A PREPARATION FOR OUR LORD'S COMING.
REGIUS PROFESSOR OF HEBREW, AND CANON OF CHRIST CHURCH.
JOHN HENRY AND JAMES PARKER, OXFORD,
J. AND F. H. RIVINGTON, WATERLOO PLACE, LONDON,
And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the End come.
EVERY thing, we know, works together to accomplish the will of God; angels and devils, good and evil, light and darkness, love and hatred, humility and pride, willingly or unwillingly accomplish that will. All bring about His ends, whether by obeying His rule, or opposing and being crushed by it. And so, in prophecy, we have a two-fold description of things which usher in our Lord's Comings, the preaching of righteousness and the ripening of unrighteousness. So it was in God's Judgments, which were eminent types of the End. "The wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and every imagination of his heart was only to do evil continually;" but it was not until Noah, "the preacher of righteousness," had for the allotted "hundred and twenty years," preached in vain, that "the flood came." "The men of Sodom were wicked, and sinners before the Lord exceedingly," but it was not until "just Lot" had been brought among them, and "vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds," and had been rejected by them, ("This one came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge,") that they were "set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." The first destruction of the chosen city was not until God had "sent His servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them;" "but they mocked His messengers and despised His words and misused His prophets, until the wrath of God arose against His people, till there was no remedy." It was not until the Gospel should be preached, as a testimony to them, that that chief image of the consummation of all things, "the end" of Jerusalem, was to "come."
These were but shadows, dimly tracing out an indistinct and faint outline of what is to be: as how should not any image be faint of that great End, which is to complete all God's dispensations towards us, to end this long strife between good and evil, fully to accomplish all His gracious counsel towards His elect, to finish that work which has been begun "from the foundation of the world," to gather in "the fruit of the travail of" our Blessed Redeemer's "soul," to complete the number of those, who shall partake of the ineffable condescension and mystery of the Incarnation; to end time, to bring in Eternity, of bliss or misery? Yet though but shadows of what shall come, they furnish us with tokens and heralds of His Coming; what has been, shall be; and it has been given us, as a sign of its approach, and a warning to prepare for it. Before that great and terrible Day come, wickedness is to be fully ripened, ere it be "cast into the wine-press of the wrath of Almighty God," the Gospel is to be fully preached. Both, it would seem, are to go on together. The tares and the wheat grow on together for the one harvest-time; the rejection of the truth is the last hopeless sealing-up of Anti-Christian error; the same preaching which is a witness to the Gentiles is a testimony against them. "If I had not come and spoken unto them," saith our Lord, "they had not had sin." The two witnesses are to prophesy, clothed in sackcloth, and are to be slain, and to rise and to be received into heaven, ere the seventh Angel soundeth; at his sounding, we hear at once that "the kingdoms of this world are to become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ," and "the nations" to be "angry" and the "dead to be judged."
In older prophecy, again, the first and second Coming of our Lord are blended; His coming in Person, His Presence as a Teacher by His Spirit, His coming to judge. The cheering prophecy which begins with telling how "the mountain of the Lord's House shall be established on the top of the mountains, and all nations flow into it, and the law go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem," ends with telling how "the Day of the Lord should be upon every thing proud and lofty, and it shall be brought low," how "men shall go into the clefts of the rocks and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord and for the glory of His Majesty, when He ariseth to shake terribly the earth g;" which our Lord has taught us to understand of the Day of Judgment. The prophet Joel, after foretelling of the "pouring" of God's "Spirit upon all flesh," tells us instantly of the "great and terrible Day of the Lord," "before whose coming the sun should be turned into darkness and the moon into blood." The prophet Daniel tells us of "knowledge being increased," but yet that "none of the wicked shall understand, the wise shall understand," as the last sign before that "time of trouble, such as never was, since there was a nation," which is the immediate prelude of the Resurrection.
