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These words beautifully explain the force of the petition in this collect, “ that through thy great goodness we may be governed, both in body and soul.”
2. We pray moreover, that the Lord would guard as well as govern us.' “ Preserve us evermore.”
What would become of us, had we not an assurance of the protecting and preserving care of our heavenly Father? We are not able to guard ourselves. We are as sheep exposed to a thousand evils and horrors, " in a waste howling wilderness." (Deut. xxxii. 10.) But the Lord who leads us about and instructs us how to walk according to his will, promises also to keep us “as the apple of his eye." Mark well his promise concerning our souls : " My sheep hear my voice, and I kuow them, and they follow me ; and I give unto them eternal life ; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.” (John X. 27–29.)
As for the care which our heavenly Father takes of our bodies, it is continually declared in Scripture, under the most touching figures. David begins that beautiful Psalm, the twenty-third, with these consolatory words, “ The Lord is my Shepherd : I shall not want.” Words, how simple : the sense, how full, how complete, bow comfortable ! Jesus also in like manner, encourages his disciples : “ Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing ? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows." (Matt. x. 29–31.)
Let us learn then in humble and hearty faith to commend ourselves, body and soul, to Him who hath already done great things for us ; and who hath engaged to all his believing people that he will deliver them from every evil work, and preserve them unto his heavenly kingdom. The following prayer, taken from the Psalms, (xxviii. 9.) and a doxology, taken from the close of the epistle of St. Jude, will very suitably sum up all that has been said on this Collect :-"Save thy people, and bless thine inheritance : feed them also, and lift them up for ever.” “ Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy; to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”
SUNDAY NEXT BEFORE EASTER.
We are about to contemplate, during Passion-week, the exceeding great love of our Master and only Saviour, Jesus Christ, in dying for us men, and for our salvation. A humble, thankful, and adoring spirit befits us at this season ; and such a temper of mind is sure to be promoted by the devout use of the Collect for the day. Let us consider its different parts, according to the simple and natural order in which they stand.
1. First, we make mention of the source of the great work of our redemption. That source was “ the tender love ” of God towards mankind.”
The state of man without redemption was very awful, and it would bave been infinitely more so, in the world to come. Our present condition is thus described by the Apostle Paul. We are “ dead in trespasses and sins." We walk “ according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air ; ” that is, in bondage to Satan. Our dispositions and habits are described as those of persons walking “ in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” As to the future state which we had to expect, it is described in one short phrase, “ We were by nature children of wrath.” The wrath of God did already abide on us : and in the eternal world we had nothing before us, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. Such is the account given us in Ephesians ii. 1–3.
At the same passage however, the Apostle immediately shows us our ground of hope. All our bright prospects (bright and glorious they most truly are to sinners, who lay in darkness and in the shadow of death) he refers to the tender love of God the Father. “But God who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he hath loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ; (by grace ye are saved,) and bath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus ; that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” (Eph. ii. 4—7.)
Meditate on this tender love; it is free, it is full; not of our deserving, not of our procuring, not even of our seeking. It is from God himself, and from him alone. • Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us, and gave his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
2. Next, mention is made of that unspeakable gift, by which the kindness of our God and Saviour was manifested. “ God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. v. 8.) Thou “ hast sent thine only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross." Here we view at once the beginning and the close of the life of Christ, as Son of Man. And both are here noticed, in order that we may fully apprehend the doctrine of Christ's appearing in the nature of man. He took upon him our nature. He was “born of a woman ;" he endured all the common infirmities of men; he was in all points tempted like as we are, but without sin. Hence he was a fit, sufficient, and perfect substitute in our place, while his divine nature gave vent to his sufferings on our behalf. “God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh ;' that is, he caused the penalty of sin to be suffered in a body like our own; “ that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom. viü. 3, 4.)
3. We are then led to view Christ as our pattern. “ That all mankind should follow the example of his great humility.” To this end all the solemn services of the week are directed. The Lessons, and the Epistles, and Gospels, lead us to contemplate the sufferings of our Lord. “ Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." These are the affecting words of our dear Redeemer himself; and he made good his words by his own sufferings. Great was his love; it was a love that passeth knowledge : and as his love, so was his humility. “In all our affliction he was afflicted; and the angel of his presence saved us.” Who can read the account of his betrayal, his mock trial, his hurried condemnation to death; the cruelty, insult, agony, horror of soul, and expiring groans, without amazement and grief! He seems to cry to us, from the cross where he hung six hours, “ Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.” (Lament. i. 12.)
Now this humility of our Lord we are to follow. Not that there is any merit in our following it. His sufferings bad infinite merit: ours are only a copy of his character. Our humility is to be shown in lowliness of spirit, in self-denial, in readiness to suffer for the name of Christ, in giving him all the glory of our salvation, in exalting him, and abasing self. We should earnestly desire that we and us all mankind” may be faithful imitators of Christ, so that gentleness, meekness, deadness to the world, and lowliness of heart and life, might be the character of all men. Ob, how bigh are our thoughts and prayers raised by meditation on the cross of Christ ! In copying the humility of our Master, we should learn to take the lowest place, and to do service to others, not pleasing ourselves : “even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
4. In this Collect we next more particularly pray that the view of Christ's sufferings may teach us patience. “Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of his patience.” This will become easy to us, in proportion as we have imitated his humility. The humble are patient, or soon made so. When tempted to weariness, fretfulness, and impatience, we should reason thus with ourselves. “ And did the eternal Son of God thus condescend to live a life of toil and hardship ; was he despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief? was he like a sheep dumb before his shearers ? did he linger out a living death upon the accursed tree-and sball I be unwilling to bear what the Lord in his wisdom lays on such an unworthy wretch as I am ? Rather let me take up my cross and follow Christ. Forasmuch as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, let me arm myself with the same mind. Mercifully grant, O Lord, that I may run with patience the race that is set before me, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith : considering him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest I be wearied and faint in my mind.”
