Melville Scott, The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, Second Edition, 1903. Public Domain.
PREPARATION BY THE CHURCH
BIBLE preparation is followed by Church preparation. It is no reflection upon the Bible that it requires commissioned teachers, and no disparagement of the Church that Christ’s messengers should bear a written message, for the same Lord Who has “caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning” has also “sent His messengers to turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,” and the written message is nothing less than the preaching and teaching of the earliest messengers.
If any say, “We have the Bible and do not need the Church,” they are content to look at truth through one eye when God has given them two eyes. They forget that, though we live in the age of books, teachers, schools, and universities are none the less needed. The New Testament everywhere assumes the previous work of the Christian ministry, and represents the secondary teaching of the primitive Church. It is for the most part the book of the baptized and instructed Christian who has ceased to need to be taught “the first principles of the doctrine of Christ.” To discard the teaching of the Church is therefore to have missed primary truth and not to have begun at the beginning. Such a Christian is like a musician who is not sure of his notes, or a scholar who halts in his grammar, or a painter deficient in the technique of his art.
Such a view as we have given of the Church as the primary and the New Testament as the secondary instructor can hardly be held to disparage the latter. “The Church to teach and the Bible to prove” is surely the obvious order, and it must be ever remembered that we were baptized into the Church and not into the Bible.
THE EPISTLE – 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 – THE MINISTERS
S. Paul here teaches the dignity and responsibility of the ministerial office.
He views this high calling in a double aspect; first in its relation to Christ, and then in its relation to other Christians.
A. In relation to Christ they are Ministers.
They are not their own masters, but the servants of Christ. They are sent to do His business in the world, and not their own. To Him alone are they responsible. They are not ministers of congregations, but ministers of Christ, and of men for Christ’s sake. This truth rebukes alike those who unduly magnify or unduly depreciate. Your vicar is only a minister, therefore he is not to be thought of beyond his due; but he is Christ’s minister, and therefore not to be despised, for “his Master’s feet are behind him.”
B. In relation to Christ’s people they are Stewards.
The treasure which they are called to dispense is not their own. The pardon they announce, the Gospel which they preach, the sacraments they are called to administer are effective only by Christ’s commission and authority. Only their faults are their own, and for these they are responsible to Christ alone. What matter who condemns if Christ approves? or who approves if Christ condemns? Faithfulness is the one duty of stewards, and of this their Master is the one Judge. It is their duty to keep their conscience clear, and “to know nothing against (R.V.) themselves,” but the final arbiter is not conscience, but Christ. We are, therefore, “to judge nothing before the time until the Lord come.” The work of the clergy is not only to prepare others for the Advent of Christ, but themselves to be prepared, and to heed their own message.
THE GOSPEL – S. Matthew 11:2-10 – THE MASTER
This is a Gospel of much comfort, and teaches that the faithful ministers of Christ have to do with a faithful Master.
A. A Faithful Minister.
Such was S. John the Baptist, the messenger sent to prepare the way of the First Advent. His faithfulness to duty had caused him to be “in the prison”; but here faith wavered. The strongest are at times weak, and the brightest faith is at times clouded, and the most earnest and sincere have their dark seasons of apparent failure and discouragement.
B. A Faithful Master.
“If we are faithless yet He abideth faithful.” Our Lord’s treatment of S. John Baptist is a strong encouragement to His ministers.
(1) As an Example of Patience.
Christ was content to be judged by His deeds, and this will ever be the best answer to those who doubt our sincerity. The only word-answer which Jesus gave was contained in the gentle reproof, “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” The blessedness of faith is its best argument, and the misery of doubt its own condemnation. Very foolish are the stumbling-blocks over which some allow themselves to stumble, e.g., the imperfection of the Church and the faults of Christians.
(2) As an Example of Generosity.
If our Lord spared blame, He lavished praise. Christ will ever praise in His ministers the same qualities which He found to praise in S. John the Baptist.
He will praise their firm steadfastness. He would not have them “as reeds shaken in the wind” of popularity or unpopularity.
He will praise their self-denial. He would not have His ministers men of self-indulgence and soft luxury.
He will praise the true prophet who declares His will, and the true messenger who prepares His way. He would have all His ministers true John Baptists, and such may rely upon His faithfulness. Oh! to be such that our Lord can praise us!
The line of thought is briefly this—Christ, Who has shown that it was His will to prepare for His first Advent by means of a faithful messenger, is preparing for His second Advent in the same way.
We pray, therefore, that those who now are Christ’s ministers and stewards may be equally faithful with His first messenger in “turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.”
We pray that they may meet with such success that the second Advent may find us an acceptable people in the sight of God.
The best way of ensuring faithful work in our clergy is faithful prayer. All such prayers are according to the will of Christ, Who has appointed divers orders in His Church.