GEORGE HOWARD WILKINSON, D.D. " He giveth more grace" S. JAMES iv. 6. TpHERE is in the mind of GOD a definite end for J- which each of us was born into the world. This, our path of life, has, of course, been known to GOD from all eternity. Oft-times, indeed, we have all wandered from it. Some of us GOD forbid it should be so ! some, it may be, have lost it for ever, by long persistence in following the devices and desires of their own hearts. The joy or the sorrow of that great eternity, that mysterious hereafter, will be the power that we shall possess of accurately tracing our lines of divergence from the divine ideal ; the extent to which, through the grace of GOD, we have brought our will and life into harmony with that glorious ideal of the Eternal Godhead. We shall be happy, so far as we have done the Will of GOD. We shall for eternity regret even the single day, it may be, in which we wan dered away deliberately to follow those devices and desires of our own wayward hearts. Still, whatever may have been our degree of corre spondence with GOD S Will, or of yielding to the tempta tions of the world, and the flesh, and the devil, the truth of GOD remains, unchanging and unchangeable. He " hath chosen us," He hath chosen you and me, in CHRIST, "before the foundation of the world, that we 167
1 68 THE MESSAGE OF PROGRESS should be holy " in heart and life. He hath prepared for you and for me certain definite good works, in order that we might walk in them. (Eph. i. 4, ii. 10.) They are always there, stretched out before that omniscient gaze. Not, observe, the same good works for each one ; not the selfsame office for every member. S. Paul s words will express it with a beautiful simplicity : " All members have not the same office." The same measure of grace is not, in GOD S divine wisdom, assigned to each. " Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of CHRIST." (Eph. iv. 7.) Each soul was " predestinated," the Bible tells us, " according to the purpose " the oft-times inscrutable purpose " of Him Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own Will." (Sph. i. n.) What GOD chose to do, He did. To most of us the first manifestation of the Will of GOD was at our Baptism. In order to develop that
eternal purpose to which I have referred, GOD Almighty caused us to be born in a country and in circumstances which made it possible for us to be baptized. Millions of people never could be baptized, by the circumstances of the case, the condition in which they were born, the very place in which their parents lived. But GOD so ordered it that it became possible for you and me, thus elected by Him, to be baptized. Then, He put it into the hearts of our parents to bring us to the holy font ; and, while hundreds died before they were old enough to be baptized, He preserved your life and mine until we had thus been baptized with water, in the Name of the FATHER, and of the SON, and of the HOLY GHOST. I am purposely avoiding all technicalities and all definitions that would narrow your point of view, how ever accurate those definitions might be, and however valuable. For 1 am anxious not to complicate the sub-
GRACS 169 ject, by anything which may provoke even a thought of controversy, as to this specific result of our Baptism. No intelligent person can spend even a few hours with his Bible and concordance without seeing that this great Sacrament is revealed by GOD as the first outward mani festation of that eternal Will of GOD to which I have referred. A peculiar link is then formed between the soul and the great Creator. GOD then put a definite mark on you : a mark that will last for ever and ever, in the glory of heaven, or in the fire of hell. GOD S mark, for weal or for woe, has been put upon us. GOD there publicly recognizes (or makes I care not, to-day, how you express it) GOD recognizes that indi vidual child, lying there in its helplessness, as a member of the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the peculiar people, called out of darkness by His electing grace. That child is there definitely set apart by GOD as a temple in which the HOLY SPIRIT is to dwell (i Cor. iii. 1 6), as "a member of CHRIST, the child of GOD, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven " of all the privileges, present and to come, of the great family of the redeemed. Every promise that you find in the Bible is definitely made definitely pledged, though not limited to those who have been baptized into the " one Body." I know how prejudice is even now, it may be taking away the force of the words that are being spoken. " To the law and to the testimony ! " If the Word of GOD, simply read with the help of an ordinary concor dance, does not show you that this is the meaning of your Baptism, then let the words of the preacher perish ! But if GOD Himself has said it, then let every human teach
ing to which you have listened, that undervalued the great Sacrament of your regeneration, be for ever for gotten !
