« AnteriorContinuar »
fession in this Collect : and it is a grief of heart to us, to feel our natural inability to please God. It is when we desire and endeavour to please him, that we most distinctly feel the infirmity of our fleshly nature, and the remaining corruptions of a heart prone to depart from the living God. “ The carnal mind,” (that is, the mind with which we were born, and in which men remain till changed by divine grace; a mind too, which even after our conversion retains many traces of its malignant tendencies,) “ the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh, cannot please God.” How can a sinful nature please Him? And how can the lustings of the flesh, which in some degree remain even in those that are regenerate, be otherwise than displeasing to God? They that be regenerate, are indeed no longer under condemnation : their sins are all forgiven them for Christ's sake, and they walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. “ Ye are not in the flesh,” says St. Paul, “ but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” (Rom. viii. 9.) Still, though such persons are justified and graciously accepted in and through Christ, they remain infirm, and in many instances they offend : they “ cannot do the things that they would :” the moment they attempt to go alone, they fall : and their falling is permitted, in order that they may be kept mindful of their original corruption, and their remaining weakness. So, when that eminent saint, Hezekiah, acted according to the bent of his own natural disposition, without an eye to God's glory, he was humbled : the sacred historian relates, « God left him to try him, that he might know all that was in bis heart.” (2 Chron. xxxii. 31.) To a worldly man it may seem a light matter, and no more than a general infirmity : but a man of a spiritual mind takes it to heart, as a sore grief and heavy burden, when he says, “ Without thee, we are not able to please thee.”
3. Then follows the petition, which shows a believing dependence on the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit. Every word in this part of the Collect is full of meaning and force.
“ Mercifully grant:" we ask it in the name of thy Son Jesus. We implore the aid of the Holy Spirit, as a free, unmerited gift : but we ask confidently, because Jesus, whose name we plead, hath promised it. He makes this promise, with a peculiar reference to those who possess a hearty desire to please him. For it is in one and the same connection that he thus addresses his disciples : while, in them, he speaks equally to us. “ If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever : even the Spirit of truth ; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him : but ye know him, for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John xiv. 15-17.)
Thus coming unto God with the prayer of faith, we place our infirm and corrupt hearts under the guidance and governance of his Holy Spirit. « Direct” them; for they are prone to wander : “ rule” them, for they are prone to rebel. Direct and rule " our hearts :' not merely our words and actions, but our hearts, which are the spring and source of our daily walk with thee, and of our daily intercourse with men. This dealing with the heart is the peculiar characteristic of a spiritual worshipper. Hypocrites attend only to appearances : Pharisees make forms and ceremonies of chief importance : infidels affect to have nothing but cold, dry reason in their system : moralists make their exclusive boast of the set of duties by which they would regulate mankind : but a sound, scriptural Christian bas learnt that the heart is the seat of piety. He considers it to be the great business of his understanding, to know God's law ; of his will and his life, to obey it; of his affections, to love it. And this swaying of the heart, this bending and moulding of the inward man to the law of God, can come only from the Holy Spirit. When He governs, we shall “ in all things” desire and aim to please God: not in those merely, which please our own bumour, or serve our own interest : but even in those which require the highest degrees of self-denial and exertion.
Such then is the disposition with wbich we should breathe out the petitions of this Collect: earnestly beseeching of God to “ make us perfect in every good work to do his will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ : to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Heb. xiii. 21.) i
TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY. - The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.” (Psalm cxlv. 9.) Knowing this, and remembering that saints are the especial objects of his love, we may with confidence approach our heavenly Father, and plead before him his own attribute of goodness. “ Thou art good, and doest good.” “Of thy bountiful goodness,” therefore, we beseech thee, hear and answer our petitions.
1. Our first petition is, to be kept from all things that may hurt us. It is, in substance, the same with that in the Lord's prayer, “ Deliver us from evil.” The source of what is hurtful, is the Evil One, our great enemy the Devil. He brought sin and sorrow into the world, through the temptation which he set before our first mother, Eve; who fell and drew her husband into the same condemnation with herself. Ever since that fatal hour, the world has been full of things that hurt; things which pain the body, and endanger the salvation of the soul. A few instances of these evils shall be noticed.
