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THE ORDER AND CONNEXION
THE CHURCH'S TEACHING
as set forth in the
arrangement of the epistles and gospels
throughout the year.
Longmans, Green, and Co.
First Sunday in Advent
Second Sunday in Advent
Third Sunday in Advent
Fourth Sunday in Advent
St. Stephen's Day
St. John the Evangelist's Day
The Innocents Day
The Sunday after Christmas Day
The Circumcision of Christ
First Sunday after the Epiphany
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
First Sunday in Lent
Second Sunday in Lent
Third Sunday in Lent
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Sunday next before Easter
Monday before Easter and Holy Week
Thursday before Easter
Monday in Easter Week
Tuesday in Easter Week
First Sunday after Easter
Second Sunday after Easter
Third Sunday after Easter
Fourth Sunday after Easter
Fifth Sunday after Easter
Sunday after Ascension Day
Monday and Tuesday in Whitsun Week
First Sunday after Trinity
Second Sunday after Trinity
Third Sunday after Trinity
Fourth Sunday after Trinity
Fifth Sunday after Trinity
Sixth Sunday after Trinity
Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Eighth Sunday after Trinity
Ninth Sunday after Trinity
Tenth Sunday after Trinity
Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity
Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity
Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity
Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity
Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity
St. Andrew's Day
St. Thomas's Day
Conversion of St. Paul
Purification of St. Mary
St. Matthias's Day
Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin
St. Mark's Day
St. Philip and St. James's Day
St. Barnabas the Apostle
St. John Baptist's Day
St. Peter's Day
St. James the Apostle
St. Bartholomew the Apostle
St. Matthew the Apostle
St. Michael and All Angels
St. Luke the Evangelist
St. Simon and St. Jude
All Saints Day
The following Notes, of some Addresses delivered years ago at Broadlands, are what remains of an attempt to call attention to the way in which the Church brings before her children the "good deposit" which she has received from God our Saviour. The Writer's object was not to trace the history of the arrangement of the Epistles and Gospels as we now have them; which may be gathered elsewhere; or even to go into the depths of wisdom contained in them; but rather to indicate, in as few words as possible, the reason and meaning of the Order of the Church's Teaching, which bears such marks throughout of a defined and special purpose. Of course the history of the arrangement of the Epistles and Gospels is full of interest. But any work of genius, be it book or picture, even if we know nothing of its history, has much to teach those who study it attentively. The Writer has felt, that, as the Old Tabernacle Service had in every part marks of a Divine purpose and origin, though God's people to whom it was given so little understood it; as all Nature is full of "voices, none of them without signification,"—day and night, sun, moon, and stars, creeping things and flying fowl,—all silently declaring the wisdom of Him that created them, and witnessing for Him, wherever there are eyes to see and ears to hear;—so the very order of the Epistles and Gospels, as the Church now reads and for centuries has read them, is not only a witness that something higher than chance or man's wisdom has shaped or created it, but a guide also as to the way in which truth should be communicated. But faith in the Church and in her guidance is well nigh gone. Faith in Holy Scripture seems going. How long will even the profession of faith in Christ remain? Yet, even if faith goes, the Church's Service, like Nature and the Jewish ritual of old, is, and will be, a voice to all generations.
Woolwich: April 16, 1893.
"My son, hear the instruction of thy Father, and forsake not the law of thy Mother; for they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck."—Proverbs 1:8, 9."Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us."—2 Timothy 1:13, 14.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
(Epistle: Rom. 13:8. Gospel: Matt. 21:1.)
The Church divides the year into two exactly equal parts:—twenty-six Sundays, from Advent to Trinity Sunday, giving an outline of Christian Doctrine; and twenty-six Sundays, from Trinity Sunday to Advent, occupied in like manner with Christian Practice. Doctrine is put first, for Doctrine is the basis of Practice. Practice follows, for Practice is the crown of Doctrine.
The order in which both the Doctrine and the Practice are taught by the Church is full of significance.
The Doctrine begins with "Advent." Why? "Advent" simply means Coming. It is God's Coming that the Church first speaks of. Why does she first speak of His Coming? Because man is by nature fallen and lost, and cannot of himself come to God. Therefore God comes to him. This is the Church's first lesson.
"Advent Sunday" then at once tells us that there are two comings of the Lord:—the first, "in great humility;" the second, "in His glorious majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead." This is true, not only of the world, that is of man collectively, but of man individually. Whether He is received or rejected, Christ comes to man; first, under a veil, "in great humility;" and then, at last, "in glorious majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead."
The Collect refers to both comings.
The Epistle exhorts us, saying, "The night is far spent, the day is at hand;" and that "now it is high time to awake out of sleep."
And the Gospel tells how the Lord first comes:—"Thy king cometh unto thee, meek and sitting upon an ass;" yet that even in this first coming there is judgment:—"He overthrew the tables of the money changers in the temple, and the seats of them that sold doves." For every coming of Christ, even in grace, must in its measure be a day of judgment. Christ is the Truth. And truth cannot come without judging falsehood: light cannot come without destroying darkness.
THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
(Epistle: Rom. 15:4. Gospel: Luke 21:25.)
The Second, Third, and Fourth Sundays in Advent bring before us, in due order, the divinely appointed Preparations for the Lord's Advent or Coming.
These are three. First, the "Holy Scriptures." This is brought before us on the Second Sunday in Advent.
Secondly, the "Ministers and Stewards of God's Mysteries," on the Third Sunday.
And thirdly, other appointed "Means of Grace," such as Prayer and Baptism. This is brought before us on the Fourth Sunday.
And the Order in which the Church sets these Preparations for the Lord's Advent before us is instructive and significant. First, the Holy Scriptures; secondly, Ministers; thirdly, the Means of Grace, namely Prayer and the Sacrament of Baptism.
Therefore, on the "Second Sunday in Advent,"
The Collect says, "Blessed Lord, who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may in such wise read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, by patience and comfort of thy Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ."
The Epistle says, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope."
And the Gospel says, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
For the first, and perhaps greatest, preparation for the Lord's Coming, or Advent, is the Holy Scripture which He has given us.
THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
(Epistle: 1 Cor. 4:1. Gospel: Matt. 11:2.)
The "Third Sunday in Advent" brings before us the Second Preparation for our Lord's Coming, namely Ministers.
So the Collect prays, "O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before Thee, grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, .... that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight."
The Epistle adds, "Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God."
And the Gospel says, "Jesus began to say concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? a reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft raiment are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? a prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before Thee." Ministers still prepare Christ's way. What is all Gospel-preaching but a continuation of John's ministry? The message is, and must be, still the same:—"Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. ... The axe is laid to the root of the trees. ... Every tree, therefore, that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. ... I am not the Christ. ... He that cometh after me is mightier than I. He shall baptize with the Holy Ghost and fire; whose fan is in His hand, and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather the wheat into His garner, but burn up the chaff with fire unquenchable. ... Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. ... He must increase, but I must decrease." Such was John's preaching; and such is yet the ministry which prepares souls for the coming of the Lord.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
(Epistle: Phil. 4:4. Gospel: John 1:19.)
The "Fourth Sunday in Advent" brings before us the Third Preparation for the Lord's Coming, namely certain Means of Grace, especially Prayer and Baptism.
The Collect prays, "May thy bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us."
The Epistle says, "Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
And the Gospel adds, "John answered, I baptize with water, but there standeth One among you, whom ye know not. He it is who coming after me is preferred before me. ... These things were done beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing."
It is so still. Prayer and Baptism are yet among the appointed Preparations for Christ's coming. In both we confess that we need a Saviour's help. What is Prayer but a cry, not only to God, but for God? And in like manner Baptism is a profession and confession that we are helpless. For Baptism is a "burial," (Col. 2:12,) in the faith that when we take our place as justly condemned sinners, God there will meet us as a Saviour. In baptism we take our place as condemned and dead; fit only to be buried; and in that place God meets us, raising us up out of our fall, "in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." Even John's baptism, "unto repentance," confessed the fall and ruin. Our baptism now does all this, and more; testifying, not only that "the kingdom of heaven," but that a Saviour, "is at hand," who can and will make all things new.
This is the Third Preparation for our Lord's Advent or coming to us. We need not only, from without, Holy Scripture and Ministers, but on our part we need Prayer and Baptism also; that is, a personal confession of our helplessness, and a profession of faith in God, if we would be truly ready for our Lord.
(Epistle: Heb. 1:1. Gospel: John 1:1.)
Having thus begun her course of teaching by speaking of "Advent," that is of God's Coming to us, because we are so fallen that we cannot come to Him; and having then shewn us the three great Preparations for His Coming, namely the Holy Scriptures, Ministers, and Prayer and Baptism, (see preceding Sundays,) the Church on "Christmas Day" goes on to teach her children, How God comes to fallen men. He comes in the flesh, into our very nature, as man to speak to man; so that fallen man, who can neither see nor hear God as He is, may see and hear Him in the face of Jesus Christ, His Son, the Word made flesh. He comes in the flesh too, to bring His own life and virtues into our nature. This is the teaching of Christmas Day.
So the Collect says, "Almighty God, who hast given us thine Only-Begotten Son, to take our nature upon Him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin; grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ."
The Epistle says, "God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed Heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high."
And the Gospel continues, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ... In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. ... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
This is the truth, which the Church lays as the sure foundation of her teaching, even that God has come to dwell in man, to bring back into man His image and His glory. By the incarnation of "the Word," the "brightness of God's glory" has come into flesh and blood, and the "express image of His person" has been restored in man's nature; so that man, born of a woman, has regained in Christ all and more than all he lost in Adam; even the life of God, with all its virtues of righteousness and love; and may not only come here to "opened heavens," but to the "powers of the world to come," to overcome every form of sin and misery. This has been wrought for us in Jesus Christ, our Lord, that through Him, who has "come in the flesh," the same life and righteousness and love may be in us also; hidden at first under the veil of flesh, but ready to break forth, as Epiphany will shew, in light and blessing upon all. This is the lesson of Christmas:—"The tabernacle of God is with men." Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.
It should perhaps be noted here, that in these northern climes and in this Northern hemisphere, in which the Church was planted by the Lord at His First Coming, and to which it was confined for centuries, Christmas comes at the very darkest season of the year; but that from Christmas Day the light increases daily. Cold and storms may remain for a time; yet from this day the darkness daily is lessened. Thus does Nature bear her witness to the great truth that in our greatest darkness Christ comes to give us light. There may still be neither fruits nor flowers. Inward storms for awhile may yet shake us. But the Light has come. And daily that Light grows, till at Whitsuntide, when the Spirit also comes, the light almost swallows up the darkness. "Surely," as St. Paul says, "there are many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification." And the very fact, that within the last few years, a Christian world has grown up in the Southern hemisphere, is itself a voice, testifying how another age is at the doors, when another Coming in glory shall fill and change the world.
ST. STEPHEN'S DAY.
(Epistle: Acts 7:55. Gospel: Matt. 23:34.)
Immediately following Christmas Day, which brings before us the great fact of the Incarnation, the Church gives us Three Saints' Days, "St. Stephen's Day," "St. John's Day," and the "Holy Innocents'," each and all of which are witnesses of what may be called "extensions of the Incarnation," ("for in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established,") shewing us that the Divine Life, which dwelt perfectly in Christ our Lord, dwells also in those who are His members. In Christ, in His holy incarnation, nativity, and circumcision, and baptism, and temptation, and agony, and cross, and death, and resurrection, we have the perfect history of the life of God in human nature. In Him every grace is seen in union and in perfection, as the varied colours are all one in white light.
In the Saints, blessed as they all are, we constantly notice one grace in excess of others. In one, faithfulness unto death; in another, love; in another, meekness; and so on. The Saints' Days are given us by the Church, to call our attention to these special graces, or rays of the one perfect light; while at the same time they witness how the one same life of Christ is shared by all.
The Church, first among the Saints, sets before us St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents, who from the earliest days of the Christian age have been regarded as types or patterns of various kinds of devoted self-sacrifice. St. Stephen, as an early Father says, was martyr both in will and deed. St. John was martyr in will, but not in deed; yielding himself to be cast into the boiling caldron, and yet by the providence of God delivered unharmed from it. The Holy Innocents were martyrs or sufferers for Christ in deed, but not in will; slain for Christ's sake, but without their will or knowledge; witnessing how meek souls, even babes and sucklings, by their involuntary sufferings and deaths unconsciously may glorify God. These three forms of sacrifice for Christ are brought before us in immediate connexion with Christmas Day; to shew how the same one life, whether in the Head or in the members, leads in various ways to the same sacrifice.
In "St. Stephen" we see the grace of courage and devotion even unto death. He stands in the presence of the High Priest and Council, with his last breath testifying to Christ and His glory at the right hand of God; yet praying for his persecutors and murderers, saying, "Father, lay not this sin to their charge."
The portion of Scripture appointed for the Epistle brings his martyrdom before us.
The Gospel shews that such has always been the lot of faithful and devoted witnesses for Christ, who suffer more from God's elect and professing people than from the world. It is "Jerusalem" which "kills the prophets," and "stones those whom God sends" to teach her.
ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST'S DAY.
(Epistle: 1 John 1:1. Gospel: John 21:19.)
"St. John the Evangelist's Day" then brings before us the "beloved disciple," the special witness of Love; whose life throughout was distinguished by the one great mark of love, namely, communion or fellowship with the beloved.
The Epistle gives us his testimony, as to this "fellowship:"—"That which we have heard, and seen with our eyes, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life, that declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us. And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." This is the great testimony of this Apostle. The Word, who both "was with God," and "was God," has come in the flesh, into fellowship with man, to share our shame and death with us; that through Him we might have fellowship with God, and share His life and glory with Him. For "fellowship" or "communion" is "having all things common;" like the wife to take the name and riches of her husband, and to have his strength and wisdom to help in every time of need. Well may "our joy be full," as St. John says here, if we understand that this is our calling; that "we are Christ's, and Christ is God's."
The Gospel then shews the walk of this disciple,—"following" Jesus;—and Christ's testimony respecting him,—"If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" These words were said, not to John, but of him to another, to whom our Lord had just said, "Follow Me." For loving souls, like the Apostle John, do unbidden, as men would say, the very thing which more active workers only do through some express command. St. John here was already "following," that is doing, without a word, all that St. Peter more slowly does through a reiterated command. Yet this loved one, who gladly would have died for Christ, is left here till advanced old age, a witness that the life of Christ may not only be "declared," and "heard of," but be also "shewn," in those who "follow" Him; as he says, "We have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life."
THE INNOCENTS' DAY.
(Epistle: Rev. 14:1. Gospel: Matt. 2:13.)
The "Innocents' Day" brings before us the "babes and sucklings" slain by Herod, who in their innocence, even unconsciously and involuntarily, are witnesses for Christ, and, like the souls under the altar, are a cry for His salvation, saying, "How long, O Lord; how long?"
The passage appointed for the Epistle shews us "virgin" souls, "redeemed from among men, being first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb;" "standing with the Lamb on the Mount Sion; having His Father's name written in their foreheads; without fault before the throne of God."
The Gospel records the slaughter of the Innocents at Bethlehem, all slain for Christ; sharers with Him in His sacrifice, although they knew it not; a witness that, not only voluntary suffering for Christ, but involuntary also, meekly borne, is precious in the sight of God, and will receive a full reward. "For thus saith the Lord, A voice was heard in Ramah; Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they were not. Thus saith the Lord, Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears; for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy." We little know as yet how the unconscious cries and groans of some, who, through their infancy or ignorance, whether in the flesh or in the spirit, are unable by active service to serve the Lord, are yet swelling the inarticulate cry of the "groaning creation," which is "subject to vanity, not willingly," that the promised Deliverer may come in due season. The coming day will fully reveal how "God hath chosen the weak things of the world," to do what the mighty cannot do. And the fact that the Church has placed these "Innocents," with St. Stephen and St. John, in immediate contact with the Incarnation of the Son of God, shews that she at least has read aright the meaning of His coming in the flesh.
THE SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS DAY.
(Epistle: Gal. 4:1. Gospel: Matt. 1:18.)
The "Sunday after Christmas Day" repeats the teaching of Christmas Day, only adding details as to the results of our Lord's coming into our nature.
The Collect says, "God has given us His Only-begotten Son to take upon Him our nature, ... that we, being regenerate and made His children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by His Holy Spirit."
The Epistle says, that "God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." ... "Therefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." The very life of God is quickened in us, and thus a "new man" is brought forth even out of our fallen nature.
The Gospel supplements this, by adding,—"She (His Mother Mary) shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins;"—for the end of the Incarnation is to deliver man from sin;—"And they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us."
Thus the results of our Lord's coming in the flesh are, "that we, being regenerate, may be renewed,"—"that we might receive the adoption of sons,"—"that, because His name is called Jesus, He shall save His people from their sins," and because He is "Emmanuel," we should now have "God with us."
THE CIRCUMCISION OF CHRIST.
(Epistle: Rom. 4:8. Gospel: Luke 2:15.)
The Church, having thus shewn that the Lord has come into our nature, to "make us sons" and partakers of His own life, goes on now by the "Circumcision of Christ" to shew us where He meets and finds us, not only in the flesh, but under law, and even under Jewish ordinances. For "the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all, but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." We are apt to forget that the early stages of our Lord's life for us were Jewish; and that, in like manner, when Christ is first "formed in us," the "new man," while he is yet "a babe," is still wrapped and bound in Jewish swaddling clothes. It must be so, if the Divine life is quickened in us where we really are. For, as fallen, we are all in the flesh before we are in the spirit. But a time comes when "heaven opens." Meanwhile even Jewish forms, used and not abused, are witnesses of truth. Circumcision and the whole law, witnessed that this present life is a condemned life, and that the true life of man, through the "circumcision of Christ," (Col. 2:11,) must be a judgment of, and even a death to, present nature. This is the lesson of "The Circumcision," which Christ's members, as God's elect, when the appointed day comes, must surely share with Him.
The Collect, confessing Christ's circumcision, prays, "Almighty God," (the name revealed to Abraham when he was circumcised,) to "grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that our hearts and all our members being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey His blessed will, through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord."
The Epistle, by the example of Abraham, the father of the faithful, shews that this circumcision is "a seal of the righteousness" which a man "has" by receiving the Word of God and believing it. Mortification of the flesh does not give us God's life. That life comes through our receiving the Word of God. But that life, when quickened in us, is in all things obedient, and ready to accept the outward mortifying of the flesh, which is the sign that the spirit is quickened and right with God.
And the Gospel records the outward fact, that, having come into our nature, "when eight days were accomplished" there was "the circumcising of the Child, and His name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before He was conceived in the womb."
Note, that "The Circumcision" falls on the first day of every New Year. A truly circumcised life in man is really a new beginning.
(Epistle: Eph. 3:1. Gospel: Matt. 2:1.)