5. Lastly, we pray to be made partakers of the Resurrection of our Lord. Look to the prayer of the apostle Paul, in Phil. iii. 10, 11, and the full force of this petition will be seen : “ That I may know him, (that is, Christ) and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of bis sufferings, being made conformable unto his death ; if by any means I may attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” But this important subject we shall consider more fully in one of the Col
lects following, (that for Easter Even.) Let us for the present close, praying for a more lively and steadfast faith in Christ our Lord. Mere meditation upon his sufferings during Passion Week, will nothing profit us, unless it be “mixed with faith.” Our hearts may be much affected by the story of his agony and crucifixion, his death and burial : but it is by faith alone that we are united to him, and made partakers of all the benefits of his passion.
« Lord Jesus, increase our faith !” Through thy death may we be delivered from wrath; may we die unto sin ; may we live in true holiness; and may we finally be made partakers of thine eterual and glorious kingdom in heaven. Amen and Amen.
This day is a day of mingled sorrow and joy : for on it we commemorate the cruel and bitter death of Christ, and we meditate also on the inestimable benefits which we obtain thereby. The tenderness and gratitude thus excited in our breasts, bring the soul into a fit disposition for prayer. In three several Collects on this day, we implore God, first to look upon us graciously as a family: next to fit us for our several duties in his household, and then to enlarge that family, by bringing in all nations, both Jew and Gentile, into the happy fold of Christ our Lord.
The first Collect relates to the church, generally, as the family of God.
What are the characteristics of " a family ?”
1. A family is known usually by their having the same name. This distinction belongs to the family of God. They are known by the name of Christians. It is their proper appellation : one more suitable could not have been invented. Persons, of whose piety we cannot entertain a reasonable doubt, have adopted a great variety of other names: they have, as it were, called different celebrated men, masters : but, after all, the best, the safest, the holiest, the most Scriptural method is, to call no man master but Christ. “ One is your Master, even Christ," is the authoritative language of our Lord himself. « Of him the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Consequently, we read in Acts, (chap. xi. 26.) “ the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” They were led either by the immediate teaching of the Holy Spirit, or else by their common sense and common right feeling, to adopt this title. If it was given them by their enemies, those enemies did them the greatest possible honour. However it may have arisen, the Holy Spirit has so far sanctioned it, as to record the fact. Christian is our family name. Would to God that all the whole family of man were true Christians.
2. Persons of the same family are distinguished also by their likeness to their parent. Thus, therefore, the children of God are known to be his, by their being made like him. They are created anew. They are “ renewed in the spirit of their mind.” (Ephes. iv. 23.) By nature they were not like God: they were “ born in sin, and shapen in iniquity." Till grace changes us, we are all enemies to God by wicked works. But when the great work of conversion takes place, this is the law which governs the members of the renewed family ; “ Be ye perfect, even as your father which is in heaven is perfect.”
3. But once more :—the children of God's family are distinguished by the love which they have one for another. Our blessed Lord has laid the greatest stress upon this heavenly and happy grace. Little as we sometimes see of it occasionally in those who profess themselves Christians, it is the mark of all others which Jesus describes as the peculiar badge of his genuine followers. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John siji. 35.)
This holy, loving family of true Christians, we bere commend in prayer to God. We beseech him “graciously to behold” it. By thus praying, we profess ourselves to be members of that family. And are we such ? Are we Christians, not in name only, but also in holiness and love?
The question may well humble us; yet it should likewise excite an earnest desire that we may be found such. On this day especially we are most solemnly bound to meditate on those affecting motives, which should lead us to walk worthy of that holy name whereby we are called. · Our motives are drawn from the contemplation of Christ's sufferings and glory. He “ was contented”- that is, he was cheerfully willing to be betrayed.” Oh, let us reflect on the baseness of his professed disciple Judas, and beware of unfaithfulness and hypocrisy in our professions, “ Betrayed into the hands of wicked men." Who but wicked men could have joined in such a plot against the spotless Lamb of God? And yet, if we continue in sin, we are no better than those wicked men who compassed his death. He humbled himself “ to suffer death upon the cross.” Agony and shame were his portion : he“ himself bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” Thus it was more than human suffering: it was the burden of the sins of the whole world which then rested on Jesus, our Emmanuel, God with us, Son of God, and Son of man. Our sins were the pails, the crown of thorns, the spear, the curse, the horror, which attended the crucifixion of our blessed Lord.
But in this Collect we also contemplate this Redeemer, as ascended on high; ever living with the Father and with the Holy Ghost. God hath highly exalted him. First, he tasted death for every man ; and then we behold him crowned with glory and honour. More particularly let us remember, that to him is committed the work of interceding for us: be is “ our Advocate with the Father.” Looking by faith to his glory as well as his sufferings, let us humbly seek to know bim as our life; let us approach his dying scene at Calvary, smiting upon our breasts, and saying, “ God be merciful to me a sioner !".
SECOND COLLECT. In this Collect there is a variety of language, all of it scriptural, respecting the church of Christ. It is compared to a body, which hath many members. It is described as a holy church, wherein are inany “estates of men ;” that is, various degrees, offices, and callings.