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THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
The two attributes of God, of which we make mention at the opening of this Collect, are peculiarly suited to inspire us with feelings of holy awe, and cheerful confidence. We invoke him as almighty and merciful. We claim his powerful protection and assistance, on the plea of his infinite goodness and compassion. We remember that he declareth his almighty power, most chiefly in shewing mercy and pity. We therefore approach him with reverence and with trust.
1. First, we humbly acknowledge that it is from the gift of God alone that his people are enabled to render bim acceptable service, Their service is here called true, and laudable ;' that is, praise. worthy. There is nothing in our worship and obedience, of which we can boast. The last thing which a true servant of God would endure to think of, or rather, the thing which he would most abhor to think of, is his own praise. Boasting is utterly excluded by that covenant of grace, into which the mercy of God has brought us. Yet since they who are here called “ the people of God” are enabled by his grace to glorify him by their holy life and conversation, therefore God through the same free grace condescends to accept this tribute of their love. He speaks of them as doing that which is • well-pleasing in his sight :' he grants to them a measure of praise and commendation even in this world; especially among their brethren in Christ, who are best able to value their character :-thus concerning Titus, St. Paul declares that his “ praise was in all the churches :" and at the last day Christ will publicly confess them before his Father and the holy angels, saying to each, * Well done good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things ; I will make thee ruler over many things : enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
It increases both the joy and the humility of the people of God, to reflect, that their inclination to serve him springs altogether from • his only gift.' True, they put forth their own best exertions to serve him; but this is only because he first put his Spirit within their hearts. He wrought in them “to will and to do, of his good pleasure.” Take some examples of this. Three of the most essential acts of religious service are prayer, praise, and our witnessing a good confession of Christ before men. But who is it that first leads us to these duties? Who is it that sustains us in them? It is the Lord himself : he teaches us to pray; he tunes our hearts to praise ; be it is that disposes his children to do all to his glory. " The preparations of the beart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.” Prov. xvi. 1.
The devout acknowledgments of David, when he and his people presented their free-will offerings for the temple, exhibit this mingled spirit of humility and joy in a very striking manner. When persons offer great gifts in the way of charity and benevolence, there is great danger lest they should be tempted to pride and vain glory: a selfrighteous spirit might easily creep into their best services, leading them to boast like the Pharisee, and rendering their alms and oblations
even an abomination in the sight of God. Now, the thanksgivings of David are a model to us; being full of gratitude, and at the same time disclaiming utterly the thought of merit. (1 Chron. xxix. 14, 16.) “ But who am I, or what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort ? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee.” Then follows his fervent prayer, shewing from whence this grace of liberality at first proceeds, and how it is afterwards fed and kept alive ; “ O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and prepare their heart unto thee.”
2. Hence, in the next place, we ask of God that he would give us grace to serve him faithfully in this life ; and also bestow upon us the free reward of grace, purchased by the merits of Christ, and laid up in heaven for those who are found faithful unto death.
We implore grace to enable us to serve him, because the ability to serve him is exclusively his gift. If we endeavour to become holy in our own strength, he will soon leave us to discover our weakness, by suffering us to fall in the hour of temptation : then our only hope of recovery will be that very grace, which we neglected to call for sooner. The only safe way therefore is, to seek the aid of the Spirit of God continually; and trusting in nothing else, to aim by his grace at perfect obedience. He has given us certain talents to use for bis glory: we are stewards; and it is required of stewards that a man be found faithful. Let us then study his will: let us copy Christ's example : let us conform our thoughts, our words, and our conduct, to his precepts : let us examine ourselves by our fruits : and thus let us keep our account ready, that when he comes to call for it, we may not be ashamed before him at his coming.
Thus will our prayers be all of them graciously answered in the end.'' God is faithful towards all those who are constant in their allegiance to him. He is ready to place the crown upon our heads, the moment the victory is won. “ Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye kuow that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor. xv. 58.)
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.
Solomon beautifully says, that “a three-fold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccles. iv. 12.) This is most true of the three inseparable graces which the Apostle twines together in his memorable chapter, closing with the words, “ And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three ; but the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Cor. xiii. 13.)
