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The Rock of Ages

(Ninth Sunday after Trinity.)

1 Corinthians x. 4. They drank of that Spiritual Rock which followed them; and that Rock was Christ.

St. Paul has been speaking to the Corinthians about the Holy Communion.

In this text, St. Paul is warning the Corinthians about it. He says, 'You may be Christian men; you may have the means of grace; you may come to the Communion and use the means of grace; and yet you may become castaways.' St. Paul himself says, in the very verse before, 'I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest . . . . I myself should be a castaway.' Look, he says then, 'at the old Jews in the wilderness. They all partook of God's grace: but they were not all saved. They were all baptized to Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual meat, the manna from heaven. They all drank the same spiritual drink, the water out of the rock in Horeb. And yet with many of them God was not well pleased;' for they were overthrown--their corpses were scattered far and wide--in the wilderness. The spiritual meat and the spiritual drink could not keep them alive, if they sinned, and deserved death. 'So,' says St. Paul, 'with you. You are members of Christ's body. The cup of blessing which we bless, is the communion of the blood of Christ; the bread which we break, is the communion of the body of Christ:' but beware, they will not save you, if you sin. Nothing will save you, if you sin. If you lust after evil things, as those old Jews did; if you are idolaters, as they were; if you are profligates, as they were; if you tempt Christ, as they did; if you murmur against God, as they murmured, you will be destroyed like them.

Note here two things. First, that St. Paul says that we really receive Christ in the Holy Communion. He does not say, as some do, that the Communion is merely a remembrance of Christ's death. He says that the faithful verily and indeed receive Christ's body and blood in the Sacrament. He says so, distinctly, plainly, literally; and if that be not true, his whole argument goes for nothing, and will not stand. The Jews, he says, drank of the spiritual Rock which followed them, and that Rock was Christ; and so he says to you. But that did not save them from the punishment of their sins, when they went and sinned afresh: neither will it save you.

But now--What are these strange words which St. Paul uses? These old Jews drank of the spiritual Rock which followed them, and that Rock was Christ? Where in the Old Testament do we read of the Rock following them? We read of Moses striking the rock in Horeb, at the beginning of their wanderings in the wilderness; but not of its following them afterwards.

St. Paul is here using a beautiful old tradition of the Rabbis, that the rock which Moses struck in Horeb followed the Jews through all their forty years' wanderings, and that on every Sabbath day when they stopped, it stopped also, and the elders called to it, 'Flow out, O fountain,' and the water flowed. A beautiful old story, which St. Paul turns into an allegory, to teach, as by a picture, the deepest and the highest truth. Whether that rock followed them or not, he says, there was One who did follow them, from whom flowed living water; and that Rock is Christ. Christ followed them. Christ the creator, the preserver, the inspirer, the light, the life, the guide of men, and of all the universe. It was to Christ they owed their deliverance from Egypt; to Christ they owed their knowledge of God, and of the law of God, to Christ they owed whatever reason, justice, righteousness, good government, there was among them. And to Christ we owe the same.

The rock was a type of him from whom flows living water. As he himself said on earth, 'Whosoever drinketh of the water which I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water which I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up to everlasting life.' Just as the manna also was a type of him, as he himself declared, when the Jews talked to him of the manna; 'Our fathers did eat manna in the desert, as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' Then Jesus said to them, 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven.' No: but only a type and picture of it. 'My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. . . . I am that bread of life.'

My friends, herein is a great mystery. Something of what it means, however, we may learn from that wise and good Jew, Philo, who was St. Paul's teacher according to the flesh, before he became a Christian; and who himself was so near to the kingdom of God, that St. Paul often in his epistles uses Philo's very words, putting into them a Christian meaning. And what says he concerning the Rock of living waters?

The soul, he says, falls in with a scorpion in the wilderness; and then thirst, which is the thirst of the passions--of the lusts which war in our members--seizes on it; till God sends forth on it the stream of his own perfect wisdom, and causes the changed soul to drink of unchangeable health. For the steep rock is the wisdom of God (by whom he means the Word of God, whom Philo knew not in the flesh, but whom we know, as the Lord Jesus Christ), which, being both sublime and the first of all things; he quarried out of his own powers; and of it he gives drink to the souls which love God; and they, when they have drunk, are filled with the most universal manna.

So says Philo, the good Jew, who knew not Christ; and therefore he says only a part of the truth. If you wish to learn the whole truth, you must read St. John's Gospel, and St. Paul's Epistles, especially this very text; and again, the opening of the Epistle to the Ephesians; and again, that most royal passage in the opening of the Colossians, where he speaks of the Everlasting Being of Christ, who is before all things, and by whom all things consist--in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Therefore he is rightly called the Rock, the Rock of Ages, the Eternal Rock; because on him all things rest, and have rested since the foundation of the world, being made, and kept together, and ruled, and inspired by him alone. Therefore he is rightly called the Rock of living waters; for in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and from him they flow forth freely to all who cry to him in their thirst after truth and holiness. Yes, my friends, by Christ all things live; and therefore, most of all, by Christ our souls live. To be parted from Christ is death. To be joined to Christ and the body of Christ is life.

