Saturday, November 23, 2013

Anglican Homily on Almsdeeds - Part 1 of 3

This is the first part of a sermon in three parts.


Among the many duties that Almighty God requires of His faithful servants by which He wants them to glorify His Name and declare the certainty of their calling, none is either more acceptable to Him or more profitable for them than works of mercy and pity shown upon the poor who are afflicted with any kind of misery. Nevertheless, such is the slothful sluggishness of our dull nature to that which is good and godly that we are almost in nothing more negligent and less careful than we are in this requirement. It is therefore a very necessary thing that God’s people should awake their sleepy minds and consider their duty in this matter. It is also appropriate that all true Christians should eagerly seek and learn what God by His Holy Word requires of them; so that, first knowing their duty, of which many by their slackness seem to be very ignorant, they may afterwards diligently endeavor to perform the same. By this knowledge of their duty, godly charitable persons may be encouraged to continue in their merciful deeds of giving alms to the poor, and also such as previously have either neglected or condemned it may, when they hear how much it pertains to them, advisedly consider it, and virtuously apply themselves thereunto.

And, to increase comprehension of these matters, I intend to speak on the following points in order:

First, I will show how earnestly Almighty God in His Holy Word requires us to do almsdeeds, and how acceptable they are unto Him.

Secondly, how profitable it is for us to use them, and what commodity and fruit they will bring unto us.

Thirdly and last, I will show out of God’s Word that the one who is liberal to the poor and generously provides for their needs shall nevertheless have sufficient for himself and shall be in no danger of poverty or scarcity.

Concerning the first, which is the acceptation and dignity or worth of almsdeeds before God, know this: to help and succor the poor in their need and misery pleases God so much that nothing can be more thankfully taken or accepted of God, as the Holy Scripture in various places records. For first we read that Almighty God accounts what is bestowed upon the poor to be given and bestowed upon Himself. For so the Holy Ghost testifies unto us by the Wise Man, saying, “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, And He will pay back what he has given” [Proverbs 19:17]. And Christ in the Gospel asserts, and as a most certain truth binds it with an oath, that the alms bestowed upon the poor were bestowed upon Him and so shall be counted at the last day. For thus He says to charitable almsgivers, when He sits as Judge to give sentence on every man according to his deserts: Truly, I say to you, “Whatever good and merciful deed you did upon any of the least of these my brethren, you did the same unto Me. In relieving their hunger, you relieved mine; in quenching their thirst, you quenched Mine; in clothing them, you clothed me; and when you harbored them, you lodged Me also; when you visited them, being sick or in prison, you visited me” [Matthew 25:35-40]. For just as he who receives a prince’s ambassadors and entertains them well honors the prince who sent them, so he who receives the poor and needy and helps them in their affliction and distress, thereby receives and honors Christ their Master. He was poor and needy Himself while He lived here among us to work the mystery of our salvation, and at His departure He promised to send to us in His place those who are poor [Matthew 26:11]. Whatever we would do for Him, we must do unto them. And for this cause Almighty God says unto Moses, “The land in which you dwell shall never be without poor men” [Deuteronomy 15:11], because He would provide a continual test of whether His people loved Him or not; that in obeying His will, they might assure themselves of His love and favor towards them, and not doubt that as they accepted and willingly performed His law and ordinances in which He commanded them to open their hand unto their brethren in the land who were poor and needy, so He would lovingly accept them, and truly perform the promises that He had made to them.

The holy apostles and disciples of Christ, who daily saw by His deeds and heard in His doctrine how generous He was to the poor; the godly fathers also who lived both before and since Christ, no doubt endued with the Holy Ghost and most certainly certified of God’s holy will; they both most earnestly exhort us and all their writings almost continually admonish us that we would remember the poor and bestow our charitable alms upon them. St. Paul exhorts us as follows: “Comfort the feeble minded, lift up the weak, and be charitable* toward all men” [1 Thessalonians 5:14]. And again: But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” [Hebrews 13:16]. Isaiah the Prophet teaches, “Share your bread with the hungry, and bring to your house the poor who are cast out. When you see the naked, clothe him, and do not hide your face from your poor neighbor, neither despise your own flesh” [Isaiah 58:7]. And the holy father Tobit gives this counsel:
“Give alms from your possessions, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor.” [Tobit 4:7]
“Give some of your food to the hungry, and some of your clothing to the naked.” [Tobit 4:16]
And the learned and godly doctor Chrysostom gives this admonition: “Let merciful alms be always with us as a garment;” that is, as careful as we are to put our garments upon us, to cover our nakedness, to defend us from the cold, and to show ourselves decent, so careful let us be at all times and seasons to give alms to the poor and show ourselves merciful towards them. But what do these frequent admonitions and earnest exhortations of the Prophets, Apostles, fathers, and holy doctors mean? Surely, as they were faithful toward God and therefore discharged their duty truly in telling us what was God’s will, so of a singular love toward us they labored not only to inform us, but also to persuade us, that to give alms and to assist the poor and needy was a very acceptable thing and a high sacrifice to God, wherein He greatly delights and finds particular pleasure. Similarly, the wise man, the son of Sirach, teaches us that whoever is merciful and gives alms offers the right thank offering [Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 35:2]. And he adds that the right thank offering makes the altar fat, and it is a sweet smell before the Highest; it is acceptable before God, and shall never be forgotten [Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 35 6-7].

And the truth of this doctrine is verified by the examples of those holy and charitable fathers of whom we read in the Scriptures, who were given to merciful compassion towards the poor and charitable relief of their necessities. One of those fathers was Abraham, with whom God was so pleased that He deigned to come to him in the form of an angel, and to be entertained by him at his house [Genesis 18]. Such was Abraham’s kinsman Lot, whom God so favored for sheltering His messengers, who otherwise would have lain in the street, that He saved him with his whole family from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Such were the holy fathers Job and Tobit, with many others, who felt most sensible proofs of God’s special love towards them. And as all these by the mercifulness and tender compassion that they showed to the miserable afflicted members of Christ by relieving, helping, and succoring them with their temporal goods in this life, obtained God’s favor, and were dear, acceptable, and pleasant in His sight; so now they themselves take pleasure in the fruition of God, in the pleasant joys of heaven, and are also in God’s eternal Word set before us as perfect and permanent examples, both of how we may please God in this mortal life and also of how we may come to live in joy with them in everlasting pleasure and felicity. For most true is that saying of St. Augustine, that the giving of alms and relieving of the poor is the right way to heaven: Via coeli pauper est, or “The poor man is the way to heaven.” In times past, a picture of Mercury used to be placed beside highways to point with his finger the right way to the town. And a wooden or stone cross is set up at crossroads to caution the travelling man which way he must turn to direct his journey in the right way. But God’s Word, as St. Augustine says, has set in the way to heaven the poor man and his house; so that whoever will take the right road to heaven and not turn out of the way must go by the poor. The poor man is the Mercury that shall set us the ready way; and if we look well to this mark, we shall not wander much out of the right path.

The manner of wise worldly men among us is that if they know a man of lower estate than themselves to be in favor with the prince or any other nobleman whom they either fear or love, such a one they will be glad to benefit and please, so that when they have need, he may become their spokesman, either to help with his good word to obtain a benefit or to escape a displeasure. Now surely it ought to be a shame to us that worldly men for temporal things lasting only a season should be more wise and provident in procuring them than we in heavenly. Our Savior Christ testifies that poor men are dear to Him and that He loves them especially, for He calls them His little ones [Matthew 10:42; 25:40] by a name of tender love; he says they are His brethren. And St. James says that God hath chosen them to be heirs of his kingdom [James 2:5]. “Has not God,” says He, “chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him?” And we know that the prayer which they make for us shall be acceptable to and heard by God. Their complaint shall be heard also. Of them Jesus the son of Sirach certainly assures us, “If the poor complains of you in the bitterness of his soul, his prayer shall be heard; even He that made him shall hear him” [Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 4:6-7]. Be courteous therefore to the poor. We know also that He who acknowledges himself to be their Master and Patron, and refuses not to take them for His servants, is both able to give us pleasure and displeasure, and that we stand every hour in need of His help. Why should we then be either negligent or unwilling to procure the friendship and favor of the poor, by which we may be assured to get the favor of Him who is both able and willing to provide all we need of goods and wealth? Christ declares how much He accepts our charitable affection toward the poor because He promises a reward to those who give even a cup of cold water in his name to those who need it [Mark 9:41]; and that reward is the kingdom of heaven. Undoubtedly, God regards highly that which He rewards so liberally. For He who promises a princely recompense for a beggary benevolence declares that He is more delighted with the giving than with the gift and that He esteems the doing of the thing as much as the fruit and commodity that comes of it.

