2 Cor.6: 2
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
And truly such a "time" is worth beholding. For the business of it here being of no less concernment than "God's reconciling us to himself"the "committing the word and office of this reconciliation to his ministers"the persuading us "not to receive this grain in vain"--the time, certainly, wherein we may thus be reconciled, thus accepted to salvation, is worth the seeing, worth a "behold," and a "behold;" worth laying hold on, too; a "time" to be "accepted," being a "day of salvation."
And "now is the time," says the text we are fallen upon; and; "now is the time," say the days we are fallen among; times of reconciliation, both; "days of salvation," both. Indeed, the whole "time" of the Gospel is no other. Yet the Apostle applies it here to the age he wrote in. We may draw it down to ours we live in. But the church, more particularly yet, applies it to the time we are now in keeping, the holy time of Lent; a time wherein the office of reconciliation is set open to receive sinners in; a "time" when the "ambassadors for Christ," as the Apostles styles us, we that are "workers together with him," [377/378] are more earnestly to beseech the people, and the people more especially to bestir themselves by the works of mor-tification and repentance, to reconcile themselves to God; a time when in the Primitive Church notorious sinners "were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord," says our Church in the Commination; and she herself, by making these words part of her Epistle for the First Sunday in Lent, she cries out to us, as it were, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation; "this very" time: make much of it, and lay hold upon it.
I shall give all their right; take in all the time we can, that, seeing an "accepted time" there is, a "day of salvation" to be had, still to be had, we may be sure not to miss it. It is no idle, trivial business, this; we cannot be too careful for it. General and particular days and times all to be taken, and all little enough to obtain salvation; not to be thought much of, though it were much more, so we may but compass that at last.
I shall not therefore spend so precious time to study curiosity in a business so serious, or to torture the test into nice divisions. It shall suffice to show you in it these particulars:--
1. That an "accepted time" there is, some time above others, wherein God is most ready to accept us.
II. That this "accepted time" is a "day of salvation" too; wherein we shall not only merely be "accepted," but "accepted" so far also as to "salvation,"- one or other. "Now is the day of," &c.
III. That "now is the time," this "is the day." It is before us, it is in present: we need look no further.
IV. That God himself here points us to it; bids us "be-hold" it; sets an ecce, a mark upon it- a red letter, as it were, upon the "day," that we might mark and mind it, mind it above all other days besides.
V. That we are therefore to do accordingly. "Behold," and "behold" it; "now" and again "behold" it, again and again; and so "behold " it as to "accept" it and apply us to it; bring all ends of the text together, that we may find [378/379] "salvation" in the end. It is an "accepted time:" we therefore to make it so as well as count it so, make it perfectly "accepted " by accepting it.
These shall be the particulars: and of them all, this is the sum:--That God in his goodness allowing us time to repent, to receive his grace, to reconcile ourselves to him, and lay hold upon salvation, giving us daily deliverances and salvations too; nay, showing, and setting, and pointing us out here, a time to accept and save us in; it is certainly our duty to take notice of it; even "now" to do it; even as soon as may be to accept his goodness, and not neglect the "day of salvation." And,
I. That we may not but both accept and be accepted, we shall show you, first, that such a time there is wherein we may. A time (1) still wherein we may find acceptation; that God has not shut up the day, and shut us out. A time (2) wherein God is readiest to accept us, readier than at other times; that there is a kairoj as well as a cronoV --a season as well as time for it; kairoV euprosdektoV too- a seasonable opportunity, when it will be the easier done "the accepted time." A time (3) yet so confined and limited, that, for aught we know, there may he none beyond it. kairoj it is not always; the season holds not ever. And "now is the time," says in effect, anon perhaps it will not be; for this "time" in the next words is expounded into a "day;" and we know the day spends, and night will come on apace; so that a time, a ready time, a limited time there is, for our repentance, and God's accepting us. These three make up our first particular we are now to begin with.
And (1) that God still allows us time, is worth a note. He does not owe it us. He might snatch us away in the height and fulness of our sins, with as much justice, as he does it not in mercy. But he "deals not with us after our sins, nor rewards us according to our wickedness," says holy David. "Twelve hours of the day" there are; and every one of them God is not only ready to receive us, but "goes out" to seek us. And at what time soever a sinner doth repent, (so it ran of old,) and when he does, (so it runs now,) and both the same,--"he shall save his soul;" God will accept him.
