Melville Scott, The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, Second Edition, 1903. Public Domain.
The Epiphany of Power
EPIPHANY is rich in miracles. These are to be regarded rather as manifestations of Christ’s divinity than as formal proofs. For this they were little adapted as being done in a corner of the world, and in a corner of that little corner, as witnessed by few, and that few already convinced of Christ’s claims. Christ also frequently either worked them in secret or commanded secrecy, and deprecated a faith resting merely upon wonder. The purpose of Christ’s miracles was not mainly evidential, but educational. To have proved Himself divine would have left His work half done, for men had wrong ideas about God, and their conceptions needed to be purified and exalted. The object of Christ’s miracles was, therefore, not to shew power, but grace, and even to-day, when we consider His power, we are to see that it used only to save what is and to destroy what is evil. Mere power is neither good nor evil, though it magnifies the effects of both. We need not fear the almighty power of love, but rather rejoice that love will prevail.
THE GOSPEL – S. Matthew 8:23-34 – Two Miracles of Saving Power
It is to be noticed that the ancient Gospel, as found in the Use of Sarum, only includes the first miracle, and ends with verse 27.
A. Christ the Lord of Nature.
The disciples had learned to love Christ as a Man, and to listen to Him as a Teacher; now they must learn to trust Him. Doubtless Christ sent the storm that they might find in Him one mightier than the storm. They saw the calmness of trust and how faith can sleep while the storm rages. He wonders that the disciples have not the same confidence. They saw the quiet naturalness of Kingly power, for He acted with the untoiling ease of Godhead, and the powers of nature in their wildest uproar yielded immediate obedience to His voice.
We dread nature now more than ever, for though man has made nature his servant, nature only serves so long as man obeys. We stand in awe of the magnitudes, regularities, and potencies around us; there is, therefore, the greater need to retain faith in a Christ Who is above nature. We may not speak of interference, for Christ is at home in nature, and Master in His home.
Our lives are scenes of storm as well as of calm. We need not suppose that because we meet with storms Christ is not with us, nor that because Christ is with us we shall not meet with storms. So the Church is often storm-tossed, but this does not prove her Lord to be absent. There is a calm which might prove this, and a sleep more like that of Jonah than that of Christ. The sleep of conscience is by no means the sleep of faith, and better any storm endured with Christ than calm without His presence.
B. Christ the Universal Lord.
What we know as nature is not all there is, for the supernatural world is part of nature. There are realms of spirit of which we know little or nothing, but where fierce storms are always brewing to descend on the human spirit, bringing unrest, misery, and self-torture. Men may be so possessed as to lose power of will, and so torn asunder that they almost lose personality, and become, as it were, the sum total of their passions—“My name is legion, for we are many.” Thus when the man would pray it is the devil who speaks. But here, also, Christ is Lord. The devils know Him, and tremble, for He Who has power to save has power to destroy, and to save by destroying.
The Gadarenes were possessed with the devil of a stupid selfishness, loving their swine more than their Saviour. There was more hope for the demoniac than for them. The devils depart from these, but Christ Himself from those.
Christ’s miracles of injury were only two—one upon a tree, the other upon swine, and in each He had a purpose of mercy. In one case He gave high moral warning, in the other He gave assurance that the evil spirits were really gone. Oh! to experience to the full the exorcising power of Christ, and thereafter to sit at His feet in sweetest rest, in thankful gratitude, in happy security against the return of the evil one, no longer naked, but clothed, and in a mind right towards God, towards man, and right in itself. One character in the New Testament is never recorded to have been anywhere else except at Jesus’ feet.
THE EPISTLE – Romans 13:1-7 – Christ the King of Kings
The original Epistle of the day was Rom. 13:8-10, which is now part of that selected for the first Sunday in Advent. The Reformers most appropriately chose the passage immediately preceding the old Epistle, and by this and their addition to the Gospel have much enriched the teaching of the day.
We have now three spheres in which the power of Christ is manifested, viz., over nature, over the world of spirits, and over the kingdoms of men.
Very striking is the apparent want of connection between the miracles of the Gospel and the philosophical treatise of the Epistle on the authority of governments, but all the more suggestive is the underlying unity of idea so boldly introduced at the Reformation.
The Apostles had regarded Christ as a Teacher and Friend; now they learn Him Lord of Nature and of Spirits. S. Paul carries this lesson to its final conclusion, and shews that there is no power but of Him, no sphere in which He does not work.
We learn from this Epistle:—
A. The Sacredness of Authority.
Since there is no power but of God, all the different powers of human society are sacred. Upon this depends the stability of society, and by this our common duties are elevated into a part of religion, and the motives of religion are infused into the routine of ordinary life.
Believing the State to be an ordinance of God, Christians can accept in principle an alliance between Church and State so long as the State does not interfere between Christ and His Church.
That which is true of the State is also true of all lesser authorities. Parents, masters, and teachers have a Divine right, but all must remember whose ministers they are, and that there is no right without a corresponding duty.
B. The Reasons for Obedience.
We are to obey because of the benefits of obedience and that we may receive praise. We are to obey, if this motive be needed, from fear because the sword is not borne in vain. Chiefly are we to obey for conscience sake. Thus even when the hand is weak which holds the sword, and when the Ruler commands what is against their private interest, Christian men obey still. They only refuse obedience when it has become necessary to say:— “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather than unto God, judge ye” (Acts 4:19).
Thus the best citizens are those who obey “for conscience sake,” and if rulers trample on conscience they destroy that in which their strength lieth.
THE COLLECT – A Prayer for Power
This Collect chiefly varies from its original in the Use of Sarum in its reference to the variety of our dangers. It inserts the words “so many,” “always,”and the more explicit words “support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations.”
These additions are in harmony with what has been added to the teachings of the Sunday in the Epistle and Gospel.
We learn from it:—
A. Our Human Weakness.
Outwardly we are set in the midst of many and great dangers, as were the apostles on the lake of Galilee. Inwardly we are frail—i.e., fragile and easily broken, like some crystal vase or reed by the water-brooks. We cannot even stand upright in faith, principle, and duty, nor against depression, fear, temptation, and opposing currents. May He Who once made man upright give men strength for uprightness again!
B. The Divine Strength.
We pray that He Who delivered the apostles would support us in all dangers, and that He Who cast out the evil spirits would carry us through all temptations. From God we may receive outward protection and inward strength sufficient for our needs.