Second part of Sermon XLIII. for the Sunday after Ascension Day.
(for the first part of the sermon,
on the Epistle.)
The end of all things is at hand. — 1 ST.
PETER iv. 7.
...Thus, while the Gospel assures us of what will be done, and what
is done for us, the Epistle exhorts us of what we are ourselves to do,
as in preparation for the great Harvest that is at hand; watching in prayer
with all perseverance, as looking forward to the end of all things; that
by charity all gifts of the Spirit may be regulated, and in charity all
sins forgiven, that so all may redound to the praise of God.
The Gospel for this Sunday, as likewise for all the Sundays at this
season, is taken from our Lord’s parting discourse in St. John’s Gospel,
on the coming of the Comforter, and on those sufferings and persecutions
in the disciples of Christ, which may well make them to long for the consolations
and support of their Heavenly Guide. When the Comforter is come,
Whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, Which
proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me. This is a
remarkable verse from the great fulness of Divine doctrine which it contains.
Our Lord Himself, He here states, will send the Comforter after His Ascent
to Heaven; and from the Father He will send Him; and, again, that He proceedeth
from the Father. These are very wonderful expressions of Divine union.
Add to this the very Name of Comforter, or Advocate: how much is contained
in it ? how much that outweighs all the cares, all the opposition,
all the sufferings of the world; to have One with us Who is God, Who is
sent down especially for this purpose, to be the strength and refuge of
those that believe in Christ? Nor is there less in that other name,
“the Spirit of Truth.” How do falsehoods and disguises, how do all
the deceits of the world, and all the arts of him who is the father of
lies, and the slanderous accusations of the wicked, nay, even the unrealities,
and vanities, and fleeting shadows of the world, how do they seem to flee
away at the very Name, the Spirit of Truth? of Him Who is God, equal
to the Father and to the Son? God Who hath come down in all the armour
and power of God? Nor is this all; for the office of the Holy Ghost
and the object of His Coming are also expressed in this verse, “He shall
testify of Me.” He is called “the faithful witness ;“ as the faithful
witness He shall come, and the object and end of His testimony is Christ.
And again, yet further; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and
the Son, by His mysterious union and indwelling fills His Church also,
and the members of Christ’s Body. For our Lord’s declaration thus
proceeds: “He shall testify of Me;" and ye also shall bear witness.
He shall communicate to you of Himself, of His own truth, and shall make
you also faithful witnesses, like Himself; shall bring all things to your
remembrance which I have spoken; shall bring His own light on what I have
suffered and have wrought; so that He in you, and you in Him, shall bear
witness of what ye have seen and heard. Because ye have been with
Me from the beginning. The life of Christ on earth, His Incarnation,—the
presence of Him Who is God and man, as set forth in His words and works,—this
is the rock and foundation on which all our hopes are built ; and for this
we need the highest testimony, that of men hike ourselves, the twelve witnesses,
and of the Spirit of Truth, enlightening and strengthening them.
Our Lord spake of what He had seen and heard of the Father—of that He hare
witness; and the Apostles of what they had seen and heard of Him.
Now these our Lord’s words, in this promise, are not for us to explain,
nor to understand them in their fulness, but so to dwell on them as to
humble ourselves under a sense of those inscrutable mysteries which they
contain to adore the Three Persons in One God as thus set forth and by
awe and devout carefulness to prepare our hearts for the coming of the
Comforter; or rather, by the love of God shed abroad within us, to receive
Him into our hearts and lives, as already come,—for He is already come
to us,—and so to dress, as it were, and awaken our souls for the celebration
of His first Coming.
But the highest and best gifts of God are usually accompanied with outward
troubles and afflictions : the very name of Comforter implies the need
of comfort; the very name of the Spirit of Truth implies the need of guidance
and direction. Our Lord therefore proceeds to prepare. His
disciples for these tribulations. They who bear witness to Christ,
must expect to meet with the same treatment from the world as He did.
The disciple is not above his Master. He that would he perfect must
be as his Master. And surely, if, as the saying is, to be fore warned
is to be forearmed, strong should we be in the armour of God, from the
multiplicity of warnings which He has given us.
These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended.
If ye expect great things in My kingdom on earth, except the great things
of suffering for My sake, ye will fall away when the hour of trial arrives.