[379/380] (2.) Yet, for all that, (2) all times are not alike: we will not always find admittance at the same rate, with the same ease. As he will not always be chiding, so he will not always be so pleasing, neither. We may knock, and knock again, and yet stand without a while; sometimes so long till our knees are ready to sink under us, our eyes ready to drop out, as well as drop with expectation, and our hearts ready to break in pieces, while none heareth, or none regardeth. We should have come before, or pitched our coming at a better time. God is in bed, as it were, and at rest with his children, cherishing and making much of them; he is not at leisure to open to such strangers. We must knock hard and importunately too, to get him to open to us; we are out of time.
But is he, who is "no acceptor of persons," become now an acceptor of times? or would he have us turn observers of them? Is there ever a star in heaven that can bring us into favour with the Father of Lights? any so lucky an aspect there, that can guide us up into his presence? Can any, or all the planets, in sextile, trine, or square, or any position else, make us fortunate in our new nativities or second births, or give us audience with the Almighty? Alas! these are but as the star of Remphan and Moloch, which only carry us into Babylon, confound all the projects we build upon them. The star we are to look to is the Star of Jacob; our sol, the Sun of Righteousness; our Venus, the holy Spirit of love; our Jupiter, God the Father, the great Juvan Pater of the world. These are the only planets the Christian guides his motions by; that make our business go well, our time accepted, our days lucky. And,
That such a time there is in the great affairs of souls, a time of readier acceptance with God--and what it is that makes it so--is now worth the considering.
That so it is, the Scripture tells us plain. The Prophet from whom our Apostle takes the words immediately before the text, and with which he ushers in his own times and ours, says as much; calls it vyjd tib tempos voluntatis; a time not only when he will, but when he is willing to hear us. Tempus endokiaj we may render it, "the time of his good [380/381 pleasure;" the Vulgar gives us it by tempore placito, "a time" not only "when he is pleased," well pleased to hear us and be pleasant with us. The same Prophet tells us, too, of "a time" not only "when he may be found," but "when he is near," ready and at hand to hear us. The Prophet David expressly speaks of "an acceptable tine" to make our prayers in. And "to-day if you will hear his voice," in the Psalmist, paraphrased by the Apostle, "to-day, while it is called to-day," shows there is a set day, or days, of audience with wherein he sets himself, as it were, with all readiness to hear and help us; an "accepted time."
And will ye, next, know what it is that makes it so? There are but two things that do. Either God's being in a good or pleasing disposition towards us, or our being in a good and pleasing disposition towards him. Come we but to him in either of these, and we have nicked the time, we are sure to he accepted.
(i.) When he is looking upon Him in whom he is always well pleased, his beloved Son,--when he is propounding him to us in his Word or Sacraments, scattering there, as it were, his gifts unto men, then, in those solemnities, is one sort of his accepted times, wherein he is ready to do what we will desire him.
(ii.) But when we ourselves are in a good temper and disposition, that is another. In tempore quo facitis voluntatem meam, so the Chaldee paraphrases the Hebrew,- the tempos voluntatis, or tempos placitum,--"That time when you do what I would have you," says God, 'that is the "accepted time" when I will hear you.' When our souls are in that order and obedience to our God that he would have them, then will he be in that readiness to succour us that we would have him.
The word kairoV goes for "season". And of seasons there are some, you know, more acceptable than others; two very acceptable and pleasant in the year, the spring and the summer. There are the same in the souls of men: a spring, when our graces and virtues begin to sprout and blossom, bespread and clothe this earth we carry; when the Sun of Righteousness begins to smile and warm us; when the air grows temperate, our passions and affections moderate within us, [381/382 and all our powers breathe nothing but violets and roses; this as the Prophet [Ezekiel] styles it, "the very time of love;" a disposition and time we cannot but be accepted in, wherein God begins to be in love with us. There is a summer, too, when "the hills"the highest pitch and spirit of our souls"stand thick with corn," and "the valleys"our lowest powers, our inferior passions"laugh and sin;" when the bright rays of heaven shine hot upon us; when we are hung full with all heavenly fruits; when our hearts do even "burn within us," and the whole desires even of our flesh, this dust that covers us, are on fire for heaven; when our hearts, "pant after the living brooks," and our "souls are athirst for God," to come unto him, to "appear before him." This, indeed is not only the time, but the fullness of it; when, coming so replenished with grace and righteousness, we shall be fully accepted, and be sure not to be sent empty away.
