First part of Sermon LVI. for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity.
O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they
consider their latter end.—DEUT. xxxii. 29.
WE have sometimes had occasion to allude to the Epistles at this season
being transferred in the order of their course; and thereby having lost
whatever connexion, real or imaginary, they might originally have been
supposed to hold with the Collect and the Gospel for the day. Thus the
Epistle for last Sunday, which used to stand between this Collect and.
Gospel, might seem appropriate to this day’s parable, as implying that
“we are debtors, not to the flesh, for if we live after the flesh we shall
die.” But let us consider whether the Epistle we now have may not be brought
to bear upon the Gospel and the Collect for the day, and be applied in
furtherance of them. Our Blessed Lord in the Gospel bids us consider the
men of this world, how wise they are in their generation with the wisdom
of the serpent,—how successful in their plans,—how full of industry and
management in providing for a few short uncertain years. And St. Paul,
in the Epistle, speaking by the same Spirit, bids us look on another picture,
such as may represent the children of light in their pilgrimage through
the wilderness of this world; and oh, how sad and disappointing is this
sight! how unwise in their generation! how careless and slothful! how unsuccessful
at the last! because they looked not forward to everlasting habitations.
Brethren, says St. Paul, I would not that ye should be ignorant.
I would have you carefully consider this remarkable type and warning.
How that all our fathers were under the cloud, even as we are now
under the especial shadow of the Almighty,—the presence and care of the
great Comforter,—giving us “the spirit to think and do always such things
as be rightful.” And all passed through the sea,—the Red Sea as
of blood, which betokened that redemption which is in Christ, whereby our
spiritual enemies are slain. And were all baptized unto Moses, that
visible token of our spiritual incorporation into our great Lawgiver and
Leader; in the cloud, which set forth the Holy Spirit, and in
the sea, which represented Baptism as in Christ’s Blood. And did
all eat the same spiritual meat,—that manna, or bread from Heaven,
which prefigured the Body of Christ, the true Bread from Heaven, and, as
representing this mystery, was called angels’ food. And did all drink
the same spiritual drink; all drank of that miraculous stream which
set forth the living waters of the city of God (for they drank of that
spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ). For although
they drank but on one occasion of that water, and that Rock was but once
smitten, as Christ was but once pierced, and on one occasion only the water
flowed from His side yet in that once for all is He always, unto the end
of the world, as it were smitten for us; always present as our Rock, following
us even unto the end, and covering us with His almighty shadow, and ever
pouring down for us the Holy Spirit from above, although but once for all
sent down as the price of His redemption. So was that smitten rock, and
the water flowing from it, a sign to them in the wilderness, that His gracious
Presence was ever with them, following them throughout and sustaining them.
But, notwithstanding all these things, with many of them God
was not well pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Their
not entering into that rest which had been promised them, and for which
they had been supernaturally supported and guided, is a proof that God’s
displeasure was upon them. “God was not well pleased” with them, the reverse
of this expression is afterwards used, of our Blessed Saviour Himself,
of Him in Whom alone we are accepted, “My Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”
What St. Paul then here calls our attention to is this, that as the promises
and the threatenings of God to the children of light are of things unseen
and eternal, He has thus, by a visible sign, and in the history of a peculiar
people, shadowed. forth the awful consequences of neglecting His spiritual
call and guidance.
Now these things, adds the Apostle, were our examples; or
literally, and as St. Chrysostom understands the words, they are the types
or figures of us—they represent us; as Baptism and the table of the Lord
were shadowed forth to them in prophecy for us, so also “the certainty
of punishment coming on those unworthy of the gift.” But as in them it
was but the shadow, and not the true Baptism, nor the true Bread from Heaven,
so also, says the same great writer, win our punishment, if we be found
unfaithful exceed theirs in substance and reality.
So awful is this warning surrounding us,—To the intent we should
not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters,
as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and
drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some
of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. St.
Paul here enumerates the different occasions of their fall; because so
manifold are the shapes of evil, the besetting sins of men, and the forms
the tempter assumes, and yet the end of all alike is, that they enter not
into that rest. And, indeed, take any one single sin enumerated, as that
of “lusting after evil things,” how does this, in a thousand different
ways, tempt the thoughts and desires! How innumerable are the meshes of
that net by which the great enemy catches men! how manifold are his arts!
like different flies, different colours of a fly, with which he baits his
hook to ensnare the soul,—according to the disposition of each, whether
it be sunny or cloudy weather, or the morning, noon, or evening of life.
All this finds a place in that living picture of our spiritual warfare,
which Israel in the wilderness holds up to our view.
Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted; saying
as they did in distrust, “Is the Lord among us, or not?" [Expd. xvii. 7.]
or of the manna, “Our soul loatheth this light bread.” [Numb. xxi. 5.]
And were destroyed of serpents— those fearful emblems of our unseen
foes in this wilderness of the world.
Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, “thinking scorn
of that pleasant land,” and despising the appointed ministers of God, and
were destroyed of the destroyer.
Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples, that is,
“by way of type;” and they are written for our admonition, upon whom
the ends of the world are come. They are full of spiritual signification,
made to speak the language of God to us who are placed. in this last dispensation
of all, to represent that invisible world, which, though most intimately
near, yet lies beyond the reach of the eye and ear of man,—great things
of infinite and everlasting consequence, such as no tongue can utter, no
heart can understand!
Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.
These admonitions are given us in order that we may fear for ourselves;
for even St. Paul himself, ever mindful of these things, although no man
could have had greater reason to think himself secure against falling away,
yet was urged on by an active, energetic fear lest he should become a cast-away.
And, as an early Greek Bishop adds to these words of warning, “if St. Paul
thus exhorts those who think they stand, what must be said, to those who
cannot think that they stand, but must know full well that they are fallen?”
and the holy man puts himself also among that number. What must we ourselves
do but make haste to arise,—by instantly seizing the hand of Him Who lifteth
up those that are down,— by seizing hold of His hand and not letting Him
We are surrounded by occasions of falling; there is no one but has his
peculiar temptations, more or less, waiting on him, —some owing to his
peculiar disposition,—some to his circumstances in life,—some to his past
sins: some one day assail him, others the next; some on one side and when
he is on his guard against them, some on another side coming upon him;
some in thought, some in act or word, some in the flesh, others in the
spirit, some in all these together. And by these temptations, for the most
part, men are more or less overcome; they give way sometimes with a struggle,
often without an effort; they yield often as a matter of course, as if
from time to time it were a little matter,—or as if the temptation were
too great, and by its very greatness smoothed the way of their besetting
sin. They are overwhelmed, and borne along like a leaf in the torrent,
as if it were a matter of necessity; not as if God was in all things weighing
and trying their spirits, and never allowing them to be carried away without
power to resist and. to overcome. It is all these cases that St. Paul now
meets, for in speaking of one particular instance his words are applicable
to all. There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to
man. No temptation is an excuse for sin; for whatever it may be, it
is oniy such as man’s present state of probation admits of. To suppose
that any one is placed. in a condition in which he cannot but fall, is
to forget that God is the Disposer of all things. He knows, He measures,
He deals out all events. There must be temptation, in order that
His strength may be perfected in our weakness; but such temptation is never
too great for us, otherwise our weakness would be overwhelmed by it, to
suppose which were to doubt the faithful care of God. But God is faithful,
Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able to bear; but
will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may he able
to bear it.
Thus the Epistle holds up to our attention the sacred history of the
people of God journeying to the promised land. The Gospel would lead
us to the like consideration from altogether another point of view, from
what we witness as it were among the nations of the world around...
.... (for the second part, on the Gospel.)