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The Church Bearing Witness.
by Isaac Williams
from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days
throughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Whitsuntide
Rivingtons, London, 1875 [New Edition.]
Second part of Sermon III. for the Third Sunday in Advent.
 1 Cor. iv. 1-5.    St. Matt. xi. 2-10.
But I have greater witness than that of John; for the works which
the Father hath given Me to finish, the same works that I do, 
bear witness of Me that the FATHER hath sent Me.
ST. JOHN. v. 36.
(for the first part, on the Epistle.
...Let us then next consider the Gospel for to-day. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto Him, Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another? There is no intimation given us in the Gospels whether the Baptist himself had any doubts or not, and therefore it may be well that we should leave the question undecided as Scripture has left it. It is indeed possible that it might have been as it was with St. Peter and the disciples after having confessed Christ to be the Son of God, having heard His discourses and seen His miracles, and been constantly with Him for three years, yet in the hour of trial did their faith waver, and they began to sink in the deep waters; so John the Baptist, although he had borne witness to Christ, yet when in prison and about to die, and having not seen, but only beard of His works by uncertain rumours, he might have had some misgivings and doubts. But it is far more probable, as the Church has always supposed, as it were with one consent, (Note: With the exception of Tertullian alone among ancient writers. See Tertull., Ox. Tran., note, p. 267.) that there was no doubt or wavering in John the Baptist, but that he wished by these inquiries to have his disciples instructed by seeing and hearing our Lord Himself; and that as he was now in prison, and soon to be taken from them, they might thus become the disciples of Christ. As St. Paul "became weak that he might gain the weak," so the holy Baptist appears as if he himself were doubting in order that he might confirm the faith of others. He could no longer point out the Lamb of God to them as he had done, nor rejoice in hearing His voice; but those who were most attached to him, and who were ready to do anything for his sake, he could thus induce to hear the Bridegroom's voice, that hearing they might know, and with their own eyes behold Him Who was "fairer than the children of men," and Whose lips were "full of grace."

They came and beheld His wonderful works, the manifestation of God--for many miracles were wrought at the same hour--and thus their inquiry was, as it were, already answered before they had spoken.  Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. These were many and great "works which none other man did," and such emanations of Godhead that to disbelieve them were "sin." (St. John xv. 24.)  Moreover, these miracles were precisely the fulfilment of those things which the Prophet Isaiah had said the Messiah should perform; and it might be understood that He wished to point out to them that He was Himself "He that should come," as bearing the tokens which the Prophet described. But it is much more than this; a good man has a deep sense of the power and of the goodness of God; he is taught this by the Spirit, by the Father in Heaven; and all these things were therefore to a good man the sure evidences of God. For what power, what goodness could be greater than these ? And not only this, but at all times after their degree, works of this kind, of humility and compassion, are the fruits of the Spirit; they can only be learned at the fountain-head of all Love and Goodness, from God Himself. They constrain, they draw, they allure others to the love of the Faith, they open their hearts and ears to hear what God would teach them. These works of our Blessed Lord contain the manifestation of God to His sinful creatures; they show us what God is; that "God is love," else we could not approach Him; and if there is anything left in the corrupt heart of man capable of amendment they must reach it. Not in the whirlwind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the still small voice of human condescensions, of God made Man, whispering to the secret spirit of forgiveness and peace. To see God in Jesus Christ, and not to love Him, this itself is condemnation. And yet what is the evil which Satan works in the heart of fallen man but this, that the very sight of Divine goodness is an offence to him? Therefore, to this very description of His works our Lord adds that very mysterious and remarkable expression, And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me. Offended in Thee! O gracious Lord, what words are these? Offended in Thee, because Thou givest sight to the blind! Offended in Thee, because Thou raisest the dead ! Offended in Thee, because Thou givest the treasures of Heaven to the poor! Yet so it was, when He gave sight to the man born blind, they said, "He hath a devil ;" (St. John x. 20.) when He raised Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees, on hearing of it, immediately held a council to slay Him. (St. John xi. 47.) Because He blessed and received the poor, they derided Him. But wisdom is justified of her own children; they see and acknowledge His goodness; they are not offended, not made to fall, but raised and lifted up from the ground, and strengthened in straight paths by beholding Him. These are "not offended," and, therefore, they are "blessed."

And thus as they were won over to Christ by the manifestation of His works, so is it now with the Spirit in His kingdom; His power is known by His fruits in good men, tokens of Him "Who alone worketh great marvels;" the lives of holy, self-denying Ministers preach more powerfully than their words; nay, give power to all their words and ministrations; by their fruits they are known; their light cannot be hid; whether they will or no, but still more strongly if they will it not, their life shines; and thus wherever the Word is sown in this bad world it multiplies.

