Melville Scott, The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, Second Edition, 1903. Public Domain.

Humility

THIS Sunday, while repeating the exhortations of the Sunday previous as to the urgency of Christian effort, gives most emphatic warning against “trusting in anything that we do.” The intrusion of self in any form will spoil our Lenten discipline, whether it appears, as last Sunday, in the form of self-seeking, or as self-trust and self-righteousness. Such a spirit will taint our sacrifice and render it unacceptable, for the sacrifice of self must not be offered to self, but to God.

THE EPISTLE – 2 Corinthians 11:19-31

S. Paul is brought before us as the great example of one who, while doing everything for Christ, trusted in nothing that he did, and as exhibiting the very spirit of the day’s Collect.

     A.   A Life of Deep Humility.

The boastfulness of partisan rivals forces S. Paul to turn his pen to self-defence. It is a fault he feels, but this fault is not his, but theirs who, regarding self praise as a confession of strength, have taken his humility as a sign of weakness. He speaks as a fool, and of his self-assertion as folly, but asks their pardon for it who have made it necessary, and who, indeed, have shown that they regard it as a virtue.

If any assertion of self was folly in S. Paul how much more so in us! We may only speak of ourselves when silence would do more harm than speech. But when gentleness is taken for weakness, self-control for indifference, humility for inferiority, it may become our duty, not merely to ourselves but to others, to assert not ourselves but our office, lest our work suffer loss.

     B.   A Life of Intense Effort.

     (1) Varied danger.
Five Jewish scourgings; three Roman scourgings; three shipwrecks; the passage of bridgeless rivers; scenes among wild robbers; everywhere Jewish hate and heathen enmity; dangers in crowded towns and desolated wildernesses; sea perils short of absolute wreck; the time-serving of false brethren.

     (2) Constant self-denial.
The willing endurance of weariness and pain; nightly wakefulness; starvation; voluntary fastings; cold and nakedness, his clothes worn out and torn.

     (3) Crushing burdens.
In the midst of all, fearful inward burdens— “the care of all the Churches” —a burden made the heavier by his intense sympathy with the weak, i.e., those troubled with doubts, hesitations, and trembling consciences, and by his burning indignation against those who turned aside others from Christian duty—a burden made still heavier by personal infirmities which made all life a trial.

So truly was S. Paul one who combined the fullest activity with the deepest humility. He trusted in Christ to do all for Him, in Him, and by Him; and Christ did it. He did his best, yet not he, but Christ that lived in him. Thus he becomes a fitting example both of Lenten effort and of Lenten humility.

THE GOSPEL – S. LUKE 8:4-15

The parable of the sower brings before us the double lesson of the Sunday; this is seen in the following particulars

     A.   The Need of Effort.

The characteristic work of the present dispensation is sowing. Christ was the first sower, and without Him all others sow in vain; but He has His instruments, His under-sowers, and by these He works, and these must work. The whole Church of Christ is intended to be one great machine for sowing the heavenly seed, by every possible agency and every possible effort. This is the object of its existence and the purpose of its continuance. Our work is to sow, to sow continually, to go on sowing, remembering that in the seed itself lies the promise and potency of life.

     B.   The Manifold Dangers of the Christian Life.

This seems the point of connection with the teachings of the Sunday. Our position of danger must involve the deepest humility, and this to the very end of the Christian course. Each stage of the Christian life has its special dangers, as we may learn from the parable of the sower.

     (1) The danger of careless hearing.
This lies at the threshold of the Christian life, and prevents even the entrance of the good seed. The word enters the ear, but never reaches the heart, and quickly passes away even from memory, being caught away by the spirit of evil or crushed by fresh tramplings of worldliness.

     (2) The danger of trial.
Trial and temptation mark a crisis in the Christian life, and like the fierce sunshine scorch the shallow-hearted, while they only ripen those deeply rooted. By these the principles of all are tested, but especially those of the young. Youth, the time of receptivity and of promise, is also the season of most deadly temptation.

     (3) The dangers of prosperity.
These come with the cares, riches, and pleasures of later years, even when the seed has found lodgment and the blade has given promise. The plant of grace cannot grow in a thicket of worldliness which shuts out God’s light and air. These dangers are found as men “go on their way” (R.V.), and against them we pray in the Litany, “in all time of our wealth, Good Lord, deliver us.”

Our Saviour’s closing words seem to favour the interpretation above given of the various stages of life and their special dangers. We need not ask which state of ground is ours, for we may resemble all in turn. There are no hearts by nature good ground. Those that are such have been made such by the ploughshare of God’s grace, by His deepening of our shallow soil, by His cleansing processes. Even the good ground hearers should advance in fruitfulness, and will even, like the bending ear, become more humble as they ripen. Here is, therefore, reason both for earnest effort and constant humility that we may hear; hold fast what we have heard, and bring forth fruit with patience.

The Collect

This combines most harmoniously the two aspects of the Sunday, its exhortation to activity, and its warning against self-righteousness.

     A.   What the Christian may not trust in.

He may not trust “in anything that he does,” though, like S. Paul, he is to do everything. It is hard for us not to trust in ourselves, just in proportion as we are really doing something; but even the labours of a S. Paul were not to be trusted in.

     B.   What the Christian must trust in.

He must trust in the Divine power to defend him from the dangers which beset every portion of the Christian life, for spiritual progress, for Christian usefulness, and final victory. The Christian may not trust in himself lest he forget to trust in Christ.

The connection between collect and epistle was yet more emphatically marked in the Use of Sarum, where we pray: “Mercifully grant that by the protection of the teacher of the Gentiles, we may be defended,” etc.

Such evident connection of thought is a sign that we are to expect a like sequence, even where it cannot be so clearly traced as in the present instance.