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BY TRACTS FOR THE TIME
ECCLESIASTES ix. 7, 8.
" Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink tliy wine with a merry heart;
for God now accepteth thy worlis : let thy garments be always white, and
let thy head lack no ointment."
This is one of those passages, so remarkable in the writings of
Solomon, in which the words of sinful men in the world are taken
up by the Holy Ghost, to be applied in a Christian sense. As
they stand in Ecclesiastes, it seems very plain that they are in-
tended to represent the sayings and thoughts of sensual, careless
people, indulging themselves in their profane ways, their utter
neglect of God and goodness, with the notion that this world is
all. As if they should say, " When people are dead there is an end
of them : therefore all we have to do is to enjoy ourselves as much
as possible ; to eat our bread with joy, and drink our wine with a
merry heart ; to wear always festival garments, and anoint our-
selves with the oil of gladness, while God still ' accepteth our
works,' that is, while it is yet well with us, and we are capable of
finding delight in life, according to the order of God's Providence."
It is much the same as the unbeliever's saying, in St. Paul, " Let
us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."
But see the ever-watchful goodness and mercy of God. The
words which the dissolute, wild-hearted sinner uses to encourage
himself in his evil inconsiderate ways, Hii teaches us to take up,
VOL. VI. K
213 FESTIVAL JOV.
and use them in a very different sense ; to express the imvard
joy and comfort which God's people may find in obeying Him.
As thus : suppose a person giving himself up, with his whole
heart, to the service and obedience of God ; suppose him really
withdrawing himself from the sins which had most easily beset
him ; suppose him making some great sacrifice, parting with what
he held very dear, or submitting to pain or grief for Christ's
sake : then the Holy and merciful Comforter seems to say to him
in the words of the text, " Go thy way now, thank God, and take
courage ; the blessing of God is now restored to thee, and will be
upon all thou hast, and upon thine ordinary employments and re-
freshments : now thou mayest eat thy bread with joy, and drink
thy wine with a merry heart, for God now accepteth thy works."
For, " whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do," if we "do
all to the glory of God," we shall do it with His blessing and ap-
probation : it will be so much more of happiness, joy, and thanks-
giving to us.
Thus we may understand the words to teach the same lesson as
the Apostle, when he says, " Rejoice in the Lord always, and
again, I say, rejoice." They are God's gracious word of permis-
sion to those who fear Him, encouraging them to enjoy, with
innocence, moderation, and thankfulness, the daily comforts and
reliefs, with which He so plentifully supplies them, even in this
imperfect world. They bring the same assurance from God as
St. Paul gives to Timothy: " Every creature of God is good, and
nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving."
Let us only think for one moment, what a heavenly light it
would throw over our ordinary works and refreshments, if, being
always careful to set about them with a good conscience, we could
seriously bring it home to ourselves, that they are so many tokens
of heavenly and eternal love ; so many reasonable grounds of
hope, that God really accepteth our works.
But there is yet a higher, a Christian sense of these words, a
sense in which they were taken of old by the holy Fathers of the
Christian Church. The bread and wine, the white garments,
the ointment for the head, are, according to this interpretation,
figures and types of our Christian privileges, the blessings and
favours of the kingdom of Heaven. It is, then, as if the Holy
Word had said to us, being, as we are, Christian men, Members
FESTIVAL JOY. 119
of the mystical Body of our Lord and Saviour, " Now you have
been brought into the communion of Saints ; now God has set
His seal ujjon you; now," to speak the Apostle's words, " you
are washed, sanctified, justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus,
and by the Spirit of our God. Go your way, then ; use your
privileges with all reverence, joy, and fear. Draw near as often
as you can, to the holy feast of that Bread and Wine, which, to
those who take it with penitent and obedient hearts, is the very
Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ. Awful as such an in-
vitation is, you may yet draw near with holy cheerfulness, having
God's seal and mark upon your forehead, and the earnest of His
Spirit in your hearts."
And it would seem that if Christians were at all such as they
ought to be, the words might be well and profitably understood
with a particular reference to this sacred season of Whitsuntide.
For at this time, as you know, the blessed Comforter came
down, to set up the kingdom of Christ on earth ; to dwell in
men's hearts so as to unite them to Christ ; by which union alone
they can be partakers of the great things which the Gospel pro-
mises. This time then is the last of the holy seasons ;• it repre-
sents to us the full completion of God's unspeakable plan for the
salvation of the world.
Supposing, then, any humble, faithful Christian to have rightly
kept the former holy seasons : to have " worshipped and served
Christ, for His conception, in faith ; for His birth, in humility ;
for His suflferings, in patience and irreconcileable hatred of sin ;
for His death, by dying daily to sin; for His resurrection, by
rising again more and more unto righteousness ; for His ascen-
sion, by a heavenly mind:" may we not, without presumption,
imagine him to hear the voice of his approving conscience, the
certain yet silent whispers of the Holy Comforter in his heart,
" Go thy way now, receive the fulness of the blessing of these
sacred days, which thou hast so dutifully tried to observe. Let
the light and warmth of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide
spread itself in a measure over the rest of thy year. Whatsoever
God putteth in thine hand to do, in the way of holy devotion and
true Church communion, do it with all thy might, in the humble
hope that God now accepteth thy works."
