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Do Good, Hoping for Nothing Again.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875.


Saint Bartholomew the Apostle


Acts v. 12-16.  St. Luke xxii. 24-30.


They that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 

But ye shall not be so. -- ST. LUKE xxii. 25, 26.


ST. BARTHOLOMEW has been sometimes supposed to be the same person as is mentioned in St. John's Gospel under the name of Nathaniel.  [On St. Bartholomew, as the same as Nathanael, see “Plain Sermons." Vol. vi. Serm.  clxxxiv. and Vol. x. Serm. cccxxi.]  But there is no allusion to this in the service of our own Church for this day, nor in those of the Latin Church.  And this seems to be the case, not merely because it may have been considered more satisfactory to admit only into such offices what is clear and certain, but because the Festival is of much earlier date than this opinion.  But the Scriptures for the Epistle and the Gospel for the day, although indeed they contain no mention of St. Bartholomew himself, but only refer to the Apostles generally; yet are they in themselves highly interesting and beautiful in this their application to the memory of the Apostles, and especially when considered in connexion with each other.  In the former the Apostles are seen as full of all power of good, benefactors to mankind in the highest sense, such as the world had never seen the like; in the latter they are taught that this power of conferring benefits on mankind is not connected with any wish of being thought benefactors, as is the case in the world, but, on the contrary, with an entire denial of self, as flowing from the love of God.  Again; the Gospel for to-day might at first sight appear to speak of the same circumstance as that from St. Matthew, which we had on St. James's Day, our last festival.  But it is not so; for the occasion on which they occur is different, and this has a peculiar force of its own, as spoken at the Last Supper.  For the disciples were slow of understanding the things of the Kingdom; and their gracious Master often taught the same things, and repeated the like expressions. 


By the hands of the Apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people.  This was after the outpourings of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, while the Church was being formed together "in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship." And they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch.  As on the day of Pentecost, "with one accord," and "in one place." Mention is made in St. John's Gospel of our Lord walking in Solomon's porch; and it is before spoken of in the Acts, as the place where the people came together to Peter and John after the miracle of restoring the lame man.  And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.  It is uncertain what is meant by this expression, that "no man durst join himself to them;" whether it is that under a sense of awe at the miracles which were wrought, and the fear which was  just spoken of on account of the judgment on Ananias and Sapphira, they did not venture to unite themselves with the Apostles; or whether by “the rest” we are to understand, in distinction from the common people, those of the Pharisees and the upper sort, who are often spoken of in the Gospels as fearing to profess themselves disciples of Christ. However, it proceeds: And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.  Insomuch that, on account of those great wonders wrought by the Apostles, and the effect thus produced on the people, they brought forth; the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.  What a lively emblem, my brethren, is this of mankind under the Gospel! all sick with various diseases of the soul, and lying helpless, but looking up in faith that the healing shadow of the Church might at all events fall upon some of them.  There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits; and they were healed everyone. 


We have before had occasion to observe, that the preaching of the Gospel was always accompanied with the healing of bodily diseases; so was it with our Lord Himself, He both healed and taught at the same time; so was it when He sent forth His twelve Apostles, and also when He sent forth the Seventy afterwards, it was with this commission, "Preach the Kingdom; heal the sick."  Nor was this merely for the purpose of showing by outward signs the power of God, and His authority; but it flowed from the very nature of the Gospel itself, the manifestation of Christ the Son of God and Man; and it is the expression of Divine love at all times.  The Christian is to be always engaged in relieving the bodily wants, the natural infirmities, the worldly inconveniences and distresses of others, at the same time that he is endeavouring to promote their spiritual welfare.  Body and soul both are diseased from the old Adam, both affected with evil spirits, both relieved and sanctified in the New Man. 


