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the spirit, and not in the letter.” We ask, therefore, for a spirit of holy mortification and of entire obedience.
First, Holy Mortification. This must begin at the heart; and from the heart it must proceed to all the outward actions of the life. Many persons begin at the outward actions instead of the heart; that is, they lay great stress on fasting, weeping, paining the body, and afflicting the feelings, instead of aiming, first, at the real seat of the sinner's disease, the heart. Here you may see the grand distinction between the true religion and all false ones. False religions begin their work from without; they never reach, and they never can reach the inward man of the heart. On the contrary, true religion begins at the heart; proceeding from the heart to reform the outward conduct and conversation.
When we pray for the mortification of the heart, we pray that the love of sin may be utterly taken out of us. Man naturally loves sin. He does not merely love sin better than holiness ; but he loves sin altogether, and hates holiness altogether. He turns to sin as a thing most easy, pleasant, and congenial to him. He turns from holiness as a difficult and wearisome thing, quite opposite to his nature.
. Under the influence of our natural heart, we continually give the members of the body, the tongue, the eyes, the ears, the hands, yea, the whole man, to worldly and carnal lusts. Look at the description given by St. John, “ All that is in the world, the lust of the desh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” St. Peter also, speaking of fleshly lusts, declares that they “ war against the soul.”
We pray then for a spirit of holy mortification, and we ask it as a gift from the Spirit of God. A man may by himself go a little way in renouncing some of his iniquities, and partially subduing his passions ; but he cannot change his heart. He cannot willingly give up all sin. He cannot expel the love of sin from his heart; this is the work of God alone. Therefore St. Paul says, “ If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye sball live.” “ Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.”
Secondly, We pray for a spirit of entire obedience. We implore this, as following necessarily from the true circumcision of the Spirit. We thus address the Lord, “ That we may in all things obey thy blessed will.” Thus we acknowledge the will and word of God as our standard. We pray for grace to obey it in all things. God will not accept a half-hearted obedience. Every true child of his, desires to “ cleanse himself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
Agreeably to this, St. Paul exhorts us, “ Yield Syourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” “ As ye have yielded your members servants to uncleapness, and to iniquity unto iniquity ; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.” Rom. vi. 13, 19.
And now, should the question be asked, “ Are any of the children of God entirely dead to sin, and altogether perfected in holiness ?” alas ! the answer would be plain. The best are spotted with daily sins : yea, we must confess that our very righteousnesses are as filthy
rags. But then in every true child of God, there are the following marks, which prove that he is “ in Christ : " namely, he abhors all iniquity; he delights in the law of God after the inward man; sin is his burden, obedience his pleasure : he feels his own weakness, and he prays that the Spirit of God would daily strengthen him. He looks to Jesus alone for pardon and acceptance with God. He looks to Christ as his refuge, helper, and comforter to the end. He can say to his Redeemer
Plenteous grace with thee is found,
These meditations are peculiarly suited to the beginning of a new year. Let us enter upon this year, steadily viewing the evil of sin, the beauty of holiness, and the helps which are offered to us by Christ. Let us “ walk in the Spirit." Let us “ watch unto prayer.” Then at the year's end, (if we are spared so long.) we shall be able to enjoy a comfortable review of it; finding that we are more entirely dead to sin, and more actively alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The manifestation of Christ to the gentiles is one of the most remarkable events recorded in the gospel; and it is one in which we are deeply interested. Till the coming of Christ, the knowledge of the true religion was confined almost entirely to the Jews; but when Christ came, a new scene was to open upon mankind. The gospel which he brought was to be preached to the gentiles as well as to the Jews, that is, to all the nations of the world.
Wise men came from the east ; that is, probably from Babylon, where the knowledge of the sciences had long fourished. They were probably men of royal birth : at least they represented the sovereign ruler of their country. They came, bringing royal presents; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their express inquiry was, “ Where is he that is born king of the Jews?” More than five hundred years before, it had been prophesied by Daniel, that Messiah the Prince should be born about this time. Probably they possessed this prophecy of Daniel. And some miraculous appearance in the heavens, here called a star, guided them on their journey, till it came and stood over where Jesus was. When they beheld him, they worshipped him ; they presented their gifts, rejoicing with exceeding great joy.
Certainly, though the scene around them was humble, yet the person of God's only begotten Son was inconceivably glorious. That babe, on which they gazed, was no other than “ God manifest in the flesh.” Then was fulfilled the prophecy, “ The gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” Isa. Ix. 3.
The commemoration of this glorious event leads to the prayer contained in this Collect, wherein these two things are to be observed : our present faith, and our future hope.
1. First, we declare before God that we know him now by faith. It is only by faith that we can know him here. We cannot see him with our bodily eyes, for “ No man hath seen God at any time.” We cannot see God and live. Neither can we see him by the powers of reason. “ Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection ?" We can only know God as he has revealed himself to us. This knowledge, therefore, is simply faith in his word. Here we learn both his holiness and his free mercy in Christ Jesus. He is “ a just God and a Saviour.” Of this knowledge Christ declared, “ This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast
It is by faith also that we know of the existence of the Holy Spirit. The person and work of the Holy Ghost are revealed to us in the Scriptures. From the Bible, therefore, we learn to adore the Father who created us, the Son who redeemed us, and the Holy Ghost the sanctifier.
All this we know by faith. Faith in the word of God is wrought in man's heart by the spirit of God himself. It is our only light to guide us. It is our star of Bethlehem, leading us to the Saviour. “ God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our bearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
2. This prayer leads us moreover to consider our future hope. We pray that we “ may after this life have the fruition," (that is enjoyment) “ of thy glorious godhead."
