Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times"
London: J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1839.
SAINTS' DAYS AND DAILY SERVICE.
1 SAM. xiv 6.
"It may be that the LORD will work for us;
For there is no restraint to the LORD,
To save by many or by few."
AMONG the many great advantages and comforts which would attend the due observation of Saints' days, we may observe the opportunity which is given us, on such occasions, of distinctly calling to mind what difficulties and trials the faithful servants of GOD have in all ages been subject to, and by what means it was that they were enabled to stand firm in those trials, and to overcome those difficulties.
Especially we may call to mind, how regular, earnest, constant, and devout they must have been in holding communion with Almighty GOD in prayer, intercession, and thanksgiving; both in obedience to the solemn and repeated commands of their SAVIOURand, also, because it is by prayer alone, that the heart can be effectually raised above this present world, and rendered steady and courageous in "fighting the good fight of faith, and laying hold on eternal life."
Moreover, the difficulties which stand in people's way in regard of exercising the duty or privilege of prayer (for it is both a duty and a privilege),these difficulties must have been the same to the Apostles and first Christians as to ourselves. For human nature has always been the same, and the miraculous spiritual gifts which were shed on the Church in its infancy, did not at all effect the moral character of those who possessed them. That was left as it was before.
It was possible for a man to speak with the tongue of angelsto understand all mysteriesto have faith so as to remove mountainsand yet with all these to be without charity, the true practical love of GOD. This St. Paul assures us, and from it we learn, among other important truths, that the trial of men's sincerity in religion is not greater now than it was formerlythat the Apostles, Saints, and Martyrs in the primitive Church, though living (as it were) in the midst of miracles, and themselves able to work them, were yet liable to weakness, sorrow, and suffering like ourselves; like ourselves were tempted in various ways to renounce their religion,that is, the practice of it; were tempted, when they saw the contempt and neglect which it everywhere met with, to distrust the Divine promises, and to fear, lest after all, they had been, perhaps, deceived, and were trusting to false hopes. What, then, I mean to say is this, that the consideration of what those holy men formerly submitted to, for the Gospel's sake, should be a great encouragement to all GOD'S faithful servants, in every age, to follow their example.
We are to consider the truth as it is in itself, not whether it is followed by many or by few. We are to practise our plain positive duties, without staying to inquire whether or not other people think it necessary to do the same.
All this rule, as it is to be applied to our whole duty as Christians, so, especially, to the obligation which we are under to hold continual communion with our FATHER and REDEEMER in prayer, intercession, and thanksgiving.
There is nothing more earnestly impressed on the first Christians than this obligation is by St. Paul,plainly, because he saw how much they were in danger of being led away by evil example in this respect, and, also, because he well knew the value of sincere prayer and intercession. He knew who it was that had said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." And here let me observe, that the rule plainly laid down by our LORD and MASTER, viz., that our belief is not to be according to what we see, i.e., that our faith is not to be regulated by outward appearances; this rule, I say, is peculiarly applicable to correct the prevailing erroneous notions respecting Church communion.
The common notion of course is, that what most people approve of, is true; that where there is a large congregation, that proves that the truth is preached, and where a small one, that it is not so.
Yet, doubtless, we are rather taught in the Bible that the many are wrong, and the few right, so far as that we are not to trust to the opinions or practices of many, merely because they are many. Let this be applied to the consideration of people's observance, or neglect, of Saints' days; so, of the daily service so particularly enjoined by the Church.
I purpose, then, on the present occasion, merely to offer a few observation on the great blessing and advantage of our being able thus to meet together, day after day, in GOD'S own consecrated houseand this, be we ever so few in number.
"It may be that the LORD will work for us;
For there is no restraint to the LORD,
To save by many or by few."
I consider, then, in the first place, that in meeting thus continually, the Church intends we should make an earnest prayer for each other especiallythat we may come to this sacred habitation, not from outside form or custom, but with full and earnest desires to worship our GOD in spirit and in truth, i.e., to pray earnestly and live according to our prayersthat we may learn more and more, to form a true notion of ourselves and our own condition, our pitiable, fallen, helpless statethat we may still go on increasing in love and gratitude towards GOD our Saviour, still more and more convinced of our own corrupt state, and of the necessity of our placing all our hope and confidence in the atonement of His precious blood, and the sanctifying aid of His HOLY SPIRITthat, to prove the sincerity of our perfect love to GOD, we may be more and more earnest in practising it towards our neighbours, in all possible ways of kindness, forbearance, patience, gentleness, and sincere endeavours for their real good.
Thus should we pray for each other with humble hopes, that as we meet here in GOD'S house, to celebrate His daily appointed service, so we may all meet at last, in those heavenly habitations where we shall never more be separated from him, or from one another.
In the next place, we should never forget to pray for those who would come if they couldfor those whose delight it would be to be present here day after day, were they not utterly prevented by illness, old age, distance, or press of family business.
Some such there are, though, perhaps, but a few; but be they few or many, we, who can come here, are bound to remember them in our intercessions at the throne of graceto pray that that blessing may descend on them which is promised to those "who hunger and thirst after righteousness;" that their ardent wishes to join in prayer and praise with GOD'S church on earth, may be abundantly fulfilled, if not here, according to their present desire, yet hereafter, by their admission to His eternal restthat whatever be the occasion of their absence, whether old age, or distance, or any other unavoidable cause, it may still be sanctified to them, and their loss supplied with heavenly consolationthat they may still be able to say, from the bottom of their hearts,
"LORD! I have loved the habitation of thy house,
The place where thine honour dwelleth."
