First part of Sermon XXII. for the First Sunday in Lent.
2 Cor. vi. 1-10. St. Matt. iv.
"We then, as workers together with
Him, beseech you also,
that ye receive not the grace of
God in vain."
— II COR.
THE season of Lent is introduced to
us by our Lord’s fast of forty days, the subject of the Gospel for today. This,
with His temptation in the wilderness, took place before He entered upon His
ministry; and in the Epistle for today St. Paul describes what the ministers of
Christ endured as such. Thus was that fast which was prefigured in Moses and
Elias, and fulfilled in Christ, carried on also by His ministers after Him,
filling up that which was behind of the sufferings of Christ; fulfilled also in
His many members through their whole lives, made more than conquerors through
His grace. Who, for their sakes, endured temptation and overcame. It is with
respect to Christian ministers that this subject is more especially brought
before us on this day; not only because they ought to go before others, and lead
the way, but as this first week in Lent is also the season of the Ember Fast.
This connexion between the Epistle
and the Gospel is shown in the first words of the Epistle. We then, says
St. Paul, as workers together with Him, i.e. with Christ, Who was “made
sin for us, that we might be made in Him the righteousness of God,” we
beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. For He
saith, i.e. the Scripture saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted,
and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee. These words are spoken,
in the Prophet Isaiah, of Christ, and they may be well understood of the season
when He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, was tempted and overcame; and
they are here further applied by St. Paul to the “time accepted,” the “day of
salvation,” appointed to every Christian and to the Church at large. Each has
his season of probation in this wilderness, even as Christ Himself spoke of a
“day” when He had to “work the works of Him that sent” Him before “the night
cometh.” [St. John ix. 4.] An ancient Bishop, [St. Leo, Serm. iv. De Quadrag.]
indeed, commenting on this day’s Epistle, applies the words especially to this
season of Lent; in which sense they strongly appeal to us. But we may also
apply them more generally, for forty years represent man’s life of trial; and
the forty days express the like analogy, “a day for a year,” as Scripture
says.[Ezek. iv. 6.] Behold, now, adds the Apostle, is the accepted
time, the one opportunity of welcome acceptance, now is the day of
salvation,—the time when God works together with you in this your “day of
temptation in the wilderness.” And then, after telling them that this is their
day of grace as hearers, he returns to speak of the ministry fulfilling with
Christ this their appointed work.
Giving no offence in any thing,
that the ministry be not blamed;
we, the stewards and ministers of God, must be careful that this your day of
grace and our own also, be not lost by our fault, but that we carry on the
example of Christ in His season of suffering and probation; but in all things
approving ourselves, or commending ourselves to you, as the ministers of
God. And here, in contemplating this pattern of what Christian ministers
have been and ought to be, we must consider how it is as partaking in that
victory which our Blessed Saviour obtained in His temptation; for here we have
the same Spirit which led Him forth into the wilderness sustaining His Apostles
in His victory over the world, one of like passions and infirmities with
ourselves. In those days of the Church’s early sufferings and persecution, we
see His Apostles walking as it were unarmed in the midst of the fiery furnace,
and we behold One with them like unto the Son of God.
In much patience, in great and
manifold endurance, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses.
Each one of these words contain quite a history in St. Paul’s eventful life of
suffering, which might be supplied even from the little we know of it. In
stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, or it might be “in tossings to and
fro,” as St. Chrysostom takes it; and to these things from without he adds
further, those which he imposed on himself, in labours, in watchings, in
fastings. And here, my brethren, we must remember, that although St.
Paul’s life was such as we must rather admire than imitate in the extraordinary
hardships which outward circumstances brought upon him, yet it is not so in the
care of his own soul, and in such things as he here mentions.
i.e. by a chaste heart and life; by knowledge, i.e. by that wisdom which
is the result of goodness of life, as St, Peter says, “add to virtue knowledge:”
[2 St. Pet. i. 5.] by long-suffering, by kindness, as he says of charity,
that it is “long-suffering and kind;” by the Holy Ghost, i.e. by the
exercise of spiritual gifts. And to this he adds that crowning grace of the
Spirit, which he called “the more excellent way,” by love unfeigned,
charity “without dissimulation,” that best gift from above. By the word of
truth, which he kept as a sacred deposit, and by which our Lord overcame the
evil one; by the power of God, “the demonstration of the Spirit and of
power;” [1 Cor. ii. 4.] by the armour of righteousness on the right and on
the left, the sword and the shield of offensive and defensive warfare; or it
may be as armed on all sided against the effects of good or evil success; at all
events, it seems connected with what follows: by honour and dishonour, by
evil report and good report, converting both alike to the glory of God.
As deceivers, and yet true, according to the various estimations of men:
as unknown, and yet well known, unknown of the world, yet manifest to the
consciences of his own, to Saints, to Angels, and to God: as dying, and
behold, we live: as in the midst of “deaths oft ;” as “alway delivered unto
death;” as “dying daily,” yet through all marvellously delivered by “God which
raiseth the dead.” Behold! still surviving; yea, and having more abundantly a
lite in God, secure from every peril, we live and greatly live, having “the life
of the Lord Jesus manifested in our body.” As chastened, and not killed;
as the Psalmist says, “The Lord hath chastened and corrected me, but He hath not
given me over unto death.” [Ps. cxviii.18.] As sorrowful, yet alway
rejoicing;” for the more we mourn, the more are we comforted of God. As
poor, yet making many rich; as poor in this world, yet sustaining others by
the liberal distribution of alms, and far more by imparting unto “many” those
“true riches” which alone endure; as having nothing, and yet possessing all
things, as having given up all things for Christ’s sake, and yet obtaining
from Him whatever we ask in prayer; as made in Him “ heirs of all things,” both
in time and eternity; as emptied of self, and possessing God, and having in Him
every need supplied.
Such a series of contrasts, such a
contradiction, such a mystery to the world, is the true Christian. And thus in
him are fully obtained and realized in substance and truth all those things
which Satan falsely offered in the Temptation. Stones have to him become as
bread, and the wilderness a fruitful field. In possessing all things he has
“the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them” for his own; the true riches
whereby he makes many rich; he is sustained by angels, and borne aloof by them
safe from all harm unto the bosom of God.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit
into the wilderness ....
...(for the second part, on the Gospel)