The Collect leads us to pray for the increase of these graces; a prayer which implies that the petitioner is already in possession of them to a certain degree, and desires to enjoy them in a still larger measure. In the subsequent part of the Collect the same desire is expressed, though in a different form : the words, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, imply that the promises of God are the object of our faith and hope : and the clause, 'make us to love that which thou dost command,' is but a practical exemplification of what love is ; agreeably to our Saviour's words, “ If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Thus, though under varied modes of expression, we pray in this Collect, with redoubled earnestness, for an abundant measure of these three Christian graces,
Our explanation of the Collect therefore will follow the simple order in which these graces are named: and concerning each we will offer some remarks on its nature, and on the manner of its growth.
1. Faith.—The nature of this grace is thus defined by the Apostle : “ Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. xi. 1.) Faith is conversant about things future, and about things not perceptible to the sight. Of things future we can have no other kind of knowledge, but knowledge by faith : with regard to things unseen also, it is faith that gives us all the knowledge that the case admits of. Hence believers are said to “ walk by faith, not by sight.”
A scriptural faith, moreover, is not a mere notion or persuasion of the mind. It is a conviction of the judgment, accompanied by such feelings and conduct, as correspond to that conviction. Compare it for a moment with the faculty of sight. If a man sees a precipice before him, and turns another way, his sight and his mind act together, and lead him from danger to safety. So if a man believes that the judgments of God will be executed against impenitent sinners, and consequently flees for salvation to Christ, his faith is proved to be a true and living faith. That our convictions of the truth are sincere, cordial, and full, can only be known by their acting on the heart and conduct in a reasonable way.
St. James, distinguishing between a living faith and a dead faith, shows that the mere conviction of the mind, however strong, is not the faith which we as Christians ought to be satisfied with. For, he says, “ the devils also believe, and tremble." But they can do no more: they cannot feel their way to God; they dread and hate bis presence and his name. A true and living faith leads us to love the Lord.
Faith is grounded on the word of God : there is nothing else in religion proper to be believed, but that word, and what is agreeable to that word. An enlightened faith takes in the whole compass of what is there revealed, concerning the nature and will of God, man's fall, his redemption by Christ Jesus, the work of his Spirit, the future judgment, the joys of heaven, and the torments of hell: and this faith, in its living and active character, will cause us to feel and live as men naturally should do, who believe the doctrines of Scripture. In this sense Christians are said to live the life of faith.
Now this faith has a beginning, a continuance, an increase, sometimes a diminution or decline, and then an increase again : at length it is strengthened more and more, till at death it is exchanged for sight: for the believer, when he passes from this world into the future state, no longer walks by faith, but actually sees God. With regard to its beginning, since before their conversiou men walk and live without the fear and love of God, it is plain that faith does not begin until their conversion takes place. St. Paul exhorts the Hebrews to hold AUGUST, 1842.
the beginning of their confidence steadfast unto the end. (iii. 14.) At one time, faith may be very small : so our Saviour puts the case of his disciples having faith “as a grain of mustard-seed." The disciples were more than once upbraided by their Master as being men "of little faith.” The father who brought his child to Christ to be healed, acknowledges that his faith was imperfect; when he cried out, “Lord, I believe ; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark ix. 24.) Abraham, the father of the faithful, yet on two occasions showed great weakness, of faith. Peter, though so bold a man, yet while walking on the water to meet Christ, began to sink through want of faith. And Jesuis expressly forewarned him, that in his hour of temptation, (when he actually denied his Master,) his faith would have failed, had not Christ- prayed for him. Abraham is said, moreover, on one occasion, to have been “strong in faith.” Thus we see that in Scripture, faith is spoken of as having a commencement, and as being weak, little, deficient, almost failing; and at other times as being strong. All which shows us the need of our praying, as this Cołect leads us to do, that God would give unto us "the increase of faith.”.
