then that thou dishonor not thyself nor her by any unholy alliances with the devil. The Church is the bride of Christ, and so is every godly soul; let it take heed then not to cling to Satan in an unholy union. Thou, O my soul, art the bride of Christ; see to it that thou lose not the earnest of the Holy Spirit which hath been given unto thee; thou art the bride of Christ, pray unceasingly, that thy heavenly Bridegroom may hasten to lead thee unto the marriage feast above. Thy Bridegroom may come in the quiet and security of the midnight hour (Matt. 15.6); watch therefore, that when He cometh He may not find thee sleeping, and shut the door of eternal salvation upon thee. Let thy lamp be filled with the oil of faith and be brightly burning, lest at the coming of thy heavenly Spouse thou shouldst seek in vain for oil for thy lamp (Matt. 15.10).
Thou art borne in the Church as in a ship; O, take heed lest thou cast thyself into the raging sea of the world, before ever thou comest into the heavenly port. O pray earnestly that thou mayst not be engulfed by storms of affliction and waves of temptation.
Thou art called into the vineyard of thy Lord (Matt. 20.1), O, labor earnestly, faithfully; let the thought of the reward at the close of the day lighten all thy toil. Thou, O my soul, art a vine of thy Lord's own planting; cast away from thee then all useless branches, all the fruitless works of the flesh, and look upon the whole course of thy life here upon earth as a time for pruning to make thee more fruitful. Thou art a branch in the true vine, Christ Jesus (John 15.1); O, see to it, that thou abidest in Christ and bearest much fruit, for the heavenly husbandman taketh away the branch that beareth not fruit, and purgeth the branch that beareth fruit, that it may bring forth more fruit (John 15.2). Thou hast put on Christ through faith (Gal. 3.27), and art clothed with this Sun of righteousness (Mal. 4.2); see to it, then, that thou trample under thy feet the moon (Rev. 12.1), that is, all things that are earthly in their nature, and that thou esteemest these of little value in comparison with the eternal comforts of heaven.
O blessed Jesus, who hast led us into Thy church militant upon earth, bring us, at last, in Thy mercy, into Thy church triumphant in heaven!