But, again, there is another point to be considered in the Gospel for to-day. Those whom Christ hath sent to prepare the way for His coming "receive not honour from men;" their faith may be doubted of men; they may leave their very name under a cloud; but Christ at His coming shall confess their name before men; shall bear witness to them as they have confessed His name, and borne witness to Him among men. And so was it now with His first messenger and herald, the holy Baptist.

And as they--the messengers of John--departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? a reed shaken with the wind? John the Baptist was much revered by the multitude; and no doubt the coming of these two disciples from him in prison arrested very deep and solemn attention; and now, when they had departed, we may suppose there was a thoughtful pause and some anxious doubts in those around respecting the meaning of this his inquiry. Our Lord, therefore, seems to say, John came not down among you as I have done, amidst the habitations and the habits of men, but you went forth unto him in the wilderness; and with your own eyes you saw him, and can bear testimony to his character. He was not like the reed shaken by every wind, you well know; but was one most steadfast-a burning and a shining light, whose constant flame wavered not. His sanctity and his constancy you doubt not. I appeal not only to My own works, but to his testimony also, that I am He Who was to come from God.

But what went ye out for to see?  A man clothed in soft raiment?  Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.  That is, you were drawn to him in the wilderness--and thither went forth to see him--from the report of the great strictness and severity of his life ; and you saw him, one like the prophets of old, but surpassing all of them, clothed with nothing but a rough garment of camels' hair, and in every way suitable to that place in which he appeared, "a voice in the wilderness," very unlike the softness and luxury of a king's court. Though he did no miracle, yet his holy life and his words proved to you, and ye doubted not, that he was a Prophet come from God. He bare witness; to his testimony I appeal. 

But what went ye out for to see ? it was no ordinary sight--a prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For the prophets only saw afar off, but he close at hand; he not only foretold His coming, but attended on the very Presence of the King, and was beyond all the prophets well worthy to do so; he was not only himself a prophet, but the subject of prophecy, one of 'whom the prophets themselves wrote. For this is he of whom it is written in the Prophet Malachi, at the very close of the Old Testament, which seemed to die away with the prophecy of his coming on its tongue. This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send My messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee. Here is our Lord's testimony to His own faithful messenger. He was then the "faithful and wise steward" whom the Lord found watching and waiting for Him at His coming.

To conclude: what was done in the Old Testament by single persons as setting forth that Holy One 'Which was to come from God, is since Christ's coming shown in many. The one king, as David, one prophet from time to time prepared the way; but now many messengers are gone forth to speak of Christ's coming-of His coming not alone, as before, but with ten thousands of His Saints. The little one hath become a thousand now in the many heralds of His approach. They go forth as a great cloud of witnesses. And oh, that Christ might at His coming bear witness Himself to their faithfulness, as He did before to His steadfast messenger, that they might in like manner confess Him and He might confess them. But ah, my brethren, what a heavy burden is this! to prepare the way for His coming Whose manifestation will be as fire. Who is sufficient for such a weight--so momentous a charge? who will not sink under it at last? John was greater than all the prophets; but our Lord has said that the least in His kingdom, i. e. in His Church, is greater than he,--greater because he is made a member of Christ and a child of God. How great, therefore, must be the charge of those who are shepherds of that flock which He prizes so dear, the least of which are to Him as the apple of His eye! how great the responsibility of those who dispense His mysteries, and prepare all men to meet Him in the terrible Judgment!

But Priests and people are bound up in one lot; they both must fall or stand together: neither can judge or accuse the other, for both partake of each other's sins. If the Priests are evil and careless, it is because the people pray not for them; if the people fall away, it is because the Priests have not prayed and watched for them.

Hence there is great consolation in speaking on this subject of the awful terrors of the Priests' responsibility on this Sunday, because in this week the people are in an especial manner called upon to pray for them. The Collect for this week is altogether a prayer for them: the Ember Days of this week are set apart on purpose to fast and pray for them. The awful sound of the Advent trumpet calls on all men to pray for them; for if others cannot stand in that judgment, how shall they who have so much more to account for? The love and mercies of Christmastime tenderly appeal to all men to pray for their Pastors.

We complain of the want of Bishops and Clergy; we complain of their great feebleness, and, of what is worse; we complain of the crippled condition of the Church; of thousands and of tens of thousands daily perishing for lack of knowledge and from the deficiencies of Pastoral energy and care; but they who thus complain do not consider how much of all this remains at their own door; for no doubt the real cause which lies at the bottom of all this is that the people do not pray; do not pray as they are required to do for their own Pastor, and for their own Bishop, and for the Church generally, that the Ministers and Stewards of Christ's mysteries may prepare the way before Him. For how did our Lord Himself meet this great want when He was moved with compassion at the sight? His words were, "Pray ye the Lord of the Harvest." He knew of no other way but this neither shall we find it.