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• This, then, is our general prayer ; that God's perpetual mercy may be extended to his Church.
2. But, further, we add an humble plea. We acknowledge that the frailty of man, without God, cannot but fall.
Two ideas are conveyed by this manner of expression. We confess our frailty: that is, our total inability of ourselves to do any good thing ; inability to purpose, to will, or even to think, that which is good. Sometimes we set before our minds some duty, and the motives which should impel us to perform it; but then, of ourselves, we find we cannot keep a holy resolution in our minds even for a mo. ment. This is the case, even with the most established and consistent believers; indeed, they are the persons who most of all feel and deplore this. When they would do good, they mourn to find that “ evil is present” with them. They “ delight in the law of God after the inward man: but they see another law in their members, warring against the law of their mind, and bringing them into captivity to the law of sin, which is in their members.” (Rom. vii. 21-23.)
The other idea conveyed in the words of the Collect, is, our proneness to fall. The two ideas, in fact, are so closely connected, that they can scarcely be separated : frailty and falling, seem to be much the same thing; only that one is the cause, the other its consequence. We are, if left to ourselves, like tottering little children. If we take a step without God, we shall certainly sin ; just as a frail child, learning to walk, would infallibly sink to the ground, if the parent's supporting hand were withdrawn.
3. Therefore, once more we urge our petition, more largely and importunately. “Keep us from all things hurtful ; lead us to all things profitable to our salvation." · The evils from which the Church needs to be kept are many and
great. The world abounds with tempters of every kind; some to allure us to sin by offers of pleasure, gain, and honour; others to drive us from God by persecution, unkindness, or ridicule. In the professing Church also, there are not a few stumbling-blocks; such as false teachers, corrupt doctrines, and the evil example of inconsistent professors. By all these means, the enemy of the Church attempts to lead astray the unlearned and the unstable : “ we are not ignorant of his devices;” nor ought we to be unacquainted with the disposition of our own hearts to fall under the power of error and sin. We are as silly sheep, who are put into good pastures, but are not satisfied ; and thus we might easily follow the voice of strangers, and leave our good shepherd : and eat unwholesome weeds, and wander far from the fold, and become a prey to the wild beasts of the wilderness. Therefore, our importunate petition is, “ Keep us; O keep us ever; keep us by thy help.”
We further pray to be led to all things profitable to our salvation. There are some things peculiarly designed to help us forward in our way to heaven. One is, the diligent use of the means of grace. If we constantly read the word of God with prayer, we shall be led into the knowledge of all needful truth, and grace will be imparted to us to carry out our knowledge into practice. The diligent use of public and private worship, attendance on the word preached, and the devout receiving of the holy communion, will enrich our souls with wisdom,
and keep alive in us the habit of piety. Friendly conversation with those who are eminent for their Christian character, is a great help to improvement; according to that most true proverb, “ He that walk. eth with wise men, shall be wise.” And, in addition to these assistances, we must not forget that our heavenly Father is pleased also to bestow on those whom he loves, the benefit of his chastisements : this method be expressly adopts, (as St. Paul says,) “ for our profit that we might be partakers of his holiness.” (Heb. xii. 10.) And again, he says, “ As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” (Rev. iii. 19.) Without this painful, but wholesome discipline of the rod, it is to be feared that Christians would soon sink into a slumbering state, and many of them entirely fall short of salvation.
We may in conclusion observe that, with regard to particular churches, this has been remarkably the case. Those which at the beginning of Gospel times were eminent, (such as the Churches at Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, and others, recorded in the New Testament,) have long ago ceased to flourish. The name of Christian is indeed retained by a few of the inhabitants : but it is only “a name to live ;" whilst spiritually, it is to be feared, they are well nigh dead. At one time, the Church of Christ in these regions appeared like a fruitful vine, which had taken deep root, and which filled the land. “ But now the boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it.” (Psalm 1xxx. 9-13.) Still, the Spirit of God hath never wholly departed from the earth. While some churches have declined, or utterly perished, others have sprung up, and are thriving in grace and holiness. The true Church, (that spiritual body whereof Christ is the Head,) never will be utierly extinguished. He will not fail to fulfil his gracious assurance, “ Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” And in proportion as the spirit of prayer more abounds among us, we shall see this true Church increasing in purity, extent, and strength, in every land; till all nations shall cali Christ blessed, and the earth be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. Tbis Collect very nearly resembles the preceding one. It is a prayer of intercession for the Church of Christ. We appeal to the “conti. nual pity" of the Lord. This implies that we are sensible of much corruption, and much misery existing in the Church on earth. Our Lord, in one of his parables, compares the Church to a widow : it is liable to oppression, it is helpless, and every way needs compassion. But He who has graciously declared himself the Father of the fatherless, and God of the widow, will not leave his children orphans, nor desert the Church in her widowed condition. His help and his good. ness shall preserve it. And this care of the interests of the Church, is to be obtained by continual prayer; by the crying of the saints to God, day and night, without ceasing. (Luke xviii. 1-8.)
We shall notice the two points which we particularly make mention of in this Collect; namely, the Internal and the Outward prosperity of the Church. “Cleanse, and defend it."
1. First, the internal prosperity of the Church is to be considered. This is of prime importance in the sight of Him who trieth the hearts. “God is a Spirit, and will have those who worship him, to worship him in spirit and in truth.” Unless we implore the in-dwelling of the Holy · Spirit in the Church, and unless we take the proper methods of promoting her purity and spiritual efficiency, in vain shall we boast of our privileges, saying, “ The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these.” Nay more; in vain shall we even pray for the outward well-being of the visible Church ; for God would frown upon us, and visit our offences with deserved indignation, if we sought temporal blessings for ourselves, without first of all seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness; that kingdom, namely, which “is righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Ghost."
Now since we pray that God would cleanse his Church, let it be observed that there are two things which more peculiarly defile the Church. These are, false doctrines, and unboly living. These therefore must be banished : we must pray that the Spirit of God would utterly expel them; and we must ourselves set our faces, and use our best exertions against them. The warning voice of St. Paul was early heard in the Church on this subject : and the whole of his address to Timothy (2 Tim. iii. 1-9.) is worthy of our closest attention. For we, in this our day, have fallen upon “ perilous times ; ” wherein both unsound doctrines and vicious lives greatly abound. Can we deny that there is much formality in religion, while there is little attention given to spirituality and heart-work? Is there not much of mere human learning applied to the study of things divine; while there is too little, alas ! of that spirit of humble prayer and practical self-application, by which the Gospel is brought with power to the soul? Is there not much darkness thrown over those two bright doctrines, Justification by faith alone, and Regeneration by the Holy Spirit, so that men stumble at noon-day: and when for the time they ought to be teachers, they have need that one teach them again which be the first principles of the oracles of God? And with all this confusion and erroneousness in the doctrinal opinions of many, is there not in the mass of professing Christian society a fearful amount of heathen ungodliness ? What mean the self-love and love of pleasure, the covetousness and greediness of gain, the pride and highmindedness, the turbulence and disorderliness, so apparent in our day? Do they not prove that the Church, (if, indeed, we call ourselves the Church) needs cleansing? Is there not error that needs to be exposed, and vice that needs to be suppressed? The facts are too clear to be denied : and they show that the present age forms a part of those “ last days,” in which “perilous times” should come.
When our Lord Jesus Christ, who came with divine authority, discovered gross abuses at Jerusalem, he entered the temple with a holy vehemency of spirit. It is related by the Evangelist, that he “ found in the temple those that sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables.” (John ii. 14, 15.) Such a method of cleansing the Church
was not intended as an exact model to Christians : but it shows what it is that needs to be cast out, namely, whatever corrupts the pure worship of God: and at the same time points out the zeal and disinterestedness with which the ministers and rulers of the Church ought to rebuke, discountenance, and banish all strange doctrines and sinful practices. Moreover, since we pray in this Collect, that the " pity” of the Lord would cleanse his Church, it is evident that our minds ought to be touched with the tenderest compassion towards all that are in error and sin. We should weep for the enemies of the cross of Christ ; not hating or reviling them; not blowing up the angry fires of controversy ; but in meekness instructing them ; and in our own character imitating those holy persons wbo are described in Ezekiel ix. 4. • Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the , midst of the earth.”
In favouring all the exertions of good men to promote the purity of the Church, we should however bear in mind, that it is the sole prerogative of Christ to effect that purity. His Spirit alone can search and try the hearts : his Spirit alone can change men's hearts. Should he come upon us with deserved judgments, we then should pray that he would " sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” In whatever way be may be pleased to deal with his Church, our earnest prayer should be, that he would not remove our candlestick ; but only cause the light of truth, of holiness, and of love, to burn more brightly amongst us than ever.
2. Having prayed for the more important blessing of the two, namely, internal purity, we next implore the blessing of the outward prosperity of the Church ; “ Defend it: succour it.”
Defence seems to imply habitual protection ; and succour rather signifies occasional help in times of extreme danger. It is the fact, however, (though we do not sufficiently consider it) that the Church is in peril constantly, either from seen or unseen enemies. Satan is ever plotting against it. He succeeded in entering Paradise, and he would fain enter the Church of Christ. When foiled in his endeavour to corrupt the Church, he aims at destroying it. All the persecutors of old, Cain, and the men of violence before the flood; Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, Pontius Pilate, the persecuting Roman emperors, and the Papal persecutors subsequently, have all aimed at the destruction of the true Church ; and were all of them instruments of Satan. But the Lord has fulfilled his promises by faithfully protecting his Church, whenever his afflicted children have called upon him in prayer. We may briefly refer to the 46th Psalm, in order to see the state of security in which the people of God may feel themselves to be, even in time of greatest trouble : “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved : God shall help her, and that right early. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved : he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
The Christian's motto is this—"Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price : therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
But how are redeemed sinners to glorify God? The answer is clear from Scripture, and from the terms of this Collect. God descends to be honoured by those “good works” of his people, which flow from the principle of grace in their hearts.
It is not by everything apparently good, that God is glorified. The seemingly good works of a mere moralist, of a formalist, of a self-righteous person trusting in himself; these, not springing from a lively faith in Christ, are by no means acceptable: they are on the contrary, an abomination in the sight of God, however much they may be esteemed by men. There are many works of a useful nature, works of great labour and great benevolence, which nevertheless bave nothing to do with the principle of grace. Men ought to beware of becoming pleased with themselves, and should also be careful how they praise others, on account of works which proceed from mere natural kindness, good sense, and public spirit; for there is as much difference between this sort of goodness, and truly Christian holiness, as there is between wild grapes, and the fruit of the true vine.
When our good works flow from that “ faith which worketh by love," they are truly acceptable and pleasing in the sight of God. “ Hereby," says our Saviour, “ is my Father glorified, that ye bring forth much fruit: so shall ye be my disciples."
1. We will first briefly consider what are good works.
All that is done to benefit the bodies and souls of our fellow-crea. tures, properly comes under this appellation. When our Saviour was about to work a miracle of healing, he prefaced it with this question, “ Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath-day?" and if healing the body of a man be a good work; how much more, the endeavour to bring him to a saving acquaintance with the Gospel! St. James thus speaks of this most eminent work of mercy : 1. Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth and one convert him ; let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (James v. 19, 20.) Words, which furnish a most powerful encouragement to this kind of Christian labour!
We cannot read the history of our Lord Jesus Christ, without seeing a perfect picture of good works. In few words, but words most touching, the Apostle Peter describes his whole course, saying of him, that he “ went about doing good.” The early disciples closely copied this divine pattern. We cannot but admire such characters (for instance) as Dorcas, of whom the sacred historian relates, “ This woman was full of good works and alms-deeds wbich she did.” (Acts ix. 36.)
But there are, moreover, certain good works which we owe to ourselves, as well as to others. The maintaining of a pure conscience before God, lies at the very foundation of all other works of piety. These cannot be nourished otherwise than by our having the heart