Such, probably, has been the history of the whole conflict between good and evil; the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. The malice of Satan has been the more stirred, whenever the powers of goodness were the more active; his wrath was the hottest when his kingdom was the most threatened; he blinded the eyes of his worshippers with the thickest mist, when the light of heaven would have shone most brightly into them. Those who listened to his whisper, stopped their ears the more madly, when Apostles' voices might reach them; they shouted the more loudly, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians," and praised "the image which fell down from Jupiter," when otherwise the good tidings of Him Who "came down from heaven to seek and to save that which was lost," might have come unto them. So we may find it individually. Never has Satan so great wrath, as when a man is in earnest bent on forsaking him for ever; as though the bad spirit were pictured to us in some of his servants here below, whose passions sleep until opposed, and then burst out into fury. "The spirit," we are told, when bidden to "depart" from the child, and "enter no more into him "whom it had possessed, "cried and rent him sore, and came out of him, and he was as one dead." Never, it was observed of old, did he assault persons with so much fury as those often who had been recently baptized, hating that they should become what he had once been, children of the light, that they should be to the glory of Him, Who had conquered him, that they should have escaped his snare, and be placed in the highest Heavens, and judge himself. Never did he madden his human instruments with so much malice as against those who carried the deepest inroad into his kingdom, the blessed Martyrs.
Such, however, are the two great forerunners of the Coming of our Lord, increased light and thickening darkness; more anxious care and zeal, and deeper recklessness; lowlier love and fear of God, and more unveiled scorn and hatred; fasting and voluptuousness; prayer and blasphemy; self-denial and self-indulgence; bearing the Cross and "crucifying the Son of God afresh;" spiritual worship and idolatry of self; mercy on Christ's poor, and fierce persecution of His members. All these, and whatsoever there is besides of the opposed worships of God and of Satan will doubtless alike deepen in opposite camps of God and of the world, until the cry of the oppressor and the oppressed, the madness of the enemy and the blood of the saints, together draw on the dreadful Day, when He shall "destroy them which shall destroy the earth."
And as we, day by day, pray "Thy kingdom come," so day by day is that "kingdom" which "cometh not with observation," silently drawing near. Day by day, as each dying saint or penitent completes his penitence or his victories, and the gate of death is the entrance into Paradise, is the number of God's elect receiving its accomplishment. Each victory which the weakest among us gains over himself, is a coming of that "kingdom within" us; each fresh Missionary, who with self-denial, carries his Master's Cross and his Master's message of mercy, is "a voice in" this world's "wilderness" "preparing the way for the Lord;" each child which is received into its Redeemer's fold and dieth there; each wanderer who becomes again like a little child, are daily swelling the number of those who are to sing the endless song. Nay, the very march, as it is called, of intellect, the growth of insubordination, the organization of evil principles, the servitude of self in all its various forms, gross or refined, of luxury, sensuality, ease, hard-heartedness, ambition, national aggrandizement, dislike of control over thoughts, of rule and discipline in actions, of creeds in faith, of forms in devotion, of authority in the things of this world or of the next, in that they are filling up the measure of the world's sins, are hastening its close, in that they are preparing for Anti-Christ, are preparing also for the Coming of our Redeemer, to save us from his terrors, and with the "breath of His mouth to slay the wicked."
On this should the Christian's eye be ever fixed. This is the end of all the Church's witness and her warfare; of her sufferings and her triumph; of her martyrdoms and her renewed life out of death; of her watchings, fastings, afflictions, persecutions, at the hands of aliens or her own children; of her siftings through heresy: her royalty or her abasement. This hope it is which gave her power over the world, and in this she has conquered. Nay, the thickest darkness ever gave her the brightest hopes. For "distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring, men's hearts failing them for fear," were to be the harbingers of her Lord's Coming; "Then look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh." In the midst of the storm was His Form seen upon the waters: the "night of heaviness" brings in the "joy" of "the Morning:" in the depth of midnight, "the Bridegroom cometh."
