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But it may be asked, How is this necessary qualification of the Christian character to be maintained and confirmed? The collect informs us, that the “ comfort of God's holy word" is its support. All spiritual comfort flows in the channel of Holy Scripture; and whatever consolation is derived through any other medium is suspicious. But how doth the word of God administer consolation to the soul?
By the testimony which it bears of Christ, of the allsufficient virtue of His atonement, the glorious merit of His obedience unto death, and the unfailing prevalency of His intercession: By its “ promises” of supporting and sanctifying grace, which.“ are in Christ yea, and in Him Amen, “ to the glory of God:” By the exhibition which it makes of “ eternal life" as “ the gift “ of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Without the comfort which thus arises from the word of God, patience would soon be exhausted, and despair ensue.
But how is this comfort to be derived from the word of God? It is to be obtained by supplicating that “ Blessed Lord, who has caused all
Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning," to “grant that we may” duly “ hear, read, “mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” May we use this sweet form of prayer with increased fervour and frequency, till faith be lost in sight, and hope swallowed up in fruition! Amen.
O Lord Jesu Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that, at thy second coming to judge the world, we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
HIS collect was inserted in the book of Common Prayer at the time of the restoration, in the place of one which was thought not so suitable to the season of Advent. The former was, however, a very excellent composition; and although brief, yet perfectly consistent with the general orthodoxy and spirituality of our liturgy. It was as follows. * Lorde, we beseche the, give care to our praiers, and by thy gracious visitation lighten "the darkness of our harte, by our Lorde Jesus "Christe. Amen."
The collect now in use, like most of these short and comprehensive forms, consists of three parts; a preface or introduction, a petition founded thereon, and a reason whereby the request is enforced.
* Copied from the second book of Edward VI. penes authorem.
The preface, or introduction, recites an act of Divine providence preparatory to the first advent of our Lord Jesus Christ: a messenger was sent before Him to prepare His way.
The prayer is addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ, as the second person in the Godhead, and as the supreme head of the universal church, its governor, and the source of that vital influence by which it is supported. The Divinity of the Saviour is no matter of doubtful disputation in the church of England, and therefore many of her prayers are invocations of Him, as being, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, the one proper and exclusive object of Divine worship. The language of these devotional parts of her system, as well as that of her doctrinal declarations, is so plain and decisive, that neither her ministers, nor any of her members, can deviate from the catholic faith without the grossest hypocrisy, and without a necessity of passing the sentence of condemnation for insincerity on themselves with their own mouths. In her adorations of the Son of God the church is fully justified; for the ancient Jewish church, whose forms were given by Divine inspiration, worshipped Him; the Christian church from the beginning did the same; and the church triumphant, consisting of “an innumerable com
pany of angels,” and “ of the spirits of just “ men made perfect," from whose services all error must necessarily be excluded, prostrate themselves before Him with unceasing ascriptions of praise.
The introduction to our collect recalls to remembrance the mission of John the Baptist to be the herald of the Messiah at His first appearance, which is afterwards made the foundation of a most important request for an act of similar mercy in relation to his “ second coming to
judge the world.” Before the sun of righteousness arose to enlighten the darkened world with the beams of heavenly truth, a star of unusual brilliancy announced its approach. When the glorious King of Zion appeared, a harbinger led the way, proclaiming his arrival in his own dominions. John the Baptist was this morning-star, this harbinger of the King of kings; and is declared by the lips of his master to have been the chief of the prophets, the greatest and most important ambassador from heaven to earth that had ever appeared under the dispensation which preceded and made way for that of the Messiah.
The birth, character, and office of the Baptist were made frequent subjects of prophecy, for the purpose of exciting attention to his ministry when he should appear, and of confirming the Divine character of Jesus, whose precursor he was. With a prediction of this eminent person the canon of the Old Testament concludes; and thus is connected with the New, which commences with the fulfilment of that prediction. “ Behold, I will send you Elijah “ the prophet,” a person who, being endued with his character and spirit, shall be the counterpart of that great reformer, " before the
coming of the great and terrible day of the « LORD” Jesus. " And he shall turn the heart “ of the fathers to the children, and the heart of of the children to their fathers, lest I come and so smite the earth with a curse. Mal. iv. 5, 6. - In the citation of this passage by the angel," who announced the birth of the Baptist to his father Zacharias, Luke i. 17, one part of it is
thus paraphrased: "To turn the hearts of the "fathers to the children, and the disobedient to "the wisdom of the just. The meaning of the "whole seems to be, either that men of every "age and every disposition should be united in “truth and charity; or, as some learned expo"sitors understand the passage, that St. John "should bring many of the Jews to have the 66 same heart and mind which their fathers and progenitors had, who feared God and believed "His promises; that so their fathers might, as "it were, rejoice in them, and own them again "for their children; in other words, that he "should convert them to the faith of that Christ "whom their fathers hoped in and looked for; "as it was said by the angel, Many of the "children of Israel shall He turn to the Lord "their God; lest, all continuing obstinate in "their unbelief, till the day when a rejected "Saviour should visit an apostate people, the "curse should be universal."* Other prophetic passages relate to the Baptist's ministry, which will be noticed on a future occasion.
In what manner, it may be asked, did John prepare the way of the Lord Jesus? The miraculous circumstances of His birth were conducive to this end. His parents were "both well "stricken in years" at the time when Elizabeth his mother became pregnant. Her unexpected
* Bishop Horne's Considerations on the Life and Death of St. John the Baptist. A truly pious and excellent work, of which Mr. Jones, in his prefatory epistle to the life of the Bishop, says, "When I read his book on John the "Baptist, I am persuaded there was no other man of his "time, whose fancy, as a writer, was bright enough; whose “skill, as an interpreter, was deep enough; whose heart, "as a moralist, was pure enough, to have made him the "author of that little work."