Therefore, whoever has previously neglected to give alms, let him know now that God requires it of him; and he who has been liberal to the poor, let him know that his godly doings are accepted and thankfully taken at God’s hands, which He will repay two- and three-fold. For as the Wise Man says: “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, And He will pay back what he has given” [Proverbs 19:17], the gain being primarily the possession of life everlasting through the merits of our Savior Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost be all honor and glory forever. Amen.

* Editor’s note: Most translations render the last phrase as “Be patient with all men.”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Anglican Homily on How Dangerous a Thing It Is to Fall from God: Part II

This is the last half of the sermon posted last week.

In the previous part of this sermon we saw how many ways men fall from God; some by idolatry, some through lack of faith, some by neglecting their neighbors, some by not hearing God’s Word, some by taking pleasure in the vanities of worldly things. We also saw the depth of the misery of the man who has strayed from God; and how God of His infinite goodness, to call again man from that his misery, first uses gentle admonitions by His preachers, and afterward He sends terrible judgment. Now, if gentle admonition and threatening together do not produce repentance, then God will show His terrible countenance upon us; He will pour intolerable plagues upon our heads; and afterwards He will take away from us all the aid and assistance with which He previously defended us from all such manner of calamity. As the evangelical Prophet Isaiah, agreeing with Christ’s parable, teaches us, God made an excellent vineyard for his beloved children. He hedged it, He walled it round about, He planted it with chosen vines, and made a tower in the midst of it, and therein also a winepress; and when He looked for it to produce good grapes, it brought forth wild grapes [Isaiah 5]. And here is what follows: “Now shall I show you,” says God, “What I will do with my vineyard. I will pluck down the hedges so that it may perish; I will break down the walls so that it may be trodden under foot: I will let it lie waste; it shall not be cut, it shall not be dug, but briers and thorns shall overgrow it; and I shall command the clouds that they shall no more rain upon it” [Isaiah 5:5-6].

By these judgments we are warned that if we who are the chosen vineyard of God do not bring forth good grapes—that is to say, good works—which are delectable and pleasant in His sight, when He looks for them, when He sends His messengers to call upon us for them, but rather bring forth wild grapes, that is to say works that are sour, unsavory, and unfruitful, then He will pluck away all defense and allow severe plagues of famine and battle, dearth and death to light upon us. Finally, if these do not serve the purpose, He will let us lie waste; He will give us over; He will turn away from us; He will dig and delve no more about us; He will let us alone, and allow us to bring forth whatever fruit we will: brambles, briers, and thorns, all naughtiness, all vice, and so abundantly that they shall completely overtake us, and shall choke, strangle, and utterly destroy us.

But those in this world who live not for God but for their own carnal liberty do not perceive how great God’s wrath is towards them when He will not dig nor delve any more about them, when He leaves them alone. Instead, they consider it a great benefit to be left to their own devices; and so they live as though carnal liberty were the true liberty of the Gospel. But God forbid, good people, that we should ever desire such liberty, for although God sometimes allows the wicked to have their pleasure in this world, ungodly living results in endless destruction. The murmuring Israelites received what they longed for: they had quails enough, even until they were weary of them. But what was the result? Their sweet meat had sour sauce: even while the meat was in their mouths, the plague of God fell upon them, and suddenly they died. So, if we live wickedly and God allows us to follow our own wills, to have our own delights and pleasures, and does not correct us with some plague, there is no doubt that He is almost utterly displeased with us.

And, although it may be long before He strikes, many times when He strikes such persons, He strikes them at once forever. So that when He does not strike us, when He ceases to afflict us, to punish or beat us, and allows us to run headlong into all ungodliness and pleasures of this world that we delight in, without punishment and adversity, it is a dreadful sign that He no longer loves us, that He no longer cares for us, but has given us over to our own selves. As long as a man prunes his vines, digs at the roots, and lays fresh earth to them, he sees some evidence of fruitfulness that may be recovered in them. But when he ceases spending such cost and labor on them, it is a sign that he thinks they will never be good. And as long as a father loves his child, he looks angrily and corrects him when he misbehaves, but when he sees that those measures are ineffective and ceases from correction of his son and allows him to do what he wants to do, it is a sign that he intends to disinherit him and to cast him away forever.

So surely nothing should pierce our hearts so deeply, as well as put us in horrible fear, as when we know in our conscience that we have grievously offended God and continue in disobedience, and yet He strikes not, but quietly allows us to remain in the wickedness that we delight in. Then especially is it time to cry, and to cry again, as David did, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” [Psalm 51:11]. “Do not hide Your face from me; Do not turn Your servant away in anger” [Psalm 27:9]. “Do not hide Your face from me, Lest I be like those who go down into the pit” [Psalm 143:7]. Such prayers of lamentation, as they confirm to us the horrible danger in which men remain when God turns His face from them, should move and stir us to cry out to God with all our hearts so that we may not be brought into such a state, which is so sorrowful, so miserable, and so dreadful that no tongue can sufficiently express nor any heart think. For what deadly grief may a man suppose it is to be under the wrath of God; to be forsaken of Him; to have His Holy Spirit, the Author of all goodness, to be taken from him; to be brought to so vile a condition that he is suitable for no better purpose than to be forever condemned to hell! For not only do various passages written by David show that upon the turning of God’s face from any persons they shall be left bare from all goodness and far from hope of remedy, but also the passage cited from Isaiah 5 indicates the same: God at length so forsakes His unfruitful vineyard that He will not only allow it to bring forth weeds, briers, and thorns, but also, further to punish the unfruitfulness of it, He says He will not cut it, He will not deliver it, and He will command the clouds not to rain upon it. By this is signified the teaching of His Holy Word which St. Paul expresses in terms of planting and watering [I Corinthians 3:6-8], meaning that he will take that away from them so that they shall be no longer of His kingdom; they shall no longer be governed by His Holy Spirit; they shall be separated from the grace and benefits that they had, and might have continued to enjoy through Christ; they shall be deprived of the heavenly light and life they had in Christ while they abode in Him; they shall again be as they were once, men without God in this world [Ephesians 2:12], or rather, even worse off; and, in sum, they shall be given into the power of the devil, who rules all those who are cast away from God, as he did Saul and Judas, and generally all who operate by their own will, the children of mistrust and unbelief.

Therefore, good Christian people, let us beware lest we, rejecting God’s Word, by which we obtain and retain true faith in God, be not at length cast off so far that we become as the children of unbelief. They are of two sorts, which are quite differentin fact, almost total oppositesand yet both equally far from returning to God. The first sort, only comparing their sinful and detestable living with the right judgment and perfection of God’s righteousness, are so without counsel and so comfortless, (as is everyone from whom the Spirit of counsel [Isaiah 11:2] and comfort is gone,) that they will not be persuaded that God either can or will restore to them His favor and mercy. The second sort, hearing the loving and large promises of God’s mercy, yet not understanding the true nature of faith, make those promises larger than God ever did; trusting that, although they continue in their sinful and detestable living, God will at the end of their life show His mercy upon them, and then they will return. Both of these two sorts of men are in a damnable state: and yet nevertheless God, who wills not the death of the wicked, has shown means whereby both the same, if they take heed in time, may escape.

The first, as they dread God’s rightful justice in punishing sinners (whereby they should indeed be dismayed and should despair regarding any hope that may be in themselves), so if they would steadfastly believe that God’s mercy is the remedy appointed against such despair and distrust, not only for them, but generally for all who are sorry and truly repentant and will cling to God’s mercy, they may be sure they shall obtain mercy, and enter into the haven of safeguard. Those who enter this haven, regardless of how wicked they once were, shall be out of danger of everlasting damnation. According to God’s message delivered by Ezekiel, the very moment that the wicked turns from his sin and shows earnest and true repentance, God will forget all his wickedness [Ezekiel 33:12, 14-16, 19].

