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“ make a way to escape, that they may be able " to bear it.” The Christian therefore encourages himself in the Lord his God, and confidently implores “ such strength and protection “as may support him in all dangers and carry “ him through all temptations."
We do not pray for an immediate rescue from all dangers, and an exemption from all temptations; for this would be inconsistent with the design of God, our own benefit, and His glory. Our prayer coincides with the intercession of our Lord, “ I pray not that thou shouldest take “ them out of the world, but that thou shouldest " keep them from the evil.” In an imitation of the Lord's prayer we cannot pray amiss.--Till the coil of life be all unfolded, we must maintain the conflict, and live in a spirit of watchfulness and prayer. But, blessed be God! the coil is short, the last involution will soon be explicated, and then prayer will be changed for praise.
In the mean while, let the humble supplicant, from whose heart the petition of our collect flows to his lips, be comforted and dry up his tears. Faithful is He that hath promised, who also will do it. Let the praying believer know that, “ as his day is, so shall his strength be; that his almighty Friend knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation, as well as that they - are set in the midst of so many and great
dangers that they cannot always stand up“right.” He is " able to keep them from
falling, and to present them faultless before “ the presence of His glory with exceeding joy." . He hath said, " I will never leave thee nor for“ sake thee; so that we may boldly say, the “ Lord is my helper, I will not fear” what earth or hell can do against me.
But are there not some among those who orally use our collect, who are unconscious of danger, who trifle with the lion's teeth, and sport themselves in those perils from which they pretend to pray for deliverance ? Are there not those who formally worship God in the language of our church, but are unacquainted with alarm from spiritual perils, lean to their own understandings and strength, or even mock at the exercises, the fears and distresses, the groans and tears, of the contrite soul ? Let not such persons expect to derive any thing but increased condemnation from the verbal adoption of our spiritual addresses to the heartsearching God. Let the impenitent and unbelieving consider that the power and faithfulness of God, which are engaged on the behalf of all those “ who call upon him, even of all who “ call upon him in truth,” are engaged against “ the hypocrites in Zion,” and will be glorified in their everlasting destruction. “ O God, who knowest the hypocrisy of the human heart; grant to all such as are under its influence, and who deceive themselves with the form of Godliness, while they are destitute of the power thereof-O grant to them repentance of their past folly, and pardon of their agravated sin ; that they may be numbered among the true worshippers, and become genuine members of thy holy church, for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.”
THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY.
O Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy church and household continually in thy true religion ; that they, who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace, may evermore be defended by thy mighty power, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
THE visible church of Christ resembles a
field in which wheat and tares grow together. This resemblance forms the substance of a beautiful and instructive parable which our Lord delivered, and which is the gospel appointed for the fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The genuine members of the Christian church are the good seed which God our Saviour hath sown. But therewith “ the enemy” of God and man hath blended tares, weeds that are of no value.* This he hath done with a malicious view of spoiling the crop. These, however, must grow together until the harvest, when the reapers will finally separate between hypocrites and the faithful-gathering the latter into the granary of heaven, and casting the former into the fire, that they may be burned.
* The tare, or rather Zizane, which the author has seen in a hot-house of this country, is a plant that nearly resembles wheat in the appearance of its stem, its leaf, and its head. But when it ripens, the head is found to be totally void of grain, and to consist of nothing but chaff, the seed pod being distinct from it.
In the mean time, the church of Christ is endangered, according to human apprehension, by this unhappy mixture. The true members of God's household, observing the number of ·weeds which grow in the field around them, fear lest the wheat should be choaked thereby; and being themselves unable to remedy the evil, they fly to the great Proprietor of all, and make their complaint to Him, “ beseeching Him to
keep His church and household in His true
religion.” Zeal for the honour of God, charity towards all men, and a regard for their own safety, prompt them to the adoption of this intreaty before the throne of grace.
The propriety of praying for the conservation of the church in God's true religion must be evident to all who reflect on the subject.
When its origin is considered, when the constant opposition which it has encountered, its own tendency to suicide, and the near approaches which it hath sometimes made to annihilation, are contemplated; its present existence can only be attributed to the exertion of Divine power. Like a spark kindled and kept alive on the surface of a boisterous sea, it exists by a continued miracle. Earth and hell have been, and are, intent on crushing the broken reed and on extinguishing the smoking flax, yet the former still rears its puny head, and the latter still emits a sufficient vapour to prove that it is ignited.-God has placed His church upon a rock, and has engaged that “ the gates of hell shall not “ prevail against it."
* “ The gates of Hell” is an expression, which seems to be an Hebraism for death; and its meaning to be, that the church shall never be extinct, either in its clergy or people. See a long note on the passage, Math. xvi. 18, in Poli Sya: and another in Doddridge's Expositor.
That the danger of the church, independently of Divine care, is imminent in our own day, is manifest. For infidelity threatens to crush her, heresies inflict dangerous wounds on her vitals, schisms rend her members piecemeal, lukewarmness chills her blood, and the decay of discipline exposes her to these and a thousand other evils. Alas ! « The whole head is sick, « and the whole heart is faint." If ever there was a loud call on the faithful to be earnest in prayer that God would “ keep His church and “ household in His true religion," it is at the present moment. “ False doctrine, heresy and - schism, hardness of heart, and contempt of “ God's word and commandment,” spreading all around us like a deluge, concur in enforcing this important duty.
But what is the specific object of our petition? What is true religion ?
The word “religion" expresses the obligation* by which man is bound to God, as his Creator, Preserver,' and Redeemer. In the Old Testament it is called “ the way of the Lord :" Gen. xviii. 19. Psa. xxv. 9. because it is prescribed by God, and leads to Him. In the New Testament it is called “ Godliness," because God is its object, aim, and end. 1 Tim. iii. 16. It consists in the knowledge and worship of God. It is “the acknowledgement of the truth which is “after Godliness, according to the hope of eter“ nal life, which God that cannot lie promised “ before the world began.” Tit. i. 1, 2.
* Religio dicitur religando : quod Deum bomini per reconciliationem ejus, hominem Deo per sanctificationern hujus, hominem proximo per charitatem, hominein sibi ipsi per temperantiam et salutis curam religat.--Markii Christiana Theologiæ medulla.