Having thus taught her children that God comes to us, because as fallen we cannot come to Him, (which is the great lesson of Advent,) and then that He comes in the flesh, to bring His life into our fallen nature, (which is the lesson of Christmas,) that we, who cannot see Him as He is, may yet see Him in the face of Jesus Christ, the Church now goes on to shew us How He manifests Himself in His beloved Son. This is the great lesson of "the Epiphany." For "Epiphany" simply means Manifestation. The question is, How and to whom is He manifested? God in Christ is "with us,"—in the midst of us. But as yet He is manifested to very few. Epiphany-tide reveals to us the law of His manifestation,—to whom He is, and to whom He is not, here and now manifested; but that at last He shall be manifested to all.
"Epiphany" teaches that He is not manifested at present to the sort of people who, we might have thought, would be the first to recognise Him. The law of His present manifestation is this:—He is manifested exactly according to our need, and according to our faith. Hence where there is no felt need, and no faith, He is not manifested.
So we find that it is not the Priests, (that is God's official servants,) or the Pharisees, (that is the religious Separatists,) or the Scribes, (that is the Letter-men,) or Israel generally, that is "the children of the kingdom;" but rather far-off Gentiles, or a sorrowing mother, or Galilean disciples, or a palsied man, grievously tormented, or tempest-tossed followers, or a man possessed with devils, who are the first here to receive a Manifestation of the Lord. This is what "Epiphany" and the "First Four Sundays after Epiphany" testify.
And yet, as the "Fifth" and "Sixth Sundays" teach us, there shall at the end be an "Epiphany" which all shall see and feel.
It is a great subject. To it the Church dedicates more than six Sundays. She does no more for any other doctrine,—not even for "Lent" or for "Easter," in which she so fully opens out what fallen man is, and what is done for him by the Cross and Resurrection.
Now to look at the First Epiphany, or rather the Epiphany as it is first brought before us, in the "Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles."
The Collect reminds us how "God, by the leading of a star, did manifest His Only-begotten Son to the Gentiles."
The Epistle goes on to declare, "how that by revelation God made known to Paul the mystery, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men; even that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel;" and then, how, having received this light from God, he "preached among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world had been hid in God, but was now made known according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus."
And then the Gospel shews how Gentiles, "strangers to the covenants of promise," were the first to receive a Manifestation or Epiphany of Christ. They were not of God's elect people; but, "far off" as they were, they had eyes opened to notice the new light, "the star," which God had given to arrest their attention and to lead them to the Lord. ("The stars are the angels of the churches." Rev. 1:20.) Following that heavenly light, they come among God's professing people, and ask, "Where is He?" of those who are only "troubled" by that light. Still seekers, they are led on by that light, till they come where "they saw the young child." It was a very little Christ whom they saw: not even as He may be known here in the flesh; much less as He appeared to chosen disciples in the Transfiguration, or as He will appear when He returns in glory. But what they saw was a true Epiphany or Manifestation to them of the Lord, filling them "with exceeding great joy," and leading them to "offer" all they had to Him.
So the "children of the kingdom," having the Scriptures in their hands, enabling them to direct others to the Lord, though so nigh to Him, had no Epiphany; while "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, sometime afar off," receive a manifestation of the Lord, never to be forgotten.
THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHAHY.
(Epistle: Rom. 12:1. Gospel: Luke 2:41.)
The next Manifestation of the Lord, to which the Church calls our attention on the "First Sunday after the Epiphany," is His Manifestation to His Mother, who was perhaps of all the nearest to Him; who seemed to have lost Him for awhile, even in her attendance at an appointed Feast of the Lord; but who yet "sought Him, sorrowing," and so "found Him."
The Collect prays for an Epiphany,—"that thy people may both perceive and know what things they ought to do."
The Epistle speaks of our "reasonable (or intelligent) service," and exhorts us, "by the mercies of God, to present our bodies a living sacrifice;" that so we "may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God;" and thus be fitted to receive a revelation of God and of His will, which is hidden from the world and from those who are "conformed to it."
The Gospel then relates how some, who are nearest to the Lord, even in an act of holy worship, "at the feast of the Passover," "supposing Him to be in the company," "go a day's journey" without Him, and then find that they have lost Him for a season. We are here shewn how they too receive a Manifestation or Epiphany. "When they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him; and after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding." So "they saw Him." So was He manifested to them.
Many still, most near to Christ, as near as St. Mary, even in an act of holy worship, like the Passover, "supposing Him to be in the company," "go a day's journey" without Him. Such souls still, when they find He is not with them, "turn back, seeking Him." And after three sorrowing days, they "find Him," and "see Him," and "are amazed." The old story is for ever true. This is His Epiphany to some of His nearest and dearest. And the wonder is that "He comes down with them, and is subject to them." Oh, what a manifestation of Him, who, because He is love, comes ever to be "subject to us" for a while, that we may be subject to Him for ever.
Note, that the "Epistles" for the "Sundays after the Epiphany" are from the 12th and 13th chapters to the Romans, from the 3rd chapter to the Colossians, and from the 3rd chapter of the First Epistle of St. John; all of which speak very specially of the life of God in the believer. The "Epistle" for this "First Sunday" declares that "we are one body in Christ." If therefore God is manifested in Christ, who came into our nature for us, He must also in like manner be manifested in Christ's members, even while they are in the flesh; "because as He is, so are we in this world." The world and the professing Church may "not know them, even as it knew not Christ;" (see the Epistle for the "Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany;") and yet there may and must be the same life and the same works "manifested" in them. (John 14:12.)
THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHAHY.
(Epistle: Rom. 12:6. Gospel: John 2:1.)
We are next shewn, on the "Second Sunday after the Epiphany," a Manifestation or Epiphany to disciples; how, when that which man has provided for his feast runs short, and "they have no wine," our Lord manifests Himself, by "turning the water into wine."
The Collect is a cry for help from God.
The Epistle is an exhortation to expect all from Him—to be "rejoicing in hope," "patient in tribulation," "continuing instant in prayer;" "distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality."
The Gospel shews how our need is Christ's opportunity. Till we are in need, "His hour is not yet come." It is "when they wanted wine," that He says, "Fill the water-pots with water," and then turns the need into abundance, and the water into wine. The "water" is the letter,—drawn out of the Jewish "waterpots." The "wine" is the Spirit, which He gives. This is a blessed Epiphany.
Our attention here is specially directed to the difference between man's way of shewing himself, and God's way. Man always sets forth his best at first:—"Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, that that which is worse." God cannot shew us His best things till we feel our need:—"Thou hast kept the good wine until now." His manifestation is when we find that we are in need.
And the part which the Blessed Virgin takes in this is remarkable, shewing how souls like her, in whom Christ has been formed, are helpers in such a Manifestation or Epiphany. She twice speaks here: first to "the Lord," calling attention to the want, saying, "They have no wine;" and then to "the servants," saying, "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it."
May we shew that we have a right to sing St. Mary's song, and to say, "All generations shall call me blessed," by speaking to Christ of all the need we see around; and by saying to the servants, "Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it."
THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHAHY.
(Epistle: Rom. 12:6. Gospel: Matt. 8:1.)
The "Third Sunday after the Epiphany" sets before us a Manifestation of Christ to souls grievously tormented, a "leper" and a "palsied man," by meeting and healing their "sicknesses" and "infirmities."
The Collect prays, "Look upon our infirmities."
The Epistle, like all the other "Epistles" for the "Sundays after the Epiphany," goes on to exhort and command us to be "imitators of God," by shewing His grace to those around us who are in sin and suffering. We are to "recompense to no man evil for evil;" to "live peaceably with all men;" "if our enemy hunger; to feed him; if he thirst, to give him drink;" in a word, (and this sums up all,) "not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good." But such commandments and exhortations, even as His works of love, are really manifestations of the Lord. For are we to "overcome evil with good;" and will not He, the Lord of all? Are we to "forgive our enemies," and will not He yet much more?
The Gospel then shews how two of the most distressing forms of disease are met by a word from Christ, who thus again manifests God in our misery and necessity.
The two forms of evil which He meets here,—the first in a poor Jew, separated from his people, and crying, "Unclean, unclean:" the second in a Gentile, "grievously tormented,"—are leprosy and palsy; the one shewing us how sin works in us as uncleanness, cutting us off from God's people and from His sanctuary: the other shewing the same one great disease of sin working in us as helplessness, making it impossible for us "to do the thing that we would." In each case here, there is both need and the sense of need, and also the faith to expect help. Hence there is at once an Epiphany or Manifestation of the power of God. So we read of the "leper:"—"And immediately his leprosy was cleansed;" and of the "palsied man," that he was "healed in the selfsame hour."
The same diseases, of uncleanness and helplessness, are yet among us. Not a few seem to think, that, because they are beyond the reach of any mere human remedy, there can be no present help for them. But "there standeth One among us," who is able to do more than we can ask or think; and, thank God, there are still some in whom and to whom He manifests Himself by "healing their infirmities."
THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHAHY.
(Epistle: Rom. 13:1. Gospel: Matt. 8:23.)
The "Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany" brings before us our Lord's Second Manifestation of Himself to His disciples, by "stilling a great tempest in the sea," which threatened them in their voyage to "the other side."
The Collect speaks of our being "set in the midst of many and great dangers," and prays for "such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations."
The Epistle tells us of "higher powers," which "are ordained of God," to which we must be "subject" for awhile; and adds, "Wilt thou not be afraid of the power, do that which is good; for they are ministers of God to thee for good."
And as an illustration of the "principalities and powers," which surround us, the Gospel shews us the "disciples caught by a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves;" when the Lord "arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm."
With this is shewn also a Manifestation of His power to deliver those "possessed with devils," who are captive to "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." There is more connexion than many think in these two Manifestations, brought before us in this same one Gospel; the one to "disciples," on the way or voyage "to the other side;" the other, "on the other side," to the man "possessed with devils," "unclothed," and "who had his dwelling among the tombs."
THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHAHY.
(Epistle: Col. 3:12. Gospel: Matt. 13:24.)
The "Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany" goes on to shew, that, if in this life and in this world there are some to whom Christ is not manifested, there is a Future Manifestation, which must be seen by all.
So the Collect speaks of "the hope of heavenly grace."
The Epistle calls for "long-suffering" and "forbearing," till "Christ who is our life shall appear."
And the Gospel declares that there is a "time of harvest" coming, when, in the separation of the tares and the wheat, the Lord of the harvest shall be manifested to both, in the burning of the tares, and the gathering of the wheat into His barn; for that day will be a Manifestation or Epiphany to all, "whether they be good or bad." Whilst in this world, we may by sin so shut our eyes, that we may go through this life, ignorant of our real state, and without a manifestation of the grace and power which are in Christ, to heal and save us. It can only be for a time. The world and the things of the world must pass away. Then "every eye shall see" the Judge of quick and dead.
THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHAHY.
(Epistle: 1 John 3:1. Gospel: Matt. 24:23.)
Then, on the "Sixth Sunday" the Church goes on more fully to speak of this final Epiphany, when there will be a Manifestation of the Lord to all.
The Collect again refers to "this hope," that "when He shall appear again with power and great glory, we may be made like unto Him in His eternal and glorious kingdom."
The Epistle also speaks of "this hope," that "when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is;" for "He was manifested to take away our sins;" and "for this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil."
And the Gospel still more fully describes this last Epiphany, that, "as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even to the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be;" for "then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory."
Even of this "mourning" shall it not be seen some day, that "blessed are the mourners?" Shall not even their sorrow be turned into joy?
It should here be noticed that the "Lessons" appointed for the Sundays from Advent to Epiphany are exactly in keeping with the teaching of the Epistles and Gospels for these days, and in striking contrast to the "Lessons" appointed for the Sundays from Septuagesima to the end of Lent, which again correspond to the teaching of the Epistles and Gospels for these following Sundays. To the glorious visions of Isaiah, which are the "Lessons" up to and through Epiphany, succeed the sad and shameful histories of Genesis, which are the "Lessons" from Septuagesima and onward to Good Friday; while to the miracles and wonderful acts of the Lord, which are the "Gospels" from Advent and through Epiphany, succeed His parables and warnings, which fill the "Gospels" from Septuagesima and through Lent.
SEPTUAGESIMA, OR THE THIRD SUNDAY BEFORE LENT.
(Epistle: 1 Cor. 9:24. Gospel: Matt. 20:1.)
So far, in "Advent," "Christmas," and "Epiphany," the subjects brought before us have been respecting the Lord; first, His Coming,—that He comes to us, because in our fall we cannot come to Him: then,—that He comes in the flesh, even into our nature, for so only can He fully communicate to us His truth, and make us "new creatures;" and then,—that His manifestations of Himself are according to our need, and according to our faith.
The Church now says, So far you have been taught something about God. Now you shall be taught something about man; what he is in his present fall; what his life is in this world; and what it may be.
"Septuagesima," "Sexagesima," "Quinquagesima," and "Lent" or "Carême," (Carême being only the abridgement of "Quadragesima,") that is "Seventy," "Sixty," "Fifty," "Forty," tell us what man is here—only a sojourner. "Seventy" years are his allotted span here. Soon only "Sixty" will remain. Very soon it will be only "Fifty;" and then "Forty;" the Forty Days of Lent; the "Forty Years of trial in the wilderness."
When we have gone through Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, that is the first thirty of the Seventy years, what remains are the "Forty Days of Lent," the figure of the forty years of our trial or temptation here; each day rapidly bringing us nearer to Good Friday, that is the day of death, through which we come to Easter or Resurrection.
During this season, it is not, as from Advent to Epiphany, the First, Second, Third, or Fourth Sunday in or after Advent or Epiphany; but rather the Seventieth, Sixtieth, Fiftieth, or Fortieth day to, or before, the day of death, that is Good Friday. Every week and every day bring us so much nearer to it. This is fallen man's appointed lot in this world. But Good Friday, the day of death, is not the end; for Christ has died. Good Friday only leads to Easter or the Resurrection.
Here, as from Advent, and through Epiphany, the teaching and the order of the teaching are most instructive.
"Septuagesima," "Sexagesima," and "Quinquagesima," give us three advancing views of what man's life is, or may be, even in this world.
"Septuagesima" speaks of our Natural life, and says that it is a "race" and a "battle."
This is the witness of the Epistle:—"Know ye not, that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize. So run that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we are [sic] incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that, after I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away."
The Gospel adds, Life here is also "work" and "labour in a vineyard." Some labour more, some less. Sometimes the shortest labour is the best approved, because there is more faith in the goodness of the Master in it.
The Collect, too, refers to the toil and sorrow of our fallen state, confessing, "that we are justly punished for our offences."
"Sexagesima" goes on to tell us of the Spiritual life which man may live through faith.
"Quinquagesima" goes further, and describes the Heavenly life, which man may also here attain to through the Holy Ghost. (See further under "Sexagesima" and "Quinquagesima.")
Note. I have already, in speaking of Christmas, noticed the season of the year fixed for that festival. The great Feast of the Incarnation, and all the Saints' Days likewise, are determined by the Sun, and are called "immoveable," as they always fall upon the same day in each succeeding year. It should no less be noticed, that all the Feasts connected with Easter, that is from Septuagesima to Trinity, are "moveable," that is depending on the Moon, and therefore fall at different dates, earlier or later, according to the changing time of the First Full Moon, on or after the Vernal Equinox. Now all the so-called "moveable feasts," from Septuagesima to Trinity, are witnesses of what man is in his present fallen state, and of the way he is delivered out of it, in and by Christ, through death, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Ghost. All this is a changing process, and for this reason is linked with the changing Moon, rather than with the Sun which changes not. The "immoveable feasts," on the other hand, are occupied with God, and His unchanging love; which has made man His tabernacle; first in Christ, and then in the Saints, who are his members; and are therefore linked with, and determined by, the Sun, which changes not, though at times it may be hidden from us.
And yet, strange to say, these "moveable feasts," Septuagesima, Easter, Whitsuntide, and Trinity, depending on the Moon, are generally regarded in the Church as greater festivals than Christmas and the other "immoveable" Saints' Days, which all depend on and are connected with the Sun. But the key to this lies in the mystery figured in Melchisedek, to whom, as greater than himself, the patriarch Abraham "paid tithes;" (see Heb. 7:4-7;) even though it was only in and through Abraham, and his seed, "that all the kindreds of the earth should be blessed." (Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:8.) Abraham and his seed figure the means or channel, by which that deliverance was to come to men, which Easter, Whitsunday, and Trinity affirm more openly. But the means or channel of deliverance, which is "temporal," is not intrinsically greater than the "unchangeable" fact, figured in Melchisedek, that man is God's tabernacle, as Christmas and all the Saints' Days testify; though the way of man's return to God may for a while seem to eclipse or supersede the wider truth of what man really is as son of God.
It would be out of place to pursue this here. I have said what I can respecting it in my volume on "The Names of God," under the title, "Most High," the name known to Melchisedek.
SEXAGESIMA, OR THE SECOND SUNDAY BEFORE LENT.
(Epistle: 2 Cor. 11:19. Gospel: Luke 8:4.)
"Sexagesima" next speaks of the Spiritual life which man may live here through faith.
The Epistle, by the example of St. Paul, shews that this life is full of perils, and yet of joys:—"in labours more abundant; in stripes above measure; in prisons more frequent; in deaths oft; in weariness and painfulness; in watchings often; in hunger and thirst; in fastings often." And yet that the man who suffers all this can "rejoice in spirit," and even "glory of the things which concern his infirmities."
The Gospel goes on to teach how this life absolutely depends upon a "seed," which "is the Word of God;" and shews how in many different ways this "seed" may fail to come to perfection; that some may be "trodden down," some "withered for lack of moisture," and some "choked by thorns," that is the "cares and pleasures of this life;" but that where it is "received in an honest and good heart," it "brings forth fruit with patience."
The Collect therefore prays, "that by thy power we may be defended," while it confesses, that "we put not our trust in anything that we do."
And finally the Lesson for the day shews, by the example of our first parents, the great source of these perils, in the fact that there is an adversary both of God and man, namely "the old Serpent," who, if he could, would destroy the life which God gives us.
QUINQUAGESIMA, OR THE SUNDAY NEXT BEFORE LENT.
(Epistle: 1 Cor. 13:1. Gospel: Luke 18:31.)
"Quinquagesima" then testifies of the third and highest form or stage of man's life here, in and through the Spirit, that is the Heavenly life of love and sacrifice, which is indeed God's own life.
The Collect prays for it, saying, "Send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee."
The Epistle describes it at length, shewing that it is the very opposite of our fallen carnal life; the four great elements of which, namely, self-love, envy, pride, and wrath, are overcome by love, goodwill, humility, and meekness. For "charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself; is not easily provoked; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth."