The second, as they are ready to believe God’s promises, so should they be just as ready to believe the judgment of God. They should believe the Law as well as the Gospel. They should believe both that there is a hell and everlasting fire and that there is a heaven and everlasting joy. They should believe damnation to be threatened to the wicked and evildoers, as much as they should believe salvation to be promised to the faithful in word and works. They should believe God to be true in the one as much as in the other. And sinners who continue in their wicked living ought to realize that the promises of God’s mercy and the Gospel do not pertain to them while they remain in that state, but only the Law and those Scriptures which speak of the wrath and indignation of God and His judgment. These passages should attest to them that as long as they presume upon God’s mercy and live dissolutely, God will gradually withdraw His mercy from them. Furthermore, He is eventually so provoked to wrath that He often destroys such presumptive people suddenly. For of such St. Paul said, “When they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them” [I Thessalonians 5:3]. Let us beware therefore of such wicked boldness to sin. For God, who has promised His mercy to those who are truly repentant, even near the end of their life, has not promised to the presumptuous sinner either that he shall have long life or that he shall have true repentance at the end. For that purpose He has made every man’s death uncertain, so that he should not put his hope in returning in the end, and in the meantime, to God’s great displeasure, live an ungodly life.

Therefore let us all follow the counsel of the Wise Man:
Do not delay to turn back to the Lord, and do not postpone it from day to day; for suddenly the wrath of the Lord will come upon you, and at the time of punishment you will perish. [Ecclesiasticus 5:7]
Let us therefore turn immediately: and, when we turn, let us pray to God as Hosea teaches, “Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously” [Hosea 14:2]. And, if we turn to Him with a humble and very penitent heart, He will receive us to His favor and grace for the sake of His holy Name, of His promise, of His truth and mercy promised to all faithful believers in Jesus Christ His only natural Son. To whom, the only Savior of the world, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honor, glory, and power world without end. Amen.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Anglican Homily on How Dangerous a Thing It Is to Fall from God - Part I

Another of our modern-language versions of the Anglican Homilies, this is the first part of the homily on turning away from God.


The Wise Man says that pride was the beginning of our forsaking God; by it man’s heart was turned from God his Maker, for pride is the fountain of all sin: he who has it shall be full of cursings, and at the end it shall overthrow him [Ecclesiasticus 10:12-13]. And, as through pride and sin we go from God, so shall God, and all goodness with Him, go from us. The Prophet Hosea plainly affirms that those who depart from God by vicious living yet try to pacify and distract Him by sacrifice are laboring in vain. Despite all their sacrifice, He still departs from them. Forasmuch, says the Prophet, as they do not apply their minds to return to God, although they go about with whole flocks and herds to seek the Lord, yet they shall not find Him; for He is gone away from them [Hosea 5:4, 6].
We can turn from God in various ways. Sometimes it is done directly by idolatry, as Israel and Judah did [Hosea 4:12; 5:5]. Sometimes men turn from God by lack of faith and mistrusting of God, as Isaiah says:
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
And rely on horses,
Who trust in chariots because they are many
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But who do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
Nor seek the Lord [Isaiah 31:1]
But what follows?
When the Lord stretches out His hand,
Both he who helps will fall,
And he who is helped will fall down;
They all will perish together. [Isaiah 31:3]
Sometimes men go from God by neglecting his commandments concerning their neighbor, which require them to express hearty love towards every man: as Zachariah said unto the people on God’s behalf,
‘Execute true justice,
Show mercy and compassion
Everyone to his brother.
Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless,
The alien or the poor.
Let none of you plan evil in his heart
Against his brother.’

“But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. Therefore it happened, that just as He proclaimed and they would not hear, so they called out and I would not listen,” says the Lord of hosts. “But I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations which they had not known. Thus the land became desolate after them, so that no one passed through or returned; for they made the pleasant land desolate.” [Zechariah 7:9-14]

And, in sum, all those who, following the persuasions and stubbornness of their own hearts and going backward and not forward, [Jeremiah 7:24], do not abide the Word of God and instead turn away from God. Insomuch that Origen says, “He that with mind, with study, with deeds, with thought and care, applies and gives himself to God’s Word, and thinks upon his laws day and night, gives himself wholly to God, and in his precepts and commandments is exercised, this is he that is turned to God.” And on the other hand he says, “Whosoever is occupied with fables and tales when the Word of God is rehearsed is turned from God. Whosoever in time of reading God’s Word is diverted in thought to worldly business, money, or profit is turned from God. Whosoever is entangled with the cares of possessions, filled with covetousness of riches, whosoever studies for the glory and honor of this world, he is turned from God.” So that anyone who does not have his mind set on all that is commanded or taught of God; he who does not listen unto it, embrace, and print it in his heart, to the intent that he may duly fashion his life after it; he has plainly turned from God, even though he may continue to do other things that he considers better and more to God’s honor.
The truth of this point is seen in holy Scripture by the example of King Saul [I Samuel 15:1-24], who being commanded of God by Samuel to kill all the Amalekites and destroy them clearly with their goods and livestock, yet he, being moved partly with pity and partly (as he thought) with devotion to God, saved Agag their king, and all the best of their cattle, to sacrifice to God. With this disobedience God was highly displeased and said to the Prophet Samuel, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments” [I Samuel 15:11].

And, when Samuel asked why he had saved the cattle, contrary to God’s command, he excused the matter partly by fear, saying he dared do none other because the people wanted it; partly because he thought God would be content, seeing that this deed was done with a good intent and devotion to honor God with the sacrifice of such excellent animals. But Samuel, reproving all such intents and devotions because no matter how much they seem to honor God, they contradict His Word (and obedience to His Word is the only way we may be assured of his pleasure) said:
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He also has rejected you from being king.”

By all these examples of Holy Scripture we may know that as we forsake God, so shall He forsake us. And what miserable state consequently and necessarily follows thereupon, a man may easily consider by the terrible judgment of God. And even though he may be unable to fathom the depth of such misery, which is so great that it passes any man’s capacity in this life sufficiently to understand, he shall soon perceive enough that, unless he has a heart of stone, he shall fear, tremble, and quake.
First, the displeasure of God toward us is commonly expressed in the Scripture by two things: by showing His fearful countenance upon us, and by turning His face or hiding it from us. His great wrath is signified by showing His dreadful countenance; but it is signified many times more by His turning or hiding His face, for it means that He clearly forsakes us and gives us over. The same is true with the behavior of mankind. For men commonly bear a good, cheerful, and loving countenance towards those whom they favor, so that by the face or countenance of a man it is apparent what will or mind he bears towards another. So, when God shows His dreadful countenance towards us, that is to say, when He sends dreadful plagues of sword, famine, or pestilence upon us, it appears that He is greatly angry with us. But, when He withdraws from us His Word, the right doctrine of Christ, His gracious assistance and aid, which is inherently connected to His Word, and leaves us to our own wit, to our own will and strength, He declares then that He has begun to forsake us. For, while God has shown to all those who truly believe His Gospel His face of mercy in Jesus Christ, which so enlightens their hearts that if they behold it as they ought to do, they are transformed into His image, are made partakers of the heavenly light and of His Holy Spirit, and are fashioned to Him in all goodness requisite to the children of God; so if they afterward neglect the same, if they are unthankful unto Him, if they do not order their lives according to His example and doctrine and to the setting forth of His glory, He will take away from them His kingdom, His holy Word, by which He should reign in them, because they do not bring forth the fruit thereof that He looks for.

Nevertheless, God is so merciful and longsuffering that He does not visit us suddenly with great wrath. But when we begin to shrink from His Word, not believing it, or not expressing it in our lives, He first sends His messengers, the true preachers of His Word, to admonish us and warn us of our duty; that as He, for His great love for us, delivered His own Son to suffer death so that we by His death might be delivered from death and be restored to life everlasting, to dwell with Him forever and to be partakers and inheritors with Him of His everlasting glory and kingdom of heaven, so again that we should walk in a godly life, as is right for His children to do. And if we still remain disobedient to His Word and will, not knowing Him, not loving Him, not fearing Him, not putting our whole trust and confidence in Him; and, on the other side, to our neighbors behaving ourselves uncharitably by disdain, envy, malice, or by committing murder, robbery, adultery, gluttony, deceit, lying, swearing, or any similar detestable works and ungodly behavior; then He threatens us by terrible warnings, swearing in great anger that "whosoever does these works shall never enter into His rest [Hebrews 4:1-3], which is the kingdom of heaven.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Anglican Homily on Salvation: Parts II and III

From our series of modern-language versions of the Anglican Homilies, this is the second and third part of the homily on Salvation.

