The Gospel of MATTHEW

Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries

 

#1278

The Import of The Names Given to Christ

Matthew 1:21–23

"You shall call his name Jesus; for He shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us."

THE dispensations of Providence are extremely dark and intricate; the things which appear most afflictive often prove to be the richest mercies that could have been given to us. This was remarkably verified in the history before us. Joseph was espoused to a virgin of consummate piety; but, before their nuptials, she proved to be in a state which gave him reason to suspect her fidelity. Desiring to exercise all the lenity which the case would admit of, he determined to put her away secretly. How distressing must such an event have been to this holy man! But God sent an angel to unfold to him the mystery, to declare the ends for which the child would be born, and to impose on the infant a name, that should mark his office in the world.

I. The appointment of the name. "You shall call his name Jesus."

God had often condescended to assign names to men. Sometimes he had made an alteration in their names; and sometimes totally changed them. Sometimes he had assigned a name before the child was conceived. In these things he always acted with unerring wisdom. When men have attempted to give significant names to their offspring, they have only manifested how ignorant they were of futurity. But God sees all things from the beginning to the end. And his designation of Christ's name was a prognostic of his character.

The appellation given to the Virgin's son was peculiarly suitable.

"Jesus" simply means a Savior; and was a common name among the Jews. It was sometimes assigned to those who were great deliverers. It had been given in a peculiar manner to Joshua the son of Nun. He was eminently a Savior, as leading the Israelites into the promised land, which Moses was not permitted to do. But Christ, whom he typified, is a far greater deliverer. He "does that for us which the law could not do." He leads the true Israel of God into the heavenly Canaan.

So remarkable an event may justly lead us to inquire into,

II. The reason of that appointment.

Waving all other reasons, we notice two before us:

1. To fulfill a prophecy.

Isaiah had foretold that the Messiah would be called Emmanuel. From the outcome it appears that God did not intend this prophecy to have a literal accomplishment. We may expect however that the spirit of it should be accomplished. Now the name "Jesus" was in fact equivalent to Emmanuel. "Jesus" means "Divine Savior;" and Emmanuel, God with us. And the Evangelist himself tells us, that the imposition of that name was in order to the fulfillment of this prophecy.

2. To declare the infant's office and character.

"He shall save his people from their sins." The virgin's child was to be the Savior of the world. He was to save his people by price, and by power. They were under sentence of eternal condemnation. His life was the ransom to be paid for their souls. Hence they are called his purchased possession. They were also in bondage to sin and Satan. And he was to make them a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Yes, he was ultimately to place them beyond the reach of all the penalties and pollutions of sin. It was of importance that this great work should he represented in his very name. And the text informs us that the name was given him for this very purpose.

III. The interest we should take in it.

Surely most precious should the name of Jesus be to all his followers. What benefit can be bestowed like salvation from sin? A deliverance from its dominion is an unspeakable blessing. The godly desire it no less than deliverance from Hell itself. Deliverance too from its penalties is an inconceivable mercy. O, how delightful is pardon to a burdened conscience. How sweet is a sense of God's favor in a dying hour! What joy must the glorified soul possess in the day of judgment! Yet Jesus has bought it all for us with his own most precious blood, and has bestowed it freely on all his faithful followers. He will impart it liberally to all who will believe on him. Is there not reason then for that divine anathema? Will not the very stones cry out against those who refuse to praise him? Let Jesus then be precious to us all. Let us adopt the grateful strains of that sweet Psalmist of Israel.

I cannot CONCLUDE without a short address to those who make this a season of carnal mirth.

The great majority of professing Christians seem to think that the incarnation of Christ gives them a greater license to commit sin. And this impious thought greatly aggravates their guilt. But what madness is it to imagine that they can ever be saved in such a state. If they could, the angel should have assigned a very different reason for the appointment of Jesus' name. In that case, Christ would have been a minister of sin. But who must not, with the Apostle, express his abhorrence of such a thought? Our Lord has plainly told us what shall before long be his address to self-deceiving sinners. Let us then improve the incarnation of Christ for the ends for which he came; and tremble lest we provoke the Savior himself to become our inexorable destroyer.

 

 

#1279

The Wise Men Seeking Christ

Matthew 2:1, 2

"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he who is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him."

THE humiliation of our blessed Lord was attended with many circumstances tending to counteract its influence on the minds of men. To see him born in a stable, and laid in a manger, was doubtless a stumbling-block in the way of many; but the birth by the voice of angels—the restoration of a spirit of prophecy after an interval of four hundred years—and the pointing him out to the Eastern Magi by a new-created star—were abundantly sufficient to remove the offence which his apparent baseness might occasion. This last event, the visit of the Magi to him, will occupy our attention at this time. We shall,

I. Make some general observations upon the visit.

That we may not go forward without some kind of order, we shall notice,

1. Who they were.

The term by which they are designated, means magicians. But we are not to understand by this, that they were people practicing enchantments; we are rather to conceive of them as philosophers, who were attentive observers of nature, and 'probably' proficients in astronomy. They came from the East; but whether from Persia or Arabia, we cannot say. All that is affirmed of them more than this, is vain conjecture, or foolish superstition.

2. How they came to think of the Lord Jesus Christ.

God, who is sovereign in the distribution of his favors, chose them, as he did the shepherds, to be the objects of his peculiar favor. He sent a star, or meteor, to attract their attention; and then revealed to them, that the star was intended to announce to them the birth of Him who was to be the King of the Jews. Whether they had heard of Balaam's prophecy, 'that a star should come out of Jacob, and a scepter rise out of Israel,' we do not know. The expectation of a ruler to spring out of Israel was certainly far extended through the world: but, however the first conjecture might arise in the minds of the Wise Men, they could have known nothing certain but from revelation.

3. What means they used in order to find him out.

Being informed of the design of the star, they proceeded to visit this new-born King, and to pay him their profoundest homage. They pursued their journey to Jerusalem, and began to inquire, "Where is he who is born King of the Jews?" But they could hear nothing respecting him; their inquiries tended only to spread consternation through the whole city. Herod was alarmed, lest his throne should be endangered; and the Jews were terrified, lest that suspicious and cruel tyrant should make this report an occasion of inflicting on them some heavy calamities.

To get some light into the matter, Herod summoned a council of all the chief priests and scribes; and inquired of them where Christ should be born. They readily informed him, from the prophecies, that Bethlehem was the place destined to that honor. This information being given to the Wise Men, they instantly proceeded thither; and, as soon as they went forth, the star, which had at first appeared to them in the East, became visible to them again, and went and "stood over the very house where the young child was." God withheld the miraculous appearance of the star when it was not necessary; and renewed it only when it was needed to confirm the faith of the Wise Men, (which the indifference of the Jews might have caused to waver,) and to point out infallibly the house where the child abode.

4. How they conducted themselves towards him when they had found him.

Filled with holy awe and reverence, they no sooner beheld him, than they prostrated themselves before him; and presented to him the offerings which they had brought with them for that purpose. It is possible, that their worship was only such as it was customary to pay to kings; and that their presents were only such as were the produce of their own country, without anything mysterious in their import. Still, however, we read not of their paying any such regard to Herod; and therefore we may conclude, that at least they considered Jesus as excelling all other kings in dignity and glory.

We shall now,

II. Call your particular attention to the Wise Men.

They may be regarded by us in a three-fold view:

1. As witnesses to confirm our faith.

Does the indifference of the Jews respecting their new-born King appear to weaken the evidence of his birth? Let us hear the testimony of the Magi respecting him: 'We beheld a new-formed star, and were instructed by Jehovah in the reason of its formation. We went to see the child whose birth it announced, and we saw him with our eyes, and paid to him the homage which was due from us. We know that we found the very child that was referred to, because that miraculous star pointed him out to us; and when we had honored him to the best of our ability, Jehovah appeared to us again, revealed to us the purpose which Herod had conceived, and directed us to return to our own country without informing Herod, so that the parents of the child might have time to remove him to a land of safety.'

Must we not in all this acknowledge the hand of God? and would God thus set his seal to a falsehood, and thus countenance an impostor?

2. As types to animate our hope.

We are taught to believe that the day shall come, when all nations of the earth shall be converted to God, and the fullness of the Gentiles shall be brought into the Church of Christ. The conversion of these Wise Men was, as it were, the first fruits, which assure to us the complete harvest. Does the event appear incredible? It was no difficulty to God to convince, and encourage them: nor will it be difficult with him to effect the universal change, whenever his time has come. The same thing shall then take place on an extended scale; and "the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of the Lord and his Christ."

3. As patterns to direct our conduct.

Much may we learn from those heathen philosophers.

First, let us learn to improve our studies or pursuits, whatever they may be, for our spiritual advantage. Do we behold strange phenomena in nature? Let them lead us to the God of nature: and whatever light we obtain from him, let us use it as the means of obtaining more light.

Next, let us not regard any scoffs, or difficulties, or dangers that we may have to encounter in the way of our duty. Doubtless, the sages found many obstacles in their way; but they persisted to the end; and never ceased from their labor, until they had found Him whom they sought.

Thus, let us resolutely seek the Lord Jesus, until we have found him. He is pointed out to us, not by a star, but by "the more sure word of the Gospel." True enough, we may inquire after him of many who might well be expected to give us all needful information; and, after all, find them even more ignorant than ourselves. Our very solicitude about him may even provoke their enmity; but we must go on without weariness, and without fear; and still prosecute our inquiries after him, until we can say, "I have found Him whom my soul loves."

Lastly, having found Jesus, let us present to him all that we are, and all that we have. Let our body, soul, and spirit be consecrated to him. Let us confess him as "King of kings, and Lord of lords;" let us devote to him our silver and our gold: and let us glorify him with our body and our spirit, which are his. This is our reasonable service: and if we be backward to render it unto him, surely these heathen converts will rise up in judgment against us: for, if they so honored him, when they saw him only as a babe, enrapt in swaddling-clothes, much more should we, who view him seated on his throne of glory!

 

#1280

The Joy of the Magi

Matthew 2:10

"And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy."

IN so concise a history as that of our blessed Lord, the events of whose life and death were so numerous, that, if circumstantially related, they would occupy too many volumes to be read by the world at large, it must of necessity be found, that there is much omitted which we would have been glad to know. But the Scriptures were not written to gratify a vain curiosity: the inspired writers had a far higher object in view: they were content to record so much only as was necessary for our instruction, and to give us such brief hints as would set before our eyes one continuous and comprehensive whole.

In the account of the wise men, who came from the East to worship the new-born Jesus, there is much left to mere conjecture. We know not who they were, nor whence they came, except that it was to the eastward of Judea; nor how long it was after the birth of Christ; whether a few weeks, or several months.

What the star was, we know not. It could not be a common star; but only a meteor, resembling one. How they came to regard it as intimating the birth of anyone, and especially of one who would be the King of the Jews, we know not. It is probable that they were astronomers; and that, seeing this new star over the land of Judea, they concluded it to be ominous of some great event: and, having heard of the general report, that there was expected to arise, about that time, in Judea, one who would govern the whole earth, they might suppose the star to be an indication of his birth.

Yet, on the whole, I think it more probable, that the same Almighty and gracious God, who sent this star to guide them to Judea, revealed to them the occasion of its appearance, and the wonderful event of which they themselves were to be the favored witnesses.

The inquiry which they make on reaching Jerusalem seems indeed to place this matter beyond a doubt: for they do not ask whether some great personage were born: they express no doubt whatever respecting the fact; but only inquire where the new-born infant was; "Where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star, and are come to worship him." The Jews themselves, it seems, were unconscious of any remarkable occurrence, until the confident inquiry of these strangers drew their attention to it: and then both Herod the king, and all the people at Jerusalem, were filled with consternation. Herod, a remarkably jealous king, summoned the chiefs of the Jewish nation, that he might learn from them where their Messiah, according to the Scriptures, would be born. They, from a well-known prophecy, informed him, that Bethlehem was the highly-favored city for which this honor was reserved: and he, on receiving this information, directed the Magi thither, with an express command, that, when they would have found him, they would come back to him, and communicate all that they would have learned respecting him.

Thither the Magi now directed their steps. But no sooner had they re-commenced their journey, than the star, which they had seen in the East, and which had for some time disappeared, came again; and guided them, not to the city only, but to the house where Jesus was; thus pointing out, with infallible precision, the very child whom they desired to find. On this occasion it is said, "When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy."

Now, the terms in which their joy is here spoken of are so strong, as to be incapable of being translated literally into our language. Their general import, however, is sufficiently conveyed in the words before us: "They rejoiced with exceeding great joy."

In speaking of this their joy, we shall find it profitable to inquire, What it indicated in relation to them.

From this interesting portion of divine history we may learn,

I. The magnitude of the object which they pursued.

They sought to behold and to honor the new-born King. This was an object worthy of pursuit:

As viewed by them, it was of great importance.

Supposing them only to conceive of him as born to a kingdom, yet, taking into consideration the miracle with which his birth was announced, and the prophetic declarations relative to the place of his birth—they might well regard him as worthy to be served and honored. And in proportion as we suppose their views of his character and office to have been enlarged, the importance of their object must, of course, have been magnified in their minds.

With the additional light which we enjoy, it was an object the most important that any creature could pursue.

We know that infant to have been "Emmanuel, God with us." Yes, he was "God manifest in human flesh," and not a king of one nation only, but of the whole earth, even "King of kings, and Lord of lords."

To behold him in this his humbled state; to worship him, and glorify him—what could the highest archangel desire more? This was an object worthy of ambition to every man: nor could any labor, any privation, any suffering, be too great to be encountered willingly, and sustained cheerfully, in the pursuit of it.

In their labors, we behold also,

II. The ardor of mind with which it should be pursued.

Their journey, whether from Arabia or any other country, was long and arduous.

Their setting out from their own country, and prosecuting their journey to Judea, argued no little zeal: but to persevere when the star had disappeared, and when so much difficulty and uncertainty must, in all probability, attend their future exertions, required a zeal more than ordinarily intense and ardent: and we admire their steady perseverance in so great a work.

What, then, should ever damp our ardor in the service of our Lord?

Methinks, this is a labor in which our whole lives should be occupied. We need not, indeed, leave our homes in order to behold his face, since he is here in the midst of us: but we must be ready to part with all, if called to it. And, whatever difficulties may obstruct our way, we should determine, with God's help, to surmount them all. Nor should we take with us a portion only of our property; but go and offer to him all that we are, and all that we have. Our whole selves, body, soul, and spirit, must be consecrated to his service, that he may be glorified in all.

In them we may yet further see,

III. The blessedness that shall crown our labors.

"They rejoiced with exceeding great joy".

They, even before they had fully attained their object, rejoiced: what joy, then, must have filled their souls, when they were introduced into the very presence of this infant, and had the honor of presenting to him their gifts of gold, and frankincense and myrrh!

But the believer's joy at finding the Savior, is incomparably more exalted. It is truly said to be a "joy unspeakable and full of glory." O how richly are the labors of a whole life repaid by one glimpse of the Savior's glory! And what prospects does it open to him in the eternal world! Truly, no language can express the joy that he feels, nor any heart conceive the blessedness that awaits him.

I wish to Address:

1. The nominal Christian.

Though not truly interested in the Savior, you are highly privileged: because you have an infinitely better guide than ever the Magi had, even the word of God, which will be a light to your feet, and a lantern to your paths. The word will infallibly, if duly followed, lead you to the Savior's presence. Improve, then, your privileges; and let them remind you of your obligations also: for if your light be more clear than theirs, so should your surrender of yourselves to Christ be more entire.

2. The sincere inquirer.

You, like the Magi, may feel discouragement in your journey heavenward; and, through the withdrawment of light from your soul, be ready to doubt whether you shall ever attain the object of your desires. But hold on in the midst of all discouragements; and doubt not but that your labor shall be crowned with success at last: for God's promise to you is, "Then shall you know, if you follow on to know the Lord. His goings forth are prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto you as the rain, as the former and as the latter rain upon the earth."

3. The assured Christian.

You have found the Savior, and presented yourselves to him. Now, then, show yourselves worthy of this high privilege. A sad indifference exists in relation to him, even among those who from their office and their general information ought to be most forward in calling the attention of others to him. And, from the reports which we have of his reception in heathen lands, even among the most barbarous Africans and Hottentots, we may all blush for our coldness and ingratitude. However, if you have been led to the Savior, take care to honor him in the midst of an ungodly world, and labor to make him known to all around you.

 

 

#1281

The Slaughter of the Infants

Matthew 2:16-18

"Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more."

WHILE ungodly men are perpetrating every species of wickedness, the language of their hearts, as interpreted by God himself, is this: "The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land!"

A similar thought is apt to arise in the heart, when our trials are multiplied, and relief is not speedily afforded us. It was in this way that the Israelites at Massah, when destitute of water, vented their murmurs: this was their atheistic inquiry; "Is the Lord among us or not?"

Even godly people, under violent temptation, are sometimes ready to ask, "Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his tender mercies?"

But a diligent attention to the Scriptures will fortify us against any such absurd conclusions. From them we shall learn, that however inattentive God may appear to be to the concerns of men—he directs, limits, and overrules all their actions, for the promotion of his own glory.

Scarcely on any occasion would we have expected his interposition, more than for the prevention of that murderous edict, whereby all the infants of Bethlehem and the adjacent country were destroyed. Yet God saw fit to permit it; and interfered no further than was necessary for the fulfilling of his own word, and the accomplishing of his own eternal purpose.

Let us contemplate,

I. The fact recorded.

A more heinous occurrence can scarcely be conceived. We wonder that any human being should be invested with such power, as to cause, by his own arbitrary mandate, the slaughter of so many innocent people. We wonder still more, that, supposing this authority to be delegated to anyone, there should be found agents to carry such an inhuman edict into execution. But most of all do we wonder, that a creature endued with reason should be capable of issuing such an order as Herod did on this occasion. But let us trace this action to its source: let us inquire into the principle from which this unparalleled barbarity proceeded.

The murderous purpose originated in jealousy. Herod possibly had heard of the birth of Jesus previous to the arrival of the Wise Men: but that was the circumstance which put him upon making inquiries into the pretensions of this newborn infant. From them he learned, that a star or meteor had appeared to them in the East, and that they, either from revelation or from the traditionary prophecy of Balaam, had been led to interpret the appearance of that star as an intimation, that He who was to reign over the Jews was now born into the world. He was also informed by them, that they had come on purpose to pay him the homage which was due to such an exalted character. Upon this, Herod summoned all the chief priests and scribes, that he might learn from them what the prophets had declared respecting the place of their Messiah's nativity: and on understanding that Bethlehem was the place destined to that honor, he sent the Wise Men thither, and ordered them, when they had found the child, to come and give him information respecting him. This order he grounded upon a pretended desire to honor Christ; but with a secret determination to destroy him: for he concluded, that Christ was to have a temporal dominion; and that, if allowed to live, he would wrest the kingdom out of his hands. But such a rival he could not endure: and hence arose the secret purpose to destroy him.

But though jealousy first prompted him to form the murderous purpose, with respect to his supposed rival, it was offended pride that caused it to be extended to all the children around Bethlehem. The Wise Men, being warned by God of Herod's purpose, returned no more to him: at this Herod was indignant: he conceived himself slighted and despised; but he was determined not to be disappointed of his desire; and therefore, to secure his object, he gave order's that all the boys near the age of Jesus, and within the neighborhood of the place where he was born, should be massacred without distinction.

What an amazing ascendant must these principles have over the heart of man! Well may it be said, that "jealousy is cruel as the grave," nor indeed is pride less cruel, when its wounded feelings have scope for exercise. This we see in the two sons of Jacob, who, on account of their sister having been defiled by the Prince of Shechem, slew every male in the city: and, when reproved for their cruelty, they showed, in their vindication of themselves, from whence that cruelty had proceeded: "Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?"

Happy would it have been for the world, if such dispositions and conduct had been altogether banished by the Gospel of Christ. But the human heart is the same in every age and place. We still see that the love of power is a predominant principle in the mind of man; that where it is allowed to gain an ascendency, it will leave no means untried for the accomplishment of its ends; and that, if the more lenient methods of deceit and treachery will not succeed, it will wade through seas of blood to the attainment of its object. The cries of thousands and tens of thousands will not divert it from its purpose: nor will anything but the utter extinction of a rival satisfy its blood-thirsty appetite.

We must not however forget that the same evil principles are in our own hearts: and, if we will only call to mind the irritation which we have felt on some particular occasions, we shall see reason to be thankful to God, who has kept us from carrying into execution all that our offended pride might have prompted us to effect.

Before we proceed to make any practical remarks upon this fact, it will be proper to notice,

II. The prophecy accomplished by it.

The New Testament writers sometimes appeal to the prophecies of the Old Testament as direct proofs of what they assert, and sometimes in a more lax way of accommodation only. It is in this latter way, we apprehend, that the prophecy before us is adduced. In its primary meaning, it represented the Jews as collected at Rama, for the purpose of being carried into captivity to Babylon; and Rachel (who had about eleven hundred years before been buried near that place) as weeping over the disconsolate state of her posterity. The Evangelist beautifully applies the same figure to the slaughter of the children which took place at Bethlehem, which also was near to Rachel's tomb; and, in this view, he speaks of the prophecy as again accomplished. This he might well do: for who can conceive the distress which that event occasioned?

The murderous bands could not stop to see, whether, in every instance, the wounds they had inflicted had actually destroyed life: they must proceed rapidly in their work, lest any of the children should be carried off or concealed: and what anguish must the cries of so many children, (probably some thousands,) writhing in the agonies of death, in agonies protracted by the kind solicitude of their parents, have produced in the bosoms of their bereaved mothers! No language can paint, no imagination conceive, the horrors of that day. We may use the terms, "lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning;" but we cannot affix to them any adequate ideas, or realize, in any just degree, that awful scene.

We cannot but see from hence,

1. How early our Lord's sufferings began.

Scarcely was he born, before his life was sought, and he was forced to be carried an exile to the country which of all others had been most hostile to his progenitors. And, after the death of Herod, he was forced, for his security, to take up his abode in a town which fixed a stigma upon him to his last hour. These were, indeed, only "the beginnings of his sorrows," but they may well reconcile his followers to any privations or reproaches which they may be called to endure for his sake. If for us he became "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief," let us cheerfully bear our cross for him, and willingly "suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together with him".

2. How vain are any attempts of man to counteract the designs of God.

Herod foolishly thought to defeat the purposes of Heaven; but "God held him in derision, and laughed him to scorn." God knew his murderous plans, and warned the parents of our Lord to escape his fury; yes, and provided too for their journey and support in Egypt, by the offerings which the Wise Men had just before presented to the new-born King.

Herod, to secure his purpose, ordered, not the children of Bethlehem only, but of all the neighboring country; and not of one year old only, but all under two years old, to be massacred: but his attempts were vain; and instead of frustrating the designs of Heaven, he unwittingly fulfilled them; occasioning, by this very act, no less than three prophecies to be accomplished.

Thus it is with all who set themselves against God: they may show their malignity, but they cannot counteract his gracious designs. "Many are the devices in men's hearts; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand." "The wrath of man (as far as God permits it to be exercised) shall praise him; and the remainder of that wrath shall he restrain."

We never need, therefore, to be afraid of man; for, if we commit our way unto the Lord, "he will be our shield and buckler;" and, "if He is for us," we may triumphantly ask, "Then who can be against us?"

3. How certainly will there be a day of future retribution.

Can it be, that such an inhuman monster should never meet with any just recompense for his deeds? The mind revolts at the idea. If there is a God that governs the world, there must be a period when the present inequalities of his government shall be done away, and the equity of his dispensations be made apparent. Hence the day of judgment is in Scripture called, "The day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God," and we are told, that "it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to those who trouble us: and to us who are troubled, rest."

Let us then live in light of that day. Whether exalted and at ease, or depressed and persecuted—let us look to that day, when our happiness or misery shall be forever fixed!

Let us dread prosperity, if it divert our attention from a future state! Let us welcome adversity, if it be the means of bringing us nearer unto God. The infants now have no cause to regret that they were called to such early martyrdom: and it is highly probable, that many of their parents have since found reason to give thanks to God for the weight of sorrow that then oppressed them. But the proud oppressor—who can reflect on his state without shuddering? how will he feel, when he shall stand at the tribunal of that very Jesus, whom, with such hypocrisy and cruelty, he labored to destroy? O that, whenever tempted to sin, we may think of the account which we must one day give; and, whenever called to suffer, may we "look with Moses to the recompense of the reward!"

 

 

#1282

John's Address to Those Who Came to Be Baptized by Him

Matthew 3:7–10

"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits fit for repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire!"

WHEN a profession of religion is become fashionable, as it were, and common, it is necessary for ministers to be doubly careful that they do not sanction, much less promote, the delusions of hypocrites or impostors. At such seasons, peculiar faithfulness and discrimination will be wanted, that the upright may not be discountenanced, nor the vain pretenders to piety be encouraged.

The Baptist was signally successful in his ministrations, insomuch that Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, went to be baptized by him. Among this great multitude came many Pharisees and Sadducees, desiring to be numbered among his disciples. At this he was utterly astonished; because the Pharisees were so conceited of their own goodness as to think that they needed no better religion; and the Sadducees, the free-thinkers of the day, despised religion altogether.

John would not immediately reject them, but, in a most faithful and energetic address, declared what they must be, if they would obtain happiness in the future world. He called them "a generation of vipers," because of the poisonous and infectious nature of their principles, and the manifest relation which, both in sentiment and conduct, they bore to the old serpent the devil. Such an address befit him as a prophet; but it would not be suited to us who bear an inferior commission. Nevertheless the same fidelity should be found in all: and what he spoke to them, we must declare to you; namely, that,

I. True religion must be judged of by its fruits.

As 'fruits' are the only criterion whereby the excellence of a tree can be known, so they are the only true test of religion. There are "fruits fit for repentance;" fruits that manifest its existence, and denote its power. Let us inquire what they are: and, as they will be found in every part of our conduct, let us examine them in reference to,

1. God.

Fruits fit for repentance will certainly show itself . . .
in high thoughts of God's unbounded goodness and mercy;
in deep humiliation of our souls before him;
in a joyful acceptance of his offered salvation; and
in love, ardent love, to the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us;
together with a simple reliance on his atoning sacrifice.

Fruit fit for repentance will stimulate the soul to fervent prayer for the continued influences of God's Holy Spirit; and to a surrender of the soul, with all its faculties and powers, to his service. It will make the pleasing of God to be henceforth the great object of our lives; and will moderate all our regards to the creature, insomuch that, though we are in the world, we shall not be of it; and, though "we use it, we shall not abuse it."

2. Our neighbor.

Repentance extends not to the sins of the first table only, but to those of the second table also. It will give a new principle to us in all our dealings with mankind. We shall be strictly just and honest in all our transactions, doing to others precisely as, in a change of circumstances, we would think it right for them to do to us.

If a man is our superior, we shall be ready to pay him, for God's sake, all that respect and obedience which the laws of God or man enjoin. If he is our inferior, we shall act towards him with all kindness and condescension, all tenderness and love. Whatever his state and condition are, we shall be cautious of grieving him by word or deed; we shall applaud his virtues, conceal his faults, and exercise towards him that forbearance and forgiveness which we ourselves desire to meet with at the hands of God. It will be the joy of our hearts to alleviate his troubles, to supply his necessities, and to seek his welfare, not only as well as, but even in preference to, our own.

3. Ourselves.

The office of repentance in regulating the secret dispositions of our hearts, is by no means sufficiently considered: but, if it extends not to these, it is not genuine, nor will it ever prove "a repentance unto salvation." In the natural and unrenewed heart, pride, envy, malice, wrath, discontent, impurity, lust, and many other hateful evils, are harbored, even where the external and visible exercise of them is restrained. But the true penitent "puts away all these," and cultivates a spirit of meekness and gentleness, of love and kindness, of patience and thankfulness; and endeavors to guard against an impure thought or desire, no less than against the most criminal indulgence.

I do not say that a penitent so attains all these graces as never to betray his weakness; but this I say, that these are the fruits of the Spirit which every penitent will produce; that they necessarily arise out of godly sorrow; and that every sincere penitent will advance in these attainments, so that those who are most conversant with him shall be constrained to bear testimony to the progressive amelioration of all his tempers.

O that there might be in all of us such an heart; and that all who profess repentance might thus make their profiting to appear!

It is of infinite importance to ascertain in this way whether our religion is genuine or not; for,

II. Without genuine repentance, all hopes of salvation are delusive.

The Jews were apt to found their hopes of mercy on their relation to Abraham.

Many of them had a strange conceit that no child of Abraham could be damned: and it is probable that they built that notion on the promise of God never to cast off the seed of Abraham. They had no idea that there was such a thing as a spiritual seed; and therefore they limited the promise to his descendants according to the flesh, and included all of them without any regard to their moral character.

Against this erroneous notion the Baptist cautioned those whom he now addressed; and told them, that God would rather raise up a posterity to Abraham out of the very stones, (or perhaps from among the Gentile soldiers, many of whom might be present with them on that occasion,) than either allow his promise to fail, or admit impenitent sinners to Heaven.

Similar to this, are the delusions which obtain among us.

Because men have been born of Christian parents, and educated in a Christian land, and have never formally renounced Christianity, they imagine that they are Christians, notwithstanding they have never cordially embraced the doctrines of Christianity, nor obeyed its precepts. They have the same reason for being Christians that Muhammadans have for being Muhammadans, and no better. They have never seen the suitableness of Christianity to their needs, nor the sufficiency of it for their necessities: nor have they been concerned about it, any further than just to observe its outward forms. Yet on this flimsy foundation, the generality of professors have founded their hopes of Heaven. Whether they will express it in words or not—it is that which they "think within themselves."

But we must remind all such people of the declaration of Paul, "that he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."

It is not any external profession that will avail us in the day of judgment: we may have the sublimest knowledge, the strongest faith, the most ardent zeal, and the most unbounded liberality—and yet perish at last for lack of that principle of sincere love to Jesus, which is the source and summit of all vital godliness. O that we may never deceive our own souls, nor rest in anything short of "pure, practical, and holy religion!"

Such indifference about true religion would not long exist, if men would but reflect, that,

III. There is a time shortly coming, when the lack of true repentance will be attended with the most bitter consequences.

God had determined to punish the Jewish nation for their unfruitfulness.

Long had he waited to see whether the vines he had cultivated with so much care, would bring forth fruit: but they brought forth none but wild grapes. Therefore, though he had spared them long at the intercession of the vine-dresser, he determined speedily to cut them down, that they might cumber the ground no longer. Of this the Baptist warned his audience. He assured them, that God was ready to execute his purpose; that "the axe was even now lying at their roots;" and that nothing but immediate and true repentance could avert their doom.

The same awful judgment awaits every unfruitful soul.

An unfruitful tree stands unconscious of the destiny that awaits it: but they who see the preparations made for cutting it down, anticipate its fate. Thus, if impenitent transgressors had eyes to see, they might see the axe lying at their root, and God giving his orders to him that is to use it. Disease or accident are just tarrying awhile, but coming at the appointed moment, to execute their commission.

And here let it be remembered, that it is not a mere negative goodness that will obtain a respite. It is not said, that every tree which brings forth peculiarly bad fruit, shall be cut down; but every tree which brings not forth good fruit. There must be such fruits as we have before spoken of, such as characterize a converted state; such as are "fit for" and "worthy of" true repentance. As the "unprofitable servant" is numbered with those who are positively "wicked," so the unfruitful tree will receive the same doom as that which is laden with the most pernicious fruits. And happy would it be for such professors of religion, if they had only temporal judgments to expect: but there remains for them a fire, after they are cut down—a fire into which they will be cast, and which, though incessantly consuming them, will never be extinguished.

Address.

1. Guard against delusive expectations.

Every person, whatever may have been his life, hopes to be happy in a future world. The vanity of such hopes is in many cases so manifest, that we cannot but pity the self-deluding people who cherish them. Yet, though we can see the delusions of others, we cannot see our own: we all hope that our own state is safe: "a deceived heart turns us aside, so that we cannot deliver our souls, or say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?"

The Pharisees had a high conceit of their own comparative sanctity, as the Sadducees had of their superior wisdom: and though each condemned the other, neither would condemn themselves. But John saw that neither the one nor the other would ultimately attain salvation, unless they experienced a radical change both of heart and life. They however would not believe him, and therefore rejected the counsel of God, which the more humble publicans thankfully embraced.

Let me guard you then against their mistakes; and entreat you all, however wise or good you may conceive yourselves to be, to entertain a godly jealousy respecting your state: and be fearful, lest by building your hopes upon the sand, you then begin to learn your error when it is beyond a remedy.

2. Be thankful to those who will show you your true character.

Those ministers who commend themselves most faithfully to your consciences, deserve your thanks. Many are the reproaches which they bear on account of their fidelity; but a hope of benefitting your souls emboldens them to proceed; and they account themselves richly recompensed, when they see you bringing forth fruits fit for repentance. Do not then be angry with them for speaking plainly and pointedly, as the Pharisees were when they saw that our Lord had spoken a parable against them; but rather take occasion, from what they say, to search and examine your own hearts with sincerity and diligence, desiring and determining, with God's help, to know the worst of yourselves.

You will do well also to encourage your friends to communicate to you freely what they see amiss in you. You cannot but know, that if a skillful lawyer were to point out to you a flaw in the title of an estate which you were about to purchase, you would feel greatly indebted to him—and why? Because you would save your money. And will you not be thankful to one who by his counsel, endeavors to save your soul? Alas! alas! to flatterers we can listen without weariness; but to a faithful admonisher we can scarcely for a few minutes lend an ear. What the one says is received gladly, even though we have every reason to believe that he goes beyond the truth; but what the other says, calls forth all our ingenuity to weaken its force, though we know every syllable of it to be true. Beloved, be on your guard against this self-love: you may easily deceive yourselves, but you cannot deceive your God.

3. Let nothing retard you in fleeing from the wrath to come.

There is no room to ask, "Who has warned you?" for I have warned you; and God has warned you; and, I hope, your own consciences have warned you. If none of these have spoken yet so as to attract your attention, I now warn you, with all plainness and faithfulness, to "flee from the wrath to come."

Consider whose wrath it is: it is the wrath of Almighty God.

Consider the description given of it: it is, and ever will be, the wrath to come! Yes, many millions of years hence, it will be no nearer its termination than at this moment; to all eternity it will be the same: The wrath to come!

Can you reflect on the greatness and duration of this wrath, and not be diligent in fleeing from it? What other work can you have to do that is of the least importance when compared with this? Would the man-slayer loiter, when he saw the pursuer of blood just ready to overtake him? You must then use all diligence: leave nothing until tomorrow that can be done today. I would lay hold of your hand, as the angels did of Lot and his daughters, and hasten your steps. Do not even stop to look behind you; but "what your hand finds to do, do it with all your might." The Savior is ready to receive you—he will cast out none that come unto him. The express promise of God is this, "Repent and turn from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin!"

 

 

#1283

The Baptism of the Spirit

Matthew 3:11

"As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire!"

IT is ignorantly imagined, that those who are most enlightened with the knowledge of Christ, and are most zealous in bringing others to an acquaintance with him, must of necessity be puffed up with pride, and be filled with a high conceit of their superiority to others. But none ever surpassed the Apostle Paul either in zeal or knowledge; yet none ever manifested more deep humility, since language could not even afford him words whereby sufficiently to express the low sense he had of himself before God: he calls himself "less than the least of all saints."

Another eminent example of humility is exhibited in the conduct of John the Baptist, who, though faithful in the highest degree as a preacher of righteousness, never sought his own glory, but invariably directed the eyes of his followers to Christ, in comparison of whom he accounted himself unworthy of the smallest regard. His expressions before us lead us to consider,

I. The transcendent dignity of Christ.

Christ, in a civil view, was not at all superior to John, yes, perhaps inferior, inasmuch as the son of a carpenter might be reckoned inferior in rank to the son of a priest: nevertheless Jesus was, in other points of view, infinitely superior:

1. In his person.

The person of John might well be considered as dignified in no common degree. He was the subject of prophecy many hundred years before he came into the world: his formation in the womb was announced by an angel from Heaven, and that too at a period when his parents, according to the common course of nature, could entertain no hope of having any progeny. He was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his very birth; and was ushered into the world with the restoration of prophecy, after that gift had been withdrawn from the church almost four hundred years.

But in all these respects Christ was far greater than John: Christ had been the subject of prophecy from the very foundation of the world: his work and offices had been exhibited to the world in numberless types and prophecies during the space of four thousand years. His body was formed, not merely in an unusual way—but in a supernatural way, by the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit, who created it in the womb of a virgin; by which means he was not merely holy, but spotless, without the smallest taint of that corruption which every child of Adam inherits.

Without noticing the songs with which the heavenly choir celebrated the tidings of his birth, or any of those miraculous circumstances which pointed him out to the Eastern Magi, we see already how far superior he was to John, even in those things wherein John surpassed all other men.

But what must we say, when to this we add, that he was God, "God manifest in the flesh," "God over all, blessed forever!" Then all comparison must cease: and the expressions used by John, instead of appearing exaggerated, will be acknowledged to be infinitely below the truth: though the loosing and carrying of the sandals, was deemed too base an employment for a Hebrew servant, or for any but a slave, yet John accounted it far too high an honor for him to render such a service to that glorious person, whose advent he announced.

2. In his office.

John was a prophet of the most high God, yes, "more than a prophet." He had the distinguished honor of being the forerunner of the Messiah, who would prepare his way, and point him out to the people, being himself divinely instructed how to distinguish him from all others who would attend his ministrations. Hence our Lord himself declares respecting him, that there "never had been a greater person born of woman than John the Baptist." But as glorious as John was—Jesus far excelled him in glory. Jesus was the great prophet, to whom Moses and all the prophets gave testimony, and to whose directions all were commanded to submit. He was the Messiah himself, the very "Lamb of God that was to take away the sins of the world," of whom "John himself needed to be baptized," and by whom alone John himself could be saved.

Surely then the words of John respecting him were not an unmeaning hyperbole, the offspring of affectation and the footstool of vanity—but they were the words of truth and soberness; for though John was like the morning star, yet he was altogether eclipsed as soon as ever the Sun of Righteousness arose!

The superiority of Jesus will still further appear while we consider,

II. The baptism he administered.

Jesus never administered the baptism of water to any: but to him was committed the work of baptizing with the Holy Spirit.

Though the Church had from the beginning received, in some measure, the communications of God's Spirit, yet, "until Christ was glorified, the Holy Spirit was not given" in a very general or abundant manner: it was reserved for Christ to send him down, in order that, through the Spirit's testimony, his own divine mission might be established beyond a possibility of doubt.

Accordingly, a few days after his ascension, he fulfilled his promise, and sent down the Spirit upon his waiting disciples, causing him to rest upon them visibly in the shape of cloven tongues of fire. And when, on another occasion, he poured out the Spirit upon Cornelius and his company, Peter particularly called to mind this declaration, which John the Baptist had made to the infant Church, and acknowledged it to be a glorious completion of his prophecy.

This baptism infinitely surpassed that of John.

John baptized with water those who were penitent, testifying to them that they should believe on him who was to come after him: but Jesus, by the baptism which he administers, makes men both penitent and believing.

John, in applying water to the body, even if he had immersed his followers ten thousand times, could do no more than cleanse the outward body; he could not reach the heart; he could not affect the soul; he could not in any degree change the character of his disciples. But the Spirit, with which Jesus baptized, acted with the powerful energy of "fire." This was no sooner poured out than it penetrated the inmost recesses of the soul, and, like a furnace, purged away the dross which was there concealed.

What a change it effected in the characters of men may be seen by its operations on the day of Pentecost: how was the lion instantly transformed into a lamb! and how did the noxious qualities, which had so lately rendered men like incarnate fiends, immediately subside and disappear! And such are the effects which it invariably produces wherever it is bestowed.

Inferences.

1. How awfully are they mistaken, who rest in the outward form of baptism!

I would on no account depreciate baptism, or detract in the least from its importance. It is necessary for all who embrace the faith of Christ: and is replete with blessings to all who receive it aright. Even the outward ministration of it gives us a title to the blessings of the Christian covenant, exactly as circumcision gave to the Jews a title to "the adoption" of sons, and to "the promises" which God had made to his people.

But if we receive it not aright, we are still, like Simon Magus, "in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity." To receive any saving benefit (for, if it be rightly received, "baptism does save us") we must have not only the sign, but the thing signified—a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness; or, in other words, we must be "baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire."

For the truth of this, I will even appeal to the consciences of the ungodly themselves. Who does not feel at times that he needs somewhat more than he has ever yet received, in order to fit him for death and judgment? There is in every man at times, I say, this conviction: and this which is so wanted, is the very gift which Christ alone can bestow, namely, the baptism of the Spirit, as contrasted with, and superadded to, the baptism of water. It is "the renewing of the Holy Spirit" superadded to "the washing of regeneration." If we have received this spiritual baptism, it will infallibly discover itself by its effects upon our heart and life. "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ," seeking daily to be clothed with his righteousness, and to be transformed into his image. So also, if we have been "baptized by the Holy Spirit into one body," with the holy Apostles and the primitive saints, we shall have been "made to drink of one spirit with them." Now it is easy to see whether such a change have been wrought upon our heart and life, by our being altogether like-minded with them: and I wish you all to judge yourselves, that you may not be judged of the Lord.

It is easy to put this off with a sneer: but we cannot change that declaration of God, that, "If any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his;" and "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," and, if we will brave those explicit declarations, we shall find before long, "whose word shall stand, whether ours or God's."

2. What rich encouragement does the Gospel afford to drooping contrite souls!

It is by the Gospel that Christ communicates this blessing to mankind. See this exemplified in the instance of Cornelius. Peter, in preaching to him, said, "To Christ give all the prophets witness, that whoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins." Then we are told, "While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word."

Now to you also do I make the same blessed declaration, that "all who believe in Christ shall be justified from all things." O that God might bear the same testimony to it at this time, by sending to you the Holy Spirit in rich abundance! What joy that event would occasion, you may see in the effect produced on all the college of Apostles at Jerusalem, at the recital of it in reference to Cornelius: "They glorified God, saying, Then has God unto the Gentiles granted repentance unto life unto the Gentiles."

Yes, my dear brethren, "Repentance," "repentance unto life," would infallibly accompany the gift of the Holy Spirit to your souls. And is not that worth seeking? You are sure to repent sooner or later: and how much better is it to repent on earth, than to repent in Hell; to have "repentance unto life," than "repentance that shall be eternally to be repented of!" Go then to the Lord Jesus for this heavenly baptism. The baptism of water you are to receive but once: but the baptism (filling) of the Spirit you are to be receiving every day and hour. Paul speaks of "supplies of the Spirit of Jesus Christ," which you are to be continually receiving: and it is the very office of Christ to impart them to you.

May the Lord grant, that you may all now "be filled with the Spirit," and that, having him poured out abundantly upon you, you may possess also, in the richest abundance, all his attendant blessings both of grace and glory!

 

 

#1284

The Outcome of the Final Judgment

Matthew 3:12

"His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire!"

THE great duty of a Christian Minister is to set forth the Lord Jesus Christ in all his characters, and to impress on the minds of all the necessity of believing in him for the salvation of their souls. But the view which we give of the Savior should be altogether such as is exhibited in the Holy Scriptures. If, at one time, we represent him as an atoning sacrifice for sin, saying, with the Baptist, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world;" or, at another time, exalt him as the Head of his Church, ready to "baptize men with the Holy Spirit and with fire;" we must not fail to proclaim him also as the Judge of the living and dead; and to declare, with the Baptist, that "His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire!"

This is a subject to which we cannot too often call your attention, seeing how deeply we are interested in,

I. The discriminating judgement which will be made at the last day.

All men are here divided into two classes, under the images of "wheat and chaff".

These images are just: for though all men spring from one common root, yet there is a great difference between them: some, as righteous, resembling wheat; and others, as wicked, answering rather to the chaff.

The righteous may fitly be considered as wheat: for they are solid in the whole of their experience: their repentance is deep and genuine: their faith is lively and operative: their self-dedication to God is uniform and entire. They have in themselves a real and intrinsic worth.

The wicked, on the contrary, whether they are merely nominal Christians or hypocritical professors, may well be compared to chaff: for they are light, unsubstantial, worthless. They may, to a superficial observer, appear like solid grain: but they will not bear a scrutiny.

Examine their repentance: it has no depth in it: they have never known what a broken and contrite spirit means.

Examine their faith: it has nothing beyond a bare assent to certain truths: they have never fled to Christ, as the manslayer to a city of refuge: they have never been cut off from their old stock, and been grafted into Christ, as scions; and been made to live by him, as branches of the living vine: such "a life of faith in the Son of God" is altogether unknown to them.

Examine their obedience also: it goes to externals only; while the heart, instead of being given to him, is set upon the things of time and sense.

In a word, they may "have the form of godliness; but they have not the power," they may "have a name to live; but they are really dead!"

In this world, however, they lie in one commingled mass.

After the corn is threshed, it lies on the floor, mixed together in one indiscriminate heap. Thus, in the house of God, people of every character are assembled: nor is any man such a discerner of spirits, as that he can separate the evil from the good. The two are united in the same works of charity and beneficence; yes, and compose the members of the same family: they even join frequently in the same religious society; and sit down together, like Judas with the eleven, at the same supper of the Lord. This we are taught by the Lord Jesus Christ to expect, as long as we continue in the world: "the tares and the wheat grow together in the field;" nor is it in the power of man to separate them.

But the Lord Jesus Christ, in the day of judgment, will discriminate infallibly between them.

The gardener, by the simple process of winnowing the corn, makes the wished-for separation. Thus, at the last day, the Lord Jesus Christ will "purge his floor;" yes, already is the winnowing fan in his hand, prepared for the work: and so perfect will the operation be, that not a single grain of wheat will be found among the chaff; nor the smallest atom of chaff be left among the wheat. The least and weakest of God's people are infallibly distinguished by him here; as it is said, "I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted with a sieve—yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth." And shall not the same care be taken by the Judge of the living and dead hereafter?

On the other hand, "nothing that is unclean, or that defiles, shall enter into the mansions of bliss; and therefore we are sure that no hypocrite can find admittance there. The distinction between the wheat and the chaff will be unerring and complete.

Let us proceed to contemplate,

II. The final outcome of it to the souls of men.

"The wheat will be treasured up in his barn".

The gardener regards the wheat as the object for which he has labored, and as the recompense of all his toils; and he considers it as a treasure whereby he is enriched. It is in this light that the Lord Jesus Christ regards his faithful and obedient people. When the separation of them shall be made, and he shall behold them all assembled in one vast body, with what delight will he view them! How will he call to mind his own labors and sufferings in their behalf! and how will "he be satisfied, when he sees in them the travail of his soul." It was with a view to this, that "he endured the cross, and despised the shame," when he was in this lower world. It was with a view to "this joy" he had then respect: and no feeling of regret will occupy his mind, when he shall see their number, their safety, their felicity.

And shall not the saints themselves rejoice, when they shall find themselves thus approved of their Lord, and have no more wintry blasts to menace them, or noxious blights to endanger, their security? O, blessed day! The Lord prepare us for it, and grant us all to behold that day in peace!

But "the chaff will be burned up with unquenchable fire!"

The chaff, as being altogether worthless, was burned. And what other end can the wicked hope for in that day? Can they suppose, that, after all the labor that has been bestowed upon them, and bestowed in vain, they shall meet with the same favor as the grain by which the laborer's toil has been repaid? Can it be hoped that there shall be no "difference put between those who have served their God, and those who serve him not?"

No, for them is a fire prepared; and happy would it be for them if they might be consumed by it speedily, like chaff! But though ever burning, they will never be consumed: they themselves will be as imperishable, as "the fire is unquenchable;" and to all eternity will they endure the justly-merited wrath of an avenging God. Then shall be fulfilled in them the prediction of the Prophet Malachi, "Behold, the day comes that shall burn as an oven: and all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be as stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord Almighty, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." "The worm," that is in their consciences, "shall never die; and the fire that shall torment them shall never be quenched."

See, then, brethren,

1. What need there is to examine the real state of your souls.

Nothing would be more easy than to ascertain this, if you would listen to the voice of conscience: but what a fearful thing will it be to dream of Heaven, when you awake in Hell!

2. What need there is to live in a preparation for the eternal world.

While you are here, your character may be changed, and your bliss secured: but in the grave there is no work," etc. As you are found in death, you will exist forever!

 

 

#1285

Fulfilling All Righteousness

Matthew 3:15

"Thus it befits us to fulfill all righteousness."

TO consult, in difficult circumstances, the judgment of wise and good men, is doubtless very advisable: but to place implicit confidence in any is not expedient; since even the best of men may err. We have a very remarkable instance of the fallacy of human judgment, in the case of the Apostle Peter; who would have dissuaded the Lord Jesus from subjecting himself to those sufferings which were about to come upon him; and who, on account of the carnality of his sentiments, incurred the marked displeasure of his Lord.

We do not impute any measure of such blame to John the Baptist, for the unwillingness he expressed to comply with the wishes of our Lord: for he was evidently under the influence of a most befitting spirit, and had good grounds for the advice he offered: but still he erred; and our blessed Lord overruled his objections, declaring, that the administration of baptism to him at that time was a measure not only expedient, but necessary: for that "thus it befit him to fulfill all righteousness."

The precise force of our Lord's assertion not being perfectly clear, I shall,

I. Confirm it as a truth, in relation to our Lord.

John, feeling his own utter unworthiness to administer baptism to our blessed Lord, and having in his mind a persuasion that, however needful baptism was for others, it could not be so for Jesus—declined to execute the office that was assigned him. And, so far as Jesus alone was concerned, the judgment of John was right: for the rite of baptism imported, that the person receiving that ordinance needed to be washed from sin, and to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and to be saved by the Messiah who should come. But Jesus had no sin to wash away, nor any need to be either regenerated or saved; and, consequently, he could have no need of this ordinance, which was intended to shadow forth, and to impart, those blessings unto men.

Yet did our Lord say what was strictly true, when, in reference to this very ordinance, he spoke of the observance of it by himself as a necessary part of that righteousness which he had come to fulfill. It was so,

1. Because he stood in the place of sinners.

The Lord Jesus Christ having undertaken the great work of our redemption, had the iniquities of the whole world laid upon him; and therefore, as the representative of sinners, he needed all which was needed by those whom he undertook to save. Hence he had in his infancy submitted to circumcision, which was of precisely the same import as baptism. So, at the close of his ministry, he endured the full penalties of the broken law, suffering all that we deserved to suffer at the hands of a righteous and offended God. He needed not on his own account to drink this bitter cup: but, when he was found in the place of sinners, those sufferings could not be dispensed with. "Seeing, therefore, that the cup could not pass away from him," he drank it to the very dregs. Every part of his humiliation, from the first to the last, was necessary, for the full attainment of his end: and therefore baptism, as an essential part of that humiliation, was required by him, in order to the completion of that righteousness which he had undertaken to fulfill.

2. Because it befit him to give his public attestation to the divine mission of John.

John had been sent into the world as his forerunner, to announce his advent, and to call men's attention to him as the true Messiah. Moreover, John had been informed that the person who was to sustain that high office should be made known to him by a visible descent of the Holy Spirit upon him: and this descent was to be at the time of our Savior's baptism.

Now, if Jesus had not submitted to the ordinance of baptism, the ends of John's mission would have been defeated. For Jesus was not personally known to John: and it was only by this miraculous effusion of the Holy Spirit upon him that he was to be distinguished: and, consequently, the plan which Jehovah had adopted for the manifestation of his Son would, so far as the Baptist's testimony was concerned, have been altogether frustrated. In order, therefore, that the mission of John might produce the effects proposed, Jesus overruled the objections of John, and received at his hands the ordinance which he was commissioned to administer.

3. Because it was the appointed means of his own solemn consecration to God.

There were two ways in which the Lord Jesus was to be consecrated to his office: the one was by an effusion of the Holy Spirit upon him (as the typical high priests were by a holy unction); and the other was by an audible voice from Heaven, bearing testimony to him as the person sent of God to be the Savior of the world. Now these two attestations from above were of vast importance, not only for the satisfaction of John, but also for the satisfaction of the whole world. Besides, this effusion of "the Spirit, which was given to him without measure," was given in order to qualify him, as it were, for the discharge of his high office.

It had been said by the prophet, that God would "anoint him" to his office: and that there "should rest upon him a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of might, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; and that God would make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord." Now though, as God, he possessed "all the fullness of the Godhead bodily," yet, as man, and as Mediator, he needed to be thus qualified by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Therefore on this account, as well as for the reasons before mentioned, it was necessary he should comply with the ordinance that had been enjoined, and not be diverted from his purpose by the well-meant, but mistaken, scruples of the Baptist. In truth, from the administration of this ordinance to him, and the consequent testimony borne to him by the Father and the Holy Spirit, we have an evidence of his Messiahship, which ought to carry conviction to every mind of man.

