THE description of the Christian character is now drawing to
its close. Most fitly, therefore, are we bidden to consider the graces
needed for the close of the Christian life.
Renewal and glad cheerfulness are the graces of the morning, peace sustains
us during the burden and heat of the day, but as the evening of life draws
on, and hearts grow weary, we must be encouraged to endure to the end,
and not to lose what we have wrought, but gain our full reward.
THE EPISTLE. (PHIL. i. 3.)
A PRAYER FOR PERSEVERANCE.
This is, therefore, the Sunday of Perseverance, and the great lesson
of the day is that perseverance is not of ourselves, but the work of God,
“a fruit of righteousness by Jesus Christ.”
It is to be noticed, as on the Nineteenth Sunday, that the Sarum Epistle
begins with the sentence which strikes the keynote of the Sunday—"He who
hath begun a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
S. Paul marks three stages in the Christian Life, and shows that each
is gained only by grace.
A. The Good Work Begun.
Religion is a good work in us, not merely a round of external services,
however valuable and right, nor some external and formal obedience, however
strict and accurate, but something inward, something good within; something
solid, real, substantial—a good work within, which has been begun in us
by God alone.
S. Paul gives his grounds for confidence that this work has been really
begun in the Philippians, whereby we may test our own reality.
(1) Their Christian Fellowship.
This is not merely “in the Gospel” (A.V.)—i.e., in the blessings, comforts,
hopes, and joys of the Gospel, but “in furtherance of the Gospel” (R.V.)—i.e.,
shown in their united interest, zeal, labour, and liberality.
The first proof of reality is, therefore, our earnest Churchman. ship.
(2) Their Christian Experience.
S. Paul could feel that they were partakers with himself, not only
in work, but in grace. The same grace by which he suffered, contended,
and toiled, was plainly and strongly working in them. Hence his hope of
them was steadfast. He longed after them “in the heart of Jesus Christ,”
but his love was all joy and no pain.
The second proof of reality is, therefore, Christian feeling, and our
likeness in heart to the Saints. ‘When we work like the Saints, and have
the experiences in us recorded in their writings, we have evidence that
God has begun a good work in us.
B. The Good Work Carried On.
This work, if it be real, must grow. We are apt to be satisfied with
continual beginnings. S. Paul is not so certain of the Philippians that
he can leave them out of his prayers. On the contrary, he prays for them.
(1) That their love might ever grow and grow, springing ever from a
deeper root in the love of Christ for them.
(2) That through love they might attain to ever-advancing knowledge.
Love without knowledge is wild and undisciplined, but knowledge without
love is nothing at all. Love is the Key of Knowledge, and slow learning
comes from cold loving.
(3) That through love they might attain to all Christian instinct and
perception. The loving Christian attains a delicate perception and
sensitiveness of spirit as to what is right and wrong, true and untrue,
fitting or unfitting, kind or unkind. Just as the musical car detects want
of harmony in sounds, so true love to God detects at once the discords
of sin, and instinctively discovers the true best in everything and the
truly excellent in action and conduct.
C. The Work Completed.
S. Paul pictures the complete Christian character—
(1) In its Freedom from Sin.
It will be sincere—i.e., pure, unsullied, and without blemish in the
sight of God. It will be “without offence “—i.e., without fault of conduct
(2) In its Active Usefulness.
It will be filled with the fruits of Christian influence and power.
These fruits will spring not of mere good nature, nor of mere human culture,
but from connection with Christ, and from the motive of the Cross: they
are necessary to our own safety at the last and to the glory of God.
Such is the description of the complete Christian character. Let us
beware of a Christianity that does not tend this way. Let us be sure that
we have the aim to be like this, for no man was ever more Christianly fruitful
than he intended to be, but for our comfort let us remember that S. Paul
speaks not of death as the goal, but the day of Jesus Christ.
THE GOSPEL. (S. MATT. xviii. 21.)
PERSEVERANCE WITH OTHERS.
We speak of our perseverance, but S. Paul has taught us that we should
rather speak of God’s perseverance with us, which is so great that He will
not fail to complete the good work of His grace, unlike men who begin to
build and are not able to finish.
We, who have so often to cry “Lord, have patience,” must show a like
patience towards others. We must not only forgive as we have been forgiven,
but persevere as we have been persevered with. This is the practical lesson
of the Gospel, in which we learn :—
A. The Limit of Perseverance.
There is no such limit, for seventy times seven stands obviously for
infinity. To fix a limit to their own patience is not to be endured in
those who themselves depend upon the continued
patience of God. To ask “how oft shall I forgive” is, in fact, to ask
“how oft shall I be forgiven,” for Christ has promised that the one answer
shall be the measure of the other. No man will willingly limit the Divine
mercy to be shown to himself.
B. A Parable of Patience.
We learn from this parable the reasonableness of any demand upon our
patience, however seemingly great.
(1) The Hopelessness of our
Our debt is ten thousand talents, a debt beyond all payment— hopeless,
unreasonable, and guilty. It is enough to mention our sins of omission,
of imagination, of temper and spirit, of heart and nature, and that we
have sinned against light, knowledge, and conviction, against vows, promises,
and good resolutions without number.
(2) The Completeness of our
So general—"all that debt.” So particular—"I forgave thee,” for God
forgives each the sins of his individual character and history. So absolute—"forasmuch
as he had not to pay.” We have nothing that is not sin or stained by sin;
we have nothing to pay, for all that we have is His by right already. This
parable does not hint at the later truth that forgiveness though free to
us was not free to God, and that we can only be forgiven because the world’s
ransom has been paid for us.
(3) The Fairness of the One
THE COLLECT. A PRAYER FOR THE PERSEVERANCE
It is no more than fair that we should make some acknowledgment, and
that required is only that we should forgive the pence to whom God has
forgiven the talents. We exaggerate offences against ourselves, we forget
our offences against God. Bishop Butler assures “all persons who think
that they have received injurious treatment that they may depend upon it
that the offence is not so great as they themselves imagine.”
We pray that God may enable us for perseverance or continual godliness.
A. The Church God’s Household.
The same description of the Church occurs in the Collect for the Fifth
Sunday after Epiphany, the Sunday of Patience, a similar Collect dealing
with a very similar subject. God’s patience is manifest in His household.
In that household the servants all are children, and the children servants,
and God is Father though Master, and Master though Father.
B. A Prayer for God’s Perseverance
We pray that He would keep us with His Fatherly care, and that He would
protect us from all adversities, for only thus can we hope to obtain that
for which we next pray.
C. A Petition for Our Own Perseverance.
We pray that we may be devoutly given to serve in good works. The Master’s
care must be repaid by willing service. If He perseveres with us we must
persevere in all our duties, both to Him and our fellow-servants. Oh, for
such continual recollection of our position and duties as members of the
family of God!