A SERMON ON THE SALVATION OF MANKIND BY ONLY CHRIST OUR SAVIOR FROM SIN AND DEATH EVERLASTING

Part II

In the first part of this homily, you heard from whom all men ought to seek their justification and righteousness, and how also this righteousness comes unto men by Christ’s death and merits. You also heard that three things are required to obtain our righteousness; that is, God’s mercy, Christ’s justice, and a true and a lively faith from which springs good works. It has also been declared that no man can be justified by his own good works, because no man fulfills all the requirements of the law. As St. Paul declares to the Galatians, “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law” (Galatians 3:21). And again he says, “If righteousness comes by the law, then Christ died in vain” (Galatians 2:21). And again he says, “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). And furthermore he writes to the Ephesians as follows, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The sum of Paul’s argument is this: if justice comes of works, then it does not come of grace; and, if it comes of grace, then it does not come of works. And to this end all the Prophets preached, as St. Peter says: “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).

Furthermore, all the ancient authors, both Greek and Latin, spoke of justification by true and lively faith in Christ. Let us look at three of these: Hilary, Basil, and Ambrose. St. Hilary says these words plainly in the ninth Canon on Matthew: “Faith only justifies.” And St. Basil, a Greek author, writes thus: “This is a perfect and a whole rejoicing in God, when a man does not boast in his own righteousness, but acknowledges himself to lack true justice and righteousness, and to be justified only by faith in Christ” (St. Basil’s Homily on Humility). He continues, “Paul glories in contempt of his own righteousness, and looks for the righteousness of God by faith (Philippians 3:9).” And St. Ambrose, a Latin author, says these words: “This is the ordinance of God, that he which believeth in Christ should be saved without works, by faith only, freely receiving remission of his sins.” Consider these words carefully. Without works, by faith only, freely we receive remission of our sins. What can be spoken more plainly than to say that freely, without works, by faith only, we obtain remission of our sins?

These and similar statements are found often in the best and ancient writers. Besides the passages quoted from Hilary, Basil, and St. Ambrose, we read the same in Origen, St. Chrysostom, St. Cyprian, St. Augustine, Prosper, Oecumenius, Photius, Bernardus, Anselm, and many other authors, Greek and Latin.

Nevertheless, when the ancient authors say that we are justified by faith only, they do not mean that justifying faith is alone in man without true repentance, hope, charity, dread, and fear of God, at any time or season. And when they say that we are justified freely, they do not mean that we should afterward be idle, with nothing else required of us. They certainly do not mean that being justified without our good works means that we should do no good works. Saying that we are justified by faith only, freely, and without works takes away all merit of our works, which are unable to deserve our justification at God’s hands, and it plainly expresses the weakness of man and the goodness of God, our great infirmity and God’s might and power, and the imperfectness of our own works and the most abundant grace of our Savior Christ. The merit and deserving of our justification is attributed to Christ only and His most precious bloodshedding. Holy Scripture teaches this faith, and this is the strong rock and foundation of Christian religion. All of the ancient authors of Christ’s Church approve this doctrine, which advances and sets forth the true glory of Christ, and beats down the vainglory of man, and whoever denies this doctrine is not to be counted for a true Christian man, nor for a promoter of Christ’s glory, but for an adversary of Christ and his Gospel, and for a promoter of men’s vainglory.

True indeed is this doctrine that we are justified freely without all merit of our own good works (as St. Paul states), and freely by this lively and perfect faith in Christ only (as the ancient authors wrote), yet this true doctrine must be also truly understood and most plainly declared, or else carnal men would unjustly take occasion to use this doctrine as an excuse to live carnally after the appetite and will of the world, the flesh, and the devil. To prevent this mistaken view of justification, the third part of this homily will set for a right understanding of this doctrine so that no man shall use it as an occasion of carnal liberty to follow the desires of the flesh or as an excuse to fall into greater sin or an ungodly lifestyle.

The first thing to note is that in our justification by Christ, it is not all one thing, the office of God unto man, and the office of man unto God. Justification is not the office of man, but of God, for man cannot make himself righteous by his own works, neither in part, nor in the whole; for it would be the greatest arrogance and presumption of man that Antichrist could devise, to affirm that a man might by his own works take away and purge his own sins, and so justify himself. Justification is the office of God only; and is not something we offer Him, but which we receive of Him; not which we give to him, but which we take of him, by his free mercy, and by the only merits of his most dearly beloved Son, our only Redeemer, Savior, and Justifier, Jesus Christ.

The doctrine that we are justified freely by faith without worksor that we are justified by faith in Christ onlydoes not mean that our own act of believing in Christ, or even the faith in Christ that is within us, is what justifies us or causes us to deserve justification. If that were the case, we could count ourselves to be justified by some act or virtue that is within ourselves. What it means is that, although we hear God’s Word and believe it, although we have faith, hope, charity, repentance, dread, and fear of God within us and do many good works, yet we must renounce the merit of all our virtues and good deeds that we have done, shall do, or can do, recognizing them as being far too weak, insufficient, and imperfect to deserve remission of our sins and our justification.

Therefore we must trust only in God’s mercy and in that sacrifice which our High Priest and Savior Christ Jesus, the Son of God, once offered for us upon the cross, to obtain thereby God’s grace and the remission of our original sin in baptism, as well as of all actual sin committed by us after our baptism, if we truly repent and sincerely turn to Him again. Although St. John Baptist was a virtuous and godly a man, yet in this matter of forgiving of sin he turned the people from himself and pointed them unto Christ, saying, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Even so, as great and as godly a virtue as the lively faith is, it turns from itself, and points us unto Christ, for only by Him do we have remission of our sins or justification. So that our faith in Christ, as it were, says unto us thus: It is not I that take away your sins, but it is Christ only; and to Him only I send you for that purpose, forsaking all your good virtues, words, thoughts, and works, and only putting your trust in Christ.


Part III


In the previous parts of this homily it was plainly declared that no man can fulfill the law of God, and therefore by the law all men are condemned. As a result, it stands to reason that something else other than the law is required for our salvation, and that is a true and a lively faith in Christ, which brings forth good works and a life according to God’s commandments. You also heard the ancient authors’ teachings on justification declared so plainly that the true meaning of the statement, “We are justified by faith in Christ only,” is as follows: We put our faith in Christ, that we are justified by Him only, that we are justified by God’s free mercy and the merits of our Savior Christ only, and that we do not deserve it by any virtue or good work of our own that is in us, or that we are able to have or to do, Christ Himself only being the cause meritorious thereof.

Here you will notice many words have been used, to avoid contention with those who delight in bickering over words, and also to show the true meaning in order to avoid evil interpretations and misunderstanding. Yet perhaps even this effort will not quiet those who are contentious, for contenders will ever forge matters of contention, even when they have no occasion to do so. Nevertheless, such plain language offers less to dispute, so that all those may profit who are more desirous to know the truth when it is plain enough than to contend about it and obscure and darken it with pedantic arguments.

Truth it is that our own works do not justify us. In other words, our works do not merit remission of our sins, nor do they make us who are unjust, just before God. But God of His mere mercy justifies us through the only merits of His Son Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, because faith directs us to Christ for remission of our sins, and by faith given us by God we embrace the promise of God’s mercy and of remission of our sins, which could not be accomplished by any of our virtues or works, therefore Scripture states that faith justifies without works. And since the statement “Faith without works” is essentially the same as “Only faith justifies us,” the Church fathers sometimes used the latter statement to mean the same as St. Paul meant when he said that faith without works justifies us. And because all this is brought to pass through the only merits of our Savior Christ, and not through our merits, or through the merit of any virtue that we have within us or any work that comes from us, therefore, in that respect of merit and deserving, in a manner of speaking, we forsake our own faith, works, and all other virtues. For our own imperfection is so great, through the corruption of original sin, that all is imperfect that is within us, faith, charity, hope, dread, thoughts, words, and works, and therefore not apt to merit and deserve any part of our justification for us. And we speak in this way to humble ourselves before God and to give all the glory to our Savior Christ, who is most worthy to have it.

