FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EASTER. BY REV. ASHTON OXENDEN, D.D.

ST. JOHN, xx. 19-23.

The same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he showed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you : as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them ; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.

OUR Church takes care that we shall not easily forget the glorious event which took place last Sunday. For to-day again she calls back our attention to the risen Saviour, and reminds us of a most interesting cir cumstance which occurred on the evening of
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His resurrection.

The disciples were now gathered to

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gether in some room at Jerusalem. The object of their meeting was, no doubt, to strengthen each other s faith, and to comfort each other s hearts after all that had happened ; and also to take counsel to gether as regards their future prospects. Christian converse must have been very sweet to them at such a time ; and doubtless many an earnest prayer was poured forth from their full hearts. Two or three of them had seen the risen Sa viour ; and probably they had all heard the report of Bis being alive again. Each one tells his tale ; and some express their
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doubts, and others their conviction, that they would yet see Him again.

It must have been a very solemn meet ing ; and all the more solemn, because they had reason to fear lest the people, who had so lately been shouting, Crucify him, Crucify him/ might now desire to wreak their vengeance on His followers.

We gather from what St. John says, that their meeting was a secret one ; it was held in the evening, and with closed doors, for fear of the Jews. But the very danger that threatened them made them feel all

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the more the preciousness of those bright, hopes which supported them.
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Suddenly one appears in the midst ot them, whose presence filled them with a holy a,we, and yet with joy. It was their Master and their Friend. It was He whom, three days ago, they had seen ex pire on the cross. And now He stood before them, the same Saviour whom they knew so well. And yet in more than one of their minds perhaps a momentary doubt existed, as to whether it was really Jesus who stood there.

Presently, however, He shows them His hands and His side those hands which they had seen nailed to the accursed tree, and that side which had been pierced by the soldier s spear. This our Lord did, because He knew their weakness, and the difficulty they had to believe in His resur rection ; and so He kindly condescended to their infirmity.

How very considerate and gracious was
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this act ; and how plainly it shows the Saviour s readiness to meet all our diffi culties ! Never does He break the bruised

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reed, or quench the smoking flax. He is ever ready to give power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength/ He is not ashamed of His wounds. He glories in them. He loves to think of them, and to show them to His people, as the price paid for their redemption, as the healing remedy for all their ills. Jesus bade the disciples look at His scars. And He would have us re member them too. For thus He shows us that He gained the victory for us by His sufferings ; and thus He reminds us of His death, and stirs up in us a constant sense
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of gratitude and love.

But this was not all. The moment He entered the room, His lips had breathed forth words of encouragement, Peace be unto you/ And now He utters again the same sweet consoling words, Peace be unto you/ And then He adds, As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them ; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained/

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Now, these were not only very com forting words, but very important words also. Observe, Jesus gives His disciples their charge, and sends them forth to proclaim His truth ; As my Father sent
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me, even so send I you/ Nearly two years before, He had given them their first commission. He had said, Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. He that receiveth you receiveth rue ; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. And now He repeats His commission to them, ( As the Father sent me, even so send I you/

It is an unspeakable comfort to Christ s ministers to feel that they are sent by Him, and bear His authority ; that the message they deliver is His message ; that the sacraments they administer are His sacraments ; and that they can stand up in His name, and ask you to receive them for His sake.

And you in one sense are also sent not to preach the Gospel, nor to administer the Sacraments, but to bear your testimony to Christ by your life and conversation. To every Christian man and woman Christ
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says, You have a work to do for Me ; you have a light that may shine before men. There is some good you may accomplish in the world. Go forth and do it. As My Father sent Me, so send I you. And soon I shall return, and reckon with My servants. 1

But it is clear from what follows that this commission was especially intended for those who were to minister in His name. Presently He breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost. As Christians, they had already received the Holy Ghost, to convert their hearts, and to draw them to the Saviour. But now, having entrusted them with a high and holy commission, He imparts to them, in a still further degree, this precious gift. He en
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dues them with fresh power from above to fit them for their great work. And surely, if any need the special teaching of the Holy Spirit, it is God s ministers, who are called to teach others ; if any need converting grace, it is those whose office it is to turn men from Satan unto God ; if any need the comforting, strengthening, sanctifying influences of the Spirit, it is those who are

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to win souls, and bring them up for heaven. Yes, and I believe Christ does give His Holy Spirit largely and freely to every one of His true ministers. He calls them to an important work, and He withholds not the needed help.

Our Lord adds, Whosesoever sins ye
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remit, they are remitted unto them ; and whosesoever sins ye. retain, they are re tained/ What did He mean by this ? Did He mean to give to His Apostles power to forgive sins in their own name ? No ! this power belongs only to God. He alone can say, I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins/ What He did mean was, I think, that they had His authority to declare forgiveness to the be lieving penitent, and to condemn those who were hardened and unbelieving. Thus we find St. Paul writing to the Corinthians, concerning a penitent in their church, To whom ye forgive anything I forgive also : for if I forgave anything, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ/

And then, on the other hand, we find him putting out of the Church wilful and X

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notorious offenders, like Hymenseus and Alexander, whom he says, I have delivered unto Satan (that is, I have excommunicated, or put out of the congregation) that they may learn not to blaspheme/

In this way the Apostles exercised the power which Christ gave them. And no doubt, according to His most sure promise, the sentence which they passed, whether of acquittal or condemnation, was ratified and confirmed by God Himself.

And this authority He gives to all His ministers now. They cannot by any power of themselves remit a single sin. They cannot pardon a single transgressor. They can only point to the Cross, where pardon is to be found. They can only lead men to that atoning Fountain, where they may wash and be clean.
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It is thus, and thus alone, that the minister pronounces absolution in our Morning and Evening Services. He tells you, that God hath given power and commandment to His ministers to declare <md pronounce to His people, being peni tent, the absolution and remission of their sins/ But he adds, He pardoneth and

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absolveth all them that truly repent, and unfeignedly believe His holy gospel/

I will give you an illustration, which will perhaps make this clearer to you. Under the Jewish Law the Leper was cut off from the congregation. He was con sidered unclean, and forbidden to mix with
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his brethren. It was a rare thing for any one afflicted with the disease of leprosy to recover. Sometimes however the person did recover. The disease gradually left him. His skin regained its former appear ance, and his health and strength returned. But even then the person was not con sidered clean, until the priest, God s minis ter, pronounced him to be so, and gave him permission to return to his brethren.

Now, the priest had no power to cure his leprosy; but he had power, he had authority, to declare him cured. So it is with the disease of sin. Christ s ministers cannot put away sin ; but their office is to pronounce forgiveness in the case of every true penitent.

Here is one great difference between us and the Church of Rome. They assume a certain power, which we believe Christ

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never granted to any man on earth. We are content with the blessed privilege of declaring forgiveness in our Master s name, to every one who believes on Him, and is content to seek pardon at His hands. We cannot look into the heart. We cannot know for certain our brother s spiritual state ; and therefore we neither desire nor dare to go one step beyond this, lest we should break some heart which the Lord has not broken, or bind up some wound which He has not closed.

One word more. It is said, that when the disciples had beheld their Lord, and had been shown the actual marks of His crucifixion, they were fully satisfied ; Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord/ We may share their gladness. We cannot behold Him with our bodily eyes ; but the eye of faith may rest upon Him
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and rejoice. We may lift up our hearts to Him and realise His presence ; we may feel that He is with us, with us, when we meet together for prayer, with us in our daily course. Yes, there is indeed One eeated on the throne above, who is our Friend, whom having not seen we love, in whom, though now we see Him not, yet believing we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory/

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