Secondly, we may ask how far we ourselves at this day may be partakers of such blessings as the Church then bestowed, for surely we may hope that they are not passed away, but are for us and our children.  The gifts of God, the gracious workings of His power, are not to be considered as altogether withdrawn, but under change of circumstances the mode of their operation is changed; the same faith will obtain the like benefits under another form-the like gifts are still continued, but in some manner often higher and better.  We read of our Lord "going about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil." A good man in distress might say, "If our Lord were thus now on earth I would go to Him—I would tell Him of my sorrow: may I not do so still?"  And surely to the eye of faith He is equally present, equally able and willing to answer every request. But there is this difference, that our spiritual knowledge now in the Church is much greater since our Lord's death and the gift of His Spirit, so that if we are rightly minded we seek not to be relieved from temporal evils, but that such being the signs of God's love should work for us more abiding good.  Martha and Mary could ask for their brother to be restored to them, but they would not make such a request as this now; for to die and to be with Christ "is far better:" but looking to Him Who is the Resurrection and the Life, when suffering from the loss of those dear to us, we would rather pray to Him "to raise us up from the death of sin to the life of righteousness."  So likewise the powers of the Apostles in working miracles are not to be considered as ceased in His Church, but changed; the marvels of God's grace, could we behold them, are not less than were of old those appeals to the sight and outer sense.  And this may be one reason for a difference in the operation of the miracles here mentioned in the Acts, as wrought by the hands of Apostles, from those in the Gospels: for although an instance is mentioned of a woman healed by touching the hem of our Lord's garment, and it is stated that “virtue went out of Him and healed them all;” yet, for the most part, it is by means of His own word and hand that our Lord's own miracles were wrought, and not as this, that “the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them;” or that of St. Paul, that “from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.”  For in these latter the visible means of restoration in the will or act of the Apostles is less manifest; and our attention is more directed to faith working by love in those that received the benefit of them.  For observe in these cases how much further removed is He that confers from him that receives the benefit, or rather the links of the chain are less visible to sense that connect the effect with the cause: for it is still Christ alone that works the miracle, yet He is not seen thus working, but it is through His Apostles, by His Name and by His authority; and not thus only, it is still further off; it is not even an Apostle, but his shadow passing by.  But all this apparent distance and separation from Christ is made up by faith, which has eyes to behold Him afar off; nay, in beholding brings Him near, nearer than the eyes of flesh could have done.  It is not the shadow of Peter—oh no! it is not Peter—nor any Apostle, but it is Christ, spiritually present and spiritually discerned.  Now this is to us of this present day a great encouragement.  Though we cannot see our Lord, nor see His Apostles, yet we are in His Church; we are surrounded by His marvellous goodness; we have only to ask that we may receive the riches of His Kingdom, and tread under foot all the power of the enemy, who would bring on us all temporal and eternal harm. 


But of spiritual miracles, that is to say, of the healings of the soul in the Christian course, it must be said, "This kind goeth not forth but by prayer and fasting."  Now prayer and fasting must both be, as far as may be, in secret, in order to be effectual.  They both imply humiliation of self in the presence and before the eye of God.  And we may connect this consideration with the Gospel for to-day.  From the Epistle we learn our blessings, that there is nothing we can desire but we may obtain it; and from the Gospel we learn our duty, that as receiving so much of God we are to do all the good we can to others, "hoping for nothing again," that we "may be the children of the Highest."


It was at the Last Supper, when our Blessed Lord was about to give His life for the world, and had taken the form of a servant, and washed their feet, and after saying that one of them should betray Him, it is added, And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.  For though their Lord had admitted some of them to the privilege of being nearer to Himself, yet He had not set anyone as chief above the rest.  It was indeed a strange time to be thinking of preeminence when their Lord was about to die, and one of them about to betray and the others to desert Him: but it shows how unnatural at all times is ambition among Christians.  And He said unto them, with the same meekness and forbearance that He had always taught them on this subject, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority are called benefactors.  This is one of their titles of honour among the Gentiles, "the benefactor ;" they seek the praise of men, wishing to be considered “fathers" and "friends" to mankind: but He, Who emptied Himself of His glory for our sakes, hath established a higher law of true greatness.  With regard to the chief places in His kingdom now on earth, eminent in wealth and station, a good man will shrink from them, from fear of temptation and a sense of unworthiness before God; he that does not, though he may procure the good opinion of the world, yet the power of Christ, the secret of God, is not with him; he may have many goodly pearls, but the pearl of great price is not his; he knows not the treasure hid in a field: he enters not into the joy of his Lord.  The only joy mentioned of Christ was because the Father had revealed wisdom unto babes: “the joy set before Him for which He endured the Cross,” was the joy of saving others; He had no joy but the joy of Love, for which He humbled Himself; such joy in ransomed and repenting souls as angels learn from His countenance: so that, following His steps; St. Paul could say, "What is our joy, or crown of rejoicing? are not ye in the presence of our Lord at His coming?"  This joy in saving souls, from the love of God, is not compatible with the love of this world and the desire of pre-eminence.  But ye shall not be so, says our Lord; but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. When just before He had girded Himself as a slave and washed their feet, He said, "What I do Thou knowest not now, but Thou shalt know hereafter." And much as He had taught them by His example, by His words of lowliness, and by many touching incidents, nothing but His Cross on the following day could give power to it all. That alone showed the nature of that washing which we all  need, and the spirit with which it must be accompanied—that likeness to the Son of Man in which the strength of good men consists.


