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Tracts for the Times
ADVENT.
[Number 16]
ADVENT iii 

But fresh privileges and responsibilities are brought before us in the services of the Third Sunday in Advent. For we have in the Church not merely "Holy Scriptures written for our learning," but "Ministers of CHRIST and Stewards of the mysteries of GOD," sent to prepare and make ready the way for His second coming, that we may then be found an acceptable people in His sight. We might have been left to derive from Scripture by our own unaided efforts its rich and glorious contents "for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness;" but our merciful FATHER has dealt otherwise with His Church under each dispensation. For the Baptist, who heralded CHRIST at His coming, though "more than a prophet," was but the successor of a "goodly company," whom GOD had raised up from time to time to vindicate the Law and to foreshow the Gospel. "But he that is least in the kingdom of GOD is greater than he." The prophet of the ancient Church had for his main office to enforce the Law, to show GODíS people their transgression and their sin; if he spoke of the Gospel, it was in prospect only, and seen afar off. The Messengers sent to us are a "Ministry of reconciliation," Ministers and Stewards of the mysteries of redemption, with power and commandment, as ambassadors of CHRIST, to declare and pronounce to GODíS people, being penitent, the blessed tidings of forgiveness, and in the preaching of His word and the distribution of His sacraments to convey and apply its benefits to each individual member of CHRISTíS Body. And does not this great blessing entail upon us a heavy responsibility? Let us learn from the Church how such a gift should be received; she instructs us in the words of St. Paulís admonition to the proud and schismatical Church of Corinth. The Apostle bids them look upon himself and his fellow-labourers as Ministers of CHRIST, responsible to their own Master, and to be judged by Him alone; as men who thought it a very small thing that even their own consciences acquitted them, or that in manís judgment they were preferred and made the head of a party; who were stewards, and therefore required to be faithful to Him who gave them their commission; and who sought to have "praise" not of men but "of GOD," in that solemn day of His appearing, when He should " bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart." And if we had imbibed more deeply St. Paulís spirit, we should less resemble than (it is to be feared) we sometimes do, the contentious Corinthians, or the multitudes who flocked to the wilderness to the Baptistís preaching, as if it had been some spectacle for idle curiosity. (Matt. xi.) Wisdom would be justified of all her children, even in our judgment; we should see them all to be Ministers and Ambassadors of GOD, and our commendations and censures would be turned into prayers on their behalf, such as the Church has taught us, that like the Baptist they Ďmay likewise so prepare and make ready CHRISTíS way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at His second coming to judge the world, we may be found an acceptable people in His sight.í And in this way too, as well as in giving greater heed to His holy Word, we should better fulfil CHRISTíS commandment of love; for it was for this purpose that He commissioned the Ministers and Stewards of His word and sacraments. St. Paul tells us, "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; till we all come in the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the SON of GOD unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of CHRIST; that we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up unto Him in all things which is the Head, even CHRIST; from whom the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself."