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The Prayer of the Penitent.

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. 144-148.

First part of Sermon LVIII. for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.
 1 Cor. xv. 1-11.    St. Luke xviii. 9-14.

And the Publican, standing afar of would not lift so much 

as his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, 
GOD be merciful to me a sinner.—ST. LUKE xviii. 13.

THE subject of this Sunday’s teaching is of God’s  covenant of grace and mercy, Who “declares His Almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity.”  St. Paul, in the Epistle, comes to the very foundation of all our hopes, the Creed. Brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you. “I declare,” that is, I solemnly announce unto you that Gospel, which indeed ye well know; which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand. “Which ye have received as a kind of sacred deposit,” so St. Chrysostom explains it; that “faith once delivered,” into which ye were baptized; “and wherein ye stand,” in holding firmly to which all your strength consists, and your future hope. As he adds, by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you; or, more literally, “if ye hold fast to that evangelic statement,” or that saying by which I announced the Gospel to you; unless ye have believed in vain.

For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received.  The last-mentioned ancient Bishop observes of these words, that the Apostle does not say, “I said unto you,” or “I taught you,” but “I delivered ;“ nor does he say that which “I was taught,” but that which “I received ;“ as referring the whole of it to Christ, and signifying that nothing was of man in these doctrines. Men could not diminish from nor add unto this sacred deposit of the faith once delivered unto the Church’s .keeping until the end. Neither man nor an angel from Heaven could preach any other. And St. Paul, in writing to the Galatians, is careful in saying, that even in receiving the same, it was not from man nor from any human teaching, but from Christ Himself. (Gal. i. 12.)  From hence he proceeds to state that great article of the Apostles’ Creed. How that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, as all the ancient Scriptures had set forth in promise, and type, and prophecy. And that He was buried; and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures. His death, and His resurrection, the two great cardinal points of our salvation, the two golden hinges, as it were, on which the gate of Heaven turns; and, therefore, such as were not only seen of men, but both of them testified throughout by all the word of God which had gone before; “according,” he says, “to the Scriptures."

And that He was seen of Cephas. Not indeed that St. Peter was the first to whom He appeared after His resurrection; but it was to him in so marked and preeminent a manner as brought conviction to the disciples. (St. Luke xxiv. 34.) Then of the twelve, as they were collected together with closed doors in. that upper chamber, at Jerusalem. After that, He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; on that memorable occasion, on the mountain in Galilee, for which He had sent them thither from Jerusalem, as the place of His great manifestation; (St. Matt. xxviii. 7. 16.) of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep: a vast cloud of witnesses, of which the greater part are with us to bear testimony even still, although some of them be with Christ. After that He was seen of James; “for the Lord,” says St. Chrysostom, “is said to have ordained and made him bishop in Jerusalem ;“ then of all the Apostles; by all the Apostles, adds the same writer; meaning the Seventy which were sent forth. It appears to allude to some later appearance of our Lord to the whole apostolic body, for some express purpose, probably with respect to their management of the Church: for He was for forty days “speaking to them of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

And last of all, He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. Seen of Peter, seen of the twelve, seen of the five hundred, seen of James, seen of all the Apostles, seen of St. Paul himself; all speaks of the evidence of their own senses to His resurrection. And observe in this the mercy of the Gospel, first seen by St. Peter, not only because he had been the first to confess Christ the Son of God, but because he had denied Him; and last, as the crown of all, to St. Paul, who had been a persecutor. For I am the least, he adds, of all the Apostles, even as a child of untimely birth, that am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.

But by the grace of God I am what I am; yet in this my weakness, even as an abortion, and one unworthy of the high name of an Apostle, has the strength and the goodness of God been manifested; and in my labours may be seen. And His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in. vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all. This he mentions as a proof of God’s mercy to him; and yet he seems to shrink at the very expression, and hastens, as it were, to withdraw it, and to attribute all to God. Yet not I, he immediately subjoins, but the grace of God which was with me. Ancient writers, as St. Augustine and others, delight to dwell on these words of St. Paul, as so expressive of his sweet, trembling humility, fearing to contemplate himself, except in his sins and infirmities, and losing all sense of his greatness in God; fearful lest he should presume, and so lose by presumption all that crown of hope and joy which by humility he had gained.

He had been speaking of the witnesses of the resurrection, and in so doing was obliged to speak of himself, which he does with all lowliness and self-condemnation; but yet, in order to show that his evidence as a witness was not inferior to the others, he mentions how by his more abundant labours God gave testimony to His grace. But passing from this, he adds, Therefore, whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

And here it is especially to be noticed, that in this Epistle for to-day, wherein the wonderful mercies of the Gospel are set forth, yet it is implied that faith in these things may be in vain; for St. Paul says, “unless ye have believed in vain,” and also that the grace of God may be given in vain; for he says, “and His grace was not in vain, but I laboured more abundantly." Thus we pray in the Collect, under the sense of God’s exceeding mercies, that we may not run in vain, but may so run as to obtain His promises, and be made partakers of His treasure.

And now let us consider this a little more particularly. It is in showing mercy that God most chiefly manifests His Almighty power; and, therefore, in order that His Almighty power may be seen in us, in our advances in holiness now and our salvation hereafter, we must show ourselves objects of His mercy and pity; and that must be by a very low estimation of ourselves, by a constant sense of our sins and unworthiness, by a deep humiliation, under an apprehension of the infinite holiness of God. Our very life must be like a continual supplication for mercy, appealing to God in deed and word.

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