It was not then in error, that the Church in old times so often felt His Coming. That Coming is measured, not by time,--which is a mere creature, and which we, frail as we seem, shall all survive, and witness its annihilation,--but by the perfecting of God's saints, and the ripening of the world's sin. "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." That Coming is near to us when the signs of it are present. Though a thousand years have yet to roll their course, it is present in judgment or in mercy. Though unseen, it is He Who is strengthening His saints to do or to endure, He Who is already "judging the world in righteousness." In either way, by His invisible Coming, He gives an earnest of the visible which shall be; and not they are wrong, who, feeling His presence, expect His approach, but they rather are brutish, who are not awed to acknowledge even His present might. What are time and space to Him, Who created the one and fills the other? Time has no relation to Him Who is the Eternal, but to us only, who are now subject to it. And so, as the first pale streaks tell of the rising of the sun, though we see it not; as we feel ourselves oppressed by the electric fluid, though the clouds be not formed from which it shall be discharged, not less do all God's judgments on the world, and His witness of Himself in the Church, denote His Presence, and announce His Coming, however long our eyes may have to look out for it. He hath been ever with His Church as He promised. His Church, as it has been gradually filling up its roll of Martyrs, Confessors, Saints, Virgin-souls, "the just made perfect," has, joint by joint, been out of its countless multitudes, forming that invisible company, "which is His Body." In preaching, witnessing, suffering, waiting, she has been, ever since He was received up into Heaven, preparing for His Coming which she announced: her Life is His life in her; her victories are His Strength in her weakness; her distresses are the carrying on of His; her sufferings, Scripture says, "the filling" up of His; her extension, the enlargement of His Inheritance, the coming of His Kingdom.
"It is not for" us "to know the times or the seasons which the Father has put in His own power," but it is for us--our Lord upbraided in His day those who discerned them not--it is for us to "discern the signs of" our "times." For the signs are no more outward things; they are the Presence of our Lord, or of His Adversary. They who are now asleep saw, with the quickened eye of age, that eventful times were coming on the earth; they saw it in years now past away with them, when the earth seemed scarcely to shew the first of those birth-pangs which now seem coming so quickly upon her, and they warned us of them; and now we are in the midst of them; year by year seems preparing for somewhat, we know .not what: the slumber of the last period is broken: every thing seems hurrying on upon a gigantic scale; all are pressing eagerly, though they know not whither; men's hearts are stirred for evil or for good, for this world or the next; they who look not to the next, waste their energies in feverish exertions about this; but all feel an unseen Presence which stirs them; and whether they "build an ark" at God's command "for the saving of" themselves and of "their house," or a tower of Babel, which God shall confound, in earnest toils or restless activity, they own alike the coming of a "night when no man can work," the dawning of Creation's sabbath, when there shall be "a rest for the people of God." People are taking their side; the middle space is gradually cleared; they who are for Baal are more distinctly following him, they who are for God, though more slowly, are girding themselves to follow Him; middle forms of misbelief or unbelief are disappearing, and men are either returning or straying further; the good are becoming better, the bad worse; as St. John says of the end, "The unjust be he yet more unjust, the defiled be he yet more defiled; the just be he yet more justified, the holy yet more hallowed;" or holy Daniel, "Many shall be purified, but the wicked shall do wickedly." [E. g. Rationalism in Germany is gone, and has made way for Christianity, though yet imperfect, or Pantheism.] The world is decaying, the Church being purified; "the hearts of the fathers" are being "turned to the children, and the children's to their fathers;" Christendom, so long estranged, is learning to yearn to be again one. Men's hatred and fear of the Church, and the Church's love; the world's scheming, and the Church's simplicity; the world's riches and the Church's poverty, by her own consent, or at the hands of others, are increasing, that the Church, if so be, approaching to Apostolic poverty, may again obtain Apostolic might. [All the recent legislation for the Church in England, and the schemes proposed for her in the future, have had one avowed tendency, to stretch its resources as far as possible within itself, subdividing them, so that individuals shall he poorer. This, of course, ultimately must encourage more self-denying habits, strictness, and, in those who have the gift, celibacy.] Old institutions are being broken up, that the new life may mould new ones around it. The Church is every where having a new life infused into it. The great antagonist power of the arch-imposter, so long the scourge of Christendom, is scarcely upheld from crumbling on its base by the remaining jealousies of Christian states. The ancient people of God, in whom the world's history seems so wonderfully to centre, are, after centuries of listlessness, again roused, though one must fear, to build a temple wherein to worship Anti-Christ rather than Christ. [See e. g. the sadly secular and unbelieving spirit in a sort of national manifesto of the German Jews, so often quoted, as though any stirring of the Jews must be for good, and they might not be now preparing anew, as so often before, to fulfil our Lord's prophecy, "I am come in My Father's Name, and ye receive Me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive." The whole address, except the words, "people of Jehovah", is of the world, and these are desecrated to worldly ends. In what spirit can they have read the sad history of their fathers who write, "no people on the earth have lived so true to their calling from the first as we have! We are a trading people," &c. On the thought that Anti-Christ may come of the Jews, see Mr. Newman's Sermons on Anti-Christ, Tracts for the Times, No. 83, p. 18-20.] All is in motion, in one way or the other. All earth seems to hear the voice of the Lord, calling it with the heaven, to witness His judgments; all nature seems bestirred, as though it heard the distant sounds of that last voice, "Behold the Bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet Him."
