THIS Sunday should more properly be called, as in the Use of
Sarum, the Sunday next before Advent. The Trinity Season fitly ends with
the Sunday of Final Deliverance, and the Advent Season begins with the
present Sunday, or, on occasion, with the omitted Epiphany Sundays, which,
especially the Sixth, have an Advent character. There are, however, distinct
traces that the Reformers, while intending, as the rubric shows, to preserve
the ancient character of the Sunday, desired to introduce some reference
to the truths of Trinity into the Collect.
THE EPISTLE. (JER. xxiii. 5.)
In order that the Church might dwell on the promise of the Lord’s Advent
it was necessary that an Old Testament passage should be selected, and
that our teacher should be a prophet rather than an apostle.
Few passages contain more definite promises than does this, in which
A. The Kingship of The Christ.
He is to be raised up as a successor to the great King David. He will
spring as “a righteous branch” from the ancient stock. The very word branch
or sprout seems to mean a growth springing rather from the root than from
the trunk, and implies, therefore, that the tree of David should have been
previously levelled to the ground. But in spite of this He will “reign
as King.” This name, “the branch,” became a recognized title of the Messiah
(cf. Zech. iii. 8 and vi. 12).
B. The Blessings of His Reign.
He will reign over an undivided people, Judah and Israel dwelling together
in safety and security. We should regard such predictions in the spirit,
rather than in the letter, and see in them a picture of the Catholic Church,
which knows no distinction of race and nation.
We learn, however, that the great blessing of the Messiah’s rule should
not be temporal, but spiritual, and that His name should be called “The
Lord is our Righteousness” (R.V.). The same title is also applied to Jerusalem
(Jer. xxxiii. z6), for both in Christ and His Church are to be manifested
the righteousness of God (cf. Luke i. 75).
C. The Greatness of His Redemption.
This was to be so great as to blot out the very remembrance of the Exodus,
though enshrined in the central rite of the Jewish Church. How this was
the case is best seen when we remember that the Jewish Passover became
the Christian Eucharist, in which we celebrate the redemption of the Israel
of God from the bondage of sin.
THE GOSPEL. (S. JOHN vi. 5.) THE
This Gospel, selected also for the Fourth Sunday in Lent as teaching
the refreshment of grace, is to-day used as showing the fulfilment of the
promise of “the Prophet that should come into the World.”
We learn from this miracle :—
A. That Jesus was the Promised
We read (Luke ix. 11) that on this very occasion He had been speaking
of the Kingdom of God. We find (Matt. xiv. 53) that John the Baptist had
just been put to death, and that, therefore, the hopes of the people were
concentrated upon Christ as their one possible leader. The multitudes beheld
the King in His very manner as He commanded them, and the miracle that
He worked could only recall that of Moses, the founder of their nation.
No wonder, then, that verse 15 records how they desired “to take Him by
force and make Him King.”
B. The Blessings of His Reign.
These were clearly symbolized by this miracle:—
(1) The Security of His People.
He had bidden them to seek first His Kingdom and righteous-ness, and
had promised all things necessary for their bodily sustenance. They had
followed Him into the desert, taking Him at His word, and He had made good
(2) The Lavishness of His Provision.
He fed all and filled all, and there was more left at the end than
there had been at the beginning (cf. Notes on 4 Lent). All this was typical
of the lavishness of Christ’s spiritual provision for His Church, His provision
of love, patience, and manifold oppor-tunity, and chiefest of all that
we may find in Him the very bread of life Who is “the Lord our Righteousness.”
C. The Duty of His People.
The duty of His ministers is to distribute, the duty of His people to
receive the benefits of Christ at their hands. This lesson is, though not
the central teaching of this Sunday, most appropriate to a Sunday which
is, in a sense, both the last of one Church year and the first of another.
Christ has fed us for yet another year, and we are to gather up the fragments
that remain, that nothing be lost; we are to ask what results all the teaching
which we have received has exercised upon our characters and lives. Those
who have used the past best are the most likely to benefit from what is
yet to come.
THE COLLECT. AN ADVENT
This, as we now have it, is the Collect of a transition Sunday. We owe
this to our Reformers, who, by skilfully altering “The fruit of the Divine
work” into “The fruit of good works,” and by introducing the “plenteous
reward,” have made it clear that they at least intended us to regard Advent
as the consummation of the Christian life. All our Trinity Seasons of growth
in good works are to be tested at the Final Advent, and there shall be
a plenteous reward for those who have been God’s faithful people in the
final “Well done, good and faithful servants.” This thought was lacking
in the ancient service books, which, as has been said, regarded this Sunday
as wholly of Advent and prayed only for greater grace.
There is still, however, no less obvious reference than previously to
the Advent subject, and indirectly also to the Epistle and Gospel. These
have taught us that the promise of the First Advent given as in the Epistle
was completely fulfilled as recorded in the Gospel. The First Advent is
the pledge of the Second Advent. We, therefore, pray in view of that solemn
A. For Quickened Wills.
The will is the man, and God will not force the will lest He destroy
in us this very image of Himself. We. pray, therefore, that He would stir
and rouse our wills into free action, by His Spirit, by His promises, and
especially by His promise of the second coming of Christ (cf. Hebrews x.
B. For Greater Fruitfulness.
Our fruitfulness is indeed, according to the ancient Collect, “The fruit
of the Divine action,” but it is none the less ours, for it depends upon
our wills to allow the seed of grace room to grow and bear fruit in the
garden of our hearts, lives, characters, and dispositions.
C. For the Final Reward.
The reward will be according to our works, and plenteous fruitfulness
shall be plenteously rewarded, but the will, the fruit, and the reward
are all “Through Jesus Christ our Lord.”