And then the Gospel illustrates this heavenly life of love by the example of our Blessed Lord Himself, who came to "fulfil all things that were written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man;" how He gave Himself for sinners, "an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour;" and who in full view of His rejection and cross and passion, clearly foreseeing that He should be "mocked and spitefully entreated and spit upon," still to the end, not understood even by disciples, never failed in love, stopping to heal even the "blind beggar," by the wayside, that cried to Him.
The Lesson for the day (Genesis 9) shews God, declaring His everlasting covenant of grace in the new creation which emerges from the deluge; and giving the token of His covenant in "the bow in the cloud," and in His promise, that "the waters shall no more destroy all flesh."
ASH-WEDNESDAY, OR THE FIRST DAY OF LENT.
(Epistle: Joel 2:12. Gospel: Matt. 6:16.)
The Church, from "Septuagesima" to "Quinquagesima," having thus shewn us what man's life here is, or may be, now goes on in the Forty Days of Lent, which figure our time of "temptation in the wilderness" of this world, to open, on the six successive Sundays, the various temptations which assail us here.
The "First Day of Lent, or Ash-Wednesday," is a general call to humiliation and repentance, as the divinely ordained preparation for all temptation.
The Collect prays for "new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain perfect remission and forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord."
The portion of Scripture appointed for the Epistle calls us to true and heartfelt repentance:—"Turn ye even to me, saith the Lord, with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning. And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God; for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil." Only let us confess what we are, and we shall prove what God is. Only tell the truth to God, and God will meet your every want.
And the Gospel goes on to shew what this true "acknowledging of our wretchedness" is. It is not "fasting as the hypocrites, that they may appear unto men to fast;" but rather, that, without appearing unto men to fast, we may humble ourselves "before our Father which is in secret, that our Father, which seeth in secret, may reward us openly."
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT.
(Epistle: 2 Cor. 6:1. Gospel: Matt. 4:1.)
The Six Sundays in Lent then specially bring before us the Varied Temptation, which as men we must expect in this life.
The 1st Sunday,—Temptation from the devil.
The 2nd,—Temptation from the flesh.
The 3rd,—Temptation from the world.
The 4th,—Temptation from confidence in self, or in law, rather than in grace.
The 5th,—Temptation from the misrepresentation and contradiction of sinners.
The 6th, or Sunday next before Easter,—Temptation from rejection by God's professing people.
All these temptations are really for us, not against us. They are the fire which purifies the gold. By them we grow in grace and strength, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Every wretched thing in us or around us, which is an occasion of failure and defeat, if we walk after the flesh, is an occasion of victory and strength, if we walk in humble faith and patience. Therefore St. James says, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trial of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." And St. Paul adds, "There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make a way also to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." Therefore, as another Apostle says, "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." We should not be tempted, if it were not for our good.
The "First Sunday in Lent" brings before us the Temptation from the devil.
The Collect prays for "grace ever to obey."
The Epistle speaks of "afflictions, necessities, stripes, distresses, imprisonments, evil report, dishonour;" all these being the results of the devil's enmity, as we read in the Epistle to Smyrna, (Rev. 2:10,)—"The devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Fear none of those things which ye shall suffer. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." (See, too, Heb. 11:36, 37.)
And the Gospel speaks of our Lord's temptation, when "He was led of the Spirit into the wilderness," and, "after He had fasted forty days," was "tempted of the devil."
The temptation was first to doubt God and His testimony as to man's relation to Him. For God had just said to Christ, when as man He took man's place in baptism, "Thou art my beloved Son." The devil immediately questions this, saying, "If thou be the Son." For if possible he would draw man, from the place of childlike confidence and dependence, to attempt to shew his sonship by some act of independence. Thus we read, "When the tempter came to Him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread;" and again, "If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down." But a true son proves that he is a son, not by his doing this or that, but by the blessed fact that he can in all things trust his father. So here Christ, in our place and nature, answered the tempter's first two suggestions, to doubt the love and truth of God, by implicit trust and dependence on His Father. Then, as a last temptation, "the devil taketh Him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, saying, All this will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me;" thus seeking to put some creature or self into the place of God. In every case our Lord's answer to the devil is, "It is written:"—"It is written again." God's word, if we know it, is the direct answer to every suggestion of "the tempter." So "the devil leaveth Him."
THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT.
(Epistle: 1 Thess. 4:1. Gospel: Matt. 15:21.)
The "Second Sunday in Lent" sets before us the Temptation we are subject to from the flesh.
The Collect prays, "Almighty God, keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls."
The Epistle warns us against the "lusts of the flesh," exhorting each believer to "possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God; for God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us His holy Spirit."
The Gospel then speaks of another kind of trial or temptation, which comes on us through the affections and afflictions of the flesh; shewing us the Woman of Canaan tried by the grievous sufferings of her daughter, and appearing at first to be uncared for even by the Lord. It is not only through what is evil in our nature, that we may be sorely tried and tempted, but even by affections which in themselves are right and good. The "lust" and "concupiscence," spoken of in the Epistle, are manifestly evil; and, if yielded to, destroy both body and soul. But even our best affections may cause us trial, and be snares to us. Affection for a child has not only led to hurtful indulgence, but may take God's rightful place in many a heart, tempting us to love the creature more than the Creator. And yet by these very trials, as in the case of the Woman of Canaan, we may be brought to know more of the Lord, who can give us all, and more than all, we ask for our beloved ones. In every case the trial or temptation is "the trial of our faith," not of our goodness or strength. God in all is sufficient, if we can only trust Him.
The Lessons for the day speak of two of the commonest temptations through the flesh; first to deceit and falsehood, like Jacob, and then to evil communications, and carnal affections, as in the case of Dinah. These shameful falls were not in heathens, but in God's elect. Shall we not therefore pray, as the Collect prays, that we may be "kept both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls."
THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT.
(Epistle: Eph. 5:1. Gospel: Luke 11:14.)
The "Third Sunday in Lent" shews us the Temptation from the world.
The Collect beseeches God to "stretch forth the right hand of His majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies."
The Epistle warns of "the unfruitful works of darkness,"—"fornication, and all uncleanness, and covetousness, and filthiness, and foolish talking, and jesting, and idolatry;" all of which are the common sins and ways of the world, here called "the children of disobedience."
And the Gospel shews how the world "tempts" God's sons by its unbelieving words, "asking for a sign from heaven," and "saying, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub." The world which tempts us has been well defined as "the power of seen things, more than of unseen: of present things, more than of the things to come." Therefore, as St. John says, "This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith;" for faith looks to things unseen more than to things seen, and to things to come more than to the present, which is ever passing, even while we see it. Our Lord's answer therefore, to the temptation expressed in the demand for "a sign," is, "Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it." For it is not the unbelieving ways and words of the world, or of the "children of disobedience," but the "Word of God," which will be our judge and deliverance. Yet the world too is a great power to draw the soul aside. Faith only, that is the reception of God's Word, will make us more than conquerors.
The Lessons for the day give us illustrations of the "faith which overcomes the world;" first, in Joseph's faith in the vision of future glory, which the Lord gave him; and then in his resisting the temptation, which came to him from his master's wife, to be unfaithful.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN LENT.
(Epistle: Gal. 4:21. Gospel: John 6:1.)
The "Fourth Sunday in Lent," which in bygone days was called "Refreshment Sunday," brings before us our Temptation from confidence in self or in law, rather than in the continually present grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Collect prays that "by the comfort of thy grace we may be relieved." This is the "Refreshment" we may confidently look for spite of all our sins and temptations, and even in the time of our deepest sorrow and abasement. The "comfort of God's grace," even in the trials figured by Mid Lent, will surely always "refresh" us.
The Epistle then warns of the temptation to confidence in self, shewn in turning to and in trusting to law, which says, "Thou shalt" or "Thou shalt not," rather than in trusting to and resting in the grace of Him who in His "new and better covenant" again and again gives us a promise and says, "I will;" such a return to law being really confidence in self, which always necessarily "gendereth to bondage."
And the Gospel shews how the same temptation, to trust in self or in our own efforts and sufficiency, which always oppresses rather than refreshes, may try even disciples who are following Christ, and may be brought out by the need of those around us; by which the Lord "proves us," whether we can trust in Him and in His present help, rather than in our own efforts and plans to meet the necessity. The Lord alone can meet the need. "Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient." And yet the Lord accepts what is in His disciples' hands, and by His grace makes it sufficient, saying, "Make the men sit down." Thus still does He "refresh," when disciples tell Him of need beyond their power to help.
THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT.
(Epistle: Heb. 9:11. Gospel: John 8:46.)
The "Fifth Sunday in Lent," or "Passion Sunday," shews us the sifting trial or Temptation, which may and does come upon God's faithful children, from the misrepresentation and contradiction of sinners.
The Collect, as usual in Lent, prays for preservation—"that thy people may be preserved evermore."
The Epistle declares how all this temptation is part of the appointed cross, and that, as God's sons, we must share in the "passion" or suffering of our Head, who overcame everything by perfectly "offering up Himself" as a sacrifice "even unto blood;" thus "by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament," overcoming all the evil that is in the world.
And then the Gospel gives an example of the special trial which comes on God's elect through the false accusations and contradiction of sinners, when any deeper truth of God is opened to them:—"Say we not well, that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil. ... Now we know that thou hast a devil. ... Whom makest thou thyself? Then they took up stones to cast at Him." Thus are the truths which the Lord reveals, as to His own eternal life, and the deathless portion of those who "keep His saying," made the ground of fresh accusations and contradictions. But, instead of answering or resisting, "Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by."
If we could but see more clearly how every trial, which we meet here from the world, is only part of the suffering and sacrifice to which, as living members of Christ, we are predestined; for "we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter;" we should not so easily be stumbled by the misrepresentation and contradiction of sinners, which often greatly try God's true servants. But God is able to "preserve us evermore" through all.
THE SUNDAY NEXT BEFORE EASTER.
(Epistle: Phil. 2:5. Gospel: Matt. 27:1.)
The "Sixth Sunday in Lent," commonly called "Palm Sunday," or the "Sunday next before Easter," still further opens the teaching of the "Fifth Sunday," dwelling on the Temptation, which assails God's faithful children, from rejection by God's professing people; again connecting this temptation with the Cross, and the perfect sacrifice even unto death.
The Collect prays that "we may follow the example of Christ's patience." This Collect is to be repeated for the greater part of the ensuing week, though the Epistles and Gospels are different every day. For it was by "patience" that our Lord overcame every temptation. We, as His members, in this and in all things are called to "follow His example."
The Epistle is a summary of the teaching of the week, "exhorting us to the mind of Christ," who, "being in the form of God," yet "made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross."
The Gospel then shews us "the chief priests and elders" of God's professing people, "taking counsel against God's Son to put Him to death;" "binding Him," and "delivering Him" to the Romans; and "persuading the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus." After which comes the "trial of cruel mocking and scourging;" and then of His being "led away to be crucified." "And they that passed by reviled Him." "And the chief priests mocking said, with the Scribes and Elders, He saved others, Himself He cannot save." And "some of them that stood there said, This man calleth for Elias." This is the last temptation which Lent brings before us. God's professing people try God's beloved Son, and His true and living members also, more bitterly, even than the world.
I would notice here, that, though popularly this Sunday is called "Palm Sunday," there is no reference, either in the Collect, Epistle, or Gospel, to our Lord's entrance upon this day into Jerusalem, "meek and sitting upon an ass," nor to the fact that on this day "the multitude and His disciples spread their garments in the way, and others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way." This fact is brought before us on Advent Sunday, where the special lesson is, How the Lord has "come to visit us in great humility." On this "Sixth Sunday in Lent" His humility is the same. But the lesson here is His trial through the rejection which He meets with from God's own chosen people. As ever, so here, He overcomes all by meekness, and patience, and the most perfect humility. May we in this, and in all things, have grace to follow His steps.
MONDAY BEFORE EASTER, AND HOLY WEEK.
(Epistle: Isaiah 63:1. Gospel: Mark 14:1.)
On this day, and all through Holy Week, the same subject is continued. God's Son must be rejected here. First, a disciple "betrays," and then the rest "forsake" Him. Then the Elders, and the Scribes, and the whole Council, "carry Him away and deliver Him to Pilate, the Governor, desiring that He may be slain." Then Roman soldiers "plat a crown of thorns, and put it about His head, and smite Him with a reed, and spit upon Him." Then the Chief Priests "mock Him." Then He is "crucified between two thieves." Nor is this all. Even His Father seems to have "forsaken" Him. "And being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood, falling to the ground." Through all the trial, even unto death, He perfectly offers Himself to God; even on the Cross remembering His Mother, the dying thief, and His crucifiers. His last words being, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit." Such is the perfect way: such is the end of the temptation and trial here. Thanks be to God for ever for the victory thus won for us in Christ. May the same victory, in the same appointed way, through Him be wrought in us, who are His members.
THURSDAY BEFORE EASTER.
(Epistle: 1 Cor. 11:17. Gospel: Luke 23:1.)
"Thursday before Easter," commonly called "Maundy Thursday,"—(that is, "Dies Mandati," the "day of the command,") because upon this day our Lord commanded the Apostles to observe the Lord's Supper, and to do as He had done in washing the disciples' feet,—adds to the narrative of our Lord's Passion, which the preceding days have brought before us, the particulars of the Institution of the Holy Communion, in which, as He approaches the conclusion of His own sacrifice, He reveals the mystery of the Communion to which we are called, even with Him and by Him to be sacrifices for others.
The Epistle gives us St. Paul's description of this Institution; how that "the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also He took the cup, when He had supped, saying, This cup is the New Testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew forth the Lord's death till He come." That death, even the "giving of His body," and the "shedding of His blood," was the manifestation of His love, who bids us "love one another as He has loved us;" and, "because He laid down His life for us, to lay down our lives for the brethren." Our Lord's other act, in washing His disciples' feet, testified the same:—"If I your Lord and Master have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you."
In the Holy Communion, therefore, when He gives us the bread and cup, and says, "This is my body, which is given for you," and "This is my blood, which is shed for you," He adds immediately, "Do this;" that is, not only "Eat my flesh, and drink my blood," but, Be sacrifices, as I am; "in remembrance of me;" give your body: give your blood: "for as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew forth the Lord's death until He come." Christ's sacrifice and ours are not two, but one. There is but "One Offering," even "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." It is He who lives and works in us. He is the Head, and we the members. We only "fill up," as the Apostle says, "that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in our flesh for His body's sake, which is the Church." Of all this the bread and wine of Holy Communion are the appointed sacrament. May we indeed know what this Communion is.
The Gospel then goes on to give us further particulars of the Great Sacrifice. Throughout it is the perfect giving up of self to God in everything;—shewing us, as words can never shew it, what that Communion is, to which we are called, as partakers of the body and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Epistle: Heb. 10:1. Gospel: John 19:1.)
"Good Friday" brings before us the crowning act of the trial, which the Forty Days of Lent commemorate, shewing us Man's just judgment, borne by Christ for us, that is "death, even the death of the Cross;" and also Man's last and perfect self-sacrifice even unto death, in Christ our Lord; by which the curse is turned into a blessing.
This double aspect of Christ's death, as a Non-sweet-savour or "Sin-offering," and as also at the same time a "Sweet-savour" and Voluntary offering, is very distinctly brought before our notice here.
The Collect speaks first of the Voluntary or Sweet-savour Offering; that "our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed;" and then of the Non-sweet-savour aspect of the same offering; that He was "given up ... to suffer death upon the cross;" for "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree."
The Epistle speaks of the same two aspects of His death, both as a "sacrifice" and an "offering;" as a "burnt-offering" and as an "offering for sin;" in which "He offered one sacrifice for sins for ever;" and in which also "by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified."
The Gospel shews the same, where even the Roman judge says, "I find no fault in Him," while yet He is "crucified between two thieves." And the "blood" and the "water" from His pierced side bear the same witness; for, as St. John says, "He came not by water only, but by water and blood;" that is, not with death and judgment only, but with life; for "the water" is death,—"we are buried by baptism into death,"—and "the blood is the life," the very life of God which He freely gives us, that we may drink and live.
Such is the great truth which Good Friday brings before us. Death must be man's portion here, whether the sacrifice is voluntary or involuntary. In Christ it was both; and no sacrifice is perfect that is not at the same time both voluntary and involuntary. Christ "offered Himself and was obedient unto death." And if we could be so obedient as to love God perfectly, and our neighbour as ourselves, such love and obedience would cost us our lives. But "Christ also suffered for sins; that He might bring us unto God; being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." And because He so died, and because we are sinners, we must also die thus with Him. So St. Peter says, "Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind; for he that suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin." The Cross of Christ is no reprieve to the flesh or old man. Rather it is the pledge that we must die. Only "he that is dead is freed from sin."
Of all this I have written fully elsewhere. Blessed be the Name of our God and Saviour, for His perfect sacrifice for us for evermore.
(Epistle: 1 Peter 3:17. Gospel: Matt. 27:57.)
"Easter Even" declares what follows death,—shewing Christ buried and laid among the dead.
The Collect prays that "by the mortifying of our corrupt affections we may be buried with Him."
The Epistle declares what He did between His death and resurrection,—that "being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit, He went and preached unto the spirits in prison, which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah." This passage is by some called "difficult," that is, it is one which it is hard, and even impossible, fairly to reconcile with the view that there is and can be no mercy to sinners, except in this life. The words however are not difficult. They distinctly assert that our Lord, "being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit, went and preached to the spirits in prison, who once had been disobedient in the days of Noah." And the fact that the Church has appointed this passage to be read as the Epistle for "Easter Even," that is for the day after the crucifixion, and before the resurrection, of our Lord, shews plainly enough her judgment as to the true sense and interpretation of the words. The Early Fathers, almost without exception, understand them to speak of Christ's descent to Hades, to "lead captivity captive, and to receive gifts for men, even for the rebellious also."
The Gospel then gives the particulars of His burial,—that He was "laid in a new tomb, hewn out in the rock," and that "the sepulchre was made sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch;" but that, spite of all, "the grave," (as the Collect says,) was but "the gate" to "our joyful resurrection."
(Epistle: Col. 3:1. Gospel: John 20:1.)
Having thus taught us, (from Septuagesima to Good Friday,) what man's present life is, and what man is, as fallen and subject to death in Adam, the Church now goes on to shew how all this fall is met for us, and overcome, in Jesus Christ our Lord, by His glorious resurrection, and ascension, and by the coming of the Holy Ghost; all which she brings before us in order in "Easter Day" and the "Sundays after Easter;" in "Ascension Day;" and in "Whitsunday" or Pentecost; the last of which is immediately followed by "Trinity Sunday;" for the coming of the Holy Ghost fully reveals to us God's Name and Nature, that He is "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."
Let us look at the Easter lesson, and how the Church introduces it.