And in this last struggle, we, for evil or for good, seem marked to have a lot eminent in serving whichever Master we choose. We have within ourselves, more than any other nation, the elements of both kingdoms; and we, in an unexampled way, are being made the parent of nations larger, and, if the world last, so long mightier than we; we have already well-nigh filled one half-continent larger than Europe; another, as large, is being filled with our language, and from the four quarters of heaven at once, springing up into four mighty nations; one hundred million of Heathen have been placed under the rule of this small island, and the addition made from time to time to our Indian Empire are counted by millions. [Letter of the Bishop of Australia quoted in the preface to the author's Sermon, "Christ the Rule and Pattern of Christian love." Our Heathen subjects used a few years ago to he counted at eighty million; now, at one hundred.] And yet, as though this had been too little for us, the new continent, which has been reserved to us to fill, is three times as large as that vast tract, which contains 100,000,000, and is so thinly peopled; so that the accessions of the islands, which it is trusted will be colonized on the principles of a Christian Church, though larger than our own, seems but a small thing. But alas! wherein is all this to end? Who is the giver of these things? Is it He Who made them, and has He indeed reserved them until now, that we may have in these last days the Patriarchal blessing "become thousands of millions," or, more and higher, "in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; "and in our degree, if through us the kingdom of God is extended, "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed My voice." ["British India 1,100,000 square miles. Australia 3,000,000." Religious Statistics published by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. New Zealand is computed at 95,000 square miles, England and Wales are 58,000.] Or have we reason to fear that we have received them as wages from that bad spirit, who is called "the god of this world," and who dared to promise to our Master, "All this power will I give thee and the glory of them, for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it?" Have we gained it by worshipping him?
One dares not pronounce our own condemnation, that we have. Evil is so mixed with good in this sad world, and good is yet found, where there seems unmixed evil, that one had rather look up to a merciful Judge than pronounce His sentence. Else, our first colonies begun and peopled by schism, and now torn from us, and turned to be almost our enemy; our Indian empire gained by ambition and cupidity, and long held as it was deemed, by denial of our Lord; our penal settlements founded on a selfish policy, which made them more like hell, than, as they should have been, a place for Christian penitents, sadly witness against us. Long time, the whole course of our Indian policy was shame to confess Him before men, shame to avow that we had a faith, for fear the avowal of the truth should imply that we intend to interfere with their errors. [See Le Bas' Life of Bishop Middleton.] A Christian nation disowned Christ, lest it should risk provoking Satan by disturbing his empire. But then, of whom did we thereby unknowingly hold the Empire, of Him Who hath all power in heaven and in earth, Whom we neglected, or of him whom we feared?
But we cannot resign our Empire, until God re-demand it of us. We must hold it, to hinder yet greater evils. It is even enlarged upon us against our will. Our trial is changed. It now is, how we will hold what amid forgetfulness of God we have gotten; in whatever way we acquired it, of Whom we will hold it; Whom in it we will serve, God or Satan? Will we Christianize India, or heathenize Australia? Will we set ourselves in earnest, to prepare them who sit in darkness and the shadow of death for the rising of the Sun of righteousness, or shall we allow darkness to thicken over those, who once dwelt in our land of light? Will we labour truly to gather the scattered sheep into Christ's fold, or allow those once within to wander? Will we gather them into the one fold and by our zeal, our prayers, our life, our charity, win those yet estranged; or will we by lukewarmness forfeit the claim of our Apostolic descent, and become the heralds of discord rather than of unity, and for the messengers of peace, make our national name the type and brandmark of schism, carrying through the world the divisions, which distract ourselves and wear away our Christian life? Will we be the source of discord or of unity? Shall we fulfil those notes of His Coming, "nation shall rise up against nation," or that more blessed sign of "turning the hearts of children to the fathers?" Will we prepare for the Coming of Christ or of Anti-Christ?
