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Looking Forward, or Divine Covetousness.

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, pp. 120-126.

 First part of Sermon LVI. for the Ninth Sunday after Trinity.
O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would
consider their latter end.—DEUT. xxxii. 29.

WE have sometimes had occasion to allude to the Epistles at this season being transferred in the order of their course; and thereby having lost whatever connexion, real or imaginary, they might originally have been supposed to hold with the Collect and the Gospel for the day. Thus the Epistle for last Sunday, which used to stand between this Collect and. Gospel, might seem appropriate to this day’s parable, as implying that “we are debtors, not to the flesh, for if we live after the flesh we shall die.” But let us consider whether the Epistle we now have may not be brought to bear upon the Gospel and the Collect for the day, and be applied in furtherance of them. Our Blessed Lord in the Gospel bids us consider the men of this world, how wise they are in their generation with the wisdom of the serpent,—how successful in their plans,—how full of industry and management in providing for a few short uncertain years. And St. Paul, in the Epistle, speaking by the same Spirit, bids us look on another picture, such as may represent the children of light in their pilgrimage through the wilderness of this world; and oh, how sad and disappointing is this sight! how unwise in their generation! how careless and slothful! how unsuccessful at the last! because they looked not forward to everlasting habitations.

Brethren, says St. Paul, I would not that ye should be ignorant.  I would have you carefully consider this remarkable type and warning. How that all our fathers were under the cloud, even as we are now under the especial shadow of the Almighty,—the presence and care of the great Comforter,—giving us “the spirit to think and do always such things as be rightful.” And all passed through the sea,—the Red Sea as of blood, which betokened that redemption which is in Christ, whereby our spiritual enemies are slain. And were all baptized unto Moses, that visible token of our spiritual incorporation into our great Lawgiver and Leader; in the cloud, which set forth the Holy Spirit, and in the sea, which represented Baptism as in Christ’s Blood. And did all eat the same spiritual meat,—that manna, or bread from Heaven, which prefigured the Body of Christ, the true Bread from Heaven, and, as representing this mystery, was called angels’ food. And did all drink the same spiritual drink; all drank of that miraculous stream which set forth the living waters of the city of God (for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ). For although they drank but on one occasion of that water, and that Rock was but once smitten, as Christ was but once pierced, and on one occasion only the water flowed from His side yet in that once for all is He always, unto the end of the world, as it were smitten for us; always present as our Rock, following us even unto the end, and covering us with His almighty shadow, and ever pouring down for us the Holy Spirit from above, although but once for all sent down as the price of His redemption. So was that smitten rock, and the water flowing from it, a sign to them in the wilderness, that His gracious Presence was ever with them, following them throughout and sustaining them.

But, notwithstanding all these things, with many of them God was not well pleased; for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Their not entering into that rest which had been promised them, and for which they had been supernaturally supported and guided, is a proof that God’s displeasure was upon them. “God was not well pleased” with them, the reverse of this expression is afterwards used, of our Blessed Saviour Himself, of Him in Whom alone we are accepted, “My Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” What St. Paul then here calls our attention to is this, that as the promises and the threatenings of God to the children of light are of things unseen and eternal, He has thus, by a visible sign, and in the history of a peculiar people, shadowed. forth the awful consequences of neglecting His spiritual call and guidance.

Now these things, adds the Apostle, were our examples; or literally, and as St. Chrysostom understands the words, they are the types or figures of us—they represent us; as Baptism and the table of the Lord were shadowed forth to them in prophecy for us, so also “the certainty of punishment coming on those unworthy of the gift.” But as in them it was but the shadow, and not the true Baptism, nor the true Bread from Heaven, so also, says the same great writer, win our punishment, if we be found unfaithful exceed theirs in substance and reality.

So awful is this warning surrounding us,—To the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. St. Paul here enumerates the different occasions of their fall; because so manifold are the shapes of evil, the besetting sins of men, and the forms the tempter assumes, and yet the end of all alike is, that they enter not into that rest. And, indeed, take any one single sin enumerated, as that of “lusting after evil things,” how does this, in a thousand different ways, tempt the thoughts and desires! How innumerable are the meshes of that net by which the great enemy catches men! how manifold are his arts! like different flies, different colours of a fly, with which he baits his hook to ensnare the soul,—according to the disposition of each, whether it be sunny or cloudy weather, or the morning, noon, or evening of life. All this finds a place in that living picture of our spiritual warfare, which Israel in the wilderness holds up to our view.

Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted; saying as they did in distrust, “Is the Lord among us, or not?" [Expd. xvii. 7.] or of the manna, “Our soul loatheth this light bread.” [Numb. xxi. 5.]  And were destroyed of serpents— those fearful emblems of our unseen foes in this wilderness of the world.

Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, “thinking scorn of that pleasant land,” and despising the appointed ministers of God, and were destroyed of the destroyer.

Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples, that is, “by way of type;” and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. They are full of spiritual signification, made to speak the language of God to us who are placed. in this last dispensation of all, to represent that invisible world, which, though most intimately near, yet lies beyond the reach of the eye and ear of man,—great things of infinite and everlasting consequence, such as no tongue can utter, no heart can understand!

Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall. These admonitions are given us in order that we may fear for ourselves; for even St. Paul himself, ever mindful of these things, although no man could have had greater reason to think himself secure against falling away, yet was urged on by an active, energetic fear lest he should become a cast-away. And, as an early Greek Bishop adds to these words of warning, “if St. Paul thus exhorts those who think they stand, what must be said, to those who cannot think that they stand, but must know full well that they are fallen?” and the holy man puts himself also among that number. What must we ourselves do but make haste to arise,—by instantly seizing the hand of Him Who lifteth up those that are down,— by seizing hold of His hand and not letting Him go?

We are surrounded by occasions of falling; there is no one but has his peculiar temptations, more or less, waiting on him, —some owing to his peculiar disposition,—some to his circumstances in life,—some to his past sins: some one day assail him, others the next; some on one side and when he is on his guard against them, some on another side coming upon him; some in thought, some in act or word, some in the flesh, others in the spirit, some in all these together. And by these temptations, for the most part, men are more or less overcome; they give way sometimes with a struggle, often without an effort; they yield often as a matter of course, as if from time to time it were a little matter,—or as if the temptation were too great, and by its very greatness smoothed the way of their besetting sin. They are overwhelmed, and borne along like a leaf in the torrent, as if it were a matter of necessity; not as if God was in all things weighing and trying their spirits, and never allowing them to be carried away without power to resist and. to overcome. It is all these cases that St. Paul now meets, for in speaking of one particular instance his words are applicable to all. There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man. No temptation is an excuse for sin; for whatever it may be, it is oniy such as man’s present state of probation admits of.  To suppose that any one is placed. in a condition in which he cannot but fall, is to forget that God is the Disposer of all things. He knows, He measures, He deals out all events.  There must be temptation, in order that His strength may be perfected in our weakness; but such temptation is never too great for us, otherwise our weakness would be overwhelmed by it, to suppose which were to doubt the faithful care of God. But God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able to bear; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may he able to bear it.

Thus the Epistle holds up to our attention the sacred history of the people of God journeying to the promised land.  The Gospel would lead us to the like consideration from altogether another point of view, from what we witness as it were among the nations of the world around...

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