Such is the kind of comfort, which the Sacred Scriptures cncou-
120 FESTIVAL JOY.
ra^-e us, as Christians, to take to ourselves, at every new return
of these great days, bringing home to us things which are the
very foundation of our hope. It is a comfort which would be to
us far more perfect than it is, and far plainer to be understood, if
we were less unworthy of our privileges; if we had not too gene-
rally fallen from the righteousness of Jesus Christ, given to us
at our baptism. But even as it is, the words have a sound most
comfortable to penitents, as well as to those who, by God's help,
have kept themselves from wilful, deadly sin. They sound like
words of absolution : " Go thy way, return again to that holy Table,
from which thy transgressions had for a time separated thee : eat
thy Bread, and drink thy Wine with a courageous and hopeful
heart: for now there is hope that God accepteth thy works ; that He
hears thee, since thou hast left off inclining unto wickedness with
thine heart. Thy case indeed is alarming, from the continual
danger of a relapse ; and thy loss at best is great, penitency
instead of innocency being thy portion ; yet go on steadily and
Thus, whether to souls that have as yet preserved the purity of
their baptismal robe, or to humble penitent souls, desirous of re-
covering it, there are in Holy Scripture, if we had ears to hear
them, most condescending invitations as well as warnings.
Christ, in His Sacraments, is held out to them as their only but
Observe, however, the words which follow, which to the hearing
of a thoughtful Christian convey a very serious admonition, telling
us on what these unspeakable privileges depend, so far as our
own conduct is concerned: " Let thy garments be -always white,
and let thine head lack no ointment." This also would be felt by
the Christians of ancient times, as particularly suitable to the holy
season of Whitsuntide. For that, as you know, was one of the
solemn times of baptizing, and the new baptized were always
clothed in white, as a token of the " fine linen, pure and white, the
righteousness of Saints," and of Jesus Christ ; the wedding gar-
ment, which God had just put on them by making them Members
of His Son. To say, therefore, to Christians at Whitsuntide,
" Let thy garments be always white," was the same as saying.
" Take care that at no time you stain or sully the bright and clear
robe of your Saviour's righteousness, which has just been thrown
FESTIVAL JOY. 121
over you : according to the Apostle's saying, ' As many as have
been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.' As much as
possible keep it clear from all spot of wilful sin ; and if you have
unhappily fallen, give yourself no rest, until by your true and deep
repentance, all your life long, you have put the matter entirely in
your Saviour's hand, to wash out even that wilful stain, if so it
please Him, by his most precious blood,"
Again, says the wise man, " Let thine head lack no ointment : "
and this again is an allusion which would come with a particular
meaning in early times to the new-baptized Christians, and those
who had been present at their baptism. For both in that Sacra-
ment, and in Confirmation, which comes next after it, they used
in those days to anoint with holy oil. And oil is in Scripture the
constant token of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, to say, " Let thy head lack no ointment," would mean,
" Take care that thou stir up, cherish, and improve the unspeak-
able Gift of which thou art now made partaker. Use diligently
all the means of grace which Christ has provided for thee in His
Kingdom, whereof thou art now come to be an inheritor."
Think not, that because we have received so great a blessing
freely and fully, without any merit, without any exertion of
our own, therefore we have but to go on quietly, taking no
particular pains, and all will come right at last. Nay, the very
greatness of the blessing is a call upon us to labour night and
day, that we lose not, after all, the fruit of such exceeding mercy.
It provokes the envy and spite of the Evil One, to take all the
advantage he can of us : let it, therefore, encourage us to be
more and more devout and watchful. What a shame for us to be
negligent in prayer, who know that we have Christ's Spirit
abiding in us, to help our infirmities, and pray for us and with us !
"What sin, what danger, what ruin, for us to be violently carried
awav with any worldly thing whatever, who know that " greater
is He that is in us than he that is in the world !"
If we earnestly endeavour, and pray in Christ's name, to have
such thoughts as these, when we are reminded of our baptismal
privileges, we may hope that the care of the Church in appointing
these holy seasons will not be thrown away upon us : we may
hope next year to accompany her in her mysterious round of holy
feasts and fasts, from Advent to Trinity Sunday, with more
122 FESTIVAL JOY.
dutiful and prepared hearts than we have done this year. But let
us, above all things, beware of growing faint and cold, and
treating these sacred things as matters of course. Let us re-
member that " we have opened our mouth unto the Loud," and
we must not, we dare not, " go back :" but we shall undoubtedly
go back, if we are not always labouring to go forward.
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