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Perseverance in Prayer.
by Isaac Williams
from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days throughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Whitsuntide 
Rivingtons, London, 1875 [New Edition.]
First part of Sermon XXIII. for the Second Sunday in Lent.
 1 Thess. iv. 1-8.    St. Matt. xv. 21-28.
"We beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the LORD JESUS, 
that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and 
to please GOD, so ye would abound more and more."
I THESS. iv. 1.

THESE words of St. Paul, together with the passage that follows, are like a short Lenten sermon; and thus taken, they are as if he had said, now being “the accepted time” and “the day of salvation,” he who does not advance forward and make progress, will assuredly fall back.  We beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk, and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.  The danger of your falling back is so great, that “by the Lord Jesus,” by all your hopes in Christ I do “beseech you,” nay, I do “exhort you as brethren,” that ye will not look back, nor stop, but press forward in your high calling.  St. Paul’s words are often best explained by what he says on other occasions; and this passage is very similar to what he writes to the Colossians, “that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Col. i. 10.) 

For, he adds, ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.  For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication.  As if he had said, But you will ask what is this conversation, pleasing to God, in which we are to abound? why, it is your own sanctification or holiness; and this your holiness consists in avoiding fornication, that is, all sins of the flesh.  It is that law which, as our Lord so often teaches us in the Gospel, reaches to the heart; out of which issue adulteries, fornication, uncleanness; that desire within, which is like the right eye; and if it makes us to fall must be plucked out, that the whole body be not cast into hell,—that eye of lust, which our Lord declares to be in the sentence of the Judge as the very sin of adultery.  This is the flesh which is at war with the Spirit, and against which the Spirit contends, and one of these must gain the mastery.  It is in this mortification that we are continually to advance without ceasing.  For this is the purity of heart to which is given the vision and the knowledge of God.  (St. Matt. v. 8.)  This is that holiness, “without which,” says St. Paul, “no man shall see the Lord.” (Heb. xii. 14.)  Nothing that defileth, (Rev. xxi. 27.) no unclean or effeminate person, can enter into the City of God, or be found in His Presence. 

That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; that is, there is something very awful in this body which we bear about with us; it is like a vessel set apart in the Temple; nay, more, “your body,” says St. Paul, “is the temple of the Holy Ghost.” (1 Cor. vi. 19.)  There is some great mystery on this subject, which makes sins of the flesh of a heinous and very aggravated character in a Christian.  “Know ye not,” says the same Apostle, “that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?  If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” (1 Cor. iii. 16, 17.) 

Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.  The very gods of the Gentiles were of themselves lustful and impure, because they were in fact devils, and the worship of devils was compatible with all uncleanness; those sins were the very proof that they “know not God,” Who is infinitely holy, and Who cannot be approached or known without purity of heart and life. 

That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any (or the) matter; because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.  Having spoken of each keeping his own body in holiness, St. Paul advances a step further, and speaks of others also being overreached or injured, as must be the case in all such acts of defilement as adultery and fornication.  There is no subject in Holy Scripture so terrible as this, because it speaks of God Himself being in some especial manner of all such sins “the Avenger.”  As in another place, “but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” (Heb. xiii. 4.)  Hence we find that human laws do not punish these sins; they cannot; they are beyond them; God reserves them to Himself for His own judgment.  And it may be observed, that in Scripture these sins are usually spoken of with some allusion to the eternal fire, as in the Gospels to “the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched.” Thus St. Peter says that “the Lord reserveth the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished; but chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness.” (2 St. Pet. ii. 9.) 

For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.  That is, for the very purpose of our being thus “called” out of the world, and set apart by Baptism for God’s service, is this sanctification; as everything in the Temple of old was marked as “holiness unto the Lord,” and very carefully kept from all profane or common uses, so must it be with our own bodies; they are to be held in reverence, set apart by the Holy Unction which is within, as the abode of God’s Spirit, as parts of Christ’s own Body.  “Not fashioning yourselves,” says St. Peter to those who had once been Gentiles, “according to the former lusts in your ignorance; but as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 St. Pet. i. 14-16.) 

He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, Who hath also given unto us His Holy Spirit.  Here, again, is expressed the whole matter, as before alluded to.  The peculiar effect of such sins is, that they harden the heart, “take away the heart,” (Hos. iv. 11.) as Scripture says, and alienate it from God; and this is shown by light indifference and contempt.  Such a one, therefore, despises in heart and sets at naught all those by whom he is admonished—the Apostles of God; and then His minister, it may be, and his warnings; or the countenance of his parents and elders, and of all good people; he secretly mocks at them, and in heart sets them at defiance; nay, far more, there are others also whom he despises, those whose souls or bodies he defiles.  It is this which renders him easy-hearted, and allows him to live, perhaps, and die without fear.  But what says St. Paul in this passage? he “despiseth not man, but God.” God keeps this as His own especial business and care.  And why is this sin of despising God so heavy in this matter beyond all? it is what St. Paul ever repeats, “because He hath given unto us His Holy Spirit ;“ that Holy Spirit Which shall enable us to resist and overcome such temptations, if we will; and Who, if we will not, is grieved first, and then (O terrible desertion !) leaves us. 

There is, moreover, an evident suitableness that God should be so peculiarly the Watcher and Avenger of all sins of this nature, because they are for the most part known to God only, Whose eye is on the heart, and on all the secret ways of men.  And because the contrary to this, viz, purity of heart and mortification of life, has the indwelling of God, the hidden Presence of His Spirit, fills the soul with a disposition to unceasing prayer, and draws it more and more into communion with God.  And all this must be in secret.  It is here that God only rewards and punishes.  He rewards the pure in heart with the knowledge of Himself, because He intends that they should for ever dwell with Him in Heaven; He punishes the unclean by withdrawing from them His Holy Spirit, because they are to be hereafter for ever shut out from His Presence.  And, therefore, of such it is said: “A fornicator will never cease till he hath kindled a fire.  He will not leave off till he die.” So says the wise man; but why? assuredly because God takes from him His Holy Spirit.  He saith “in his heart, Who seeth me? I am compassed about with darkness, the walls cover me, and nobody seeth me; what need I to fear? the Most High will not remember my sins: such a man only feareth the eyes of men, and knoweth not that the eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun.” (Ecclus. xxiii. 17-19) 

Now, such being the nature of these sins, the weight of them is very terrible to an awakened conscience which makes any serious attempts to draw near to God; the recollection of sins of this kind, not in deed only, but of any approaches to them in evil thought, depresses, darkens, overwhelms the spirit, perhaps, more than any other sin.  And, therefore, there seems something peculiarly suitable in the Gospel which our Church has appointed for this week, as following the Epistle, and thus connecting it with this most sad subject, wherein we are taught that we have not, under such feelings, to lift up the bitter cry of Esau, of which we have the account in this morning’s Lesson, when, after having sold his birthright for one morsel of meat, “he found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears;" (Heb. xii. 17.) but, on the contrary, like the poor Canaanitish woman, although unworthy of the children’s bread, and unclean in the sight of God, yet we have only to persevere, and after much importunity and many tears shall undoubtedly be accepted. 

And this may be noticed the rather, because, although the Epistle is, as usual, the same, yet our Gospel for today is different from that of other and foreign Churches.... 

...(for the second part, on the Gospel