« PrécédentContinuer »
wisdom and purity of his conversation, publicans and sinners were reproved, instructed and reformed, and hypocrisy stood detected. There is a mean, dishonourable and criminal“ becoming all things to all men,” . for the sordid purposes of self interest, or the gratification of a vain-glorious spirit ; but there is likewise an honourable, manly and praise-worthy accommodation to the wants and wishes of our fellow-creatures, which disinterestedly aims at their good. This lesson“ Paul, the servant of Jesus Christ," and the most independent in spirit of all mankind, had been taught in the school of his divine master. “For though,” says he, “ I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak : I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you."
Time permits not at present to proceed on the consideration of the other particular circumstances attending this sacred lecture of the great teacher ; such as the time when it was delivered—the Sabbath day ; the uniformity and constancy of the practice, as his custom was; the attitude and exercise, he stood up for to read; the subject, a prediction concerning himself from the book of the prophet Esaias ; his commentary upon it, this day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears; and finally, the effect, produced on his audience, the eyes of all them that were in the Synagogue were fastened on him ; and all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. These particulars, therefore, will con
stitute the subject of our next exercise of this kind. We conclude the present with a few practical reflections.
1. Meditate on the venerability of the sabbath, the day of sacred rest. It is the ordinance of God him. self, who is represented in Scripture, not only as the author of the institution, but as setting the example of its devout observance. “On the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made." He made it a season of solemn contemplation : “God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was very good.” He pronounced a benediction upon it, and set it apart to holy purposes : “And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." It is one of the natural measurements of time, though modern infidelity has made an attempt to efface it. It wears a benevolent and merciful aspect toward man and beast. It is intimately and indissolubly connected with religion. The violation of the sabbath was considered, under the Mosaic dispensation, as a flagrant contempt of the divine authority, and subjected the of. fender to the punishment of death. To the regular and spiritual observance of it, on the other hand, were annexed many and gracious promises. I quote only the foilowing : “ If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day: and call the salbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable ; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father : for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” The substitution of the first, in place of the seventh day of the week, under the evangelical dispensation, binds more closely, not relaxes the obligation; and Vol. IV.
the honour which God has been pleased to put upon it, is a sufficient recommendation, independent of the authority of human laws. As, on the contrary, the character of the persons who live in the open and habitual neglect or profanation of it, is the reverse of a recommendation to every man of sense, decency and virtue. But,
2. Take care not to sink the spirit in the letter of the ordinance. It is a day of rest; but idleness and rest are very different things. The mental composure and repose of the man, infinitely transcend the listless inaction of the brute. The body of the man indeed rests from the painful toil of the week, and his mind from its perplexing cares. But this is perfectly consist. ent with vigorous bodily exertion, and with intenseness of mental application. The feet, the hands, the eye, the tongue, may all be actively employed in rendering unto God a "reasonable service.” The superiour powers of the soul may be in an ascending motion up to “ the Father of lights;" and in a progressive motion toward the “ rest which remaineth to the people of God.” The lips of the wise and good may be devoted to the diffusion of useful knowledge, and the ear of the wil. ling and obedient may drink in the doctrines of truth and the obligations of duty. This mutual interchange of kind offices, will produce an interchange of kind affections. Good will among men will be preserved and promoted. The bands of nature will be strengthened by those of religion. To worship in one temple will become a bond of union among brethren, and will extinguish the coal of animosity; and thus “godliness will be found profitable unto all things,” and will exert a happy influence over “ the life which now is," while it embraces “the promise of that which is to come.”
3. Conformity in things of inferiour or of no moment, is a duty which we owe both to ourselves and to others : to ourselves, because it is the mark of a gracious and condescending character ; to others, be
cause every man has a title to deference and respect, in matters where another man's conscience is not con. cerned. Sourness and incompliance are no part of the spirit of Christ. Nevertheless, many who bear that name discover a tenaciousness of trifles, a bigotry to self-opinion, inconsistent not only with the christian temper, but with good sense and good manners. This moroseness of disposition levels all distinctions and affixes the same idea of criminality to an enormous offence and adherence to a harmless form of ceremony. With a man of this description, “ He that killeth an ox, is as if he slew a man: he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's, neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol.” Difference of opinion among men is part of the plan of a wise Providence. fords exercise to human faculties; it expands a field for the display of mutual forbearance; it is a striking manifestation of the variety of the works of God." He who will yield no point, however insignificant, has no reason to expect that his punctilio should be regarded. Were the whole world of this ungainly, untractable, uncomplying nature, society would present a perpetual and universal strife of contradictory feelings, humours and interests. The rule of the gospel is in this case, as in every other, absolute : “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Indeed the great Prophet carries the spirit of his religion much farther : " I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee; and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou
4. Watch and seize every, promising opportunity of
doing good; and such occur every day that we live. Have we not the poor always with us? Might not the crumbs which fall from that table be given to feed many starving mouths? Do we not live in contact with ignorance and vice, with misery and disease? And is it in our power to grant no relief, not so much as “a cup of cold water ?” It is truly humbling to reflect how means and occasions of being useful to the bodies and to the souls of men, and of promoting our own highest interests, have been carelessly neglected, or deliberately abused. Judgment to come, however, sets the matter in a very serious light: “I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat : I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink : I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.” “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."
But this direction too must be accompanied with a caution. “Let not your good be evil spoken of.” “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." There is an officiousness of perhaps well-meaning goodness, which sometimes disdains to weigh the circumstances of times, places and persons; which will introduce certain topics out of, as well as in season, to the grief of the more prudently serious, the disgust of the lukewarm, and the mirth of the profane. “A word spoken in due season, how good is it !" “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. As an ear-ring of gold, and an orna. ment of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.” Finally.
5. Bring forth “ things new and old," from the inexhaustible stores of Scripture. From this sacred repository our blessed Lord derived arguments to silence and confound the adversary, and a subject of in