Having explained our Lord's assertion, as referring personally to him, I shall,

II. Enforce it as a duty, in reference to ourselves.

When our Lord says, "It befits us to fulfill all righteousness," we must consider the obligation as extending, of course, to every child of man. And certainly this obligation does attach to us,

1. As creatures of God.

The whole intelligent creation are under obligation to serve and obey the Lord. Whether the command given them is moral, and necessarily arising from their relation to him; or merely positive, arising from the arbitrary appointment of Heaven; it makes no difference: they are equally bound to fulfill whatever they know to be his will. Adam was as much bound to abstain from eating the forbidden fruit, as he was to love his God.

Just so it is with us: we must fulfill all righteousness: however humiliating the command be, or whatever our obedience may expose us to, we have no alternative: we must yield a cheerful and determined obedience to it. It was beyond measure humiliating to the Lord Jesus Christ to submit to a rite which made him appear to be a sinner like unto us, and gave reason to all around him to suppose that he needed a Savior like us. Yet he regarded not what men might say or think respecting him: he determined to submit to the ordinance, and would not be dissuaded from his purpose. Thus men may think and say of us, that we are weak, enthusiastic, absurd: but we must know no authority but God's, and have no standard for our actions but his revealed will: and our determination, through grace, must be to "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God."

2. As followers of Christ.

Though the Lord Jesus Christ has purchased for us the remission of our sins, and we have been "baptized into his name for the remission of sins;" yet we are in no respect absolved from our obedience to God, nor is any one duty we owe to him in any measure relaxed. On the contrary, our obligations to holiness are, if possible, increased; since the very end of Christ's mediation was "to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."

Besides, he came to "set an example for us, that we should follow his steps." Was "he then without sin; and was he without deceit?" We should, as far as possible, resemble him; and neither do anything, nor forbear anything, but in perfect accordance with the commands of God. If we profess to belong to him, we must "walk in all things as he walked."

3. As hoping for a testimony from God in the last day.

We all expect a future judgment, wherein "the inmost counsels of our hearts will be made manifest," and "every man will be dealt with according to his works." Then will God bear witness to his faithful and obedient servants, saying, "Well done, good and faithful servants; enter into the joy of your Lord."

But how can we hope for such a testimony from him, if we have any reserves in our obedience to him? How can he say, "This is a beloved son of mine, in whom I am well pleased," if he has seen in us any willful departure from his ways? How can he acknowledge us as "Israelites indeed, if we have not been without deceit?"

Know then, my brethren, what your duty is, and how it must be performed, if ever you would be approved of your God in that day. Truly, "it befits every one of us to fulfill all righteousness," and if there be any reserve whatever in our minds, instead of being approved of God as his children, we shall be condemned by him as hypocrites. "A right hand or a right eye" that is retained contrary to his command will inevitably subject us to his everlasting displeasure. It will be to no purpose to say, that, while following our superiors in rank and learning, we concluded we were acting right: for "the rulers of the Jewish nation rejected the counsel of God against themselves, by refusing the baptism of John;" while the publicans and harlots availed themselves thankfully of the offered benefit.

If Christ himself thus withstood the current of public example in his day; and sanctioned, by his conduct, the more duteous deportment of the lower classes; so should we, unawed and uninfluenced by the whole world, determine, with God's help, to "follow the Lord fully," and to sanction nothing which God himself will not approve. We should prefer entering Heaven with publicans and harlots, to the being excluded from it with the great and mighty of the earth. To the approbation of God alone should we look; and with the prospect of that we should be content.

 

 

#1286

Christ's Temptation

Matthew 4:1

"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."

THE agency of Satan in the affairs of man cannot be doubted by any one who really believes the representations given us in the inspired volume. His great employment from the very first has been to seduce men to sin. And from the success which he obtained over our first parents in Paradise, he is said by our Lord to have been "a murderer from the beginning." Even our blessed Lord himself did he assault, in the hope of prevailing against him, and of thereby defeating the great ends and purposes for which he was sent into the world.

This, in the counsels of the Most High, was permitted, in order that that great adversary of God and man, who had been the means of introducing sin into the world, might be himself confounded; and man, his wretched victim, be rescued from his dominion. I say, this conflict was permitted by God himself: for we are told in my text, that "Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil."

To unfold to you this mysterious transaction, I shall,

I. Consider it in all its leading circumstances.

II. Show what interest we have in it.

The first thing to be noticed is the season which Satan chose for making his assaults on our blessed Lord.

It was, in part, a season of peculiar elation, and, in part a season of more than ordinary depression.

Our Lord's Messiahship had just before been audibly attested by a voice from Heaven; "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Now this would appear to us the most unfit season that could be imagined, since by such a testimony as had been given him, our Lord's mind, so to speak, would be doubly fortified against every temptation. But Satan knew, that exalted enjoyments are apt to put us off our guard; as David had evinced; "In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved: Lord, by your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong."

Accordingly he is accustomed to embrace all such opportunities of assaulting man. It was when Paul had been caught up into the third heavens, that Satan buffeted him with more than ordinary forced. And he actually vanquished Peter immediately after the highest honor had been conferred upon him. It would seem that Satan particularly availed himself of the occasion now afforded him, because he founded his temptations upon the testimony itself: "If you are the Son of God," do so and so.

To counterbalance this testimony, our Lord had now been left forty days without food: and consequently, it seemed as if he were neglected by his heavenly Father. Satan therefore took advantage of this circumstance to urge upon our Lord yet more strongly the expediency of dissipating without delay the doubt which the occasion suggested, and the expediency of giving to the world some satisfactory proof of his Messiahship. It was in the absence of her husband that he had prevailed against Eve; and he hoped to prevail against Jesus also, now that his heavenly Father had in appearance withdrawn himself from him.

Thus, whether our Lord was in a state of light and joy, or of darkness and distress, Satan hoped to make his condition the means of forwarding the object which he had in view.

The particular suggestions whereby Satan tempted our Lord must next be distinctly stated.

The period allotted for this conflict being now come nearly to a close, Satan renewed with still greater energy the assaults which had more or less been made on our Lord during all the days of his temptation.

He tempted our Lord to a distrustful questioning of his Father's care. Both Moses and Elijah, the one the giver, and the other the restorer, of the law, had fasted forty days: and it seemed good to Almighty God, that Jesus, when introducing a new dispensation, should fast in like manner, and for the same period of time. But Satan strove to impress our Lord with the thought, that he was forsaken by his heavenly Father, and that it was therefore expedient for him to relieve his own needs by "commanding the stones to be made bread." This, however, as casting a reflection on his heavenly Father, Jesus would on no account do. Indeed, without the Father's blessing, no such supply would be of any avail. This our Lord showed from the Scriptures of truth, wherein it is said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God," who alone can render anything available for our real good.

Having failed in this, Satan urged him to an opposite extreme, even to a presumptuous tempting of the Father's power. He took our Lord, doubtless with his own concurrence, as one man would take another, to a pinnacle or battlement of the temple, and urged him, in proof of his Messiahship, to cast himself down from thence, which he told him he might safely do, because God, on whom he seemed so confidently to rely, had promised to "give his angels charge over him, that he should not dash his foot against a stone." But in citing this Scripture, Satan withheld that part which restricted the promise to people walking in the path of duty. For any person to expose himself to danger without necessity, in order to see whether God would preserve him from injury, would be the highest act of presumption. It would be, in fact, to tempt the Lord. And therefore our Lord repelled the temptation by adducing another passage of Scripture, more appositely and justly quoted, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God."

What Satan could not do by deceit, he now endeavored to effect by the greatness of his offers, whereby he would induce our Lord to an idolatrous rejection of his Father's authority. He took our Lord to an exceeding high mountain, and "showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them," most probably the kingdoms in and around Canaan, from whence the glory of all other kingdoms might be inferred; and promised to "give him all, if only he would fall down and worship him."

This would have been, in fact, to renounce his heavenly Father, and to give to Satan the honor due to God alone. How offensive such a proposal must be to our blessed Lord, we may well conceive. But, though filled with indignation, our Lord still had recourse only to the written word for the repelling of this impious proposal, and, bidding him to depart, he gave him this as the rule to which every creature must adhere, "You shall worship the Lord your God; and him only shall you serve."

The outcome of these temptations comes now in the last place to be mentioned. Satan, foiled, was obliged to leave the field. He could not withstand the authoritative command of Jesus. Abashed and confounded, he, for the present, desisted from his enterprise. True, he departed only for a season, as the Evangelist informs us, and as the subsequent history of our Lord attests. But on the present occasion the victory was gained by our blessed Lord; and, as I shall show under my next head, immense advantage was obtained for the followers of Christ in all ages.

Now too, that evil spirit being vanquished, other spirits came down from Heaven to support and congratulate our victorious Lord. Whether they administered to his bodily wants, we are not informed: but they doubtless were God's messengers to him to console his fainting spirit, and to animate him to all future conflicts.

We may now proceed to consider,

II. What interest we have in this mysterious occurrence.

The account here given us is of far greater importance than we in general are apt to imagine.

1. It is a record of what the Lord Jesus Christ has effected for us.

Satan, by overcoming the first Adam, had caused him and all his posterity to be excluded from Paradise, and to be consigned over to the curse due to sin. But Christ, the second Adam, by vanquishing for us that great adversary, has reopened for us the gate of Paradise, and caused his holy angels not only to abstain from prohibiting our entrance with a sword of fire, but to aid us, and encourage us in our endeavors to regain the blessedness we have lost. From that time they have been "sent forth to minister unto the heirs of salvation, to uphold them under any difficulties to which they may be exposed in life, and to attend them in the hour of death for the purpose of bearing their departing spirits to the realms of bliss.

We before mentioned that Satan left him but for a season. At a subsequent period, he returned again to the charge, attended with innumerable hosts, even with all "the powers of darkness." Yes, and he prevailed to "bruise the heel" of our most adorable Lord. But our Lord "bruised his head," and even "by death overcame him that had the power of death, that is, the devils," yes, he then "spoiled principalities and powers, triumphing over them openly on his very cross," and in his ascension, "led captivity itself captive;" thus "judging and condemning the Prince of this world," and leaving us nothing but a vanquished enemy to contend with.

To appreciate this mercy aright, we should look all around us, and see what evil that wicked fiend has occasioned to the whole human race from the very beginning of the world; and then look down to the regions of the damned, to see what misery he has entailed on millions of immortal souls, and will entail on us also, if the Savior makes not his victories available for us. Surely in the contemplation of these things we cannot but feel thankful to our blessed Lord for having thus undertaken our cause, and by his victorious conflicts obtained for us a restoration, to our forfeited inheritance.

2. A pledge of what he will effect in us.

There is a striking correspondence between the assaults which Satan made upon our Lord, and those which we also, each of us in our measure, have to contend with. For so says the Scripture; "In all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren," and "in all points he was tempted, even as we are." In fact, the reason of his submitting to these trials was, that by means of them he might acquire a sympathy with us in our conflicts, and "being touched with the feeling of our infirmities," attain both a disposition and ability to afford us the support which we stand in need of.

In our conflicts with the world, he bids us look to his victories over it as a pledge of what he will grant to us: "In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." So, in like manner, he tells us that "the prince of this world is cast out;" and that, provided only we "resist him, he shall flee from us" also, and in due season "be bruised under our feet" forever.

Let us not then be discouraged at the thought that "we have to wrestle, not with flesh and blood only, but with principalities and powers, and spiritual wickedness in high places," for there is armor provided for us, even the very same that Jesus himself made use of. From the Holy Scriptures we may take, as it were, "the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit: and, fighting in the strength of the Lord Jesus, we shall be enabled to withstand all the powers of darkness, and stand victors over all. Yes, we shall rise superior to them all, even as Jesus Christ himself did, and, as assessors with him in judgment, shall unite with him in pronouncing the sentence which shall doom them all to that lake of fire into which they have in vain labored to plunge our souls.

Are any of you then under circumstances of temptation to distrust, as people forsaken by the Lord? Know that "your God will never leave you nor forsake you." If the vision tarry ever so long, wait for it: for it shall surely come, and not tarry one moment beyond the fittest time.

If, on the other hand, you are tempted to presumption, and to run uncalled into scenes of bodily or moral danger, remember that, whatever stress you may lay on garbled extracts from God's word, you cannot hope to be preserved, except in the ways that God himself has prescribed. If, like Israel of old, you go against your enemies unsent, you shall, like them, assuredly, meet with a repulse.

Finally, if, like Demas, you are tempted to apostatize from God, and to prefer the things of this world as your portion—then reject the proposal with abhorrence, and, instead of yielding, like him, determine, through grace, to live only for Him, who lived and died for you.

 

 

#1287

The Call of Four Apostles

Matthew 4:18–22

"And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." They immediately left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him."

IT has pleased God on many occasions to give marks of his special approbation to people while they were employed in their worldly callings. David was taken from his father's sheep-folds, when he was appointed to feed and govern the kingdom of Israel. The shepherds were watching over their flocks by night, when a choir of angels announced to them the Messiah's birth. And four of the Apostles were occupied in spreading, or in mending their nets, when the Lord Jesus selected them for his stated and most intimate attendants.

We do not mean to say that a discharge of earthly duties can merit anything at the hand of God, or that he will have respect to it in that view: but certainly, to fulfill the duties of our respective stations is a service highly pleasing and acceptable unto God; nor are we ever more likely to receive blessings from God, than when we are occupied in performing the offices which he himself has assigned us.

But it is not so much to the season when these Apostles were called, as to the call itself, that we now propose to direct your attention. For this end let us inquire,

I. How far the call given to them is applicable to us.

We must consider our Lord's address to them as relating, in part, to the high office to which he had destined them as his Apostles. The world at large were not called to renounce their worldly occupations, and become itinerant ministers of the word: on the contrary, the great body of Christians were repeatedly bidden to "abide in the calling wherein they were called," yes, "to abide therein with God." Thus far, therefore, the command given to them is not properly applicable to us. But, in part, the command referred to their general duty as Christians: and in that sense it is given to everyone to whom the Gospel itself is sent. We may consider our Lord as at this moment addressing us, and requiring us,

1. To embrace his religion.

We cannot follow Christ one single step, without first coming to him as the Savior of the world. We must regard him as the true Messiah; we must view him as invested with all power in Heaven and in earth, that he might redeem us to God by his blood, and deliver us by his almighty grace. We must consider him as having all fullness treasured up in him for us, that we may receive out of it, according to our respective necessities, "wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."

It is not merely to give an intellectual assent to certain truths that we are called, but to realize them, and to live upon them. We must not merely acknowledge that Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life," and that "he has reconciled us to God by his blood," but we must determine, with the Apostle:
to know nothing but Christ crucified,
to trust in nothing but his righteousness,
and to glory in nothing but his cross.

2. To walk in his steps.

Next to our believing in him is that obedience which we are to render to his commandments. If faith in him is the root, obedience to him is the fruit, which must immediately and with increasing abundance, proceed from it. Our blessed Lord came, not only to save us by his meritorious passion and death, but, to "set us an example that we should follow his steps." To follow him, therefore, we must "walk as he walked."

Behold his zeal for the glory of his God and Father; it even "consumed him," so ardently did it burn within him. Such should be our zeal also: it should be "our food and drink to do our Father's will."

Behold his humility, his self-denial, his meekness, his patience, his compassion, his love. In all of these we are to resemble him; and to be progressively "changed into his image from glory to glory by the Spirit of our God" O that all who profess themselves his followers were more like Him in the whole of his spirit and temper! It is this that marks the Christian: all without this is hypocrisy and delusion.

3. To devote ourselves openly to his service.

It is well to be Christians in our secret chamber: but we must remember, that "our light is also to shine before men." We must confess Christ before men: and if we are ashamed or afraid to do so, we cannot be his disciples. "With the heart man believes unto righteousness; but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." His name, his cause, his people are despised by an ungodly world—and we must share in their contempt: we must "follow him outside the camp, bearing his reproach."

There is no occasion to affect singularity in trivial matters; (that should rather be avoided,) there are points enough of importance in which we must be singular; we cannot resemble him without being singular; because the ungodly world are as opposite to him as darkness is to light. Of course, therefore, we must be "as lights in a dark place, as cities set upon a hill." Nay, we are not to be contented with "abstaining from fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness; we are actively and boldly to reprove them;" and must show ourselves on the Lord's side; endeavoring to maintain his honor, and to advance his interests in the world.

These are points of universal and unalterable importance: and we are required to follow Christ in these respects, no less than the Apostles themselves. This call, I say, is given equally to us; and it befits us all to inquire,

II. In what manner we should obey it.

We need only notice the conduct of these holy Apostles, and we shall be at no loss how to regulate our own. The command itself is plain; and we must obey it,

1. Instantly, without delay.

We see not the smallest hesitation in any one of those whom Jesus called, in our text. Elsewhere we find that one expressed a wish "to go first and bid farewell" to his friends; and another desired to "go first and bury his father." But there is no time for compliment on an occasion like this. The call of God is of paramount obligation: nothing is for a moment to interfere with our obedience to it. We know not but that it may be the last call we ever shall receive.

The people invited to the marriage supper wished to excuse themselves for that time; but they were never invited again: on the contrary, the founder of the feast resolved, that "not one of them should ever taste of his supper." A similar resolution may at this very moment be formed by the Lord Jesus Christ, if we now refuse to become his followers. "His Spirit will not always strive with man." There is "a day when the things which belong to our peace may be forever hidden from our eyes;" and our "God may swear in his wrath, that we shall never enter into his rest."

O that that day may never come with respect to us! O that we may not foolishly dream of "a more convenient season," which shall never arrive! But let us "today, while it is called today," comply with this divine call. Let us imitate the man after God's own heart, whose experience is recorded in those memorable words, "I made haste, and delayed not to keep your commandments."

2. Fully, without reserve.

While some are wishing to defer their compliance with this command, others make exceptions against it in some particulars, and would gladly have it lowered to their taste and convenience. Thus it was with the Rich Youth, who, when required to "sell all and give it to the poor, and to look for his treasure in Heaven," accounted it a hard saying, and parted with Christ and Heaven, rather than with his wealth. "One thing he lacked;" and that one thing as effectually ruined him, as ten thousand would have done. O that we may learn from his fate, not to make any exceptions or reserves; but to "follow the Lord fully," even as Caleb and as Joshua did!

It was a great trial to Peter and Andrew to leave their nets; and to James and John to leave their father also: but the grace of Christ was sufficient for them, and they willingly forsook all for him.

Thus must we do: we must give a preference, a strong and decisive preference, to Christ, above all earthly relatives, or worldly possessions. We cannot now be called to act as Levi did; but the zeal of Levi must be in us, and all things, not excepting parents or life itself, must be hated in comparison of Christ. We are plainly warned respecting the terms on which alone our Lord will consider us as his; and we must "count the cost," gladly parting with everything, that we may obtain "the pearl of great price!"

3. Perseveringly, without end.

Religion is not for a day or a year, but for the whole of our lives. "Our hands being once put to the plough, we must look back no more." God warns us, that, "if we draw back, his soul shall have no pleasure in us." "It is he who endures to the end, and he alone, who shall be saved" at last. As for a temporary obedience to this command, it would be worse than a continued opposition to it: "It were better not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to depart from it." "The latter end of an apostate is worse than his beginning."

We are particularly told to "remember Lot's wife," who was made an everlasting monument of his vengeance, not for going back to Sodom, but for looking back, and thereby showing that her heart was yet cleaving to the things which she had left behind. Happy will it be for us if we bear her in mind, and consider the danger of departing even in heart from the Lord.

If our trials be multiplied, we must cry the more earnestly to God for help, that through his all-sufficient grace we may say with David, "All this has come upon us; yet our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from your way."

Address.

1. Those who think that such obedience is impractical.

See how powerfully the word of Christ wrought on them. It is no less powerful now. Pray that it may come to your hearts in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.

2. Those who are hesitating whether to obey or not.

If it appears formidable to you to follow Christ now, think what it will be to be bidden to depart from him hereafter. That you will meet with trials is certain: but your losses shall be repaid a hundredfold in this life, besides a proportionable weight of glory in the world to come. Thousands can attest the truth of this. O choose the better part, which shall never be taken away from you!

3. Those who are engaged in following the Lord.

Though you may not be called, as preachers, to be "fishers of men," yet in your several stations God will make you instrumental to the salvation of men. A holy life will operate on many who would never have been wrought upon by the preached word. None prove such stumbling-blocks as you, if your lives be unsuitable to your profession, and none such blessings, if you walk worthy of your high calling. "Seek therefore more and more to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things."

 

 

#1288

The Blessedness of the Humble

Matthew 5:1–4

"And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

THERE is no portion of the Holy Scriptures for which mankind at large express so great a reverence, as that which is called the Sermon on the Mount.

Some exalt it above the rest of the sacred volume, and affirm that we need not attend to any other part. This is certainly wrong, since every part of that blessed book is given by inspiration from God.

On the other hand, there are some who would get rid of it altogether, by supposing that it was addressed to the Apostles only, and that common Christians have nothing to do with it. But these also do greatly err: for not to mention that the Apostles were not yet chosen from among the disciples; the very declaration of Matthew, at the end of this discourse, shows that it was spoken to all the people. The multitudes being too numerous to be accommodated in any house or synagogue, our Lord went up into a mountain, and sat down after the custom of the Jewish teachers, in order to instruct them. Those disciples who were most eager for instruction, drew near unto him; while those who were more indifferent about it, contented themselves with remoter situations: but, for the benefit of all, "he opened his mouth" with peculiar solemnity, and taught them.

His design in this sermon was to open to them the nature of that kingdom which he had before announced as about to be established, and to rescue the moral law from those false glosses which the Pharisees had put upon it.

The people in general had an idea that their Messiah should establish a temporal kingdom, under which they were to enjoy the highest privileges and blessings. To counteract this vain expectation, he tells them, that his subjects would be indeed most blessed; but that their character and blessedness were widely different from anything that they supposed. They dreamed of riches and mirth; but the people whom he pronounced blessed, were the poor and mournful.

To illustrate and confirm the declarations of our Lord, we shall inquire,

I. Who are depicted under these characters.

Poverty of spirit, if viewed in all its extent, will include a variety of dispositions and feelings which will more properly fall under our consideration in other parts of the Sermon on the Mount. On this account, we shall confine ourselves to one view of it, which, however, we consider as most appropriate and most important.

It is thought by many, to import a disregard of riches and honors: but we consider it as designating a far more peculiar state of mind, not specified in any other part of this discourse. What poverty is, we need not be told. That man is poor who is destitute of all things needful for the body. From hence we may collect what poverty of spirit is: it is a sense of utter lack and helplessness in relation to the soul.

All men by nature are poor, because they are destitute of everything that is good. But many who are in this state, are far enough from poverty of spirit; they think they are "rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing". When they are become poor in spirit they are of a very different mind; they know that "they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." They feel themselves altogether destitute of wisdom, goodness, strength—and every good thing.

Nearly allied to these are "those who mourn." As poverty of spirit implies a sense of want and helplessness, so "mourning" implies a sense of guilt and corruption.

All men are guilty, and all corrupt—but, as in the former case, so in this, many are insensible of their state, and "think more highly of themselves than they ought to think." Not so "the mourners in Zion," they know their real character: they look back through their whole lives, and see that they have been altogether "alienated from God," and have "lived without him in the world." They see that their transgressions have been multiplied beyond the sands upon the seashore. They behold their iniquities set, as it were, in array against them:
their rebellions against their God and Father,
their contempt of Christ and his salvation,
their resistance to all the motions of the Holy Spirit,
the particular evils to which they have been more especially addicted,
the evils that yet cleave to them, in spite of their better judgment, and repeated endeavors to cast them off,
the mixture that there is in all their principles,
the defect in all their duties,
and the iniquity even of their holiest actions;

and, in the view of all these things:
"they groan, being burdened;"
they "blush and are confounded;"
they "abhor themselves in dust and ashes;"
they cry day and night, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?"

It appears to them a miracle of mercy, that they are out of Hell; and that too, not only for the transgressions of their former lives, but for the opposition which their flesh, or corrupt nature, is daily and hourly making to "the spirit," or heavenly principle, which has been imparted to them.

These two characters, "the poor in spirit," and "the mourners," though distinguished in the text, are so nearly allied, that they are united by the prophet Isaiah, and therefore are united by us. In fact, they are never separate: they always participate in each other's feelings, and always are subjects of the same blessedness.

Let us, in the next place, inquire,

II. In what their blessedness consists.

Doubtless, to carnal eyes, there is little in such characters that can render them objects of envy. To a superficial observer, they appear rather to be in a most melancholy and pitiable condition. But they are truly blessed:

1. Their privileges are great.

"The kingdom of Heaven is theirs!" even that kingdom which Christ has established in the world, and maintains in the hearts of men. The blessings of that kingdom are precisely such as they need; and they are in the very state to which all those blessings are promised. The Lord Jesus Christ has come into the world, in order to seek and save those who were lost. In him is treasured up all that they can desire.

He is "wisdom" to the ignorant,
He is "righteousness" to the guilty,
He is "sanctification" to the polluted,
He is "redemption" to the enslaved.

He addresses himself to the very people who are thus mourning over their blind, naked, destitute condition; and bids them accept at his hands:

"gold, that they may be enriched;
clothing, that they may be clothed;
and eye-salve, that they may see."

To feel and to lament their need of these things, is all the qualification that he requires for the reception of them. To those who are insensible of their need, he will impart nothing; but to the humble and contrite, he will give more than they can either ask or think! Indeed the "kingdom of Heaven" is theirs! They have not only a title to all its blessings, but a pledge of them already in their souls. Their spiritual poverty and contrition are evidences that the throne of Christ is already established in their hearts: and as certainly as they are made partakers of the kingdom of grace, so shall they in due time inherit the kingdom of glory.

And are not these people justly called "happy?" Who are "happy, but those who have their unrighteousness forgiven, and their sin covered!" Who are happy, but those who have Christ for their friend, and Heaven for their everlasting inheritance!

2. Their comforts are great also.

Strange as it may appear, there is a comfort, an exceeding great comfort, in mourning for sin; insomuch that the true Christian reckons the seasons of his deepest humiliation among the happiest hours of his life. But view the penitent when applying to his soul the great and precious promises of the Gospel: feels he no comfort in this exercise? View him when he obtains a glimpse of his Lord and Savior, and a taste of his pardoning love: with what "unspeakable, and even glorified joy" is he filled! The admiration, the love, the gratitude which he feels on such occasions, sometimes overwhelms him; and he is silent, not for want of will, but for want of power, to declare what God has done for his soul. What views has he at times of that priceless inheritance which is reserved for him!

With what adoring thoughts does he contemplate it!

With what ardent longings does he desire it!

With what assured confidence does he expect it!

Yes, beloved; his poverty and mourning, so far from robbing him of these joys, are the means of obtaining, enhancing, and perpetuating them!

Tell me, then, whether these are not comforts far beyond all that the world can give? Yet these are but the beginnings of the Christian's joy: for the cup which he but tastes of upon earth, he shall drink of to the full in Heaven, where there are rivers of pleasure at God's right hand for evermore.