170 THE MESSAGE OF PROGRESS Every promise of the Bible (I repeat) is definitely covenanted to the baptized, until that soul, through yielding to the world and the flesh and the devil, is definitely cut off from CHRIST, the Source of light and life. When that takes place is known only to GOD. We can only deal with a congregation according to the law of charity, taking it for granted that the link still holds good. It is perfectly true that according to that mysterious law of death and apparent failure by which GOD allows His eternal purposes, so far as man can see, to be hin dered it is perfectly true that, in many cases, the seed of that Baptism never seems to grow up, the divine capacity never to be developed. Still, that is not per plexing. Thousands of natural seeds die. Thousands of men, with great mental abilities, waste them : so that sometimes the cleverest boy is simply useless in after life through the indolence of earlier days. GOD S gifts wasted ! You may read it in every field through which you walk on the bright summer day. You may see it in every crowd of idlers with which this great London is crammed : men who might have altered the aspect of the world even, morally speaking, putting religion apart simply drones in the hive. This is not, therefore, a difficulty that religion has imported ; it is found in the natural world of GOD S creation ; it is found in ordinary life : wasted gifts, wasted opportunities ; magnificent capacities, ending in nothingness ! 1 cannot explain it. Still, the fact remains. You do not say that GOD gave a man no ability because he never worked at school ; you say he has wasted that ability. You do not say that GOD did not give a man natural physical strength because, by the indulgence of degraded appetites, he has become a hopeless invalid ; you say, " Poor man ! " or, " What a
GRACe fool he was ! " The fact remains, the grace of GOD is the same, whether or not it be received in vain. Every sect, every branch of the great Catholic Church, however different its phraseology, recognizes the other great truth that I wish to bring before you this morn ing recognizes a period, be it long or short, in which
the soul, in its own awful individuality, consciously embraces the terms of the New Covenant. Our free dom of will is now brought into exercise. If this were not the case, GOD would be dealing with a living man as with inanimate matter, or as some will-less bond-slave. Our own Church seals this act of the individual soul at Confirmation. Other branches of the Church may have different rules. Sects that are separated from the Church may shrink from the idea of " Confirmation." But all have some definite mark by which they seal the individual response of the separate soul to the eternal counsel of GOD. At our Confirmation we come forward and say, in other words, " I thank GOD that I have been called into a state of salvation. I know it now. I can look up into the face of my bishop, and beyond the bishop beyond the human instrument, up to the living CHRIST, Whose own hand will surely be laid upon me to-day. And here, in the Presence of GOD, and of this congregation, in the presence of angels and archangels, and of all the company of heaven, I say aloud, * I do I do give myself, by my own will, in honest, humble response to that eternal call of GOD. GOD chose me. GOD baptized me. GOD has taught me that I am a sinner. GOD has taught me that He has washed me from my sin, and that I am accepted in the Beloved. And now I offer and present myself to Him. And GOD vouchsafes to me the fulfilment of my Baptism, the gift of the Blessed Spirit, to dwell in me as in a living temple. Sealed with this seal of my Confir-
172 THE MESSAGE OF PROGRESS mation, I shall go, as frequently as I feel to be reverent, to Holy Communion, that I may receive more and more grace, more of the divine nature, through the incoming of the blessed Body and Blood of CHRIST into my soul." In other words, at Confirmation we profess to acknow ledge ourselves sinners, to be at peace with GOD, to have given ourselves up to our LORD JESUS CHRIST, and to have made up our minds to go regularly to His holy table, according to His dying command. The will of GOD, you observe, has now found a response. Therefore, any of us who have been confirmed, and yet are not conscious of our sin ; or have not realized pardon and peace, so as to serve GOD " with a quiet mind " ; or have not humbly and honestly, however imperfectly, given ourselves up to JESUS CHRIST any of us who, though confirmed, are in this condition, are in a wrong condition, a wrong position, from GOD S point of view. We have missed our road. We have either not under stood, or not really responded to, the grace of our Baptism and Confirmation, and the eternal counsel of our GOD.
This mistake may be the result of circumstances, such as involuntary ignorance, or that invincible prejudice which well-meaning religious parents, who are full of party spirit, oft-times give a most awful inheritance to their children ; that sort of prejudice which makes a child afraid of hearing even the names of Baptism, or regenera tion, or Holy Communion, or of peace, or conversion, or any other of the great words that have become like symbols of the eternal verities. Many, I say, through the mistake of religious parents, have been allowed to grow up in an atmosphere of controversy which is the devil s atmosphere, except where it is forced upon people in the cause of GOD and of truth, and met in the spirit of love. Such as these, of course, are judged by GOD according to His infinite mercy.
