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Mercy the Best Preparation for Judgment.

by Isaac Williams

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

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875.

First part of Sermon LI. for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity.

What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,

Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.  - 2 ST.  PET.  iii.  11, 12. 

THE Epistle for this Sunday, in character with the Collect, consists of a passage exceedingly sublime and eloquent, wherein St. Paul, after his manner, compares the present state of suffering with the glory which is to be hereafter; the purport of which, in short, is this: what if as Christians we are called upon to suffer with Christ, we do but partake of the common lot of mankind, for "man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward;" all nature itself has likewise to labour under this heavy burden of sorrow.  I deem it a matter of very little consequence; it is but for a moment; it will soon be all explained; all will have gone by; all will be utterly lost and swallowed up in the greatness of those eternal realities which are about to appear. 


I reckon, he says, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  "Light and but for a moment," they are not to be set in the balance with the "eternal weight of glory," a glory which is even now hidden with God and existing, and only waits to be "revealed."


For, the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.  The inspired Apostle sees the whole of the creation, like one living being, in intense desire and earnest expectation, stretching forth the head and straining the eyes in awful waiting for something that is to appear.  He beholds all things that are around us in one vast image or personification, and in one bold figure or expression he sums up all the appearances of this visible universe; day and night, seasons and years, trees and animals, skies and seas, clouds and rivers, and all the generations of men, the whole of created beings around us, and the human soul, --on all these alike there hangs one awful suspense, looking for the manifestation of God's children.  For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him Who hath subjected the same in hope.  For this mysterious subjection to vanity under which the creation labours is evidently one of constraint, from not having its own object in which it can rest; not fulfilling its appropriate end; not finding its true and final good.  But God has been pleased to subject it to the same for wise reasons in hope of release, and stamped upon it the expectation of that deliverance which it shall share.  Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For vanity and death, which hath passed upon all the visible creation, "the covering" and "the vail that is spread over all nations " [Isa. xxv. 7] on account of the fall, shall be done away, this temporal scene ''as a vesture shall be changed;” and "a new Heaven and a new earth” shall share in that freedom from sin and death.


St. Augustin, indeed, says, "The creature, subject to vanity, spiritual, animal, and corporal, is in man; nay, is man himself.  Willingly he sinned, and became an enemy to truth; and deservedly, for his punishment hath been made ‘not willingly subject to vanity.'" [Enar. In Ps. Cxviii. Serm. Xii.]  But in sympathy with man, the Apostle seems here to behold all nature around him in one view. 


For we know: our own daily experience and knowledge of the world will tell us; for look abroad, and where is there not pain and death, with all their accompaniments, in earth, air, and water?  For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together;  is as in travail or birth-pangs, as a woman doomed to bring forth in sorrow; but in the original there is a peculiar force in this word together—one lot of sorrow and of pain; this one common bond of sympathy holds all creation and all mankind; the expression is, they “groan together, and together are in pain."  And great as are the things that are spoken of the state of the regenerate, yet while they bear about with them this body, they are not free from this common lot of humanity; nor can the peace passing all understanding which Christ bestows, nor the liberty of the Spirit and glad privileges of the adoption, afford them immunity from these pains of body and mind, which are but the yearnings of our fallen nature and longings for release.  And not only they; nor is this all; but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.  In other words, waiting for the sonship; but you will say, Are we not sons already, having "received the adoption?" [Phil. iii. 21]  Yes, doubtless, in some sense we are, but not altogether, for from this state of sonship we may fall away; and where there is no security or full assurance of safety, there can be no full immunity from fear and pain; but that perfect sonship, that last regeneration for which we wait, is when the body also shall be rescued "in full redemption" from this its state of corruption and death.  "We look for the Saviour, Who sha1l change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious Body.'"  For  “now are we,” says St. John, "the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him."  This is that manifestation of the sons of God, for which all creation waits.  "But our lot at present is," as St. Chrysostom says, "that of uncertainty to our last breath." [Hom. xiv. In Rom. ad loc.]


Now this subject of the Epistle and Collect is a very impressive one; there is none that comes home more strongly to the hearts of us all; it is so bound up and interwoven with all our natural feelings and affections; and however men may labour to forget it for a while in the absorbing pursuits and engagements of life, yet they know that there is a great body of truth lying under all this busy scene; the shortness of this our mortal condition, the vanity which is over its glories and its pleasures, and the ceaseless anxiety and sorrow which is mixed up with this state of being.  But more than all is the deep abiding sense which we cannot but have of its transitory nature.  Men are wont to speak of it, to acknowledge it with a sigh, and make wise reflections concerning it; and they that speak of it are, as it were, already gone by as soon as such reflections are out of their mouths; while they are yet speaking their book of life is closed, and they too themselves are gone by together with those of whom they spoke.  There is perhaps no one who does not more or less feel this.  Moreover, on some occasions, as on the death of friends or neighbours, or in sickness, or solitude, weak spirits, or disappointment, or some earnest and moving account of it, as this of St. Paul to-day, the consideration of these things will in a very powerful manner impress them.  And this is not only very good and right, but indeed in every respect so desirable, that we ought to do the most to improve such occasions, to deepen and strengthen such feelings; and so far from any attempt to escape from them, it were well that we should labour habitually and constantly to recall and stir them up,—I mean the touching, moving sense of our frail and short life; for it is always well to face the truth, never to put it aside or shrink from it.  But there is always on these occasions a danger lest we should be too soon satisfied with such feelings, of their not producing any permanent effect on our life and conduct, that they should come and go like beautiful and bright gleams from Heaven on a barren rock, producing in us no real change; for, in fact, these reflections are expressed by none in a manner more affecting and sublime than they have been by men leading bad lives, without any endeavours at improvement.  We should therefore be very careful not to let such emotions pass away without profit; we should, indeed, cherish, recall, and keep them, but only in order to render the heart and conduct better.


It is on such occasions that practical exhortations and rules of life become to us more than ever seasonable and valuable, to settle and fix such thoughts; when with more earnestness than usual the soul seems to ask, "What shall I do to be saved?" and there is one at hand ready to answer, "This do and thou shalt live."


With a mind therefore thus softened, and prepared, and laid open to receive the good seed, let us come to the Gospel for this Sunday, and with solemn thoughts of eternity and the Day of Judgment on our hearts, attend to our Blessed Lord's own precepts of duty. 


Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 

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