To “serve God and be cheerful,” the motto of Bishop Hacket,
expresses the teaching of this very characteristic Sunday, which follows
so naturally upon the Gospel of last Sunday—“Son, be of good cheer; thy
sins be forgiven thee.”
The Sunday of Renewal is most fitly followed by the Sunday of Cheerful
Service, a service only possible for “liberated minds,” which is the literal
meaning of the phrase in the ancient Collect, now translated as “cheerfully.”
THE EPISTLE. (EPH. v. 15.) THE
JOY OF SERVICE.
S. Paul brings before us the duty of joy, for we must not mistake peremptory
duties for optional privileges. No such word as “privilege” exists in the
Bible, for whatever we can attain in the Christian life it is our bounden
duty to attain.
This short Epistle contrasts two apparently opposite views of religion.
A. The Seriousness of Religion.
The Christian life demands—
(1) Intense Caution.
In a world of so many inward and outward enemies the Christian must
“look carefully how he walks,” and employ caution and wisdom in all the
relations of life. Many eyes are upon him, especially One.
(2) Active Diligence.
We have fallen on evil days, and it is our duty to make them better.
We are therefore to redeem the time, or, more accurately, “to buy up the
opportunity,” at any expense of effort and self-denial. Everything is so
against us that we must make the most of every passing help, influence,
and means of grace. Our sails must be so set as to catch every transient
breath of favourable wind. We must be alive also to every opportunity for
doing good. We must endeavour to discover the will of God and act upon
it, avoiding the folly of ignorance and the greater folly of disobedience.
We shall thus be able both to gain and impart good.
B. The Happiness of Religion.
This happiness is a thing commanded, for it is as much our duty to be
“filled with the Spirit” as not to be “drunk with wine.” Certain features
of this happiness are to be noted.
(1) Its Source
Is the Spirit of God. We are to seek for satisfaction, not in the wine
of earth, but in the wine of Heaven, and are not to be content with any
mere taste of it, but to be filled.
(2) Its Expression.
This joy will find a vent in holy intimacies and friendships, for we
are to speak of it “one to another” (R.V.). It will show itself in the
melody of Christian song, and in the melody of the heart no less than of
the voice. Its inspiration will be gratitude “to the Lord,” Who has redeemed
us, and thus will be like that of the songs of Heaven. The revellers in
the wine of earth sing, and shall not we; we are to sing in the Church
on High, shall we not begin here?
(3) Its Thankfulness.
This is an essential element in Christian joy, for we are to be thankful
always and for all things, for everything which the Father sends is good
and for our good.
(4) Its Self-Restraint.
THE GOSPEL. (S. MATT. xxii. 1.)
THE FEAST OF JOY.
This joy must not lead us to forget plain duty, as do the joys of revelry,
for we are “to submit ourselves one to another.” It is not inconsistent
with the utmost reverence, for amid all the joys of service we are to remember
that our Master is One to be feared as well as rejoiced in. These two views
of religion as here described are not inconsistent. To take religion seriously
is the only way
to find it a happy service, without misgiving and without remorse.
A little religion will make us sad, but much will bring the joy of Heaven.
Heaven is only this Epistle carried out to the letter.
We are at once reminded of the parable of the Great Supper (S. Luke
xiv. 16), the Gospel for the Second Sunday after Trinity. There is much
in common between the two parables, but there is a degree of difference,
and each is appropriately placed by our Church. The Gospel of the earlier
Sunday illustrates our response to the loving invitation of God, this the
call to rejoice. The good man who made a supper is here the King seeking
the happy service of His people. There was the sin of ingratitude, here
the deeper sin of rebellion, and the penalty of the outer darkness. The
invitation was a call to happiness, and to enter into the joys of their
Lord, but it was the invitation of a King.
Two points may be singled out for special notice.
A. The Reason of Refusal.
We cannot understand the refusal of happiness, still less the angry
treatment of the servants. What was the cause of this bitter refusal? The
answer is plain. They would have none of the feast because they would have
none of the King. Each man would go to his own farm or to his merchandise
to show his independence of the King. But more than this, they were roused
to active opposition of insult and violence.
This was the case with the Jews—and it is often the case now. Men reject
the offer of happiness, because it means service, a will and heart given
to God. Thus they resist, and try to kill the messenger conscience, and
to discredit all other God’s messengers. Let such opposition teach us that
religion must be a very real thing, or men would not be so indisposed to
B. The Rejection of the Guest.
Why was this one guest rejected? Evidently his lack of education was
no impediment, for such is not to be sought among the highways and hedges.
His character was no objection, for bad
and good were alike invited. What was, then, the wedding garment which
he had not on? Evidently he came without the desire to be glad in that
which was the joy of the King. The same disobedience which made others
refuse, made him, though present, to be unfit.
The garment of renewal offered in Christ, and explained in the Gospel
for last Sunday, was rejected. If any are cast into the outer darkness
it will be because they will not put on the new man. If we miss the joy
of service it is because we will not serve.
THE COLLECT. A PRAYER FOR CHEERFUL
There is such intimate connection between Collect and Epistle, the doctrine
of the one suggesting the petitions of the other, that we may regard the
Collect as the Epistle done into a prayer.
There are three main petitions
A. For Preservation.
We pray against all hurtful things which may hinder us from cheerful
service, and especially as taught by the Epistle, from the carelessness
which gives no heed to watchful circumspection, from the indolence which
fails to redeem the time, and from the self. indulgence wherein is excess.
In days which are evil we must ever pray to be kept from all things that
may hurt us.
B. For Preparation.
We pray for such preparation of body that we may avoid all temptations
to excess, and for such preparation of soul that we may understand what
the will of the Lord is. We need this twofold readiness, for the spirit
may hinder by unwillingness, and the flesh by weakness.
C. For Performance.
We pray that, thus guarded and guided, we may cheerfully accomplish
the things which God would have us do, whether pleasing or trying, in the
joyful spirit described in the Epistle. We are not to be like Jonah, or
even Moses, but like Him Whc was ever about His Father’s business.