4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. 6 Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4
Third Sundy of Advent: The Three-fold Hope
Third Sundy of Advent: The Three-fold Hope
by Bishop Ehrler, 1891
"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
make straight the way of the Lord." (John I: 23.)
In my text of to-day, my dearly-beloved, St. John calls himself a voice, thereby giving his disciples plainly to understand that he was not the "Word made flesh," but simply the voice of that Word. And those who listened to him knew that the Son of God could not then be far off, inasmuch as they already heard his voice in the person of the Baptist. As the voice prepares the way for the word, so that it may come forth intelligibly from the mouth of man, so also John, through his voice, (that is, through his preaching and baptism) prepared the hearts of men for the coming of Christ. Hence, he says that he is that voice which Isaias had long before foretold as crying out: "Make straight the way of the Lord." In what did this preparation principally consist?" He preached the baptism of penance, for the remission of sins (Luke 3 : 3)." He consoled the people, and after he had imbued them with faith in the Redeemer, he animated them still further to love him and confide in him:
This three-fold hope, my brethren, is the necessary fruit of that three-fold faith of which we spoke, last Sunday. From the faith of the commandments, springs the hope of pardon; from the faith of miracles, the hope of grace; and from the faith of the promises, the hope of glory. We will, to-day, examine the foundations of these three truths.
I. Every sinner, no matter how often or how grievously he mav have violated the Commandments of God, has a sure hope of pardon. It is true that, when a hardened offender turns to God, and calls upon him for forgiveness, the abyss of evil cries out to the abyss of mercy; or as the Psalmist expresses it: "Deep calleth upon deep." (Ps. 41 : 8.) But, though this abyss of wickedness be ever so deep and fathomless, that of God's mercy is still greater and more profound; where sin hath abounded, grace more fully abounds. "Turn ye to me, saith the Lord of Hosts: and I will turn to you (Zach. 1 : 3)." Yea, He promises still further: "If the wicked do penance for all his sins which he hath committed, and keep all my commandments, I will not remember all his iniquities that he hath done (Ezech. 18 : 21-22)."
Moreover, He not only invites the sinner to repentance, my dear brethren, but He waits long and patiently for his conversion. "I desire not the death of the wicked," He declares by the mouth of his prophet, "but that the wicked turn from his ways and live (Ezech. 33 : 11)." "The Lord is compassionate and merciful (Ps. 112 : 8)." He is merciful to all sinners, He is long-suffering toward the perverse and obdurate, so that they may be converted from the evil of their ways; or, as the Wise Man says in his apostrophe to the Most High: "Thou overlookest the sins of men for the sake of repentance (Wis. 11: 24)." Why, then, do you delay your repentance, unhappy sinner? "Despisest thou the riches of His goodness, and patience, and longsuffering? Knowest thou pot that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance (Rom. 2: 4)?" Long and zealously did St. John the Baptist preach to the Jews "the baptism of penance," for no other purpose than "for the remission of their sins"! Yet, how often might he not have said to them: "Be not as your fathers, to whom the former prophets have cried, saying: Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: turn ye from your evil ways, and from your wicked thoughts: but they did not give ear (Zach. 1: 4)." I beseech of you now, my brethren, to take warning from the example of that hardened and stiff-necked people, and listening, to follow with docility and faith "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." Making straight the way of the Lord by the faith of the Commandments, you will not only enjoy the assured hope of pardon for past sins, but also, if you will humbly beg it from God, the hope of grace that will prevent you from committing sins in the future.
II. The hope of pardon, my dear Christians, is far from being so attractive to the sinner as the hope of continued grace. He knows that God's forgiveness for the past will avail him nothing, if he continues to offend Him anew by fresh sins. He also knows that, of himself, he is utterly unable to avoid evil; and that "it is God who worketh in him both to will and to accomplish according to His good will (Phil. 2: 13)." The Wise Man declares that: "To God the wicked and his wickedness are hateful alike; "and when the converted sinner remembers that he was once an object of hatred to that good God, and reflects at the same time that he is now His friend and favorite, what can he do but cry out gratefully with St. Paul: "By the grace of God, I am what I am (1 Cor. 15 : 10)!" adding with the Psalmist: "What shall I render to the Lord, for all the things that He hath rendered to me (Ps. 115 : 12)?" The recollection of one's past misery is the first happy effect of grace, as well as the first step toward future holiness.