My brethren, it is not for us beforehand to fit the prophecies of Holy Scripture against ourselves; but it is, to take earnest warning, if we see but the slightest hint that we have any correspondence with those upon whom God denounces such fearfulness of woe. It may be that we and our empire shall long have past away, ere our Lord come; it is too horrible to think of, that Anti-Christ should arise out of us, that out of this island of saints, as it once was, the enemy and destroyer of the saints should come. But the Babylon of the Revelations, like that of old and Tyre, was to be a merchant-city, and (what conies therewith) full of riches, and luxury, and pride, and self-confidence. Of all the nations now in the world, we alone, with a daughter state which so far is one, answer this description. We have not only one merchant-city, but we are full of them; we must almost say, we are made up of them. "We hare been urged to look to them and their interest, ( as it is called,) as if they were the very centre, whereon the being of our country hung. We have repeated again and again, until we are shockingly familiar with our own miseries, that they are full of a heathen population, shut out from the pale of the Church, nay of all Christian worship, however imperfect; we talk one to another of their "spiritual destitution," of the Heathenish vices stalking abroad in them, of the forgetfulness of God. Is all this most like a description of that city which came down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her Husband, the heaven-born Christian Church, wherein the Spirit of God dwells, or of that other city, which "is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean hateful bird?" People have spoken of our present efforts to dislodge the evil one, that we were saying, by God's help "Get thee hence, Satan." Alas! what is this but with our own mouth to acknowledge where is his dwelling-place, from one small corner of which would one could say our puny efforts drive him!
If we would be saved, it must not be thus. Every thing in this day is gigantic, except charity. Empires, riches, designs, works of art and toil, mercantile enterprise, shipping, every thing, whereby gains may be acquired, and with them our sins and miseries, are on a gigantic scale. Is Charity, the very daughter and image of the Infinite God, Who is Love, to be alone cramped and stinted in her growth? For this world's ends we would move with the winds, no speed is fast enough for us; are the wings of Prayer alone to be slow, and is Faith which can "move mountains" alone to be listless and feeble?
Yet, praised be His Holy Name, though good in these days seems ever to be following after evil with a lagging tread, the Church also has awakened; hindrances are removed; if little has been done for her by the State, at least she has been in a degree set free to go forth in the fulness of her Apostolic character, not restrained to send forth the two inferior orders of Clergy only. [The plan for Colonial Bishoprics. The conditions annexed to it are indeed in many respects other than those must wish, who long to see our Church somewhere develope herself unshackled; as to the theory of the nomination of the Bishops so sent, it is retrograde, giving up the Church yet more into the hands of the State; there are also other subjects of anxiety connected with it, inseparable from our position and temper: still we may be thankful that it has been put into the minds of our Bishops to devise a plan of such character and magnitude, hoping that the improving spirit of the Church may be made a means of averting the evils to be apprehended, and that the plan is a beginning of better days, in which our Church shall fulfil her office in a way more accordant with her character than heretofore, be a blessing to the earth, and be recognised as a branch of the Church Catholic, as, "throughout all the world acknowledging Him."] Efforts are being made at least upon a larger scale; there is awakening energy and life; and though we yet seem sadly paralyzed, and can with difficulty shake off our long torpor, yet we will be thankful that that sleep wherein we lay bound has been broken by our Master's voice, and He again has bid us "Go work in My vineyard", and, in so sending us, has given us the name of "sons." In this institution alone, the Missionaries sent out have in the last five years increased by one third. Above one hundred more labourers have been sent into that vast harvest of human souls; one hundred more messengers to prepare our Lord's way. "But what are they among so many?" What are not they only, but the whole number of these messengers of the Most