From a sermon on St. John the Evangelist
I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 8:11-12)
This is Saint John’s Day. We have read from the Apocalypse words that are beautiful commemorations of it. They tell us how the Apostle himself wished his contemporaries to think of him. He had borne witness to the Word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ. He was their brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.
But “the heirs of the kingdom,” so the text goes, “will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I would beseech you to observe the language of our Lord, and not to change it for any phrases of ours. We certainly cannot make it clearer or fuller than he has made it. He speaks of darkness: Saint John tells us why: “This,” he says, “is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil,” (John 3:19).
The Light of the World shines forth upon mankind. Those who should hail it and spread it through the world are scared by it; fly from it, hate it. Either they must establish their reign of darkness, or the Light must prove itself stronger than they are. It does prove itself stronger, therefore they are left to the darkness which they have chosen. It is outer darkness; it lies outside of God’s kingdom, outside of humanity. God’s order has banished it.
We feel and know that the signs of a Kingdom of God are among us; every Christmas Day testifies that it has been brought near to us; that we are living, moving, having our being in the midst of it. It is with us, close to the heart of each one of us. The Word of God is preaching to us of it there. That Word of God converts every record of the past into a message for the present. Stephen looks at us as he did at the Jewish Sanhedrin, with the face of an angel. For us he witnesses, for us he dies. John is our brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ. The Innocents mingle with the children who are born and die before our eyes. All testify of a kingdom undefiled and eternal, into which we may enter, the treasures of which are for us all. And about us all are powers of darkness which would persuade us that there is no Kingdom of Light which would draw us beyond its circles. They tell us that the world which speaks to eye, ear, taste, is the only real world. We believe them, and the beauty of that world vanishes; what looked – what was – full of life and motion and freedom, becomes dull and hopeless. We do not abandon our religion because we become sensualists; but our religion becomes one of terror and hatred; a system of devices to escape from God, to cause the Holy One to cease from us. Oh, friends, that Christendom, that our land, may never so dally with these powers of darkness as at last to be brought into that outer darkness! Oh that we may never gnash with our teeth because God’s Word speaks to our consciences of good things that were ours, and that we would not have! Oh that the warnings of this year – that the deliverances of this year – may be received as God’s own loving entreaties to us, not to cast ourselves into this torment! But whether we receive them as such or not, multitudes will come from the east and the west, from north and the south – and sit down in the kingdom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As sure as day rises out of night – as year succeeds year – will the one who stood before John in the Isle of Patmos be revealed to the eye of every creature. As surely as the voice of any Earthly friend is speaking to us warning or comfort, is he saying, “Behold! I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to all as their work shall be.”