There are two descriptions of people to whom we wish in few words to address this subject:

1. To those who seek after happiness, but are not pious.

How long shall it be before you shall be convinced of your error? Have you not had ample proof that Solomon's verdict respecting all worldly enjoyments is true? Have you not found them to be "vanity and vexation of spirit?" Is there one among you that has found the creature to be anything better than "a broken cistern?" We appeal to the aged, who have had leisure to reflect upon their past experience: we appeal even to the young in the midst of all their gaieties; have you found in earthly things any solid and permanent satisfaction? Have you found a portion suited to the desires and capacities of your immortal souls? Go, ask the rich, the great, the mirthful: Are you happy? They must all tell you, that "in the fullness of their sufficiency they are in straits."

Know then, that "God is the only fountain of living water," in Christ only can you "find rest for your souls." If you continue to seek happiness in the world—and you will only treasure up sorrow and disappointment. Begin to seek happiness in the exercises of piety, and you will soon find that "her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."

2. To those who seek after piety, but are not happy.

Why is this? Has our blessed Lord deceived us? Has he talked so much about the blessedness of being poor in spirit, and of mourning for sin—and is it all a delusion? Surely not. If you find not happiness in these exercises, it is because you do not engage in them aright. You either do not think so meanly of yourselves as you ought—or you are making your own vileness a reason for distrusting the tender mercy of your God. The reverse of this must be your conduct. You must endeavor to get the most humiliating views of your own guilt and helplessness; and must make that a reason not for staying away from the Savior, but for going to him. The more you feel your need of a physician, the more earnest you should be in your application to him; and the more will he be glorified in your salvation. Only follow his direction in going to him weary and heavy laden, and you shall soon experience the truth of his promise in finding rest unto your souls.

Perhaps there is some hidden abomination that you do not see—or will not part with. If so, it is no wonder that you are not happy: you may as well expect to be at ease while thorns are festering in your flesh, as to be happy while sin is harbored in your souls. But if it be indeed so, that you are upright before God, and are seeking the Savior with true humility of mind, and yet, through the present clouds that encompass you, you are not happy—God directs you to "stay yourself on him," and gives you this word for your encouragement, that "light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart," it is sown, though at present it be under the clouds; and in due time it shall assuredly spring up in your souls: your "heaviness may endure for a night; but joy shall come in the morning."

 

 

#1289

Christian Meekness

Matthew 5:5

"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

WHILE it is acknowledged on all hands, that Christianity far surpasses all other religions in the sublimity of its doctrines, few are aware how much it excels them also in the purity of its precepts. But we need go no further than to the words before us, to illustrate the superiority of the Christian code above all others.

Whatever might assimilate us to ferocious beasts, has been a subject of praise among the heathen world. To contend with enemies, to revenge affronts, to be foremost in deeds of heroism—this has exalted men to deities: but to be of a meek and yielding spirit has been deemed rather an indication of weakness, and a reason for contempt. Yet this is the spirit which our blessed Lord particularly commands, and declares to be intimately connected with true happiness.

In vindication of his assertions, we propose to set before you,

I. The character here specified.

The disposition which distinguishes the people here spoken of, is not that natural mildness and gentleness with which some are favored even from the womb—people of this description may be as far from true Christian meekness, as others who are of a more violent temper; but a meekness founded "in poverty of spirit," and in "mourning for sin," a fruit of the operation of the Spirit of God upon the soul. To view the Christian in the exercise of this grace of meekness, let us look at him,

1. In his conduct towards God.

He no longer, like others, disputes against the word of God, or murmurs on account of the dealings of his Providence. Whatever God requires, appears, in his eyes, to be right: and whatever he does, though for the present it may be dark and inexplicable, is considered as wise and good. He dares not on any account to murmur against God. Instead of objecting to any divine declaration, command, or threatening, as "a hard saying," he "trembles at it;" and receives it with meekness as an engrafted word, "able to save his soul." He may have many and great trials; but instead of "fretting against the Lord," he bows with humble submission, saying, "Not my will, but may your will be done." "He is silent, and opens not his mouth," from the consideration that all is done by his loving and gracious Father.

2. In his conduct towards men.

He is courteous. If in his unconverted state he has been rough, severe, and harsh—the operation of divine grace will be more conspicuous in him, by reason of the greatness of the change that has been produced. He has become a new man: all around him discern and feel the difference:
as a husband, he is more tender;
as a father, he is more kind;
as a master, he is more gentle;
as a member of society, he is more engaging.

He is modest, affable, easy of access, and amiable in the whole of his deportment. There is nothing of an overbearing disposition in him, but a willingness that others should think and act for themselves as well as he. This is his character, as described by the pen of an inspired writer: he is "no brawler, but gentle, showing all meekness to all men."

He is patient. Many in their natural state are so irritable, that it is impossible to please them long together: they are like the sea, tossed and agitated by every breath of wind. Not so the person who has attained the character in the text.

We do not say that he never speaks unadvisedly with his lips; for even Moses, the meekest of the human race, transgressed in this particular; and, if a man so bridled his tongue, as never in any instance to offend in word, he would be altogether perfect. But the Christian has attained such a measure of self-government, as "not to be easily provoked." He is "slow to anger, knowing that the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God." He accounts it "his glory to pass over a transgression." Where the offence committed is of such a nature as to require an expression of his displeasure, he endeavors so to guard his anger, so to temper it with love and pity; and so to restrain it both in measure and duration, that he may fulfill the precept, "Be angry, and sin not."

He is particularly on his guard in relation to religious controversy. If his sentiments are represented as erroneous and absurd, instead of yielding immediately to vehemence and invective, he will "give a reason of the hope that is in him with meekness and fear;" and will "instruct in meekness those who oppose him, if God perhaps may give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth."

If, on the other hand, it falls to his lot to reprove a fallen brother, he will endeavor to "restore such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering himself, lest he also be tempted."

He is forgiving. He will receive injuries like other men: but he will not resent them as others do. He knows that he is "not to recompense evil for evil unto any man," but rather to "heap coals of fire on the head of his enemies," if by any means he may at last melt them into love: "instead of being overcome by evil, he strives with all his might to overcome evil with good." The rule to which he endeavors to conform, is that which is laid down by our blessed Lord; (and who might so well require it of us, seeing that he himself exemplifies it so wonderfully towards all his people) it is that of forgiving, not once, or seven times merely, but seventy times seven.

In this indeed he labors to resemble Christ himself, "forbearing and forgiving others, even as Christ has forgiven him." He does not, it is true, receive to his bosom a person who is so constantly offending; nor is it necessary that he should, until the person himself be renewed in the spirit of his mind. But he will so far forgive, as to bear not the smallest ill-will towards him, but to be really glad of any opportunity to do him good.

Such, though in different degrees, is the true Christian. All do not attain the same eminence in these virtues; but all are distinguished for them in proportion to the grace they have received; nor can any man be accounted a true Christian, unless he has "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price."

If such a man is distinguished in the character he sustains, he is no less so in,

II. The blessedness he enjoys.

The New Testament encourages us principally by a hope of spiritual blessings: yet it sometimes gives us reason to expect also such as are temporal. That the promise here given to the meek is temporal, appears from the passage in the Psalms, from whence it is quoted: and it is indeed fulfilled to everyone who answers to the character in the text.

1. He has fewer occasions of disquietude than others.

Others, in addition to the common calamities of life, create trouble to themselves by their ungoverned tempers. When all would be peaceable and tranquil, they by their "grievous words stir up anger." As, to a man in a fever, every posture is uneasy, every food is insipid, every office is troublesome; so, to an impatient fretful man, everything becomes a source of trouble and vexation. Both the one and the other are ready to think that people are in league, as it were, against them—but the disease is within themselves! It is the soreness of their own flesh, not the hardness of the touch, that is in reality the source of their pain.

But the man that is truly meek, cuts off, instead of multiplying, occasions of pain. By kindness and courtesy he disarms his adversary; and "by his soft words, he turns away wrath." If he has himself inadvertently done wrong, he freely acknowledges his fault. And thus, by yielding, pacifies even great offences. If he has received an injury, the same disposition leads him to accept an acknowledgment, and not to insist on all the reparation which perhaps he might be justified in requiring. In many cases, he turns away his eyes from the evil that is done, and lets it pass unnoticed. In this manner he is kept from a thousand disputes which agitate others, and passes through life with half the troubles that vex and harass the world around him.

2. He is less affected by those troubles which do occur.

The sturdy oak has often its branches broken off by a storm, or perhaps is torn up by the roots, while the supple reed sustains no injury at all. Thus the meek submissive Christian bears up under those trials which the stoutest of ungodly men would be unable to endure. He receives them as from the hand of God, and says, "Shall a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" "I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him."

Even when men are the immediate causes of his troubles, he still looks, through the second causes, unto God the first cause of all; and says with Job, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed is the name of the Lord!"

How different is the state of such a man from one, who, "like a wild bull in a net," foams and bellows with unavailing rage! The world is not like the same place to the two characters: to the one it is as the confines of Hell; to the other, the portico of Heaven.

3. He is more tranquil in his own mind.

This necessarily arises from the two preceding considerations: but it is true in another point of view: the meek person has the testimony of a good conscience, and enjoys the presence of his God; while those who are destitute of that holy disposition, are of necessity unacquainted with these sources of heavenly consolation. As it is not possible for an impenitent unbelieving soul to taste that peace which passes all understanding; so neither can one who is morose, or irritable, or vindictive. His sins will hide good things from him, and will separate between him and his God.

The promise in the text is supposed by many to refer to the land of Canaan; and to that as typical of Heaven. And certainly in this sense also it is fulfilled to those who are truly meek. Often do they, (and never more than when suffering for righteousness' sake,) obtain Pisgah views of that promised land; and often are refreshed with the grapes of Eschol, even when most destitute of earthly comforts. In a word, they have a joy with which the stranger does not understand, and which is a pledge and foretaste of their heavenly inheritance.

Address.

Let Peter be heard in confirmation of all that has been said: "Good days" are "a blessing" which God designs us "to inherit," and a meek demeanor is the means by which we are to obtain it.

Let us not, however, put any Christian grace in the place of Christ: it is He, and he alone, that can give us either peace with God, or peace in our own consciences. Nevertheless, meekness, as a means, is conducive to happiness: and it is in vain to expect happiness, either in this world or in the next, if we do not attain it. "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom."

 

#1290

Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness

Matthew 5:6

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled."

MEN naturally desire happiness: but they know not in what it is to be found. The philosophers of old wearied themselves in vain to find out what was man's chief good was. But our blessed Lord has informed us wherein it consists: happiness is found in holiness alone; which, when embodied, as it were, and exercised in all its branches, renders us completely blessed. In this sense we understand the words of our text; wherein are set forth:

I. The distinctive character of a Christian.

It is a gross perversion of Scripture to interpret this passage as relating to the righteousness of Christ: for though it is true that every Christian desires to be clothed in that righteousness, and shall, in consequence of that desire, obtain his wishes—yet it is not the truth contained in the words before us: they certainly relate to that inward righteousness which every Christian must possess, and to that "holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." Now the character of every Christian is, that he desires holiness.

1. The true Christian desires holiness SUPREMELY.

Other desires are not eradicated from the human heart: the natural appetites remain after our conversion the same as before—except as they are restrained and governed by a higher principle. In proportion, indeed, as religion gains an ascendant in the soul, those words will be verified, "He who eats and drinks of the water that Christ will give him, shall never thirst." But from the very commencement of the divine life, all earthly things sink in the Christian's estimation, and are accounted as dung and dross in comparison of the Divine image. In this sense "Christ is all" to him: and he can say, "Whom have I in Heaven but you? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison with you."

2. The true Christian desires holiness CONTINUALLY.

While other desires remain in the heart, they will of course occasionally rise in opposition to the better principle: but the prevailing desire of the soul is after holiness. "The flesh may lust against the Spirit," and seem for a moment to triumph over it: but "the Spirit will lust and strive against the flesh," until it has vanquished its rebellious motions. The compass needle may be driven by force from its accustomed position: but its attractions are ever towards the pole; and it will never rest until it has resumed its usual place. Its momentary diversion serves but to prove its fixed habitual inclination. In like manner, temptation itself, in rousing up the soul to action—calls forth its heavenly tendencies, and displays the holy energies with which it is endued.

3. The true Christian desires holiness INSATIABLY.

Every other desire may be satiated; but the more of spiritual nourishment we receive, the more will our hunger and thirst after it be increased. Paul himself could not sit down contented; but forgetting what he had attained, he reached forth for higher degrees of holiness. It is only "when we awake up after the perfect likeness of our God, that we shall be satisfied with it."

Truly enviable will this state appear, if we consider,

II. The blessedness annexed to it.

To be filled with good and nutritious food is the utmost that the bodily appetite can desire. It is in this sense that we are to understand the promise in the text.

1. The person who hungers and thirsts after righteousness, shall be made TRULY righteous.

There is a negative kind of holiness, which is neither pleasing to God nor profitable to man: it consists merely in an abstinence from open sin, and a discharge of external duties. But real holiness pervades the whole man: it comprehends the whole circle of divine graces: it reaches to the thoughts and desires of the heart; and assimilates us to God in all his communicable perfections. Now this is that with which the true Christian shall be filled. In all his dispositions towards God and man, he shall be changed: he shall not only be delivered from all that would injure his character among men, but shall be "transformed into the very image of his God in righteousness and true holiness."

2. The person who hungers and thirsts after righteousness, shall be made PROGRESSIVELY righteous.

That degree of maturity to which Christians may attain, is not gained at once. All the members of the new man, as well as of the material body, do indeed exist at the moment of our birth: but they are then in a state of infantile weakness: and their arrival at a state of maturity is a gradual work.

Just so, this work shall be advanced in the souls of those who earnestly desire it: "they shall hold on their way, growing stronger and stronger;" and, like the risen sun, "shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day." "The Lord will perfect that which concerns them," and "carry on his work until the day of Christ!"

3. The person who hungers and thirsts after righteousness, shall be made PERFECTLY righteous.

Though absolute perfection is not to be attained in this life, yet every righteous person may expect it as the completion of his wishes, and the consummation of his bliss. The moment that his soul is released from this frail tabernacle, it shall bid an everlasting farewell to sin and sorrow. The hunger and thirst which characterize him in this world, will then cease forever: there will remain to him no heights unattained, no wishes unaccomplished. His soul will be "filled" with the desired good, yes, filled to the utmost extent of its capacity!

Application.

Are there those who, instead of hungering and thirsting after righteousness, despise it? Tell me, will you despise it in the day of judgment? Will you despise it, when you shall see the difference that is put between the godly and the ungodly?

And what is that which you prefer to it? Can you say of your pleasures, your riches, or your honors—what our Lord says of righteousness? Shall you certainly be filled with those things? or if you were, would they ever render you truly blessed? Go, ask of Solomon, or ask of any who have made the experiment; and see whether, in their sober moments, they will not confess those things to be "vanity and vexation of spirit?" O "spend not your money any more for that which is not bread, nor labor for that which satisfies not; but eat that which is good, and let your soul be satisfied with fatness."

Are there those who rest in a form of religion? Know that it is not the form, but the power, of godliness that God requires. The Pharisees of old abounded in outward duties; but "unless your righteousness exceeds theirs, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven." That which you must desire, that which you must attain, is a universal change both of heart and life: you must become new creatures: old things must pass away, and all things become new."

Are there any discouraged because of the small proficiency they have made in holiness? Doubtless this is a matter of lamentation to the best of men. If indeed we are excusing ourselves, and pacifying our consciences from the idea that in this frail state we cannot but commit sin, we are deceiving our own souls. For "he who is born of God, sins not;" that is, he allows not himself in any sin, whether of excess or defect; whether of commission or of omission.

But if "our souls are really athirst for God, and we are panting after him, as the deer after the water-brooks," we need not fear. God will before long "fill the hungry with good things;" "he will satisfy the longing soul, and replenish every sorrowful soul." The very idea of hunger is a painful sensation of want; and if holiness be the object of that appetite-then all shall be well, yes, and all is well: "that soul is blessed, and shall be filled."

 

 

#1291

The Reward of Mercifulness

Matthew 5:7

"Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy."

THERE can be no doubt but that every Minister should set forth the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel with frequency and firmness. If he lays not the foundation well, he can never hope to have his labors crowned with success.

On the other hand, it befits him very earnestly to inculcate the necessity of a Christian character: and, if he is not attentive to this, he must expect, that, while his people are filled with head-knowledge, they will dishonor their profession both by their spirit and conduct.

Our blessed Lord, throughout this whole discourse, shows us the importance of cultivating holy and heavenly dispositions: and, at the same time that he corrects the false notions which were entertained respecting the nature of his kingdom, declares unequivocally, that it is the practical Christian, and he alone, who is truly blessed.

In considering the declaration before us, let us inquire,

I. Who are they that answer to the character in the text.

Love has respect to men universally, whatever their condition be; but mercifulness has respect to them as objects of pity and compassion. Now "the merciful" man sympathizes with people in affliction, and desires to relieve them. He looks with an eye of pity,

1. The merciful Christian will look with an eye of pity upon those who are bowed down under their troubles.

If their trials be of a temporal nature, he longs to render them such service as their necessities require.

Are they laboring under bodily diseases? he will rejoice to procure for them all necessary aid.

Are they oppressed with poverty, or in embarrassed circumstances? he will deny himself in order to impart to them.

Are they distressed on account of painful bereavements? he will labor to assuage the anguish of their minds by tender assiduities and suitable consolations.

If their trials are of a spiritual nature, he will labor to bring them to that heavenly Physician, who will apply "the balm of Gilead" to their souls.

If a sense of guilt appals them, he will lead them to "the fountain opened for sin," and encourage them with assurances that "the blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse them from all sin."

If they be sorely tempted by Satan, he will endeavor to counteract the wiles and devices of their great adversary, and to direct them to that adorable Savior, whose "grace shall be sufficient for them."

If they are dejected on account of the hidings of God's face, he will "strengthen their weak hands, and confirm their feeble knees, and say unto their fearful hearts, Your God will come and save you!"

2. The merciful Christian will look with an eye of pity upon those who, though unconscious of their state, are really in a pitiable condition.

Does he behold a poor drunken man staggering in the streets? he cannot laugh at his frantic gestures, but is ready to weep over him, as he would over a maniac or an idiot that was lacerating his own flesh, or beating his head against a wall. The scoffing infidel, the proud Pharisee, the profane sensualist, the self-deceiving professor, and the bitter persecutor—all in their turn call forth his compassionate regards. He mourns over them, well knowing the misery which they are bringing on themselves: and, instead of despising them on account of the superiority of his own character—he longs, if possible, to "turn them from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God." If he sees any hopeful signs in them, "he travails in birth with them, until Christ be formed in them." Even if they are incorrigibly obstinate, he will not presently give up all hope, but will still watch for opportunities of doing them good. Filled with compassion towards them, he will, if possible, "save them with fear, pulling them out of the fire." If he himself is treated evil by them, he is affected with pity rather than with anger; and laments, not so much the injury which he suffers from them, as the injury they do unto their own souls.

Such is the merciful man. O that there were in all of us such a heart!

To prove that all such characters are "blessed," we shall proceed to inquire,

II. What is the reward promised to them.

"They shall obtain mercy," says our blessed Lord. But from whom? from man? yes, from man. Good men universally will account it the joy of their hearts to minister unto them, whenever occasion shall require it. And even bad men have within themselves such a conviction of the excellence of such characters, that they must do violence to themselves, before they can withhold that assistance which their necessities may require. Thus Job found it, and so shall we.

But supposing that men are ungrateful and unmerciful, still such characters shall be blessed; for God will be merciful unto them:

1. Here.

He will rather feed them by the ministry of ravens, than allow them to lack. "The lions may lack and suffer hunger; but they shall not lack any good thing." "God will supply all their needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus," and "will bless them in all that they put their hand unto."

But it is in their souls that they shall experience the richest blessings. Who can express the joy and delight which merciful men often experience in the exercise of their benevolence. It is no little joy that they diffuse; but infinitely more that they receive: they find the truth of that favorite saying of our Lord, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." This, indeed, is promised to them—and that God who cannot lie, will not fail to fulfill his word. In the time of their own greatest need, they shall find God's mercy to them most abundant.

We make our appeal to all who have exerted themselves much in doing good, whether they have not found it incomparably "better to go to the house of mourning, than to the house of feasting."

2. Hereafter.

Though no dispositions or actions of ours can merit anything at the hands of God, he will give unto them "a reward of grace." He would even account himself "unjust," if he did not do so. He considers himself as our debtor for everything that we do, provided we do it from a sense of gratitude to him, and with zeal for his glory; and "he will repay us." Not even "a cup of cold water, given for his sake," shall pass without a recompense.

Our exertions in acts of mercy will be the peculiar subjects of his inquiry in the day of judgment, and will be considered as evidences either of our being fit for glory, or ripe for vengeance. And if we be found to have fulfilled his will in relation to them, our harvest shall be proportioned to the seed that we have sown.

Certainly it befits us to be jealous of ourselves, that we do not found our hopes of salvation upon our deeds of mercy: for Jesus Christ is the only foundation of a sinner's hope. But if we look for happiness to arise from the employment of "the unrighteous mammon," we must look for it, not in the hoarding of riches, nor in making them subservient to carnal gratifications, but in doing good with them: and in that view, we do lay up a good foundation against the time to come, a foundation that shall stand forever.

We will subjoin for your use some beneficial cautions:

1. Be careful to distinguish between mercy and piety.

It is possible for people to be of a merciful disposition, while they are utter strangers to real piety. Natural constitution has made some more tender than others; and education has formed some to better habits. But it often happens that people of benevolent minds imagine all religion to consist in acts of kindness to their fellow-creatures. They found this notion even on the word of God itself: but they sadly misinterpret that passage, and entirely overlook the duty of "walking humbly with God." But this is no less necessary than acts of justice and of mercy: yes, without it all our virtues will he no better than splendid sins.

2. Be careful at the same time to combine mercy with piety.

Piety cannot exist without mercy. "The wisdom that is from above is full of mercy and good fruits." "The tree that brings forth not good fruit is fit only to be hewn down and cast into the fire." It is by "bearing one another's burdens that we fulfill the law of Christ."

We may talk of love to God, but we cannot possess it, if we delight not in every act and exercise of love. We may give good words to our poverty-stricken neighbor; but, if we do not administer relief at the same time, he will be no better for us. As our pretenses to love will be of no benefit to him, so neither will our pretenses to faith be of any benefit to ourselves. If we have not learned to "weep with those who weep," it is to no purpose to call ourselves Christians: we only deceive our own souls."

But it may be said, We have not a capacity to instruct our fellow-creatures; nor have we ability to relieve them: must we therefore be excluded from the number of true Christians? No, "If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not." But let us be sure that there is in us that willing mind, and that God sees "the yearning of our affections" in secret prayer for the relief of those, whom, in other respects, we are unable to assist.

3. Be on your guard against any declension in the exercise of this duty.

We are changeable creatures; and they who "have run well" for a season, are sometimes "hindered" in a more advanced stage of their course. But let us be on our guard, that we "be not weary in well-doing." If we have learned how "to walk and to please God, we should then endeavor to abound more and more." There is no limit at which we should stop. God himself is the pattern we should keep in view; and we should seek to "be merciful as our Father who is in Heaven is merciful."

If we want motives to exertion, let us reflect on the mercy shown to us by our adorable Lord and Savior, "who gave his own life a ransom for us," or let us consider what compassion he yet daily exercises towards us, "being touched with the feeling of our infirmities," and, as he has so loved us as to die for us, let us remember, that life itself is not too great a sacrifice for us to make, to promote the welfare of our fellow-creatures.

 

 

#1292

Purity of Heart

Matthew 5:8

"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God."

THERE is nothing in which mankind more generally imagine happiness to consist than in the uncontrolled indulgence of their selfish passions. It is probable that among those who looked for the establishment of the Messiah's kingdom, many pleased themselves with the idea, that his victories would open to them a way for multiplying captives to any extent, and consequently for the unlimited gratification of their corrupt appetites. To counteract such absurd notions, and to evince the spiritual nature of his kingdom, our blessed Lord declared, that happiness was to be found, not "in assimilating" ourselves to the brute creation, but in purity of heart and life: "Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God."

I. The character here mentioned, is that which first claims our attention.

Purity of heart may be considered as opposed to hypocrisy. In that sense it denotes a freedom from base and selfish ends in the whole of our transactions, both with God and man.

As strange as it may seem, the duties of religion itself may be performed from very unworthy motives. Pride, ostentation, self-righteousness, self-delight, may lie at the foundation of those very services whereby we pretend to honor God; and may render them, not only worthless, but hateful in his sight.

Our conduct also towards man may appear to be very favorable, and yet be full of dissimulation and deceit. It is no uncommon thing, as all who are conversant with the world know, to see men, under the guise of friendship, aiming only at the advancement of their own interests. Such duplicity is hateful to a true Christian. He who is "an Israelite indeed, is without deceit."

Purity of heart, in this sense, is beautifully exemplified in the Apostle Paul, whose ministrations had no other object than to advance the glory of God in the salvation of men. O that all of us possessed the same integrity; and could, like him, appeal both to God and man for the purity of our intentions, and the simplicity of our minds!

But purity may also be understood in opposition to impurity: and, if we suppose that our Lord designed to condemn the sensuality of those who expected the Messiah as a temporal Prince, we must of course annex that meaning to his words. Perhaps the more enlarged sense of the text, as comprehending both ideas, is the more just: but as the latter idea is of singular importance, we shall consider the character chiefly in reference to that.

We observe, then, that the person who is pure in heart,

1. Abstains from all acts of impurity.

Others may make light of fornication and adultery: but he knows them to be ruinous and damning sins: and he abstains from them, not merely from the fear of detection and disgrace, but from a dread of displeasing Almighty God, and of plunging his soul into everlasting misery. He is well convinced, that "the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body." He considers "his body as a member of Christ himself," and, if tempted to "take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot," he exclaims with horror, "God forbid!"

2. Harbors no evil desires in his heart.

Being of like passions with others, he cannot but feel as others on some occasions: but he has learned through grace to counteract the propensities of nature, and to "crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts." He knows that "fleshly lusts war against the soul;" and that, if not vigorously opposed in the first instance, they will soon gain the ascendant, and lead him captive. He sees how others are enslaved, "having eyes full of adultery, and cannot cease from sin." He has heard of that confession in the book of Proverbs, "I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly," and he dreads lest he in like manner should become a prey to his evil passions.

If evil thoughts or desires arise, he regards them as fire, which, if not extinguished speedily, will inflame and consume his soul. Hence he prays day and night, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." He is not contented with being "like a whited sepulcher, beautiful without, but full of all impurity within," he is as attentive to "the inside of the cup and platter," as he is to its exterior appearance.

