Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, 1938.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
The Collect for the first Sunday in Lent teaches us that it was for our sakes that Our Lord fasted forty days and forty nights. For our sakes Our Lord offered His sinless Body for discipline so severe as to exhaust natural strength. For our sakes Our Lord offered Himself for temptation so intense that when it was ended angels were sent to minister to Him.
What we cannot do by ourselves in nature He has made possible for us to do in grace. He has made it possible for us to subdue the flesh to the spirit that we may obey godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to His honour and glory. The meaning of this is explained in the Eighth Chapter of Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans. The final encouragement for us is given in the twelfth verse. "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh."
What seemed to be a hard counsel of discipline leads out into a declaration of independence. "If ye through the spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father. For as many as are led by the spirit of God, they are the sons of God." This is the victory won for us by Our Lord in the desert.
His victory won for us must be won in us. His victory was for us men and for our salvation. He has given us the power to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. With fear and trembling when we remember our weakness. In quietness and confidence when we remember His power. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
Saint James introduces the idea of joy in temptation. "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall in with, come across, divers temptations, trials; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire wanting nothing."
In the beginning of Lent we see how Our Lord prepared for the battle of life by a three-fold victory over temptation. In the power of that victory He went out to His public ministry. In the joy of that victory He worked.
In the last two weeks of Lent we shall see how He "for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame." From the desert to Calvary the joy of victory was set before Him, all the way. He knew what being sorrowful unto death meant. He knew what agonies of prayer meant. He knew the pressure that can wring from the heart the cry, "My God, why hast thou Forsaken me." But back of even that cry, was the sense of victory which would at the last find expression in the calm, confident affirmation, "It is finished."
This is the temper and tone which is the true expression of the Christian's attitude toward temptation. The Christian is not surprised, or shocked, or dismayed by the spiritual and moral disorders which he finds in the world. He knows that they are not new. He knows that they have all been encountered and conquered by Christians in other ages. He knows that what Christians have done in every age, he must do in his own. He knows the varieties of counsels of despair which worldlings have set forth in other ages, as they are setting them forth in his own.
They do not seem to him to be new, and brilliant and daring; but old and stupid and sordid. He knows that there is only one philosophy of life that will last. That philosophy is the Christian philosophy. He knows that there is only one way of life. That way is the Christian Way.
Affectionately in Our Lord,