But when our Blessed Saviour had occasion to reprove His disciples, He did so with great gentleness and forbearance; while He lamented their infirmities, His love still dwelt on every proof of their fidelity; and He does not now say, as the occasion might to us appear to warrant, Ye are they over whom I have so tenderly watched, and who are now about to forsake Me; but He adds, Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations.  He passes over the evil, and sees nothing but the good; He had chosen them, had enlightened them by His doctrine, had strengthened them by His miracles; all the good they had was from Himself; yet even this He attributes unto them, rewards them for it, and admits them to share with Him His own inheritance.  And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as My Father hath appointed unto Me,—in His own humiliations, which they shall share with Him, God hath unspeakably exalted then,—that ye may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel; shall sit "at My table" i.e. shall enter into My joy; shall "sit on thrones," i.e. shall partake of My glory; as in another place, He shall “sit with Me in My throne, even as I am set down with My Father in His throne.” [Rev. iii. 21.]  All which seems to speak of that mysterious union with Himself, “As Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.  And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are One." [John xvii. 21, 22.]  And thus, though it be true that our Lord Himself is the one and only foundation, yet in some sense also there are twelve foundations, and in them are written the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.


And now, Christian brethren, what is all this to us? no doubt much, even as much as it was to them; first of all, it notes the unspeakable privileges of this Apostolic union, and, secondly, that lowliness of heart on which that union and those privileges will depend.  At this time, indeed, this Apostolic union of the Church is very much impaired and broken, and with it is to be feared our union with each other, our union with Christ and with God the Father.  And the serious question is how we may keep what remains, or what we can do towards the restoration of it.  There can be no doubt but that this union has become thus broken on account of the pride and selfishness of men, working in various ways; and that we can only recover it by humility.  I do not mean that anyone of us can do anything towards restoring the robe of Christ, now so outwardly rent and torn throughout the world: this must be God's own doing.  But I mean, How can we preserve inwardly, each for himself in his own station, that Apostolic fellowship, and derive through it this blessed union with Christ and God?  It is through humility that the peace of God watches over and keeps the heart in that love. 


With the lowly is wisdom; humility is the nurse of filial obedience; everyone owes something like filial respect to that form of Christianity in which, by God's providence, he has been brought up.  He will look upon all things connected with it with some degree of partiality, of the same kind as he would on his own parents, king, and country.  Now if by God's grace he should become more enlightened, he will be able to add to this faith; to improve it if imperfect, to correct it if erroneous; but yet in all this he will still preserve a sort of dutiful, filial preference to that faith in which he has been from childhood reared; bound by the cord of old associations, whereby he has learnt to love God, he will not rudely or rashly disturb them; he will build up in all meekness and reverence, waiting upon God, with humble confidence that if anything be lacking in his faith God will reveal even this unto him.  


Since then this habit of mind is so connected with a reverential trust in God, it cannot be doubted but that God will preserve such unharmed in things essential to salvation, and reveal to them, if need be, any higher and more perfect way; and moreover, what is a strong ground of consolation for such meek tempers, if they should be wrong, God will not be severe in imputing to them such deficiencies or errors in their faith, as have arisen from those circumstances of life in which He has placed them; whereas if they had ventured to judge for themselves in such matters, the whole weight of that responsibility would have rested on themselves.  On subjects of such moment we may be sure that the path of humility is the path of safety.  And, blessed be God! it is thus that He reveals to the meek what He hides from the wise and prudent.