3. Avoids the occasions of evil.

Many who have a regard for their character, will yet make no scruple of reading books, or hearing songs, or attending scenes, which tend to vitiate the mind. They will even court occasions of evil, delighting in that company and conversation which they know by experience to produce sinful impressions on their hearts.

Not so the person that is pure in heart: he stands at a distance from every polluting object. Like Joseph, he flies from those who would corrupt him. Like Job, he "makes a covenant with his eyes" and with his heart—that he will neither look, nor think, upon an object that will ensnare him. He knows that "the very thought of foolishness is sin;" and he is determined through grace, that "vain thoughts shall not lodge with him." He hates them: he loathes himself for his propensity to indulge them; and he longs to be "holy as God himself is holy."

II. The blessedness of those who have attained this character, is the next point to be considered:

1. They shall enjoy a sight of God in this world.

It is true, that "God dwells in the light which no man can approach unto," and that, in strictness of speech, "no man has seen him, or can see him." But there were manifestations of him given to his people of old, sometimes through the medium of the human or angelic form, and sometimes by a bright effulgence of his glory.

There are also other manifestations which God still makes of himself to the souls of men; and which he will grant to the pure in heart. It must not, however, be expected that, in speaking of these things, we can bring them down to the apprehension of the ungodly: they have no eyes to see them, no ears to hear them, no understandings to understand them: and it is as vain to speak of these things to them, as it would be to speak of colors to the blind, or sounds to the deaf, or tastes to those who had no palate.

Nevertheless we must affirm, on the authority of God himself, that "the pure in heart shall see God." They shall see him in his ordinances, while others are altogether unconscious of his presence. They shall see him in their secret chamber, where he will draw near unto them, and "say, Here I am." They shall see him in all the works of creation, and in all the dispensations of his providence. They shall see him in every comfort and in every cross. His wisdom, his goodness, his love, his mercy, his faithfulness, are ever before their eyes. They have such views of him and his perfections as words cannot describe; and such fellowship with him as a carnal man has no idea of.

The impure may mourn, and even "howl upon their beds;" but the pure, like Moses of old, have near access to God, and see "him who is invisible;" and by this sight are strengthened, supported, comforted, and sanctified.

2. They shall behold the beatific vision in Heaven.

Thither the unclean can never be admitted. As well might "light have communion with darkness, or Christ with Belial," as they participate the blessedness of Heaven.

If it be asked, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord, and stand in his holy place?" the answer is, "He who has clean hands, and a pure heart." To him a glorious inheritance is promised: for him a place in the heavenly mansions is prepared: a seat upon the very throne of God himself is reserved for him. There shall his organs of vision be strengthened to behold all the glory of the Godhead. At present he "sees God only as through a glass, darkly; but then he will behold him face to face. Now he knows God only in part; but then he will know him, even as he himself is known."

Address.

1. The mirthful and dissipated.

Perhaps you refrain from gross iniquity; and therefore "imagine yourselves pure, though you are not washed from your inward filthiness." In this notion you are countenanced by the world at large—but "let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of inward impurity, as well as outward impurity, the wrath of God comes upon all the children of disobedience." "Your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit; and if any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy." Nevertheless, if you sincerely repent of your past sins, you shall be forgiven; and if you believe in Christ, you shall be both sanctified and saved.

2. The mere professors of religion.

How many who have run well for a season have been hindered and turned aside through the prevalence of their own evil passions! How many professors afford lamentable proof of the influence of unsubdued lusts.

A religious person first conceives a thought; and that thought is allowed to dwell upon his mind.

The mind inflamed, yields to the impulse of desire so far as to court familiarity with the alluring object.

Conscience reproves; but the deceitful heart suggests that, as no positive act of sin is intended, no evil will arise.

Corruption now begins to work more strongly; and every renewed familiarity with temptation increases its power over us; so that we scarcely know how to keep from the place or person whom we ought to shun.

Conscience remonstrates, but in vain; until at last the devil takes us in his snare, and we bring disgrace on our holy profession, and cause the name of God to be blasphemed.

This is the history of many a religious person.

Would we avoid this melancholy end? Then let us avoid the means. Let us "keep our hearts with all diligence," let us live near to God, and beg of him to keep us. Let us beware how we "grieve his Spirit," by tampering with sin, or parleying with temptation. Let us "walk in the Spirit; and then we shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh." Let us often ask ourselves: What shall we think of such things in a dying hour? Little do you think, whoever you are that are yielding to the tempter, how you are filling your dying pillow with thorns; and will most probably bring on yourself a condemnation far heavier than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. O may God take you out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set your feet upon a rock, and establish your goings!"

But concerning this evil we may say, as our Lord said concerning a deaf and dumb spirit whom his disciples could not cast out, "This kind goes not out but by prayer and fasting."

3. The conscientious Christian.

Blessed are you, who are enabled to maintain "a conscience void of offence towards God and man." You are blessed, and shall be blessed. If you do not see so much of God as you would, you have far different views of him from what they have who give way to sin. The time is fast approaching, when you shall no more complain of darkness and distance from God, but shall "behold his face in righteousness, and be satisfied with it."

Yet even to you must I say: Watch against the assaults of sin and Satan.

It is not past experience that will keep you: for Solomon fell "after God had appeared to him twice."

Nor is it high attainments that will preserve you: for the man after God's own heart became a monument of human frailty and depravity.

Nor is even marriage itself sufficient to extinguish the unhallowed flame. You may have, if I may so say, whole flocks at your command, and yet it will not keep you from coveting your neighbor's ewe-lamb.

It is grace, and grace alone, that will enable you to hold on unto the end. In Christ you may trust with joyful confidence: "He is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding join." Moreover, he has promised that "you shall have no temptation without a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it." Apply this promise to your souls, and you shall be enabled to "cleanse yourselves from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God."

Depend not for one moment on yourselves, but "be strong in the grace that is in Christ," and may the very God of Peace sanctify you wholly! I pray God that your whole body, soul, and spirit, may be sanctified wholly unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ!

 

 

#1293

The Peace-Makers

Matthew 5:9

"Blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called the children of God."

RELIGION is altogether a practical thing. It has its foundation indeed in doctrines and principles; but it has a superstructure of dispositions and actions, which are necessary both to its completion and utility. Nothing can be a stronger proof of this than the discourse before us: for, however we may suppose it designed to rectify men's notions respecting the nature of the Messiah's kingdom, and to explain the law in opposition to the false glosses of the Scribes and Pharisees—its direct tendency is to raise the standard of morality both in the hearts and lives of men.

The beatitudes which we have already considered, refer principally to the exercises of the heart. That which we propose to notice at this time, relates to the conduct: and, as our blessed Lord has counted it worthy of such a conspicuous place in his discourse, we may be well assured that it deserves from us the most attentive consideration.

Let us then, as on former occasions, consider,

I. The character here spoken of.

The term which we translate "peace-makers," may be understood, like those which have preceded it, as marking only a pacific temperament and conduct. But in that view it will correspond very nearly with "the meek," whose character has been already considered. We therefore take the word agreeably to the sense in which it is translated; and observe, that the peacemakers are those who are studious,

1. To preserve peace where it is.

View them in the whole of their conduct, and they will be found "following after the things which make for peace."

View them in the STATE. They are not like many who take upon them to condemn everything which their governors do. No, they see the evil of a murmuring, discontented, turbulent, and seditious spirit. They are "afraid to speak evil of dignities," they bear in mind the command of God, "You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people," and, instead of "exercising themselves in matters that are too high for them," and presuming to judge of measures without having one half the grounds of judgment before them, and "meddling with those who are given to change," they are characterized as people "quiet in the land."

View them in the CHURCH. It is their constant endeavor so to walk as to "give no offence in anything," to "cast no stumbling-block before any," but to edify all in faith and love.

Many there are, so bigoted to their own denomination, sect or party, or so fond of some particular doctrines, that they can scarcely meet a brother or a sister without bringing forward their favorite opinions; and not at all concerned what perplexities they cause in the minds of individuals, or what divisions in the Church, provided they can but make proselytes, and increase their own party.

Such generally obtrude themselves wherever the Gospel is faithfully preached; and are but too successful in "beguiling unstable souls," and in "corrupting them from the simplicity that is in Christ." This they do in direct opposition to the command, "Receive him who is weak in the faith, but not to doubtful disputations." The peace-makers, on the contrary, will "bear the infirmities of the weak;" will deny themselves many lawful things, rather than wound a tender conscience; and will "become all things to all men," in short, they will do anything, or forbear anything, that they may "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

View them in the FAMILY. Here they are conspicuous for their unremitting exercise of forbearance and love. They do not take offence at every trifle: and, instead of thwarting the little humours and peculiarities of those around them, they are happy to gratify them, and to win their affections by courtesy and condescension. They remember that wise proverb, "Where no wood is, the fire goes out; so where there is no tale-bearer, the strife ceases," and, from a regard to this, they will not listen to tales and stories; much less will they contribute to the circulation of them. If constrained to hear one side of a question, they will suspend their judgment until they have heard the other: and will be studious to weaken, rather than confirm, the unfavorable impressions of the accuser's mind. If a person seems determined to strive with them, they will rather yield their right, than maintain a controversy with him.

Their conduct in their families may be briefly summed up in those words of David, "They keep their tongue from evil, and their lips from speaking deceit: they depart from evil, and do good; they seek peace, and pursue it."

2. To restore peace it where it is not.

They do not impertinently obtrude themselves on others, or interfere in concerns which belong not to them: they are aware that "he who meddles with strife belonging not to him, is like one who takes a dog by the ears." Yet, if they see an opportunity where they may properly interpose, they are willing, even at a considerable risk, to exert themselves to the utmost for the restoration of peace.

If chosen, or permitted to arbitrate between parties, they will not undertake the office but in a spirit of love, and with an ardent longing to accomplish the desired end. In executing the office of an umpire, they guard against any undue bias; well knowing, that without the strictest impartiality they can never hope to bring over the contending parties to an acquiescence in their decisions. Having begun the good work, they will persevere in it, notwithstanding all the discouragements which they may meet with from the obstinacy of those whom they attempt to reconcile. The more blameworthy of the two will usually be found the more unreasonable and perverse: but they will patiently bear with much opposition, if by any means they may attain the great object of their wishes.

In the exercise of this benevolent disposition, the are sure to find,

II. The blessedness annexed to it.

When it is said that "they shall be called the children of God, we must understand, that,

1. They shall be so in reality.

That this is the import of the expression, appears from the parallel passage in John's Epistles; where, having represented believers as called the children of God, he immediately adds, "Now are we the sons of God," and to the same effect he speaks in his Gospel; "To as many as believed, to them he gave power to become the sons of God."

Of course we must throughout all these beatitudes, guard against supposing that the reward annexed to the different dispositions is founded on any merit in man. The reward must always be considered as "a reward of grace, and not as a debt." It is not to be conceived that there should be such merit in making peace between our fellow-creatures, as that it should deserve such a reward at the hands of God. If we only bear this in mind, we need not be afraid of expecting all the honor which God here promises to the peaceful man.

It is taken for granted, that, in our offices of love to man, we are actuated by a sense of love to God: and that, while we labor to promote peace among our brethren, we are careful to have peace maintained between God and our own souls by the blood of Christ. Then shall we be "sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty," yes, we shall "have a name given to us better than of sons and of daughters."

Together with this relation to God, the peace-makers shall possess all the exalted privileges connected with it: "being sons, they shall be heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." It does "not indeed fully appear what they shall hereafter be: but this we know, that when they shall see their heavenly Father, they shall be like him; for they shall see him as he is."

2. They shall be reputed such by their fellow-creatures.

It is true, that the world at large are not very ready to acknowledge the excellencies of believers, or to allow their claims of relationship to God. But there is something in a peaceful spirit, which carries its own evidence along with it, and constrains the beholder to do it homage.

Paul particularly notices this; and declares that he who acts under its influence for the honor of Christ, is both "accepted of God, and approved of men." We know indeed that the enmity of the human heart against God is such, as to instigate men to persecute even unto death the very people whom in their consciences they cannot but admire. We therefore do not mean to say that the peace-makers shall meet with no hostility from men, for our blessed Lord and his Apostles were all crucified or slain. But that the proper tendency of their conduct is, to conciliate the regard of men, and to impress them with the idea, that they are actuated by the grace of God, and honored with his peculiar favor.

Surely this blessedness is worthy of our pursuit. To be Children of the Most High God is the great object to which we should continually aspire: and to approve ourselves such to others is also most desirable; because we shall thereby "silence the ignorance of foolish men," and constrain them to "glorify our Father who is in Heaven."

Let me, in conclusion, urge you to seek this blessed character.

Think how happy you will be in the possession of it. "The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of those who make peace." It is not possible to engage much in such labors of love, without having our own souls refreshed and comforted with the heavenly employment. The sacred oil which you pour on the heads of others, will regale you with its fragrancies; and the dews of divine grace, which, through your instrumentality, descend on others, shall enrich and fertilize your own souls.

Consider further, how serviceable you will be in your day and generation. As one litigious or contentious person may be the means of producing incalculable evils to the Church and to society; (for a little fire is sufficient to destroy a whole town;) so one pious, discreet, and active peace-maker may extinguish flames, which might have spread desolation and misery all around. See an instance of this in Abigail, who, by her seasonable interposition, restrained the wrath of David, and saved the lives of Nabal and all his family. Thus may you confer blessings on all around you, and heap blessings also on your own heads.

Lastly, consider what a recompense awaits you in the eternal world. There shall this promise be fulfilled to you in its utmost extent.

Cultivate then this amiable disposition, that you may be "sons of God, without rebuke, and shine as lights in a benighted world."

 

 

#1294

Persecution for Righteousness' Sake

Matthew 5:10–12

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

CHRISTIANITY, to one who is not acquainted with its real nature, must appear full of paradoxes. In the preceding verses, we are informed what practical religion is; and, in the parallel passage in Luke's Gospel, we have the same truths yet more plainly and explicitly declared. Had any uninspired person avowed such sentiments, we would have been ready to pronounce him mad: for there is scarcely anything which we regard with dread, but a blessing is annexed to it; or anything which we consider as desirable, but a woe is denounced against it: the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the despised, are congratulated; and the rich, the full, the laughing, and the honored, are represented as in a truly pitiable condition. But perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that people possessed of vital Christianity should be objects of persecution; that their piety should be the ground of that persecution; and that they should, on this very account, be esteemed happy. But so it is: and so it will appear; if we consider,

I. The case here supposed.

Our blessed Lord evidently supposes that his people will be persecuted for righteousness' sake. But,

This, it must be confessed, is a very improbable case.

The very character of his people seems to preclude the idea. Were the disciples of Christ the very reverse of what they are, we might well expect them to be objects of hatred and contempt. But who can hate the humble, the meek, the pure, the peaceful, and those whose chief desire is to serve and honor God? What connection can there be between the verses of our text, and the whole preceding context? One would imagine that the declaration before us was altogether destitute of any foundation in fact.

That their very righteousness should be the ground of their suffering, appears still more strange. If they were obnoxious to the charge of sedition, or to anything else that rendered them bad members of society, one would not wonder that they should be evil treated on those accounts, notwithstanding they might in other respects be eminently holy. But that their conformity to Christ should be the true reason of the world's enmity against them, seems incredible.

We are taught to expect that it would exist.

Our blessed Lord warned all his disciples, that they would receive, each in his appointed measure, the very same treatment as he received. And his Apostles guard us against being surprised or offended at it.

We must not indeed imagine that our enemies will avow the real ground of their aversion: they will not say, I hate you for your piety: they will give some other name to piety: they will call it fanaticism, or hypocrisy, or intolerance; and under that character will raise up their voice against it. When the Jews threatened to stone our Lord, he said to them, "Many good works have I done among you; for which of them do you stone me?" They replied, "For a good work we stone you not; but for blasphemy; and because that you, being a man, make yourself God."

In like manner they sought to put him to death for violating, as they alleged, the sanctity of the Sabbath day. But whence came all this zeal for God's honor, and for the observance of the Sabbath? Were they all so holy and so righteous? No, in the midst of all their pretended concern for God's law, they were ready enough to violate it themselves, and even to commit murder: which was a demonstration, that the reasons they assigned were mere pretexts; and that the sanctity of his character was the true ground of their opposition to him. Precisely thus must we expect persecution, ostensibly as evil-doers, but really as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Experience proves that it does exist.

Look at the holy men of old: where will you find one who was not persecuted for righteousness sake? And are the descendants of Cain or of Ishmael extinct? Is not that which Paul spoke in reference to Ishmael, still found true? "As then he who was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now."

Christians are not indeed dragged, as formerly, to prison and to death: but shall we therefore say that they are not persecuted? Are they not "reviled?" Have they not "all manner of evil spoken against them falsely?" Do not men "separate them from their company," and "reproach them, and cast out their name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake?" Yes truly: "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer, yes and do suffer, persecution." There is not a single exception to be found. Times and circumstances may produce considerable difference in the nature or degree of opposition which may be made to the Lord's people: but all will have to experience some. Christianity is the same in itself that it ever was: and it will be found the same in its effects. Christ "came not to bring peace, but a sword," and whoever gives himself up to Christ, must expect to find that "his greatest foes will be those of his own household."

Granting, then, that this case does exist, let us consider,

II. The light in which it should be viewed.

To the eye of sense it has a very terrific aspect: but to the eye of faith it is by no means formidable: on the contrary, the believer views his persecutions,

1. As a badge of honor.

He looks back on all the prophets; he looks at Christ and his Apostles; and sees that they all trod the same thorny path before him, and "were made perfect through sufferings." Hence he views persecution as "the reproach of Christ;" and, in submitting to it, considers himself as "a partaker of Christ's sufferings." While others consider him as degraded by the contempt cast upon him, he regards himself rather as exalted by it; he views it as "turning unto him for a testimony," that he is indeed a faithful servant of his Lord.

Paul, speaking of sufferings for Christ's sake, represents them as a special gift of God, an honor bestowed upon us for Christ's sake: and in this light all the Apostles regarded them. For when they had been imprisoned and scourged for their fidelity to their Divine Master, they went out of the presence of the Council, "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ's sake."

Thus, Christian, should you do: you should "glory in the cross of Christ;" you should "take pleasure in persecutions for Christ's sake;" and instead of being ashamed of the indignities which you suffer, you should glorify God on account of them.

2. As a means of good.

Even at present the believer feels that his trials are subservient to his best interests; that his tribulations tend to increase his "patience, experience, and hope;" and bring him a hundredfold blessings into his soul. And when he looks forward to the eternal world, and considers how rich "a recompense" he shall there receive for every sacrifice which he has here made for God, he "accounts himself happy" in being called to bear the cross. He knows that "the trial of his faith will be found to praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ;" and that "his afflictions, which are but light and momentary, will work for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." He expects assuredly "the kingdom of Heaven," because God has promised it to him. Yes, he expects more: he expects that "his reward shall be great in Heaven," and increased in proportion to his sufferings. He expects it also as a just retribution: but still he does not expect it as merited by those sufferings: he makes the atoning blood of Christ the only foundation of his hope: and it is for Christ's merits, and not his own, that he is thus exalted.

This distinction is accurately marked by the Apostle John; who, seeing in a vision all the martyred saints who "had come out of much tribulation," tells us, that "they had washed their robes," not in their own tears or blood, but "in the blood of the Lamb; and that therefore they were before the throne of God." Bear this in mind, my brethren, and do not hesitate to expect all that God has promised.

3. As a ground of joy.

Our blessed Lord, in reference to those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, says, "Blessed are you;" and he calls upon them to "rejoice, and be exceeding glad." To the same effect also his Apostles speak; congratulating every persecuted saint, and encouraging him to "glory in all his tribulations."

Doubtless, "afflictions are not joyous in themselves, but grievous." But when regarded in the preceding views, they become real sources and grounds of joy. Paul was certainly a very competent judge: and he, after a careful computation founded on actual experience, says, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us!" However painful therefore they may be, if only they conduce to our everlasting felicity, they must, and will, to every believing soul, be an occasion of joy. He will "take joyfully the confiscation of his goods;" and, if his blood is poured out as a drink-offering upon the sacrifice and service of the Church's faith, he will congratulate himself on it as a happy event, for which he has reason to bless and glorify his God.

Let me however subjoin a word of caution.

Take care that your cross is indeed the cross of Christ.

If it is brought upon you by your own fault or imprudence, it is your own cross, and not the cross of Christ. See that you do not, from a pretended zeal for God, neglect or violate your duties to man. If you suffer, take care that it is for well-doing, and not for evil doing.

Let me add also a word of encouragement.

God does not "send you on a warfare at your own charges." He bids you to "commit your soul to him in well-doing," with an assured hope that he will keep it. Your merciful Savior, who has trod the way before you, will sympathize with you under your trials, and overrule them all for your good, and in due time put you safely, and forever, beyond the reach of all!

 

 

#1295

Christians the Salt of the Earth

Matthew 5:13

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

LITTLE does the world think how much they are indebted to those very saints whom they "revile and persecute for righteousness' sake." The extirpation of them (which is so much desired by many) would leave the world an entire mass of corruption, without anything to heal its disorders, or to stop its progress towards utter destruction. Were the saints removed out of it, the rest would soon become as Sodom and Gomorrah.

The representation given of them in the text fully justifies this idea. They are called "the salt of the earth." This, of course, must be understood of those only who have the spirit of true religion in them: for all others, whatever they may possess, are as vile and worthless as the real Christians are good and excellent.

The words before us will lead us to consider,

I. The worth and excellence of truly spiritual Christians.

The use of salt, as intimated in this expression of our Lord, is to keep other things from putrefaction and corruption.

This is the office that has been executed by all the saints of old.

View them from the beginning; and they will all be found active in their generation, and zealous in benefitting the world around them.

Noah preached to the antediluvians a hundred and twenty years, indefatigably exerting himself to bring them to repentance.

Lot, in Sodom, "vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds," and strove to turn the people from their horrible abominations.

All the prophets in successive ages labored in the same blessed work, using all their efforts to lead their hearers to the knowledge of the only true God, and to an obedience to his holy laws.

How the Apostles acted in relation to this, it is needless to observe. They lived for no other end, but to make known the way of life, and to "turn men from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God."

All, indeed, were not favored with the same success. Those who preceded the Savior, rather sowed the seed, than reaped the harvest: but his disciples, through the influence of the Spirit of God upon their labors, were instrumental to the conversion of thousands and of millions; all of whom in their respective spheres endeavored to disseminate the same principles, and to spread "the savor of the knowledge of Christ" wherever they went. Take only one man, the Apostle Paul; and who shall say how much corruption he was the means of preventing in the world?

This is the office which every Christian, according to his ability, still executes.

Ministers labor for this end in the word and doctrine—and private individuals feel themselves bound to co-operate with them, yes, I may say, to be "fellow-workers also with God." No one who has received the grace of God in truth, will "live any longer unto himself," he will seek to glorify his God, and to do good to those around him. Has he any relations, a father, a mother, a wife, a child, going on in ignorance and sin? He will endeavor by all possible means to rectify their dispositions, and to guide their feet into the way of peace. He will not say with himself, I am but as a grain of salt, and therefore can do no good: he will thankfully employ his influence, however small it may be, for the benefit of those to whom it will extend. Even the poorest have access to some poor neighbor like themselves: and the resolution of the weakest will be like that of the Church of old, "Draw me, and we will run after you;" that is, 'Draw me, and I will not come alone, but will bring all I can along with me.'

Shall this be thought a small matter? No, surely: for if a Christian be instrumental, even in the course of his whole life, to convert one single person from the error of his ways, he has effected a good which exceeds in value the whole material world: for he has "saved a soul from death, and covered a multitude of sins."

Thus is the truly spiritual Christian, a man of great worth and excellence. But all who profess religion are not of this stamp: the text itself declares that there are some of a very different character; and that nothing can exceed,

II. The worthlessness of those who have not the savor of true religion in their souls.

Salt that has lost its savor is here said to be "good for nothing; but is trodden under foot by men." This shows the desperate state of those who are not truly alive to God. Their prospects are indeed gloomy in relation to,

1. Their personal recovery.

Salt that has lost its savor, cannot by any means be restored to its former pungency. And thus it is with those who, after some experience of the power of godliness, have made shipwreck of their faith and of a good conscience. Doubtless, "with God all things are possible;" and therefore He can restore the most determined apostate. But there is very little reason to hope that he ever will; since he has told us, that such a one shall be given over to final impenitence.

The state of one who has merely declined in religion is certainly not so desperate; but still it is truly deplorable. If a man had never known anything of religion, it might be hoped that the truths of the Gospel would influence his mind; but if he is already acquainted with those truths, and they are not able to preserve him, how can it be hoped that they shall have efficacy to restore him?

While "the heart is yet tender," the Gospel is mighty in operation; because God accompanies it with his power from on high: but when "the heart is hardened through the deceitfulness of sin," and the Spirit of God has withdrawn his agency, there is great reason to fear that the man "will draw back unto perdition." How solemn are the admonitions given on this subject to the Church at Ephesus, and to that at Sardis! Let everyone then who has declined in religious exercises and enjoyments, even though his declensions be ever so secret, tremble, lest that threatening be fulfilled in him, "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways!"

2. Their ministerial usefulness.

"All who have received the gift, are bound to minister the same to others, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." But the man that has lost the savor of religion in his own soul, is ill qualified for this: he has not inclination to do it, he has not courage, he has not ability. When religion flourished in his soul, he could converse upon it with pleasure: "Out of the abundance of his heart his mouth would freely speak." But now he can converse on any other subject rather than that: he finds no satisfaction in maintaining fellowship even with the saints: it is not to be wondered at therefore that he has no disposition to instruct the ignorant, and reform the wicked. Indeed, he is afraid lest that proverb should be retorted upon him, "Physician, heal yourself!" and his own conscience will remonstrate with him in the energetic language of the Apostle, "You who teach another, don't you teach yourself?" And though no change has taken place in his intellect in reference to earthly things, his understanding becomes clouded in relation to spiritual things: his gifts in a great measure vanish together with his grace: he once could speak and pray with fluency; but now his mouth is shut; and he experiences the truth of that singular declaration, "From him that has not (that has not improved his talent) shall be taken away even that which he has."

But it is observed of the salt, not only that it is "good for nothing," with respect to its primary uses of keeping other things from putrefaction, but that it is "not fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill." The fact is, that salt, when destitute of its proper qualities, has a tendency rather to produce sterility than to promote vegetation, if it be cast upon the land. This is intimated in many passages of Scripture.

Just so is the effect produced by those who have lost the power of godliness, and departed from God: they cast a stumbling-block before men, and "cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of."

