« PreviousContinue »
his second Epistle to Timothy. He remarks, at chap. ii. verse 20, “ But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour and some to dishonour.” He then goes on to describe a person, and particularly a minister of the gospel, free from errors, casting away sin, and constantly following after holiness. Of such an one, St. Paul says, “ He shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work." What we have to pray therefore, is, that all who profess to belong to this household, may be uncorrupt in doctrine and holy in life. The stewards of the mysteries of God, that is to say, the ministers of the gospel, must be faithful men. If they are faithful, they may entertain the joyful hope of both saving themselves and those that hear them : if not faithful, they are wholly unfit to give to every man his portion of meat in due season. The people also should be faithful bearers of the word : not hearers only, deceiving their own souls; but doers. They should prove all things, and hold fast that which is good. The “ truth of the gospel,” thus taught by its ministers, and received by the people, is the glory and happiness of God's household, the church.
We pray then that we may be thus kept “ continually :" that is, without suffering any interruption at any time, either from false doctrine, or from sinful living: whether in ministers, or in the people. And pressing need there is to pray thus : for interruptions of this kind there have been in various ages of the church; and unless we are found “ watching unto prayer," sin and false doctrine will break in upon us in our day, as certainly as they have in times past.
Observe with what affectionate earnestness we are taught in this Collect to pray. In it we look to the grace of the Lord as our only hope : and from him we desire to draw all our help.
First, the grace of God is our only hope. “We who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace.” The grace of our heavenly Father, first formed the plan of the church on earth. The Lord Jesus Christ came down from heaven, that he might purchase the church with his own blood : and now that he is gone again into heaven, he still promises by his Spirit to bless his church. He says, “ Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” What a gracious hope is thus held out, to encourage us in our prayers.
Upon this hope we are said to “ lean : ” an expression wbich denotes weakness and dependence. The weak one leans upon the strong. The child looks to his father and leans on him : the wife leans on the arm of her husband. So the church is described in that beautiful verse, “ Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved ?” It is no other than Christ's spouse, the church, which is thus represented : she comes out of the midst of this evil world, which is to her as a waste howling wilderness : Jesus, as her Lord and friend, calls and brings her out of it. The church, like a humble-minded, faithful wife, looks up to her Lord, leaning on his protection, counsel, and love.
2. In this spirit of hope, we consequently look up to God as our all-sufficient and only help. “ God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm xlvi. 1.) And of this help we have constant need; for we have many enemies to resist, and many
dangers to escape. God's household, the church, is threatened with perils from without; thieves, robbers, oppressors and persecutors, who seek utterly to lay it waste and destroy it. Sometimes divisions spring up within the household itself, and then is the time of its greatest danger : for “ a house divided against itself cannot stand, but is brought to desolation.” Sometimes bad food is offered to this household ; that is to say, false doctrine. In these, and all similar dangers, the only safety of the church consists in the care, love, and assistance of her almighty defender. While our prayer is, “O be thou our help, for vain is the help of man;" we ought also to remember that he bids us speak words of encouragement to his beloved church : he says, (Isaiah xxvii. 2, 3.) “ In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine. I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment : lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.”
The comfort offered to the whole church collectively, is the comfort of each individual member of it. Let us then lean on the hope of God's grace. Let us abide in the doctrine of the Father, and the Son, and seek to have the Spirit continually dwelling within us. Then shall we be safe and happy ; rich in faith, and heirs of the promise of eternal life. “ The Lord is my portion, saith my soul, therefore will I hope in him.” (Lamentations iii. 24.)
SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY.
This Collect is grounded on the Epistle for the day. In it we shew forth the power and grace of God : and we beseech him to bestow on us all the blessings flowing from salvation by Christ.
First, consider the power and grace of God, as revealed to us through his blessed Son.
Christ was “ manifested.” This is the leading article of that great “ mystery of godliness” mentioned by St. Paul. (1 Tim. iii. 16.) “ God was manifest in the flesh.” Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth in heaven, ever one God, world without end ; this same Jesus who is “ God over all, blessed for ever,” became man; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself unto death, even the death of the cross.