"Easter Day," or the Day of Rising or Resurrection, (for "Easter" simply means Rising,) is introduced by a special "Anthem," or rather three connected Anthems, or Antiphons, to be "sung," like the praise of heaven, as "Anthems," that is, by "one crying unto another," (Isaiah 6:3,) in which the blessed fulness of the victory and redemption, wrought for us in Christ and by His resurrection, is proclaimed and re-echoed in three distinct though connected utterances; all beginning with and repeating the name of the Deliverer, saying, "CHRIST," "CHRIST," "CHRIST." If we cannot as yet "sing" all these, let us at least "say" them. The three Anthems, commencing, "CHRIST," "CHRIST," "CHRIST," each brings out a special ground of triumph and rejoicing.
1. First, "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast:" that is, Redemption out of the house of bondage, (for the "Passover" is redemption through the slain Lamb,) has been wrought for us through the sacrifice of Christ; and therefore Communion, (for the "Feast," which we are to "keep," is Communion,) is ours also through the same sacrifice. We may be still in Egypt, with judgments all around us; but if we are in the "house marked with the blood," the destroyer cannot touch us. Nor is this all. In the Paschal Feast we are called to feast with God; to "eat the flesh" of the sacrifice, through which is liberty and life. Easter specially calls our attention to this feast, for Easter is the witness of our deliverance from the house of death and bondage. "Therefore let us keep the feast." "Passover" is only the first of "the Feasts of the Lord;"(Lev. 23:4,5;) "Pentecost," and the "Feast of Tabernacles," following in due order; but even the "Passover," the judgment of Egypt and the redemption of the elect, is a "feast" to God and to His people. "Sing," for this redemption and communion are ours in Jesus Christ our Lord.
2. Secondly, "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord;" that is, Death is conquered for ever in Christ; and man through Christ has, not redemption and communion only, but eternal life. We may "reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
3. Thirdly, "Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept; ... for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive;" that is, In and through Christ there is salvation and life for all men; for Christ is but the "First-fruits," and "if the first-fruits be holy, the lump is also holy." Christ, as much as Adam, is Head of a creation. Therefore "as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive."
"Sing" all this, even though believers in Christ little understand what they are singing. "Sing" it; and then "sing" still further, "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost."
After this "Anthem,"
The Collect goes on to confess the same glorious truth, of "death overcome," and "the gate of everlasting life opened to us, through God's Only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ."
The Epistle then calls us, as those who are "risen with Christ," to "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God;" to "set our affection on things above; not on things on the earth; for we are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God."
And the Gospel shews how the personal knowledge of a risen Christ is slowly apprehended by disciples, "while it is yet dark," and while, "as yet," though they have followed Christ for years, and been His disciples, "they know not the Scripture." Yet the sepulchre is empty, and they "see" this. We too very slowly come from the first and fleshly to the spiritual knowledge of the Lord, and to the blessed truth, that death is conquered in Him.
Here again, as at Christmas, we may perhaps notice the season of the year when this Festival of Resurrection always comes. It comes when the seed, which has been buried in the earth, is everywhere rising again out of it, and the death, which seemed to reign in mid-winter, is being conquered by the new life, which is now bursting out of the earth. See the Note under Christmas Day, as to the season of the year when Christmas comes. See too under Whitsunday and Michaelmas.
MONDAY IN EASTER WEEK.
(Epistle: Acts 10:34. Gospel: Luke 24:13.)
"Monday" and "Tuesday in Easter Week" go on to shew more fully how undoubtingly this great truth of the Resurrection is held and preached by disciples, and also how slowly and with what perplexity they at first learn it.
On "Monday in Easter Week" the Collect is the same as upon "Easter Day."
The Epistle shews us the Apostle Peter boldly declaring the Resurrection, and that he and others were "witnesses" of it.
And the Gospel further declares the stages by which this truth is opened to disciples. Though the risen Lord is near and walking with them, "their eyes are holden," and "they are sad." Their words here express their sense of disappointment:—"We trusted that it had been He who should have redeemed Israel." Very wide often is the difference between our faith and our experience. Our faith may be as David's,—"I shall yet praise Him;" while our experience may be,—"All thy waves and thy billows go over me." For faith builds on what God says. Experience is the measure in which we have proved the truth. And in proving it we are often tempted to think we have disproved it. Yet in all this perplexity the Lord is near; and as His troubled disciples walk with Him, He "opens to them the Scriptures," and then, "in the breaking of bread," "opens their eyes," also, so that they discern that "He is risen indeed," and know Him no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit. (2 Cor. 5:16.) It is so still. Disciples slowly learn in their experience the truths which they yet vaguely and imperfectly believe because the Scriptures declare them.
TUESDAY IN EASTER WEEK.
(Epistle: Acts 13:26. Gospel: Luke 24:36.)
"Tuesday in Easter Week" still continues the same subject.
The Collect is again the same as that for Easter Day.
In the Epistle we have the testimony of St. Paul, and his exposition both of the Psalms and of the Prophets, as to the Resurrection.
And the Gospel again sets before us the stages by which this truth was reached by troubled disciples, who, when their "understanding is opened" by the risen Christ "to understand the Scriptures," are sent to be "witnesses of these things." In this way were the disciples of old led on; and their experience will be ours also, if, like them, we give up all to follow Christ. For "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever;" and His dealings with His disciples, as recorded in the Gospels, are the picture of His dealings with those whom He still calls to walk with Him; shewing how those who at first only know Him after the flesh, through the very Cross which stumbles and troubles them, are brought to a very different knowledge of Him, and to a personal experience of the coming of the Holy Ghost. All this is brought before us in order, in the "Sundays after Easter," which now follow.
THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EASTER.
(Epistle: 1 John 5:4. Gospel: John 20:19.)
The "Forty Days" between Easter and Ascension Day bring before us the truths which disciples still have to learn, after they have known Christ's resurrection, and man's victory over death in Him; while yet they have not reached to Pentecost, or the coming of the Holy Ghost upon them; during which period they are instructed by the Risen Christ in "the things pertaining to the kingdom," and are "commanded" to "tarry until they are endued with power from on high," and to "wait for the promise of the Father," and the "baptism with the Holy Ghost," which is to give them the light and power and comfort which shall fit them to be God's witnesses.For there were many things which the disciples understood not, and which the Lord could not speak plainly to them, in the days when they only knew Him in the flesh. So now. There are many things we cannot understand during our first knowledge and following of Christ, while we too only "know Him after the flesh." (2 Cor. 5:16.) After we have experimentally learnt that death and resurrection are the portion of the elect, these things can be and are opened.
These truths, opened to the Apostles during the Forty Days after Easter, are here brought before us in order.
Observe then, that, up to Easter, the Church's teaching has dwelt rather upon those points which bear upon the life and walk of Christians as individuals,—as to the preparations for Christ's Coming or Advent to each soul,—as to the law of His Manifestations or Epiphanies, according to our need and faith,—as to what our life here is, and what are the temptations which we must expect, and the death which is man's portion here. All this teaching, up to Easter, is as to our individual life and walk as believers in the Lord.
After Easter, that is, after the truth of death and resurrection is fully seen,—when souls have learnt the condemnation of the flesh or first creation, and the heavenly life which we are called to in Christ risen,—the teaching which disciples need and receive is as to the Body, of which they form a part, and as to the heavenly Kingdom or Society, of which they are made members, and as to its laws and ordinances, and its great blessings of knowledge, peace, and power.
As we go through these Sundays after Easter, we shall see how a Heavenly Society is opened to us. We shall see that Christ is Lord of a Kingdom, in which He has appointed stewards, who are His gifts, to preserve His truth, and to guide and feed His flock, in the power of His Holy Spirit; and that His flock need these gifts, because of the grievous perils which may assault the sheep, and their ignorance and proneness to be led astray.
All this is set forth in the Sundays between Easter and Whitsuntide, in which Christ opens "the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3.)
The "First Sunday after Easter" brings before us the special ordination or commission of disciples, who have followed Jesus to the Cross, to be priests to God and stewards of His Church, thus to minister, in the power of Christ's risen life, what is needed by the flock committed to them.
The Collect prays the Father, who has "given His Only Son to die for our sins and to rise for our justification," to "grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may alway serve in pureness of living and truth."
The Epistle calls our attention to the source of this power, in the fact that "God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son," who "came by water and blood," that is by death and life, (figured by baptism and the supper of the Lord,) through which "whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world."
The Gospel shews us the risen Christ coming to His assembled "disciples;" and "shewing them His pierced hands and side," and then giving them a special commission, saying, "Peace be unto you. As My Father hath sent me, so send I you. And, when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." Many, as the Gospels shew, are "healed" by Christ, who are not really "disciples," that is "learners" of Him; and many even, who are "disciples" for a season, are "offended" and "walk no more with Him," when He utters what they think "a hard saying." (John 6:60, 66.) It is only after "disciples" have followed to know Christ's Cross and Resurrection, that they hear Him say, "As my Father hath sent me, so send I you. ... Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted to them." All do not hear these words; for in the one Church there are "babes and young men," as well as "fathers," and "differences of administration, yet but one Lord." All are not apostles: all are not prophets: all are not kings and priests to God. (1 Cor. 12:28, 29; Rev. 5:8-10.) But this is no reason for denying that there are true prophets, priests, and kings, who have grown up in Christ to do His works, and who, as He says here, "are sent by Him, as He was sent by the Father;" in and through whom, as "they apprehend that for which they are apprehended," He fulfils all the offices, which He has appointed for the comfort and instruction and government of His Church.
The Lesson (from Numbers 16) sets before us the terrible example of Korah, who because God had said to Israel, when He brought them out of Egypt, "If ye will obey my voice, ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," (Exod. 19:5, 6,) claimed for all the right to act as such, after God had specially ordained one family in Israel to the office of the priesthood. The whole Lesson shews the difference between those who have been "called of God, as was Aaron," and those who "take this honour on themselves," and say to those ordained of God, "Ye take too much upon you, seeing that all the congregation is holy, even every one of them."
This is the special teaching of the "First Sunday after Easter," which goes on from the individual experience of the believer to the order of God's Church, an order which cannot be rejected or despised without bringing judgment or loss, more or less, on the rejectors. (See Jude 11.)
THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EASTER.
(Epistle: 1 Peter 2:19. Gospel: John 10:13.)
The "Second Sunday after Easter" still goes on to speak of the Church as a Community, and of its need of a true Shepherd to guide and rule and feed the flock.
The Collect prays that we may "follow the blessed steps of Christ's most holy life."
The Epistle, taken from the Epistle of St. Peter, to whom the "keys of the kingdom" were committed, and who, first of all, received the special charge, "Feed my sheep," and "Feed my lambs," calls attention to the fact, that, though we were once "as sheep going astray," we "are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls." St. Peter's Epistle dwells on the relation of the "Great Shepherd" and of His "under-shepherds" to the "flock:"—"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away."
And the Gospel describes how much this "flock" requires such shepherding; for there are "wolves" which "scatter," and "hirelings" who "forsake, the sheep." Nor is their peril only from these. The prophet marks how the "stronger" of the flock "thrust the weak with side and shoulder, and eat up the good pasture, and foul the residue with their feet." They need a "Good Shepherd," who "gives His life for the sheep," that there may be "one fold and one shepherd."
Lastly, the Lesson (from Numbers 23) calls our attention to Balaam's course, who knew the truth, that Israel was called to be a united and peculiar people; but who, like the hireling shepherds, "ran greedily after a reward," (Jude 11,) and at last perished among the enemies of Israel. (Numbers 31:8.)
THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EASTER.
(Epistle: 1 Peter 2:14. Gospel: John 16:16.)
The "Third Sunday after Easter" goes on to shew, how, as members of a "brotherhood," and "kingdom," disciples are led on, from their first knowledge of Christ after the flesh, to a higher knowledge of Him in the Spirit.
The Collect, after confessing that "the light of God's truth is shewn us, to the intent that we may return into the way of righteousness," prays that "those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's religion may follow such things as are agreeable to the same, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
The Epistle then exhorts, that as "dearly beloved," partakers of a risen Christ, and therefore "strangers and pilgrims" upon earth, we should "by our good works, which men shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation." We are therefore to "submit ourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake," for "the powers that be are ordained of God;" and, while we "honour all men," should "love the brotherhood," who are members with us of the heavenly family.
And the Gospel describes the passing from the first and fleshly knowledge of Christ, through a "little while" of "sorrow," during which He is "not seen" by disciples, to that higher vision of Him, as Head of a heavenly and spiritual body, when He is seen and known as He had never been known by them before, and their "sorrow is turned into joy."
It is hard to speak of this, so as to make it intelligible to those who have not passed through this experience. Our Lord Himself can still only testify and say, "Verily, Verily." For words hardly convey ideas which transcend our present knowledge; and the great majority of believers are still at the stage figured by the walk of disciples in the Gospels, espoused to Christ, but not yet married to Him. But the time comes, after we have walked for years with Christ, when for "a little while" His sensible presence seems taken from us altogether, while we are mocked by men and evil spirits. And through this "little while" of "sorrow," which the Gospel speaks of, we are led to the "joy," here promised, of knowing the Lord as in and with us evermore. Words cannot utter it. The "sorrow" is only for a season,—"a little while," as our Lord says here,—"like a woman's pangs, which she remembereth no more, for joy that a man is born into the world."
The Lesson (from Deut. 4) gives us the type of this transition, from Israel's experience of the guidance through the wilderness, to the enjoyment of the good things of the land of promise, that is the breadth and length of God's promise, beyond and through the mystic Jordan.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER.
(Epistle: James 1:17. Gospel: John 16:5.)
The "Fourth Sunday after Easter" speaks still more fully of the promised gift of the Spirit, by which the first and fleshly knowledge of Christ is superseded, by the coming to us of the promised Teacher and Comforter.
The Collect asks for this Spirit, praying that "God will grant unto His people, that they may love the thing which He commands, and desire that which He has promised; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found."
The Epistle declares that "every good gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom" (though "there are differences of administration,") there "is no variableness, neither shadow of turning; who of His own will begat us by the Word of truth, to be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures."
And the Gospel still more dwells on the necessity of the "departure of Christ after the flesh, that the Comforter may come," who, if Christ departs in the flesh, is sent by Christ to us; and who, "when He is come, convinces the world, of sin, and righteousness, and judgment, and guides disciples into all truth." Few sufficiently think of our Lord's words here to His disciples, as to His departure from them in the flesh, and His coming in the Spirit. We believe that disciples of old passed through this experience; but we little think that we ourselves may, and indeed must, know the same. If we follow to the Cross we shall learn that our Lord's words here are yet true of those who walk with Him to the end:—"I tell you the truth: it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth. He shall glorify me; for He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you."
The whole teaching here, both of this and of the preceding Sunday, is as to the higher knowledge of Christ, to which those who know His resurrection are in due time introduced, and by which they are still more fitted to do His work.
The Lesson again is from Deuteronomy, shewing, by the example of Israel of old, the difference of the knowledge of God in the wilderness, and the far greater knowledge of Him in the blessings of the land of promise beyond Jordan, where the kingdom is set up in due season.
THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER.
(Epistle: James 1:22. Gospel: John 16:23.)
The "Fifth Sunday after Easter" still goes on to speak of the greater enlightening to be received by disciples, when Christ by His Spirit "can shew them more plainly of the Father."
The Collect prays the "Lord, from whom all good things do come, that by His holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by His merciful guiding may perform the same."
The Epistle shews, that, while "a hearer and not a doer," (and we are more "hearers" than "doers" till the Spirit comes,) gets a glimpse of the truth, "like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass; for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was;" those who "look into the perfect law of liberty," not now in the letter, but in the Spirit, "and continue therein, being not forgetful hearers, but doers of the work, are blessed in their deed."
And the Gospel follows with the same teaching, as to the stage when the Spirit comes, when "Christ will no more speak to us in proverbs, but will shew us plainly of the Father;" when we shall intelligently "ask the Father in Christ's name," and "whatsoever we shall so ask we shall receive, that our joy may be full." "Hitherto," He says, "ye have asked nothing in my Name." And yet some of those to whom He spoke had asked much; even that He would "shew them the Father," and "grant them to be near Him in His coming kingdom." But hitherto their asking, even of good things, had been in their self-nature, rather than in His; and "asking in Christ's name" is asking, not for any self-ends, but in the unselfish love, which is the very life and nature of our Lord. Here He promises His disciples that they shall henceforth "ask in His Name," and that, so asking, their "joy shall be full;" for they shall come to know and feel that they and Christ are not twain but one; receiving from the Father, in one will and heart with Christ, all that He gives to His beloved Son.
The Lesson, from Deuteronomy 6, again goes on with the greater blessings of Canaan, (or "heavenly places,") as compared with what Israel had already received and learnt of God in the wilderness.
(Epistle: Acts 1:1. Gospel: Mark 16:14.)
"Ascension Day" brings before us the Power, which we may receive, as partakers in spirit of Christ's Ascension, just in proportion as we wait for Him, and so are prepared to receive the promised blessing.
The Collect prays, that "as we have believed that our Lord Jesus Christ has ascended into the heavens, so we may in heart and mind thither ascend, and continually dwell with Him," no longer tied and bound, as we have been, by the bonds of fallen nature.
The Epistle (Acts 1) recounts how Christ risen "commanded His disciples to wait for the promise of the Father," and declared that "they should receive power, after that the Holy Ghost had come upon them;" in the might of which they should "become witnesses to Christ, both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
The Gospel repeats the same, as to the power which should be granted to disciples, that in Christ's Name they should "cast out devils, and speak with new tongues," and that, "even if they drank any deadly thing, it should not hurt them;" and that in this power they should "go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature;" and that, in accordance with this promise, "they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word, with signs following."
While the Old Dispensation yet continued, the "signs" and "mighty works" here promised, like all the miracles of the Jewish age, were outward and fleshly, rather than spiritual. Sick bodies were healed; new earthly tongues were spoken; devils were cast out of men's flesh; the dead were raised visibly. But with the incoming of the spiritual dispensation, while the promise still holds good, these "signs" are wrought on men's spirits rather than on their flesh; baptism, which is the burial of the flesh, having sealed its condemnation, and called us rather to the healings of soul and spirit, of which the old fleshly healings were the figure. Still however, where there is faith, there are "signs" and "healings," both in the flesh and in the spirit. For God never changes. But the fall and divisions of the Church make it doubly hard now to "apprehend that for which we are apprehended in Christ Jesus." Few now even expect the gifts and power here promised by the Lord.
And the Lesson, in the morning from Deuteronomy 10, again speaks of the "good land" over Jordan, and its special blessings, which God sware to give to Israel for their inheritance. In the evening, the Lesson is respecting Elisha taking the place of Elijah shewing in type the change of ministry, from Christ in the flesh or letter, to Christ risen and coming by His Spirit.
SUNDAY AFTER ASCENSION DAY.
