First part of Sermon XVI. for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany.
Col. iii. 12-17. St. Matt. xiii. 24-30.
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on
Thee.—ISA. xxvi. 3.
IN the Collect for this week we pray God to keep His “Church and household
continually in” His “true religion;” and the Epistle consists of a beautiful
exhortation to all the graces of the Christian family, as it thus continues
to abound more and more in all goodness and love. But the Gospel for the
day furnishes us with our Lord’s own account of a state of things to be
expected in the world, during the spread of His Gospel, very different
from this state of truth and charity prevailing; it is of His household,
the Church, not continuing in true religion, of heresies and iniquities
abounding. Therefore love as of one family will not be found. But the combination
of these two, the loving appeals of the Epistle taken together with the
sad prophecy of the Gospel, are in the highest degree edifying, and furnish
a lesson most needful and seasonable to us at this time. For the faith
of some is staggered, and that Christian love which the Epistle describes
waxes more cold in others, from their seeing in Christ’s Church this state
of things, while it is in fact no other than what the Gospel foretold.
For, my brethren, that love which the Epistle inculcates is indeed the
remedy, the safeguard, and the light in these our troubles. Nothing can
be right without it; nothing can be very wrong while this humble love continues.
Love God, and love your neighbour, and try to do so more and more, humbling
yourself. This is the best advice which can be given in times of religious
doubt, of darkness and difficulty, such as now accompanies the great Epiphany.
“God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God.” “By this shall
all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one toward another.”
Abide then in love, and you will find the truth. The Church at large
is rent in pieces by the just judgment of God on account of corruptions
in faith and practice, and it were dishonour to God to suppose that His
truth should be found entire in a Church broken and divided in the faith,
because corrupt in life. God will be found in the unity of His Church;
but to look for truth and light where righteousness and love are not, were
to disparage His holiness. But in this night, this twilight, He that keeps
the Divine fire from the altar in his own soul shall have light thereby;
and he that holds fast to this clue of love shall through the labyrinth
be guided aright. To keep love alive is our great need; while it is itself
the more endangered, and the heavenly torch burns dim because of that air
of corruption which is abroad.
This indeed is a great and peculiar snare amidst the aboundings of false
doctrine and rendings of the Church; for we ought to hate what is evil,
and to contend against it; but there is great danger lest this hatred and
contention should sour the heart and stifle charity, and so be a scandal
to others and ruin to ourselves; nay more, that we “root up the wheat with
the tares in our zeal.” At such times we especially need that our souls
should be attuned to heavenly harmonies, as by the short Epistle for this
day; nothing so conducive to win others, and keep us in the path of truth.
“My feet were almost gone; my treadings had well-nigh slipped; and why
?" [Ps. lxxiii.] because I beheld the manifold prosperities of evil; but
when “I went into the sanctuary of God,” then all was clear, and the stumbling
feet were strengthened.
Put on therefore, says St. Paul to the Colossians, as the
elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies. “Put on,”
that is, as of something which ye had not before, which is not of nature,
the “new commandment” of Christ’s love. He had just said, “Put on
the new man,” and here, “put on bowels of mercies,”—all that human compassion
and tenderness which was seen in Christ when He took on Him our nature.
The word perhaps alludes to the white clothing put on at Baptism. Put on
bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering;
and then, applying the same more particularly, forbearing one another,
and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel, or matter of
complaint, against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
Literally, it is “graciously accept” him, though you may have cause of
blame, as Christ has been “gracious” to you. And above all these things
put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. “Above all these,”
because there is no need of forbearance, and forgiveness, and long-suffering,
where there is love; for it includes it all: or it may be translated, “upon
all these,” or “in addition to all these,” put on charity; in like manner
as by St. Peter it is added as the last crown to other graces. [2 Pet.