High? What are 136 Missionaries amongst the 100,000,000 of India? Not three among each two million. Already in one Diocese alone, the Bishop could employ one hundred more Missionaries, would our Christian love or sense of duty send them forth. [Preface to the Charge of the Bishop of Madras, quoted in the Society's Report.] Or, among our own people, as it has been urged by themselves, "bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh," [Letter of a resident, in the last Report] nay one might boldly say "spirit of our spirit," (since "all have been made to drink into One Spirit," there is of all but one body, in all but One Spirit,) those who within a little while were of us, yea, and if we indeed be Christ's, are, by the Communion of Saints, one with us still,--what are 254 among 1,100,000, British, of British North America? [430,000 have been deducted for the French in Lower Canada; which, however, is gradually tending to become an English province.] and mere numbers give no notion of their destitution, since in a newly settled country, they are not gathered, like ourselves, around the centre of our village Church, but are scattered here and there, their physical condition a type of their spiritual, sheep without a shepherd, where, at best, religious teaching, encouragement, warning, worship, rites, sacraments, can but irregularly reach them. They are sick, and there is none to visit them; they die, and there is none to commend the parting soul to God, or give the Bread of Life to sustain in death. What again are, not 200 among nearly 900,000 [191 among 890,000] of the British West Indies? or ten among the 150,000 of the Cape, or fifty-three among the 100,000 of Australia, where the growth is by thousands? shall one among 5, or 10, or 15,000 be for over the provision we make for other spiritual wants of our children? Is then every thing British to be for ever a wilderness? Alas! how can we speak of preparing our Lord's way, when we should be rather sorrowing, that, to relieve the pressure of an over-dense population at home, even the more serious among us have been encouraging people to migrate to these famishing wildernesses, where darkness dwells. And what have they held out to them? Increase of comfort, wages, beautiful climate, prosperity, wealth, every thing which ends in this earth, every thing which relates not to what has no end, the true riches, everlasting joys, the Sun which never sets, the skies which have no clouds of sorrow, even the heaven of heavens, and God Who filleth it, their and our Judge, and the Eternal Rewarder of the evil and the good.
Yet though we dare not speak of it at present, we dare in penitence hope it. It cannot, we trust, be without some purpose of mercy, that God has been awakening our ancient British Church, once the parent of great saints, fertile in Martyrs, the Converter of nations. He has, we trust, seen some good thing in us, that in the midst of sins hateful in His eyes, He has awakened us from that sin which He most hates,--lukewarmness, and has put into our minds some thoughts of self-denial and of charity, correctives of our other sins. He has given us some nobler views of promoting His glory, and would give us repentance, and on repentance would more than undo the past. The Empire which the nation has acquired through sin, He would through the Church make the Empire of His Christ, and would use even the ambition of our people, like that of the Roman Empire, to give free course to His Messengers, and spread the tidings of salvation from continent to continent, until all nations have heard it, and the End come.
My Christian brethren, on which side will ye be? while "the ark and Israel and Judah abide in tents, and the servants of our Lord are encamped in the open field," shall we merely "take our ease" "and eat and drink? "shall we every three years hear listlessly some appeal for these our brethren, give some petty coin,--petty I mean in proportion to what we spend upon ourselves,--in the service of the Lord of Hosts, to supply His armies? Shall we, when He is giving signs that He is "going forth, conquering and to conquer," hang back, like slothful servants, and, because we see Him not, say, "My Lord delayeth His Coming?" Shall we,--for there is no middle course, whoso is not with Him is against Him,--be among those who by prayer, by longing, by self-discipline, by such deeds as we are able, prepare for His Coming, or shall we swell the number of those who by their various sins, in that other fearful way, draw on His Coming, by filling up the measure of this world's iniquity, until it be ripe to produce the consummation of wickedness in His Adversary?