(Epistle: 1 Peter 4:7. Gospel: John 15:26, and part of John 16.)
The "Sunday after Ascension Day," and next before Whitsunday, links the teaching of all the Sundays since Easter with the great lesson of Whitsunday, that is the Coming of the Holy Ghost; declaring what that Spirit's work will be, even to testify of Christ, and who they are who are associated with the Spirit in this testimony.
The Collect, confessing that "God, the King of Glory, has exalted His only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph into His kingdom in heaven," prays, "We beseech thee, leave us not comfortless, but send to us thine Holy Ghost to comfort us, and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before."
The Epistle exhorts us, saying, "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God."
And the Gospel declares, that, as "the Comforter, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, shall testify of Christ," so "they also shall bear witness, who have been with Christ from the beginning." This is the first great requisite for a witness to Christ,—to have "been with Him from the beginning." It is not enough to have heard by report what Christ has done. No one is accepted as "a witness," who has not personally seen and known what he bears witness to. Have we walked with Christ? Have we known and followed His call? Have we personal acquaintance with that life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us? Then we too with the Spirit of truth are fit to "bear witness, because we have been with Christ from the beginning."
The Lesson, again from Deuteronomy, speaks of the conduct and testimony expected from those, who are brought into "the land beyond Jordan," that is into "heavenly places."
(Epistle: Acts 2:1. Gospel: John 14:15.)
We now come, on "Whitsunday," to the crowning gift which God bestows upon His people, even the promised gift of His own Holy Spirit, which those who have followed Christ to the Cross, and then have learnt His Resurrection, receive as their indwelling Teacher and Comforter; anointing them with the same Spirit as Christ was anointed with, and enabling them now, not only to learn and know the Truth in the letter, but to be so filled with the Spirit, that henceforth they may have the mind of God, and do His works, in virtue of His indwelling.
The Collect, confessing how "God as at this time did teach the hearts of His faithful people, by sending to them the light of His Holy Spirit," prays Him to "grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort."
The Epistle describes how the Spirit first came on the assembled disciples, who, according to Christ's command, were "waiting for the promise." We read that they were "all with one accord in one place, in prayer and supplication," when "suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty rushing wind," and "tongues of fire" were given to them, and "they were all filled with the Holy Ghost;" in the power of which they were able so to speak, that their scattered and divided brethren, who, in consequence of the dispersion of Israel, could hardly understand each other, could "all hear and understand in their own tongue the wonderful works of God." Thus were carnal disciples made spiritual.
And thus, and thus only, is this change still wrought. Few however seem to understand this. For it is generally assumed, that, because the Holy Ghost was given to certain disciples and Apostles eighteen hundred years ago, therefore all believers now have reached the same blessing. But the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles give us for all time the true picture of Christ's dealings with those, whom He calls to be with Him and to follow Him. Now, as of old, disciples are, and must be, carnal before they are spiritual, and before they come to know the power which gives us "tongues of fire" to serve others. This coming of the Spirit, on those who have "waited for the promise of the Father," and are praying for the promised gift, is here, on Whitsunday, specially brought before our notice. Blessed are they, who, like disciples of old, though rejected and mocked for what they have received by God's professing people, have thus been "endued with power from on high."
The Gospel then repeats the Lord's promise, as to the coming of the Comforter, whom the Father would send in Christ's Name, to "abide" with the disciples, to "teach them all things, and to bring all things to their remembrance, whatsoever He had said unto them."
The Lesson, (from Deut. 16,) reminds us of the three great Festivals of the old law, Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, all of which, as shadowing forth advancing stages of God's saving work for men, are "Feasts of the Lord,"—for man's salvation is a feast to God our Saviour,—in which He feasts and rejoices, and would have His people "rejoice" with Him, remembering what He has done for them, in bringing them from being bondmen in Egypt to the growing blessings of the Promised Land.
Here again we should, I think, notice, how the Season of the year, (for Nature, even as the Gospel, is a word of God,) answers to the great and precious gift and lesson of Whitsunday. The light in April and May, when this Festival returns, is brighter than at any other period of the year. It was at this season that the light of the Holy Ghost was poured forth as it had never been given before, with tongues of fire sitting on the disciples. (See Note, as to the season of the year, under "Christmas" and "Easter.")
MONDAY AND TUESDAY IN WHITSUN-WEEK.
(Epistle: Acts 10:34; 8:14. Gospel: John 3:16; 10:1.)
"Monday and Tuesday in Whitsun-Week" go on to shew how Gentiles and Samaritans are made partakers of the same Spirit; the one, by the preaching of St. Peter; the other, by the laying on of hands by St. Peter and St. John.
On Monday, the Collect is the same as for Whitsunday.
The Epistle declares how even unbaptized "Gentiles," who, according to their light, have been seeking to serve God, receive this promised Spirit through the preaching of an Apostle; for "while Peter yet spake, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word. And they of the Circumcision, which believed, were astonished, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost."
And the Gospel, not only declares the blessedness of those who receive "the light that is come into the world," but the solemn responsibility also of those to whom the light comes, but who reject it, "lest their deeds should be reproved."
Tuesday in Whitsun-Week again repeats the same Collect.
The Epistle then shews how the Spirit is given to "Samaritans," that is to men who have grown up in open schism and error; with whom therefore God's chosen people at Jerusalem will "have no dealings;" who yet, "when Christ is preached" to them in the Spirit, "believe the things concerning the kingdom of God," and "are baptized," and then receive the Spirit through the prayers and the laying on of the hands of the Apostles.
And the Gospel goes on to dwell on the rich provision prepared for those, to whom "Christ is the door," by which they enter into a "fold," in which they may not be "saved" only, but "may go in and out, and find pasture," because "He is come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."
(Epistle: Rev. 4:1. Gospel: John 3:1.)
"Trinity Sunday," immediately following the blessed teaching of Whitsunday, as to the gift of the Holy Ghost given to disciples who wait for the Spirit to guide them into all truth, brings before us, as the conclusion of the Church's Doctrine, the glorious truth of what God is in Himself, "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost," a Trinity in Unity, into whose Name and Nature we are baptized; that in the very life of God, as "partakers of the Divine Nature," we may, each according to our growth in Christ, go forth and do the "works of God."
What these "works" are, the "Sundays after Trinity" open in order to us.
Here, on "Trinity Sunday," the Collect, confessing "the glory of the eternal Trinity in Unity," prays that we may be "kept steadfast in this faith," and "evermore be defended from all adversities."
The Epistle gives a vision of the Divine Majesty, and the worship of heaven and of the hosts of heaven; with the four "living creatures" crying "Holy, Holy, Holy;" and the "elders casting their crowns before the throne;" in the midst of glories only to be seen by those who hear the "Voice, saying, Come up hither," and who, "being in the Spirit," see what flesh and blood can never see.
The Gospel declares, that to "see and enter this kingdom," a "man must be born again," and that being so "born of the Spirit," in and with Christ, he may "ascend even to heaven," in and through the "Son of Man," who "came down from heaven," and "is in heaven."
Now this doctrine of the Trinity, that is of what God is, as "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost," has (as I have said elsewhere,) too often been regarded, even by believers, as an isolated truth, standing apart from, and having no relation to, our human hearts and human consciousness; whereas, inasmuch as man was made in God's image, what God is in Himself is the very ground, not only of our relation to Him, but of our very being, and of our true knowledge of ourselves and of our duties. If God is love, and love requires (for to dwell in solitude is not love) such a communion and relationship as is expressed in "the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost," then our true life, if we are His sons, must have the same characteristics, and be a life of communion and relationship. On the other hand, the very cravings of our nature for communion and relationship witness that in Him, "in whom we live, and move, and have our being," there must be the substance of that, of which our life, with its relationships and communions, is but the shadow. This is what our Lord revealed, in making known to His disciples "the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." And just in proportion as we really know that God is "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost," we shall reflect something of the fellowship and love, which such a name declares to us. The world's selfishness is the result of not knowing what He truly is, from whom we come, and for whom we were created.
I only add here that the Lesson, from Genesis 1, calls our attention to the work of God upon a ruined world, on which "the Spirit brooded," and on which by His Word God worked, till "man in God's image was created," and "all was very good." "And God (Elohim) said, Let us make man, in our image, after our likeness. So God created man in His own image: male and female created He them." What does all this teach but the mystery of the Trinity in Unity, of which Trinity Sunday is the witness.
The Revised Lesson for the day, from Isaiah 6, is perhaps even a more direct allusion to the doctrine of the Trinity, as expressed in the worship of the Seraphim, who cry, "Holy, Holy, Holy." The old Lesson seems to me preferable, as it shews how God works by His Word and Spirit; while Isaiah 6 does little more than repeat the language of the Epistle or Portion of Scripture appointed for the Epistle.
THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: 1 John 4:7. Gospel: Luke 16:19.)
The Church's outline of Doctrine ends with "Trinity Sunday," which, revealing to us God's Name and Nature, that He is "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost," sums up all the teaching of the first Six and Twenty Sundays of the Liturgical Year. For what do "Advent," and "Christmas," and "Epiphany," and "Lent," and "Good Friday," and "Easter," and "Whitsunday," teach us, but that, because God is what He is, "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost," He has so loved us as to give "His Son" to "come to us," who in our fall could not have come to Him,—that He has "come" for us "in the flesh,"—that He has "manifested" God to us,—that He has "died in our place," that through death He might "overcome death," and thus bring man back in and with Himself to "heaven,"—and that through Him, even here, we may be "partakers of His Spirit," to follow where He is gone before. All this Doctrine has come before us, in order, in the Sundays from "Advent" to "Trinity."
The "Sundays after Trinity" are occupied with the Practice, or practical obedience, which must follow our being made partakers of Christ and His Spirit, and which grows in us as the necessary result or fruit of having been "baptized into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost," and so made "partakers of the divine nature."
These fruits of the Spirit, though different, are so closely allied, and so naturally run into each other, that it may at times seem difficult exactly to define or to distinguish between them. All are various aspects of love and truth, even as all the works of the flesh are manifestations of the evil spirit of self-love and untruth. The graces of Christ's Spirit glide into each other, just as one sin runs into another, like the varied hues of the rainbow, which almost imperceptibly pass from one shade into another. But every grace is lovely, even when apparently most unlike to some other grace; their variety only revealing the fulness of the same one seven-fold Spirit.
The first great "fruit of the Spirit" is Love. To this the Church gives the first three Sundays after Trinity, each revealing something as to what this Love must be and do and suffer in this world.
The "First Sunday after Trinity" shews us the source and nature of Love.
The Epistle says, "Beloved, let us love; for love is of God, and God is love." And His love is shewn in this, "not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and gave His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. By this we know that we dwell in Him. He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from Him, that he who loveth God love his brother also."
The Gospel gives an awful picture of the misery of want of love. The unloving "Rich Man" shews that want of love is really torment; and will be found to be so, as soon as the soul passes from what we call seen things into unseen.
The Lesson, from Joshua 10, describing the destruction of the Canaanites by Joshua, as read merely in the letter, seems to be anything but an illustration of the love, which is the special lesson or teaching of this "First Sunday after Trinity;" but as read in the Spirit, in its inward sense, as shewing how we enter into Canaan, it sets forth the destruction of the sevenfold spiritual evil, which keeps us from our true inheritance, and which must be utterly extirpated in us, that love, and not self-love, may possess us.
The Collects for the "Sundays after Trinity" are all prayers for grace to bring forth and manifest the fruits of the Spirit, which we, as "baptized into the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," are called, not only to know as doctrine, but to practise.
THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: 1 John 3:13. Gospel: Luke 14:16.)
The "Second Sunday after Trinity" brings before us the welcome or return which Love meets in this world.
The Epistle says, "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you." Love is as little welcome in the world as God is welcome. Nevertheless as "Christ laid down His life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." Therefore, whether accepted or rejected, "let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth."
And the Gospel shews us the same fact as to God, in calling attention to the feast which He makes, and the way it is despised and rejected. "They all with one consent began to make excuse." And yet God goes on offering the feast, spite of all rejection:—"Go out into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done, as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room." The feast, which God makes, is not cared for, till men are "compelled to come in." And in like manner the service of love which God's true children offer to the world is despised as unworthy of acceptance.
The Lesson, from Judges 4, like that for the preceding Sunday, shews how the Canaanite must be overthrown; and how prone we are to suffer him to live and rule, spite of the gift and promise which God has given us.
THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: 1 Peter 5:5. Gospel: Luke 15:1.)
The "Third Sunday after Trinity" goes on to the painstaking character of Love; shewing what toil and suffering it patiently goes through.
The Epistle refers to the "afflictions" which are to be met in such a path, through the enmity of "our adversary the devil, as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour;" directing our attention also to the promise that "the God of all grace, after that we have suffered awhile, will make us perfect;" and that meanwhile we may "cast all our care on Him, for He careth for us."
And then the Gospel gives two pictures of this painstaking love in God; first, in His "going after the lost sheep, into the wilderness," "seeking it until it is found," and then "laying it on His shoulders, rejoicing;" and then in "the woman seeking her lost silver, lighting a candle, and sweeping the house, and seeking diligently until she find it."
Love suffers if anything which belongs to it is lost, even for a season. It is to this that our Lord here calls our attention. We are so apt to think only, or mainly, of the loss which the lost creature suffers. But the Lord here represents the owner and lover of the lost creature as the loser and the sufferer, and as a painstaking seeker until the lost is found. "God is Love." Therefore the Shepherd "goes into the wilderness after the lost;" and, "when he finds it, calls together his friends and neighbours, saying, Rejoice with me." So again the Woman "lights a candle, and sweeps the house, and seeks diligently;" and, when her lost silver is found, "says, Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I had lost." The "silver" feels nothing of its lost state: the "sheep" feels little. It is the owner who suffers, and must suffer, if he loves.
THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Rom. 8:18. Gospel: Luke 6:36.)
The "Fourth Sunday after Trinity" goes on to dwell on the kindred grace of sympathy and mercifulness, which, as sons of God, we owe to all mankind.
The Epistle gives us one great reason for this sympathy, in the fact that "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now;" for "the creature was made subject to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope;" and, "even we" who are believers have infirmities, and "groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, even the redemption of the body."
And the Gospel exhorts directly to the same sympathy and mercifulness, saying, "Be ye therefore merciful, even as your Father also is merciful. Judge not: condemn not: for with the same measure that ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." Be merciful therefore. You may have "a beam in your own eye," while he whom you judge has only "a mote in his eye."
This grace of mercifulness is costly. Mercy costs us sorrow. Indeed the words "mercy" and "misery" are closely allied. The "merciful man" (in Latin, "misericors,") is the man "with a sad heart." The word "sympathy" teaches the same lesson. For "sympathy" literally is "suffering with another." Mercy costs our purse and heart not a little. But, as our great poet says, "it is twice blessed; it blesses him that gives and him that takes." It is a royal grace. It shews power. Kings at times have not dared to shew mercy, simply through the sense of their own weakness, and fear of further rebellion. God dares to shew mercy, because He is almighty. If you shew mercy you shew power. Men are unmerciful because they feel that they cannot bear what mercy would lay upon them.
(Editor's Note: The quote in the paragraph above is from Shakespeare, "Merchant of Venice," Act 4, Scene 1.)
THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: 1 Peter 3:8. Gospel: Luke 5:1.)
The "Fifth Sunday after Trinity" still dwells on this same grace of sympathy and pity, and especially towards our brethren, who by their folly or weakness may often try us.
So the Epistle says, "Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing, knowing that ye are thereunto called."
And the Gospel shews how the same sympathy and help, which Christ has shewn us, when we have "toiled all night" in vain, should be shewn by us to brethren, whose work at times is too much for them; that we should act as "partners" with them, and "come and help them," when they need assistance and "their nets break."
It may perhaps at first sight seem strange, that, after having on the "Fourth Sunday after Trinity" exhorted us to mercifulness to all men, the Church on the "Fifth Sunday" should specially press upon us mercy towards our brethren. But there is good reason for this. Brethren often try us more than the world. Their weakness, and wilfulness, and folly, and want of love, touch us more than the bad behaviour of open sinners. The old monks learnt this in their religious houses; and the Wise Man no less knew it when he said, "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and their contentions are like the bars of a castle." (Editor's Note: Prov. 18:19.) Therefore the Church here calls our special attention to this grace of mercy and pity towards our brethren, to be shewn in sharing and bearing their weaknesses and burdens with them.
THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Rom. 6:3. Gospel: Matt. 5:20.)
Having thus, on the first five Sundays after Trinity, shewn us the love and sympathy, which becomes those who have been "baptized into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost," the Church now goes on, upon the Sixth and Seventh Sundays, to speak of another fruit of the same Spirit, namely righteousness.
On the "Sixth Sunday" it is shewn that this righteousness is not a mere outward or legal righteousness, which is limited to the bare letter of the law or gospel, and is satisfied with what the eye of man can see; but rather righteousness of spirit, like God's, which grows from love, and therefore must be true, and care for the need and weakness of others, even as God cares for and ministers to us.
So the Epistle first speaks of the principle of true righteousness in man, through the communication of the life of God, which is manifested in our death to the fallen selfish life of the old man; that "therefore we are buried with Christ by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life; knowing this, that our (unrighteous) old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin;" (for "he that is dead is freed from sin;") but should rather "reckon ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
The Gospel then teaches us what kind of righteousness this is; that it is not a mere selfish or formal righteousness, like that of the Pharisee, who said, "God, I thank thee that I am not like other men;" but an inward righteousness, the fruit of God's indwelling Spirit; which therefore judges every selfish thought, as part of the corrupt and fallen old man, and makes us care for the state of others as well as for our own. The Pharisee is content, if only he is right, whoever else is wrong. Therefore our Lord says here, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." The heart is what God looks at, whether it is loving or self-loving. "Not to kill" is not enough. "Anger with a brother without a cause," or neglect of his just claim upon us, is equally in "danger of the judgment."
THE SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Rom. 6:19. Gospel: Mark 8:1.)
The "Seventh Sunday after Trinity" still continues the same subject of righteousness, but dwells rather on its outward manifestation in good works.
The Epistle shews that as in our fallen life, "when we were the servants of sin," we "yielded our members servants to uncleanness unto iniquity;" so now, "being made servants of God," we can and must "yield our members as servants of righteousness unto holiness;" because, "being made free from sin, we have our fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."
