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The first part of 

Sermon XII. Obedience the Best Sacrifice
by Isaac Williams 
(From Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for The Sundays and Holy Days throughout the Year, Volume I. Advent to Tuesday in Whitsun Week, Rivingtons, London, 1875)
Be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God—ROM xii. 2.

The Gospel for today, in which our Lord appears before us for once as a child, is so full of life and instruction, that we may consider the Epistle throughout with reference to it, as calling us to the same childlike loving obedience; that so, fulfilling all Christian righteousness, we may be found in Him as the sons of God, may keep the true passover, and go up with the Divine Child to the Jerusalem which is above, which is the Mother of us all.

St. Paul had been dwelling, at great length, in this Epistle to the Romans, on the unsearchable riches and goodness of God, in grafting the Gentiles into the stock of Israel, whereby they were become partakers of all the promises of God, in grafting the Gentiles into the stock of Israel, whereby they were become partakers of all the promises made to the Jews of old; which he sums up by this appeal:  I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  After the pattern of the Holy Child obedient to the law, we, in obedience to the law of Christ, the true Lamb of God, Christ our Passover, Who is sacrificed for us, are called upon to present ourselves, not as the slain animals of old, but a “living” sacrifice, i.e. free from sin, as the lamb of old without spot or blemish; “acceptable to God,” for of those former sacrifices it is said that they were not acceptable: “Sacrifice and meat-offering Thou wouldest not, but mine ears hast Thou opened;” “I will praise the Name of God; this shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock.”  And this is our “reasonable service,” that is the true worship of the rational soul, as distinguished from the carnal ordinances of the Jews.

And be not conformed to this world; be not like the age around you in which you live, the fashion of which perisheth and passeth away; but be ye transformed, let a continual change be taking place in you, by the renewing of your mind, by a new heart, new dispositions, and new ways, such as is consistent with the new man and the new birth in Christ, being made conformable to the Holy Child in obedience, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God.  “That ye may prove,” the word means to ascertain by putting it to the proof; by obedience men come to know what is pleasing to God, as our Lord says, “if ye do the will, ye shall know of the doctrine.”  And St. Paul more than once uses this word in this same sense; thus, to the Philippians, “that ye may abound in knowledge and all judgment,” and “approve,” i.e. know by proof, “things that are excellent.”  And to the Hebrews, “by reason of use having senses exercised to discern,” i.e. to know by proof, for it is the same word, “both good and evil.”  The Collect for to-day seems to express this, “that they may perceive and know what things they ought to do.”  Thus, says the Epistle, by the renewal of your minds, shall ye learn that which is good, well-pleasing to God, and perfect.  The old sacrifices were not so, being but the shadows of good things to come, but the body is of Christ.  He is the only good, the one well-pleasing and perfect Sacrifice, and such are they who by faith shall be found in Him, perfect even as He is perfect, inasmuch as their old man being buried and dead, they are only known of God as having their life in Christ.

For I say, adds the Apostle, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than ye ought to think, not to be high in designs and affections beyond the lowly mind of a Christian.  He has just before been speaking of being renewed and transformed in mind, and such newness of Spirit is always connected with humility, as our Lord himself says, “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven;’ and “Whosoever humbleth himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Such is to be our disposition; not to be high-minded, but, adds St. Paul, to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith; that is, to consider whatever we have as the gift of God, according to that measure by which He deals to every one.  For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.  St. Paul uses the same figure to the Corinthians, as the great remedy for pride; and St. Chrysostom thus explains it: “Why dost thou think highly of thyself?  Are we not all one body, both great and small?  Why dost thou separate thyself, and put thy brother to shame?  For as he is a member of thee, so art thou of him.”

It may be observed, in this consideration of St. Paul, that humility becomes lost in love, let no one think highly of himself, for we are all members one of another; and then brotherly love itself is lost in the love of God.  For we are all one body, he says, and that body is Christ.

Thus in Christ must all Christian teaching begin and end; He is Himself the true Passover, and the Lamb, that is offered; in Him alone is all reasonable service, and filial obedience.  He is the new Man to Whom we are to be transformed day by day, by the renewing of our mind.  It is as parts of His body, as limbs and members of Him, that we are to learn humility and love to one another; it is in Him we are to be about our Father’s business and in His house.  He is Himself that little child according to Whose pattern we are to humble ourselves.

Thus the Epistle for the day may be found to connect itself, in a very beautiful manner with the Gospel; for where can this humility be better taught; from what does it all flow but from the example of this divine Child, Who at the same time that He is the most lowly and obedient among children, is also the Lord and King of Heaven?  From what other source do the Highest Angels which see His face in Heaven, learn this lesson of holy charity, that, as our Lord says, they watch over his little ones upon earth?  It is no doubt from seeing that their own Lord and Master has been pleased thus to humble Himself as to become a little child; Himself teaching angels and men this lesson, while He Himself was submitting to be taught of the Jewish Doctors in the Temple.

Thus the Epistle and the Gospel seem to teach us one living lesson, and by a beautiful transition to pass from one into the other.  Our Lord at twelve years of age was fulfilling all legal righteousness, present at Jerusalem and in the Temple, submitting Himself to the doctors of the law, setting forth to us that perfect pattern of obedience, through which we by faith shall be joined to Him, shall in Him keep the Passover, shall offer up an acceptable sacrifice; shall worship Him in spirit and in truth, in that better temple which is His Church; shall follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth, and be found at last in that Holy City, the new Jerusalem of which St. John speaks, wherein is seen no temple, “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”  “And the nations,” as celebrating the true epiphany, “walk in the light” of that City....

(for the second part on the Gospel)