Indeed, it is sometimes an autumn and a winter season with us; a time when our leaves fall off, our graces and virtues decay and wither; when the fair beauty of a summer goodness, either spent and dried away with too long a sunshine of prosperity, or blasted by the first approach of some cold wind, some touch of winter, some affliction now at hand, makes the day look sad about us, and melancholy too, no way pleasing. A time, too, there is, when it is high winter with us, our faith and charity grown cold and dead; when the streams of our unwonted piety lie, as it were, chained up in icy fetters, and the Sun of Righteousness scarce appears above the horizon to us. These are times not to expect to be accepted in; and such I told you were intimated here too; "Now is the accepted," seems to say plain enough there is a time coming that will not be so. That is the third branch of our first particular.
The one andtwentieth year after the hundred-and-twentieth that God gave the old world to repent in, was a year too late, the next day after Nineveh's forty given her, would not have done her work. Jerusalem, our Saviour tells us, had passed her day. Nunc autem abscondita, the things of peace then hidden from her eyes, were too sad a proof her day was set. Nunc autem is full opposite to nunc dies [382/383] "To-day, if you will hear his voice," shows, If you will not, you must not look for another. They in the first of the Proverbs found no less; they had passed their time, refused God's when he called upon them: they shall therefore call, and he will not answer; they shall seek him, and that early too, but he will not be found; he will but laugh at them for their pains. A shrewd lesson to us not to neglect our day.
Indeed, it is not in the power of astrology to calculate this time, nor of airy human judgment to define or point out the day when God has done accepting us; but sure such a one there is, or it were vain to fright us with a nude autem, with a but, when there is no such matter--if day after day--would come and go, and yet never bring on a night wherein no man could work. Nay, it is requisite there should be so; for were there no such time, his very mercy would undo us in the mercy of the Most Highest, in his highest mercies, we should infallibly miscarry, and go away without repentance. Nor would his justice have time to show itself, if no time came amiss, or short of mercy. It is mercy enough that he allows us time of repentance, time to come in; and gives us (1) a lesson to be thankful, and to take it. Yet (2) he adds a greater; tells us of an "accepted time," when he keeps open court, and gives ready audience to all that come; and may teach us to seek and search that out, that it slip not by us. Nay, it is a mercy (3) to stint it too, to bound and limit it; we else likely would never come, put it off so long till we were past coming;--and reads us a lecture against presumption--as, yet, the concealing of those bounds and limits reads us, lastly, another against despair. All these lessons to be learned from this first particular, That an "accepted time" there is, wherein above other times God will accept its.
And yet there are degrees also of acceptation. The accepting us (1) to pardon; not imputing to us our former sins, nor reckoning to us our past unkindnesses, but allowing us the liberty still of new addresses to him: there is a time for that. The accepting us (2) into favour, not only leaving open the way, but affording us the means also to bring us to him; the filling us with mercy and loving-kindness: there is a time for that. The accepting us (3) to salvation too, [383/384] there is a day here, next, for that: and it is our second observation.
II. A day indeed. All time, nor all accepted time neither, is not day: "salvation" it is that makes it day; all time without it is but night and darkness; and in the brightest day that shines, we "sit" but "in the shadow of death," if we want the glances of salvation. Let God so accept us as to hear and prosper us with riches and honour when we desire it,--let him accept us to a pardon when we beg it, let him admit us to new addresses and some new favours too upon it, it is but a dawn or twilight still; it is not perfect day till "salvation" itself shine forth upon us.
I confess, swthria here may have a temporal meaning, by the saving and delivering Christ's faithful servants out of those distresses they were at that time under, or in fear of; and swthria etoimh apokalnfqhuai in S. Peter, "salvation ready to be revealed," and swsai yuchn "the saving the soul," or life, in S. Matthew and S. Mark, may prove the exposition good. Yet the Apostle's discourse that ushers in the text being about God's reconciling himself to us in Christ, and sending his ambassadors to us to that purpose, in the end of the preceding chapter,--and an exhortation not to receive that grace in vain, pursuing in that design, inclines me rather to apply it to a spiritual sense. Nay, the place of the Prophet, Isaiah xlix. 8, to which S. Paul alludes, seems to point particularly at this eternal salvation; verses 6, 7, 9 extending it there to the very Gentiles, "and the ends of the earth." but be it a temporal or be it an eternal salvation--be it either, or be it both--both have their "time," both have their "play," and "accepted" ones both.