That our faith is a grace capable of growth is plain from the Apostle's words : (2 Thess. i. 3.) .We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth erceedingly.” It may be said to grow, whenever we gain clearer convictions of revealed truth, accompanied with a fuller determination to do and suffer all the will of God. This faith is the gift of God: by it our union to Christ is effected : as our faith increases, we bring forth more fruit unto holiness, and we enjoy more abundantly the consolations of the Spirit in our union with God, even the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
But in what manner may we obtain growth in this grace? Some methods shall now briefly be pointed out.
First, by Prayer. Of this, our Collect is a model. “Give unto us the increase of faith.” Which however is grounded on the wellknown example of the Apostles, who said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.” (Luke xvii. 5.) It is highly pleasing to God that we acknowledge our dependance upon him for every kind and degree of grace. The cry,“: Help thou mine unbelief,” was immediately ans.wered by Christ's manifesting his power and mercy, more conspicuously than ever, to the humble, weeping, importunate father, who stood before him. Mark ix. 24.
Next, we may observe that faith is strengthened by our study of the evidences of the divine authority of the Gospel. Satan may more. easily beguile and disturb an ignorant man, but cannot so well shake one who is thoroughly versed in Scripture, and in the proofs of the truth of Scripture.
Thirdly, meditate on the bright examples of faith recorded in the word of God and elsewhere. Especially those enumerated in Hebrews xi., should be our frequent topic of admiring and devoted imitation. One brave 'man helps to make others brave : and one strong believer strengthens many brethren.
Fourthly, put faith into action. A merely contemplative faith is. of no avail. We must venture boldly on the service of God, trusting
his promises, holding fast to the grace of Christ, and realizing his presence. The more zealously we undertake every duty in this humble and believing spirit of mind, the more will faith grow. True faith, in its healthiest state, is a very active grace.
Fifthly, observe the opportunity which faith has of growing, when we are under temptations. These are designed to try faith; and therefore St. James says, “ Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord bath promised to them that love him.” (James i. 12.) He is tried: this is the point to be noticed. Like a warrior in the field of battle, he is to take the shield of faith, wherewith he may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. (Eph. vi. 16.) The more the warrior is tried by temptations, provided only he looks upward to the Captain of our salvation, the more expert will he become in the use of this shield. His faith will increase and strengthen.
Lastly, faith grows well under sanctified afflictions : for these purify the faith of believers. There is much dross in all our graces, and therefore in this also. The furnace of affliction is appointed by God for the purpose of putting away that dross. Therefore, when we are afflicted, we should mark his gracious design, and seek to have it accomplished, by dying to the world, and more closely walking with God. Thus Job expresses, under his heavy griefs, the conviction that his heavenly Father had a purpose of mercy concerning him : he says, concerning the Lord, “ But he knoweth the way that I take :when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job xxiii. 10.)*
2. Hope. We next pray for an increase of the grace of hope.
Hope is that delightful affection, with which we look forward to some future good, longing for it, and expecting it. Christian hope is grounded on faith; but differs from it, partly in its being an affection, while faith is connected more with the understanding and the will. Hope also has respect only to things future: while faith apprehends things past, present and future. Hope is, in Romans viii. 19, called an earnest expectation :" the original expression denotes the looking out for an object with outstretched neck. Hope is a grace wbich powerfully animates to duty, and firmly sustains us under sufferings : it enables us to act zealously, and to wait patiently. Like faith, it is grounded on the promises set before us in the Gospel, sealed with the blood of Christ, and confirmed by the oath of God. Hence believers obtain strong consolation : their hope is as an anchor of the soul, sure and stedfast. (Heb. vi. 19.)
The blessings to be hoped for by believers, are, the continual favour, help, and support of God ; his mercy in forgiving sin; his grace to carry us through all temptations; his making all things work together for our good ; his conducting us in the paths of righteousness through life; his guiding us safely through the valley of the shadow of death, and finally receiving us to glory.
Yet this bright and cheerful hope may be diminished and dimmed, even where it is not extinguished. Two causes principally tend to obscure it. First, our sinful corruptions. If these prevail, our evidences of being in a state of grace are darkened, our comforts are *
* In the reading, a division may be made here, if necessary.