« PrécédentContinuer »
commandments; and are realising to themselves all that is most cheering and encouraging in the declarations of Holy Writ. So that, whatever seeming discrepancy there may be in the language of Scripture, it would be easy to find very many persons to testify to the truth of each of the classes of texts-many to assert, that the sacrifices are great-that the way is strait and rough—the gate narrow-that it is difficult, nay, impossible, to enter in many, on the other hand, to declare, on their own experience, that Christ does give rest to those who come to Him-that his commandments are not grievous-that there is peace and joy in believing.
Now the general principle, on which these expressions, in themselves so widely differing, are applied to the same subject, appears to be this. In the one, religion is described with respect to its own nature, and its effect upon the heart whose feelings are in conformity to its laws: while the language in the other has reference to the sinful hearts, the torpid energies, the impure desires, the evil passions, the vicious habits of men.
If human nature were in its purity—if it retained uneffaced the impress of the divine image and likeness, and the emanation of the Spirit of God, breathed into the nostrils of man, had not been polluted and debased by the admixture of indwelling sin; all that is good, and pure, and holy, would be
delightful to the soul of man.
His mind would tranquil lake, the
reflect, as the bosom of some bright images gleaming on high. Man, being made in the image of God, would take pleasure in the things of God. As far as we can imagine of the happiness of higher natures than our own, we presume it to consist in the exercise of religious feelings, and the enjoyments of holiness. The promises of bliss reserved for the righteous in another state, are of this character. There the glorified saints, washed from all corruptions, will be brought into contact with perfect purity, and practised in the exercise of full obedience. Then will holiness be pleasant to the soul: for such of itself it is. It is of its own essence bright, and pure, and lovely: the reflection of the perfections of God; delightful to all those who are in the image of God. But fallen man is no longer in this image. Human nature, sinful, corrupt, enslaved to impure feelings and vicious passions, loves darkness rather than light, rejoices in iniquity, and shuns the truth; has lost its relish for the pure and heavenly pleasures of virtue, and with vitiated palate loathing the wholesome food of innocence, craves the foul and polluted garbage of sin. Hence holiness is distasteful. Hence the way of religion is steep, and the gate of life narrow. Hence the right hand must be cut off, and the right eye plucked out before we can enter in.
But though such is the state of fallen man, and he is so far gone from original righteousness, that his inclinations and propensities lead him to take pleasure rather in the works of the flesh, than in those of the spirit, he is still, by the grace of God, not incapable of better things. The healthful perception of good, though deadened, is not altogether lost. The pure fire is not extinct, though reduced to a feeble and smouldering spark. To man, though not only born in inherited corruption, but by his own personal transgressions sunk in sin, both classes of texts may still be made applicable by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit.
Godliness is indeed painful and laborious to him in his fallen state—that is, the acquisition of it is: but it does not, therefore, follow, that the possession of it is also. Difficulty of acquirement, in many, nay, in most things, consists with excellence, and even with delight. Riches, learning, and honour are only to be acquired by pain and labour; but riches and learning are not in themselves painful. Arduous is the struggle; and weary are the heat and dust of the strife of war: but sweet is the hour of victory, and pleasant are the hardearned days of peace. So too, religion, to a sinner, is hard to acquire, but delightful to enjoy. It is a strait and narrow path, but it leads to green pastures, and the still waters of comfort. It is a way, rough and painful at the beginning, but smooth and
pleasant at the close. "Via justitiæ," says an old preacher, "ingredientibus est dura, progredientibus dulcis et amana, egredientibus gloriosa. Ingredientes tanquam aurum in fornace probat; progredientes sanctificat, egredientes glorificat 13" It is no new comparison to liken it to the ascent of a mountain. But it is one, of which, whoever has made the trial, can appreciate the justice. Whoever has climbed a mountain, knows how laborious the commencement is. It is nothing but trouble. There is no view around: in front a disheartening steepness. The narrow path lies before: gloomy forests hang above: the summit is hid from our eyes in clouds and darkness. Our limbs soon weary
with the unaccustomed exertion: our breath fails. We are tempted to abandon the effort as hopeless, and to remain grovelling at the bottom in despair. But if we have courage to persevere, when we have risen a little way, we are sensible of a change. Our limbs become accustomed to their work, and we advance with steadiness and ease. The prospect widens as we ascend, and, by showing us the progress we have made, inspirits us for further efforts. At every step we are in a purer air, and breathe, not with ease only, but with a new delight. We look backward at the obstacles we have overcome with pleasure, and forward with resolution and
Jac. de Vitriaco, Hom. in Dom. 14 post Oct. Pent.
hope. And when at length we have pierced the dark veil of cloud which hung above us, and find ourselves canopied only by the blue vault of heaven, lighted up by the bright and glorious sun-who has not experienced, but who can tell, the feelings of surprise and delight, which transport us almost out of ourselves? It is a sense of glad and high exhilaration, unlike what any other physical cause can produce. The clouds of the mind seem left with the gross material vapours beneath our feet. We are, as it were, in a new world, brighter, and more glorious than that below.
Such, to a sinner, is the progress in religion. It is hard to set out. The height seems hopeless to attain the way steep: our strength unequal to the task. We are tempted-too many are successfully tempted to give up the endeavour in despair. But they, who following steadily their appointed guide, and availing themselves of his assistance, do not relax their efforts, find, in the path of religion, as in the mountain track, that the difficulties are at the bottom, and the pleasures above. The way, indeed, at the outset, is rough and steep: but they are in the hands of Him, who can make for his servants the rough places smooth, and the crooked way straight. Upheld by Him, they continue to ascend. The road becomes more cheerful as they recede from death and advance towards life. Sin and sorrow fly before them: life and immortality