But to help in this great work, we must count the cost. None of the fearful wants of this great nation can be supplied, until we set about supplying them in a different way from heretofore. It is not by an effort now and then, that our own sincerity is to be proved, a sacrifice well-pleasing to God offered, a habit of loving action formed, the pattern of our God followed, the kingdom of Satan broken, the kingdom of our Lord advanced. One would not speak slightly of any beginning of charity. Any act of love is God's gift, pleasing in His sight. But we cannot be said to have any adequate notion of charity, until we have brought home to ourselves as the habit of our mind, that nothing which we have is ours, that we are stewards not lords of it; that week by week and day by day we hold it of Him; that we are to give an account of it, coin by coin, all which we waste, misuse, spend in luxury or on self; that to hoard it, is to heap up fire; to spend it upon self, is to lose it; to aggrandize ourselves by it, is to sink ourselves in God's sight; to give it largely, denying self, is to lay up treasure with Almighty God, to give it into His hands, to "lay up a good foundation, to lay hold of eternal life." Charity and almsgiving must be not an occasional act, but the continued habit of our lives. What is a duty at one time, is such at all times. And therefore, until it shall please God, in His mercy, to restore to our Church her old Apostolic practice of weekly collections, they who make weekly gains must practise themselves in private, in laying by in store, as God has prospered them, and consecrate to Him the gains of each week, and the week itself and themselves to Him, from Whom they have their time, their gains, themselves. And the richer who can hardly, for their very abundance, equal the faith of the poorer, may share their reward by consecrating such portion of their substance as would involve some self-denial, a tenth or, more blessedly if it may be, a fifth, to God.
Yet giving is not all. It is one of the evil effects of our wrong estimate of wealth, that, giving little as we do, most of us seem to think that little a great thing, and to act as though such gifts will do all. Did we give more largely and self-denyingly, we should give more humbly. Now, it seems to be thought that money will yield every thing, devoted charity, denial of self, contempt of the world and of itself. No! Money may hire labourers, but not into Christ's vineyard; it may gain soldiers, but not soldiers of the Cross, who will "bear hardness." Money will not "redeem souls;" it is not the sinews of this war. Bather, we must fear that God's blessing will, in scanty measure, rest upon all we do, so long as we think that, even in this way, "the gift of God is to be purchased by money;" so long as we pique ourselves on the sums we raise, as if things must needs go well, when we had raised money. Bather, Missionaries, as they are the flower of the Church's army, will still partake of the character of the Church. Unless God, for His own Name's sake, do a new thing, a self-indulgent Church is not the nursery for self-denying Missionaries; a Church of luxurious children who "take their ease," is not likely to be the honoured parent of those who go forth "in the spirit and power of Elias," girding haircloth on their loins to preach in the desert the salvation of our God. A Church, which neglects its daily services, its weekly commemorations of her Lord's sufferings, its weekly Eucharists, which joins so feebly with the "elect of God" who "cry day and night unto Him," and with those spirits of the just, who beneath the Altar cry with a loud voice, "How long, O Lord, Holy and True?" is not yet in the state that she dare hope that He will hear her "speedily." With prayer and fasting were Apostles separated by the Holy Ghost Himself to the work to which Himself called them; amid prayer and fasting have the great saints of the Church ever gone forth to bear the message of our Lord's Cross, themselves bearing it after Him, and in mortified lives shewing forth its power. They preached the nothingness of the world, who were themselves dead to it; they told of the deceitfulness of riches, who had none; they taught that we are strangers and pilgrims here, who themselves, like their Lord, had no abiding-place; they bade others forsake all for Christ's sake, who had themselves for His sake forsaken fathers, mothers, wives, children, houses, lands; they received the crown of martyrdom, who, all life long, hated their life, as being entitled to "long to be dissolved and be with Christ." But, though chief, they were not alone on earth, for, they were in the Communion of the Saints. Amid the fasts and prayers of the Church were they themselves formed; with them were they consecrated and conducted on their way; through them was "utterance given" them "to make known the mysteries of the Gospel." Faint and feeble as our signs are, still it is a hopeful earnest of the return of such days, that prayer and fasting are in some degree restored to our Church; amid the prayer and fasting of the Ember-weeks are her Ministers ordained; self-denial is again felt to be a duty; the Cross is borne as well as spoken of.