And the Gospel teaches the same lesson, that, through our giving into our Lord's hands what we have, to be distributed to those in greater need, "our righteousness" (δικαιοσύνη, see margin, Matt. 6:1,) may be manifested, like His, in meeting and satisfying the wants of thousands. Almsgiving, according to our Lord's teaching here, is "righteousness." So Daniel says to Nebuchadnezzar, "Wherefore, O king, break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor." We little think how much unrighteousness there may be in "withholding good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of our hand to do it." Such help is regarded by the Lord as what is "due," and therefore our "duty," to the needy. Both these words express something which is "owed," and which therefore we "ought" (or "owe it") to pay. Righteousness will "owe no man anything but love." "For all the law, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." God Himself is the great witness of this. Because He is righteous, He cannot rest until by His own righteousness He makes His fallen creatures righteous. "He is just, and (therefore) the justifier." So St. Paul says that our "being made righteous freely by His grace," is "to declare His righteousness;" and our Lord, in speaking of His Cross for others, says, "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things?" We too, if partakers of His life, must shew it in manifesting and ministering the same righteousness.
THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Rom. 8:12. Gospel: Matt. 7:15.)
The "Eighth Sunday after Trinity" goes on to speak of the spiritual-mindedness or holiness, which is a further fruit of our having been made children of God and partakers of Christ's Spirit.
So the Epistle says, "Therefore," (that is, since the Spirit of God dwells in us,) "we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh; for if ye live after the flesh ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ."
Thus are we called, as those in whom God's Spirit dwells, not to "righteousness" only, but to "holiness," that is to be separate from evil, as God is separate. For the word "holy" means "separate" or "set apart." And God himself has said, "Be ye holy, for I am holy." The Epistle here gives us, not only the source, but some of the marks, of this holiness:—"By the Spirit we mortify the deeds of the body." "By the Spirit we are led, as sons of God;" no longer needing to be driven by law, or held in bondage, but rather "led" as "dear children," because we "have received the spirit of adoption." Further, by the same Spirit we have "the witness in our hearts" that we are God's sons. For "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." Such as know this "inward witness" must be "holy." Even in the common duties and relations of life, they cannot forget that they are "set apart" for God: They are "not their own, but bought with a price, to glorify God, in their body and in their spirit, which are God's."
The Gospel then reminds us that our fruits shew what life or spirit rules us. "A good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven." The "will of the Father" is the test. The "heirs of God," not only "do," but "have," the Father's will; because His life and nature work it in them.
THE NINTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: 1 Cor. 10:1. Gospel: Luke 16:1.)
The next two Sundays, the Ninth and Tenth after Trinity, press upon us the need and duty of faithfulness in the use of the gifts and privileges, whether ordinary or extraordinary, which are or may be committed to us.
This "Ninth Sunday after Trinity" dwells on faithfulness in the ordinary gifts and privileges, which we have received as Christians; and shews how they may all be wasted or misused through unfaithfulness.
The Epistle calls our attention to the example of Israel; how "having all been baptized in the cloud and in the sea, and called to eat the same spiritual meat, and to drink the same spiritual drink," through lack of faithfulness, "many of them," brought judgment upon themselves, and "were overthrown in the wilderness."
The Gospel repeats the same lesson, declaring that we are "stewards," and that, if unfaithful, we shall be "put out of our stewardship;" bidding us therefore be faithful even with "the mammon of unrighteousness," for the day will come when we must "give an account of our stewardship."
We are often tempted, both as to our outward and inward blessings, to regard ourselves as owners or proprietors, rather than as stewards. The Lord again and again warns us against this error. He tells us of the "pound delivered" to trade with: of the "talent committed" to be given account of: of the "vineyard let out," that the rightful owner may receive its fruit in due season. In all He teaches that He looks for faithfulness in that which is committed to us. If faithful, there is a "reward." If unfaithful, every grace and gift entrusted to us will only rise up in judgment against us. Alas for Christians, that in all this "the children of this world are in their generation often wiser than the children of light." Therefore our Lord adds here:—"He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much; and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?"
THE TENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: 1 Cor. 12:1. Gospel: Luke 19:41.)
The "Tenth Sunday after Trinity" shews that even with "spiritual gifts," which are specially bestowed only upon some, the same, nay even greater, faithfulness is required in those who receive them. For a gift may blind men's eyes, to judge, or misjudge, themselves by the gift rather than by the use they make of it.
So the Epistle says,—"Concerning spiritual gifts I would not have you ignorant." ... "The manifestation of the Spirit," and the "diversities of gifts," whether the "word of wisdom," or "tongues," or "faith," or "gifts of healing," are "given to every man to profit withal;" not for mere display, or to be wasted or neglected, but to be faithfully used for God's glory and the good of men.
And the Gospel declares that "the things which belong to our peace" may be lost and "hid from our eyes," if we lack the faithfulness to use them aright, and "know not," and so waste "the time of our visitation." Even "the temple," and its sacrifices, given to bring us near to God, may through unfaithfulness be "made a den of thieves." The more precious the gift, the worse will be its abuse, if men are unfaithful. So the prophet says, "If ye will not hear, I will even curse your blessings; yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart." This is one reason why God withholds His gifts from some; for He sees how, if abused, they only increase men's condemnation. In the things of this life we understand this. Let faithfulness be lacking in a wife, and all her beauty only becomes a curse. St. Paul felt this when he said, "I speak with tongues more than you all; but I have nothing to glory of, for necessity is laid upon me: yea, woe is me, if I preach not the Gospel." Therefore he exhorts his son Timothy to "stir up the gift that is in him;" for it may be wasted as well as abused, if those who receive it are unfaithful. Therefore again he says of himself, "I keep under my body and bring it unto subjection, lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
THE ELEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: 1 Cor. 15:1. Gospel: Luke 18:9.)
On the "Eleventh Sunday after Trinity" we are led on to the humility which becomes and should ever be manifested in those who receive such gifts and grace from God. On the "Tenth Sunday" the lesson was faithfulness in the use of the gifts committed to us. But with every gift there is a danger, not only of wasting or misusing it, but of pride or self-conceit, if we are faithful. On this "Eleventh Sunday," therefore, the lesson is humility.
As an illustration of this grace the Epistle sets before us the example of St. Paul, who, with all his special gifts and labours, speaks of himself "as of one born out of due time," that is as a scarcely perfect child; "for I am the least of the Apostles, who am not worthy to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am. And His grace, which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God, which was with me."
The Gospel illustrates the same grace, but goes even further, shewing how the want of humility may mar all our religion, devoted as it may seem, and indeed may really be. Here are "Two men" set before us, a "Pharisee" and a "Publican," both "praying in the temple." As far as man can see, they seem to be engaged in the same service. They have gone to the right place, for the right work. Yet in God's sight what a difference between them. "The Pharisee prayed thus with himself." What he prayed with the people, in the common prayers of the temple, is not noticed. His inward thought is what our Lord marks here. His heart was saying, "I am not as others." And all this spite of much devotedness, and perhaps even fostered by it:—"I fast: I pay tithes." All is about self, and contrasting self with others, to the inward exaltation of self over others, even while in prayer. With this compare "the Publican," who "would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me, a sinner;" of whom our Lord says, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
THE TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: 2 Cor. 3:4. Gospel: Mark 7:31.)
The "Twelfth Sunday after Trinity" calls our attention to the knowledge and utterance, (1 Cor. 1:5-7,) which becomes God's sons, and which He bestows, that we may the more glorify Him.
The Epistle declares, that though "we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, yet our sufficiency is of God, who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament," both to know and to declare the Gospel, "not in the letter, but in the Spirit;" and that this "ministration of the Spirit," which makes us "epistles known and read of all men," is "much more glorious than the ministration of the law" or letter, "written in stones," though even that had its own "glory."
And the Gospel gives us an illustration of the way our Lord bestows this grace of "utterance" on one who had been "brought to Him," but was yet "deaf, and had an impediment in his speech." First, our Lord "takes the man aside, out of the multitude:" this is the first step. Then "He puts His fingers in his ears, and touches his tongue." Then "looking up to heaven He sighed, and saith, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway the ears of the deaf were opened, and his tongue loosed, so that he spake plain." There are yet such souls, "brought to Christ," but "deaf," and therefore "dumb;" for it is only, "as we hear, we speak." And such receive the gift of utterance now as of old. First, they are drawn out of the crowd by Christ, either through sickness or the loss of friends or money. Then He touches their inward ear and tongue, and so speaks that they both hear and speak also. The result is that the "good news" is "published more and more," so that those who hear it are "astonished, saying, He hath done all things well; He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak."
THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Gal. 3:16. Gospel: Luke 10:23.)
The "Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity" goes on to speak of the liberality or generosity which marks those, who, having been so generously dealt with by God, are called, as "partakers of the divine nature," to shew the same generosity.
And let us here remember exactly what "generosity" means. "Generosity," (derived from "genus" and "genero,") strictly speaking does not mean simply liberal giving, or liberal dealing of any kind; but rather the sense of relationship with those around us, as "parts of the same family," brethren or neighbours, who have therefore a claim upon us, unworthy as they personally may be.
The Epistle shews how God has dealt with us on this principle of "generosity," or sense of relationship, though we are fallen sons or creatures; not only dealing with us according to law or abstract right, but on the ground of relationship and grace also; making our death and barrenness and weakness and need the occasion of His grace and promise. "For if the inheritance or blessing be of the law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. ... Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe."
And the Gospel illustrates the same grace of generosity, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who only acted as "neighbour" to "him that fell among thieves," in "having compassion on him, and setting him on his own beast, and taking care of him." He that thus "shewed mercy," in acting as a "neighbour," was acting like God; and was acting like God also in adding a "promise," saying, "Whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee."
THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Gal. 5:16. Gospel: Luke 17:11.)
The "Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity" brings before us another grace, which becomes the sons of God, namely the grace of thankfulness, and praise, "not with our lips only, but in our lives."
The Epistle teaches how we may praise God in our lives, "by giving up ourselves to His service, and by walking before Him in holiness and righteousness all our days;" manifesting "the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, and the rest, against which there is no law."
And the Gospel gives us the example of the leper cleansed, not content only to be healed, but turning back to praise God. "Ten cried, Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us," and "were cleansed;" but "only one, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down at Jesus' feet, giving Him thanks; and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed, but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God save this stranger."
It is so still. Many cry for mercy, and receive it; while few return to offer thanks. And this want of thankfulness is marked by Christ. It shews how little we think of Him, who gives us all, if only we are relieved from what oppresses us. It cannot be so with the true elect. Their continual cry is, "Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good." "In every thing give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." Shame to us, if thanksgiving for Christ's grace is neglected or forgotten, by those who have been healed by Him.
THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Gal. 6:11. Gospel: Matt. 6:24.)
The "Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity" goes on to press upon us the need and importance of a "single eye," that is of singleness of purpose, if we would indeed "glorify God, in our bodies and spirits, which are His."
The Epistle brings before us very plainly the two forces, which are acting upon us all, "the flesh and the spirit," "the world and Christ;" and the temptation to try to serve both; even "to make a fair show in the flesh" on the one hand, while yet we are pledged, by our baptism into Christ, to die to the flesh and to the world, by participation in "the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Even believers in Christ may "desire to make a fair show in the flesh, lest they should suffer persecution or reproach for the cross of Christ." St. Paul shews us that the true path is only kept if we have a "single eye:"—"God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God." St. Paul at least was "thus minded:"—"I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus."
And the Gospel illustrates the same lesson of a "single eye." "No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, saying, What shall we eat, or what shall we drink? After all these things do the Gentiles seek. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Take no thought therefore for the morrow. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
And the words, "Take no thought," in the Original, still more strongly press this "single-mindedness." Μὴ μεριμνᾶτε, which we translate, "Take no thought," is really, "Be not divided in your mind;" (μεριμνᾶν being derived immediately from μερίζω and μερίς.) "A double-minded man is unstable," because "distracted," that is "drawn in two different directions."
THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Eph. 3:13. Gospel: Luke 7:11.)
The next grace, which the Church brings before us, on the "Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity," is patience in tribulation.
In the Epistle St. Paul exhorts the Ephesians, "that they faint not at his tribulations for them, which is their glory;" while at the same time he prays for them, "that they may be strengthened with might by God's Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith." And because a sense of the love of God in Christ more than anything else fits us to bear trial patiently, the Apostle goes on to pray for his converts, "that they, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that they may be filled with all the fulness of God;" and so learn, even by Paul's sufferings for them, how much God cares for them; that knowing this love, and that "God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think," they may accept with patience all the trial which God appoints for them.
And then the Gospel shews, by the example of the Widow of Nain, how it is simple patient suffering which draws forth the manifestation of Christ's power to comfort the afflicted. For no prayer here was offered for help. It was the patient suffering of the widow which moved Christ. It was her affliction, accepted with meekness, which brought her greater joy.
The Fathers make use of this Gospel, as shewing how the sorrows of the weeping Church are a call upon Christ to quicken her dead children.
THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Eph. 4:1. Gospel: Luke 14:1.)
The next two Sundays, the "Seventeenth and Eighteenth after Trinity," speak rather of a growth or increase in two of the gifts or graces already brought before us, than of any new form of grace or duty. For the "Eleventh Sunday" called us to humility. This "Seventeenth Sunday" calls us to growth in meekness and humility. The "Twelfth Sunday after Trinity" called us to knowledge and utterance. The "Eighteenth Sunday" calls us to growth in knowledge and utterance. This of itself is a great lesson, that gifts and graces in us should grow; for naturally we are content to rest in present attainments, rather than to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." The two special gifts or graces too, the growth of which is here pressed on us, are graces which are so generally neglected. If we have walked humbly, who thinks of seeking to be even more meek and humble? If we have some measure of knowledge, who thinks of seeking to have still deeper knowledge? Therefore on these two Sundays, the "Seventeenth" and "Eighteenth" after Trinity, growth in these two graces is specially commended to us.
The "Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity" therefore goes on to the growth in meekness and humility, which must be seen in those who "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they are called."
The Epistle teaches that they are to walk, not only "humbly," but "with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." For a sevenfold blessing is theirs:—"One body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father." With such a "calling," must we not be like our Lord, who calls us to "take His yoke and learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly?"
And then the Gospel sets the example and precept of this blessed Lord before us; His example in His perfect meekness and long-suffering at the Pharisees' table, when "they watched" and "judged" Him for His kindness to a poor sufferer on the Sabbath day; and His precept as to "all lowliness," when "He marked how those who were bidden chose out the chief rooms," that, instead of "sitting down in the highest place, they should rather take the lowest," so that "when he that bade thee cometh, he may say, Friend, go up higher." May He who has called us help us thus to "grow in grace," that so we may "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called."
THE EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: 1 Cor. 1:4. Gospel: Matt. 22:34.)
The "Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity" then goes on to the growth and increase in knowledge, which fit God's children for still higher service.
The Epistle tells us that "the grace of God is given us by Jesus Christ, that we may be," not supplied only, but "enriched by Him in everything," not only in some knowledge, but "in all utterance, and in all knowledge, so that we come behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."
And the Gospel gives us an illustration of this "enrichment in all knowledge" in our Lord, and of the lack of it in the Pharisees. First, our Lord answers the enquiry of the Lawyer, as to "Which is the great commandment of the law," by shewing him that the bare letter of the law, if fully understood, contained much more than the Lawyer perceived in it; in other words, that there were depths in it, as to love, which only open as we grow in knowledge. And then His question, "How, if David call Christ Lord, can He be his Son,"—a question which the Pharisee could not answer,—shews how needful this "enrichment in knowledge" is, if we would know God's mind, and rightly understand His Holy Scriptures.
It needs but little acquaintance with the Church to understand how even true believers need this grace. With the Bible in their hands, what blindness prevails as to the purposes of God. As with the disciples of old, even while they follow Christ, the Scriptures are not opened to them. Therefore the Apostles so often pray for their converts, that "their love may abound yet more and more, in knowledge and in all judgment:"—that "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; the eyes of their understanding being enlightened, that they may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." Without this growing knowledge, many, "who should be teachers, need that one teach them again which be the first principles of the oracles of God;" "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine;" instead of "growing in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
THE NINTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Eph. 4:17. Gospel: Matt. 9:1.)
The "Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity" goes on to speak of the spiritual power in our daily walk, which we are called to manifest as sons of God and partakers of His Spirit.
The Collect is a prayer for power, confessing that "without God we are not able to please Him."
The Epistle then exhorts disciples, that "henceforth they walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their minds;" because, having received the Spirit of Christ, and so being "renewed in the spirit of their mind," they can "put off the old man," and "put on the new, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." Therefore, both in word and deed, in "speaking the truth," in "stealing no more," and in "working with our hands, that we may have to give to him that needeth," we are called, not to be receivers only, but "ministers also of grace," like the Lord, "if so be that we have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus."
And the Gospel gives us an illustration of this strengthening, in the palsied man, so strengthened by Christ's word, bidding him "be of good cheer, because his sins are forgiven him," that he could at once "arise, and take up his bed, and depart unto his house." Sin works in souls, not only as "leprosy," or uncleanness, or as "fever," that is as burning restlessness, but as "palsy," that is as helplessness and powerlessness. There are in the Church as many palsied souls as there were palsied bodies in Israel. Such sufferers may be of the elect, "to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises." But, instead of being able to serve their generation, they are "palsied" and powerless; some "without strength;" some "past feeling;" in what is almost a present death. Yet such may be made strong through the faith of those who bring them to the Lord. This is the lesson for to-day, that there is power in Christ, not to forgive sins only, but to give us strength also to walk as sons of God. He who forgives can give us His strength also.
THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Eph. 5:15. Gospel: Matt. 22:1.)
The "Twentieth Sunday after Trinity" goes on to speak of the cheerfulness, and readiness to receive whatever God in His wisdom may send us, which become and mark those who are partakers of His Spirit.
The Collect prays, "that we being ready, both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish what God would have done."
The Epistle speaks especially of cheerfulness, that, "understanding what the will of the Lord is," we should "walk, not as fools, but as wise;" and that putting away from us the excitements and "excesses" of the world, and "filled with God's spirit," we should, "in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing and make melody in our hearts unto the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God, even the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The Gospel then shews the misery of being unready and unwilling to receive what God sends us: how those who thus despise and neglect what He has prepared for us, which to our souls would be a "feast" and "wedding garment," preferring, "one man his farm, and another his merchandise," are judged unworthy of the rich blessing which the Lord intends to give, and are "cast into outer darkness." All God's appointments for us are His provision to feed and nourish and clothe our souls. To murmur at these, while an earthly feast is an occasion for rejoicing, is simply blindness and unbelief. We cannot but be cheerful, if we believe. And such cheerfulness is itself a continual feast, strengthening us to do and bear what to complaining souls seems impossible. Therefore let us pray, as the Collect teaches, "that we, being ready, both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things which God our Father would have done, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Eph. 6:10. Gospel: John 4:46.)
The "One and Twentieth Sunday after Trinity" then goes on to the grace of faith,—a grace which we little think of as we should,—even faith in every trial, whether temporal or spiritual, always to trust in God, and cheerfully to accept all that He has given or may send to try us; in the assurance that He loves us, and will always be sufficient for us.
First, the Epistle exhorts us to this, saying, "My brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. ... Therefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day. Stand therefore having your loins girt about with truth; and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace: above all taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance."