Here you have heard the office of God in our justification, and how we receive it of Him freely, by His mercy, though we do not deserve it, through true and lively faith. Now you shall hear the office and duty of a Christian man unto God, what we ought to return unto God for his great mercy and goodness. Our office is not to pass the time of this present life unfruitfully and idly after we are baptized or justified, not caring how few good works we do to the glory of God and profit of our neighbors. Much less it is our office, after we have been made members of Christ to live contrary to that calling, making ourselves members of the devil, walking after his enticements and after the suggestions of the world and the flesh; whereby we know that we serve the world and the devil rather than God. For that faith which brings forth, without repentance, either evil works or no good works is not a right, pure, and lively faith, but a dead, devilish, counterfeit, and feigned faith, as St. Paul and St. James call it. For even the devils know and believe that Christ was born of a virgin, that He fasted forty days and forty nights, and that He worked all kind of miracles, declaring himself very God. They also believe that Christ suffered most painful death for our sakes, to redeem us from everlasting death, and that He rose again from death the third day: they believe that He ascended into heaven, and that he sits on the right hand of the Father, and at the end of this world shall come again and judge both the living and the dead. These articles of our faith the devils believe; and so they believe all things written in the New and Old Testament to be true: and yet for all this faith they are still devils, remaining in their condemned estate, lacking the very true Christian faith. For the true Christian faith is not only to believe that Holy Scripture and all the previously mentioned articles of our faith are true, but also to have a sure trust and confidence in God’s merciful promises to be saved from everlasting damnation by Christ; and from this follows a loving heart to obey his commandments. No devil has this true Christian faith, nor does any man who in the outward profession of his mouth and in his outward receiving of the Sacraments, in coming to the church and in all other outward appearances seems to be a Christian man and yet in his living and deeds shows the contrary.

How can a man have this true faith, this sure trust and confidence in God, that by the merits of Christ his sins are forgiven and he is reconciled to the favor of God and made a partaker of the kingdom of heaven by Christ, when he lives ungodly and denies Christ in his deeds? Surely no such ungodly man can have this faith and trust in God. For just as they know Christ to be the only Savior of the world, so they know also that wicked men shall not enjoy the kingdom of God. They know that God hates unrighteousness and that He will destroy all those who speak untruly. They know that those who have done good works, which cannot be done without a lively faith in Christ, shall come forth into the resurrection of life, and those that have done evil unto the resurrection of judgment. They also know well that to those who are contentious, and to those who will not be obedient unto the truth, but will obey unrighteousness, shall come indignation, wrath, affliction, and so forth.

Therefore, to conclude, we must consider the infinite benefits of God mercifully given unto us, though we did not deserve them. He not only created us out of nothing, and from a piece of vile clay, of his infinite goodness, has exalted us, with regard to our soul, unto His own likeness; but also, while we were condemned to hell and death everlasting, has given His own Son (who is God eternal, immortal, and equal unto Himself in power and glory) to be incarnated, and to take on our mortal nature with the infirmities of the same, and in the same nature to suffer most shameful and painful death for our offenses in order to justify us and to restore us to life everlasting; so making us also His dear beloved children, brothers to His only Son our Savior Christ and inheritors forever with Him of His eternal kingdom of heaven. These great and merciful benefits of God, if they are well considered, neither provide us occasion to be idle and to live without doing any good works, nor provoke us to do evil things. To the contrary, unless we are desperate persons with hearts harder than stones, they move us to render ourselves unto God wholly with all our will, hearts, might, and power. They move us to serve Him in all good deeds, obeying His commandments throughout our lives; to seek in all things his glory and honor, not our sensual pleasures and vainglory; and to live in dread of willingly offending such a merciful God and loving Redeemer in word, thought, or deed. The benefits of God, deeply considered, also move us for His sake to be ever ready to give ourselves to our neighbors, and to endeavor to do good to every man. These are the fruits of the true faith: to do good, as much as lies in us, to every man; and, above all things and in all things, to advance the glory of God, of whom only we have our sanctification, justification, salvation, and redemption. To Him be glory, praise, and honor, world without end. Amen.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Anglican Homily on Salvation: Part I

Another of our modern-language versions of the Anglican Homilies, this is the first part of the homily on Salvation.

A SERMON ON THE SALVATION OF MANKIND BY ONLY CHRIST OUR SAVIOR FROM SIN AND DEATH EVERLASTING

Part I

Because all men are sinners and offenders against God, and breakers of His law and commandments, no one can by his own acts, works, and deeds, regardless of how good they are, be justified and made righteous before God. Everyone must seek another righteousness or justification to be received at God’s own hands, that is to say, the remission, pardon, and forgiveness of his sins and trespasses. And this justification or righteousness, which we so receive by God’s mercy and Christ’s merits, embraced by faith, is taken, accepted, and allowed of God for our perfect and full justification.

To better understand justification we must remember the great mercy of God; how that, when all the world was wrapped in sin by breaking of the law, God sent his only Son our Savior Christ into this world to fulfill the law for us, and by shedding of His most precious blood to make a sacrifice and satisfaction or (as it may be called) amends to His Father for our sins, to assuage His wrath and indignation conceived against us for the same. Infants, being baptized and dying in their infancy, are by Christ's sacrifice washed from their sins, brought to God’s favor, and made His children and inheritors of His kingdom of heaven. And all who commit sin after their baptism, when they turn again to God in sincerity, are likewise washed by this sacrifice from their sins so that there remains no spot of sin to be imputed to their damnation. This is that justification or righteousness of which St. Paul speaks when he says that no man is justified by the works of the law, but freely by faith in Jesus Christ, saying further, "We have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16). Although this justification is free to us, it does not come so freely that no ransom is paid at all.

But this line of reasoning brings consternation. If a ransom is paid for our redemption, then it is not given to us freely. A prisoner who pays his ransom is not let go freely, for what does going freely mean unless to be set at liberty without payment of ransom? This difficulty is satisfied by the great wisdom of God in the mystery of our redemption, in that He has so tempered His justice and mercy together that He would neither by His justice condemn us unto the everlasting captivity of the devil and his prison of hell, remediless forever without mercy, nor by His mercy deliver us without justice or payment of a just ransom, but with His endless mercy He joined His perfect and equal justice. He showed us His great mercy in delivering us from our former captivity without requiring us to pay any ransom or make any amends; indeed, it was impossible for us to do so. And because we could not pay the price, He provided a ransom for us, the most precious body and blood of His own most dear and best beloved Son Jesus Christ; who, besides His ransom, fulfilled the law for us perfectly. And so the justice of God and His mercy embraced and fulfilled the mystery of our redemption. In Romans 3, St. Paul speaks of this justice and mercy of God knit together:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)
He also speaks of it in Romans 10: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4) and in Romans 8:
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4)
In these Scriptures, the Apostle covers three things that must go together in our justification: upon God’s part, His great mercy and grace; upon Christ’s part, justice, that is, the satisfaction of God’s justice, or the price of our redemption by the offering of His body and shedding of his blood with fulfilling of the law perfectly and thoroughly; and upon our part, true and lively faith in the merits of Jesus Christ; which yet is not ours but by God’s working in us. So that our justification involves not only God’s mercy and grace, but also his justice, which the Apostle calls the justice of God; and it consists in paying our ransom and fulfilling of the law. Thus the grace of God does not shut out the justice of God in our justification, but only shuts out the justice of man, or more specifically, the justice of our works as merits deserving our justification.

St. Paul declares here nothing upon the behalf of man concerning his justification, but only a true and lively faith; which nevertheless is the gift of God, and not man’s only work without God. That faith, however, does not shut out repentance, hope, love, dread, and the fear of God, which all accompany  faith in everyone who is justified. These do not, however, accomplish justification. Similarly, that faith also does not shut out the justice of our good works, which are our duty towards God, commanded in Holy Scripture all the days of our life; but it excludes them so that we may not do them to the intent of being made good by doing them. For all the good works that we can do are imperfect, and therefore do not merit our justification. Rather, our justification comes freely, by the mere mercy of God. This mercy is so great and free mercy that even though no one in the whole world was able to pay even a part of the ransom, and none of us deserved to be ransomed, our heavenly Father was pleased to prepare for us the most precious jewels of Christ’s body and blood, by which our ransom might be fully paid, the law fulfilled, and His justice fully satisfied. As a result, Christ is now the righteousness of everyone who truly believes in Him. He paid their ransom by His death. He fulfilled for them the law in His life. Now in Him and by Him every true Christian may be called a fulfiller of the law. Whatever we lacked in our infirmity, Christ’s justice has supplied.

