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also to be understood in our collect; for perfect innocency is the inhabitant of heaven, and not of earth, where "there is no man that liveth and "sinneth not."
The members of our church are supposed to be conscious, that they have not attained to “innocency." The most upright among them are conscious of manifold imperfections, which others perceive not; and therefore all can join in the prayer for strengthening grace. For though he that is born of God, and abideth in Christ, "sin"neth not," so as to practise sin habitually and allowedly as others do ("for his seed remaineth in "him, and he cannot [thus] sin, because he is "born of God") yet "in many things we offend " all." And the higher that state of grace to which we have attained, the more clearly do we discover how little we "walk worthy of the "Lord unto all pleasing;" and the true believer cannot be satisfied, till he "awake up after the "Divine likeness," and shall have attained to "the measure of the stature of the fulness of "Christ."
In this prayer for the attainment of innocency, or that purity of heart, and life "without which no "man shall see the Lord," our collect evidently alludes to the recital of the introduction. For our Lord has declared the necessity of being converted and of becoming as little, children, in order to be meet for an entrance into His kingdom. Now among other points of resemblance between His disciples and children, intended in this declaration, the comparative innocence of the latter is not to be omitted. For though they are not free from the taint of original corruption; yet they are proper exemplars of harmlessness and simplicity.. They are humble, teachable, indifferent to the
world, obedient to command, and free from guile. It is by an imitation of these qualities that our lives will glorify God.
But there is a more close alliance between the introduction and the prayer, when we implore strengthening grace that, "by the constancy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify God's "holy name." And the propriety of the request will be equally apparent to the conscious mind with that of the former petition. For, though the persons who make it are supposed to be partakers of "like precious faith" with all the children of God; yet is that faith intirely dependent on its Author for its continuance and increase. Christ is therefore called by the Apostle," the "Author and Finisher of our faith." He, by the influence of His Holy Spirit, first kindles within us the Divine spark; He preserves it from extinction amidst the floods of opposition with which it is sure to be attacked; He excites it to action whenever it is called into exercise; and He causes it to "grow exceedingly," till, having obtained a complete victory over the world and hell, it is lost in that certainty which the beatific vision affords. So that, in its rise, progress, and establishment, "faith is not of ourselves, but the gift of God."
That the principle of a genuine faith in the Son of God, wherever it is conferred, is put to the test, is evident from the experience of all saints; from our own, if we partake of it; and from the nature of the case: For it is "the trial of our
faith, which, being much more precious than of "gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, "will be found to praise and glory and honour "at the appearing of Jesus Christ." The faith of patriarchs and prophets, of apostles and martyrs, was invariably tried in the "furnace of affliction."
And such was the estimate they formed of Christ, that “they loved not their lives unto the death.” We may not be called to the same criterion of sincerity; though in so awful times as these in which our lot is cast, we cannot be certain that the crown of martyrdom will not be proposed to our rejection or acceptance. But however this be, if we have faith, its constancy will be assayed by fire. Indeed every day, and every occurrence, is a mean of proving it. And perhaps lesser circumstances afford as just a criterion as greater ones. The temptations of the devil, the world,
. and the flesh, which hourly occur, demonstrate by the effect which they produce, whether our faith be real or imaginary, strong or weak. And more decisive means will yet be employed for this purpose. The ordeal of a dying moment will finally determine the important point.
Assuredly we have need to pray for strengthening grace, that by the constancy of our faith, through all the circumstances of life, and even unto death, “we may glorify the holy name of “ God.” For we must be conscious of perfect weakness in ourselves, and of utter inability to continue faithful unto death, so that we may receive the crown of glory, without continuál aid derived from above. The merely historical believer, who mistakes an assent to the facts of the gospel for the faith of God's elect, which is “ the substance of things hoped for, and the evi
dence of things not seen, may see no necessity for this earnest act of supplication to which our collect calls us, and may deem an application to the throne of grace for faith to savour of enthusiasm. But the genuine believer will feel his own incapacity for maintaining his ground one single moment, without that strengthening
Almighty God, who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man; grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit, that, our hearts and all our members being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will, through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen...
HE spirituality of our liturgy is one of its prominent features; a trait of excellence in which it is found, by the most able judges, to be inferior only to its archetype the Bible. For every form which it contains, affords an antidote to that epidemic disease of the visible church, formality, by exhibiting the essential characteristics of true godliness. The propensity of the human mind to formality, consisting in a substitution of external observanees for genuine devotion, and the prevalence of this fatal mistake, cannot be denied. But it arises not from the use of forms, but from the abuse of them. And there is no institution, however Divine and excellent, which is not liable to be perverted by the fallen heart of man. For even the Holy Scriptures themselves, and the Blessed Sacraments which they enjoin, become, through human ignorance and wickedness, the means of promoting and strengthening that alienation from God, which they are designed to correct and to cure. God Himself, by all His institutions,
both of the law and gospel, has sanctioned the form of Godliness. For though the form may exist without the power; it is not conceivable how the essence can exist without form. Astatue that has no breath in it, may possess the resemblance of a human being; but a man must of necessity have the distinguishing exterior modifications of the human species. These remarks are occasioned by a general review of the collect now to be considered, which proclaims aloud, that “he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, “ neither is that circumcision which is outward in " the flesh; but he is a Jew which is one in
wardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in “the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is “ not of men but of God.”
Our collect recites a fact in sacred history which is this day commemorated ;-founds a prayer on that fact;-—and specifies the object or end which is proposed by the request made. .
At eight days old the infant Saviour of mankind was initiated, according to the requisitions of the ceremonial code, into the Jewish religion, and brought under an obligation of fulfilling the whole law; for it was an established canon of that code, that whosoever was “circumcised" became
“ “ a debtor to do the whole law." Gal. v. 3. The collect moreover asserts, that the circumcision of Christ was the effect of Divine appointment; the act being ascribed to God the Father, who is therein addressed.
Christ is the tree of life. And every circum. stance of His history, from the manger to the cross, is a branch of that tree, loaded with nutritive and delicious fruit designed for our use. Other trees require to be planted and watered for a considerable time, before they become fruitful; and in VOL. I.