And the Gospel gives us an illustration of this grace of faith, in the nobleman who came to Jesus, and besought Him for his son, who was at the point of death. "Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe. The nobleman saith unto Him, Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus saith unto him, Thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken to him, and went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. And himself believed, and his whole house." We see here how faith grows. The nobleman believed when "he came to Jesus." He believed still more when "he went his way, believing the word that Jesus had spoken to him." He believed yet more when "his servants met him, and said, Thy son liveth; and himself believed, and his whole house." If such faith glorifies God, how must the unbelief of His children grieve and dishonour Him! Yet almost every other sin is confessed, while the foundation sin of distrust of God, which "makes Him a liar," is well nigh forgotten. Shall we not say with the disciples, "Lord, increase our faith;" for, to the very end, this present life is "the trial of our faith."
Therefore the Collect prays the Lord to "grant to His faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve Him with a quiet mind;" for faith gives, not "pardon" and "cleansing" only, but "peace" also, and a "quiet mind," whatever trials or conflicts may befal us.
THE TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Phil. 1:3. Gospel: Matt. 18:21.)
The lesson of the "Two and Twentieth Sunday after Trinity" is a growing conformity to Christ in all things.
The Epistle, having encouraged us by saying, that "He who hath begun a good work in us will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ," expresses St. Paul's desire for his converts at Philippi, that, as they are "partakers of his grace," their "love may abound yet more and more; that they may approve things that are excellent; that they may be sincere and without offence until the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the praise and glory of God."
And the Gospel, here again teaching us by a contrast, shews the terrible results of unlikeness to our Lord, by the example of the servant, who, "having received mercy" from his Lord, in the "forgiveness" of his great debt of "ten thousand talents," shewed no conformity to his Master's mind, "having no compassion upon his fellow-servant," even as his Lord had had pity upon him. The Lord specially calls attention to that conformity to Himself which should mark His forgiven servants:—"O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me. Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?" The question is, Are we like the Master? "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." We have been forgiven ten thousand talents; but some friend or neighbour fails in his duty towards us; and at once, instead of loving as we have been loved, and forgiving as we have been forgiven, what are we too often saying, but "Friend, neighbour, brother, pay me that thou owest." Not so that blessed Apostle, to whom "to live was Christ," whose life was always saying, "I am a debtor, both to the Jew and the Greek." They might reject, misrepresent, or hate him. Yet he says, "I am a debtor to them." So he says again, "I will very gladly spend and be spent for you, though, the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved."
THE TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Phil. 3:17. Gospel: Matt. 22:15.)
The "Three and Twentieth Sunday after Trinity" then dwells on the heavenly-mindedness, which becomes those who have been "baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost."
The Epistle, while it confesses that "many walk," practically "enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and who glory in their shame," declares that "our conversation," if we walk in Christ, "is and must be in heaven, from whence we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself."
And the Gospel shews how the world, with its legitimate claims upon us, does not deprive us of our heavenly citizenship, even as our heavenly citizenship does not free us from what we owe the world; that therefore we may and must "render unto Caesar," in our national or business or family relationships, "the things which are Caesar's," never ceasing to remember also to "render to God the things that are God's." In a word, our "heavenly calling" does not cut us off from our lawful duties or calling in this world. Rather we must live in this world, and fulfil our duty to it, because for awhile it is our appointed place of discipline; while yet we shew that we belong to another and higher kingdom, for our truest "citizenship or conversation is in heaven." Pharisees or Separatists however still say, We have nothing to do with Caesar or the world. Our Lord's prayer for His disciples, just before His Cross, was, "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil."
THE TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Col. 1:3. Gospel: Matt. 9:18.)
The "Four and Twentieth Sunday after Trinity" then brings before us one of the Christian's last attainments here, namely the deliverance from the weakness and deadness of our nature, which we may receive, as we increase in the knowledge of God, and are strengthened by His indwelling power.
So in the Epistle, while St. Paul thanks God for the "faith" and "hope" and "love" of the Colossians, he yet more "prays" for their increasing deliverance from the bondage of nature; first, by growing knowledge,—"being filled with the knowledge of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;" then secondly, by increasing strength for every good work,—"strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power;" till they come at last, from knowing and doing, to suffering patiently, even "to all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness." Here is growing deliverance, ending with "giving thanks to the Father, who hath made, and still can make, souls meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."
The Gospel gives us two illustrations of this deliverance; first, in the raising of "Jairus' daughter," who, though still in the house, not yet carried out and buried, was lifeless, but was restored to life by the touch of the hand of Jesus; and then in the healing of the "woman with the issue of blood," who had "suffered many things of many physicians, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse," who yet was made whole at once by personal contact with the Lord. In each case we have a figure of that deliverance from the deadness and weakness of our nature, which we all may receive if Christ's help is sought and waited for. We may perhaps be wrong in some of our thoughts as to the way in which the strength we long for may come to us. Like the poor woman who was healed here, we may connect it with some outward thing, such as the "hem of His garment," rather than with the Lord Himself. Yet whatever the error, if there was error, there was true faith expecting deliverance. And if only there is faith, there is no infirmity which the Lord cannot meet and remedy. So we read here, "When Jesus saw the woman, He said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour."
THE TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
(Epistle: Jer. 23:5. Gospel: John 6:5.)
The "Five and Twentieth Sunday after Trinity" concludes the series of the Practical Lessons of the Church, by setting before us the full salvation and perfect peace, which God has promised, and which may be, and shall be, enjoyed by God's children.
The portion of Scripture appointed for the Epistle is remarkable. It speaks of the blessed end, after all present trial and waiting and conflict. Its burden is, Be of good cheer, whatever sorrow still abounds:—"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In His days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely. And this is His Name whereby He shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS." "Behold, the days come," when this shall be, spite of all present sin, and want, and sorrow.
And then, to conclude all, the Gospel brings before us a hungry multitude satisfied and more than filled; for "they took up of the fragments which remained, over and above, of the feast, twelve baskets full." The Gospel ends with these words,—"Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that Prophet, (greater than Moses,) that should come into the world." Will not this also be the cry of that "great multitude, which no man can number, who shall stand before the throne and before the Lamb, crying with a loud voice, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. They shall hunger no more; neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb, which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
ST. ANDREW'S DAY.
(Epistle: Rom. 10:9. Gospel: Matt. 4:16.)
"St. Andrew's Day." We now come to the Epistles and Gospels, appointed for the days on which the Church calls our attention to the special graces of some of the Saints. (See Notes on St. Stephen's Day.)
In St. Andrew, who comes first, for he was the first disciple to follow Christ, the special lesson set before us is readiness to receive the call of Christ, and then to bring others to Him.
So the Collect prays, that "God, who gave such grace to His holy Apostle St. Andrew, that he readily obeyed the calling of the Lord, and followed Him without delay, would likewise grant unto us all, that we, being called by His holy Word, may forthwith give up ourselves obediently to fulfil His holy commandments, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord."
The Epistle exhorts us, not only to "believe in our heart," but also, like St. Andrew, to "confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus," though toil and poverty and death may be the consequence; that so we may be of the number of those who "bring glad tidings of good things," and make Christ known to those who know Him not.
The Gospel then simply records the Call, which was so promptly obeyed,—"Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." "Follow me." It is this "following" which makes a saint. But who knows what this "following" means? How many are content to hear Christ teach, or to be healed by Him, or to have Him come into their houses, or to see His mighty works, who never really "follow" Him. Not so with St. Andrew, and those like him. With such the call, "Follow me," is at once obeyed:—"Straightway they left their nets and followed Him." To "follow" Christ fully we must "leave all." Blessed are they who "straightway" do this, readily obeying the call which makes them "fools for Christ's sake."
ST. THOMAS'S DAY.
(Epistle: Eph. 2:19. Gospel: John 20:24.)
On the shortest and darkest day of the year, (December 21,) the Church commemorates St. Thomas, who was willing to die with Christ,—as he said, "Let us also go with Him, that we may die with Him,"—(John 11:16,) who yet was slow to believe what others had seen of Christ, until, when he was again with the other disciples, he also saw and believed with them.
The Collect prays for "perfect" and "undoubting" faith.
The Epistle speaks of the "building of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Corner-stone; in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord."
And the Gospel shews us how Christ meets the doubts and unbelief of one who truly loved Him. Here is a disciple who has more confidence in his own not seeing than in the seeing of all his brethren. His doubts are partly the result of his "not having been with his brethren when Jesus came,"—partly the result of his natural temperament; full of love to Christ, yet prone to view all things from the darker side. (See John 11:16; 14:5.) Yet this dark doubting Thomas, who had seen less than his brethren, is the one chosen to receive a special word. Our special weakness always calls forth special grace from Christ. It is to Thomas, spite of his doubts, that our Lord says, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing." There are some souls, like St. Thomas, slow to see and receive fresh truth, who are very strong to feel and work. The "finger" is feeling: the "hand" is work. Poor seers, strong feelers and workers, Jesus says, You too shall have what you want. "Reach hither thy finger, and reach hither thy hand." So the overflowing grace of the blessed Lord gives to the weak brother a special word, which the others never received. "And Thomas answered and said, My Lord and my God." His words alone of the Apostles are recorded here; a witness of the precious testimony to Christ, which His grace can and does draw out from doubting and slow-seeing souls. Lastly, a new beatitude is pronounced,—the resurrection beatitude,—"Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." Surely St. Thomas's Day is not to be forgotten.
THE CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL.
(Epistle: Acts 9:1. Gospel: Matt. 19:27.)
The "Conversion of St. Paul" next follows. Here we are taught what Conversion really is, and that even the most zealous and religious souls require Conversion.
The Collect prays, "that we, having the wonderful conversion of the blessed Apostle St. Paul in remembrance, may shew forth our thankfulness, by following the holy doctrine which he taught."
The portion of Scripture appointed for the Epistle describes this conversion. Here was a man who from his childhood had been brought up with all the privileges of God's elect: "circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, touching the righteousness which is in the law blameless;" (Phil. 3:5, 6;) "to whom pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;" (Rom. 9:4;) who could further say, and say truly, that he had "lived in all good conscience before God," and had been "taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers;" (Acts 23:1;) but who yet needed conversion; and is therefore specially chosen by the Church to be to us the witness of what Conversion really is.
Note what is recorded of his conversion. As he went on his way, "zealous of the traditions of his fathers," (Gal. 1:14,) opposing what he considered error, "suddenly there shined about him a light from heaven." So it ever is in conversion. A light from heaven, such as we never saw before, shines round about us, and "casts us to the earth." Every converted man is "cast down" before he is "lifted up." Then, while he is "fallen to the earth," he "hears a voice, saying, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Here is a personal call, to which the soul that hears it answers, "Who art thou, Lord?" And when he learns who is speaking to him,—for Jesus calls us without our at first knowing who He is,—the answer is, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" The man offers up His will unreservedly to Christ. This is Conversion. One great mark of it, which immediately follows, is, "Behold, he prayeth." All that follows, as to the part man takes in this matter, is secondary. Some man, sent of God, comes and says, "Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples."
The Gospel shews what Conversion leads to in another disciple. Conversion leads, as St. Peter shews, first, to separation to Christ:—"Peter says, Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee:"—and then to glory with Christ:—"Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit on thrones, judging. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my Name's sake, shall receive a hundred fold, and shall inherit eternal life."
I think we may note here also the place which this Festival occupies in the Christian Year. It comes sometimes in Epiphany-tide, sometimes in Septuagesima. For Conversion has two aspects. We may see in it a manifestation of the Lord; or we may see in it what fallen man is, who needs a change from the life of the Seventy years, to another life in the light and service of the Lord.
THE PURIFICATION OF ST. MARY.
(Epistle: Mal. 3:1. Gospel: Luke 2:22.)
The next Saint's Day, (February 2, the fortieth day after Christmas,) is "The Purification of St. Mary," on which the Church supplements the teaching of Christmas Day, by shewing us, not only that God has come into our nature, and that a "New Man," the "image of God," has been brought forth out of it; but, further, that the fallen and divided nature, out of which the New Man is brought forth, can, and shall, itself be cleansed, and fitted to return again into God's own holy sanctuary.
The Collect prays, that "as Christ was presented in the temple, in substance of our flesh, so we may be presented to God with pure and clean hearts, by the same Jesus Christ our Lord."
The portion of Scripture appointed for the Epistle brings before us the prophet's words as to the promised purification;—"Behold, the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple. But who may abide the day of His coming? for He is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap; and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness."
And the Gospel goes on to tell us of "the Purification" of her who had brought forth the New Man, when she came to "present Him to the Lord, and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord." The law here referred to, and quoted, (see Lev. 12:2-8,) is very striking. If the woman brings forth a son, her "purification" is at the end of "forty days;" if she bear a maid child, not till "twice forty;" shewing how our weak nature, which brings forth the New Man, is cleansed at the end of the "forty days," which always figure this present dispensation; whereas if it only brings forth its like, "a female child," that is fruits merely natural, it is unclean for a double period, till "twice forty" pass over it. That the Church has appointed this day is a wonderful witness how she has been guided by the Spirit to testify of things, which, though plainly taught in Holy Scripture, have as yet been little seen by many believers.
ST. MATTHIAS'S DAY.
(Epistle: Acts 1:15. Gospel: Matt. 11:25.)
"St. Matthias's Day." The special grace which is brought before us upon this day is the quiet and steadfast "companying with disciples, all the time that the Lord went in and out among them," of one who though not called to any special office, or marked by any special gift, continued faithful in his following of Christ, and in fellowship with His disciples, from the time when they were disciples of John until the resurrection. It is no small thing to walk humbly and meekly for years with the same brethren, undistinguished by any special gift or office. But such as by grace so walk, though little known, in due time may come, like St. Matthias, to fill the highest office, from which some more prominent and well-known brother has by transgression fallen.
The Epistle shews how St. Matthias did this, and ultimately was "numbered with the eleven Apostles."
The Gospel reiterates the same lesson, by shewing how those, who are as "babes" in the professing Church, may be really wiser than many who seem here far above them, and in their meekness possess the real treasures of the true kingdom, which are "hidden from the wise and prudent." For the "mysteries of the kingdom," and the "rest" Christ gives, are for the "meek and lowly in heart," who "take Christ's yoke and learn of Him."
THE ANUNCIATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY.
(Epistle: Isa. 6:10. Gospel: Luke 1:26.)
The "Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary" then again directs our attention to the Incarnation; not so much to the fact which Christmas declares, that God has come to dwell in flesh and blood; but to the mystery of the way in which the Christ, or New Man, is formed and quickened in our fallen nature; so that we too may sing the Virgin's song, and be, not only "brothers and sisters," but "mothers" also, of the Christ; as our Lord said, "Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother." (Mark 3:34, 35.)
First, the portion of Scripture appointed for the Epistle declares that this wondrous work is wrought by God Himself. It is He, who, in the helplessness of His people, promises that "a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son," whose "name shall be Immanuel," which, being interpreted, is "God with us." For all things are possible with God. He can and yet does bring the clean thing out of the unclean, the heavenly out of the earthy, the new out of the old.
The Gospel then shews how this wonder was wrought for us in the blessed Virgin Mary, as the "sign" and witness of what can be and yet is wrought in us, when our heart, like Mary, answers the Messenger of God, ("Gabriel" means simply "Man of God,") saying, "Be it unto me according to thy word." For even yet a message comes from God to the meek heart, the feminine part of our present fallen and divided nature, promising, what seems to sense impossible, even that Christ, the image of God, shall be formed in and brought forth from it; for "the Holy Ghost shall come upon us, and the power of the Highest overshadow us, so that that holy thing which is born in us, and of us, shall be called the Son of God." The "Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin" is the divinely appointed figure of the coming of the Word of God into every meek and lowly heart; and where this message is received, as Mary received it, saying, "Be it unto me according to thy word," the "New Man" is yet conceived and formed, and then brought forth in due season. For as it was with "Christ for us," so with "Christ in us;" this new life is conceived and quickened, long before the new man is brought forth and manifested outwardly. Even when first brought forth, so as to be seen of men, it is a babe, dependent on its mother; though in due time it will most surely rule all things. Christ is still thus formed in and brought forth out of our fallen and divided human nature. (Gal. 4:19.)
Thus again and again does the Church remind us how the work wrought for us in our Lord, in His birth and life and death and resurrection,—the preaching or declaration of which, either by outward signs or by spoken words, gives us life and peace,—is the one self-same work which has to be wrought in us by the same one Spirit, "till we all come, in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." Thank God, the work has been perfectly wrought for us in Christ Jesus. And in like manner the one same work is daily being wrought in us by the same Spirit, while at first we no more understand it than a new-born babe understands the mystery of the life it has received, or of its birth into this world.
ST. MARK'S DAY.
(Epistle: Eph. 4:7. Gospel: John 15:1.)
"St. Mark's Day" follows, on which our attention is directed, not so much to any one special grace manifested in Christ's disciples, but rather to the truth, that the Saints are the channels by which God's Church and elect are perfected and built up.
So the Epistle tells us, that "when Christ ascended up on high, He gave gifts to men,"—the "gifts" being inspired men. "And He gave some Apostles, and some prophets, and some Evangelists," (St. Mark was one of these,) "and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come, in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." St. Mark is witness that we are called, not only to possess the grace of Christ, but by word and deed to minister it to others. This was St. Mark's work. Having his own eye opened to see the Lord as "the Ox strong to labour," he became a "minister" to others, (Acts 13:5,) and a "fellow-labourer" with the Apostles; (Philemon 24, and 1 Pet. 5:13;) and was, as St. Paul testifies, "profitable to him for the ministry." (2 Tim. 4:11.)
The Gospel then goes on to shew that this "fruit-bearing" ministry can only be by "abiding in the Vine." "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the Vine; no more can ye except ye abide in me. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." If we are Christ's, we must be Christlike in our toil and burden-bearing for others. And in such burden-bearing there is joy. So the Gospel concludes:—"These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."
ST. PHILIP AND ST. JAMES'S DAY.
(Epistle: James 1:1. Gospel: John 14:1.)
The next Saint's Day is "St. Philip and St. James." Twice in the year, (on the 1st of May, and on the 28th of October,) in Spring and Autumn, the Church appoints a commemoration of two saints together,—here St. Philip and St. James; and later on, St. Simon and St. Jude. An important lesson is intended by this,—namely, that brethren, very different in character and position, and with very dissimilar lines of truth and service specially committed to them, should still be one in their life and service for the Lord. For St. Philip and St. James in nearly everything were outwardly unlike each other.