The world may do what they please, and the individuals alone are blamed; but let any one who professes religion do anything amiss, and religion itself must be accountable for it, and the name of God is blasphemed on his account. This indeed is most unreasonable and absurd: nevertheless so it is: and a most aggravated woe is thereby entailed on all who occasion such an offence.

3. Their final acceptance.

Even here they are rejected both by God and man. Those who walk consistently, are hated and despised by the ungodly world. But those who walk inconsistently, are despised a thousand times more; and this God has ordained as a just punishment for their treachery. As for his own abhorrence of them, it is scarcely possible for language to express it more strongly than he has declared it.

Moreover, if they repent not, the same divine indignation will pursue them in the eternal world. What reception they will then meet with at his hands, he has plainly warned them. The saints with whom they associated here, will then disown them, and cast them out of their society. The lifeless professor of religion, who brought forth no fruit to perfection, will be banished from Heaven with abhorrence: so true is that expression in our text, "They shall be trodden under foot of men!"

Seeing then that the power of godliness is of such importance, we call upon you all,

1. To seek it.

It is not a lifeless formal religion that will avail for your salvation. The command of God to every one of us is, "Have salt in yourselves." The distinction between the true Christian and the self-deceiver is, that the one "savors the things of the Spirit," which the other does not. We must "delight ourselves in God," or it will be in vain to hope that ever He will delight in us.

2. To preserve it.

The "salt may soon lose its savor." Religion is not like the sculptor's work, which if left ever so long remains in the state it was: but like a stone rolled up a hill, which will descend again as soon as the impelling force is withdrawn. The stony-ground and thorny-ground hearers show that we are prone to depart from God, or to rest in a carnal state while maintaining outwardly a spiritual profession. It is a melancholy, and an undeniable fact, that many "begin in the Spirit, and end in the flesh." Let us then "stir up the gift of God that is in us," as we would stir a languishing fire; that we "lose not the things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward."

3. To diffuse it.

We must never forget the office which God has assigned us in our respective spheres. The treasure committed to us earthen vessels, is not for ourselves only, but to enrich others. "Our speech should always be with grace seasoned with salt." Let us then exert ourselves to the utmost of our power to instruct the rising generation—to reform the habits of the world—to send the Gospel to the Heathen—and to impart to all within our reach the knowledge and salvation of God.

 

 

#1296

Christians the Light of the World

Matthew 5:14–16

"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven."

IF we had not been authorized by God himself, we would never have presumed to designate the saints by such honorable appellations as are unreservedly given to them in the Scriptures. Of all the objects in the visible creation, the sun is the most glorious; nor is there anything, either in this terraqueous globe or in the firmament of Heaven, which does not partake of its benign influence: yet even to that are the saints compared; "You are the light of the world."

That all the parts of our text may come easily and profitably under our view, we shall consider,

I. The office to which God has destined his people.

Strictly speaking, neither Prophets nor Apostles could arrogate to themselves the honor which is here in a subordinate sense conferred on all the saints: it belongs exclusively to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is "the Sun of Righteousness;" and who says of himself, "I am the light of the world."

John the Baptist, (who was greater than all the Old Testament prophets,) expressly declares, that "he was not that Light; but that Christ was the true Light, which lights every man that comes into the world." In this view, the name of moons would rather befit us, because we shine only with a borrowed luster; reflecting merely the rays which we have received from the Lord Jesus: but, as exhibiting to the world all the true light that is in it, God has been pleased to dignify us with that higher name, "The light of the world." He has sent his people to fulfill that office in the moral realm, which the sun performs in the natural world.

1. He has qualified them for it.

There is a light in their minds, which reason and philosophy cannot impart, and which no man can possess, unless it has been given from above. "God has shined into their hearts to give them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." This is that mystery which was hid from ages and from generations, but is now made manifest to the saints. The lowest of his people are in this respect wiser than the wisest of unenlightened men, because they are taught of God. We are aware that this is an offensive truth; and that the learned will ever reply in the language of the offended Pharisees, "Are we blind also?" But it is no less true at this day than it was in former ages, that "God has hid his Gospel from the wise and prudent, and revealed it unto babes; even so, for so it seems good in his sight."

Now this qualifies his people to instruct others. It is possible enough that they may be very ignorant in all other things; but of these things "they have the witness in themselves," and therefore are enabled to speak of them just as they do of the things about which they are daily conversant. They may not speak scientifically about their bodily feelings; but when they tell you of their wants and their supplies, or of the diseases and the remedies which they have found effectual to remove them, they know what they affirm. Thus respecting the great truths of the Gospel, they are enabled to speak from their own experience; and the greatest philosopher in the universe may sit at their feet and learn.

2. He has ordained them to it.

It is a favorite idea with many, that they are to be religious; but that their religion is not to be seen. Under the pretense of hating ostentation, they conform to every practice of the world, and are in no respect distinguishable from the mere decent moralist. But, when they think that a man may serve God faithfully, and yet avoid the notice of those around them, they only deceive their own souls. For,

In the first place, they cannot do it if they would.

"A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden." If while the world around them are "living after the flesh," and "walking in the broad road that leads to destruction," they "walk after the Spirit," and confine themselves to "the narrow way that leads unto life," how can it be that they should escape notice? Their whole spirit and temper and conduct differ from the world, as much as light from darkness. We will suppose, their light is but small; and if exhibited before the meridian sun, it might easily be overlooked; but the smallest candle attracts notice when shining in the midst of darkness: and this is precisely their case. The splendor of their conduct may not be such as of itself to command admiration; yet it cannot but be seen by reason of the surrounding darkness. But,

In the next place, they ought not to do it if they could.

"Men do not light a candle to put it under a bushel, but to give light to all that are in the house," nor does God "bring his people out of darkness into his marvelous light" solely for their own sakes, but "that they may show forth the praises of Him who has called them," and diffuse the light which they have received. They are bound therefore, by every tie of duty and gratitude, to make him known to others, and to advance, as much as possible, his glory in the world.

Moreover, their fellow-creatures also have a claim upon them. Who that should see a blind man walking on the brink of a precipice, would not feel himself bound to warn him of his danger; and account himself guilty of a murderous cruelty towards him, if the man should perish through his neglect? If then we should feel it a duty to give him the advantage of our superior light in relation to his bodily welfare—then how much more ought we to do it in relation to his eternal soul! The command given to every enlightened soul, is, "Arise, shine, for your light is come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you."

This leads us to speak of,

II. The duty resulting from it.

That we are not to do anything from ostentation or vain-glory is certain: whatever proceeds from such a principle is altogether hateful in the sight of God. Those who seek the applause of man must expect no other reward. But we are not to be so restrained by these considerations as to decline that course of action which will bring glory to God. On the contrary, we should "make our light to shine before men," and "so" shine, as to compel all who behold it "to glorify our Father who is in Heaven."

It may be asked, How can any conduct of ours accomplish this? I answer,

First, it may show men the unreasonableness of their prejudices.

All manner of prejudices are entertained against the Gospel; and all that we can say is insufficient to remove them. But what we do has a very powerful effect: it will often "put to silence the ignorance of foolish men," and make them ashamed who falsely accuse our good conversation in Christ"

Next, it may lead them to embrace the Gospel.

The Apostle speaks of husbands, who never would have attended to the written or preached word, being won by the good conduct of their wives. From the history of the Church in all ages, we know that there are many who owe their first impressions of religion to the consistent conduct of some eminent saint; nor can we doubt but that if the dispositions and character of religious people more uniformly corresponded with their holy profession, "the word would have an abundantly freer course," and would be much sooner glorified throughout the world.

Lastly, it cannot fail of stimulating many to increasing activity.

The force of example is exceeding great. Many, for want of associates in well-doing, are discouraged, and attempt but little, because they think that but little can be accomplished. But, when they see a person more abundant in labors than themselves, they are stirred up to a holy emulation; they blush at the view of their own unprofitableness, and while they are thankful to God who has given such grace unto men, they strive with redoubled ardor to serve and glorify their God.

We shall conclude this subject with showing,

1. How we may become lights to the world.

Simple as this question may appear, there are few who would answer it aright. Almost all would propose to attain this distinction by doing; and would be shocked at being told that it must be attained by believing. Yet that is the very way by which our blessed Lord has taught us to seek it: "Believe in the light, that you may be the children of light." This, of course, is not to be understood as though a bare assent to any truths whatever would sanctify the soul: it is to be understood as directing us to the Gospel, and to the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in it. To believe in the light, is to look for salvation entirely through Him whom God has set forth to be an atoning sacrifice for sin; it is to live altogether by faith on him, and to make him our all in all. This would render our union with Christ productive; and would lead to our renovation after the Divine image. Then would we "shine indeed as lights in a dark world;" and God himself would be glorified in us.

2. What we should do if we have already attained that honor.

Remember that the eyes of all are upon you, and that God's glory in the world is very greatly affected by your conduct. Any fault in you will soon be noticed by the world. Those who pay little regard to the stars that shine in their orbits, will yet be observant enough of a falling star. In like manner, those who overlook the radiance of ten thousand saints, will mark with triumph the fall of a professor, and derive from it an argument against all serious religion.

Be on your guard then against everything which may either eclipse your light, or cause it to shine with diminished splendor. Be earnest also to get forward in your Christian course. The brightest of us emits only as yet the faint gleam of early dawn: "our profiting must continually appear;" and "our path be as the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day".

 

 

#1297

The Law and the Prophets Confirmed By Christ

Matthew 5:17, 18

"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till Heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled."

TO have just sentiments on religion is a matter of incalculable importance. While we are mistaken respecting any fundamental truths, we not only lose the benefit and comfort of those truths, but are in danger of rejecting them when proposed to our consideration, and enlisting ourselves among the avowed enemies of the Gospel.

The Jews were almost universally expecting a temporal Messiah. Hence, when our blessed Lord appeared in such lowly circumstances, and inculcated doctrines so opposite to their carnal expectations, the people thought either that he was an impostor who deceived them, or that he was come to subvert and destroy all that had been delivered to them by their forefathers. Our blessed Lord anticipated and obviated their objections: "Do not think," says he, "that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill."

By "the law and the prophets," I understand, that system of religion which the moral law inculcated, and all the prophets enforced. To establish and confirm these was the great end of our Savior's advent. He has confirmed them as to the great scope of all that they have spoken in reference to,

I. The way of salvation.

The way of salvation, as revealed in the Old Testament, is by faith in the promised Messiah.

The moral law proclaimed this. The moral law, it is true, said, "Do this and live." But it was never the intent of the moral law to put men upon working out their salvation by their obedience to its commands. The law could never give life to man since the fall. It could only show him his duty, and thunder out its curses against him for his manifold transgressions. It required perfect and perpetual obedience; in default of which, it doomed him to everlasting destruction. Thus by its unbending severity it compelled everyone that was under it to seek salvation in some other way. It showed to men the necessity of a Savior, and thus prepared them for the manifestation of Christ by the Gospel. This is the very account given of it by Paul, who sums up his testimony in these significant expressions, "Therefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith."

The ceremonial law held forth the remedy, of which the moral law declared our need. All its sacrifices directed men to that great Sacrifice which would in due time be offered on the cross: while the brazen serpent, the scape-goat, and all the various washings, displayed the efficacy of that remedy, and encouraged penitents to accept it. That the ceremonial law was intended to answer this end, we are sure; because our Savior himself and his Apostles constantly appealed to it, as prefiguring Christ, who is expressly said to be "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes."

Precisely to the same effect is the testimony of all the prophets. Who can read the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, and not see that salvation is to be obtained through the atoning blood of Christ? We see him "wounded for our transgressions," and all "our iniquities laid on him," in order that we may be "healed by his stripes." Similar to this is the declaration of Daniel, who says, that Christ should "finish transgression, make an end of sin, and bring in an everlasting righteousness." In a word, "To him," says the Apostle, "give all the Prophets witness, that through his name whoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins," and again, "The righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all those who believe."

And what, we ask, is the way of salvation in the New Testament?

Has the Lord Jesus Christ put aside this way of salvation? Has he not rather established it beyond all possibility of doubt? Hear his own words: "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father but by me." To cite all his declarations upon this subject would detain us too long: suffice it to say, that he speaks of his "blood as shed for the remission of sins," and "his life as given to be a ransom for many;" and declares, that, by being "lifted up upon the cross," he is qualified and empowered to "draw all men unto him."

Thus far then we have seen that Christ has confirmed the law and the prophets, as far as relates to the way of salvation. Let us now mark the same in reference to,

II. The path of duty.

The ten commandments were given as a rule of conduct to the Jews.

This summary of religious duties is emphatically called, 'The Law.' It was given by God in the most solemn manner, and enjoined without exception on the whole nation. The prophets, in their respective ages and places, maintained the authority of this law, and labored to bring the people into a conformity to its precepts.

And what other rule is there prescribed to us?

The Lord Jesus Christ has neither added to the Ten Commandments, nor taken from them. He has freed them from the corrupt glosses of the Scribes and Pharisees, and has explained them according to their spiritual import. He has also specified certain duties which were not so clearly seen under the Mosaic dispensation, and has added new motives to the performance of them. But he has enjoined nothing which is not comprehended in one of those two commandments, that of "loving God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength," and that of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

On the other hand, he has bound upon us these duties in the most solemn manner; and told us, that he will estimate our character, not by the zeal with which we cry "Lord, Lord!" but by the care and uniformity with which we keep his commandments.

Here then is proof sufficient, that our Lord has not destroyed the law and the prophets, or in the slightest degree weakened our obligations to obey them. There are some professors of religion, and indeed not a few, who think that Christ has set aside the law as a rule of life. But they labor under a dangerous, yes, a fatal error.

When they say that we are released from the law as a covenant of works, they are right: but so were believers under the Old Testament.

When they say that we are released from the whole ceremonial law, they are right: but we must still observe every part of it in a spiritual manner, presenting Christ as our sacrifice, washing daily in the fountain of his blood, and "cleansing ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, that we may perfect holiness in the fear of God."

But when they speak of being released from the law as a rule of life, they open the floodgates of licentiousness: and were it not that some of them, as we hope, have more piety in their practice than in their principles, they would have just reason to tremble for their state.

The truth is, that the advancing of our souls in holiness was a very principal object of Christ's incarnation and death. And "that very grace of God which brings salvation," so far from annulling any single command of God, itself "teaches us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world."

This subject is of peculiar use,

1. To rectify our views.

As for those who think that salvation is by the works of the law, we shall pass them over on the present occasion; praying only that God may open their eyes before it is too late.

But there are many thoughtful and intelligent people, and not altogether destitute of piety, who imagine, that Christ has lowered the demands of the moral law, and purchased for us the liberty of being saved by a new law of sincere obedience: they think that for his sake our sincere obedience will be accepted, instead of perfect obedience: and that the defects of our obedience will be made up by the merits of Jesus Christ.

To such people I would say, Read the words of our text. Christ says he did not come to destroy the law; and you affirm that he has softened its rigors, and dispensed with those high attainments which the perfect law of God requires.

You will reply perhaps, If these things be not dispensed with, how are we to be saved? I answer, They are not dispensed with, no, not one of them: it is as much our duty to fulfill the whole law of God as it was Adam's duty in Paradise: nor, if we would be saved by the law, can we be saved on any lower terms.

But of salvation by the law we must not entertain a thought: we are condemned by the law, and must flee as condemned sinners to Jesus Christ, that he may wash us from our sins in his blood, and clothe us in his own unspotted robe of righteousness and salvation.

Some will exclaim, What new doctrine is this? I answer, this was the way of salvation revealed to Adam after the Fall; and it has been continued in all successive ages, until Christ himself came. Then was this mystery more clearly revealed to the world; and from henceforth the voice of God to every human Being is, "He who believes on the Son of God has eternal life; but he who believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

Lay aside then your erroneous notions respecting a mitigated law and sincere obedience; and seek salvation in God's only dear Son, in whom alone it can be found.

2. To regulate our lives.

While some people object to salvation by faith alone as a licentious doctrine, others complain of us as raising the standard of holiness so high, that none, except a few devotees, can possibly attain it.

But I would ask these objectors, Which of God's laws are we authorized to set aside? Which are we even allowed to palliate and soften? Our blessed Lord has, with the strongest possible asseveration, said, that "not so much as a jot or tittle of the law shall ever pass away," how then can we presume to say, It shall pass away? Suppose we do lower the standard of obedience in compliance with your wishes, what will it profit you, unless God does it also? We should only deceive you, and ruin ourselves together with you.

But you will say, 'It is hard to have so much required of us.' Well, suppose it be hard; if it be required, we must do it: our only alternative is, to obey or perish.

But "are not his commandments grievous?" On the contrary, they all together form "a light and easy yoke," and so far are they from being deemed too strict by any real Christian, that there is not a true Christian in the world that would wish any one of the commandments to require less than it does. A spiritual man does not complain of the strictness of the law, but of the wickedness of his own heart: and his desire is, not to have the commandments of God lowered to his attainments, but his attainments elevated to the utmost height of God's commandments.

Let this then be the desire and endeavor of us all: let there be no sin harbored, not even in thought; nor any duty neglected, whatever difficulties we may have to encounter, or whatever trials to endure. If we "have a hope of salvation through Christ, we must purify ourselves even as he is pure."

 

 

#1298

The Danger of Little Sins

Matthew 5:19

"Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of Heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven."

IT must be confessed, that among those who profess a high regard for the Gospel, there are some who speak of it in terms, which, to say the least, have an antinomian and licentious aspect. In their zeal against self-righteousness, they are apt to represent the law as altogether abolished: knowing that we are no longer under the law as a covenant, they express themselves as if we were freed from it also as a rule of life.

But we must never forget that the Gospel is a "doctrine according to godliness;" and that "the law, so far from being made void through faith, is established by it." In the words preceding the text, our blessed Lord had said, that "he came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them" and in the words before us, he teaches us to infer from thence the undiminished authority of the sacred code.

To elucidate his assertions, we observe,

I. That the commandments of God are universally to be obeyed.

It is certain that some commandments are of more importance than others.

There can be no doubt but that the moral precepts, which are founded in our relation to God and to each other, are of more importance than the positive institutions, which are founded only in the sovereign will of God. Our Lord himself, comparing the divine institution of paying tithes with the exercise of judgment, mercy, and faith—calls the latter "the weightier matters of the law," though at the same time he determines, "These ought you to have done; and not to leave the other undone."

The positive institutions may even be set aside, if they interfere with our discharge of moral duties. A strict observance of the Sabbath is enjoined: but, if a work of necessity or of mercy demand our attention, we are at liberty to engage in it, notwithstanding we thereby violate the sacred rest of the Sabbath: for God has said, "I will have mercy and not sacrifice."

Indeed, even in the moral law itself, there is a difference between the duties of the first and of the second table; those which relate to God being more important than those which relate to man. Hence our Lord says, that "to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, is the first and great commandment."

But the authority on which every one of them stands is the same.

God is the great lawgiver: and whatever his command is, it is, as long as it is in force, binding upon all to whom it is given. We are no more at liberty to abrogate one than to set aside another. If we allowedly violate any one of them, we do, in effect, violate them all. If any two be absolutely incompatible, the positive precept, as I have observed, gives way, and ceases for the time to be a command. So if two moral precepts such as that of obeying a parent, and of obeying God, are irreconcilable, then obedience to God is then of superior and paramount obligation.

God himself has assigned limits to man's authority, beyond which we are not commanded to obey him. Man cannot dispense with any of the divine commandments: they can only be repealed by that authority which first established them. Neither in theory nor in practice are we at liberty to make them void: we must both "do" them ourselves, "and teach" the observance of them to others. We must not add anything to them, nor take anything from them. The injunctions which God has given us on this head are strict and solemn: and, if we presume to violate them, it is at the peril of our souls.

It is intimated that some will both "do and teach" them: which leads us to observe,

II. That an unreserved respect for all of them is characteristic of the true Christian.

Ungodly men have but little reverence for the divine commands.

The Pharisees of old laid a far greater stress on ceremonial than on moral duties; on "washing pots and cups," than on cleansing the heart: and they actually made void some of the commandments by their traditions. The Papists do the same at this day, denying the sacramental cup to the laity, commanding the consecrated wafer to be worshiped, and granting pardons and indulgences to those who are able to pay for them. Would to God that there were no such impieties among Protestants also! It is true, we do not acknowledge any power in the Pope to dispense with the laws of God: but we take the power into our own hands, and deal as freely with the commands of God as ever the Pope himself can do. One commandment is deemed uncertain, another unreasonable, another unnecessary; and all are reduced to the standard which we ourselves approve. As for the penalties with which they are enforced, "we huff at them," and assure both ourselves and others that they shall never be executed.

But the true Christian dares not thus to insult his God.

It is his habit to "tremble at the word." When once he hears, "Thus says the Lord," his mouth is shut; and he sets himself immediately to obey the divine command. Instead of complaining that "any commandment is grievous," he loves the whole law; he accounts it "holy, and just, and good." He would not have any part of it lowered in its demands on any account. His desire is rather to have his soul "cast into the very mold of the Gospel," and to be transformed perfectly into the image of his God. His prayer is, "Let my heart be sound in your statutes, that I be not ashamed," let me "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God"

The Christian's disposition towards the commands of God ought to be cultivated by every one of us, since it is certain,

III. That on such a respect for them depends our everlasting happiness.

Nothing less than this will suffice to prove our sincerity.

It is allowed, without any great difficulty, that heinous violations of God's law will affect our eternal state: but smaller transgressions are considered as of but little consequence. But this does not accord with our Lord's assertions in the text. There we are told that the breach of one single law will be fatal, yes, though it be the least of all the commandments of God. We are not to understand that the unintentional and unallowed defects in our obedience will prove fatal to us: for who then could be saved? But any evil which we allow and justify, or, as the text expresses it, which we "do and teach," will certainly exclude us from the kingdom of Heaven.

The text might seem to import that such conduct would only diminish the degree of our happiness in Heaven: but our Lord elsewhere warns us, that it will entirely exclude us from Heaven; and that our only alternative is, either to part with sin altogether, or to suffer the penalty of sin, eternal death.

But where obedience is unreserved, it will receive a glorious recompense from God.

That there is no merit in our obedience, is allowed. But that our obedience shall receive a reward of grace, every page of the inspired volume declares. The more perfect our conformity to God's law, and the more energetic our maintenance of its authority have been, the higher testimonies of God's approbation we shall most assuredly receive; and our exaltation in Heaven shall be proportionably "great." Particular sanctity and zeal may subject us to reproach from men; but it will meet with honor from God: for he has said, "Those who honor me, I will honor."

Learn then from hence the importance of,

1. A renewed heart.

The unregenerate heart "neither is, nor can be subject to God's law." We "must be born again," and be "renewed in the spirit of our minds," before we can truly say, "I delight to do your will, O God; yes, your law is within my heart." Let us then seek to be made "new creatures in Christ Jesus." Then shall we be prepared both to "practice" the commandments ourselves, and to "teach" them to those around us.

2. A faithful ministry.

Many, in fact, say unto their ministers, "Prophesy not unto us right things; prophesy unto us smooth things; prophesy deceits." But to what purpose would it be to comply with their wishes? In what could such ministrations end? "If the blind lead the blind, must they not both fall into the ditch?" On the contrary, if we "practice" the whole revealed will of God, as far as we are enabled, "and teach" it faithfully unto others, we have reason to hope that we shall have many to be "our joy and crown of rejoicing" in the last day.

Instead of complaining, then, that your minister is too strict either in his life or preaching, be thankful that you have a minister who desires to live for no other purpose than "to save himself and those who hear him."

3. A pure conscience.

"Who can understand his errors?" says David; "O cleanse me from my secret faults." Truly it is no easy thing to be a Christian. Let us examine carefully whether there be not some secret unsubdued lust within us, some worm at the root of our gourd. If there be, woe unto us, for "Except we repent, we shall surely perish." If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our hearts, and knows all things: but if our heart condemns us not, then have we confidence towards God." "Then shall we not be ashamed, when we have respect unto all his commandments."

 

#1299

Evangelic and Pharisaic Righteousness Compared

Matthew 5:20

"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of Heaven."

IT would be a gratification to many to know the lowest degree of piety that would suffice for their admission into the kingdom of Heaven. But to have such a line drawn for us, would be by no means profitable: for it may well be doubted, whether any, who under present circumstances are slothful in their pursuit of holiness, would be quickened by it; and there is reason to fear that the zeal of many would be damped.

Information, however, of a nature not very dissimilar, is given to us; and it will be found of the highest importance to every child of man. Our blessed Lord has marked out for us a line, that must be passed by all who would be numbered among his true disciples. There were certain characters, very numerous among the Jews, characters much contemplated and much admired; these, he tells us, must be surpassed. To equal the most exalted among them will not suffice: our righteousness must exceed theirs, if ever we would enter into the kingdom of Heaven. The people we refer to were the Scribes and Pharisees. The Scribes were the learned teachers and expositors of the law. The Pharisees were a sect who affected peculiar sanctity, and were regarded by the people as the most distinguished patterns of piety and virtue. The two were generally associated together in the Scriptures; because the Scribes, though not necessarily, yet, for the most part, belonged to the sect of the Pharisees: and, so united, they were considered as having all the learning and piety of the nation concentered in them.

But notwithstanding the high estimation in which they were held, our Lord most solemnly affirmed that none of them could, in their present state, be admitted into Heaven; and that all who would be counted worthy of that honor, must attain a higher righteousness than theirs.

This information, I say, is valuable; because, though it is not so definite as to encourage any to sit down contented with their attainments, it serves as a standard by which we may try our attainments, and a criterion whereby we may judge of our real state.

In investigating the subject, there are two things to be considered:

I. HOW our righteousness must exceed theirs.

To prepare the way for showing wherein our righteousness is to exceed theirs, we must begin with stating, as clearly as we can, what righteousness they possessed. But in doing this, we shall be careful neither to exalt their character too much on the one hand, nor to depress it too much on the other. Indeed, precision in this part of our statement is of peculiar importance; for, as a comparison is instituted between their righteousness and ours, we are concerned to have the clearest knowledge of that by which our estimate must be formed.

Their character was a mixture of good and evil. They had much which might be considered as righteousness; and at the same time they had great defects.

Their righteousness, such as it was, was seen; their defects were unseen.

Their righteousness consisted in acts; their defects, in motives and principles.

Their righteousness was that which rendered them objects of admiration to men; their defects made them objects of abhorrence to God.

Let us begin with viewing the favorable side of their character. And here we cannot do better than refer to the account which the Pharisee gives of himself, when addressing the Most High God; and which our Lord particularly adverts to, as characterizing the more distinguished members of their community.