But what life? The life of the soul. And what is the life of the soul? Holiness, righteousness, sanctification, virtue,--call it what pleases you best. I shall call it goodness. That is the only life of the soul. And why? Because it is the life of Christ. That is the only wisdom of the soul. And why? Because it is the mind of Christ. That is the living water. And why? Because it flows eternally from Christ.

For who is Christ, but the likeness of God, and the glory of God? And what is the likeness of God, but goodness; and what is the glory of God, but goodness? Therefore Christ is goodness itself, as it is written, 'Now the Lord is that Spirit.' Yes, if you will believe it, Christ, the only-begotten Son, co-equal and co-eternal, is the very and essential goodness of the Father, coming out everlastingly in action and in life, in himself, and in his people, who are his mystical body, filled with the Spirit of him and his Father; who is the Holy Spirit, the spirit of goodness. From Christ, and not from any created being, comes all goodness in man or angel. Comes from Christ? It were more right, and more according to St. Paul's own words, to say, that all goodness is Christ; Christ dwelling in a man, Christ forming himself in a man, little by little, step by step, as he grows in grace, in purity, in self-control, in experience, in knowledge, in wisdom, in strength, in patience, in love, in charity; till he comes to the stature of a perfect man, to the measure of the fulness of Christ.

Meanwhile, let the good which a man does be much, or be it little, he must say, 'The good which I do, I do not, but Christ who dwelleth in me.'

For in every age of man, it is Christ who is awakening in him the hunger and thirst after righteousness, and then satisfying it with the only thing which can satisfy them, namely, his most blessed self.

Yes, believe it. It is Christ in the child which makes it speak the truth; Christ in the child which makes it shrink from whatever it has been told is wrong. It is Christ in the young man, which fills him with lofty aspirations, hopes of bettering the world around him, hopes of training his soul to be all that it can be, and of putting forth all his powers in the service of Christ. It is Christ in the middle-aged man, which makes him strong in good works, labouring patiently, wisely, and sturdily; so that having drunk of the living waters himself, they may flow out of him again to others in good deeds; a fountain springing up in him to an eternal life of goodness. It is Christ in the old man, which makes him look on with calm content while his own body and mind decay, knowing that the kingdom of God cannot decay; for Christ is ruling it in righteousness; and all will be well with him, and with his children after him, and with all mankind, and all heaven and earth, if they themselves only will it, long after he has been gathered to his fathers.

Yes, such a man knows in whom he has believed. He knows that the spiritual Rock has been following him through all his wanderings in this weary world; and that that Rock is Christ. He can recollect how, again and again, at his Sabbath haltings in his life's journey, it was to him in the Holy Communion as to the Israelites of old in their haltings in the wilderness, when the priests of Jehovah cried to the mystic rock, 'Flow forth, O fountain,' and the waters flowed. So can he recollect how, in Holy Communion, there flowed into his soul streams of living water, the water of life, quenching that thirst of his soul, which no created thing could slake; the water of life; of Christ's life, which is the light of men, shewing them what they ought to be and do; the life which is the light; the life which is according to the eternal and divine reason; the life of wisdom; which is the life of love; which is the life of justice; which is the life of Christ; which is the life of God.

But if these things are so--and so they are, for Christ has said it, St. Paul has said it, St. John has said it--but if these things are so, will they not teach us much about Holy Communion, how we may receive it worthily, and how unworthily?

If what we receive in the Communion be Christ himself, the good Christ who is to make us good; then how can we receive it worthily, if we do not hunger and thirst after goodness? If we do not come thither, longing to be made good, and sanctified, then we come for the wrong thing, to the wrong place. We are like those Corinthians who came to the Lord's supper not to be made good men, but to exalt their own spiritual self-conceit; and so only ate and drank their own damnation, not discerning the Lord's body, that it was a holy body, a body of righteousness and goodness.

But if we come hungering and thirsting to be made good men, then we come for the right thing, to the right place. Then we need not stay away, because we feel ourselves intolerably burdened with many sins; that will be our very reason for coming, that we may be cleansed from our sins--cleansed not only from their guilt, but from their power; and cry, in spirit and in truth, as we kneel at that holy table--

Rock of ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee; By the water and the blood, From thy riven side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Yes, from its guilt and from its power also. Let us all pray, each in his own fashion:--

Oh Lamb eternal, beyond all place and time! Oh Lamb slain eternally, before the foundation of the world! Oh Lamb, which liest slain eternally, in the midst of the throne of God! Let the blood of life, which flows from thee, procure me pardon for the past; let the water of life, which flows from thee, give me strength for the future. I come to cast away my own life, my life of self and selfishness, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, that I may live it no more; and to receive thy life, which is created after the likeness of God, in righteousness and true holiness, that I may live it for ever and ever, and find it a well of life springing up in me to everlasting life. Eternal Goodness, make me good like thee. Eternal Wisdom, make me wise like thee. Eternal Justice, make me just like thee. Eternal Love, make me loving like thee. Then I shall hunger no more, and thirst no more; for

Thou, O Christ, art all I want; More than all in thee I find; Raise me, fallen; cheer me, faint; Heal me, sick; and lead me, blind. Thou of life the fountain art; Freely let me take of thee; Spring thou up within my heart; Rise to all eternity.

Oh come to Holy Communion with the words of that glorious hymn not merely on your lips, but in your hearts; and you will never come amiss.


Charles Kingsley