Thus should we pray for those who would desire to come hither, but are unable; who are absent from us, yet are present in heart.
We seem, too, especially bound to remember in our daily prayers all sick, destitute, or otherwise distressed persons, who come within our knowledge.
If we are but sincere, how do we know what a blessing our prayers may bring down, be we ever so few in number to offer them.
How many are there in this parish, lying on the bed of sicknesssome on the bed of death! These surely need our daily prayers.
How many are there suffering under every variety of pain, sorrow, and distress, known, perhaps, only to GOD and themselves! Many, many such, there are in this parish. These surely need our daily prayers.
How many are, alas! how many indeed, who are going on headlong in all kinds and degrees of errors; errors in faitherrors in practice;who have shut their ears that they cannot hear, and their hearts that they cannot understand."Every one turning to his course, as the horse rusheth to the battle."My brethren! how can we be sufficiently earnest and frequent in our prayers for ll who are in error, and not for them only, but for ourselves also, that whilst we think e stand, we take heed lest we fall! This should be our daily, hourly prayer. For, indeed, errors in religious truth, which relate to doctrine or practice, however little may be thought of them in the present state of the Christian world, must certainly be of very heavy consequence. Therefore, how earnestly should we pray, "that all who profess and call themselves Christians," especially those in this parish, "may hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.
For so alone can we have any reasonable ground of hope, any of us, of reaping that high and transcendent reward, held out to us through the mediation and atonement of the LORD JESUS CHRIST.
With these solemn thoughts, these anxious desires for the good of one another, and of all around us, should we enter this awful house of the LORD from day to day. So may we hope, small as our assembly is, yet that He in whom we trust will work for us; will send down His blessing on ourselves, and on all whom we pray for;
"For there is no restraint to the LORD,
To save by many or by few."
It seems further to be considered, that daily and hourly blessings need daily and hourly thanks. If we pray in the evening that our GOD would of His great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of the approaching night; are we not in the morning to be thankful for the wonderful protection afforded us? If we pray in the morning that our heavenly FATHER, who hath brought us safe to the beginning of another day, would defend us in the course of the same, by His mighty power; when the shadows of the evening draw on, what can we do, but still thank Him for His continual protection, still ask Him for more! Thus, as the Psalmist says, with those who sincerely love GOD, "Day unto day uttereth speech; night unto night showeth knowledge." They are led gradually forward by a chain of holy services, link within link, till they come to the lose of their earthly probation, and their faint whisperings of prayer and praise, in this earthly tabernacle of their LORD, shall be turned in to the songs of angels and glorified spirits, in His eternal and beatific presence.
There is another thing of great importance to be mentioned, as belonging to the daily service of the Church, and that is, the care that has been taken to have portions of Holy Scripture constantly read. It may indeed be said, that a person may hear or read the Bible at home, with quite as much advantage as by going to Church to hear it. But it should be considered that in this, as in other respects, we are most likely to have a blessing from our GOD, if we seek Him (as the Prophet says,) in the way of His ordinances; if we hear His own word, in His own house, from His own minister.
To a considerate Christian, all these things are of value. They conspire together to strengthen his faith, and to confirm his hope. The world, indeed, alas! that it should be so, the Christian world has learnt to treat these things with levity and indifference, I might say too often with scorn and contempt. And hence it is come to pass as a notorious fact, that great numbers who will listen to what are called sermons, in any place and from any person, will pay little or no regard to the solemn reading of GOD'S own word by His own appointed ministers and ambassadors;conduct this, which cannot but too forcibly remind one of that memorable and cutting declaration of the blessed JESUS Himself.
"I am come in my Father's name,
And ye receive me not:
If another should come in his own name,
Him ye are willing to receive."
No serious person, no really serious person, can contemplate such a state of things as this, without sincere sorrow and alarm. There is indeed no probability that in this respect (or perhaps in any other,) the world will ever be better than it is now. Rather, we may expect that it will go on growing more and more corrupt to the last; that whilst the word of GOD is talked of, the word of man will be followed.
Yet still all persons of real serious thoughts and sound judgment will, by the blessing of GOD, be able to see through the mist that surrounds them. They will take refuge from disputes and controversies in the pure unsullied truths of the Bible itself. They will see of what value and importance it is, that portions of the Bible itself should be constantly read in our ears, without comment or explanation;not because comments and explanations are not very useful in their places, but because, if they are constantly used, the minds of men will be more turned to them than to the Scripture itself, more (as I may say) to the sermon than to the text. How happy then should we think ourselves in having every day through the year some considerable portion of GOD'S own book solemnly offered to our thoughts in the Church service. And here again, as before, we are not to ask whether the matter is considered in this serious light by the generality of Christians; that is not the question; but whether this is not the true way in which it should be considered, be they few, or be they many, who are disposed so to do.
Nothing then remains, but that we endeavour more and more to live up to our professions; that as we have such holy psalms, such devout prayers, such awful lessons from day to day; we should also from day to day labour unceasingly, that our whole behaviour may become proportionably more holy, devout, and filled with an awful sense of the Divine presence, that from day to day, we gather up a still increasing store of heavenly knowledge, showing itself in holy practice, in still increasing love to GOD and charity to all men; and, more than all, that we still keep a stricter watch over ourselves, feeling more and more our own worthlessness and inefficiency; that our only hope of pardon for the past, must be in the blood of our Redeemer; our only hope of assistance for the future, in the gracious influences of His Holy SPIRIT.
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