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The general character of the members of the church is well expressed in the word, “ ministry.” For in this body every joint supplieth something : there is an effectual working in every part: all should minister one to another. This is perhaps not sufficiently noticed : when we meet with the word “ministry,” our thoughts generally turn to the preachers and ministers of the gospel. But the word as used in this collect refers to all true Christians; who, from the greatest to the least, ought to edify one another in love. .
We are called (as was observed in the explanation of the preceding Collect) to various duties in the household of God. In this Collect, therefore, we acknowledge the grand truth, that the Holy Spirit is the governor and sanctifier of the church : and we pray that all may act, as under the influence of that blessed Spirit. Let us consider each of these parts.
1. We acknowledge the Holy Spirit to be the ruler and sanctifier of the Church. By him “ the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified.”
By the Church we are in this place to understand the members of the true, spiritual Church : for they alone are led by the Spirit. “ In the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good ;"so we read in the 26th Article of the Church of England. The same is plain also from Scripture; wherein (not to mention many other passages) the Gospel-net is represented as gathering together fishes of every kind, both good and bad.” (Matt. xiii. 47-50.) . Now the bad, though they may profess to be of the Church, are not of the Church: they are but dead branches of the vine; and so far from their being sanctified by the Spirit, the same may be said to them, which Stephen said to the Jews of old; “ Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye.” (Acts vii. 51.) Such persons, though they may say, “ We are the Church,” yet in reality are the world. This difference is pointed out by our Saviour himself in the very passage where he promises the gift of the Spirit ; (John xiv. 16, 17.) “ 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.”
It is not in the power of man to determine what individuals belong to the spiritual, invisible Church, and who only to the visible : but the Lord the Spirit, who is a discerner of the hearts, knoweth who they are that cherish bis offered grace; and who are they that neglect or reject his sanctifying office.
By him every living member of the Church, and by him consequently the whole spiritual body of the Church is sanctified. The method of their sanctification is this. Sinners they were by nature and by practice: but they are led to Christ by faith. It is expressly declared by Christ concerning the work of the Spirit, (Johu xvi. 14.) “ He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you,” The work of the Spirit is to reveal the work of Christ to our minds, and to impress it on our hearts. Our work is to believe in Christ ; and thus to receive the remission of our sins, and the sanctifying grace of the Spirit.
With the greatest simplicity and clearness does the Apostle Peter describe the character of the true Church in one verse : “ Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter i. 2.)
Not less clear is the description given by St. Paul in Ephesians ii. 20-22, where he compares the church to a temple : “ 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 an holy temple in the Lord ; in wbom you also are builded together, for an habitation of God through the Spirit.”
2. But this indwelling, this governance, this sanctification of the Spirit, is not attained without the prayers of the Church, and of each believer for himself. Therefore observe in the second part of this Collect, how earnestly we intreat of God, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, that he would receive our supplications and prayers on this behalf.
We pray for men of every office and station, clergy and laity, the teachers and the learners, from the higbest to the lowest, those who have five talents, those who have two, those who have but one; that all according to their calling and ability may glorify God.
In his Epistle to the Ephesians, iv. 11, St. Paul has described a variety of ruling and teaching offices, which Christ has assigned to bis Church : “He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, 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.”
In the Epistle to the Romans. xii. 4-8, he has described in a more extensive manner the variety of employments to which Christians are called. “ As we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office ; so we being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophecy according to the proportion of faith ; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation : he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.”
So various are the callings, the offices, the gifts of the different members of the Church. And if we were to carry the subject farther, we might shew that pious kings and queens, and their subjects, ministers, people, husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, servants, all have their respective duties in the Church of Christ; all need therefore the grace of the Spirit: and when they have that grace and use it, the fruits will appear by their truly serving God, and doing good to one another and to all men.
On this day' we pray, as it were at the foot of the cross, that Jesus would thus pour out of his Holy Spirit abundantly upon his Church, From that prayer, which he himself offered up but a few hours before his crucifixion, (John xvii.) we learn what to ask for, on behalf of every member of Christ's household : “ Sanctify them through thy truth : thy word is truth."
THIRD COLLECT. In this Collect we pray that God would mightily enlarge the family of believers, by bringing in all nations, both Jew and Gentile, into the happy fold of Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is peculiarly suited to the occasion of Good Friday; for our Lord Jesus Christ, signifying by what death he should die, declared, “ I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” From the cross, therefore, he seems with open arms to invite all nations in the words of the prophecy of Isaiah, “ Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth : for I am God, and there is none else.'
In explaining this Collect, we must notice,
It is simply the declaration of the Most High himself. He is a merciful God. He declares that he “ hath no pleasure in the death of him that dieth ;” but rather “ that the wicked should turu from his ways and live.” (Ezek. xviii. 32 and 23.) He further assures us, that he “ will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” To this end Christ “gave himself a ransom for many, to be testified in due time.” To this end also God requires that “prayers, supplications, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men ; " so that peace may prevail every where, and the Gospel be preached and embraced in all the nations of the world.
2. From this introductory part of the Collect we are led to view the wretched condition of mankind. “ They are all gone out of the way.” They-- that is, the unconverted part of mankind -are without Christ. And these are so numerous, that we may, when speaking of them, adopt the language of St. John, “ The whole world lieth in wickedness." ".
They are here divided into four classes.
The Jews are the descendants of God's ancient people. They are scattered over the face of the whole earth. For the sin of their forefathers in crucifying the Lord Jesus Christ, they are under a national curse. And, as to the state of their souls, St. Paul has in one most affecting sentence described their deep ignorance : he says, “ The veil is upon their hearts."