(Parts II and II to follow)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Anglican Homily on Holy Scripture

Here we provide the third in our series of modern-language versions of the Anglican Homilies. One of the hallmarks of Anglicanism is its emphasis on Holy Scripture, and this homily encourages every Christian, regardless of educational background, to "read, mark and inwardly digest" the Word of God. A PDF version of this homily, complete with all Scripture references, is available at this link.

A FRUITFUL EXHORTATION TO THE READING AND KNOWLEDGE OF HOLY SCRIPTURE

Part I
To a Christian, nothing is either more necessary or more profitable than the knowledge of Holy Scripture, for it is God’s true Word, setting forth both His glory and man’s duty. Every truth and doctrine necessary for our justification and everlasting salvation can be drawn out of that fountain and well of truth. Therefore, all who desire to enter the right and perfect way unto God must apply their minds to know Holy Scripture. Without it they cannot adequately know God and His will, nor can they know their office and duty. As drink is pleasant to the thirsty and food to the hungry, so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of Holy Scripture to those who desire to know God and do His will, or to know themselves. By contrast, those who despise the heavenly knowledge and spiritual food of God’s Word show themselves to be so drowned in worldly vanities that they cannot savor God or godliness. It is for that very reason that they desire vanities rather than the true knowledge of God.

People who are sick with malaria find that whatever they eat or drink, no matter how good it may be, tastes as bitter as wormwood, not because the food is bitter, but because of their illness causes a corrupt and bitter disposition in their own tongue. In the same way, the sweetness of God’s word bitter, not of itself, but only unto those who have their minds corrupted with long custom of sin and love of this world. Therefore, let us forsake the company of those who follow after the flesh and instead reverently hear and read Holy Scripture, which is the food of the soul. Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testament, and not run to the stinking puddles of men’s traditions, devised by man’s imagination, for our justification and salvation. For in Holy Scripture is fully contained what we ought to do and what to avoid, what to believe, what to love, and what to expect at God’s hands. In those books we find the Father from whom, the Son by whom, and the Holy Ghost in whom all things have their being and are maintained.

In these books we also find these three Persons to be but one God and one substance. In these books we may learn to know ourselves, how vile and miserable we are, and also to know how good God is and how He makes us and all creatures to be partakers of His goodness. We may also learn in these books to know as much of God’s will and pleasure as is suitable for us to know at present. And, as the great cleric and godly preacher St. John Chrysostom says, “Whatsoever is required to salvation of man is fully contained in the Scripture of God. He that is ignorant may there learn and have knowledge. He that is hardhearted and an obstinate sinner shall there find everlasting torments prepared of God’s justice, to make him afraid, and to soften him. He that is oppressed with misery in this world shall there find relief in the promises of everlasting life, to his great consolation and comfort. He that is wounded by the devil unto death shall find there medicine, whereby he may be restored again unto health.” He further states that if there is need “to teach any truth or reprove false doctrine, to rebuke any vice, to commend any virtue, to give good counsel, to comfort, or to exhort, or to do any other thing requisite for our salvation; all those things,” says St. Chrysostom, “we may learn plentifully of the Scripture.” Similarly, “There is,” says Fulgentius, “abundantly enough both for men to eat and children to suck. There is whatsoever is suitable for all ages and for all degrees and sorts of men.”

Therefore, these books ought to be much in our hands, in our eyes, in our ears, in our mouths, but most of all in our hearts. For the Scripture of God is heavenly meat for our souls, the hearing and keeping of it makes us blessed, sanctifies us, and makes us holy. It converts our souls. It is a lantern to our feet. It is a sure, steadfast, and everlasting instrument of salvation. It gives wisdom to the humble and meek. It comforts, makes glad, cheers, and strengthens our consciences. It is a more excellent jewel or treasure than any gold or precious stone. It is sweeter than honey or honeycomb. It is called the best part, which Mary chose, for it has in it everlasting comfort. The words of Holy Scripture are called words of everlasting life for they are God’s instrument, ordained for the same purpose. They have power to convert through God’s promise, and they are effectual through God’s assistance; and being received in a faithful heart, they continue to perform a heavenly spiritual work. They are living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow. Christ calls him a wise builder who builds upon His Word, upon His sure and substantial foundation. By the Word of God we shall be judged, as Christ says: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” He who keeps the Word of Christ is promised the love and favor of God, and that he shall be the dwelling place or temple of the blessed Trinity. Whoever is diligent to read the Word and to imprint upon his heart what he reads will have his affections for the transitory things of this world diminished and his great desire of heavenly things, which are therein promised of God, increased. There is nothing that so strengthens our faith and trust in God, that so supports innocence and purity of heart and also of outward godly life and conversation, as continual reading and understanding of God’s Word. For the message which by continual reading and diligent searching of Holy Scripture is deeply printed and engraved in the heart, will eventually seem to be a part of his own nature. Furthermore, the effect and benefit of God’s Word is to illuminate the ignorant and to give more light unto those who faithfully and diligently read it; to comfort their hearts, and to encourage them to do what God commands. It teaches patience in adversity and humility in prosperity. It teaches what honor is due unto God and what mercy and charity to our neighbor. It gives good counsel in uncertain matters. It shows to whom we should look for aid and help in all perils, and that God is the only Giver of victory in all battles and temptations of our enemies, both physical and spiritual.

In the reading of God’s Word, the one who profits most is not the one who can quickly locate passages or the one who can recite many passages by rote. Instead, the one who profits most is he who is most attuned to its message, who is most inspired with the Holy Ghost, whose heart and life are changed by what he reads in the Word. It is he who is daily less proud, less wrathful, less covetous, and less desirous of worldly and vain pleasures. It is he who daily, forsaking his old sinful life, increases in virtue more and more. In sum, there is nothing that more maintains godliness of the mind and drives away ungodliness than the continual reading or hearing of God’s Word, if it is accompanied by a godly mind and a desire to know and follow God’s will. For without a single eye, undivided in devotion to God, a pure intent, and a good mind, nothing is allowed for good before God. Conversely, nothing more darkens Christ and the glory of God, nor brings in more blindness and all kinds of vices, than ignorance of God’s Word.


Part II

In the first part of this Sermon, which is an exhortation to the knowledge of Holy Scripture, it was declared that the knowledge of the same is necessary and profitable to all men, and that by the true knowledge and understanding of Scripture the most necessary points of our duty towards God and our neighbors are also known. This matter will now be developed further.

If we profess Christ, why are we not ashamed to be ignorant of His doctrine? A man would be ashamed to be called a philosopher if he does not read the philosophy books; or to be called a lawyer, an astronomer, or a physician, who is ignorant in the books of those professions. How can any man then say that he professes Christ and his religion, if he will not apply himself, as much as he is able, to read and hear, and so to know, the books of Christ’s Gospel and doctrine? Although other sciences are good and should be learned, no man can deny that this is the chief of all learning, and incomparably passes all other knowledge. What excuse shall we therefore make at the last day before Christ, if we delight to read or hear men’s fantasies and inventions more than His most holy Gospel? What excuse shall we make if we will find no time to do that which chiefly, above all things, we should do; if we would rather read other things instead of the one thing for which we ought to lay aside reading of all other things? Let us therefore apply ourselves, as often have time and leisure, to know God’s Word by diligent hearing and reading thereof; as many as profess God, and have faith and trust in Him.

But those who show no affection for God’s Word commonly give one of two empty excuses. Some excuse themselves by their own frailty and fearfulness, saying that they dare not read Holy Scripture lest through their ignorance they should fall into any error. Others pretend that the difficulty of understanding it is so great that it is suitable to be read only by clergymen and scholars.

