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THE SUNDAY CALLED SEPTUAGESIMA,* OR THE
THIRD SUNDAY BEFORE LENT.
may be of thy name reignerid
O Lord, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people, that we who are justly punished for our offences may be mercifully delivered . by thy goodness, for the glory of thy name, through. Jesus Christ our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
THIS collect contains,—A prefatory petition
I for a favourable audience to our prayersA statement of our case on which we found our request-An act of supplication for Divine interposition on our behalf-A strong argument to enforce success in our application to the throne of Grace-The ground on which our hope is built-and A doxology, or ascription of praise, to the Triune Jehovah.
“ Among the several reasons given for the naines of these « Sundays (viz. Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquage« sima),the most probable seems to be this: the first Sunday “ in Lent, being forty days before Easter, was for that rea“ son called Quadragesima Sunday, which in Latin signifies “ forty; and fifty being the next round number above forty,
as sixty is to fifty, and seventy to sixty, therefore the “ Sunday immediately preceding Quadragesima Sunday, “ being farther from Easter than that was, was called Quin« quagesima (or fifty) Sunday: and the two foregoing, being “ still farther distant, were for the same reason called Sex“agesima and Septuagesima (sixty and serenty) Sundays." Wheatly.
On the prefatory petition little needs to be said ; because it is common to this collect with some others, and, with a very small variation of the phraseology, has already passed under our review. It breathes importunity and humility; for it is an earnest appeal to Divine favour. Should the frequent use of such an address be objected to, it may be illustrated and vindicated by a scriptural anecdote. In the Acts of the Apostles we are informed that Peter, after his miraculous deliverance from prison, went immediately to the house of a Christian friend, and knocked at the door for admission. The servant who came to the door, in consequence of the perturbation of her mind occasioned by the sound of Peter's voice, instead of opening the door ran back to those who were within to inform them who was at the door. Now, how did Peter act? Did he sit down contented at the sill, having once knocked, determining to wait till accident or the morning-light should occasion the door to be opened ? No: we are told that “ he continued knocking.” And this surely was the part of wisdom in his case, and is so in ours likewise when we come to the door of Divine mercy. We are to “knock, until it be “ opened unto us.” Our church may moreover be exculpated from the charge of vain repetition by a higher and more appropriate example than the case of Peter affords. For our Lord Jesus Christ in His agony prayed thrice, repeating the same words. Real fervour of spirit will manifest no anxiety about a variation of words. Repetition is its natural expression. .
We proceed now to consider the statement which we make of our case, and on which the special petition of our collect is founded. We confess that we “are justly punished for our of“ fences.” This confession contains two thingscause and effect. We shall begin with the latter.
That we « are punished,” is a truth of which every man has the witness in himself. It requires no proof from the deductions of logic, or the demonstrations of mathematics. We are painfully furnished with experimental evidence, such as would arise from a body partly consumed in the flames in support of the existence of fire. That “man is born to trouble, as the "s sparks fly upward,” cannot then lie denied. No station, rank, age, country, or constitution, exempts a single individual of mankind from the common lot of fallen humanity. This confession therefore is suitable to the lips of every individual in every congregation. The penalty of transgression began to be inflicted on the first transgressors immediately after their fall. Adam had been warned, that, in the very day that he ate of the forbidden fruit, he should surely die; and in that very day he proved the veracity of the threatening. For he became mortal, liable to death, and all its train of preparatives and forerunners. He tasted the bitter fruits of iniquity, and discovered, too late, that “the wages 6 of sin is death.” And all his seed, who are by derivation of being naturally implicated in his guilt, are also partakers of his punishment. Sin and sorrow are correlatives. Sorrow cannot exist without sin, nor sin without sorrow.
The penalty of transgression is co-extensive with ihe transgressing nature. Man is a compound being, consisting of a body and a soul; and both have joined in rebellion against God. The heart of Adam coveted the forbidden fruit, and his hand took it. The hearts of his children
are alienated from God, and the “ members” of their bodies are “instruments of unrighteous“ ness.” Our souls and bodies are mutually corrupted and corrupters of each other. Both therefore feel the bitter consequences of sin in the present world; and both are exposed to its fearful reward in the world to come. There is a lake of fire prepared to torment for ever without destroying the body, and a worm that never dies to prey eternally on the lost soul. The soul however was the primary and is the chief agent in transgression, and therefore is the greatest sufferer both in this and the future life, if it depart hence in an impenitent state.
The corporeal sufferings of mankind in the present life are very great. They begin with our beginning, and continue to our death. Hunger and thirst, cold and heat, poverty, diseases, accidents, pain and death, all proclaim the righteous displeasure of God against sin, and are all designed to promote the humiliation of the guilty sufferer. That conviction of sin does not arise out of every day's experience, is a strong proof that the understanding of man is darkened, and that his reason is in an impaired state. For how natural is an inquiry into the cause of those sufferings which we hourly feel! And yet how generally is it neglected ! Did a wise, a good and almighty Being make us what we are ? Could we, consistently with His perfections, come out of His creating hands in our present state of weakness, disgrace, and suffering? For so soon as we begin to live, we begin also to die. The miseries of life are the agonies of death. Human life, from first to last, is a dying existence. Yet how many persons live as if no proofs of their fallen and guilty state existed! The grace
of consideration is no small favour from God; for it is usually the first fruits of an abundant harvest.
The punishment which is Divinely inflicted on the human soul, even in the present state, is still more grievous, and marks more strongly the displeasure of God on account of sin. Disappointments, bereavements, fears and anxieties, as wave after wave invades the shore in a continual succession, harrass and torment the mind. The bosom of fallen man is like a troubled sea, sometimes lashed into violent agitations by storms to which it is ever exposed, and never perfectly at rest. In its calmest moments there is some undulation. No man but the Christian, whose conscience is pacified by faith in the Son of God, and whose heart has found repose in the hope of salvation through Him, and He only in some favoured seasons, can say, I am happy and contented, free from fear and anxiety, and replenished with consolation.
An antient mode of punishing criminals affords a striking representation of human life. The criminal was put into a barrel stuck with spikes, whose sharp points were directed inwards. The barrel was then rolled down a declivity. As the machine revolved, the miserable convict was continually receiving fresh stabs in every part of his tortured frame, till at length he expired under accumulated wounds. It was in a manner somewhat similar that the heroic Regulus, the Roman consul, was punished at Carthage. He was "put,” says Rollin, « into a “ kind of chest full of nails, whose points “ wounding him, did not allow him a moment's “ ease, either day or night."* The declivity is
* Rollin's Antient History, vol. 1. p. 211. In arcæ genus