Lent is not the season of a single truth, but, beginning with the consideration
of sin, ends with teaching as to the gift of pardon through the sacrifice
and death of the Lord Jesus Christ. The transition between
the two great subjects takes place on Mid-Lent Sunday. Grieved
and wearied with the struggle against temptation, we are today bidden to
enjoy a Dominica Refectionis, a Sunday of sacred refreshment, “lest we
be wearied and faint in our minds, striving against sin.” We
pass, in fact, from the Sundays of temptation to a Sunday of grace,
which is brought before us in two aspects. THE EPISTLE (GAL. iv. 21.)
GRACE OF ADOPTION.
By an allegory taken from the two sons of Abraham, each of whom stood
in a different relation to his father, Christians are taught their happy
relation to God as His children by grace, and their consequent duty.
A. Jewish Bondage.
Ishmael owed his slavery to his mother Hagar, the slave-wife of Abraham,
a type of the Jewish Church, "the Jerusalem that now is"--
(1) As wandering in the dreary desert of the Law;
(2) And as only able to give her children a share of her own bondage.
To the Jews the service of God was a burden grievous to be borne, for
God was to them more of a Master than a Heavenly Father.
B. Christian Freedom.
Isaac owed his happy freedom to his mother, Sarah, the chosen and beloved
wife of Abraham. Sarah, the free mother, whose children are born
free, is a figure of the Christian Church: "the Jerusalem which is above,
which is the mother of us all." As in both cases the position of
the mother determined the relation of the child to the father, so the very
fact that we belong to the Christian Church by our baptism determines our
relation to God and makes us His children. It is because we are members
of Christ that we are the children of God and have received the "one baptism
for the remission of sins." The word covenant practically
means relation, or position, and a covenant of grace a relation
or position of grace. The word conveys no idea of mutual bargain
or condition in either case. We are what God has made us.
C. Christian Service
Is the service of sons, which is more than that of slaves. The
son submits his will to his father, the slave only his outward conduct
to his master. The son gives what the slave withholds, and for this
reason we are tempted to prefer slavery; but if he gives more he receives
more, for if he must say, "I am my father's," he can also say, "My father
is mine." Hence comes the conscious dignity and liberty, the power
of confident prayer and thankful praise. The son serves not for favour
but as one in favour, not for wages but as a debtor to infinite love.
While the thought of the crown before him gives him joy, his true motive
is the Cross behind him.
That such service brings refreshment is the teaching of our Church on
Refreshment Sunday. Our Lenten fast is not to be a dull and heavy
burden, but a willing offering. This will be the secret of influence,
for a dull and joyless Church wins few victories. It is the joy of
faith that conquers the world. We are, therefore, to "cast out the
bondwoman" as children of the free.
THE GOSPEL (S. JOHN vi. 1.)
GRACE OF SANCTIFICATION.
This miracle, four times recorded by the Evangelists, serves twice as
a Gospel. On the Sunday before Advent the meal of grace is ended,
and we are bidden to "gather up the fragments." Here the meal is
about to begin, and we are bidden to seek from our Lord all we need for
soul and body. The teaching of our adoption given in the Epistle
is fitly completed by the Gospel of the refreshment given to the children
A. The Need of Refreshment
In the wilderness of the world we need refreshment. Our Lord's
sympathy anticipates our wants, for the first suggestion of relief was
made by Him, and before the need had been felt, "when He saw a great company
coming." He has tender sympathy with the masses of mankind, though,
and indeed, because, He can individualise each one. He was never
too wearied for acts and thoughts of love.
B. The Source of Refreshment.
Our Lord would have us feel our poverty and inability in order that
we may be driven to turn to Him for relief. How poor are human thoughts
compared with the thoughts of Christ, and how insignificant are human resources
as seen in the "five barley loaves and two fishes!" Poor five thousand,
if they had had to depend upon the disciples they would not have had a
crumb apiece! Poor Church, if it depended upon us!
Our Lord drew out faith from a sense of need in the disciples, and also
raised the faith and expectation of the multitudes by His command, "Make
the men sit down." See the five thousand sitting, waiting!
To wait upon Christ is the secret of sanctification. "Blessed are
all they that wait for Him"; they shall never go away empty from sermon,
prayer, or sacrament.
C. The Miracle of Refreshment
This great miracle teaches that our Lord, and He alone, has power to
satisfy human hearts. Our Lord can satisfy our human nature, and
nothing else can--not the world, sin, pleasure, high position, learning,
health, nor wealth. Our Lord alone is bread to us--bread solid, satisfying,
sustaining, living, and life-giving. If we feed upon Him in all that
He is and in all that He has done for us, in all His aspects and characters,
we shall not want.
See the bread multiplying in our Saviour's hands: He goes on breaking,
breaking, breaking, so long as the least child remains unsatisfied.
We shall find in Christ more than we ever expected to want, we that have
wanted more than we ever expected to find. Let but Christ bless the
meal, and the supply will never run short.
To-day is indeed a Refreshment Sunday, with its two views of grace,
and a Sacrament provided for the supply of each, for by baptism we are
made the children of God, and by the Eucharist the children of God are
THE COLLECT. A COLLECT OF REFRESHMENT.
A. Our Deserts as the Children of Fallen Nature.
We deserve punishment both here and hereafter for our evil deeds.
We deserve anything but refreshment.
B. Our Comfortable Relief as the Children of God's Grace.
We pray for the relief of full forgiveness and acceptance, and the sure
supply of all our needs through His power Who fed the five thousand in
the wilderness. Through our Saviour's mercy alone can we hope for