If ye expect to render the truths of the Gospel acceptable to the world,
it can only be by betraying them, and betraying yourselves, and betraying
Me. I have told you the truth beforehand, that ye may know it must
be so; it cannot be otherwise he that would be the friend of the world
is the enemy of God. Expect, therefore, persecutions.
They shall put you out of the synagogues: i.e. will excommunicate
or put you out of the Church: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth
you will think that he doeth God service. From the time when
our Lord spake these words, even unto this day, and as it will be unto
the end of the world, and more especially in the last and evil times, the
sufferings and ill-treatment of good men have not been so hard to bear
from any other cause as this—that they are always condemned as evil.
The world which persecutes them is its own advocate, pleads its own cause,
and then itself sits as judge and condemns them, as perverters of some
great truth, as disturbers of society, as, in some way, enemies of God.
This was the case with the martyrs and saints of old. And even in
these days of lukewarmness, where there is but little of such saintly or
martyr-like spirit to stir the enmity of the world, when the good are censured,
it is as being evil; sometimes altogether falsely, sometimes from some
accidental danger exaggerated, sometimes from some natural infirmity made
the occasion of reproach, sometimes from some peculiar arts of the great
enemy, one knows not how: as St. Paul was once persecuting the saints.
Time will, indeed, in some cases, remove these false impressions; but,
no doubt, some of the best of men who have suffered and died for the truth
of God, and for being faithful to Him in their lives, yet are misrepresented;
have false statements and false characters attached to their memory, as
it is carried down in the stream of history; have their names evil spoken
of even now, and will have until that Day when Christ will confess them
before men and angels. Oh, false and evil world ! who can love and
admire thee when thou coverest even the good with a cloud, which will not
be removed from them but by the Judge’s Presence? Time indeed does
often bring truth to light, but not always. False religions, for
the most part, prevail in the world ; and, pleading their own cause, denounce
as unfaithful those that are true; and the good are often for this reason
unknown to each other, and will be unto the end.
And these things will they do unto you, says our Lord, because they
have not known the Father, nor Me. They knew Him not because
they knew not that God is Love; for how could they know Him when they cast
Him out of their synagogues, and said that He was mad, and had a devil,
and ridiculed the very thought of His having seen or being seen of Abraham,
and condemned Him as guilty of death because He declared Himself to be
the Son of God? And if the world knew Him not, it will not know us,
as St. John says, if we are of God. O blessed misunderstanding!
O welcome misinterpretation of us, if it arises from our knowing God!
O acceptable hatred, if we have to suffer it because we love God!
But our gracious Lord seems to mention this in this place as a motive for
patience and forbearance. As He said Himself, “Father, forgive them,
for they know not what they do,” so would He also use this same plea with
us, to disarm us of that ill-will which is so strong in the natural heart.
What a constraining motive for our compassion is it, enough to disarm every
thought of anger, that if we suffer for righteousness’ sake from men, it
is because they know not God! How long-suffering ought we to be with
others, when God is so with them, while they know Him not! It is
indeed, in one sense, the condemnation of the wicked that they know not
God, when from wilful blindness they have put out the light within them;
but it may not be altogether so, and this is a great reason for our forbearance
in the meanwhile; for God may yet vouchsafe to give them the knowledge
of His Truth.
But these things have I told you, that, when the time shall come,
ye may remember that I told you of them. These words, although
mostly applicable to the Apostles themselves, who must continually have
been remembering their Lord’s words, which they understood not at the time;
yet to us also, even unto the end, they speak of an inexpressible source
of comfort. To find how much things are exactly as our Lord Himself
represented that they should be—to find this more and more, day by day,
continually, as we come to know more of ourselves and of the world—this
greatly confirms our faith in Him, and indeed our love of Him. This
knowledge has a peculiar power in knitting our hearts to Him; it kindles
our loving, wondering, and adoring thoughts of Him, as we read what He
says, which we see, and feel, and know, to be going on in a thousand ways,—in
ourselves, and in others, and in the scene around us. It strengthens
us also greatly against those trials when they occur. It seems as
if His knowledge, which wrapped us all around, was our very strength against
the things He speaks of; our very tower of refuge, into which we may flee
as into His Presence. If we belong to Him, our Head is above in Heaven,
and we, the members of His Body, are below the Head is one with the Body,
careth for it, feels with it by most mysterious, intimate sympathy; guides,
protects, and governs it. That which is below groans under a weight
of corruption; and well is it that it should be purified by tribulation,
that it should fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ;
and oh that the Spirit Whom He sends may not be sent in vain to sanctify