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The Great Manifestation.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

 throughout the Year, Vol. I. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875.

First part of Sermon XVII for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany.
 1 St. John iii. 1-8.    St. Matthew xxiv. 23-31.
And now, little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.1 ST. JOHN. ii. 28.

FROM the subject of last Sunday we pass, by a very  natural transition, into that of this day, the last and great Epiphany, the full and final manifestation of the sons of God and that by an arrangement peculiar to our own Church in its appointment of the Epistle and Gospel, and the Collect appropriate to the same. For the Collect in a beautiful manner combines in prayer the lesson of both, the mystery of the Incarnation, the purification it requires, and the last appearing of Christ to which it points. The whole is comprised in the short epitome of St. Paul, that “the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men; teaching us that we should live godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, who gave Himself for us, that He might purify unto Himself a peculiar people.” (Tit. ii. 12-14) But let us listen to St. John himself.

Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God! that we should be called His Sons and by His calling should be made to be so, His sons in heart and life; first in faith, and then in hope, and then in charity; strange indeed and unspeakable love must it appear to those who value the same, and well may the disciple of Divine love pause as if in adoring wonder, and call attention to it as to some great marvel, saying, “Behold, what manner of love!"  Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not. There is a whole world around us, men in whose heart this world is, and among them are they in whom God dwells, and yet these know not each other; for God Himself walked among men in the flesh, and the world knew Him not, and how therefore can they know His children? “They that rebel against the light,” said Job, “they know not the ways, nor abide in the paths thereof.” (Job xxiv. 13)

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.  “As He is,” that is, we shall see Him in His unchangeable, eternal nature as God; we shall see Him in that beatific vision of which it is said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” and in order that we may see Him “we shall be like Him;” for the wicked cannot behold Him as God. It is this for which our nature ever desires and longs, it is this for which it ever seeks, and seeking amiss is restless, and unsatisfied, and miserable. “It is a certain vision,” says St. Augustin, “which neither eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor hath entered into the heart of man. (1 Cor. ii. 9) A vision surpassing all there is of earthly beauty in gold and silver, in groves and fields; all that is beautiful in sea and sky, in sun and moon, in stars, in angels; because all things from thence derive what in them is beautiful.” (Hom. iv. in 1 St. John iii.) The tongue, adds the same writer, hath done what it could in sounding the words; but it must be left to the heart, to the Unction from the Holy One, to think on that which is unspeakable; to long and labour for it in holy desires, and aspirations; emptying ourselves of all other desires, that when He shall come He may fill us. For the whole life of a good Christian is an holy longing, a longing for that which he sees not, while he is. by that longing rendered capable of beholding; and is ever growing in that desire as he cuts off all love for the world.

And every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself even as He is pure. For “by hope,” says St. Paul, “we are saved,” (Rom. viii. 24.) while that hope of what is as yet unseen exercises patience, and in patient waiting is likened to that for which it waits. For he that hath this living hope by which “we are saved,” by Him that dwelleth within him cleanseth himself from sin after the example of the Son of God, aiming at that perfection which is in mercy, whereby we may become like unto God. “He purifieth himself,” for it is his own free will that operates, but that will is thus made one with God’s will, Whose “will is our sanctification,” and when our will is one with God’s will, it is joined to Almighty power, and overcomes the world.

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law, for sin is the transgression of the law, and in transgressing the law he is guilty of the death which Mount Sinai pronounces; he takes part with that “Lawless One” to be yet revealed, which is the Antichrist, “the son of perdition.” For all sin is of this nature. And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin. “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. v. 21.)  And therefore as made one with Him, and partaking of His righteousness, Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not; “In so far as he abideth in Him, in so far he sinneth not.” (Aug. ad loc.) For he hath that righteousness which now through faith in Him worketh by a living hope, and in seeing Him shall hereafter be perfected. Whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him. There must be some self-deceit if there is any allowed sin in one who supposes that he sees by faith, and knows that Blessed One; for to see and know Him is, even in this evil world, to be free from sin. What mysterious divine music of heavenly wisdom, what sublime simplicity of love sounds in this wonderful expression, from which the beloved disciple breaks forth into words of tender and parental affection. Little children, he says, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. Though no one be good but God, yet they who in obedience and love abide in Him, partake of His goodness, for His love dwelling in them bringeth forth fruit unto holiness.

He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested that He might destroy the works, of the devil. For this very purpose was He manifested—that He might “purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works;” but if sin, which is the work of the devil, were to abound in those that by Him are called and regenerate; if they are not to be holy, and righteous, and godly, then would that very purpose of His manifestation be frustrated. Which is, that they who in the first Adam were born sinful through the devil, might, in the second Adam, be found sinless through the power of God. For though, “if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves,” yet, by faith in Him, propitiation is found for sin past; and love, which covereth a multitude of sins, is itself incapable of wilful sin, so far as it is that true love which unites to Him, and to which His commandments are not grievous. Adam, as man, “begat a son in his own likeness, after his image,” (Gen. v. 3)—man, like himself, corrupt, sinful, fallen; but Christ, as God and man after His own image and likeness, hath begotten sons of God, to partake of His own sinless nature. After His likeness, the likeness of God, must we in this our regeneration be created anew. For He Himself, within us, must purify our souls to be like Himself. Sweet and awful truth!—His immutable eternal goodness must in us find place, that we, who are evil, changeable, and perishable, may partake of His unchangeable eternity.

Such, then, is our present Epiphany, in which we wait for “the manifestation of the sons of God;” yet such that even now, in this our season of waiting, Christ may be manifested to us, so that we may see and know Him, and wherein we are manifested unto Him and known of God; and how this may be, the Epistle has set before us with all possible eloquence of Divine love, as seeking with all awfulness and tenderness to engage our affections. Here, then, is all our salvation and our safety—that we may acquaint ourselves with God, and with ourselves, and be at peace. For the Sabbath which now is, waiteth for another Sabbath; the Kingdom of Heaven which now is, for another Kingdom of Heaven; the Advent which hath been, and which now is, waiteth for another Advent; and this Epiphany, wherein the light shineth through the world, for another Epiphany, wherein the light will be, after another manner, revealed.

And now, after the Epistle has exhorted us to that strength and light which may be within, the Gospel informs us of those dangers which will be without, ill this our time of waiting; such as will be the forerunners of that great and last appearing,—meteor lights before the dawn, which will imitate the bright and Morning Star..... 

.... (for the second part, on the Gospel.)