After thanking God that he was "not as other men are," he first tells us what he had not done: he was "not an extortioner," nor could be accused by any man of demanding, on any account whatever, more than was his due. He was "not unjust" in any of his dealings, but, whether in business transactions, or in any other way, he had done to all as he would be done unto. "Nor was he an adulterer," common as the crime of adultery was among the Jews, and great as his advantages had been for insinuating himself into the affections of others, he had never availed himself of any opportunity to seduce his neighbor's wife. In short, he had avoided all those evils, which the generality of publicans and sinners committed without remorse.

He next proceeds to specify what he had done. He had "fasted twice every week," in order to fulfill the duties of mortification and self-denial. He had been so scrupulously exact in paying his tithes, that not even "mint, or rue," or the smallest herb in his garden, had been withheld from God: "he paid tithes of all that he possessed."

From other parts of Scripture we learn, that the Pharisees were peculiarly jealous of the sacred rest of the Sabbath; insomuch that they were filled with indignation against anyone, who, even by an act of the greatest necessity or mercy, would presume to violate it.

They prayed to God also, and that not in a mere cursory manner, hurrying over a form which they got through as quick as possible: No; "they made long prayers, as well in the corners of their streets, as in the midst of their synagogues." As for the purifications appointed by the law, they were punctual in the observance of them: they even multiplied their washings far beyond what the law required; and were so partial to them, that they never came home from the market, or sat down to their meals, without washing their hands. They even wondered that anyone who pretended to religion, could be so profane, as to eat without having first performed these important rites. Nor must we forget to mention, that they abounded in almsgivings; regarding themselves not so much the owners, as the stewards, of the property they possessed.

In a word, religion, in all its visible branches, was, in their eyes, honorable; and, in token of their high regard for it, they made their phylacteries broader than any other sect, and "enlarged the fringes of their garments;" thus displaying before all men their zealous attachment to the laws of God.

Nor were they content with thus fulfilling their own duties: they were desirous that all should honor God in like manner: persuaded that they themselves were right, they strove to the uttermost to recommend their tenets and practices to others, and would even "compass sea and land to make one proselyte."

Of course, the attainments of all were not exactly alike: some would excel more in one branch of duty, and others in another branch. Paul himself was of that sect, as his parents also had been before him; and he was as fair a specimen of them, as any that can be found in all the records of antiquity. He was, "as concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the Church, (whom he considered as enemies to God;) and, as concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." Having thus ascertained what their righteousness was, we can now proceed to point out wherein ours must exceed it.

But here it will be proper to observe, that as all were not equally eminent in what may be called their righteousness, so, on the other hand, all were not equally faulty in the wicked part of their character. We must take the Pharisees as a body, (for it is in that view that our Savior speaks of them in the text;) and must not be understood to impute to every individual the same precise degree either of praise or blame. Nor must we be considered as saying, that no one of that sect was ever saved: because, previous to the coming of our Lord, there doubtless were many who served God according to the light that they enjoyed: but this we must be understood distinctly to affirm, that no person who enjoys the clearer light of the Gospel, can be saved, unless he attains a better righteousness than the Scribes and Pharisees, as a body, ever did attain, or than any one of them, while he rejected the Gospel, could possibly attain.

I am well aware, that, when we consider their fastings, their prayers, their alms-deeds, their strict observances of all the ritual laws; together with their zeal in promoting the religion they professed; and take into the account also, that they were free from many of the more gross and common sins; we shall seem to have left no room for superiority in our obedience. But, whatever may be thought of their attainments, our righteousness must exceed theirs.

Our righteousness must exceed theirs in the nature and extent of it.

From what has been already spoken, it sufficiently appears that the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees was for the most part external and ceremonial; or, where it seemed to partake of that which was internal and moral, it was merely of a negative kind, and extremely partial in its operation.

The Christian's righteousness must be totally different from this: it must be internal and spiritual: it must descend into the heart, and have respect to the whole of God's revealed will. The true Christian will affix no limits to his exertions; he will set no bounds to his heavenly desires. He does not limit the commandments to their literal sense, but enters into their spiritual import, and considers a disposition to commit sin as nearly equivalent to the actual commission of it. He considers himself as accountable to God for every inclination, affection, appetite; and endeavors not only to have their general tendencies regulated according to his law, but to have "every thought brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."

In a word, he aspires after perfection of every kind: he desires to love God, as much as to be saved by him; and to mortify sin, as much as to escape punishment. Could he have his heart's desire, he would be as "holy, as God himself is holy," and as "perfect, as God himself is perfect."

Thus, in the nature and extent of the two kinds of righteousness, there is an immense difference: nor is there a less difference in their principle and end.

Would we know what was the principle from which the Pharisaic righteousness proceeded? We can assert, on the most unquestionable authority, even that of Christ himself, that they did "all their works to be seen be men." And Paul no less strongly marks the end, to which all their zeal was directed. He confesses that "they had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge: for, being ignorant of God's righteousness, they went about to establish their own righteousness, and would not submit themselves unto the righteousness of God."

In these respects then we must differ from them. We should shun ostentation and vain-glory, as much as we would the most enormous crimes. We should bear in mind that anything done with a view to man's applause, is altogether worthless in the sight of God. Whatever it is, we have in the applause of men the reward we seek after, and the only reward that we shall ever obtain.

We should also dread self-righteousness as utterly inconsistent with a Christian state. Paul assures us, that "the Jews, who sought after the law of righteousness, did not attain to any justifying righteousness, because they sought it not by faith, but, as it were, by the works of the law; for they stumbled at that stumbling-stone."

Just so, the making of our own works the foundation of our hope of salvation, argues a contempt of that "foundation which God has laid in Zion;" it thrusts out from his office the Lord Jesus Christ, "who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness," and who, from that very circumstance, is called, "The Lord our Righteousness."

A truly Christian spirit will lead us, even "after we have done all that is commanded us, to say: We are unprofitable servants, we have only done that which it was our duty to do." See this exemplified in the Apostle Paul, than whom there never was but one brighter example of piety in the world: he, after all his eminent attainments, "desired to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness which was of the law, but the righteousness which is of God by faith in Christ."

Now then, compare the righteousness of the two parties:

The one, "cleansing carefully indeed and superstitiously, the outside of the cup and platter, while within they were full of many unsubdued lusts."

The other, allowing not so much as an evil thought, but "cleansing themselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and perfecting holiness in the fear of God."

The one, filled with a high conceit of their own goodness, and claiming Heaven itself on account of it, while they aimed at nothing but the applause of man.

The other, in the midst of their most strenuous exertions to serve and honor God, renouncing all dependence on themselves, and "glorying only in the cross of Christ."

The one, a compound of pride, unbelief, and hypocrisy.

The other, a compound of humility, and faith, and heavenly-mindedness.

Whatever may be thought by those who know not how to appreciate the motives and principles of men, we do not hesitate to apply to these parties the distinctive characters assigned them by Solomon, and to say, that "Wisdom excels folly, as much as light excels darkness."

We proceed to the second point of our inquiry, and ask,

II. WHY our righteousness must exceed theirs.

The text furnishes us with a sufficient answer: If we are no better than they, the Lord Jesus assures us, "that we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven." Under the expression, "The kingdom of Heaven," both the kingdom of grace on earth, and the kingdom of glory in Heaven, must be comprehended; for they are, in fact, the same kingdom; and the subjects in both are the same: only in the one, they are in an infantile and imperfect state, whereas, in the other, they have attained maturity and perfection: but from both shall we be alike excluded, if we possess not a better righteousness than theirs: the Lord Jesus will no more acknowledge us as his disciples here, than he will admit us into his beatific presence hereafter.

We cannot then without this be partakers of the kingdom of grace. The Lord Jesus Christ has told us plainly, that he does not regard those who merely "say unto him, Lord! Lord!" however clamorous they may be, or ostentatious of their zeal for him: he approves of those only "who do the will of his Father who is in Heaven." We may assume the name of his disciples, and be numbered among them by others. We may associate ourselves with them, as Judas did, and be as little suspected of hypocrisy as he. We may even deceive ourselves as well as others, and be as confident that we are Abraham's children as ever the Pharisees of old were. We may, like them, be quite indignant to have our wisdom and goodness called in question; "Are we blind also?" "in so saying, you condemn us." But all this will not make us Christians. A sepulcher may be whitened and rendered beautiful in its outward appearance; but it will be a sepulcher still; and its interior contents will be as loathsome as those of a common grave.

It is to little purpose to "have the form of godliness, if we have not the power;" to "have a name to live, while yet we are really dead." God will not judge us by our profession, but our practice: "Then are you my friends," says our Lord, "if you do whatever I command you." To this effect is that declaration also of the Psalmist, having asked, "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?" He answers, "He who has clean hands, and a pure heart."

The truth is, that those whom Christ will acknowledge as his disciples, have been "born again," they are "renewed in the spirit of their minds," "they are new creatures; old things are passed away, and all things have become new," they have been taught the spirituality and extent of God's law; to know, that an angry word is murder, and an impure desire adultery; and in that looking-glass they have seen themselves guilty, polluted, and condemned sinners. They have been stirred up by this view of themselves to flee unto Christ for refuge, as to the hope set before them in the Gospel. Having "found peace with God through the blood of his cross," they devote themselves sincerely to his service, and strive to "glorify him with their bodies and their spirits, which are his."

Here is the true secret of their obedience; "The love of Christ constrains them; because they thus judge, that, if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again." This is conversion; this is regeneration. This is what every Scribe and Pharisee must be brought to: even Nicodemus, "a master in Israel," must become a disciple of Christ in this way: for our Lord declared to him in the most solemn manner, that, "unless he should be thus born again, he could not enter into the kingdom of God."

The same is true in relation to the kingdom of glory. While we are in this world, the tares and the wheat, which grow together, may so resemble each other, that they cannot be separated by human sagacity. The tares which Jesus speaks of (as I myself know by experience) cannot, even when full grown, be immediately distinguished from wheat by a common observer: the difference, however, is soon found by rubbing the ears, which in the tares are nearly empty, and in the wheat are full of grain.

The same may be noticed also in the religious world. Not only common observers, but even those who have the deepest insight into characters, and the best discernment of spirits, may be deceived; but God can never be deceived. However specious we may be in our outward appearance, he will discern our character through the thickest veil; "he searches the hearts, and tries the thoughts;" or, as it is yet more strongly expressed, "he weighs the spirits," he knows exactly the qualities of which every action is compounded, and can separate, with infallible certainty, its constituent parts. When we shall stand before him in judgment, he will distinguish the sincere Christian from the hypocritical and specious Pharisee, as easily "as a man divides his sheep from the goats." Then shall the final separation take place; "the wheat shall be treasured up in the garner, and the tares shall be burnt with unquenchable fire."

Here then is a further reason for the assertion in our text. If an external religion would suffice, we might rest satisfied with it. But if we have a Judge, "whose eyes are as a flame of fire," to whom the most secret recesses of the heart are "naked and open," just as the inwards of the sacrifices were to the priest appointed to examine them; and if, as he has told us, "he will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the hidden counsels of the heart;" then must we be, not hypocritical Pharisees, but real Christians, even "Israelites indeed, and without deceit." We must not be contented "with being Jews outwardly, but must be Jews inwardly; and have, not the mere circumcision of the flesh, but the inward circumcision of the heart, whose praise is not from men, but from God."

The peculiar importance of the subject, we hope, will plead our excuse, if we trespass somewhat longer than usual on your time. In our statement we have been as concise as would consist with a clear exposition of the truth.

In our APPLICATION of it we shall also study brevity, as far as the nature of the subject will admit. An audience habituated to reflection, like this, will never grudge a few additional moments for an investigation so solemn, so weighty, so interesting as the present.

1. The first description of people, then, to whom our subject is peculiarly applicable, and for whose benefit we are desirous to improve it, is that class of hearers who come short of the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.

Many there are, it is to be feared, who, so far from "not being as other men are," cannot at all be distinguished from the generality of those around them—who, instead of "fasting twice a week," have never fasted twice, nor even once, in their whole lives, for the purpose of devoting themselves more solemnly to God: who, instead of "making long prayers," never pray at all, or only in so slight, cursory, and formal a manner, as to show that they have no pleasure in that holy exercise. Instead of keeping holy the Sabbath-day, they "speak their own words, do their own work, and find their own pleasure," almost as much as on other days; or if, for decency's sake, they impose a little restraint upon themselves, they find it the most wearisome day of all the seven.

Instead of paying tithes with scrupulous exactness, they will withhold the payment both of tithes and taxes, if they can do it without danger of detection; thus showing, that they have not even a principle of honesty to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Perhaps they may now and then give away something to charity; but they do not consecrate a portion of their income to God as a religious act, nor even account it their duty so to do, notwithstanding "every man" is expressly commanded to "lay by him in store for charitable uses, according as God has prospered him."

Instead of being able to appeal to God that they have never been guilty of whoredom or adultery, they stand condemned for one, or both, of these things in their own consciences; or, if they do not, their chastity has proceeded from other causes, than either the fear of God, or the hatred of sin.

Instead of honoring religion in the world, they have been ashamed of it, yes perhaps despised it, and held up to scorn and ridicule those who were its most distinguished advocates: thus, so far from laboring to proselyte people to righteousness, they have used all their influence to deter men from it.

What shall we say then to men of these characters? Shall we encourage them with the hopes of Heaven? Must we not rather adopt the Apostle's reasoning, "If the righteous scarcely are saved—then where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" Yes, if the Pharisees, with all their righteousness, could not enter into Heaven, how shall they come thither, who are destitute of their attainments? If every one must perish who does not exceed their righteousness, what must become of those who fall so short of it? O that this argument might have its proper weight among us! O that men would not trifle with their souls, on the very brink and precipice of eternity! "Consider, brethren, what I say; and may the Lord give you understanding in all things!"

2. Next we would solicit the attention of those who are resting in a Pharisaic righteousness. This is the kind of religion which is held in esteem by mankind at large. An external reverence for the ordinances of religion, together with habits of temperance, justice, chastity, and benevolence; constitute what the world considers a perfect character.

The description which Paul gives of himself previous to his conversion, is so congenial with their sentiments of perfection, that they would not hesitate to rest the salvation of their souls on his attainments. But what said he of his state, when once he came to view it aright? "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ; yes doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." He saw, that brokenness of heart for sin, a humble affiance in the Lord Jesus Christ, and an unreserved devotedness of heart to his service, were indispensable to the salvation of the soul. He saw, that, without these, no attainments would be of any avail; yes, that a man might have all the Biblical learning of the Scribes, and all the sanctified habits of the Pharisees—and yet never be approved of the Lord in this world, nor ever be accepted of him in the world to come!

Is it not then desirable, that those who are in repute for wisdom and piety among us, should pause, and inquire, Whether their righteousness really exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees? Would they not do well to study the account which Paul gives of himself previous to his conversion, and to examine wherein they surpass him?

Alas! alas! we are exceedingly averse to be undeceived; but I would entreat every one of my hearers to consider deeply what our blessed Lord has spoken of such characters: "You are those who justify yourselves before men; but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God."

3. Lastly, we would suggest some profitable considerations to those who profess to have attained that superior righteousness spoken of in our text.

You need not be told, that the examples of Christ and his Apostles, and indeed of all the primitive Christians, were offensive, rather than pleasing, to the Pharisees of old. The same disapprobation of real piety still lurks in the hearts of those who "occupy the seat of Moses," and you must not wonder if:
your contrition is called gloom;
your faith in Christ is called presumption;
your delight in his ways is called enthusiasm;
and your devotion to his service is called preciseness or hypocrisy.

Well, if it must be so, console yourselves with this, that you share the fate of all the saints that have gone before you; and that your state, with all the obloquy that attends it, is infinitely better than that of your revilers and persecutors: you may well be content to be despised by men, while you are conscious of the favor and approbation of God.

But take care that "you give no just occasion to the enemy to speak reproachfully." The world, and especially those who resemble the Scribes and Pharisees, will watch your conduct narrowly, just as their forefathers did that of our Lord himself; and happy will they be to find occasion against you.

As for your secret walk with God, they know nothing about it: your hopes and fears, and joys and sorrows, are nothing to them: these are the things which they deride as airy visions and enthusiastic deceits. They will inquire into those things which come more under their own observation, and on which they set an exclusive value: they will inquire how you conduct yourselves in your several relations of life; whether you are:
temperate in your habits,
modest in your demeanor,
punctual in your dealings,
true to your word,
regular in your duties,
and diligent in your studies.

They will point to many of their own followers as highly exemplary in all these particulars; and if they find you inferior to them in any respect, they will cast all the blame upon religion, and take occasion from your misconduct to confirm themselves in their prejudices.

Permit me, then, to say to all my younger brethren, and especially to all who show any respect for religion, that religion, if true and scriptural, is uniformly and universally operative; and that it is a shame to a Christian to be surpassed by a Pharisee in any duty whatever. Though I would be far from encouraging any of you to boast, I would entreat all of you so to act, that you may, if compelled by calumnies, adopt the language of the Apostle, "Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they of the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I speak as a fool; I am more; in labors more abundant." Thus be also prepared to repel comparisons, or to turn them to your own advantage: and show, that, in all the social and relative duties, and especially in those pertaining to you as students, you are "not a whit behind the chief among them;" but even in the things wherein they most value themselves, "the righteous is more excellent than his neighbor."

 

 

#1300

Christ's Exposition of the Sixth Commandment

Matthew 5:21, 22

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of Hell fire!"

GENERAL statements, and general invectives, rarely carry any conviction to the mind: they must be supported by an induction of particulars, before they can produce any material effect. Assertions without proofs will be taken for calumny; but, when supported by fact, they will bear down all opposition. The assertions of our blessed Lord, indeed, needed no confirmation; because "he knew what was in man;" and because his miracles were a sufficient attestation to his word. Yet even He condescended to substantiate his accusations by appeals to fact.

He had intimated that the Scribes and Pharisees both did and taught many things contrary to his revealed will: and he had declared, that unless we have a better righteousness than theirs, we cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven. To evince the truth of his charge, and of the declaration founded upon it, he shows that they had grossly perverted the sixth commandment: which on that account he proceeds to explain.

Let us consider,

I. His exposition of this commandment.

The commandment, "You shall not kill," was one of those proclaimed from Mount Sinai, and written by the finger of God himself on tables of stone. An order was afterwards given, that the crime of murder should be invariably punished with the death of the offender. These two were by the Pharisees joined together, as though they had been one and the same commandment: "You shall not kill; and whoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment." The effect of this union was that, first, the import of the commandment was thereby limited to actual murder; and, next, the sanction, with which it was enforced, was limited to a punishment inflicted by the civil magistrate. Hence all other violations of the commandment were either overlooked, as no offences at all, or were considered as of very light importance: and though God's future judgment might not be expressly denied, it was at least kept very much out of sight, by this method of interpreting the word of God.

To rectify these errors, our Lord gave his exposition of the commandment.

1. He explained its import.

It had been thought to extend only to actual murder; but he declared, that it prohibited all causeless anger in the heart, and all outward expression of it with the lips.

In determining the sinfulness of anger, two things are to be considered, namely, the object, and the occasion of our anger.

The only legitimate object of it is sin. The sinner himself should be regarded with love and pity; and only his sin should move our anger. Thus it was with our blessed Lord when he exercised anger; "He looked round about on the Pharisees with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts."

The occasion too must be just: our anger must not be causeless, or disproportionate to the offence, or of too long continuance. Where our anger is faulty in none of these respects, we observe the true medium; "We are angry, and sin not," but where any one of these barriers is broken down, there the anger becomes a violation of the sixth commandment.

Similar distinctions must be made respecting the outward expressions of anger. "Raca" was a term which indicated a contempt of the person to whom it was applied: it means, 'You empty worthless fellow.' "You fool," was an expression that implied a great degree of indignation and abhorrence, 'You reprobate villain.' Such expressions therefore as these must of necessity be considered as violations of the commandment, because they manifest a total lack of love and pity towards the person so addressed.

But it is not every reproachful word that is sinful. Paul said, "O foolish Galatians," "are you so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?" James makes use of a similar expression; "Will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" Our blessed Lord spoke occasionally with far greater severity; "O fools, and blind;" "you hypocrites;" "you serpents and generation of vipers." But in these things he spoke as a prophet, bearing special authority; and consequently, unless specially authorized like him, we are not at liberty in these respects to follow his example.

The rule for us is plain; we may, like the Apostles, designate the characters of men by appropriate epithets; but we must never use any expression which implies a hatred or contempt of the person to whom it is addressed. If we do not strictly adhere to this rule, we violate the commandment.

Thus you see the import of the commandment. Let us next consider our Lord's explanation of,

2. Its sanctions.

We have observed, that the Pharisees, in their comments on this commandment, insisted almost exclusively on the temporal punishment annexed to the violation of it. Our Lord showed them, that the principal judgments would be felt in the eternal world; and that not only the direct act of murder, but all those other evils which he had represented as breaches of the commandment, would there meet with deserved punishment. This he illustrated by a reference to the different kinds of punishment which were inflicted in their courts of justice.

There were courts, established in different parts of the land, consisting of twenty-three members, who had power to try causes, and to inflict capital punishment on the guilty; and the people condemned by them, were beheaded.

There was also a great court or council, called the Sanhedrin, consisting of seventy-two members, who took cognizance of the greatest crimes; and the people condemned by them were stoned. But there were some offences for which people were condemned to be burnt alive: and these, it is thought, were executed in the valley of Hinnom. In that valley the people formerly had burned their children in sacrifice to Moloch; but, when the people were turned from that wicked idolatry, one method adopted for keeping them from returning to it was to defile the place as much as possible, and to render it detestable in the eyes of the people. For this purpose, all the filth of the city was carried there to be consumed; and fires were kept there on purpose to consume it. It is probable, that that spot was selected as the fittest place of execution for all who were sentenced to be burnt alive.

Now it is plain, that, of these three kinds of death, the last is far the most terrible: stoning was a more lingering death than beheading, and burning was still worse than stoning. A similar kind of gradation there will be in the punishments inflicted in the eternal world. Death, eternal death, will be the portion of all who die in their sins: but some will have a lighter, and others a heavier, weight of misery to sustain, in proportion to their respective degrees of guilt. "Those who are angry with their brother without a cause, will be in danger of the judgment," that is, of that lighter degree of misery, which may be compared to beheading. Those who suffer their anger to "break out into contemptuous expressions," and "say to their brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council," and sustain a heavier punishment, answerable to stoning. And if any person shall entertain such rancor in his heart as to "say to his brother, You fool, he shall be in danger of Hell fire," that is, of that heaviest of all punishments, answerable to the being burnt alive in the valley of Hinnom: Hell fire being usually expressed in the New Testament, by a word importing, "The fire in the land of Hinnom."

Thus our Lord shows what are to be regarded as violations of this commandment, and that every violation of it shall receive a recompense proportionable to its enormity.

Having seen his exposition of the commandment, let us consider,

II. The general instruction which it conveys to us.

With the right exposition of the commandments every truth of the Gospel is intimately connected.

We may learn from this especially,

1. The spirituality of the law.

The law is not a mere letter, which imports nothing beyond the literal import of the words, but extends to all the thoughts and dispositions of the heart. It prohibits all tendencies towards the sin forbidden, and enjoins every virtue that is opposed to it. Paul speaks of this as a tiling known and acknowledged; "We know that the law is spiritual." In his unconverted state, indeed, he did not know it: he had the same view of the commandments as other Pharisees had, and thought he had never violated them, at least not so as to be condemned by them: but when God showed him the meaning of those words, "You shall not covet," he saw that "the commandment" was, as David had long before represented it, "exceeding broad," he saw that there was not an inclination of the mind, or an affection of the heart, which was not under its cognizance and control; and, consequently, that he had violated it in ten thousand instances.

This is the account which he himself gives us of his own experience: "I was alive without the law once; but, when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died;" that is, 'Before I understood the law, I thought I had kept it, and would be saved by it; but when I saw its spirituality and extent, I was sensible that I was a condemned sinner, and could never be justified by my obedience to it.'

It is remarkable, that God has taught us this very lesson from the commandment before us. Moses was the meekest man upon earth: yet on one occasion he transgressed against this commandment, and spoke unadvisedly with his lips: "You rebels, shall we fetch water out of this rock for you?" and then, in his anger, he struck the rock twice. Now for this single transgression God excluded him from the earthly Canaan. And what was the import of this dispensation? It was intended to teach us, that the law is violated as much by an angry word or temper, as by murder itself; that one single violation of it is sufficient to exclude us from the land of promise; and that, though it is of excellent use to conduct us through the wilderness, it can never bring us into Canaan: that is the work of Joshua/Jesus, and of Joshua alone. Let us then learn this important lesson from the commandment before us; and be convinced, that there is no justification for us by the works of the law.

2. The evil and danger of bad tempers.

It is thought in general a sufficient excuse for passion, to say, that we are naturally quick and hasty; and, if a man do not long retain his anger, this hastiness of spirit is not considered, either by himself or others, as any great blemish in his character. But God does not judge so, when he tells us, that anger in the heart exposes us to his heavy displeasure, and that the saying to our brother 'Raca' puts us in danger of Hell fire. Surely we must have very little considered the effects of anger, if we can think so light of the criminality attaching to it. See what murderous purposes issued from it in the heart of David!—and what infernal acts were executed in consequence of it by the incensed sons of Jacob!—Or let us look nearer home, and see how often it terminates in blows, in duels, and in death. Who will say, that "the feet of an angry man are not swift to shed blood?" If nothing but the declarations of God himself will satisfy us, let us attend to them: "He who hates his brother, is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him," and again, "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is vain!"

Hear then, you "dealers in proud anger;" hear what God himself speaks concerning you! Think it not a light matter to be angry with your wife, and children, and servants, on every occasion; and to be of such an irritable temper, that the smallest thing in the world suffices to put you in a passion. Whatever professions you may make of regard for religion, God tells you "not to deceive yourselves;" for that "no railer or reviler shall enter into his kingdom," and such a disgrace does he consider you to his religion, that he bids his own people "not so much as to eat with you."

You will say, "It is only with the lower class of people that I am angry; to my equals I am courteous enough." What then, is not one man your "brother," as well as another? Go and murder a poor man; and see whether the laws of the land will make any distinction: and, if they will not, much less will "God, with whom there is no respect of persons." If you indulge anger in your heart, and express it with your lips, "Hell fire" will be your portion, whatever be your own rank, and whether the objects of your anger be poor or rich.

If you would be Christians indeed, your habitual conduct must be agreeable to that precept, "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil-speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you."

