Melville Scott, The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, Second Edition, 1903. Public Domain.
GOD’S PROMISE AND ITS FULFILMENT
THIS Sunday should more properly be called, as in the Use of Sarum, the Sunday next before Advent. The Trinity Season fitly ends with the Sunday of Final Deliverance, and the Advent Season begins with the present Sunday, or, on occasion, with the omitted Epiphany Sundays, which, especially the Sixth, have an Advent character. There are, however, distinct traces that the Reformers, while intending, as the rubric shows, to preserve the ancient character of the Sunday, desired to introduce some reference to the truths of Trinity into the Collect.
THE EPISTLE. (JER. xxiii. 5.) THE PROMISE.
In order that the Church might dwell on the promise of the Lord’s Advent it was necessary that an Old Testament passage should be selected, and that our teacher should be a prophet rather than an apostle.
Few passages contain more definite promises than does this, in which we learn
A. The Kingship of The Christ.
He is to be raised up as a successor to the great King David. He will spring as “a righteous branch” from the ancient stock. The very word branch or sprout seems to mean a growth springing rather from the root than from the trunk, and implies, therefore, that the tree of David should have been previously levelled to the ground. But in spite of this He will “reign as King.” This name, “the branch,” became a recognized title of the Messiah (cf. Zech. iii. 8 and vi. 12).
B. The Blessings of His Reign.
He will reign over an undivided people, Judah and Israel dwelling together in safety and security. We should regard such predictions in the spirit, rather than in the letter, and see in them a picture of the Catholic Church, which knows no distinction of race and nation.
We learn, however, that the great blessing of the Messiah’s rule should not be temporal, but spiritual, and that His name should be called “The Lord is our Righteousness” (R.V.). The same title is also applied to Jerusalem (Jer. xxxiii. z6), for both in Christ and His Church are to be manifested the righteousness of God (cf. Luke i. 75).
C. The Greatness of His Redemption.
This was to be so great as to blot out the very remembrance of the Exodus, though enshrined in the central rite of the Jewish Church. How this was the case is best seen when we remember that the Jewish Passover became the Christian Eucharist, in which we celebrate the redemption of the Israel of God from the bondage of sin.
THE GOSPEL. (S. JOHN vi. 5.) THE PROMISE FULFILLED.
This Gospel, selected also for the Fourth Sunday in Lent as teaching the refreshment of grace, is to-day used as showing the fulfilment of the promise of “the Prophet that should come into the World.”
We learn from this miracle :—
A. That Jesus was the Promised King.
We read (Luke ix. 11) that on this very occasion He had been speaking of the Kingdom of God. We find (Matt. xiv. 53) that John the Baptist had just been put to death, and that, therefore, the hopes of the people were concentrated upon Christ as their one possible leader. The multitudes beheld the King in His very manner as He commanded them, and the miracle that He worked could only recall that of Moses, the founder of their nation. No wonder, then, that verse 15 records how they desired “to take Him by force and make Him King.”
B. The Blessings of His Reign.
These were clearly symbolized by this miracle:—
(1) The Security of His People.
He had bidden them to seek first His Kingdom and righteous-ness, and had promised all things necessary for their bodily sustenance. They had followed Him into the desert, taking Him at His word, and He had made good His promise.
(2) The Lavishness of His Provision.
He fed all and filled all, and there was more left at the end than there had been at the beginning (cf. Notes on 4 Lent). All this was typical of the lavishness of Christ’s spiritual provision for His Church, His provision of love, patience, and manifold oppor-tunity, and chiefest of all that we may find in Him the very bread of life Who is “the Lord our Righteousness.”
C. The Duty of His People.
The duty of His ministers is to distribute, the duty of His people to receive the benefits of Christ at their hands. This lesson is, though not the central teaching of this Sunday, most appropriate to a Sunday which is, in a sense, both the last of one Church year and the first of another. Christ has fed us for yet another year, and we are to gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost; we are to ask what results all the teaching which we have received has exercised upon our characters and lives. Those who have used the past best are the most likely to benefit from what is yet to come.
THE COLLECT. AN ADVENT PRAYER.
This, as we now have it, is the Collect of a transition Sunday. We owe this to our Reformers, who, by skilfully altering “The fruit of the Divine work” into “The fruit of good works,” and by introducing the “plenteous reward,” have made it clear that they at least intended us to regard Advent as the consummation of the Christian life. All our Trinity Seasons of growth in good works are to be tested at the Final Advent, and there shall be a plenteous reward for those who have been God’s faithful people in the final “Well done, good and faithful servants.” This thought was lacking in the ancient service books, which, as has been said, regarded this Sunday as wholly of Advent and prayed only for greater grace.
There is still, however, no less obvious reference than previously to the Advent subject, and indirectly also to the Epistle and Gospel. These have taught us that the promise of the First Advent given as in the Epistle was completely fulfilled as recorded in the Gospel. The First Advent is the pledge of the Second Advent. We, therefore, pray in view of that solemn event :—
A. For Quickened Wills.
The will is the man, and God will not force the will lest He destroy in us this very image of Himself. We. pray, therefore, that He would stir and rouse our wills into free action, by His Spirit, by His promises, and especially by His promise of the second coming of Christ (cf. Hebrews x. 24, 25).
B. For Greater Fruitfulness.
Our fruitfulness is indeed, according to the ancient Collect, “The fruit of the Divine action,” but it is none the less ours, for it depends upon our wills to allow the seed of grace room to grow and bear fruit in the garden of our hearts, lives, characters, and dispositions.
C. For the Final Reward.
The reward will be according to our works, and plenteous fruitfulness shall be plenteously rewarded, but the will, the fruit, and the reward are all “Through Jesus Christ our Lord.”