Indeed, nothing can make them such so much as "salvation;" nothing like some great deliverance upon them: but every time is not fit for that. It is necessary there should be times of troubles and times of trial come before it; and it is not necessary we should be delivered presently. Until "the fulness of time was come" God did not send it, nor Him that brought it. Indeed, the Prophets that foretold it "inquired and searched diligently," says S. Peter, "what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory [384/385] that should follow," when it witnessed of salvation; but they could get no more "revealed" than this,--that they did "not minister to themselves, but us." That such a time should come, that they were certain; but when it should, they could not tell us.
Other salvations and deliverances have their due times too, and as uncertain. Those very tempera novissima, those "last times" that the very Apostles speak so oft of in their Epistle, (who were under the dawning of salvation,) have so large a latitude, that the great deliverance from the persecutions then upon them, but one of all of them lived to see, as confidently as all of them spoke of it. Enough to teach us patience as well as confidence; to expect with patience, and quietly wait for the salvation of God in all distresses, as well as to hold up our heads with confidence, and support our dying hopes and hearts, that salvation will surely come in its due time. And yet I may add, we may notwithstanding fear, too, that though it will be sure to cone, we may not live to see it, or have the happiness to enjoy it. We may die upon Mount Hor or Nebo ere it come, unless we can now happily lay hold upon this little nun this "now," set before us in the text--the next particular--and take it "now " it is offered to us.
III. This "now" is but a little word, but there is much time, or rather many several times, that lay claim to it here. The whole time (I) of the Gospel, in general. The times (2) of the Apostles, in special. Our times also (3) among the rest. These days (4) we are now a-keeping more particularly, above any other of ours. This very day, lastly, "whilst it is called to-day," before it is passed over us, before night come on us.
The time of the Gospel, from Christ's coming out of the womb, as the sun out of his chamber, till he shall come again in the clouds in glory, is this "accepted time," this salvation day at large. The day-spring of it rose with him at his first coming, but the day ends not till his second. There is a double emphasis in this "now." (i.) Now, and not before. (ii.) Now and now, henceforth for ever. (i.) Now, and not before. In him it is first we hear of God "well pleased;" all the times before, he did but "wink at:" in his time first it is that we hear of "saving people from their sins;" he [385/386] the first of all, since the work began, that "saved us from all "our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us:" in whom we have deliverance of all sorts, salvation of all kinds; he in whom God reconciling the world unto himself." Nay, he the very first that indeed made it day: it was but "darkness, and the shadow of death," we sat in before; his is the only "time," the time of the Gospel, the only time of salvation. Here it began, and hence now it goes on (ii.) forever; for S. John calls it Evangelium æternum, "the everlasting Gospel," the salvation not to end even with the world; to the end of it, sure, to continue. Moses' law had but its time, and vanished; and whilst it had, could not pretend so far as to make it day; cloud, and shadows, and darkness, all the while: the times of the Gospel are the only lightsome day, and a long one too, it seems; for our Sun has promised sill to shine upon us, and be with us ever, "to the end of the world."
But some more remarkable points of this "time" there are, we must confess. That of the Apostles was, (2,) the very especial nun intended here, the "now" in the text: when the time of acceptation was at the fullest, when whole families together, thousands at a clap, whole towns and countries came thronging in so fast, as if this very "now" were now or never; when handkerchiefs and aprons, and the very shadow of an Apostle, carried a kind of salvation with them; when there was not only a large way opened for all sinners to come in, but all ways and means made to bring them in; when there were fiery tongues, both to inflame the hearts of the believers, and to devour the gainsayers; when there was a divine rhetoric always ready to persuade, miracles to confirm, prophecy to convince, miraculous gifts and benefits to allure, strange punishments to awe sinners into the obedience of Christ and the paths of salvation; when the time of that great deliverance, too--from the destruction of Jerusalem, and the "enemies of the cross of Christ," so often reflected on through S. Paul's Epistles--was now nigh at hand, and the fast adhering to Christ the only way to be accepted and taken into the number of "such as should he saved" from it.
Yet, (3,) this "now" is not so narrow but it will take in our times too. It is true, those of the Apostles were furnished [386/387] with greater means and poster; yet ours, God be thanked, want not sufficient. We have the word and sacraments, and ministers, and inward motions, daily calls, and ready assistances of the Spirit. It may be, too, somewhat more than they; a long track of experimental truths, and long sifted and banded reasons, and an uninterrupted tradi-tion, and a continued train of holy and devout examples, a vast disseminating the Christian principles, and the perpetual protection of them, we have, to make them more easy to be accepted, and tell us that it is "now," still, the day of salvation.