This is "the day of small things," but we must "not despise" it; God has blessed our feeble beginnings: these very collections, as far as they are self-denying, are very acceptable to God. Fasting and alms are the wings of prayer; fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, i. e. denial of self, love of others, devotion to God, are the three heads under which our Lord brings all Christian duty. Yet because we have not attained all we would, we may not despise what He has given us. Only consider we what we give as a small thing, not as though we by these contributions were providing Missionaries of the Cross, or sent labourers into that Vineyard, whom He only sends, Whose Vineyard it is, or as though we gained those whom He hires, Who is Himself their hire and their "exceeding great reward," but that we whose lot or whose duty it is, to abide where we have been called, would join, as we may, in this great work, and by our petty self-denials minister to their necessities, and join in that great universal sacrifice, which through, the merits of the One Atoning Sacrifice, the Church Catholic through all its parts offers unto God, herself, soul, body, spirit, all she is and all she has, as a living, holy, reasonable, acceptable sacrifice unto Him. [S. Aug. de Civ. Dei, x. 20. [The Church] "being the body of Him the Head, learneth to offer herself through Him."]
It may be some earnest of this, if we this day make our offerings with self-denial and humility, as they who have our fathers' neglects upon us, as they who might justly fear that "we are verily guilty of the blood" of these our brethren, whom we have neglected, yet pray we Him Who has had compassion upon us, to forgive our past negligences and accept our present imperfect services; and He Who fell on the neck of His penitent son, will accept our return; He will remember our offerings and accept our sacrifices y. He on Whose Altar we hope to place them, and with our prayers offer them to Him, will Himself present them to the Father, sprinkled and sanctified with His own most Precious Blood. To the Eternal Presence, above Angel and Archangel, will your faithful gifts (poor and worthless as they in themselves are) be carried; they will ascend "as a memorial before God," that He may remember your love for your brethren, and not remember your sins. Poor is your money, but precious is mercy; precious in His sight, "Who became poor that we through His poverty might be made rich." [S. Ambrose de Elia et jej. c. 20.] He Who overlooks not the cup of cold water, will keep your offerings; each true gift is everlasting treasure, safe, stored up, gathering year by year; and when, time's course shall have swept by, and all the things which now distract us, life's pleasure, pain, sorrow, joy, riches, poverty, distinction, shame, shall be like a feverish dream from which we are awakened, and charity shall alone abide, your Lord, Whose coming you look for, shall repay you. He Who enabled you to love shall requite your love, for He is Love. But what in that Day will it avail you, when the world and all the things therein, its gold and silver, shall be burned up, and the pure gold of charity alone will pass through refined, and the wrath of God will be u upon every thing high and lifted up, on every high tower and upon all ships of Tarshish, on all pleasant pictures," and on all "loftiness of man,"--what will it avail you then, how you have been exalted here, what sums you have heaped up, what goodly merchandize of this life you have gotten by this world's trading, what you left, what you had, how you fared sumptuously, with what fine linen you were arrayed, if in that Day ye shall be found, the more for all these things, "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and naked," weighed down the more by the gold, wherewith you were "rich to yourselves, and not to God?" What if in that Day you should hear, (God in His mercy forbid that you should,) "Thy money perish with thee," because it was thine, thou watchedst over it, lordedst over it as if it were thine, didst not hold it as thy Lord's, gavest it not as His almoner, layedst it not up with Him; and therefore at His Coming shalt not be owned as His, Whose Coming thou didst not look for, to meet Whom thou didst not prepare. Beware then, now and hereafter, what you do; our brethren's souls cry unto us; may not their blood cry against us! Angels behold; your Saviour looketh on; your Judge will reward you; mercifulness is Heaven; unmercifulness Hell.
Now unto Him That loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own Blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father, to Him with the Father in the Unity of the Holy Ghost be blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, for ever and ever. Amen.
O Lord Jesu Christ, Who at Thy first Coming didst send Thy messenger to prepare Thy way before Thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of Thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready Thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at Thy second Coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in Thy sight, Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen. [Collect for Third Sunday in Advent.]
Plymouth: Printed at the Printing Press of the Devonport Society.