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3. But fresh privileges and responsibilities are brought before us in the services of the Third Sunday in Advent. For we have in the Church not merely “Holy Scriptures written for our learning," but “ Ministers of Christ and Stewards of the mysteries of God," sent to prepare and make ready the way for His second coming, that we may then be found an acceptable people in His sight. We might have been left to derive from Scripture by our own unaided efforts its rich and glorious contents " for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness ;" but our merciful Father has dealt otherwise with His Church under each dispensation. For the Baptist, who heralded Christ at His coming, though "more than a prophet," was but the successor of a “goodly company," whom God had raised up from time to time to vindicate the Law and to foreshow the Gospel. “But he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” The prophet of the ancient Church had for his main office to enforce the Law, to show God's people their transgression and their sin ; if he spoke of the Gospel, it was in prospect only, and seen afar off. The Messengers sent to us are a “Ministry of reconciliation," Ministers and Stewards of the mysteries of redemption, with power and commandment, as ambassadors of Christ, to declare and pronounce to God's people, being penitent, the blessed tidings of forgiveness, and in the preaching of His word and the distribution of His sacraments to convey and apply its benefits to each individual member of Christ's body. And does not this great blessing entail upon us a heavy responsibility ? Let us learn from the Church how such a gift should be received; she instructs us in the words of St. Paul's admonition to the proud and schismatical Church of Corinth. The Apostle bids them look upon himself and his fellow-labourers as Ministers of CHRIST, responsible to their own Master, and to be judged by Him alone ; as men who thought it a very small thing that even their own consciences acquitted them, or that in man's judgment they were preferred and made the head of a party; who were Stewards, and therefore required to be faithful to Him who gave them their commission ; and who sought to have “praise" not of men but “ of God," in that solemn day of His appearing, when He should " bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart." And if we had imbibed more deeply St. Paul's spirit, we should less resemble than (it is to be feared) we sometimes do, the contentious Corinthians, or the multitudes who flocked to the wilderness to the Baptist's preaching, as if it had been some spectacle for idle curiosity. (Matt. xi.) Wisdom would be justified of all her children, even in our judgment; we should see them all to be Ministers and Ambassadors of God, and our commendations and censures would be turned into prayers on their behalf, such as the Church has taught us, that like the Baptist they may likewise so prepare and make ready Christ's way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at His second coming to judge the world, we may be found an acceptable people in His sight.' And in this way too, as well as in giving greater heed to His holy Word, we should better fulfil Christ's commandment of love ; for it was for this purpose that He commissioned the Ministers and Stewards of His word and sacraments. St. Paul tells us, He gave some, apostles ; and some, prophets; and some evangelists ; and some, pastors and teachers ; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up unto Him in all things which is the Head, even Christ ; from whom the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." (Eph. iv. 11-16.)

4. And now, having reviewed the privileges with which we are favoured in Christ's Holy Church until His coming again, we are solemnly warned in the Epistle of the fourth Sunday, as before in that of the first, of His near approach ; “ The Lord is at hand." And if we indeed lived answerably to our privileges as members of Christ's Church and household, we should be able to await the fulfilment of the promise in the spirit of calm confidence and joy, which St. Paul describes in the verses that follow ; "the peace of God which passeth all understanding," keeping our hearts and minds by Christ Jesus. The passage which is chosen for the Gospel, places us at the point of time when Christ was on the eve of appearing as “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” He had been baptized, and was now returning from the wilderness; for it was “the next day," we read, that the Baptist pointed Him out to the notice of His disciples. He was already standing among them, though they knew Him not, ready to baptize them with the Holy Ghost and with fire. And so now, in these latter days, the Heralds of Christ's second coming are warning the people that He is at hand, and like the Baptist, referring to the Scripture for a proof that they are duly commissioned to prepare His way before Him. Like him, they tell the Church of a salvation ready to be revealed," of " times of refreshing” to come “from the presence of the LORD," of "times of the restitution of all things," and of the more glorious establishment of Christ's kingdom ; and, in earnest looking for the promise, they offer up the prayer of the Church that God would be pleased to raise up


power and come among us, and with great might succour us. But, while we hope for the promise, we must not forget the threatening. The Baptist spoke of Christ's coming with His fan in His hand, and of the separation which He would make between the chaff and the wheat ; (comp. Mal. iv.) but what were the days of vengeance upon the Jewish Church, compared with those which we must expect, when the time is at length come that judgment must begin at the house of God, and the heavenly Reaper thrusts in His sharp sickle and reaps the earth ? “The LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple ; behold He shall come, saith the LORD of Hosts; but who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth ?" We find that when Jesus was coming nigh to Jerusalem, on the day of His triumphant entry, because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear, He added and spake a parable ; it was the parable of the talents. (Luke xix.) And so, when we are disposed to in. dulge in bright anticipations of coming glory to the Church, let us rather turn our thoughts inward to our own individual privileges and individual responsibility, remembering that the kingdom of God is within us, and that to whomsoever much is given, of him will be much required. And especially let us remember, that among the gifts given to us, for which we must give account, are, the New Commandment of love, the Inspired Word of God written for our learning, and His duly appointed Ministers sent before Him to prepare us for his coming.

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It will be acknowledged by all who have followed the Jewish Church through her days of suffering, and who have learnt the deep feeling of our own impressive Litany, that the main strength of the Church of God, in her times of trial and danger, is in the lowliness of her humiliation before her heavenly Guardian for her many imperfections and sins. But there is another element of her strength, which, it is to be feared, is sometimes forgotten, though not less essential to her character; I mean, her firm and unshaken reliance upon the promises of God made to her. We find in Daniel's prayer the most heart-broken confessions of sin in the name of his Church and people; but, at the same time, there is throughout a stedfast hope of God's mercy, as pledged to His holy city and temple. “O LORD, righteousness belongeth unto Thee, but unto us confusion of face, as at this day; to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against Thee." “O LORD, according to all Thy righteousness, I beseech Thee, let Thine anger and Thy fury be turned away from Thy city Jerusalem, Thy holy mountain ; because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us. O LORD, hear; O LORD, forgive; O LORD, hearken and do ; defer not, for Thine own sake, O my God: for Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy Name.” It can scarcely be necessary to remind the members of our own Church, how beautifully the close of her Litany breathes the spirit of Daniel's prayer : how, in the midst of reiterated supplications for God's forgiveness and mercy, now addressed more especially to the Son, now to the Father, now to every Person of the Blessed and Holy Trinity, now in the prevailing words which



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