Regarding the first excuse, ignorance of God’s Word is actually the cause of all error, as Christ himself affirmed to the Sadducees, saying that they erred because they did not know the Scripture. How then can those who choose to be ignorant avoid error? And how will they come out of ignorance if they will neither read nor hear the very thing that will give them knowledge? He who now has the most knowledge was ignorant at first: yet he did not refrain from reading for fear he should fall into error; but he diligently read, lest he should remain in ignorance, and through ignorance in error. And, if you refuse to know the truth of God (a thing most necessary for you), lest you fall into error, by the same reasoning you must then lie still and never leave your house, for by going, you may fall in the mire. Similarly, you must not eat any good meat because you might overeat; nor will you sow your corn, nor labor in your occupation, nor use your merchandise, for fear you will lose your seed, your labor, your stock. By that line of reasoning, it would be best for you to live idly and never do any manner of good thing, because if you do, something bad might happen. But if you are still afraid that you will fall into error by reading of Holy Scripture, I will tell you how you may read it without danger of error. Read it humbly with a meek and lowly heart and for the purpose of glorifying God and not yourself with the knowledge of it. Daily pray to God that He would direct your reading to good effect; and do not try to expound it any further than you can plainly understand it. For, as St. Augustine says, the knowledge of Holy Scripture is a great, large, and a high palace, but the door is very low; so that the high and arrogant man cannot run in, but he must stoop low and humble himself that shall enter into it. Presumptuous arrogance is the mother of all error; humility needs fear no error. For humility will only search to know the truth; it will search and will bring together one passage with another; and, where it cannot find out the meaning, it will pray, it will ask of others who may know, and will not presumptuously and rashly define anything that it does not know. Therefore the humble man may search any truth boldly in the Scripture without any danger of error. And, if he is ignorant, he ought to read and to search Holy Scripture even more, to bring him out of ignorance. A man may prosper with only hearing the Word, but he will much more prosper with both hearing and reading.

Concerning the second excuse, the difficulty in understanding Scripture, he who is so weak that he is unable to bear strong meat may still consume the sweet and tender milk, and defer the rest until he grows stronger and more knowledgeable. For God receives the learned and unlearned, and casts away none, but is impartial unto all. And the Scripture contains enough low valleys, plain ways, and easy paths for every man to walk in, as  well as high hills and mountains that few men can climb. St. John Chrysostom says that whoever gives his mind to Holy Scriptures with diligent study and burning desire will not be left without help. For either God Almighty will send him some godly doctor to teach him, as he sent the Apostle Philip to instruct Eunuchus, a nobleman of Ethiopia and treasurer unto queen Candace, who had a great desire to read the Scripture, although he understood it not; or else, if we lack a learned man to instruct and teach us, yet God himself from above will give light unto our minds, and teach us those things which are necessary for us, and of which we are ignorant.

Chrysostom also says that man’s human and worldly wisdom or science is not what is needed for the understanding of Scripture, but the revelation of the Holy Spirit, who inspires the true meaning to those who with humility and diligence seek it. He who asks shall have, and he who seeks shall find, and he who knocks shall have the door open. If we read once, twice, or thrice, and do not understand, let us not cease, but continue reading, praying, asking of others; and so, by still knocking, the door will finally be opened, as St. Augustine says. Although many things in Scripture are spoken in obscure mysteries, nothing is obscure in one place that is not in other places spoken more familiarly and plainly so as to be understood by both the educated and uneducated.

Regarding those things in the Scripture that are plain to understand and necessary for salvation, every man’s duty is to learn them, to print them in memory, and effectually to exercise them. As for the dark mysteries, every man’s duty is to be contented to be ignorant in them until it pleases God to open those things unto him. In the meantime, if he lacks either the capacity or opportunity to learn these difficult matters, God will not consider him foolish. And those who are able to learn should not set aside reading, just because some others are not. Nevertheless, the reading of Scriptures ought not to be set aside simply because some passages are difficult. As St. Augustine says, by the Scripture all men be amended, weak men be strengthened, and strong men be comforted. So those who are enemies of the reading of God’s Word are either so ignorant that they do not know how wholesome it is, or else so sick that they hate the very medicine that would heal them, or so ungodly that they wish all people to continue in blindness and ignorance of God.

Thus we have briefly touched upon some of the products of God’s Holy Word, which is one of God’s principal benefits given and declared to mankind here on earth. Let us thank God heartily for this His great and special gift, beneficial favor, and fatherly providence. Let us be glad to stir up this precious gift of our heavenly Father. Let us hear, read, and know these holy rules, injunctions, and statutes of our Christian religion, upon which we made profession to God at our baptism. Let us with fear and reverence lay up in the treasure chest of our hearts these necessary and fruitful lessons. Let us night and day muse, meditate on, and contemplate them. Let us ruminate and as it were, chew the cud, that we may have the sweet juice, spiritual effect, marrow, honey, kernel, taste, comfort, and consolation of them. Let us calm, quiet, and certify our consciences with the most infallible certainty, truth, and perpetual assurance of them. Let us pray to God, the only Author of these heavenly studies, that we may speak, think, believe, live, and depart from here according to the wholesome doctrine and verities of them.

And by that means in this world we shall have God’s defense, favor, and grace, with the unspeakable solace of peace and quietness of conscience, and after this life of misery we shall enjoy the endless bliss and glory of heaven, which is granted to us all by Him who died for us all, Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and Holy Ghost be all honor and glory both now and forever. Amen.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The First Homily on the Coming of the Holy Spirit for Whitsunday

Provided below is the second in our series of modern language versions of the Anglican Homilies. It is the first of a two-part series for Pentecost. The author makes the interesting connection between the coming of the Holy Spirit and the giving of the Law, which is discussed as the original meaning of the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost. The sending of the Holy Spirit to dwell within the Church and lead us into all righteousness is the culmination of God's working in history to call unto Himself a people to be holy.

The PDF version of this homily, complete with footnotes and Scripture references is available at this link.