This prayer will be answered to all who plead the name of Christ. We shall see God as he is : we shall see his face: we shall behold his face in righteousness: we shall know him, even as we are known. The beautiful description of heaven, given by Christ to his disciples, is this, “ In my Father's house are many mansions; I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself ; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
Draw near then to this adorable Redeemer who was once a “ babe lying in a manger;" but who now reigns above as the Lord of Glory. Come and present to him the best you have. The best gift you can offer is, your hearts. Behold bim as “ the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Walk and live by faith in him : " Whom having not seen, ye love: in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.”
FIRST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY.
In the beginning of this Collect, we humbly call upon God to give ear to the prayers which we continually offer up, at the throne of divine grace. We beseech the Lord mercifully to receive them-we plead his mercy--we have no right to anything we ask for, excepting so far as his promises encourage us to ask. But, blessed be his name, he has promised that he will not cast out the prayers of bis people : so that we may come before bim with boldness, expecting that he will do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. « Faithful is he that hatb promised, who also will do it.”
Two things we especially pray for ; grace to know, and strength to perform, God's holy will.
1. First, grace to know God's will. This is always given to those who earnestly seek to know it. Idle persons, who never study the Bible, who never think in earnest, and never pray—who take up the subject of religion just as it pleases them, and then lay it aside because some business or amusement calls them off, will never attain to this knowledge. But those who are sincere, and who read the Bible and pray over it, will certainly be made wise unto salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus. “ Then shall we know," says the prophet, “if ye follow.on to know the Lord.” “ If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as sil. ver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures, then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.”
What leads us to pray for God's teaching, is, a humble sense of our own ignorance. We ought to come, as children approach a wise and kind father, with this simple prayer, “ That which I know not, teach thou me.”
On our first seeking the Lord, we shall naturally use that petition, which fell from the lips of St. Paul, in the hour when bis remarkable conversion commenced ; " Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?” When we discover that there are many difficulties and temptations in our way, then it will be seasonable for us to offer up David's prayer, “ Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.” If we maintain a tender conscience, quick in complying with the good motions of the Holy Spirit, we shall, in the midst of all our perplexities, be graciously assisted by the word of God and by the Spirit of God: and thus, what the prophet Isaiah says, will be fulfilled to us, “ Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.”.
We are ignorant, and apt to make mistakes, both in religion, and in the common affairs of life. Striving to be wise in our own wisdom, or strong in our own strength, will be no remedy to us. If we trust to ourselves, and are wise in our own conceits, we shall only find our foolish bearts become more and more darkened. We shall wander, and stumble, and fall. O let us thankfully accept God's offer to enlighten and teach all those who wait on him in prayer!
2. But next observe, we pray for strength to do the will of God. There is a close connection between saving knowledge and holy obedience. They who endeavour to do the will of God, will be instructed more fully what that will is. This should encourage us to obey : it is the true path, though a steep one, to higher degrees of wisdom. If we neglect obedience, all our knowledge of the Bible will be only head-notion-a dead, unprofitable set of opinions. Nay, more : knowledge increases the condemnation of those who do not live agreeably to the light they have. " That servant who knew his Lord's, will, and did it not, will be beaten with many stripes.”
We are, by nature, alas ! so helpless, so perverse and rebellious, that without the special and continual grace of God, we cannot serve him faithfully. If left to ourselves, sometimes we shall break his commands altogether: at other times we shall obey them by halves; doing only what is easy, and leaving undone what is difficult or disagreeable to us. The words “ faithfully to fulll the same," mean, that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul, with all our might, and all our strength; and that we should strive to do all that he bids us do, and shun all that he bids us shun. We should give him a whole heart, and a willing obedience. If we look to the example of holy men of old, we shall perceive, that this was the way in which they pleased God. Take, at present, one instance; that of Hezekiah. The sacred historian thus relates of him : “ Thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth, before the Lord his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered.” (2 Chron. xxxi. 20, 21.)
Pray then, for the gift of a perfect, a willing, a glad heart in God's delightful service. Pray for grace to act according to your knowledge and convictions. Without prayer, not only shall we be ignorant of God's will; but we shall also remain disobedient and stubborn, so that the least etfort to please him will be a task and a burden to us. Pray then daily for the Holy Spirit, by whose aid alone our corrup.. tions can be subdued, and the love of holiness planted within us. Let the whole Church, and every member of the same, pray, as Solomon did, at the dedication of the temple : « The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers : let bim not leave us, nor forsake us : that he may incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways !" He will, for his mercy's sake, pardon our many sins, if only we plead the atoning blood of Jesus, and walk faithfully before him. Therefore, wait on him continually : “ work out your salvation with fear and trembling ;” remembering for your encouragement, that " it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.”
SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY.
In this prayer we address our heavenly Father not only as the Almighty but as the everlasting God. We, poor weak creatures, who are but of yesterday, draw near to that great God who inhabiteth eternity. It is a great favour that we are permitted so to do; and we are encouraged to trust that if we serve him faithfully on earth, we shall dwell with him for ever hereafter, in his eternal and glorious kingdom.
We address God likewise, as the Governor of all things in heaven and earth. “The Lord sitteth above the water-floods; the Lord remaineth a King for ever. He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth ; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou ?" Great need have we to seek the favour of one who is so powerful !
Nor do we ask in vain, when we plead the name of his Son Jesus Christ; for to Jesus, as the Mediator between God and man, infinite