And yet, (l,) even both in our times and the Apostles', there has been a nun idou some signal and peculiar time culled out of the rest and set apart for this reconciliation, the great affair that sets the ecce upon it. If I tell you but of S. Augustine's tota Catholica Ecclesia or S. Leo's Institutio Apostolica or S. Jerome's secundum traditionem Apostolurum or S. Ambrose's Quadragesimum nobis Dominus suo jejunia consecravit for this holy time we are in, the time of Lent,- that they all call it apostolical at the least; and S. Ambrose fetches it from our Lord, and consecrates it from Christ himself; and that it was always purposely designed for the time of reconciling sinners, and all the offices belong-ing to it,--shall need say no more to prove this "now" in the text is not ill applied when applied to this very time.
Most reasonable it is (i.) that some such there should be designed, some time or days determined, for a business of so great weight: we are not like else to have it done; we would be apt enough to put it off from time to time, and so for ever. Were there not some set days, I dare confidently affirm, God would have but little worship paid him; thousands would never so much as think of heaven or God.
And if it be reasonable some time be set us, there is (ii.) no time fitter than where we are: it is the very time of the year when all things begin to turn their course; when [387/388] heaven and earth begin to smoothe their wrinkled brows and withered cheeks, and look as if they were reconciled. It is the spring and first-fruits of the year, which upon that title is due to God, and fittest to be dedicate to his service and the business of our souls. (iii) It is the time when the blood begins to warm, and the contest is now in rising between the flesh and spirit; which now taken up a first and quelled, may be the easier reconciled to peace, and the body subdued into obedience to the soul. And so God's grace not received in vain. (iv.) The spring in which I is, it is tempus placitum, the pleasant time of the year; fittest, then, to fit with the tempus placitum in the text; fit to be employed to set ourselves to please God in, to make it perfectly such. And, sure, we cannot be displeased that the church (v.) has thought so too, chosen to be the fittest. Surely it is, or should be, the more acceptable for that.
And if this time, besides, has all times in it that Solomon himself could thing of, it must needs be dektoj and euprosdektoj too--every way acceptable; and all of them it has. (i.) "There is," says he, "a time to be born," &c. and so goes on; this is both "a time to be born: in and "a time to die: in. Lent, a time to die unto the world, and to be born in Christ. (ii.) It is "a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;' to plant virtue, and to pluck up vice. (iii.) It is 'a time to kill, and a time to heal;' to kill and mortify our earthly members, and to heal the sores and ulcers that sin hath made, by a diet of fasting and abstinence. (iv.) It is 'a time to break down, and a time to build;' to break down the walls of Babylon, the fortresses of sin and Satan, and to build up the walls of the New Jerusalem within us. (v.) It is 'a time to weep, and a time to laugh;' to weep and bewail the years we have spent in vanities, and yet rejoice that we have yet time left to escape from them. (vi.) It is 'a time to mourn, and a time to dance;' to manifest our repentance by some outward expressions, and thereby dispose ourselves every day more and more for Easter joys. (vii.) It is 'a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;' to remove every stone of offence, and, as 'lively stones, to be built up,' as St. Peter speaks, 'into a spiritual house.' (viii.) It is 'a time to embrace, [388/389] and a time to refrain from all wanton and loose embraces, and pour out ourselves wholly into the arms of our blessed Jesus. (ix.) It is 'a time to get, and a time to lose;' to get heaven by violence, and lose earth, our worldly goods (so the worldling count it, upon alms and charities; to cast away earth to purchase heaven. (x.) It is 'a time to keep, and a time to cast away;' to keep all good resolutions, and cast away the bad ones. (xi.) It is 'a time to rend, and a time to sew;' to rent and tear off all ill habits, and to begin good ones. (xii.) It is 'a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;' to keep silence from bad words, all idle and wanton and scurrilous language, and give ourselves to good discourses. (xiii.) It is 'a time of love, and a time of hate;' to love God, and hate ourselves; or love our souls, and hate our sins. (xiv.) It is, in a word, 'a time of war, and a time of peace;' to make war against all our ghostly enemies, the flesh, the devil, and the world, and reconcile ourselves to God, our neighbour, and the Church. To all these purposes serves the time of Lent; for them it was instituted at first, and for them it is continued: and can any Christian now think it should not be accepted upon such a score as this? Or are any days liker the day of salvation than those that are spent thus? Or is it our own fault if it be not? Or is any time more fit to be styled an 'accepted time,' than this that is the very comprehension of all times?a time every way fitted up for all the designs of salvationfor calling public offenders to account, for putting notorious sinners to open penance, for reconciling penitents and receiving them against the Church, for promoting piety and virtue, for admitting proselytes to holy baptism at the end of it, for preparing all of us for the blessed Eucharist all the wayby solemn prayers and preaching more than at other timesby fastings and watchings, and holy retirements, and strict devotionsand every way conforming us too the image of Christ, the fasting and dying and rising with him, that we may so also be accepted by him? These were the practices of Lent in the primitive Church of Christ; wished and called for too in ours, in the Epistles and Collects for it, and the Commination that begins it. And by the "afflictions," and "necessities," and "distresses," and "labours," [389/390] and "watchings," and "fastings," and "pureness," &c. that follow immediately upon the text may stand as an In diebus illis: a kind of prophetic designation, at least, of this time of Lent, has caused the words, I am sure, to be so applied by many of the ancients, and made a part by us also of the Lent office.