And why did he thus condescend to become man? why did he die so cruel and disgraceful a death?
Two reasons are here mentioned. The one is, that by his Almighty power “ he might destroy the works of the Devil.”
By the works of the Devil are meant, sin and all its ruinous conse.. quences. “ The Devil sinneth from the beginning.” (1 John iii. 8.) That evil spirit rebelled against God even in heaven, and for his pride was thrust down into hell. As soon as man was created, Satan plotted his ruin : be tempted Eve, and Eve tempted Adam : our first parents transgressed, by eating the forbidden fruit: they fell, and with them we are fallen likewise. And thus the bitter consequences of sin bave descended from them to us throughout all generations. We are born with a sinful nature, and labour, sorrow, sickness, death, and the curse of death eternal, are our inheritance. “ By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed
upon all men, for that all have sinned.” (Rom. v. 12.) All sinners, so long as they remain such, are under the power of Satan : for “ he that committeth sin, is of the Devil.”
But Jesus was manifested to destroy the works of the Devil : they therefore who believe on Jesus, are delivered from the power of Satan. Does the believer grieve to think, how often he has offended God by his sins; and does he fear lest the Devil should be permitted to torment him with an endless curse in hell ? . He need not fear, he need not doubt : for whosoever believeth in Jesus, shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life. Do we feel the power of indwelling sin to be exceedingly great, even to-such a degree as to make us fear, that the Devil is leading us captive at his will ? Let us “ resist the Devil, and he will flee from us.” Jesus is able to deliver us from this body of death, even from all our indwelling corruptions, and he will deliver. Are we in heaviness through the manifold afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, and trials of this life? Jesus is able to comfort us under them. Satan would fain drive us to melancholy and despair. Jesus says to all believers, “ Be of good cheer.” All persons naturally dread the hour of their departure from this world. But Jesus, through death, hath destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil; and thus be delivers them who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage. (Heb. ii. 14, 15.)
These are comfortable truths to believers. Learn then to plead the promises of pardon, strength, and peace, through Christ. You see, on the one hand, sin and Satan threatening to destroy; but, on the other hand, behold Satan already destroyed by Christ. Our Almighty Redeemer, according to the promise made to Adam, hath bruised the head of that old serpent, the devil.
But, another reason of Christ's manifestation in the flesh is here mentioned : namely, that of his free grace he might “ make us the sons of God, and exalt us to everlasting life.” Not only is the curse taken away, but in the place of it an infinite blessing is bestowed.
To as many as receive Christ-that is, to all who believe in himbe gives power to become the sons of God. They are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man-that is, not naturally, but divinely : they are “ born of God.” The Holy Spirit, who is God, creates in them a new nature : henceforth they are led by the Spirit. Moreover, the Spirit of adoption is shed abroad in their hearts ; they have the spirit of sons; a loving, trusting, obedient spirit, whereby they are enabled to address God, saying, Abba, Father. Blessed state, and happy feelings of poor, redeemed sinners, saved through faith in Christ!
The Apostle Paul, describing the glorious privileges of the sons of God (Romans viii. 17), adds further, " And if children, then heirs ; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” The glory that shall be revealed in believers is inconceivably great. « Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be : but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him ; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John iii. 2.)
Secondly, therefore, we pray for the enjoyment of all these blessings thus obtained for us by the power and grace of Christ : more particularly, for sanctification here, and for perfect holiness and perfect glory in the kingdom of heaven above.
" Grant that having this hope, we may purify ourselves even as he is pure.” Here it becomes necessary for each one of us to ask him. self, · Have I this hope?' It is offered us in the Gospel ; but,
do I myself embrace it? There is a wide difference between Christ's presenting, and our receiving the blessing. Here is a hope set before us; it is as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast : but, are we in the possession and enjoyment of the strong consolation, belonging to those, and to those only, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us ?
