Almighty God, surely thy word is sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow. Thine eye of judgment is as a great fire, from the light of which nothing can be hidden. Thou triest the reins and searchest the hearts of the children of men. Thou wilt not be satisfied by the offering of the hand, thou dost demand the loyalty of our undivided love. Thou dost make great charges upon us—who can answer thy call, for thou demandest the whole heart? Surely we are surrounded by infinite temptations, the earth claims us, sense and time urge their importunate appeals, the necessity of the passing hour claims to be answered instantly—yet thou dost thunder down from thy heavens upon us the demand for our united heart. Surely thou dost also send grace, so that thou supportest the soul on which thou dost lay this great obligation; thou givest more grace, thy commands are equalled by thy mercy; if thou dost call for much, thou dost give the needful strength; if the burden be heavy, thou dost give us power to sustain it every whit. Enable us to look into our hearts and to see the condition of our spirit, and awaken within us the cry, Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew within me a right spirit.
Save us from imagining that by fulfilling the letter we have fulfilled the law, and that by our outward observances we prove that we have entered into the inner sanctuary of thy kingdom. Show us how possible it is to read thy Book in the letter without understanding it in the spirit, and how easy it is to wash the hands, and how all but impossible to cleanse the heart. Herein is thy gospel sweet to us, the very word we need, the one voice that touches with its sacred music, our wonder and our desire. The blood of Jesus Christ thy Son cleanseth from all sin: thou hast made provision for the cleansing of every heart; we bless thee for its fullness, we thank thee that every one of us can avail himself of thy grace; we bless thee that there is no guilt too great for thy cleansing. Thou canst come over the mountain of our transgression though it be high as the heaven, and thou canst melt it so that it fall away, and thou canst meet us in reconciliation, and in all the warmth and joy of eternal affection.
We praise thee that we may read thy word to our understanding, to the profit of our heart, to the sanctification and obedience of our will, and so as to realize all the comfort and strength which thou dost design to give unto the life of men. Let a light shine upon thy word whilst we read it, so that we may see its inner beauty, its heavenly grace, and let thy Spirit work in our heart that we may give great and glad welcome to all the messages of Heaven.
We have done the things we ought not to have done, there is not a finger upon our hands that has not sinned against thee, and thou knowest, in numbering the hairs of our head, that our sins are more in number than they. Our way has been broadened out for the society of the evil, and our souls have been shut up so as to exclude the light of the good. We will not seek for words in self-defence, nor shall we try to build up a high wall to shut out the judgments of God. We will fall down before thee, and, in tearfulness and contrition and penitence, each will say, “God be merciful to me a sinner, and repeat thy miracle in my cleansing and redemption.”
Help us to live the remainder of our days before thee in all reverence, quietness, love, and usefulness. Enable us to remember the brevity of the day, the sudden coming of the night, and to be obedient with all diligence and ardour whilst we can. Wherein thou has prospered us in basket and in store, let these goodnesses lead us to repentance, let all these proofs of thy outward regard for our life lead us to consider how much thou hast done for our redemption and sanctification, and thus may we grope our way little by little from that which is outward and perishable to that which is internal and indestructible.
According to our necessity do thou now come to us. Touch every one of us with a beam of light from heaven, speak a word especially to each heart; whilst the great general truth is being proclaimed in universal terms, may a tender accent fall upon every ear, as a special token of thy peculiar care and love. May the old forget their age in the gladness of high communion with heaven, may the youthful imagination be touched into a religious wonder whilst the great truths of heaven are being proclaimed with fulness and unction. May the slave of time and the serf of the earth pause in his toil to hear of the kingdom wherein the service is rest. Heal us wherein we are sick, give us light wherein the darkness is too thick to be penetrated by our own vision, and lead us evermore, one step at a time, not where we want to go, but where it is best for us to be.
The Lord’s angels be our servants, the Lord’s light be our morning, and the infinite gospel of the blood of Christ be our hope and joy in the time of torment and despair. Amen.