Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, 1937.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Collect for today sets forth the motive for disciplinary abstinences. The motive is that the flesh being subdued to the spirit, the spirit may be set free to register and respond to the motions of God. Christian discipline is never purposeless. It is never blindly negative. It removes the lower that it may release the higher. There is nothing unnatural about it. If we have a cinder in an eye it is good practise to have it removed. If we have a natural obstruction to supernatural vision, it is also good practise to remove the obstruction. The principle is the same.
The obstructions of unruly and corrupt affections are removed by mortifying and ruling them, as we pray today, and as we pray on Holy Innocents' Day and at Easter Even, and at other times. But there is always a purpose, "that we may obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness; that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify thy holy Name; that we may pass to our joyful resurrection."
At Baptism the Priest prayed for us that we might die to sin and rise to newness of life; that all sinful affections might die in us, and that all things belonging to the spirit might live and grow in us. "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
We must always set before us a definite purpose for self-discipline. The purpose is the elimination of sin and the substitution of virtue. Before we can eliminate the sin we must first find the root of the sin. This can only be done by self-examination. Having discovered the sin we must expel it. This can only be done by repentance whereby we forsake it. This will require humility in confessing the fault; sincerity in firmly purposing amendment; faith whereby we steadfastly believe the promises of God that "if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Belief in the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins demands heroic faith, faith that is strong enough to say, "If thou wilt thou canst make me clean." Faith that is strong to save and hope that is hardy to endure to the end.
Temptations will not end with forgiveness. Who does not know that temptations frequently return with seven-fold fury after absolutions? Saint James told us to count it as all joy when we enter into divers temptations? Why? Because temptations will bring the opportunities for making reparation for past sins and the cultivation of the opposite virtues. The generous desire to make reparation and the brave desire to attain to virtues will occupy and fill the heart that has been swept and garnished. Like Saint Paul we may forget those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, we may press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
In all this Christian discipline we die, and behold, we live. We die to sin to live to God. We lay down a life, which we know to our sorrow to be futile, to find the only life that is worth finding and keeping, and worth all the pains we pay.
Christian discipline is the only way of escape from morbid repression. Because Christian discipline sublimates the elemental energies by disentangling them from perversive and polluting infections and by a process of cleansing, correcting, readjusting and rebuilding, sets them free for the vigorous fulfilment of the will of God, who gives life and gives it more and more abundantly. Without Christian mortification and Christian sublimation, spiritual, moral, mental and physical normality is impossible. I mean to say that a balanced possession of all these is not to be found anywhere, in the gift of any one, except at the foot of the Cross of Him who came that we might have life.
At the very beginning of Lent, for our encouragement, we see the gleam of the joy that is set before the Cross.
Affectionately in Our Lord,