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The Day of Visitation.

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, pp. 132-138.

 First part of Sermon LVII. for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity.
If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things 
which belong unto thy peace!—ST. LUKE xix. 42.

 When the Epistles and Gospels were ranged differently to what they now are, the Epistle for last Sunday attached to the Gospel for to-day added a peculiar force to it; for the Epistle gave warning of Israel in the wilderness not entering into God’s rest, while this Gospel speaks of the Israel of later time being in like manner wept over by their own Messiah, and by Him cast out of His temple; and both for the same reason, on account of God being forgotten in the love of this world. But our Epistle for to-day has for us in store another lesson of edification. Let us endeavour to read and ponder it with the light of God’s Spirit, and may His holy guidance make it profitable to us.

Concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. St. Paul is here speaking of a state of things different to anything which we now experience; for when the Gospel was first being planted in the world, the Holy Spirit made His Presence known by many visible tokens; and when by Baptism He was received, being Himself invisible, He thus by sensible signs gave evidence of His power, such as the weakness of men in the infancy of the Church required. And first of all, St. Paul tells these Christians at Corinth how they shall distinguish these manifestations of the good Spirit from those possessions of devils, to which, as Gentiles, they were accustomed; and he points out this distinction to consist at that time in this, whether or no they confessed Christ. Ye know, he says, that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols even as ye were led. When ye were possessed by those evil spirits, ye were forcibly dragged away to the idols without having any will of your own: but not so with Christians; they are influenced by the sweet compulsion of a gracious Spirit leading them gently on with the love of Christ; and the acknowledgment of Christ is the test, for this the evil spirit will not allow his votaries to make. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed; that is, can deny Christ in the manner that the heathens require men to do. And that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, no one is able to make this good confession, under such circumstances of persecution and martyrdom, but by the Holy Ghost. St. John says the same : “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.”

And again, there is another point; these miraculous gifts are of many kinds, but you must take care not on that account to confound them with the many false gods of the heathen; for in the Church all is union and harmony, arising from the Divine unity, the Three Persons in One God. Now there are diversities of gifts, which He bestows in this manifestation of His Presence, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, by which we serve Christ in His Church, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations; the ways by which God worketh in this His kingdom of the Spirit are many and manifold; but it is the same God Who worketh all in all. Whether they be gifts, or administrations, or operations; though differing in name, yet all may be one in substance; they are by the same Spirit, for the same Lord, of the same God; and These being Three are yet One.

There is, further, another consideration; what is the end and object of these miraculous tokens of the Spirit? it is one and’ the same in all,—the diversity of them all, their measure and degree, is for what is profitable. But the manifestation of the Spirit, by these outward and sensible signs of His Presence, is given to every man to profit withal; they are dispensed according to what is good for each to receive, both for his own spiritual well-being, and for promoting that of others. And here St. Paul affords a very interesting mention of what those miraculous powers were, which God was then using in His Church for the conversion of the world; they were not like graces of the Spirit, and the gifts of righteousness which adorn the saints; but they were like natural powers, and endowments of mind’ and body, such as did not necessarily make men better, but were lent them by God as stewards of His gifts, which they might use for good, or abuse. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, such as St. Paul and St. John were so wonderfully gifted with. We “speak wisdom,” says St. Paul, “among them that are perfect.” To another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit. He speaks not here of that knowledge of God which is inseparable from love, and in which is eternal life, but of that knowledge of the things of God which may be without charity, and as such puffeth up. To another faith by the same Spirit; that is, the Spirit at that time gave to some a miraculous insight into the unseen, with so strong an assurance in Christ’s Name that it could remove mountains, as an evidence to others of the Spirit’s power; but this was not necessarily that saving faith which is unto life, for this also might be without charity. To another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits: “the knowing who is spiritual,” says St. Chrysostom, “and who is not; who is a prophet, and who a deceiver ;“ for many were the false prophets which then had gone forth; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.