Before we declare the great and manifold gifts of the Holy Spirit with which the Church of God has been forever replenished, it is first necessary to discuss the origin of the feast of Pentecost or Whitsuntide. The feast of Pentecost was always kept the fiftieth day after Passover, a great and solemn feast among the Jews, in which they celebrated the memorial of their deliverance out of Egypt, and also the memorial of the publishing of the Law, which was given unto them on mount Sinai upon that day. This feast was first ordained and commanded to be kept holy, not by any mortal man, but by the mouth of the Lord himself; as we read in Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16. The place appointed for observing it was Jerusalem, where many people came from all parts of the world; as is evidenced in the second chapter of Acts, where mention is made of Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, and various other places. By this we may also partly gather what great and royal solemnity was customary in that feast.
This observance which was commanded of the Jews in the Old Testament was confirmed by our Savior Christ in the time of the Gospel. He ordained a new Pentecost for His disciples when he sent down the Holy Spirit visibly in form of cloven tongues like fire, and gave them power to speak so that everyone who heard would understand them in his own language. So that this miracle might be kept in perpetual remembrance, the Church has thought it good to solemnize and keep holy this day, commonly called Whitsunday. Just as the Law was given to the Jews on Mount Sinai the fiftieth day after Passover, so was the preaching of the Gospel through the mighty power of the Holy Spirit given to the Apostles on Mount Zion the fiftieth day after Easter. The number of days is how the feast came to be called “Pentecost,” for as St. Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles, when fifty days were come to an end, the disciples being all together with one accord in one place, the Holy Spirit came suddenly among them, and sat upon each of them, like cloven tongues of fire. No doubt, this event occurred to teach the Apostles and all other men that it is He who gives eloquence and utterance in preaching the Gospel; that it is He who opens the mouth to declare the mighty works of God; that it is He who engenders a burning zeal toward God’s Word, and gives all men not just a tongue but a fiery tongue so that they may boldly and cheerfully profess the truth in the face of the whole world. Isaiah was endued with this same Spirit: “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.” The Prophet David cries out to have this gift, saying, “Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise.” Similarly, our Savior Christ says to His disciples, “It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” All of these testimonies of Holy Scripture sufficiently declare that the mystery of the tongues is a sign of the preaching of the Gospel and the open confession of the Christian faith in all who are in the control of the Holy Spirit. So that if any man remains silent and does not profess his faith openly, but cloaks and disguises himself for fear of danger in time to come, he gives others just cause to doubt that he has the grace of the Holy Spirit within him, because he is tongue tied and does not speak.
Having established that the Feast of Pentecost or Whitsuntide had its origin in the Old Testament and was continued in the New, let us consider what the Holy Spirit is and how He accomplishes His miraculous works towards mankind. The Holy Spirit is a spiritual and divine substance, the third Person in the Deity, distinct from the Father and the Son, and yet proceeding from them both. This truth is not only proclaimed in the Creed of Athanasius but may be also easily proved by God’s Holy Word. When Christ was baptized by John in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove and the Father thundered from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” In this passage, note three separate and distinct Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; who nevertheless are not three Gods, but one God. Likewise, when Christ first instituted and ordained the Sacrament of Baptism, He sent His disciples into the whole world, commanding them to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He also says, “I will pray unto my Father, and he shall give you another Comforter.” Again, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceeds from the Father, he shall testify of me.” These and such other places in the New Testament so plainly and evidently confirm the distinction of the Holy Spirit from the other Persons in the Trinity that no man can possibly doubt it without blaspheming the everlasting truth of God’s Word. As for His proper nature and substance, it is altogether one with God the Father and God the Son, that is to say, spiritual, eternal, uncreated, incomprehensible, almighty; in sum, He is even God and Lord everlasting. Therefore, He is called the Spirit of the Father; therefore He is said to proceed from the Father and the Son; and therefore He was equally joined with them in the commission that the Apostles had to baptize all nations.
But as proof of these truths, it is necessary to mention the wonderful and heavenly works of the Holy Spirit, which plainly declare to the world His mighty and divine power. First, it is evident that He wonderfully governed and directed the hearts of the Patriarchs and Prophets in old time, illuminating their minds with the knowledge of the true Messiah, and giving them utterance to prophesy of things that should come to pass a long time after. For according to St. Peter, the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but the men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. And of Zacharias the high priest it is said in the Gospel that he, being full of the Holy Spirit, prophesied and praised God. So did also Simeon, Anna, Mary, and various others, to the great wonder and admiration of all men.
Moreover, was not the Holy Spirit a mighty worker in the conception and birth of Christ our Savior? St. Matthew says that the blessed Virgin was found with child of the Holy Spirit, before Joseph and she came together. And the angel Gabriel expressly told her that all of this would happen, saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you.” This is a marvelous matter: that a woman should conceive and bear a child without intimate knowledge of a man! But where the Holy Spirit works, nothing is impossible, as may further also appear by the inward regeneration and sanctification of mankind.
When Christ said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” he was greatly amazed and began to reason with Christ, demanding how a man might be born when he is old. “Can he enter,” he asks, “into his mother’s womb again, and so be born anew?” Nicodemus is a living example of a fleshly, carnal man. He had little or no intelligence of the Holy Spirit, and therefore he bluntly asks how this thing could possibly be true. Yet if he had known the great power of the Holy Spirit, in that He inwardly works the regeneration and new birth of mankind, he would never have marveled at Christ’s words, but would have rather taken this occasion to praise and glorify God. Just as there are three separate and distinct Persons in the Deity, there are three separate and distinct offices among them: the Father to create, the Son to redeem, the Holy Spirit to sanctify and regenerate. Regarding these latter works, the more their operation is hid from our understanding, the more all men ought to be moved to wonder at the secret and mighty working of God’s Holy Spirit, which is within us. For it is the Holy Spirit and nothing else that kindles the minds of men, stirring up in their hearts good and godly actions that are in harmony with the will and commandment of God; otherwise, their own crooked and perverse nature would never have such inclinations. That which is born of the flesh, says Christ, is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Man of his own nature is fleshly and carnal, corrupt and wicked, sinful and disobedient to God, without any spark of goodness in him, without any virtuous or godly inclinations, only given to evil thoughts and wicked deeds: as for the works of the Spirit, the fruits of faith, charitable and godly inclinations, if anyone has these, they proceed only from the Holy Spirit, who is the only worker of our sanctification, and makes us new men in Christ Jesus. Did God’s Holy Spirit not miraculously work in the child David, when from a poor shepherd he became a royal prophet? Did God’s Holy Spirit not miraculously work in Matthew, sitting at the tax tables, when from a proud tax collector he became a humble and lowly Evangelist? And who would not be amazed to consider that Peter should become from a simple fisherman a chief and mighty Apostle, and Paul from a cruel and bloody persecutor, a faithful disciple of Christ to teach the Gentiles?
Such is the power of the Holy Spirit to regenerate men, and to bring them forth anew, so that they shall be nothing like the men that they were before. For Him, it is not enough to work the spiritual and new birth of man inwardly, unless He also dwells with him and abide in him.
St. Paul says, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” and “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” Again he says, “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” In agreement with all of this is the doctrine of St. John, who similarly writes, “The anointing which you have received from Him abides in you.” And the doctrine of Peter says the same: “The spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” O what a comfort is this to the heart of a true Christian, to think that the Holy Spirit dwells within him! If God be with us, as the Apostle says, who can be against us?
But some may ask, How shall I know that the Holy Spirit is within me? Indeed, as the tree is known by its fruit, so is also the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit, according to St. Paul, is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance, and so forth. By contrast, the deeds of the flesh are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissention, heresies, envy, murder, drunkenness, gluttony, and the like. Here is the mirror in which you must behold yourself to discern whether you have the Holy Spirit within you, or the spirit of the flesh. If you see that your works are virtuous and good, consistent with the decree of God’s Word, savoring and tasting not of the flesh but of the Spirit, then assure yourself that you are endued with the Holy Spirit: otherwise in thinking well of yourself you only deceive yourself.
The Holy Spirit always declares Himself by His fruitful and gracious gifts, namely by the word of wisdom; by the word of knowledge, which is the understanding of the Scriptures; by faith, in doing of miracles; by healing those who are diseased; by prophecy, which is the declaration of God’s mysteries; by discerning of spirits, diversity of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and so forth. All of these gifts, proceeding from one Spirit and given to man according to the measurable distribution of the Holy Spirit, rightfully cause men to appreciate God’s divine power. Who will not marvel at what is written in the Acts of the Apostles, to hear their bold confession before the council at Jerusalem, and to consider that they went away with joy and gladness, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer rebukes and reproaches for the Name and faith of Christ Jesus? This was the mighty work of the Holy Spirit; who, because He gives patience and joyfulness of heart in temptation and affliction, has worthily obtained the name Comforter. Who will not also be astonished to read the learned and heavenly sermons of Peter and the other disciples, considering that they never received a formal education, but were called straight from their fishing nets to fulfill the office of Apostle? This transformation was the mighty work of the Holy Spirit; who, because He instructs the hearts of the simple in the true knowledge of God and His Holy Word, is accurately called the Spirit of truth.
Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History tells a strange story of an educated and intelligent philosopher, who, being an extreme adversary to Christ and His doctrine, could by no means of persuasion be converted to the faith, but was easily able to withstand all the arguments that could be brought against him. Eventually a poor simple man of small wit and less knowledge, reputed among the learned as a dullard, came forward in God’s Name to dispute with this proud philosopher. The bishops and other educated men standing by were amazed at his attempt, thinking that he would fail and put them to open shame. Nevertheless, he began in the Name of the Lord Jesus and quite opposite of expectations, he brought the philosopher to the point that he could not choose but acknowledge the power of God in his words, and to give place to the truth. Was it not miraculous that one feeble, uneducated soul could accomplish what many bishops of great knowledge and understanding were not able to do? So true is Bede’s observation that “where the Holy Spirit doth instruct and teach, there is no delay at all in learning.” Much more could be told of the manifold gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, which are most excellent and wonderful in our eyes, but there is not time to recount them all. Seeing you have heard the main points, you may easily deduce the rest.
The question that remains is whether all who boast and brag that they have the Holy Spirit truly prove that they have these gifts and graces. This will be the topic of the next part of this Homily. In the meantime let us, as we are obligated to do, give hearty thanks to God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ for sending down this Comforter into the world; humbly beseeching him so to work in our hearts by the power of this Holy Spirit that we, being regenerate and newly born again in all goodness, righteousness, sobriety, and truth, may in the end be made partakers of everlasting life in his heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ our only Lord and Savior. Amen.