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The Most Excellent Gift.

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.]
Second part of Sermon XX. for the Sunday called Quinquagesima.
 1 Cor. xiii. 1-13.    St. Luke. xviii. 31-43.
Charity never faileth.I COR. xiii. 8.
(for the first part, on the Epistle.
...And now very impressive and instructive is the transition from the Epistle to the Gospel for the day; for thus, after the description of divine love, we pass to the perfect Pattern of divine love itself; for “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down Ins life for his friends.” And here we have our Lord preparing Himself, and preparing others for His death, even as now He would prepare us, through the season of Lent, to go up with Him to witness His death at Jerusalem. And all this His journey throughout, accompanied at every step with lowliest acts of that charity which “suffereth long and is kind;” and blessed be God, not only setting forth to us what true love is, but giving us power to obtain it while we look to Him. For how shall we learn this love unless He draw us unto Himself? This divine love goeth forth like virtue from Him; for very love’s sake may He make us to love Him, and if we love Him we have perfect love; love of God and love of man; love of man whom we have seen, in Him Who is emphatically the Son of Man; and love of God also, Whom in mart we see manifested in Jesus Christ. 

Then took He unto Him, says St. Luke, the twelve,— i. e. took them apart from all others, as about to disclose some great and concerning circumstances unto them,— and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall he accomplished. For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on : and they shall scourge Him, and put Him to death: and the third day He shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. 

Now this is not the only occasion when our Lord prepared His disciples for His approaching sufferings; for some months before His death He had been doing so continually; as many as nine times of His doing so are mentioned in the Gospels. Yet it was so beyond all their thoughts, that, notwithstanding, they could not comprehend it; and in this it is like all prophecies of God. He repeats them often and often, as if saying, “let these things sink deep in your ears,” yet before they are fulfilled they are never understood; when they take place, then the prophecies are remembered, and it is seen how God had been foretelling all the events throughout. But although the disciples could not understand how such things could he, yet all the while the effect of these our Lord’s repeated declarations did prepare their hearts, put them in a state of prayer, and watchfulness, and waiting upon God. On one occasion, it is said, “they were exceeding sorry,” when they heard it: on another St. Peter deprecated, praying that it might not be; from which it is evident that he understood it to mean the enduring of some great sorrows by his beloved Master. And at this time, when they saw their Lord’s boldness in going up to meet all these things at Jerusalem, it is said in another Gospel, they “were amazed ;" and “as they followed Him they were afraid.” 

He took the twelve aside, it is said, apart from the multitude, to teach them of these things. Blessed privilege, to be taken aside from the world and taught by Him; and to be taken, though they hardly know, into fellowship with His sufferings; to prepare them beforehand for closer communion with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and for the Last Supper, and the Mount of Calvary, and afterwards for that upper chamber at Jerusalem, where, the doors being locked, He should be with them, and give them His peace. In like manner is it the ease with us now; the Scriptures would prepare us for some great and wonderful manifestation, suddenly to come upon us, when charity alone shall stand, but we cannot comprehend how such things are to be. In the, meanwhile Christ would talk to us apart would take us up to Jerusalem with Him, to witness His sufferings, saying, that in Him only shall we find life and safety in those awful things which are to be. 

Again, “charity never faileth,” is never wanting under any trial; and this we are to keep in mind through this approaching season of humiliation, that under no pressure of self-mortification we forget the love of our neighbour. This also is beautifully brought before our minds in the Gospel for this day. For while our Lord was now going up to Jerusalem as a willing Victim to die, so filled with a sense of the awful sorrows that awaited Him, and the Twelve around Him partaking of the like feelings of undefinable sorrow, amazement, and apprehension, yet all is alleviated by acts of mercy to the meanest. “Charity never faileth,” but “suffereth long and is kind.” It is that same love which amidst the agonies of Gethsemane forgot riot the sleeping disciples, nor on the Cross was unmindful of the penitent thief, and of His suffering Mother, and of those who, in crucifying Him, knew not what they did. 

Moreover, this incident which follows seems to derive a peculiar significancy from its connexion with that discourse itself which preceded it. For it is said, “they understood none of these things, and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.” And then the narrative proceeds. And it came to pass, that as He was come night unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging: and hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant. And they told him that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by. And he cried, saying, Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. He had been teaching the disciples, but they were blind; they could not understand; helpless, by the way side, having none to guide; but in this their blindness who shall lead them? who shall open their eyes? This lowly act of charity shall teach them and instruct us all. When the Lord approached Jerusalem He wept over it because “the things belonging to their peace” were “hidden from their eyes;” because they were blind, and had no eyes to see, and were not sensible of their own blindness. But if by humiliation we are made to know our own blindness, and, as the beggar by the road side, to know that we have no help but in Him, He will open our eyes; He will give us power to follow Him on the road, and to be with Him in that true Jerusalem which is “the vision of peace.” 