Sickness, and grievous accidents to the body, are afflictions from which we may pray to be delivered. Poverty with its various hardships is another evil from which we may justly desire to be exempt : and, little as men think it, great wealth is to be numbered among those things which may hurt us ;—therefore, the wise and pious Agur earnestly prays of God, “ Remove far from me vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches." (Proverbs xxx. 8.) In reference to these and other temporal concerns, however, we should pray with humble submission to the will of God : for he may in his infinite wisdom deem it good for us to be tried in our outward circumstances; and he can so effectually take the sting out of affliction, as to render it a blessing, and not a thing hurtful.
Other grievous and dangerous circumstances there are, from which it is right that we should pray with a kind of absoluteness to be delivered. For example, what Christian would not pray to be preserved from the society of wicked men, who might tempt him to sin, and bring a snare on his soul? In like manner we may entreat God to keep from us the extreme perils and severe hardships of persecution. Not only the Church in general, but even her best members, are in danger, when the wolf is permitted to get into the fold, and to make havoc in it, not sparing the fock. Everything in short that renders the service of God a matter of difficulty, or that might tempt the weak and wavering disciple to make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, is certainly to be accounted hurtful. To mention a very common instance :- the ridicule, which ill-natured persons cast upon the godly, is a perpicious thing, as it turns some away from piety: and they who thus offend even the very weakest of Christ's lambs, deserve the name of persecutors; and, unless they repent, will receive the doom of Christ's enemies. Nay, more ; in this respect be that is not with Christ, is against him. He that is not helpful, is hurtful. He who does not aid believers, does in effect discountenance them. What thing soever, or what person soever, stands in the way of our cheerful obedience to God, from all such we implore our heavenly Father, of his bountiful goodness, to keep us; for we are weak, sinful creatures, set in the midst of snares, and unable to keep ourselves.
2. Our next petition therefore is, that being thus protected and preserved, we may have grace to render to God a hearty and complete obedience. To this end, we pray for a spirit of promptitude. A ready mind is the very mainspring of obedience; and this readiness will lead us to prepare every power of the body, and every faculty of the soul, for God's service.
''Tis love that makes our cheerful feet
In swift obedience move.' The connection of this petition with the preceding one, deserves particular notice. It is observable, that our readiness, both in body and soul, must in a considerable degree, depend upon our body and soul being free from the hindrance of things hurtful. If our body be afflicted with heavy sicknesses or infirmities, though the spirit may be willing, still the flesh will be weak, and we shall, consequently, be so far less able to accomplish the will of God in various points of active duty. It is true, indeed, that God does not require impossi. bilities from us; when we are really disabled by bodily weakness, we are exempt therefore from some duties which properly belong to the healthy. This, however, is so much the stronger reason why we should pray, with submission to God's holy will, that our strength may be preserved : for it is affecting to think how many things must be left undone by those who are without health. In like manner we may pray to be exempt from the depressing anxieties of want, or from the deceitful entanglements of superabundant wealth, or from the harassing assaults of persecution : because when the mind is at rest about external circumstances, it is the better able to attend on the things of the Lord without distraction. St. Paul, no doubt, laboured at Corinth with much less perturbation of mind, and far more cheerfulness and determination, after that the Lord bad spoken these words to him in a vision by night ; " Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace; for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.” (Acts xviii. 9, 10.)
In the history of Hezekiah we have a noble example of that spirit of mind for which we pray in this Collect. It is related (2 Chron. xxxi. 20, 21.), “ Thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah; and wrought that which was good, and right, and truth, before the Lord his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered.” Let us pray for a similar spirit of unreserved devotedness to God; that having faithfully served our generation according to his will, and accomplished something for his glory, we may, through his mercy and for the merits of Jesus Christ, obtain the gift of eternal life ; and enter into those heavenly mansions where they shall not hurt nor destroy ; but where all who are admitted shall be perfectly holy and perfectly blessed, for ever. Amen.
TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
The words of this Collect breathe the very spirit of the Gospel. We here profess to come as the faithful people of God; imploring pardon and peace; desiring the free justification of our souls, and grace to walk in all godly quietness of mind, according to the will of God through Christ Jesus.
1. First observe the character in which we profess to approach the throne of grace: we come as the faithful people of God. * Faithful,” is a term that comprehends much :it signifies both a believing people, grounded in the faith of Christ crucified : it means also, those who are honest, upright, and consistent with their professions. These two ideas of faith and fidelity, although they may be separated in thought, are nevertheless practically united in believers. For none are truly upright, but those whose hearts are right with God in the exercise of faith ; and none should judge themselves possessed of a living faith, who do not show all good fidelity in all things. This state of character is especially brought to the test in prayer. For prayer, whether it be without faith, or whether it be without sincerity, is no prayer at all. Therefore it behoves us to weigh well what we mean, and what we feel, whenever we beseech the Lord to bless us as his faithful people. We must not mock him with an empty name. We should ask ourselves, “Do I believe ?” and, “ Am I true-hearted ?”
2. Secondly, consider the blessings which we implore : they are two, very closely connected with each other ; pardon and peace.
Pardon of sin must be the leading and constant subject of our prayers : and sometimes we shall have cause to urge the petition with peculiar fervency. When a man is for the first time awakened from a life of carelessness, and led by the Holy Spirit to turn to God, he perceives that all his life long, till that very time, he has been dead in trespasses and sins. How many his iniquities are, in thought, word, and deed, it is impossible for him to tell. His sins are more in number than the hairs of his head. They mount up to heaven : they are as a burder, too heavy for him to bear : they seem to press down his soul to hell. What can he do but bring them to Christ, intreating him freely to forgive them all? The foot of the cross is the only safe place for a sinner : thither let him fee: there let him abide; looking up with faith ; lamenting and bewailing his guilt ; and utterly hating and forsaking all sin.
This prayer for pardon should be a daily prayer : for where is the man who does not in many things offend, and that continually ? Thus we find in the Lord's prayer, that the petition for daily bread, is followed immediately by the petition on behalf of our guilty souls, “ Forgive us our trespasses.” This forgiveness we need as constantly as we do our daily food.
There are seasons, moreover, when we have cause to urge this prayer with more than usual earnestness : for example, when we have backslidden from the path of boliness, and when our conscience is exceedingly defiled by great and presumptuous sins. Then we have cause, like David, to cry with so much the more fervent spirit, “ Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness : according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions."
Without this pardon, we cannot have peace. For seeing that sin is that abominable thing which God hateth ; therefore to an awakened soul be allows no real comfort, till the burden of guilt is removed from the conscience. Worldly and careless sinners have a sort of peace; but it is that kind of dull self-satisfaction, which springs from mere thoughtlessness and ignorance. Whereas the people of God, who seek a solid and enduring peace, know well that this blessing can only be had by means of their reconciliation unto God. We must seek therefore to obtain both these blessings unitedly. The apostle has shown us, (Romans v. 1.) that the one flows direct from the other : “ Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And O who can tell the joy that fills the heart of a weary and heavy-laden sinner, when he comes to Christ in prayer, and hears as it were from his own gracious lips that answer, “ Thy sins be forgiven thee : thy faith hath saved thee: go in peace."
3. Then lastly observe, that we expand this petition for pardon and peace, by imploring the free justification of our souls, and grace to walk before the Lord in all godly quietness of mind.
When we ask for the cleansing of our souls from sin, we do in fact implore our free justification. In the Gospel-scheme, these two are inseparable: and therefore we find that when the Apostle Paul was seeking some argument from the Old Testament, concerning justification, he drew his proof from the words of David concerning pardon and the non-imputation of sin : “ Even as David also describeth the blessedness of man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” (Romans iv. 6-8.) This blessedness belongs to all those, who, with simple faith apprehend Christ as their complete and only Saviour : for be is emphatically “ The Lord our Righteousness : "and his “ blood cleanseth us from all sin.” The effect of truly believing in him is, that we are led by the Spirit to serve and follow him in newness of life. And here is the secret of that