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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. 138-143.

 Second 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.
(for the first part, on the Epistle.

The occasion of the narrative in the Gospel was this: our Lord was now approaching Jerusalem for the last time of His sojourn there, just before His death. It was on Palm Sunday, as He meekly rode from Bethany with rejoicing multitudes, and at the turn of the hill on the Mount of Olives came suddenly in sight of Jerusalem, when St. Luke’s account thus proceeds :— 

And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. Yet to judge from sight all in that city was peaceful—nay, more, full of holy festivity and rejoicing. But as with the soul that hath departed from God, it was a false peace, and not to last. In the words of Baruch, “Thou hast forsaken the fountain of wisdom. For if thou hadst walked in the way of God, thou shouldest have dwelled in peace for ever.” [Bar. iii. 12.]  Whereas, now to them the day of peace was for ever over and gone: and the sign of this was already approaching, for a war and destruction, the most terrible which the world has ever witnessed, was in forty years entirely to overwhelm them. 

“He wept,” not for His own approaching sufferings, which He so distinctly foresaw, but for them who should inflict on Him those sufferings. “He wept” not merely on account of their eternal loss, which was ever present to the “Man of sorrows,” but as the sight of any distress, of hunger, or loss, moved His compassions, so the prospect of these temporal sufferings affected His pitying spirit, as He beheld that beautiful city, so soon to be the seat of such calamities. 

For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with. the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another.  What an awful figure of that inevitable ruin which may overtake the soul, when its short peace and rejoicing in worldly things is over, as a gulf entrenching it around, deep and large, spiritual enemies hedging it in on every side, as a net from which there is no escape. “Thy children within thee,—no stone remaining!” All thine earthly hopes gone, no vestige left! 

Because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.  These are remarkable words, “the time of thy visitation,” and “because thou knewest it not.”  There is a day in which God visits every Church and people, and every individual soul; it was this for which the warning voice had been sent, saying, “Now is the axe laid unto the root of the trees,” and “repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” This was the day of their visitation.  And moreover, there is an imminent danger lest it be not known; that it should come and go, and not be felt or understood, because our eyes are closed by sin while it is with us; and that it should have gone by, like the harvest and the summer ended, but never again to return. “But now they are hid from thine eyes.” It is this want of knowledge which is twice spoken of in this our Lord’s pathetic appeal, “if thou hadst known in thy day the things of thy peace ;“ and again, “because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” 

And a circumstance which the Evangelist mentions immediately after, affords us a strong and lively evidence how it was that they knew not the things of their peace, and the day of their visitation; it was because the love of the world and the business of the world occupied and profaned that temple where God would dwell alone. So it is with the soul which knows not the things of its peace. On beholding the city He wept; And, on entering Jerusalem, He went into the temple, and began to east out them that sold therein, and them that bought, saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. 

Now we are taught by this what great reverence is due to that holy place wherein God has placed His Name; that the evil world is not to enter there; there is to be there no buying and selling; nothing that partakes of the spirit of this world; no thoughts of covetousness, or business; but all is to be holy, full of veneration, and awe, and peace; that God may be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Secondly, that not only the materiel building, but what Scripture calls “the Church of the living God,” that spiritual temple spread abroad, the pillar and ground of the truth, the Kingdom of Heaven, as it is described in the Gospels, into which we are received at Baptism; that in this there should be no traffic or merchandise, no consideration of worldly politics should have any place therein; but that it should be “called an house of prayer for all people,” [Isa. lvi. 7.]  that there should be “in every place incense and a pure offering,” [Mal. i. 11.] “an offering in righteousness ;“ the continual sacrifice of prayer and praise. And thirdly, that as the Christian is so often in Scripture said to be the temple of God, being such he should keep himself holy, as the house of prayer; that nothing should be admitted within him which should impair or take the place of his constant communion with God; that as he is called upon to love God with all his heart and soul and strength, so nothing of this world should find an entrance into his heart, that sanctuary wherein God would dwell. That in carrying on the necessary business of this world, he should never allow anything of this kind to take the place of God in his soul; but should be as one who in possessing possessed not. That he should keep such things without his secret spirit, wherein God alone must be; that his joys and sorrows, his hopes and fears,—those things which dwell in his inner heart, the hidden man,—should be of another kind, and not like those of the men of this world. Now this is to know the things which belong unto our peace this is to know the time of our visitation; that Christ may not be weeping over us while we are rejoicing, and we know it not. Further, one word more of this indwelling of God, “the vision of peace.” When Christ had driven out the buyers and sellers it is added, And He taught daily in the temple. So it is with us; if we cast out from the heart whatever is common or unclean, every worldly thought and desire, reverencing ourselves as the house of prayer, in constant intercourse with God, then He will “daily teach us.” He will open our eyes within to the wonderful things of His law. He will give us to know the things which belong unto our peace. He Himself in our heart will sit as a teacher, instructing us daily, so that day unto day and night unto night shall utter knowledge. 

Let us then be careful not to lose this our day, the day of spiritual gifts, and when Christ sits in His temple. Surely we have much to labour after in order that we may obtain “the mind which was in Christ,” and “the mind of the Spirit.” The shadows of evening are stretched out, and this our day of grace wanes away apace. There is a night that overtakes man darker than that of the grave. 

Our Church on this Sunday lifts up as it were again what had been her Advent [see the First Sunday in Advent, vol. i. p.2.] note of warning, lest the things which belong unto our peace be for ever hidden from our eyes; yet in this warning is there also great encouragement; for are they not the things of our “peace"? is not the very expression full of the most sweet attraction? for, oh! what else in the world is worthy of one moment’s thought and care compared with this peace, the peace of God? Is it in our power to obtain this peace? yes, it is still in our power, for it is our “day ;“ Christ is watching over us, but not, we may trust, weeping over us as lost; for these things are not yet hidden from us; we desire them still, we long and labour for them, we tremble lest we lose them; they are not then yet hidden from us. 

And again, that other expression, “the day of visitation,” this too is a word of fear and alarm, but also of love and power; for it is the day when God visits us, and therefore called “the day of salvation.” For how does He visit us? it is with thoughts of repentance, with desires to pray, and to serve Him better than we have yet done. And when He gives us these thoughts and desires, He gives us likewise, if we neglect them not, the power to fulfil them.