Blessed be His Name, He bids us ask of Him in order that He may give. “Thou sayest I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art,” as this blind beggar, “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” (Rev. iii. 17, 18) 

And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace; but he cried so much the more, Jesus Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. How does this represent ourselves? blind by nature and by sin, we would appeal earnestly to Christ to open our eyes, that we may see Him and ourselves; but when we would set our faces steadfastly to seek Him in prayer, what a thronging multitude of fancies would make us to hold our peace, and rebuke us until we do; what thoughts of business intervene to stop us,— conversation with others,— reading or worldly matters,—relations, friends, strangers,—all seem to combine to draw us away from prayer and communion with God; household duties, our very meals, daily labours, all cry out; and if we listen to then], Jesus will pass by as if He heard not,—will pass by and never again return. But herein faith is the more seen and tried : “He cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!”  He was all the more importunate for these hindrances; so will it ever be with the Christian who is thoroughly in earnest. Things that would stifle a weak flame, serve as fuel to the strong one. Those very temptations which would hinder the lukewarm, render him more fervent in overcoming them; and above them all his voice is heard. The world is importunate, and sin and Satan, hut more importunate is his prayer to Him Whose Name is Love., Who “suffereth long and is kind.” 

And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto Him. St. Mark gives an interesting account of the scene. Our Lord seems to have passed by, when turning He “commanded him to be called; and they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; He calleth thee. And he, casting away his garment, rose and came to Jesus.” And when he was come near, He asked him, saying, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee ? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight; thy faith hath saved thee. That faith which first inquired after Me; that faith which cried unto Me, though I was “as one that heard not,” and, unless I had been constrained by thee, would have passed by; that faith which fainted not, but persevered, and was the more urgent when so many that went before would have come between Me and thee, and stopped thins entreaties; that “faith hath saved thee.” “I am the Light of the world.” Blessed is he who knoweth his own blindness, poverty, and. nakedness, and seeketh of Me eyes to see. 

And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. By faith Christ drew him unto Himself, and when his eyes were opened he followed Him. Faith came first, and then love; by love lie followed Him, and in following Him glorified God. What a lively emblem of the Christian is this! he feels his misery and helplessness, and prays in faith with perseverance, and his eyes are opened to see God, Whom to see is to love and follow.  It has been well said of this Divine lesson, set forth in this blind man, “Happy is that blind person, to whom God gives not only eyes to know Him, but likewise feet to follow, a tongue to praise, and a heart to love Him.” (Quesnel on St. Luke.) 

And all the people, it is added, when they saw it, gave praise unto God. Thus wherever there is such a true conversion of the whole heart and life to God through “faith working by love,” the “light shines before men;” and they who before would have hindered and held him back, are now themselves moved by the marvellous grace which they witness, and they also glorify God. 

Now consider what is this light, my brethren, of which we speak; this light, not of the body, but of the soul, which Scripture so often mentions. This light is no other than love; it is the same love which St. Paul describes in the Epistle, that charity which never faileth. “He that saith he is in the light,” says St. John, “and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” (1 St. John ii. 10.) 

“God is Light,” and “God is Love.” This love is that light which surrounds the steps, and warms the heart of the penitent, and burneth more and more bright to cheer him on Ins desolate road. If any ask, what is the one thing needful? the Epistle says it is Love. If any ask, what is Love? the Gospel for this day says, it is Jesus going up to Jerusalem to die. And if we ask, and what shall we do? it is with blind Bartimaeus to pray earnestly in faith that we may have sight to see Him; and casting aside the beggarly garments of our former self, to follow Him in the way. 

In short, in the exalted account given us of charity, we may well feel overwhelmed at our great want of it, as we come to fathom the depths of our need, and measure ourselves by the Pattern. Our great relief on such occasions is looking to Christ in prayer; in prayer with regard to every particular of these our daily sad miscarriages and short-comings; and what we derive from dwelling on this incident, is the assurance, that if we are importunate He will hear us, in such a prayer as we offer in the Collect for this day.