i. 7.] And it is the “bond of perfectness,” it is the perfect bond
which unites together all in Christ. Our Lord, in St. Luke’s Gospel, says,
“Be ye merciful as your Father in Heaven is merciful ;“ and in St. Matthew,
“Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect;” so that the very “perfectness”
of a Christian consists in this compassionate love.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, let it “rule,”—it
is a peculiar word, [h eirhnh brabeuitw en taiv kardiaiv.] —let it “sit
as umpire or “ arbiter” in your hearts to decide upon and moderate all
differences; to the which also, he adds, ye were called in one
body, this peace holding you all together as “one body,” is the very
object of your calling. And be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell
in you richly, in all wisdom; let it “dwell in you richly,” i. e. with
all aboundings of spiritual wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another
in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts
to the Lord. Whatever is felt strongly is wont to find expression in
melody and song; and if Christ dwells in the heart in all richness of wisdom,
then such songs will partake of the same, like overflowing streams from
the hidden fountains of God, refreshing, enlivening, fertilizing all around,
and making to abound in charity and thanksgiving to the praise of God.
For here St. Paul combines the two, brotherly edification and thanksgiving;
for he first says, “admonishing one another,” and then adds, “singing to
the Lord, with grace in the heart.” It is to God’s glory that we thus sing;
yet we cannot do so without benefiting others with this glad, this angelic
service. For thankful love is like the flower, which ‘cannot open its breast
to Heaven but that at the same time it breathes incense around.
Nor in this are we left to ourselves, for the Spirit has Himself supplied
us, and laid up in His Church a sacred treasury of “psalms and spiritual
songs,” rich in all the wisdom of God, full of all mutual admonishing and
grace; with which the heart may find utterance with God on every occasion
of thanksgiving; and may ever kindle its own flame anew from the altar.
But again, this voice of melody is not merely such as to break forth
in such strains of the tongue; but this clothing of thanksgiving is to
cover all the life; this temper to colour all with hues from the heart.
For St. Paul adds, And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the
Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.
“If you eat,” says St. Chrysostom, “give thanks to God before and after.
If you sleep, give thanks to God before and after.” And so likewise
he proceeds to apply it to every act of business we may undertake.
It is not sufficient that we should have in all our actions a general intention
of pleasing God; St. Paul evidently implies more than this; it is most
desirable that we should form a constant habit of praying and giving thanks
in the most ordinary things of life. “I have set God always before
me,” [Ps. xvi. 9.] says the Psalmist. And nothing conduces so much
to produce in us a lively sense of God’s Presence, and of our dependence
upon Him, as in all occurrences, pleasant or painful, great or small; in
all our doings, reading, conversing, walking, going in and out, making
some definite act of prayer, or reverential earnest thought and aspiration,
to Him in Whom we live and move and have our being; bringing down upon
every-thing the remembrance of the Lord Jesus; sanctifying everything by
the all-saving Name. For the “Name” of Christ is “as ointment poured forth,”
sweetening, hallow-ing, purifying every thought, word, and work.
Thus does the Epistle contain a most engaging account of a perfect Christian
life, which, as the Collect expresses, “leans only upon the hope of God’s
heavenly grace,” and so is shielded in the evil day by His “mighty power.”
“Salvation will God appoint,” says the Prophet, “for walls and bulwarks.”
“Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.” [Isa.
xxvi. 1-3.] And when heresies prevail, and in consequence disputes
and controversies in religion, this peace and love of God is as it were
a sacred and sheltering “tabernacle,” in which Ho will hide him “secretly
from the strife of tongues.” [Ps. xxxi. 22.] And what is of still
greater consequence, it will tend much to keep him in the way of truth
himself, from being swayed by passion or party zeal to the right hand or
to the left; the path of humility and love will open to himself fuller,
larger, broader, deeper views of the mystery of Christ and the hidden life
of the Spirit. Thus it is in speaking of this brotherly kindness and charity
that St. Peter adds, “For if these things be in you and abound, they make
you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of
our Lord Jesus Christ." [2 Pet. i. 8.]
Now many of the parables which our Lord delivered consist of prophecies
respecting the state of His Church, and at the same time convey instructive
lessons to us when these prophecies are being fulfilled. Such are the parables
respecting the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, our Lord’s own Kingdom upon
earth; and of these, that which constitutes the Gospel for to-day is not
the least remarkable...
...(for the second part, on the Gospel)