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LITURGY OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND.
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon ys the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life (in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility) that, in the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through Him who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
HE church commences her year, and re
news her service, at this season. She follows not the motion of the natural sun, but the course of the sun of righteousness; and begins her calendar with the dawn of that day which shall never close. *
The days of Advent are preparatory to the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They have both a retrospective and a prospective scope. They carry us back in meditation
to that important æra, when God incarnate “ came to visit us in great humility,” and they conduct us forward to “ the last day, when He “shall come again in his glorious majesty to
judge both the quick and dead.” The col. lects, epistles, and gospels, appointed for this season, refer to this twofold advent of Christ, and are designed to prepare our hearts, by previous meditation thereon, for a devout and rational commemoration of the approaching festival of Christmas. Happy are those persons who, under the admirable discipline of our church, are thus training up for “ the life im« mortal.”
The precise time, when the days of Advent were first observed, is not known. We are however sure that they are of very great antiquity, and that the church has kept them for nearly fourteen hundred years.
The collect, appointed for the first Sunday in Advent, is one of those few forms which the compilers of our liturgy added to what they copied from the primitive liturgies. It was first inserted in the former book of King Edward the VI. in the year 1549. If the reader wishes for a more detailed account of this and other liturgical matters, he will derive much satisfaction from a perusal of Wheatly on the Book of Common Prayer, to which he is referred, as it is the design of these essays to be rather practical than curious.
This beautiful collect, which has excited devout affections in the bosoms of thousands, and cannot be read attentively without benefit to a pious mind, is an act of supplication for the aid of Divine “grace,” and specifies a double object for which we implore it, the one mediate
and the other final. The mediate object, for which we solicit the communication of Divine influence to our souls, is their renewal in holiness, and the final object is a resurrection to " the life immortal.”
We address the prayer to God as possessed of Omnipotence, because the benefits for which we ask are such as Omnipotence only can bestow. The regeneration and progressive sanctification of a fallen soul are operations which can be performed by no other hand than that which made the world. For a Christian is a “ new creature," and creation is exclusively the work of God. This will become more apparent as we prosecute our subject.
The blessing which we implore is “grace." The term means favour, and is very comprehensive in its signification. It is used by the inspired writers in several collateral senses, all which may however be ranged under this general one.
For all those benefits, of which as sinners we stand in need, and which God has promised to bestow in answer to prayer, are ihe effects of his unmerited favour imparted to us through Jesus Christ; they are the result of grace in the bountiful Giver, as opposed to worthiness in the guilty receiver. But in the collect before us the term signifies particularly those gracious communications from God, whereby the great work of sanctification is begun and carried on to perfection in the fallen soul of man. It is a mortifying consideration to human pride, but a consideration at which no member of the church of England can consistently revolt, that the human soul, independent of Divine influence, is “ dead in trespasfr ses and sins," and that all holy desires and
good works are not the result of innate virtue, but derived from the powerful energy of the Holy Ghost on the heart. This kindles the first spark of spiritual life in the torpid soul, and this keeps that spark alive, fans it to a flame, enables it to consume all opposing corruption, and at length brings it to perfection. This is the doctrine of our collect for the day, and of every part of our service. Let us 'then ask our own hearts, if we have been honest in the use of this prayer which has so often passed over our lips? Have we prayed “ with the spi. “ rit and with the understanding also ?”
The mediate object for which we solicit grace, is “ that we may cast away the works of darksi ness, and put upon us the armour of light:” in other words, that we may be delivered from the power of sin, and mortify all the motions of corruption, and also that we may be " sancti“ fied wholly, in body, soul, and spirit," and be found in the practice of all those good works which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. Let us inquire if any such desire be operative in our bosoms ?--whether innate depravity in all its actings be the object of our detestation, and whether holiness, in all its . branches, be the object of our pursuit? The use of this prayer supposes such a state of mind as hath been described. And let it be remembered, that it is an awful thing to “ lie to the
Holy Ghost," by soliciting favours with our lips of which our hearts feel no desire. A consistent churchman must be a devout Christian.
But the expressions by which sin and holiness are characterized in the collect, require a more minute examination. The phrases are scriptural, and are copied from the epistle for the day;
which, together with the gospel, will frequently afford a satisfactory comment on the collect.
We pray for Divine influence, that thereby we may be enabled to “cast away the works of « darkness.” Without spiritual life and strength derived from above, we have neither the will nor power to effect this : for though we are exhorted to " work out our own salvation with “ fear and trembling," the exhortation can only be addressed to those who are already made « alive from the dead through Jesus Christ our “ Lord;” and even then “it is God who works eth in us to will and to do of his good plea“ sure." The phraseology of the petition is copied from that of the Apostle in Rom. xiii. 12; and every conscious sinner must discern the wisdom of our church in converting the preceptive language of the Apostle into the supplicatory language of the collect. Thus also she treats every commandment of the decalogue. And this is the genuine dictate of a mind which is duly instructed in heavenly truths; for “with“out Christ we can do nothing." And therefore when God says, - Turn yourselves," it is our privilege to reply, “ Turn thou us, O good “ Lord, and so shall we be turned."
By " the works of darkness" we are evidently to understand all sin and wickedness, both in principle and practice. The phrase thus interpreted is worthy of our close attention.
Sin is thus characterized, because it proceeds from the darkness of the fallen mind of man. No one would live under its influence, and much less commit it, were he duly apprized of its vileness and demerit. Would a man, unless void of rationality, make the filthy receptacle of hogs his abode by choice? Would any man