Though lacking conspicuous festivals and definite seasons, the second
half of the Christian Year is arranged with hardly less method than the
first, and its lessons on the Christian life are as carefully ordered as
those dealing with Christian truth.
The first five Sundays of love are followed by a second quintet dealing
with "Christian Duty" as man's response to the love of God. These Sundays
of obligation and responsibility are fitly introduced by the consideration
of our baptismal duty as Christians who have known and believed the love
which God hath to them.
THE EPISTLE. (ROM. vi. 3.) BAPTISMAL
GRACE AND DUTY.
Not only does our Church lay the foundation of baptism in the Catechism
and offices, but appoints two Epistles for its consideration. The grace
of baptism as the starting point of the Risen life is taught on Easter
Day, and again to-day as the basis of the life of duty. The doctrine of
the Epistle may be summarised as follows
A. Baptismal Union with Christ.
We are “baptized into Christ Jesus,” and hence arises the grace and
duty of baptism. The duties of baptism do not rest upon the promises made
in that sacrament, which are, indeed, merely confessions that we recognise
our duty, but on the grace then received. Our duty rests upon the Divine
love and upon the grace, mercy, and peace unto which, by baptism, we have
Strictly speaking, baptism has no conditions, but is an act of free
grace which, however, we must learn not to receive in vain. Defective teaching
as to the reality of baptismal grace is the too frequent cause of the neglect
of baptismal duty. We cannot teach too clearly that we are united to Christ
in baptism, and are responsible for the use made of so high a grace.
B. Union with Christ In His Death.
S. Paul expresses this truth in very various phrases, e.g.—
We were baptized into His death.
We were buried with Him by baptism into death.
We have become united with Him (R.V.) by the
likeness of His death.
Our old man was crucified with Him.
In all these instances S. Paul refers, as the true translation shows,
to grace already received. United with Christ, we have received the benefits
of His Passion, even the remission of sins, and are made partakers of all
for which He died as certainly as if we had died with Him.
This grace implies the duty of remaining dead to sin, and that we having
died in Christ are to regard ourselves as freed from the dominion of sin.
The grace of a death to sin implies the duty of dying to sin ever more
C. Union with Christ in His Life.
This is a grace already received, for by baptism we were united to a
living Christ, and His power is ours to use for holiness. But here again
the grace implies the duty: “We must walk in newness of life.”
It is not always easy to see whether S. Paul in any particular sentence
refers to the grace given or to the duty yet to be done, so closely does
the one imply the other. In the power of His death we are to be always
dying, and in the power of His life to be always living. But we must remember
that if we do not clearly teach the baptized that they have received grace
we miss the strongest argument and motive for holiness.
THE GOSPEL. (S. MATT. V. 20.)
THE CHRISTIAN STANDARD
If Christ came to make religion easier by revealing the new motive of
the love of God, He did not come to set forth an easier religion, but to
raise the whole conception of duty.
In the Sermon on the Mount our Saviour declares the Christian standard
of love to be :—
A. Stricter than the Old Standard.
The Scribes, as the great teachers, and the Pharisees as the most eminent
examples of religion, were held to have reached the highest pitch of excellence,
but their highest did not rise to Christ’s lowest. Their religion possessed
two fatal defects.
(1) As to Humility.
Self-satisfaction, the essence of all Pharisaism, is excluded by the
law of love. Love can never be satisfied with anything that it does or
feels in response to the infinite love of God in Christ. It knows no finality,
and is therefore capable of infinite progress. Pharisaism is unprogressive.
(2) As to Devotion.
Pharisaism knew much of devotions, e.g., prayers, fastings, almsgiving,
but nothing of devotion which “signifies a life given and devoted to God.”
Its devotions were not the expression of devotion, but a substi-tute
for it. The Pharisee gave the lesser gift in order to satisfy his conscience
for withholding the greater. Thus his religious acts became a positive
evil because they were merely an excuse for not being truly religious.
B. Reaching the Heart.
The religion of love searches the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Previous teachers had been satisfied with outward acts. Christ expounds
His new standard in relation to the act of murder, though it applies to
all the Commandments. He illustrates this standard by reference to the
three Jewish Courts, answering roughly to our inquest, quarter sessions,
and assizes. We are angry—it is a case for the coroner; we speak in anger—let
us beware of the magistrate; we condemn—the judge pronounces the last sentence.
But there has been no murder yet; no, and never will be if we learn
to consider evil thoughts as internal crimes. The law of love passes sentence
on the thought, or ever it becomes an intention, a word, or an act.
C. Including all Our Lives.
Christ teaches that religion is not one act at one time or place, but
regards every relation of life. The law of love is not only deep, but exceeding
broad. Religion and morality, love to God and men, are part of one service
and to be offered on one altar. God will not have half a sacrifice or half
our lives. We must be at peace with men before we can be at peace with
God, and must make haste lest we be too late.
THE COLLECT. THE REWARD
It is possible wholly to misunderstand the meaning and intention of
this Collect, and to take it as teaching that God is to be loved for the
sake of the good things He has prepared for them that love Him.
The true meaning is the very opposite.
A. Love will Reward.
God would not be love unless He had made provision for man’s present
and final happiness. He has made such a provision to a degree beyond man’s
B. The Love that will be Rewarded.
The love that God will reward is the love which loves Him “above all
things.” Those who love God for His own sake, duty for the sake of duty,
truth for the truth’s sake, not the reward for the reward’s sake, shall
obtain. Those who seek God shall find Heaven, but those who seek Heaven
may miss of finding God.