But this very time (so dilatory are we, and so ready to put off holy duties) is yet perhaps too large, and these forty days too many, to close us to our work. Nay, the day has many hours, "twelve," says Christ, "to walk in;" and if we may guess from our ordinary guise and custom, we are like enough to defer all to the last hour. I must set an accent, therefore, upon this nun, this "now." Now, Lent or notnow, fast we or fast we notnow is the very time we must begin our reconcilement, look to our salvation; that though the name of Lent should be distasteful (as too much it is), yet, however, we may not slip our time. It is the only sure part of time we have, the presentthe only "day of salvation;" for, peradventure, ere the next moment we are gone, and clearly cast without the confines of it. Not only then "to-day, whilst it is called to-day," but even "now," whilst it is called "now," is the sure "now of salvation." To all these nows, God here points us by an Ecce, "Behold, now is the," &c.
IV. And, indeed, it is no more than needs that he should point and set us out some time, even to accept our own salvation. Time and times pass over us, and we think not of it: "a piece of land," "a wife," "a yoke of oxen," are more thought upon every day than that. We ourselves do but little mind it (I am sure we live as if we did not much); the Church cannot get us to it, with all the fasts and feasts she sets us. Our ministers, the "ambassadors" that are sent about it, persuade little with us; we had need of Prophet and Apostle too, to say it over and over again unto us; and it is so in the verse we have the text in. The Lord's day itself, did not bear his name upon it, would as easily vanish into a neglect as all other holidays. It is only the opinion that he himself commanded or appointed that, which keeps it up awhile above the rest: whether so or no, we dispute not now; it is not to the text. These things, I shall tell you, are there [390/391] without dispute: (i.) Set days and times are there; times set apart for the promoting of our salvation; particular ones too, Ecce nunc tempus, nunc dies. Times (ii.) that are so set are so far from hindering, that they are even the very "days of salvation." Times (iii.) may so still be set by the Apostles or their successors; they have the power to design them, with S. Paul here, to put the nunc upon them. Times, lastly, so set have an ecce upon them, somewhat more upon them than other days; are to be observed, to be accepted. Do we therefore now accordingly, says my last particular"behold" them and "accept" them "Behold, now is the," &c.
V. "Behold," (1,) and take notice, such a " time" there is, such a "day" as we have been speaking of--Christ himself was anointed to preach and publish it"the acceptable year of the Lord." The Apostles were sent with the like "commission;" and they "beseech" us to take notice of it, whilst they "pray us, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled" upon it.
"Behold," therefore, (2,) and again "behold" it; that is, not only take notice of it (that may be perhaps a little by the bye), but consider it. There is a double ecce upon it; take notice of that, and sit down and lay it to your hearts, and chew it over and over; say thus within thyself:--God has been gra-cious to me from time to time; expected me long from day to day, proffering me grace, proffering me salvation, well beseeching and entreating me to accept them; "Lord, what is man, Lord, what is man, that thou shouldest be" thus "mindful of him," that thou shouldest so regard him? that thou shouldest thus follow him from one end of the year unto another, from one accepted time to another; from feast to feast, from fast to fast, from feast to fast, from Christmas to Lent, from Lent to Christmas, from Christmas to Lent again; from one Lent to another, from one day to another, begging and beseeching him not to refuse his own salvation? Well may it deserve ecce upon ecce, consideration upon considera-tion-admiration too, as well as consideration, and admira-tion upon admiration (ecce may pass for a note of both)---to be beheld so long, till our eyes and thoughts are not able to behold or think any longer.