So rich and manifold were the gifts with which the Church of God then went forth to draw the Gentile world unto her as it were by her beauty, miraculously adorned “in a vesture of gold wrought about with divers colours,” and saying, “Hearken and consider, incline thine ear; forget also thine own people and thy father’s house.” But, although so many and various were these manifestations, yet, adds St. Paul, all these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.

What, then, does this Epistle teach us of the present day? for it speaks of a state of things which does not now at all exist; there are now no supernatural signs which mark believers from unbelievers. It used to he connected with the Gospel of the parable of the Pharisee and Publican praying together in the same temple, and one despising the other. [Note: Williams is assuming the Roman Missal is correct, but in fact it was the Roman Missal that shifted all of the Epistles off by one Sunday when they added a Gospel early in the season.  The Sarum Missal (and BCP) preserved the original Gospels and Epistles from the Lectionary of St. Jerome (see the first section of this paper for further information).]  But as it now occurs with us in our Epistle for to-day, it seems to contain this general lesson, that we are all of us at all times in a state of probation and trial; that even in the early Church, warm with her first love, when miraculous gifts were poured upon its members, these very gifts themselves became a source of temptation, and served as a means of trying their love to God. Some were puffed up by the possession of them and despised others; some misused them; to others they became subjects of envy because they had them not; others confused them with the powers of possession showed by evil spirits. All these things the Apostle here writes to correct, and shows that they were only given for the purpose of edification, and ought in no way to be the causes of strife and selfishness; for they were but different manifestations of one and the same Spirit, dividing to every one as appears good to Him, precisely as different members of the body have different powers and offices.

It is true we have not now these miraculous powers to profit by or abuse,—nothing of this kind to separate one in pride and envy from another. Yet never has been a time when Christians have thought so much of themselves, as if separate and set apart from others; of their own gifts of spirit, of mind or body, of nature or fortune, and so little of that one great Body to Which they belong; and the reason of this has been because love waxes cold. How often may the Apostle’s words occur to us with respect to all those differences of gifts and diversities of office in which we are placed to serve God; all these, what are they?  “All these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.”  Take, for instance, outward station,—we call it station in the world out it is not really so with Christians,—it is outward position in the Church of God. Why is one rich and another poor, with all the numerous inequalities in condition? the answer and explanation is here given; it is merely such as is given to each to “profit withal,”—that is, such as may serve by God’s blessing for the spiritual benefit of himself and others. It is, indeed, too often the case, that riches are the destruction of the rich man, and poverty of the poor man; but the very contrary to this is intended by the all-wise Disposer of our lives, “dividing to every man severally as He will.” There are differences and diversities innumerable, but it is by the same Spirit and for the same Lord. And the destruction of soul arising in these cases, is in great measure from this,—that each is wont to look on these things, not as ways of God and talents of His, to be used by us for His honour, but as if they were things of our own; if lent to us we are proud of them, and so misuse and abuse them; if lent to another, we are envious and discontented at the sight, and covet the same for ourselves. So is it with learning and reputation, and other such diversities between man and man. So is it with means and powers of usefulness in the Church. Whereas to be high-minded from having them, to desire them for their own sakes, is to forget God and our own awful stewardship. They are given to each “to profit withal,” and for no other purpose. Heathen idols were many; and the evil spirits were many that led to their worship; and many their vices, all leading to selfishness and hatred. But in the Church of God, that is, among Christians, all distinctions are nothing else but the different callings of the one Spirit, by which they are in love to serve one another and to serve God; or different powers given to different members for the benefit of each other, as all parts of that one Body, Which is Christ. Now the effect of these two ways of looking on things, whether as in ourselves and by ourselves, or only as members one of another, is as opposite as light and darkness. So far as we consider the gifts of God as something of our own, we are exalted in our own eyes; so far as we consider them as parts of a stewardship for which we are accountable, we must be more and more humbled under a sense of them.

This, then, is to us the day in which we have been called by the Householder to work in His vineyard,—the day of our visitation, our accepted time, and the season of grace.

                                   .... (for the second part, on the Gospel.)