The Turks are the followers of the false prophet, Mahomet: from whom also they have the name of Mahometans. They overspread many large countries of the east. They deny that Jesus is the Son of God. The professors of this false religion have been remarkable in all ages for their pride, cruelty, licentiousness, and enmity to the Gospel.
Infidels are the unbelieving Pagans, called also the heathen. They are for the most part sunk in abominable idolatries : though some of them are perfectly wild savages, without any religion at all. They are all of them ignorant of the One only true God, and of Jesus Christ the Saviour of mankind.
Heretics are those who profess to believe in Christ; but who corrupt the Gospel by false doctrines. At the very beginning of the Gospel dispensation St. Peter and the other apostles prophesied that such men would arise ; namely, “ false teachers, who privily should bring in damnable heresies." Under this head may be mentioned
Popery, Socinianism, enmity to the Protestant faith, and many other kinds of departure from the truth.
Now in this collect there are three things mentioned as character. izing all these unchristian, wandering, lost people; namely, ignorance, for they know not God, or in works they deny him; hardness of heart, for they are hardened in sin and by sin, seeing that nothing so completely hardens the heart as the habit of wickedness : and yet further, contempt of the word of God; for when, at any time, through God's providence, the Gospel has been preached to such people, they have hitherto rejected it with hatred and contempt.
3. Hereupon we ground our prayer and intercession on behalf of all these benighted people.
Are they ignorant? Then, O Lord, teach them. To this end, be pleased to send them missionaries, to reason with them, to instruct them, to entreat them, and shew to all men the way of salvation. Send to them the Holy Scriptures, translated into their own languages. And let thy Holy Spirit lead them into all truth!
Are they hard of heart? Then, O Lord, soften them. Thou who hast promised that thou wilt take away the stony heart, and give an heart of flesh, fulfil thy promise now, in this our day. May they look upon Jesus whom they have pierced, and mourn for sin, and turn to the Saviour with feelings of shame, and hope, and love, and obedience.
Are they despisers of the Gospel ? Then, O Lord, win them. It is, we know, a hard thing to subdue the proud contempt, the bitter enmity of ungodly men : yet love can do this, when nothing else can: and the Spirit of God is a Spirit of love. We pray, therefore, that this Spirit may breathe upon all the enemies of the Gospel, touching and quickening their hearts. “ Breathe upon these slain, that they nay live."
It is peculiarly suitable, that we should offer up this prayer on the day when we celebrate the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he is the good shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep. And wherefore did he die? “ That he might gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” Speaking to the Jews, our Lord declares, “ And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold : them also I must bring, and they shall bear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John X. 16.)
In a word, we pray on behalf of all unchristianized nations and unconverted people, that the Lord would “ fetch them home.” How delightful the thought, that there is a home prepared for them, would they but come to it. Salvation is purchased for them all, by the blood of the cross. The true Israel - that is, the Church of Christ, is that house of God wherein is room enough, and bread enough, and to spare. Let this be our constant petition, · Fetch them home;'just as the shepherd goes into the wilderness, to seek the sheep which he had lost, and lays it upon his shoulders, and brings it home rejoicing. So, O Lord, rejoice over the nations to do them good : and put it into our hearts to send the glad tidings of the Gospel everywhere. Bless all missionaries and evangelists of thy word. Prosper thou the work of their hands. And let all the ends of the earth remember and turn unto the Lord. God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause
his face to shine upon us. That thy way may be known upon earth; thy saving health among all nations. Amen and amen.
When our Lord Jesus Christ was just about to expire on the cross, he said, “ It is finished.” He then bowed his head and gave up the ghost. He had made a full and perfect atonement for the sins of the world. He had paid our debt, and redeemed us from the curse of the law. This great work of mercy being finished by our suffering Lord, he was then taken from the cross, his body was wrapped in fine linen, and laid in the sepulchre by Joseph of Arimathea, a stone was rolled to the door of the sepulchre, and the disciples and devout women and Mary the mother of Jesus remained in mournful meditation, that evening, the whole of the day following, and the early part of the third day. These three portions of time constitute (according to the Jewişb method of reckoning) the three days, during which our Lord was in the grave.
Easter Even is the entire day lying between the day of the crucifixion and the day of the resurrection of our Lord. It is therefore very appropriately kept as a season for commemorating his dwelling in the grave. In this collect our thoughts are directed to three subjects connected with this event_namely, our mortifying of sin ; our passing through the gate of death; and our hope of a joyful resurrection. Let us devoutly meditate on each.
1. The mortification of sin is here brought to our view, inasmuch as Scripture often connects it with the death of Christ. With regard to this death unto sin, our baptism is a memorial, a pledge, and a means. We find the whole doctrine clearly laid down iu Romans vi. 3, 4. “ Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him 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.” And at the 6th verse the Apostle adds, concerning all believers, who rightly receive the benefit of baptism, and fulfil the requirements implied in that Sacrament, “ Our old man is crucified wiłb Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” The same doctrine is also expressed in Colossians ii. 12. And it is very clearly summed up at the close of the baptismal service of our church, where the requirements of the Gospel are thus set forth. “ Remembering always, that baptism doth represent unto us our profession, which is, to follow the example of our Saviour Christ, and to be made like unto him ; that, as he died, and rose again for us, so should we who are baptized die from sin, and rise again unto righteousness; continually mortifying all our evil and corrupt affections, and daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness of living."
On this solemn day then, meditating on our Redeemer as consigned to the tomb, let us anew consign all our corruptions to the grave. Do we remember instances, in which the bodily passions have hurried us into sins of various kinds ? This day let those sins again receive a