And, (3,) to-day to set upon it; this nunc to begin it in. [391/392] Thou knowest not, O man, thou knowest not how short thy time is; whether this day may not be thy last; whether this "now," this very moment, may not at least be the last time that this salvation may be offered thee. Many are the times, I confess I told you, that challenged right to be among the "ones accepted;" but remember, I told you the present was the only sure one. The Apostle surely thought so, when he was so earnest for it, that within the compass of nine verses he three several times at least puts them in mind to take care "to-day" to "hear God's voice, while to-day it is:" as if to-morrow would not serve the turn, or "the day of salvation" were gone at right; salvation gone, or we gone and all gone with us. Thousands there be in the world, who now are, who within a few minutes will be no more; and why mayest not thou be one of them?--so much the sooner, in that the so long contempt of God's mercy may justly provoke him thus to fetch thee off and throw thee by. It is not without reason that S. Paul doubles his files, doubles the nunc as well as the ecce; calls, as it were, in haste, "Now!" now, catch hold on it!
Indeed, nor I nor you can time it better. There are three special points of time that meet here now, all extremely fit to persuade and move us to set upon the work and business of salvation, to apply ourselves seriously to our repentance and God's service--the particular time of Lent; this special day of Confirmation; the general and continued day of that latter great salvation and deliverance we still enjoy.
For that particular, (1,) of Lent, you have heard already all the helps it has for the furtherance of salvation--the fastings and watchings, the severities and restraints, the austerities and rigours, it requires, and brings towards it. I only add, it is Palm-Sunday within a day or two; a day fit to go out to meet your Saviour with hosannas, and bring salvation home with palms and triumphs. The holy Week is at hand; a week, formerly, of greater devotion and strictness than any of the rest. Good Friday and Easter are a-coming, the great anniversaries of our salvation; the fittest days, the properest nunj, to mind it in -for all to do it. But for some,
For some of you, (2,) you who come to be confirmed, this very day is a "day of salvation" in particular, wherein I hope you [392/393] shall have reason to return and say what our blessed Master said to Zacchæus, "This day is salvation come" unto your houses; a day wherein, by the imposition of holy hands, your Saviour seems sensibly to accept you, to receive you signally now, after your first stragglings into his house and Church again; to receive you into his acquaintance, to receive you into his favour, to receive you into his protection, to receive you to his benediction; and send you away with it, with all the blessings of his Holy Spirit, which are by the outward ceremony of laying-on the Bishop's hands and pouring out his prayers, poured down upon you only remember you come hither to be reconciled, and beg a blessing; that is your business. Remember that upon your knees you beg it, and with your hearts desire it, and then upon your heads be it. Be it will, I dare assure you, wisdom, and understanding, and counsel, and ghostly strength, and knowledge, and godliness, and God's holy fear; all these gifts and blessings of the holy Spirit, as they are prayed for in it, so will be upon you by it, to confirm you in the faith, if you now resolve (as it is required of you in the Preface) to stand to those promises you have already made in holy baptism, and steadfastly determine to be Christians hereafter, as you should be-to live and die in the obedience of Christ, to keep his faith entire, and his commandments to the utmost of your power. Do so to-day, and to-day then will be your "accepted time," will be to you certainly a "day of salvation."
But, (3,) the days of salvation we have now almost three years enjoyed, may justly demand to be remembered too to spur us on to take a little more care how we spend our time. I am afraid our late days have been as much consumed in vanity, as our former years were spent in trouble. We have forgot our deliverance; we live rather as if we had been "delivered" up (as they in the Prophet excused themselves) "to do all abominations;" we seem to have quite lost the memory of our temporal salvation; and for our spiritual, we go on daily as if we either cared not whether God would save us or no--or at least we would venture it--or as if we said in plain English, Let him save us if he will, be it else at his [393/394 own peril if he will not; or, in short, as if we bid him damn us if he durst. Yet never were there such days of salvation as we have seen, never such deliverances as we have found; never were such cast-aways--never men so rejected, so despised, so trampled on so again accepted on a sudden. Good God! was it for our righteousness, was it for our merits, was it by our own strength, or wit, or power, we were delivered? Alas, Lord! we had none of these. Was it for our oaths, or perjuries, or blasphemies, or sacrileges, or rebellions, or schisms, or heresies, or thefts, or profaneness, or wickedness, or villanies, that thou didst deliver us, to our kingdom and our Church, to our peace and plenty and prosperity, to all the happy means of piety and religion, to all the beauties of holiness and opportunities of salvation? Enough indeed, O Lord, of these we could have slowed thee; but these were reasons why thou shouldest not deliver us. It was only, o Lord, because thou wouldest have the day, and wouldest save us because thou wouldest. But for all that, my brethren, take heed we sin not so again. God has set us here a time; points it out to us with an ecce and an ecce, that we can no longer plead ignorance to miss it; we are already encompassed with the "day of salvation," and we are never like to see such a one again if we should lose this. Let us abuse it then no longer, lest some horrible night ere long overtake us, some terrible judgment come upon us, and hurry us hence before we are aware, into the horrors and miseries of everlasting darkness.
