Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles, Duccio di Buoninsegna
between 1308 and 1311, Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo, Siena, Italy
O ALMIGHTY God, who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men; Grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
St. James 1.17-21
EVERY good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
St. John 16.5-15
JESUS said unto his disciples, Now I go my way to him that sent me, and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? But, because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgement: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgement, because the prince of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.
“The Life of Conformity with God”
from The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels: A Devotional Exposition of the Continuous Teaching of the Church Throughout the Year
by the Rev. Prebendary Melville Scott, D.D.,
SPCK, London, 1902.
This Sunday remarkably illustrates the need of patient study if we are to be successful in discovering the true theme of any Sunday, and how, when once this has been found, the day gains in interest. The author confesses to have missed the connection of this day in his first edition, though it now seems sufficiently obvious, and not only adds a conspicuous example of agreement, but also enriches the whole Easter course on the Risen Life for the preacher and teacher. The previous Sunday emphasized the conflict between the Risen Christian and the world in which he is a “stranger and pilgrim.” To-day we learn that unworldliness is no mere unreasoning opposition, but is a necessity for those who belong to a “Kingdom not of this world.” We are the world’s nonconformists because we are God’s conformists, and because to love the world is to lack the love of the Father. The Sunday of nonconformity is therefore fitly followed by a Sunday of conformity. This key once discovered unlocks a very store of effective lessons.
THE EPISTLE. (S. JAMES i. 17.)
THE GOOD WILL OF GOD.
A. The Will of God.
Is the Will of a Father, and therefore of One Who is in His very nature a Giver. He is “the Father,” and therefore the source whence comes “all good giving and every perfect gift.” He is “the Father of Lights,” since all bright things come from Him Who made the stars, all brightness of sunshine, of health, homes, friends, pleasures, beauties. He is the Father of all the true light that exists within, of the light of truth, holiness, reason, joy, love, hope, grace, glory. Indeed there is no light of which He is not the Father. He has stores of all bright things, and nothing is really bright but it comes from Him, or dark in His sight “in Whom is no darkness at all.” His absence alone can make “the outer darkness,” and His presence can make the darkness to be light.
B. A Will that altereth not.
The lights of heaven change unceasingly; their Father is unceasingly the same. “With Him is no change, and no shadow resulting from change.” The sun is only visible half his time; sometimes nearer, sometimes farther off; sometimes so high in heaven as to give us summer heat, at other times so near the horizon as to pinch us with cold. He is never to us to-day precisely what he was yesterday. The moon is the very queen of change, the least dependable of all the heavenly bodies, now absent, now a full-orbed shield, now a mere shred of light. So also with the planets, so named from their wanderings, and so also with the stars called fixed, which yet are never on two nights together in the same spot at the same time. How unlike these lights is their Father, His brightness undimmed and unvarying, knowing no change and suffering no eclipse, transfiguring the clouds into glory, and tears into the rainbow of hope, till at length all dark things are passed away!
C. His Will towards Man.
His will begat man at the first, making him partaker of His own image. The life He gave was His own life, and therefore is in us a life of sonship. When by misuse of will that blessed relationship had on our side been marrd, and we had ceased to be sons both in feeling and character, His will was still unchanged towards us, and He begat us again to a life of sonship.
His instrument in doing this was “the word of truth,” by which we are to understand the whole message of the Gospel, including, of course, the Sacraments of the Gospel, which, received in faith, quicken us into sonship. Thus the Church of Christ is the second creation of the will of God, created anew unto good works, as the firstfruits of the new heavens and earth.
D. Man’s Consequent Duty.
This is first of all “to be swift to hear,” in order that he may learn God’s will, and to be silent till he has learned it. His to be slow to wrath lest he anticipate the Will which slowly but surely makes for righteousness. He is rather to consider himself than others, and to put away every sinful lust and passion from his own heart, in order that he may be able to welcome readily and submissively “the implanted Word” which is able to save the soul.
It is a great truth that our salvation depends upon the will of God, and that all we have to do is to submit our wills to His.
THE GOSPEL. (S. JOHN xvi. 5.) THE INFLUENCE OF THE SPIRIT ON THE WILL.
The Saviour here comforts His disciples, saddened by the prospect of His departure. They were too bewildered to ask “Whither goest Thou?” since all their thoughts were concerned with themselves and their imminent loss. They are to learn that this loss is in reality gain, since by the absence of the man Christ Jesus the Spirit is enabled to be present. His very name of Paraclete tells of almost every spiritual blessing. He is to be their Divine Helper, Comforter, and Advocate, pleading both for Christ and for the Christian. His title is as wide as His influence. Thus we are brought to that portion of the Gospel which especially concerns the subject of this remarkable Sunday, viz., the influence of the Spirit upon “the unruly wills and affections of sinful men.”
A. The Influence of the Spirit on the World.
The disciples might well wonder how in their poverty and ignorance they were to convince the world of anything. Our Lord seems to say, “Present the story and the truth of it as you have seen it, and the Holy Spirit in men’s hearts will convince them of its truth.”
The Holy Spirit will convince men of three great veritites:–
(1) Of Sin.
He will shew the world that it is in the wrong, and that it has crucified the Lord of Glory. To have seen the perfect goodness and to have rejected it is the touchstone that reveals the sinful heart. Not to believe in Christ must shew a perverted will.
(2) Of Righteousness.
The world has long asked what is righteousness, and what is it to be righteous. The Spirit gives the answer, that righteousness is the likeness of Christ, and is “to be righteous as He is righteous.” The disciples would indeed be no longer able to present Christ to the world in visible form as the ideal of righteousness, but what they could not do the Spirit would do as Christ’s Advocate.
(3) Of Judgment.
The Spirit will convince the world not merely of a judgment to come, but of a judgment that has come already. “The prince of this world has been cast out” as a pretender by the coming of the true King. The world’s false ideals have been condemned by the very presence of the true. The darkness has been revealed by the advent of the light, and henceforward to reject Christ is to “prefer the darkness rather than the light.” The Spirit will force this truth upon the conscience, and so influence the will, man’s determining power, as to lead to action in accordance with the inward convictions.
B. The Influence of the Spirit on the Church.
Here the will has been already convinced and won over to the side of Christ, but the Christ once accepted must be ever more fully known. Hence the Spirit presents Christ to the heart and mind of the Church for more perfect realization, enlightening the understanding to perceive, moulding the heart to love, persuading the will to obey. He works not by compulsion but by “leading” gradually, patiently, variously, yet surely into “all the truth” in all its scope and richness.
The full significance of this very beautiful collect is only discovered when it is regarded in connection with the Epistle and Gospel and seen to be a prayer for the Life of Conformity.
A. The Source of Conformity.
This is not in ourselves. By nature our will and affections are “unruly,” willing and desiring anything but what they should, and endeavouring to be their own masters. In consequence of this they need “ordering,” i.e., to be brought back again under the rule of God, and led in the direction which He desires. This task of convincing and leading is, as the Gospel teaches, the work of God’s Spirit, and of Him alone.
B. A Prayer for Conformity.
We pray for such conformity of will that we may love what God commands, and for such conformity of affections that we may desire what God promises, both of grace and glory. May He who alone can do it give us this ordered will and heart, transforming and conforming our wills into such agreement with His own as far transcends mere submission!
C. The Desired Result.
Here we pass from the thought of the Gospel to that of the Epistle. Such conformity of heart and will can alone keep us safe and happy “among the sundry and manifold changes of the world,” securely anchored on Him “with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” In communion with Him the will obtains fixity, and the affections find their satisfaction “where true joys are to be found.”