But this knowledge, my brethren, is due altogether to the ineffable goodness of God. "The Lord is my light and my salvation (Ps. 26: 1)!" O ye poor, blinded sinners! no matter how deeply you may be sunk in misery, "Come ye to him, and be enlightened (Ps. 33: 6)." Seeing, you will understand the danger from which you have been rescued by the mercy of God; and understanding, you will learn to dread a relapse into sin.
Grace is alike necessary to convert the sinner and to preserve him in the divine friendship after his conversion. The soul of a Christian is like a fortified city, which is surrounded on all sides by enemies. "Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it (Ps. 126: 1)." Our spiritual enemies are most numerous, their plans most cunningly devised for our destruction; and we are obliged to contend constantly with the traitorous foe within the walls--our own miserable concupiscence. A man's enemies, says the Lord, are they of his own household (Mich. 7 : 6). But, for our consolation, let us be firmly assured that God will not desert us, unless we first turn our backs on Him; and it is especially written of the just: "The Lord keepeth all them that love Him (Ps. 144: 20)." God does not constrain the free will of man; but His grace is always ready to co-operate with that free will in the grand work of salvation. "He has created us without our aid," says St. Augustine, " but He will not save us without our co-operation." His assistance is so essential to the success of our undertakings, that no one can begin, continue, or complete any work without the all-powerful help of God. He has, then, a just right to issue His commands, since His gracious help encompasses His children on every side, mercifully and efficaciously enabling them to keep His commandments to the end. See, O dearly beloved! how firm and consistent is the hope of grace, to the heart of the repentant and converted sinner!
III. The hope of glory is that strong and intimate confidence which supports the just, and enables them to persevere in the performance of their good works. "He that shall persevere unto the end, he shall be saved (Matth. 10 : 22)," says our Saviour. In what does this being saved consist?" One can truly receive the happiness of the elect," says St. Augustine, "but one can never properly estimate it." "I can more easily tell what is not in heaven than what is there." Death shall be no more in that kingdom of delights; and sorrow, and weakness, and sickness shall be at an end; neither shall hunger, nor thirst, heat, disappointment, or any other misery, afflict the children of God. "They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Thy house: and Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure (Ps. 35: 9)." "And they shall reign with God forever and ever (Apoc. 22: 5)." "Oh, true life! Oh, eternal life! Oh, eternally happy life!" exclaims in an ecstasy the great Bishop of Hippo--unable to find words to express the feelings of his heart, when he would depict the ineffable joys of Paradise. And if any thing further were needed to encourage us, we shall find it in the exhortation and promise of our Saviour which is jointly the foundation of our hope: "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: because your reward is very great in heaven (Matth. 5 : 12)." St. Bernard, speaking of this same reward, says: "It is so great that one can not exhaust it; and so precious that one can not sufficiently value it."
And what does God require from us, my brethren, in order to merit this heavenly recompense? If He exacted of us to serve him for half an eternity, the demand would not be too great. "The days of man are short (Job 14: 5)." "Our days upon earth are but a shadow" (Job 8: 9), and they "are passed more swiftly than the web is cut by the weaver (Job 7 : 6)." Should we not, then, apply these few brief days to serving our Creator, and keeping His commandments? "His commands are not heavy (1 John 5: 3)." This short life may be filled with miseries, I will admit, my dear fellow-sufferers, but, with the Apostle of the Gentiles, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, that shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8: 18)." That which we suffer is only temporary, and "our present tribulation, which is momentary and light, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor. 4: 17)."
Peroration. Therefore, "prepare ye the way of the Lord," beloved Christians, and "trust in Him, all ye congregation of people (Ps. 61: 9)." "Being justified by faith, let us have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: by Whom, also, we have access through faith into this grace, wherein we stand, and glory in the hope of the glory of the sons of God (Rom. 5: 1-2)." God receives us back into His friendship even after we have frequently and basely insulted him. He upholds us by His all-powerful grace in the path of righteousness; and he promises us, moreover, an eternal reward if we serve Him faithfully during the short days of our life. Dearly beloved, have we not here three signal mercies of our good God, sufficient to excite us to the thorough and lasting reformation of our lives? Ah! yes, let us put our hope in his divine power and goodness; and persevering bravely with His help in the path of virtue, let us hope to love, for all eternity, that gracious God in whom we have believed and hoped unwaveringly here below. Amen.