Melville Scott, The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, Second Edition, 1903. Public Domain.
PREPARATION BY CHRIST
FROM preparation by the Word and Church of God we are led to the yet deeper truth of preparation by Christ Himself. The inward and spiritual presence of Christ is needed if we are to be ready for His outward and visible coming. The motto of the Sunday is, therefore, “Preparation by Christ for Christ.”
THE EPISTLE. PHIL. iv. 4.
The Presence of our Lord is the source of all Christian preparedness, for “except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” The realization of Christ’s presence is :—
A. The Source of Joy.
The importance of Christian joy is seen in S. Paul’s double command, “Rejoice—and again I say rejoice.” Its possibility lies in the words “in the Lord,” for only in the service of Christ and in connection with Christ can we be glad in a world of so much sorrow. In union with Christ the believer gains the joy of Christ in the unbroken consciousness of Divine love.
B. The Source of “Moderation.”
The moderation here spoken of is not in meat and drink, but in temper and spirit, and it is enforced by the nearness of Christ’s Advent.
This will make us yielding as to our personal rights, the end being so near when all these things shall lose their value; patient under insults and annoyances all so soon to be forgotten; gentle in the expression of opinion, when He is so near Who knows all things perfectly and will prove us all to be more or less mistaken; ready to resign the world’s joys, ambitions, gains, and engage. ments, since when He arrives all this poor world will go.
This argument may well make us gentle and yielding in spirit, since He is coming Who was the very King and Prince of gentle. ness. Let us hold nothing very tight except the Gospel, Christian truth, and moral principle. Let us be ready to drop all that is ours, so that we hold fast all that is Christ’s; ready to drop earth that we may the better grasp heaven.
C. The Source of Freedom from Care.
If Christ is at hand to reverse our hasty judgments, He is at hand also to hear our prayers. In such a Presence anxiety is a sin, and a thing altogether un-Christian. The passage contains a prescription and a promise.
(1) The Prescription is Prayer.
“Let your requests be known unto God.”
It is an universal prescription applying to everything, for nothing is too large or too small to bring to God. It covers all we desire (prayer), all we fear (supplication). It includes “thanksgiving,” for God will give little to those who seem to think that He has given them nothing.
(2) The Promise is Peace.
The peace which comes from prayer is of God’s bestowing, and like Him Who bestows it, for it is “the peace of God which passeth all understanding.” It is a peace which shall hold its own in strength and shall dwell in the heart, like a garrison keeping all enemies far away. It is peace which the heart can feel, and the mind can accept, and it comes “through Christ” and Christ alone. From Him comes peace with God, and from Him comes the peace of God.
The source of all these benefits is the presence of our Lord. Our joy is “in the Lord,” our moderation because “the Lord is at hand,” our peace, “through Christ Jesus.”
THE GOSPEL. S. JOHN i. 19
That Christ alone can prepare us for His Advent is strikingly illustrated by the testimony of the great herald of the first Advent. S. John Baptist confesses his own inferiority, and seeks to lead his hearers to Christ.
A. His Inferiority in Dignity.
In three humble negatives S. John Baptist disclaims all distinction. With the greatest emphasis he repudiates the very thought that he himself was the Messiah for whose Advent he was sent to make preparation. No words can be stronger—”He confessed and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.”
Though in very truth the Elias which was for to come (Mal. iv. 5), he dare not advance for himself so high a claim. Though named by our Lord “a prophet and more than a prophet,” he can see in himself no resemblance whatever to the prophet foretold (Deut. xviii. 15), and often interpreted as a forerunner of the Christ. Such humility is a true mark of those best fitted to prepare others for Christ; they stand by and let Him pass. If He alone can do this work, they must of necessity be humble.
B. His Inferiority in Office.
He does not think of himself as a speaker, but as a voice; not as a messenger, but as a message. He regards his baptism of water as merely preparatory, a confession of the need of more perfect cleansing. He looks upon himself as unworthy to perform the office of a slave to the coming Master. His work was the humble duty of preparation, and the need for even that had passed away, for the Christ was standing among them though they knew it not, and his own final message was about to be delivered— “Behold the Lamb of God.”
“Christ standeth among us”—this is the last message of the Church before the great day of His coming. By His unseen Presence alone can we be prepared to celebrate His first Advent or to welcome the second Advent. All personal effort, all use of the means of grace provided in the Church, are only effectual in so far as we cling to the personal Saviour.
In harmony with all the teachings of the day we are taught to pray for the special power of God by which alone we can be made ready to meet our Lord.
A. The Source of Power.
This is not in ourselves, but in God. In the Salisbury Use this collect is addressed not to the Father, but to Christ, and thus illustrates more completely the subject of the Sunday, viz., “preparation by Christ for Christ,” and the words “come among us” have their true Advent meaning The unseen Presence and power of Christ—His inward Advent, in fact—are the sufficient preparation for us in view of His outward Advent.
B. Our Need of Power.
We need power to enable us to run the Christian race set before us. We need “bountiful grace” for help against our sins, and “bountiful mercy” to deliver us from our inward inclination to sin—i.e, our “wickedness “—for by these we are sore “let and hindered.” We need this “speedily,” for our race is nearly run, and “the Lord is at hand.”
C. Our Plea for Power.
This is “the satisfaction” or atonement of Christ our Lord, by which alone we obtain remission of our sins and are made partakers of the Kingdom of Heaven. By the atonement of Christ we are able to plead both for grace and mercy.