If we can answer this question satisfactorily--if we are living the life of faith, comforted by hope, and walking in love, then our aim and prayer should be, that we may be entirely conformed to the image of Christ. Daily to be made more and more like Jesus,—this is the constant petition of a believer. And as our prayer is, so should be our efforts. Study to copy the example of Christ; endeavour by the aid of the Holy Spirit to walk in all lowliness and meekness; to put off the old man, to put on the new man; to resist temptation, to grow in grace ; to obey from the heart, and to be holy even as God is holy.
If then we pray and labour in hope, we shall certainly in the end attain that perfect boliness, and that perfect glory, which is the inheritance of the saints in light. And this will abundantly over-pay whatever trials and losses we may endure here below. “ If we suffer with Christ, we shall also reign with him.” “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.” There the malice of Satan will touch us no more: there sin will no more defile us; we shall be made like God.- Quicken us, O Lord, in our journeying toward that happy home. Sanctify us wholly. Let us walk in the light of thy gracious promise, “ Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”
Confession, prayer, and adoration are beautifully mingled together in this Collect. Let us consider each of them in its order.
1. Confession.- We acknowledge that “ we are justly punished for our offences.”
Sin is the burden of all those who come to God in a right frame of mind. They cannot hide from themselves the thought of their offences. As a diseased person coming to the light, discovers the foul spots that cover his skin; so does sinful man, when he approaches the holy God, feel his own guilt and unworthiness. He is constrained to cry out from the bottom of his heart, “ Unclean, unclean !” “ Woe is me, for I am undone !”
But in this confession we go further. We do not merely acknowledge the fact of our being sinners: we also declare that we are punished, and that we justly deserve punishment. In what way are we punished for sin ?
Speaking generally, we all of us are punished by means of the many afflictions which are laid upon the children of men. "Man is born to trouble :” and our trouble is the mark of God's displeasure against sin. Our sorrows, arising from pain or sickness ; our various wants, perplexities, and losses; our distress at the unkindness of men, and our grief at the abounding of iniquity-all these are, in fact, the punishment of sin. They are not, however, the whole of the punishment. There is death, following close upon all our other troubles ; intended by God to shew his utter hatred of that tremendous evil, Sin.
Observe further, that many are troubled with inward stings of conscience: and it is well when they are so. For although these pains may be very sharp and deep, yet they are wholesome. They shew that the sinner who suffers them, has begun to feel the misery of his disease. They stir him up to seek for pardon. Let no man trifle with an accusing conscience : it is a part of God's merciful dealings with men, when he does not permit them to go on carelessly and contentedly in the broad road that leadeth to destruction.
Some persons also suffer particular punishments, as the consequence of particular sins. It pleases God thus to manifest his displeasure. The sin committed, and the smart of the rod, seem to be almost inseparable companions. When we can trace our sorrow or sickness distinctly to some special sin as its cause, immediately we ought to humble ourselves before our righteous and holy God.
If we do not humble ourselves, God has other and worse judgments in store, for those who will siu on. The impenitent must, at length, have their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
We are justly punished : this is a part of our confession. Obstinate sinners are, indeed, ever disposed to quarrel with the God who visits them in anger. They are ready to say, “ The ways of the Lord are not equal.” In other words, resentment is the natural bent of our high-minded and rebellious hearts. But this is not the feeling of a child of God, when brought to his right mind. On the contrary, he lays his band upon his mouth, and meekly says, “ Wherefore should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins !" (Lamentations iii. 39.) He justifies God, and condemns himself; “ Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.” (Nehemiah ix .33.) Like Ezra, he acknowledges, “ Thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve.” (Ezra ix. 13.) Instead, therefore, of murmuring, as if God were hard upon us, let us acknowledge with the psalmist, “ He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm ciji. 10.)
2. When we are thus humbled in confession, we are in the proper state of mind to offer up prayer. Notice how earnest the petitions in this Collect are : “ We beseech thee,” “ favourably hear the prayers of thy people," " that we may be mercifully delivered.” Every word expresses a longing desire for grace, forgiveness, and complete redemption.
We have in the book of Job a very affecting description of the readiness of God to hear and answer prayers like these. It is there said concerning the Lord, “ He looketh upon men: and if any say, I