GRACS 173 But if this want of recognition of guilt, and of peace with GOD, and of surrender, be the result of self-will, or of earthly-mindedness that miserable craving to be safe, and yet popular, which makes it almost an impossibility for the soul to be true to GOD, or true to itself if it be the result of sin, that soul "will have to give account thereof," not unto man, but unto its GOD, " in the Day of Judgement." Whatever be the cause, however, the contradiction between GOD S ideal and the state of that soul is so ter rible that no man who understands GOD S truth can fail to be very anxious about it. And therefore our Church implores, though she cannot and would not compel every branch of the Church that has tried to force individual liberty has only issued in utter corruption of the true Faith she implores any one who is in that state, any one who has not found out his sin, who does not feel at peace with GOD, who cannot come regularly and with compara tive frequency to Holy Communion, to go at once to his minister ; to seek help, without delay, from the spiritual physician, lest he should " suddenly be cut off, and that without remedy." Until this point has been reached, till Baptism and Confirmation have become a reality, the Prayer Book has no meaning for your soul. I do not mean, of course, that GOD does not bless every one of you, in coming to church. You need not go empty away. The more desire that you show to honour GOD, by worshipping Him, by falling down and kneeling before Him in His holy house, is sure to be accepted, sure to be blessed, by that All-merciful and Almighty FATHER. But what I mean is this that the Prayer Book has no meaning, intelligently considered, for that soul. I am speaking to men and women who have
intelligence, if only they will bring it to bear upon the
174 E MESSAGE OF PROGRESS things of GOD as they do bring it to bear upon the things of this life, and I want to carry your minds with me, not merely the passing emotion of the moment. The Prayer Book has no meaning for the intelligence of a man until his Baptism and Confirmation have been realized. For the Prayer Book takes for granted, from the beginning to the end, that we feel at peace with GOD ; that we go to Holy Communion ; that if we die, the Church may thank GOD with all her heart that we are " delivered out of the miseries of this sinful world," having no doubt whatever that we have gone to JESUS CHRIST, in Whom we believed when on earth. All her confessions, her absolutions, her psalms and hymns and prayers, take for granted that, although conscious of con tinual shortcomings, the great issues of life are settled ; that we are only poor penitent sinners, but still " at peace with GOD, through our LORD JESUS CHRIST," and coming regularly to the holy table to be fed with that spiritual food and sustenance. Then the Church, taking this for granted, becomes the mouthpiece of the soul speaking to GOD, and of GOD speaking to the soul by His Word. She puts into our lips the right language in which to acknowledge our sin. She brings to us, from time to time, different messages from the great GOD and FATHER of all. You see what I mean. GOD is like a father. But an earthly father does not teach his little child every thing that he wishes him to learn when he is ten, or even fifteen, years old. There is a gradual revelation of the father s will, a gradual unfolding of the father s character, a gradual communication of the stores of wisdom that the father may have gained in the experience of years. And so, through the Church, GOD deals with His children. The believing Christian s experience is exactly oppo-
175 site to that of the man who tramples under foot and despises his birthright, setting his affection on things below, minding earthly things, and glorying, not in the Living GOD, but in his shame ! As the body, if not exer cised, becomes feeble and effeminate ; as the mind, if not used, degenerates into idiocy, so also the spirit, though baptized into GOD, gradually decays, withers, dies, through want of healthy exercise, through want of response to the
teaching of GOD, at each recurring Epiphany, and Lent, and Easter, and Whitsuntide. But it is not so with the believing Christian, taught by the Church to walk in GOD S holy ways. As the hand becomes stronger by being used, and the intellect waxes riper by continual exercise, so the immortal spirit, trained, exercised, strengthened by every temptation that it over comes, by every trial that it endures, by every victory that it gains over the body strengthened even by its failures and its falls and its uprisings grows in grace and in the knowledge and the love of GOD. It grows in faith, and hope, and love, and surrender, and thanks giving, and praise, and power to adore and to worship the Invisible and Eternal GOD.
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