Locust Street Letters
By Frank Lawrence Vernon
Philadelphia: St. Mark's Church, Locust Street.
ST. MARK'S, PHILADELPHIA.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, 1943.
MY DEAR PEOPLE:
In the Collect for today we pray that God will "give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory." This explains the purpose of Christian self-discipline.
It is not a mere temporary restraint with no further purpose. The flesh is to be subdued to the Spirit in order that the soul and body may be sensitive, responsive and obedient to the motions of God: The result is righteousness and true holiness. These are the rewards which are to be the lasting possessions for those who are willing to pay the price of discipline.
Our Lord won the victory in the wilderness. He has made it possible for us to subdue the flesh to the Spirit. He has taught us the way. He has given us the example. He has encouraged us by His promise of sufficient grace. He has ordained the means of grace. He has given us Himself in order that He may win in us what He won for us.
In the deserts of our hearts He stands beside us. In the deserts of our hearts He strives afresh against the foe. He strives and prevails. From the deserts of our hearts He speaks the words, "Get thee behind Me, satan."
When He spoke these words at the end of His conflict, He set us all free, for all time. The Gospel that rings through Lent is the Gospel of redemption and release. "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."
The need of self-discipline is a constant one. The discipline itself is an exacting one. It calls for a life long battle. But it leads to perfect freedom. We are only free when the body has become the willing instrument of the soul. The body is never normal until it is so adjusted to the soul that it responds to every motion of the soul, without delay. In this service the body enjoys peace. The result is a normal life.
So after all in Lent we are only attempting to live a normal life. It is normal to be disciplined. It is abnormal to be undisciplined. It is subnormal to be indifferent to discipline.
The will is the active agent in regulating the measure of discipline and in directing the application of it. This it cannot accomplish except it be aided by the grace of God. So in the Collect for today we pray that God will give us grace to use a right measure of discipline. We pray also that the discipline may be directed toward a definite object, the subdual of the flesh to the Spirit.
Because Christian self-discipline is not to destroy life but to give more abundant life, its effect is to restrain the lower that the higher life may be released. Because the human will has no power in itself to help itself, it needs to be saved from itself by being lifted up into union with the will of God, and so exposed to the will of God that it may register the motions of God's will and respond to each motion positively.
The result to the will is that, together with the heart and body, it is directed, sanctified, and governed in the ways of God's laws, and in the works of His commandments, that through His mighty protection, both here and evermore, we may be preserved in body and soul.
So Christian discipline begins, continues and ends for the honour and glory of God. What each Lent ought to do for us is to advance us to a higher level of life. We cannot imagine this higher life as being restricted to a mere season of forty days. It fits in with everlasting life to be lived on the high road to heaven.
It means that we so die daily from sin, that we may evermore live with Our Lord in the joy of His Resurrection.
Affectionately in Our Lord,