But praised be the LORD, who hath not given us over
for a prey unto their teeth. Our soul is escaped even as a bird out of the
snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we are delivered.
(Ps. cxxiv. 5,6)
We have said before that the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ does not destroy nature but perfects it. And the season in which we find ourselves is no exception to this rule. The process of perfection is no easy business. It involves an ongoing struggle and tension between the old man’s old nature that pulls us down and into the world, and the new man’s new nature that Christ is making out of us through the Grace of His Holy Spirit. Christ desires for us to become citizens of the City of God, that we should no longer be at home in this world.
But for Christians, this process of becoming a citizen of the City of God requires a relationship between God and his people. This means that you and I must come to terms with ourselves, the sins that most easily beset us, the shadows of temporal goods and the temptations that distract us from God’s duty and service. We must establish a prayerful relationship with God. And this communication or exchange is not meant to be occasional, intermittent, or infrequent. What is at stake is our salvation, and if we spend our time mostly consumed with our earthly health and prosperity, temporal joy and happiness, then we shall have spurned God and the salvation He brings to us in Jesus Christ.
As Isaiah the Prophet reminds us this morning, God always wants us, but we don’t seem to want Him. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him, says the Lord. I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. (Is. xviii. 17) God doesn’t ever force Himself upon us, and if we don’t want Him because we prefer to covet the things of this world and the fleeting and impermanent joys it brings, then He will hide himself from us. If we then find ourselves enduring fear, grief, sorrow, and sadness because we have not persistently and vigilantly sought out the secret things that belong to the Lord our God (Deut. xxix. 29), we really have no ground upon which to complain, since God’s being hidden is really just another way of saying that we have been blind to Him!
But God always desires that we should become citizens of His City. For those who rely upon His Grace and Mercy, He is always ready to carry us into the spiritual liberty which His City affords. To discover our need and then our desire for God, we must honestly acknowledge and admit our struggle to obey Him, to keep His commandments, and to do His will. And so with David in this morning’s Psalm reading, we must be candid and forthright about the struggle that surrounds and threatens to envelop us. If the Lord Himself had not been on our side…when men rose up against us. They had swallowed us up alive, when they were so wrathfully displeased at us. Yea the waters had drowned us, and the stream had gone over our souls. The deep waters of the proud had gone even over our soul. (Ps. 1-4) David claims that the troubled sea…[whose] waters cast up dirt and mire, [in which is]…no peace, always threatens to badger and bleed, swallow up and devour the souls of those who seek God and who endeavor to become His people. The man who struggles to be faithful to God is even hated, despised, thwarted, and attacked by those who have no fear of God before their eyes. (Rom. iii. 18) He is assaulted by a blasphemous and brutish generation, that set their mouths against heaven, out of [whose mouths] belch forth impieties and impurities, to dishonour Him who made them, to grieve the souls of his servants, and to spread the contagion of their ungodliness. (B.Jenks: P.P., p.240)
In response to it all, David turns back to God in humility. Praised be the LORD, who hath not given us over for a prey unto their teeth. Our soul is escaped even as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we are delivered. Our help standeth in the Name of the LORD, who hath made heaven and earth. (Ibid, 5-7) For though David was a King, wielded great political power, and dutifully undertook his duties to the Jewish state, still he has his priorities in order. He comes to the Lord with his struggle and temptation, he sets aside his worldly duties, and in humility of mind and heart solicits God’s merciful power, which alone can scatter the birds of prey that would [ensnare and] devour God’s Word in his heart, and the unclean beasts that would trample down the plantation of God’s Grace in his soul. (Jenks, p. 224) The power and might of the enemy is disproportionately greater than the weakness and frailty of the humble and meek. But thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Is. xviii. 15)
Matthew Henry tells us that God’s people are always taken in a snare, and are as unable to help themselves out as any weak and silly bird is; and then God breaks the snare, and turns the counsels of the enemies into foolishness. (Comm. Ps. cxxiv.) The key for us is to recognize and acknowledge that we are always being ensnared by the devil and that we have no power of ourselves to resist it. He ensnares us individually as he draws us into the web of earthly pursuits. In our Collect for today we acknowledge that God alone can show to them that be in error the light of [His] truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness…. (Coll.) So as those who find themselves on the other side of the Incarnation, we pray that the Resurrected Christ will shed light on those triggers and catalysts which lead us to give greater importance and weight to the things of the earth than we should.
With St. Peter this morning we are assured that our intimacy and unity with God has been sealed by the Death and Resurrection of God’s own Son, who in coming to know and conquer sin has enabled us to be no longer at home in this world, living in the ongoing warfare between earth and heaven, man and God, evil and wickedness. We are the dearly beloved of the Lord, and so we are called now to be strangers and pilgrims to the countries of the world, resident aliens whose true home and native land is the Kingdom of God. Far from being alienated from God, now we are really meant to be more alienated from the world! And so we must not be moved and defined by the fleshly lusts and covetousness that war against the soul (1 St. Peter ii. 11), since they stand only to drag us down and back into the world of the old fallen man. We must reveal to the world that our chief business and sole occupation is with God’s salvation through Christ, which alone will make us citizens of His City. So we must live in a way that makes non-believers question, explore, and discover what moves and defines us. Our calling is to allow the Grace of God to immerse and swallow us up in His benevolence, which will generate that goodness, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, hope, and love which will put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. (Ibid, 15)
St. Peter is quite insistent that the newly initiated members of Christ’s Resurrected Body are not to be at home, or primarily citizens of this world. [Our] citizenship is in Heaven. (Phil. iii. 20) So in faith we must follow Jesus home to our true native land, which affords spiritual freedom and liberty from all earthly preoccupations. Yet Christians do not have the privilege of using this spiritual liberty as a cloak for maliciousness. (1 St. Peter ii. 16) For as St. Peter tells us, the earthly powers that be are imperfect but necessary means ordained by God to create a peaceful external order within which the Christian can pursue and obtain true liberty.
Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. (1 St. Peter ii. 13) God’s law requires peaceful submission to the civil magistrates, whoever they may be, so that the persuasions of Divine Love may make their way across all borders to surmount all divisions in order to invite all men to become citizens of the City of God through faith in Jesus Christ. If we are to follow St. Peter and the Apostles to the City of God, we must begin spending less time worshipping political power as a god it can never become, and more time in thanking God for the spiritual liberty that it still affords us.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Gal. v. 1). This is the true liberty. Christ did not promise us political liberty, but freedom from sin. Should the day come when we must worship behind closed doors for fear of the hostile enemies of God, we shall find ourselves in the good company of those courageous Saints who were most successful in enlarging the borders of the heavenly city! Jesus always invites us to become members of His Resurrected Body, to swear our first oath of allegiance to our Heavenly Father, and to prove our loyalty to the City of God by submitting to stirrings and motions of His Holy Spirit. Our true liberty is inward and spiritual, and if we forsake it for the pursuit of temporal ends, we shall have allowed earthly conditions to quench that spiritual Love in whose duty and service we are called to make earthly men the citizens of God’s City by the sweet persuasion and pull of Christ’s desire for them. Amen.