Home      Back to the Sunday after Ascension





The Days of Expectation.
by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

 throughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Tuesday in Whitsun Week

Rivingtons, London, 1875.


First part of Sermon XLIII. for the Sunday after Ascension Day.

The end of all things is at hand. — 1 ST. PETER iv. 7. 

WHEN our Lord ascended into Heaven, the Angels spake of His return, He “shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven.”  And indeed our thoughts of His departure are necessarily connected with the subject of His coming again.  Scripture is wont to combine the two events together.  It was just before His leaving His disciples that they asked Him whether He was then about to restore the kingdom to Israel; for all His preparations looked so like some immediate manifestation of Himself when He told them that the times and seasons were the secret of God, but that they were immediately by the descent of the Holy Ghost to prepare the way.  All things in Scripture, all things in nature, all things in the world around, point, as with the finger, to this the Lord’s return.  And the rapidity with which we seem to pass one after another from this visible scene, suggests to a thoughtful mind that the great winding up of all is to be very soon.  Well therefore does our Church on this Sunday take up the warning note with which the Epistle for to-day commences.  (The words of the Text are prefixed in our own Church to the Epistle.  In the Missal it commences with "Be ye sober.")

The end of all things, says St. Peter, is at hand; be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.  It is very much to the same effect that our Lord Himself speaks in one of His last discourses: “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to stand before the Son of Man.”  And St. Peter’s expression, “be sober and watch,” seems best explained by our Lord’s words on the same occasion : “Take heed lest your hearts be overcharged,” not merely by surfeiting and drunkenness, but “by the cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.”  (St. Luke xxi. 34-36) What can better express the feelings which they ought to have, who, after gazing on their Lord ascending into Heaven, turn their eyes again down to earth, with the words of the Angels in their ears, “He shall so come as ye have seen Him go"?  And so it was with those disciples; “they returned to Jerusalem, and were continually in the temple.”  (St. Luke xxiv. 53)

And above all things, adds St. Peter, have fervent charity among yourselves.  In like manner St. Paul says.  “And above all these things put on charity.”  (Col. iii. 12-14) This brotherly love is the great requisite in preparations for the Last Day; for without it watchfulness and prayer are of no avail, or rather cannot exist.  It was so with the early Church warm with first love, and should be with that which is last in waiting.  On Advent Sunday, therefore, as well as to-day, the Church sets before us this same lesson; for then, when it sounded the Advent trump, “Awake out of sleep, for the Day is at hand,” the admonition given was, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another.”

For charity, it is added, shall cover the multitude of sins.  This needs must be so; for true love—the love of God and man—being ever combined with humility, is ever confessing its sins; and if we confess our sins, God will forgive us our sins and cleanse us.  Blessed is he whose sins are covered, and to whom the Lord imputeth not sin.  And our Lord has pointed out the way: “Tier sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much.”  Add to which, that love will also cover the sins of others—by forgetting and forgiving them—by seeing them not; and then the promise is, that the merciful shall obtain mercy, and he that judgeth not shall not be judged; and if we forgive others, God will forgive us our trespasses.  So that the love which, as the Book of Proverbs says, covers the sins of others, shall cover also its own (This Book has sometimes a new sense given to it in the New Testament.  Compare Prov. xxv. 7, with St. Luke xiv. 10. Prov. xxv. 22, with Rom. xii. 20. Prov. x. 12, with St. James v. 20.); and charity never seeks its own pardon more effectually of God, than when it is seeking that of others.  As St. James also says, ”He which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”

Use hospitality, the Apostle proceeds, one to another without grudging.  And St. Paul, in like manner of connexion with fraternal charities, “Let brotherly love continue; be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained Angels unawares.” (Heb. xiii. 1, 2)  As if thereby suggesting the Lord of Angels Himself, Who says, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto Me.”  “I was a stranger and ye took Me in.”

As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.  Our Lord, speaking of His departure and return, described the state of Christians by the parables of the Pounds and of the Talents, implying the distribution of gifts, which, during His absence, they would have, as faithful stewards, to improve.  These are here spoken of as the various gifts of the Spirit, which, as St. Paul says, are “given to every man to profit withal ;“ that is, for the edification and salvation of his neighbour and of himself.  And these St. Peter here ranges under two classes.

If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.  If any man speak by the gift of the Spirit which was in the early Church, by preaching, or by prophecy, or by hymn, and which is now by the manifold ways of Christian teaching, and by all the uses of the tongue, in these let him be as one not speaking his own words or seeking his own profit, but as guided by the Spirit of grace and wisdom.

If any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth; if it is not given him to teach, but in some other subordinate office to minister to the good of others, “let him do it,” not as if it were anything of his own, but as of a power entrusted to him from above.  That God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to Whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever.  Let him attribute all to God; let him, in the various gifts of His grace, refer all to Him in Whom all fulness dwells; that the streams of Divine goodness be again replenished in Him Who is the Fountain of all; may by thanksgiving be restored back to Heaven, that so, sanctified and refreshed, they may again more abundantly bedew the earth.

Thus, while the Gospel assures us of what will be done, and what is done for us, the Epistle exhorts us of what we are ourselves to do, as in preparation for the great Harvest that is at hand; watching in prayer with all perseverance, as looking forward to the end of all things; that by charity all gifts of the Spirit may be regulated, and in charity all sins forgiven, that so all may redound to the praise of God.

The Gospel for this Sunday,...

(for the second part of this sermon, on the Gospel.)