(4.) By this time you understand this ecce is not to set us a-gazing up into heaven, or observing days and months and times and years, but to retrieve our "months of vanity," as holy Job calls them, and fill the days we live with more acceptable employments. For God having so late accepted our persons, and our complaints, and prayers, and tears--or rather us indeed without them,--and desiring only of us that we would but accept and employ those mercies and all others of his to our own salvation,--we should be, methinks, the most unreasonable of men, to he so unkind to God as either not to receive his grace, or receive it still in vain. Worthy it is of better usage, for dektoV here is the same with pashj apodochj axioV "Accepted" here, the same [394/395] with that "worthy of all acceptation" there. The very time, says our Apostle, is such: what then is the salvation of it? That, surely, much more.
Accept we it, therefore, and the time of it, with all readiness, with all thankfulness, with all humility. Take we all the opportunities henceforward of salvation; look every way about us, and slip none we can lay hold on. This ecce, ecce, reiterated, is to rouse us, and to tell us that our ecce should answer God's. Ecce tempus, says he; Ecce me, or nos, say we. "Behold" the time, behold "the day," says God. Behold us, say we, O God, our "hearts are fixed, our hearts are fixed;" our hearts are ready, our hearts are ready to accept it. Ecce adsum, says Abraham; "Behold, here I am." Ecce. venio, says Christ; "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." "Behold, thy servants are ready," says David, "to do whatsoever my Lord shall appoint." And, Behold, we are coming, we are here, we are ready with thee according; to thy heart,--these are the returns or echoes we are to make God back again.
Nor is it time to dally now. Time is a flitting post; day runs into night ere we are aware: this "now-" is gone as soon as spoken; and no certainty beyond it, and no salvation if not "accepted" ere we go hence. There are, I know--, that cry, To-day shall be as yesterday, and to-morrow as to-day; "things continue as they were since our fathers fell asleep:" and this thing you call religion does but delude us, and our preachers do but fright us; this salvation they talk of, we know not what to make of it: if there be such a thing, indeed, the day is long enough- we may think time enough of it many years hence. Such scoffers, indeed, S. Peter told us we should meet with. But I "hope better things of you, my beloved, and such as accompany salvation;" and I have told you nothing to fright you from it; I have not scared you with the ancient rigour, nor terrified you with primitive austerities; I have only showed yon there is such a thing as salvation to be thought of, and it is time to set about it. You cannot fast, you will tell me; you are weak and sickly--it will destroy you; you cannot watch, you say--it will undo you; you cannot give alms--you have no monies; you cannot come so oft to prayers as others--your business hinders [395/396] but, however, can you do nothing towards it, towards your own salvation? Can you not accept it when it is offered? Can you not consider and think a little of it? If you do but that, I shall not fear but you will do more. When you have business, you can spare a meal now and then to follow it; and nothing is made on it when you are at your sports or play; you can sit up night after night and catch no hurt, for a new fashion, impertinence, or vanity; you can find money and time enough, at any time, for any of these: I desire you would but do as much, nay half as much (I am afraid I may say, the tenth part so much), to save your souls. Spend but as much time seriously upon that, as you do upon your dressing, your visits, your vanities, (not to require any thing so much of you upon that as upon worldly business,) and I dare promise you salvation; you shall be accepted 'at that day,' at that daywhen our short fasts shall be turned into eternal feasts, our petty Lents consummate into the great Easters, when time itself shall improve into eternity, this day advance into an everlasting sunshine, and salvation appear in all its glories.
Accept us now, O Lord, we pray thee, in this "accepted time;" save us, we beseech thee, in this "day of salvation;" that we may one day come to that eternal one, through him in whom only we are accepted--thy beloved Son Christ Jesus. To whom, with thee and thy Holy Spirit, be consecrated all our times and days,--all our years, and months, and hours, and minutes, from henceforward: to whom also be all honour and praise, all salvation and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.