The Epistle calls our attention to St. James. This was the Apostle, generally called "James the Less," afterwards Bishop of Jerusalem, who, more than any of the other Apostles, even after Pentecost, recognised and still used the Jewish forms and cleansings, and recommended St. Paul also to adopt them when in Jerusalem; (Acts 21:18-26;) and whose Epistle is specially addressed to Jewish believers, rather than to Gentiles,—"to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting;" who yet, at the Council of Jerusalem, on the question of circumcision, (Acts 15:13-20,) could advise and decide that the "Gentiles, who were turned to God," were not to be "brought into bondage" or "troubled" by Jewish ceremonies; thus shewing how he could and did recognise the working of Christ's Spirit in forms very unlike those which he used and was accustomed to.
With this Apostle the Gospel for the day unites St. Philip, who seems in early life to have had a very different training. For "Philip was of Bethsaida of Galilee." (John 12:21.) His name is Greek; and as being of "Galilee of the Gentiles," (Matt. 4:15,) he was the Apostle whom "the Greeks, who came up to worship at the feast," approached, when they said, "Sir, we would see Jesus." (John 12:21, 22.) Outwardly therefore his training and position were very far removed from that of James. Yet the Church unites and commemorates these two Apostles together, to shew how in Christ there may be, and are, "diversities of operation, and yet but one Spirit;" because, as the Gospel here teaches, Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life;" meeting some as "the way;" disciplining others as "the truth;" to give to all the same one heavenly "life." For we may be in "the way" and yet have stages beyond us, where we "cannot follow now," though "the way" surely leads at last to the same one blessed end.
This is the lesson which this day teaches us by uniting St. Philip and St. James. Let us thank God for the "many mansions in the Father's house."
ST. BARNABAS THE APOSTLE.
(Epistle: Acts 11:22. Gospel: John 15:12.)
"St. Barnabas the Apostle" comes next, whose name, meaning "the Son of Consolation," marks the special grace which we are invited to consider in him, namely the grace of tenderness. Originally called "Joses," he was "surnamed Barnabas by the Apostles," for the "consolation" which he ministered to others; for, "having land, he sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the Apostles' feet." (Acts 4:36, 37.)
The portion of Scripture appointed for the Epistle tells us of his early work; how, when the Gentiles at Antioch first turned to Christ, St. Barnabas was sent to them by the Church at Jerusalem; who,—himself "a Levite and of the country of Cyprus,"—"when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith; and much people were added to the Lord." Here was one who could sympathize both with Jerusalem and Antioch. What is subsequently recorded of him shews the same tenderness and sympathy with others,—a tenderness which might tempt him to be too gentle and yielding towards those "who were to be blamed;" as St. Mark and St. Peter were on two occasions; the one, in "turning back from the work" he had undertaken with the Apostle Paul; (Acts 15:37, 39;) the other, in being "carried away by the dissimulation of certain Jewish brethren;" (Gal. 2:11-14;)—which yet made him to the end the chosen companion of the Apostles, and the helper of weak and suffering brethren. Thus, as the Epistle for the day goes on to shew, he was the chosen distributor of the collection made by the Church at Antioch for the relief of the brethren who were suffering from famine in Judea; (Acts 11:29, 30;) and later on was specially set apart by the Holy Ghost to be a fellow-Apostle with St. Paul in his arduous labours among the Gentiles.
The Gospel then brings before us our Lord's words as to the tender love which we should shew to others; "loving one another as we have been loved by Christ;" and so, like St. Barnabas, witnessing that we are, "not servants only, but friends," of Him who laid down His life, even for His enemies.
ST. JOHN BAPTIST'S DAY.
(Epistle: Isa. 40:1. Gospel: Luke 1:57.)
"St. John the Baptist" comes next, in whom is set before us the ministry which "prepares the way of the Lord."
First, the Collect refers to this "preparation of the Saviour's way, by preaching of repentance;" praying that we too, "after John Baptist's example, may constantly speak the truth boldly, and patiently suffer for the truth's sake, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
The portion of Scripture chosen for the Epistle then gives us the prophecy of Isaiah, describing this ministry. Briefly, it is the declaration of God's purpose of salvation:—"Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished; that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins." Then comes the Voice declaring what man is:—"The Voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand for ever. ... Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; behold His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He shall feed His flock like a Shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." This is the word which "prepares the way" of the Saviour, declaring how He will meet the creature's need. Law has its place in condemning us. The ministry which "prepares the way of the Lord" is the declaration of what God will surely do for us.
The Gospel then tells us of the Messenger: how he should be "filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb;" that thus he should "turn many of the children of Israel unto the Lord, and be the prophet of the Highest, to go before His face, to give knowledge of salvation to His people." How he did this all the Gospels tell us: how he said, "I am not the Christ, but am sent to bear witness of Him—He that cometh after me is preferred before me—He must increase, but I must decrease—Behold the Lamb of God—I indeed baptize with water, but He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." Thus did he "prepare the way of the Lord." May we, each according to his calling, have grace to do the like.
I may perhaps notice here, as I have done in reference to Christmas and some other days, how the season of the year responds to and repeats the teaching of the Festival. John "prepares the way of the Lord," but his ministry is only temporary. It is, like the service of a nurse, to decrease and pass away. Christ increases from the time He comes. Several of the Early Fathers, among others, the great Augustine, notice that from St. John the Baptist's Day, June 24, the light decreases; from Christmas, it increases daily; and see in this fact of nature a shadow of the great truth, contained in John the Baptist's words relative to himself and Christ, "He must increase, but I must decrease."
ST. PETER'S DAY.
(Epistle: Acts 12:1. Gospel: Matt. 16:13.)
"St. Peter's Day" then brings before us the special grace of this Apostle, as seen in his divinely-given faith in, and confession of, our Blessed Lord as "Son of God," which fitted him to receive the "keys of the kingdom of heaven," and thus to "open the door of faith," first to the Jews, on the day of Pentecost, and then to the Gentiles, as in the case of Cornelius.
The Epistle first shews us the reception which his faith met with from God's professing people. "Herod had killed James, the brother of John, with the sword. And, because he saw it pleased the Jews, he took Peter also, and cast him into prison, intending to bring him forth after Easter" for execution. But in the faith that Christ was Lord of all, the very night before Herod would have brought him forth, Peter was quietly "sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains;" a witness, that, if we have but St. Peter's faith, we can rest in peace under all trials, assured that, if it is the Lord's will, we shall be delivered. For even yet "the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them."
The Gospel then goes on to give us St. Peter's Confession of faith, when asked by our Lord, "Whom say ye that I am?" And he answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." This is the faith on which the Church is built—the faith to which "the keys of the kingdom" are given—the faith which made the Apostles foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem. (Rev. 21:14; Eph. 2:20.) And this faith and this confession are set before us, that in the same faith, and with the same confession, we too may open the kingdom of heaven to others; and be living stones, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone.
ST. JAMES THE APOSTLE.
(Epistle: Acts 11:27. Gospel: Matt. 20:20.)
"St. James the Apostle" next follows, in whom we see the special grace of hope, which leads a man to forsake all that he has on earth, for the sake of the glory which shall be revealed in Christ's coming kingdom.
The Epistle shews the welcome which this hope receives in this world, and that "if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable;" (1 Cor. 15:19;) for St. James, who very specially "looked for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ," (Titus 2:13,) willing even to "drink Christ's cup and to be baptized with His baptism, if only he might be near Him in His kingdom," (Mark 10:35,) was the first of the Apostles to suffer here, being "beheaded by Herod," in his persecution of the Church.
The Gospel then gives us Christ's answer to those two great Apostles, the sons of Zebedee, who, in the hope of the coming kingdom, longed and asked thus to be near Him in His glory:—"Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of? They say unto Him, We are able. Then saith He unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give; but to them for whom it is prepared of my Father." Yet the hope that moved the two disciples to ask this was blessed, making them willing either to die or to tarry, as it might please God. St. John tarried: St. James was taken to be with Christ. And the same hope still gives joy and strength. "We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us." Of all this joy and fruit of hope St. James is to us the witness. May we too receive grace to "shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end."
ST. BARTHOLOMEW THE APOSTLE.
(Epistle: Acts 5:12. Gospel: Luke 22:24.)
The next Saint's Day is "St. Bartholomew the Apostle," who is generally supposed to be the same person as Nathaniel; for in the catalogues of the Apostles, given in the Gospels and the Acts, (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13,) where Bartholomew is mentioned, Nathaniel is omitted, and where Nathaniel is mentioned Bartholomew is omitted; besides which St. John speaks of Nathaniel as being with St. Peter and the other Apostles after the resurrection; (John 21:2;) and also of Philip with Nathaniel, when the Lord called them; (John 1:43-45;) while in St. Matthew Philip is coupled with Bartholomew. Of this disciple the special grace, as marked by the Lord Himself, is guilelessness; for when "Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to Him, He saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile."
The Epistle simply calls attention to "the signs and wonders wrought by the Apostles" generally, through whose guileless words and works "believers were added to the Church, multitudes both of men and women."
The Gospel speaks of the lowliness which must mark such, in whom the commandment is fulfilled, "He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he that is chief as he that doth serve." Such souls see what others see not, even "heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." For as it is "the pure in heart who see God," so it is the meek and guileless, who seek no exaltation above their brethren, to whom the vision of an opened heaven is yet given. Such souls too hear the words, "I saw thee," before they learn what they "shall see." (John 1:50, 51.) Living in the light of guilelessness and truth, they see light.
ST. MATTHEW THE APOSTLE.
(Epistle: 2 Cor. 4:1. Gospel: Matt. 9:9.)
"St. Matthew the Apostle" comes next, in whom we have an example of that giving up the world and the things of the world, at the call of Christ, which, if it makes us poorer here, brings us in due time to "receive wages, and gather fruit unto life eternal."
The Epistle first speaks of what must be given up. "Therefore, seeing we have received this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but, by manifestation of the truth, commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. ... For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ."
The Gospel then describes how St. Matthew, once a Publican, at the call of Christ gave up a gainful calling; and so was led to his high calling as an Apostle and Evangelist, not only to receive eternal life himself, but to minister it to others. The Gospel here records the blessed words which St. Matthew, once a Publican himself, could never forget, when the Pharisees said, "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners;" and "Jesus answered, Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice; for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Souls like St. Matthew, who have once been publicans, often give up this world in a way which Pharisees never do; for when he heard Christ's call, saying, "Follow me," "he left all, and rose up, and followed Him." (Luke 5:28.)
ST. MICHAEL AND ALL ANGELS.
(Epistle: Rev. 12:7. Gospel: Matt. 18:1.)
"St. Michael and All Angels." On this day our attention is specially directed by the Church to the ministry which the Holy Angels always perform for us.
The Epistle speaks of the "war in heaven," that is the conflict in the spirit-world, where "Michael and his angels fight against the dragon and his angels;" and "the great dragon is cast out into the earth," even that old serpent called the devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world, "and his angels were cast out with him, neither was their place found any more in heaven." And then was "heard a loud voice, saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night." Heaven or the spirit-world is first delivered from the power of evil. And though for awhile the conflict only becomes the more terrible to the "inhabiters of the earth,"—"for the dragon knoweth that he hath but a short time,"—yet the earth also shall be delivered; for "One whose eyes are as a flame of fire" shall come forth, and an angel shall lay hold on the dragon, and bind him, and cast him first into the bottomless pit, and then into the lake of fire. (Rev. 19:11-16; 20:1-3, 7-10.) For our Lord is "Lord of Hosts." "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb. 1:14.)
The Gospel repeats the same lesson, that even the "little ones" in the Church have guardian angels to protect them. A special blessing seems to wait on these weak ones. So our Lord says here, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." The Four Gospels throughout are full of examples of this angelic ministry to the weak, the humble, and the suffering. Not only were angels guiding Christ's early steps when He came into our lot;—ministering to Him after His temptation,—strengthening Him in the garden,—and rolling away the stone from the sepulchre;—but the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, and to the Shepherds, and to Zechariah, and to Mary; to Peter in prison; to John in Patmos: and to Paul, when "all hope seemed to be taken away." And these heavenly hosts still wait on us. If we were only less in the flesh, and more in the Spirit, we should more often know and feel their presence.
Here, as on other Holy Days, (see under Christmas and Easter,) we may perhaps notice where this Day comes in the solar year. It comes just after the darkness begins to be longer than the light. The 23rd of September is the Autumnal Equinox. On the 29th the darkness is growing greater than the light; and on this day the Church reminds us how the "powers of darkness" are opposed, and will be overcome, by St. Michael and the Holy Angels.
ST. LUKE THE EVANGELIST.
(Epistle: 2 Tim. 4:5. Gospel: Luke 10:1.)
The Church then calls our attention to "St. Luke the Evangelist," whose special gift it was to be an Evangelist; not only in his Gospel to "set forth in order a declaration of the things which are most surely believed among us," (Luke 1:1-4,) but also to travel with St. Paul, as sharer in his Evangelizing labours among the Gentiles.
The Epistle sets before us what this "work of an Evangelist" involves—what "watchings," what "enduring of afflictions;" and then records, that, while some for one reason and some for another had forsaken St. Paul, St. Luke continued steadfast to the end; as it is written, "Only Luke is with me;" brief words, but a blessed testimony of faithful ministry, the end of which is "a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to all them that love His appearing."
The Gospel then records the Mission of "the Seventy," of whom St. Luke is said to have been one; how "they went forth before Christ's face into every city and place whither He Himself would come;" "as lambs in the midst of wolves; carrying neither purse nor scrip;" and "saluting no man by the way;" for the mere amenities of life are not to be the first object with an Evangelist; yet "preaching peace to every house," whithersoever they might enter, in the hope that "their peace might rest upon it." Of this evangelizing ministry the Lord says here, "The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth labourers into His harvest."
ST. SIMON AND ST. JUDE.
(Epistle: Jude 1. Gospel: John 15:17.)
The next Saint's Day is "St. Simon and St. Jude, Apostles." Here, as on "St. Philip and St. James' Day," (see above,) we have a commemoration of two very dissimilar saints together; in each case to enforce the same lesson, which we are so slow to learn, and which is therefore twice repeated every year, namely, that brethren with very different gifts, and with dissimilar lines of service committed to them, should work together in unity, as servants of the same one blessed Lord.
The Epistle first calls our attention to St. Jude's relationship to St. James, the bishop of Jerusalem:—"Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James;" and then goes on at once to "exhort us to contend earnestly," not for differences, but for "the common salvation," and "for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." "For there are certain men crept in unawares, ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ;" and nothing so weakens the Church's testimony as division or coldness between brethren. Whether therefore we may be, like St. Jude, linked to Jerusalem, or, like St. Simon the Canaanite, originally connected with Cana of Galilee, or with the Zealots, or perhaps even a descendant of the ancient Canaanites, let "the common salvation" and "the faith once delivered to the saints," "join us in unity of spirit," as these Apostles were joined together, as all parts of "one holy temple, consecrated to God."
The Gospel then repeats our Lord's words as to unity and love:—"These things I command you, that ye love one another." For we are "chosen out of the world," to be, with the Spirit of truth, "witnesses" of Christ; because, whether of Jerusalem or of Cana of Galilee, our calling by grace has been to be "with Him from the beginning."
ALL SAINTS DAY.
(Epistle: Rev. 7:2. Gospel: Matt. 5:1.)
The Church's order of teaching ends with "All Saints Day." Before the Church's present division, "All Saints Day," (on November 1,) was immediately followed, (on November 2,) by "All Souls Day;" shewing that while there is an "elect" body, the "sealed first-born," who "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth" and are "All Saints," (see Rev. 7:4, 14:4,) these "Saints" are but "the first-fruits" of a much wider harvest, even of "All Souls," who shall in due time be gathered in. "For if the first-fruits be holy, the lump is also holy;" (Rom. 11:16;) though "of the same lump one vessel is made to honour, and another unto dishonour." (Rom. 9:21.) Such was the ancient doctrine. But through the Church's sins,—in this instance through the abuse of Masses for the departed,—"All Souls Day" at the Reformation was dropped out of the Calendar of the English Church; though we still have memorials of it in All Souls' College, Oxford, and elsewhere. In the Epistle for this day, the ancient truth respecting All Souls as well as All Saints is still preserved, though the title, "All Souls," does not appear.
The Epistle first gives us a description of the "Saints." They are "the servants of our God;" not "hired," but "purchased servants," (δούλους,) who as such might "eat of the holy things," which "hired servants" were not permitted to partake of. (Lev. 22:10, 11.) Further,—and this is specially noticed,—they are "sealed with the seal of the living God;" "sealed," to keep them safe: "sealed," to mark whom they belong to: "sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise," (Eph. 1:13; 4:30,) the Spirit of Christ Himself, which says in all things, "Not my will, but thy will;" the very opposite to "the mark of the beast," or "wild-beast," (θηρίου, Rev. 13:17,) which cannot be brought to give up its will in everything to the will of one above it. And this "sealing" pledges the sealed ones to be sacrifices to God. For every creature brought to be an offering under the law was first examined by the priest, whether it was "unblemished." If "unblemished," it was "sealed" with the temple seal for sacrifice. So it is written of the Great Sacrifice, "Him hath God the Father sealed." (John 6:27.) The "Saints" were all so "sealed," not only to Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience, which can only perfectly be found where the creature's will is wholly given to the Lord; but even to be "as sheep for the slaughter;" to die for others' good.
Then having thus shewn us the "hundred and forty and four thousand," who are all "sealed," and "of the twelve tribes of Israel," that is the "elect," the Epistle goes on to speak of "a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues," who "stand before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands, saying, Salvation to our God, which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb." "These are they which come out of great tribulation," but they too find rest at last; for "they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Here are "All Souls" as well as "All Saints," all saved by the same one "precious blood." If some as yet do not see this, St. John at least records it in his Revelation, which we read as the Epistle for this day.
The Gospel then goes on to shew the character of the "Saints," as set before us in the Beatitudes. The world may think no more of them than it thought of Christ; yet are they blessed:—"Blessed are the poor in spirit; and the mourners; and the meek; and they that hunger and thirst after righteousness; and the merciful; and the pure in heart; and the peacemakers; and they which are persecuted for righteousness sake." "Theirs is the kingdom;" to be "kings and priests" to others; that at last "God may be all in all." For All Saints are to All Souls as the "firstborn" to their younger brethren; going before them, to be a blessing to them. Oh glorious day, when the elect being raised with Christ, the Head not born alone, but all the members also, the harvest, already sanctified by the "first-fruits," shall in due order be gathered in. Then shall the Lord give of His treasure to His "firstborn," that they may with Him redeem all lands and all brethren, who through their unbelief have lost their own inheritance. (Lev. 25:25, 47, 48.) Then shall the elect "run to and fro as sparks among the stubble," (Wisdom iii. 7, 8,) and "judge the world" with Christ, consuming the evil with that same "fire" which He "came to cast into the earth." (Luke 12:49.) Shall we not then, with the Apostle, "bow our knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole, or every, family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant us, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith; that we being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with All Saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that we might be filled with all the fulness of God."
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