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THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY.
O Lord, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people which call upon thee, and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
HE collects for the five first Sundays after the Epiphany are the same which are found in the sacramentary of St. Gregory. But there is no reason to believe, that they originated with him; because he collected and embodied in that work the collects of the antient church.
The first of these collects, now to be reviewed, consists of three petitions. The first is introductory to the other two, and designed to conciliate a favourable audience to the important requests which follow;The second respects a knowledge of our duty;—And the third, the practice of it.
In the introductory petition several things are mentioned, which are calculated to secure regard to the suit of the penitent supplicant who uses it.
Its language bespeaks sincerity and importunity, and is unaccommodate to feigned lips, For while it coincides with the feelings of the awakened mind, it is suited to a detection of
the hypocrisy which debases the worship of the formalist. The mode of expression which is here adopted, frequently occurs in Scripture, and always conveys an idea of fervent desire. The following instances will be sufficient specimens. When the mariners of the ship in which Jonah endeavoured to escape "from the pre"sence of the Lord," had done all that prudence and skill could devise for the preservation of their lives from destruction, in the storm by which they were overtaken, but without success, they at length addressed themselves to the great Ruler of the winds and waves in words which discovered the state of their hearts; "They cried unto the Lord and said, we beseech "thee, O Lord, we beseech thee, let us not pe"rish for this man's life, &c." Jonah i. 14. With similar energy did the father of a demoniac youth implore help from the compassionate Jesus. His words breathe distress and anxiety: "Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son, for "he is mine only child. And lo, a spirit taketh "him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it tear"eth him, that he foameth again; and bruising "him, hardly departeth from him. And I be
sought thy disciples to cast him out, and they "could not." Luke ix. 38-40. Who doth not perceive on the very face of this petition, that it was dictated by pungent affliction, lively solicitude, and despair of aid unless Christ afforded it? And such is the spirit in which every act of supplication should be performed; which our church breathes in all her services, and which must ever accompany the use of her forms in order that benefit may be derived from it. And may it not be inferred, that the want of this internal qualification occasions those complaints
of ill success at the throne of grace which are so frequently made? Many persons indeed who join our assemblies form no expectations of deriving from God any spiritual benefit. These of course are satisfied, when they have performed the part of an automaton, and experience no disappointments of that kind which has been mentioned. The recital of forms is with them a thing of course; the routine of which being finished, they return home pleased with themselves, like the Romanist when his beads are told. But there are other persons who see through this veil of hypocrisy, who are in some measure conscious of defect, who cannot rest on the deceitful quicksand of mere formality, and yet do not enter into the spirit of our worship. Desire exists in their hearts; but it is languid. Uneasiness is felt; but it does not amount to spiritual hunger and thirst. They pray; but it is not under the force of conviction that they must prevail or perish. On this account the heavens over their heads appear to be a brazen wall, which their petitions do not penetrate. Their bow fails of conveying the arrow to its mark. They are unhappy, and perhaps charge God foolishly with unfaithfulness to His promise. They forget that it is “effectual fervent prayer, to which the promise is made; and that God, for the honour of His own name and the good of His people, withholds His consolations, till such a want of them be felt as secures to them a due reception when they are conferred. Our collect gives no countenance to the unfounded notion, that the form without the spirit of prayer will avail to salvation.
The appeal to Divine mercy, which is made in the introductory petition of our collect, is
another circumstance calculated to secure a favourable regard to our supplications. For such an appeal corresponds with the plan of the gospel, and the grand object of Divine wisdom therein displayed: it is the only plea, which truth and soberness suggest; it is the genuine dictate of self-knowledge, gives all the glory of human salvation to God, and exalts the mediator Jesus as the alpha and omega of all our hopes and prospects. If we consult the annals of the church, we find that no other plea has ever been used with success, and that this only can avail. On this ground we are to account for the different success which attended the acts of worship performed by Cain and Abel. Both brothers made oblations to the Lord; "but Abel's was accepted, whilst that of Cain "was rejected. Now, what could have occa"sioned the distinction ?-The acknowledge"ment of the Supreme Being and His universal "dominion was no less strong in the offering of "the first fruits by Cain than in that of the firstlings of the flock by Abel-the intrinsic "efficacy of the gift must have been the same "in each, each giving of the best that he pos"sessed-the expression of gratitude equally "significant and forcible in both-How then is "the difference to be explained? If we look "to the writer to the Hebrews, he informs us
(ch. xi. 4.) that the ground on which Abel's "oblation was preferable to that of Cain, was, "that Abel offered his in faith; and the crite"rion of this faith also appears to have been, in "the opinion of this writer, the animal sacri"fice."* Abel's offering, then, was an appeal
* Magee's Discourses on the Atonement, p. 53. See also his excellent Notes on the subject.
to Divine mercy, accompanied by a confession of sin, and an act of faith in the great atonement; of all which his bloody sacrifice was a significant expression. While Cain, in the true spirit of modern deism, though he acknowledged his dependance on God as the Creator of all things and the moral Governor of the universe, renounced the hope of the Gospel founded on a propitiatory sacrifice. The former " obtained “ witness that he was righteous,” constituted « just through faith in the promised Messiah; while the latter, in consequence of his proud and selfrighteous rejection of the Saviour, remained under the curse of that law, of which he was a transgressor both by nature and practice, in common with all the descendants of Adam. The same distinction between those acts of worship which are humble appeals to pardoning mercy through the Mediator, and those which found a claim to success on the merit of the offerer or offering, has ever since that period uniformly prevailed and still exists. The general doctrine of the Scripture on this momentous subject is plainly exhibited in our Lord's parable of the pharisee and publican. Therein two persons are represented as going to the temple for the purpose of Divine worship. The one was possessed of every exterior mark of sanctity and devotion; and the other was a man universally considered as an outcast from the favour of God. The former addressed his
prayer to God with a full persuasion of its acceptance, founded on an opinion of personal condignity and the merit of his services. The latter smote on his breast, and cried, “God be merciful to “me a sinner!” building his hope, if indeed he dared to entertain hope, on the compassion of VOL. I.