3. The greatness of Gospel salvation.

Let any one judge himself by our Lord's exposition of this commandment, and see how often he has been "in danger of the judgment, and the council; yes, and of Hell-fire itself." Yet here is only one commandment; and that too considered only in a very partial way. What then must be the amount of our guilt, when tried by all the commandments? And if such be the guilt of every individual among us, what must be the guilt of the whole world? Yet this was the guilt which was laid upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and was expiated by his all-atoning sacrifice! How "mighty then must He be on whom such help was laid!" and how precious must that blood be which could wash away such loads of guilt!

We do not in general consider this as we ought: if we did, we could not but be filled with wonder at the stupendous plan which the Father laid, the Son executed, the Spirit revealed.

It is the full view of this subject that animates the heavenly hosts to sing, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing," therefore, "blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him who sits on the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever." And were we also to meditate more on these things, we should oftener catch the fire, and sing with enraptured hearts "the song of Moses and the Lamb."

 

 

#1301

The Necessity of Seeking Reconciliation With Men

Matthew 5:23, 24

"Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you; leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."

THE explanation which our Lord has given us of the sixth commandment, shows, that we are not to confine the import of the commandments to the mere letter of them, but to regard them as extending to the words of our lips, and the dispositions of our hearts. Nor must we imagine that they are intended solely to prohibit sin: they must be understood as inculcating all those virtues which are opposed to the sin forbidden. This is evident from the connection in which our text stands with the preceding context.

Our blessed Lord had declared that a wrathful word was in fact a species and degree of murder: and from thence he takes occasion to inculcate the necessity of exercising in every respect a spirit of love, so as, not only to entertain no anger in one's own heart against others, but so as not to leave room for the exercise of it in the hearts of others towards us. The direction which he gives us respecting it will lead us to show,

I. The duty of seeking reconciliation with men.

Wild beasts are scarcely more prone to injure their own species, than man is to oppress and injure his fellow-man. Indeed, considering what tempers we have, and what tempers exist in others, and what frequent occasions of interference with each other must of necessity arise, it would be a miracle if any of us had so conducted himself on all occasions, that no brother should on any account "have anything against him." We apprehend that no one who knows anything of his own heart, would profess himself so perfect, as never to have done towards another anything differently from what he would have wished to be done towards himself. Supposing then that "a brother has something against us," what is to be done? I answer:

1. We should be willing to see our fault.

There is in us a self-love, which blinds our eyes, and prevents us from seeing our own defects. Whatever relates to ourselves, we view in a partial light; so that we scarcely ever attach any material blame to ourselves. Everyone complains of the injuries he receives, but not of the injuries he commits. Take the report of mankind respecting each other, and the world is full of injuries; but take each person's report of himself, and no occasion of complaint wall be found to exist. But it would be far better to put ourselves in the place of those who are offended by us; and, instead of extenuating our own offences and aggravating theirs, to view the extenuations of theirs, and the aggravations of our own. This would be doing unto others as we would have others do unto us; and, if the habit of it were universal, it would soon root out all contention from the world.

2. We should be ready to ask pardon for it.

This is a condescension to which men in general are very averse to stoop. They would regard it as an act of baseness and cowardice; and therefore, even when conscious that they are wrong, they will rather risk the loss of their lives, than submit to it. But no man should be ashamed to make a suitable apology for any offence he may have committed.

When the friends of Job had, even with a good intention, incriminated him on account of supposed hypocrisy, God was incensed against them for their uncharitable conduct, and ordered them to make their acknowledgments to Job himself, and to entreat his intercession in their behalf. It was no excuse for them that they had been mistaken, or that they had intended well, or even that they had been actuated by a zeal for God: they had wounded the feelings, and defamed the character, of Job; and if ever they would obtain forgiveness from God, they must first of all ask forgiveness from their injured friend. Thus must we do: it is an act of justice which we owe to man; and an act of obedience which we owe to God.

3. We should be desirous to make reparations for it.

This was expressly required under the law: and it was practiced under the Gospel. No sooner was Zaccheus converted to the faith, than he engaged to restore fourfold to any person whom in his unconverted state he had defrauded. And it is in vain to affect penitence, if we be not sincerely determined to make reparation, as far as is in our power, for any injury we may have done. Who would give credit to a man for penitence, while he willfully retained the goods that he had stolen? Sincere contrition would urge him to undo whatever he had done amiss. And the same principle would produce the same effects in every person under Heaven.

Such is our duty towards an offended brother.

We now proceed to state,

II. The importance of it in order to our acceptance with God.

The command here given, to suspend the exercise of a solemn duty to God until we shall have performed this duty to man, shows,

1. That no duties whatever can supersede the necessity of it.

It is here taken for granted, that men will bring their gifts to God's altar, or, in other words, will draw near to him in the use of all his appointed ordinances. But will works of piety procure us a dispensation from the duties of the second table? Will the making of long prayers be any compensation for devouring widows' houses; or will the paying tithe of mint and anise and cummin atone for neglecting the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and truth? No such commutation will be admitted by God; no such reserves are allowed: his word to us, under all such circumstances, is, "These ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone."

2. That no duties whatever will be accepted without it.

A person is represented here as already with his offering before God's altar. But what says the word of God unto him? 'Finish your offering to me, and then go and be reconciled to your brother?' No, it is, "Go your way;" depart from my altar; leave your gift there, that it may be ready for you to offer after you are reconciled to your brother: but do not for a moment think of approaching me with acceptance, while your brother's rights are overlooked. "The prayer of the upright is doubtless God's delight," but, when presented by one who "regards iniquity in his heart, it not only shall not be heard," but it shall be held in utter "abomination."

Hear how solemnly God protests against all such hypocritical services. It is not in the power of words to express more holy contempt, or more rooted abhorrence, of such services, than is conveyed in these passages: and we may be assured, that if we attempt to draw near to God, either at his table or at the footstool of his grace, he will spurn us from him with indignation. Let us be ever so urgent in our supplications, his only answer will be, "Go your way."

Let us not however be misunderstood on this subject: we are not to imagine, that the circumstance of our being at variance with a brother is any excuse for staying away from the Lord's table: (it were strange indeed if a want of love to man would excuse a want of piety to God;) this is certainly not the meaning of our text: the meaning is, that, as we cannot be accepted of God in such a state, it befits us without delay to seek reconciliation with our offended brother.

From this subject we may learn,

1. The necessity of frequent self-examination.

It is here supposed that a person may be living in the exercise of religious duties, and, without being conscious of his danger, may be in a state wherein neither his person nor his services can be accepted of God: he goes to the altar of his God as usual, and there recollects that his brother has some cause of complaint against him.

Alas! there are many such self-deceiving people in the Christian world at this time. But how terrible! and they continue in their delusions until God himself shall bring their sins to remembrance at his judgment-seat! How dreadful will it then be to be told, "Go your way!" Let us then live in the habit of daily self-examination: let us not leave any of our ways unnoticed, lest some hidden evil remain unrepented of, and "separate between us and our God" forever. Especially when about to come to the supper of our Lord, let us try our ways with more than common jealousy, according to that advice of the Apostle, "Let a man examine himself, and so let him come."

Let us go back to our early days, and ask, Whom have we offended? whom have we defrauded? whom have we calumniated? whom have we encouraged in the ways of sin, or discouraged in the ways of piety and virtue? And, while we are careful to wash away our stains in the Fountain opened for sin and for impurity, let us be no less careful to obtain forgiveness from man, and to remedy the evils which we are unable to recall.

2. The necessity of cultivating a humble spirit.

It is pride which renders us so averse to ask forgiveness of a fellow-creature. But we have no alternative: if we will not seek reconciliation with an offended brother—then we shall not obtain it with an offended God. Let us only get our spirits humbled with a sense of our sin against God, and all the difficulty will vanish. We shall even feel a pleasure in making any acknowledgment which may tend to restore harmony and love.

Even if we are not conscious of having given any just occasion of offence, we shall not be satisfied, while we see a brother alienated from us: we shall be anxious to find the cause of his displeasure; to explain anything which he may have misapprehended, and alter anything he may have disapproved.

In short, if the Gospel had its due effect upon us, we should, as far as our influence extended, convert this wilderness into another Paradise. Our "swords would immediately be turned into ploughshares;" and "the wolf and the lamb would dwell together" in perfect amity. There would be "none to hurt or to destroy in all God's holy mountain." O that we could see such a state existing all around us!

Let us at least endeavor to produce it in our respective circles. Let us appreciate as we ought the comfort of love, and the excellency of a Christian spirit. And let us seek that "wisdom from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy."

 

#1302

The Importance of Seeking Reconciliation With God

Matthew 5:25, 26

"Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny."

IT is thought by many, that prudential considerations are unworthy of the attention of a Christian. That he ought to be influenced by higher principles, we readily admit. The love of Christ should be to him in the place of all other incentives, so far at least that he should not need any other motive for doing the will of God. But Christians are men, and feel the force of every principle which can operate upon the human mind: and therefore subordinate motives may fitly be proposed to them in aid of those which are more worthy of their regard.

Our blessed Lord, having explained the sixth commandment, inculcates the duties contained in it, particularly that of seeking reconciliation with an offended brother: and this he does, first from the consideration of the offence which a lack of a conciliatory spirit gives to God, and next from a consideration of the danger to which it exposes ourselves.

In the former view we have treated of it in the foregoing verses; in the latter view we are to speak of it at this time. But the peculiarly emphatic manner in which our Lord speaks in the words before us, will naturally, and almost necessarily, lead our thoughts beyond the mere concerns of time, to another tribunal before which we must all appear. We shall therefore consider our text,

I. In its primary and literal sense.

When we have by any means offended a brother, we should not defer the period of making proper concessions, but should make them "quickly," the danger of delay is great: for,

1. The breach may become irreparable.

When we have excited a painful feeling in the heart of another, or even injured him in a considerable degree, we may by instantaneous concessions abate at least, if not entirely remove, his anger. But the longer he is allowed to pore over the injuries he has sustained, the more his wound festers, and indignation rankles in his bosom. Continued pondering over the misconduct of the offending person brings to his recollection a multitude of incidents, which under other circumstances would have been overlooked, but, viewed through the medium of anger, are magnified into importance, and regarded as aggravations of the offence committed. Thus an aversion to make acknowledgments on the one side, begets inflexibility on the other; and that which might have passed away as a slight and transient dispute, becomes a ground of bitter alienation and deep-rooted aversion. To prevent this, we should strive to make up the matter "while we are in the way with him."

Instead of separating immediately, as is usually the case, and avoiding all means of friendly communication, we should labor to prevent matters from coming to an extremity: and set ourselves in the first instance to procure a reconciliation, precisely as we would to extinguish a fire that threatened to consume our house: we should not stop until the flames had gained an irresistible ascendant; but should set ourselves first to quench the fire, and afterwards guard against the occasions of future conflagration.

2. The consequences may be radical.

Our Lord supposes a person so irritated as to have determined to prosecute us in a court of law: and he supposes that the offence has been such as, when judgment is given against us, will terminate in our ruin. The compensation awarded him, and the costs of the suit, exceeding our power to discharge, we shall be cast into prison, and be liberated from thence no more.

This is a consequence which frequently happens for lack of timely humiliation in the offending party.

But where measures are not pursued to such an extent, the disagreement may yet be attended with most calamitous effects. And it will be well for us to remember, that, though the people we may offend may not be able to avenge themselves in that precise way, there is no person who may not at some time or other have it in his power to do us an essential injury: and therefore, though it is but a poor motive for a Christian to act upon, we may not improperly bear it in mind, as a subordinate consideration, to keep us from giving offence to any, and to stir us up to adopt the most prompt and effectual means of reconciliation with any whom we may have chanced to provoke.

That our subject may be more generally interesting, we shall consider the text,

II. In a secondary and accommodated sense.

Notwithstanding the Apostles occasionally quote the Scriptures in a secondary and accommodated sense, we would be very cautious in taking such a liberty with the word of God. But we can scarcely conceive that our Lord had not some reference to the future judgment, when the Supreme Judge of all will execute on every unhumbled sinner the punishment he deserves. Though our offences be primarily against our fellow-creature, God will take cognizance of them at the last day, if we have not sought forgiveness in this life, as well at the hand of our offended brother, as at his hands. But since we cannot absolutely affirm that this is the sense of our text, we are contented to call it an accommodated sense; more especially because, in this latter sense, we consider God as the offended party, no less than the Judge who takes cognizance of the offence. Let not this, however, be thought a great liberty, because he is really the offended party, whether our transgression is immediately against man or not; and, as we have observed, God will bring every work into judgment, whoever it might affect in the first instance.

With this apology we shall consider our text as prescribing a rule of conduct for us towards God, no less than towards our fellow-creatures: and this we may well do; for,

1. Our duty is the same.

We have all offended God, and that in instances without number. To humble ourselves before him is our bounden duty. This would be our duty, though no means of reconciliation had been provided for us: but when God has sent his only-begotten Son to make an atonement for our sins, so that we might be brought into a state of reconciliation with him in a way consistent with the honor of his law and of his moral government, we should be inexcusable indeed if we should delay to seek him one single moment. The ingratitude which such conduct would argue, would aggravate our past offences beyond measure.

2. The reasons for it are the same.

"Do it while you are still with him on the way." Though we are hastening to the judgment-seat of Christ, we are not yet arrived there: and there is yet time for reconciliation with our offended God.

This time however will be very short; how short we know not: we are advancing towards his tribunal every day and hour. But, if once the matter is brought before the Judge, all hope of mercy and forgiveness will be past: justice must then be dispensed according to the strict letter of the law. The sentence that will then be decreed will be unalterably fixed forever: so far from "paying the last penny" of our debt, we shall never be able to pay one penny: and consequently must endure the penalty of our sins forever and ever.

Who can reflect on the awfulness of that prison, and yet continue one hour in an unreconciled state? Consider the solemnity with which our Lord warns us against delay, and lose not another moment in imploring mercy at the hands of God.

Reflections.

1. Of what value in the sight of God is brotherly love!

If we were to judge by the little regard shown to it by men, we should account it of no value: but God declares, that whatever we may have, or do, or suffer, if destitute of love, we are no better than sounding brass, or tinkling cymbals. As far as we are possessed of love, so far we resemble him: as far as we are destitute of it, we resemble "the devil, who was a murderer from the beginning." Let us cultivate to the uttermost this heavenly grace.

2. How happy would the world be if Christian love universally prevailed!

"Love is the fulfilling both of the law" and the Gospel too. If the Gospel reigned in the hearts of all, "Judah would no more vex Ephraim, nor would Ephraim envy Judah." All would be harmony and peace throughout the world. To prove the blessedness of such a state, I need only appeal to those who have felt at any time the disquietudes arising from anger and contention, and have at last been enabled to re-unite with their brother in cordial amity and affection. What a difference is there in your feelings! Instead of being harassed with incessant vexation, how are you now filled with tranquility and joy! If then we have nothing more than our own happiness in view, we should, "as much as lies in us, live peaceably with all men".

3. How earnest we should be in preparing for the future judgment!

There, not overt actions only, but tempers and dispositions, will be strictly investigated: and a sentence will be passed upon us, founded on the moral state of our minds and hearts. Let us not trifle in a matter of such importance. Let us not be satisfied with saying, "I forgive all;" but let us inquire whether there be any person of whom we have not asked forgiveness? Our proud hearts are very averse to stoop; but if we do not humble ourselves now before God and man, the time will come when we shall "find no place for repentance, though we should seek it carefully with tears."

 

 

#1303

Our Lord's Exposition of The Seventh Commandment

Matthew 5:27, 28

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

We do not wonder that the Jews were unacquainted with the spiritual nature of their law, because their authorized instructors were chiefly occupied in ceremonial observances; but that Christians should be ignorant of it, is astonishing, since the strongest light has been cast upon it in the New Testament, and every minister of Christ must make it known, in order to state with accuracy the scope and excellence of the Gospel. Yet it is certain that few Christians comparatively have just views of the law: and it is to be feared, that, in many instances, ministers themselves are not sufficiently aware of the importance of setting it before their people in all its spirituality and extent. The exposition of it which our Lord has given us in this sermon, precludes all possibility of doubt respecting its real import. In the words which we have now read, he interprets the seventh commandment: in discoursing upon which, it will be proper to consider,

I. Its true import.

The Scribes and Pharisees imagined that the prohibition reached no further than to the actual commission of adultery; but our Lord shows that it extended,

1. To mental impurity, as well as bodily impurity.

The intent of God's law is to regulate our hearts. It can never be supposed that God should require us to "cleanse the outside of the cup and platter," and leave us at liberty to retain all kinds of impurity within. He surely will not be satisfied with seeing us like "whited sepulchers." He forbids an evil desire, no less than an evil act: and especially in relation to the evil we are considering, he specifies every variety of it as alike hateful in his eyes: "adultery, fornication, impurity, lasciviousness," are all distinctly mentioned as "works of the flesh," which equally exclude us from the kingdom of God. Of course, the law does not condemn that attachment which is cherished in order to an honorable marriage; but it does condemn all desires which have not respect to marriage.

We forbear to enlarge upon the subject, wishing rather to commend it to your consciences before God; but we entreat you all attentively to consider what have been the workings of your own minds and hearts on different occasions, when perhaps you little thought what construction God put upon them, and in what light you were viewed by him.

2. To the means and occasions of impurity, as well as to impurity itself.

It is needless to observe, that the eye and the ear are inlets to evil, and that they need to be subjected to continual restraints. Our blessed Lord declares, that even a look, when employed for the purpose of exciting an impure desire, or when productive of that effect—involves the soul in guilt, no less than adultery itself. Peter speaks of people having "eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin." If the eye then may bring so much defilement on the soul, what shall we say of frequenting those places of public amusement, where everything that is seen and heard has a direct tendency to corrupt the mind? What shall we say of allowing our minds to be contaminated with light and frothy novels, with indecent pictures, with licentious conversation, or indeed with sensual thoughts? Can anyone who allows himself in such liberties as these, acquit himself of the charge which is brought against him in the text? Nor are they less criminal, whose dress is framed for this unhallowed end, and who sacrifice both decency and health to the detested purpose of inflaming the appetites of men. It is obvious, that, whether we are the tempters, or the tempted—we are highly criminal: however the imagination becomes defiled, that defilement constitutes us guilty in the sight of God.

Such being the view which our Lord himself gives us of the commandment, we proceed to consider,

II. The effect which our Lord's exposition of it should produce upon us.

Were the commandment restricted to its literal meaning, we might find cause perhaps for self-approval in relation to it. But when it is rightly interpreted, it affords to all of us abundant occasion for,

1. Humiliation.

"Who will say: My heart is clean, I am pure from this sin?" Who, if an adulteress were now to be stoned to death, would take up the first stone to cast at her? Who must not retire self-convicted, and self-condemned? If then we would know what ought to be our feelings before God, we have here an image whereby they may be illustrated in the clearest manner.

Conceive a woman who has for many years maintained an honorable character, betrayed at last into a betrayal of her marriage vows, and exposed to all the shame which her misconduct has justly brought upon her: how degraded would she be in her own eyes! how ashamed would she be to appear in the presence of her injured husband! how would she even loath her own existence, and hate the light which would expose her to public view!

Just such consciousness should we feel in the presence of our God, even when our conduct has been most blameless in the sight of men. We should take to ourselves our proper character; and, knowing what abominations the omniscient God has seen within us—we should humble ourselves before him, and loath ourselves in dust and ashes. We should put our hands on our mouths, and "our mouths in the dust," "crying, Unclean, unclean!"

2. Gratitude.

Many instances there are of people, who, in former times, have been as moral in their habits as any of us—who yet, through the violence of temptation, have fallen, and brought indelible disgrace upon their names and families. Why is it, we would ask, that this has not been our lot? Is it that we have never found any disposition to commit the evils which have ruined them? Is it that we are not actually chargeable with those very evils in the sight of God, who identifies the desire with the act itself? Or rather, is it not owing to the kind providence of God, who has screened us from temptation, or interposed in some way to break its force and rescue us from its power?

We may perhaps be ready to ascribe our safety to a good education, and other secondary causes: but, if the First Great Cause had not rendered them effectual, they would have been as unavailing for us, as they have been for thousands all around us. Doubtless we have reason to be thankful . . .
for the restraints of moral education,
for a dread of public shame,
yes, even for the laws of the land also.

All of these have had their weight, when perhaps other barriers might have been broken down: we have reason therefore to be thankful for them. But especially have we cause to bless our God for the checks of conscience, if at any time the progress of evil has been impeded by them. Whatever have been the means of preserving us from the actual commission of iniquity, the true source of our deliverance is the same: it must ultimately be traced to the providence and grace of God; and all the glory must be given to our heavenly Benefactor.

3. Circumspection.

When we consider how many temptations to evil present themselves to us on every side, and what depraved appetites lurk within us—we shall see reason to maintain continual vigilance and circumspection. It was wise in Job, who "made a covenant with his eyes, that he would not even look upon a maid." Solomon has wisely cautioned us to let our eyes look strait forward. If we regarded only the danger of falling into open sin, this advice would be good: but when we reflect on our Lord's assertion, that an impure look will be considered by Almighty God as adultery, we had need to be on our guard against the very first assaults of evil: we should "watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation," we should "keep," not our feet only, but "our hearts also, with all diligence; knowing that out of them are the issues of life."

Remember then what we have already spoken respecting the means and occasions of impurity. Guard against the books, the places, the company, the conversation, that you have at any time perceived to be defiling to your souls. Be as careful of catching infection from those around you, as you would be if they were infected with the plague. Go not into the world, without carrying with you, as an antidote, the fear of God. Come not from your fellowship with the world, without washing away your defilements in "the fountain opened for sin and for impurity." Be on your guard also against your secret thoughts; remembering, that God is "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of your hearts," and that he will bring every secret thing into judgment, whether it be good or evil."

It is solemn to reflect, what evils will be disclosed in the last day, and what fearful judgments will be denounced on many, who in this world were reputed chaste. May God enable us all to walk as in his immediate presence; and give us such a measure of his grace, as shall "sanctify us wholly," and "preserve us blameless unto his heavenly kingdom!"

 

 

#1304

The Necessity of Mortifying Every Sin

Matthew 5:29, 30

"If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Hell."

MANY of the precepts of our holy religion are so strict, that people indisposed to obey them are ready to turn away from them in despair, exclaiming, "This is a hard saying—who can bear it?" But must we on that account keep back the truth, or lower the commands of God to the habits and inclinations of men? Must we not rather "declare the whole counsel of God," and enforce to the uttermost the authority of his word? Our blessed Lord has set us an example in this respect; an example which all his servants must follow.

He had declared, that an impure look was in God's estimation, mental adultery. To this it might be objected, that our constitution, rather than our will, was chargeable with this offence. But our Lord shuts out at once all objections of this kind, by saying that even a right eye or a right hand must be parted with, rather than that we should allow them to lead us to the commission of any sin; and that, if we refuse to sacrifice anything for his sake—then eternal misery will be our merited and inevitable portion.

In his words there are two things to be noticed:

I. The alternative proposed.

It is here supposed, that we have, both within us and without, many things which may operate as incitements to sin. And experience proves that this is really the case: there is not a faculty of our minds, or a member of our bodies, which may not become an occasion of evil; nor is there anything around us which may not add fuel to the flames of corruption that are within us.

Beauty has a tendency to create unhallowed desires.

Splendor has a tendency to call forth envy and ambition.

Plenty has a tendency to promote intemperance.

But our Lord sets before us an alternative, either to turn away from those things which are occasions of evil—or to suffer the displeasure of an angry God in Hell.

Now this is,

1. An only alternative.

Nothing less will suffice on our part; nor will any diminution of punishment be admitted on God's part. It is to no purpose to urge, that the evil disposition which we harbor is but small, or that it is in a manner necessary to our happiness. If it is as dear as a right eye, or as necessary as a right hand, it must be sacrificed. Nor is there any intermediate state, like that of purgatory, to which small offenders can be consigned. As there is no medium between the renunciation of sin and the allowance of it—so there is no middle state between Heaven and Hell. The alternative is clear, definite, and irreversible. You cannot be "Christ's, unless you crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts."

It is worthy of observation, that our Lord does not affirm that the retaining of a right hand or eye will ensure eternal punishment; but he takes it for granted; he considers it as an acknowledged truth. Yes, even before the resurrection of the body had been fully revealed, he considers that also as acknowledged; he takes for granted that the body, as well as the soul, shall be a subject of happiness or misery in the eternal world; and he assumes this truth as the ground of his argument. There can be no doubt therefore but that "the whole body will be cast into Hell," if any one member of it be made an instrument or occasion of sin.

2. A desirable alternative.

It may seem strange to represent such an alternative as desirable, but it is really so. For a permission to harbor one unmortified lust would be like a permission to drink so much poison, or to retain one disorder preying upon our vitals. But this is not all. Sin, if allowed any part in our affections—will strive for mastery, and never cease, until it has attained an undisputed dominion. It is a leprosy which will overspread the whole man; "a cancer which will eat," until it has consumed us utterly. Is it not desirable then to have it altogether eradicated, and to be compelled to wage incessant war against it? Were there any other alternative allowed us, we should lack a sufficient stimulus to exertion: we should be apt to side with the traitor, and, for the sake of present ease or gratification, to neglect our true interests. But, when there is no other choice given us, but either to mortify every sinful propensity—or to suffer eternal misery in Hell, we are constrained to gird ourselves to the battle, and to "fight without intermission the good fight of faith."

3. A necessary alternative.

This alternative is no arbitrary imposition to which we are subjected without necessity: it arises out of the very nature of things. God himself could not alter it consistently with his own perfections: he could no more give license to his creatures to harbor sin, or decline punishing it if harbored—than he could cease to be holy, or to have a due respect for the honor of his law.

But supposing he were to cancel this alternative, and to admit to the regions of bliss a person who retained one bosom lust, it would be of no avail; for Heaven to such a person would not be Heaven. Place a man here at a royal banquet; set before him everything that can please the appetite; let him hear the sweetest melody that ever charmed the ear; let all around him be as full of happiness as their hearts can hold—what enjoyment of it would he have, while "a thorn was in his eye?" We do not hesitate to say, that darkness and solitude would to him be far preferable to all this gaiety and splendor. And precisely thus would it be to one who would be admitted into Heaven, while one unmortified sin was yet rankling in his bosom!

What to do under such circumstances we learn from,

II. The advice given.

The advice is simply this: To mortify sin without reserve.

All are agree that sincere mortification of sin is a difficult and painful work, like the destruction of an eye, or the excision of a hand. But still it must be done. Of course, the language of our text is not to be taken literally: the maiming of the body, though it might incapacitate that individual member for the commission of sin, would effect nothing towards the eradicating of sin from the heart. We must understand the text as referring to the dispositions of the mind, and to the things which draw forth those dispositions into exercise. Do our connections draw us aside from the path of duty? Are we beguiled by their example, or intimidated by their authority? We must learn to withstand their influence, and to submit either to their hatred or contempt, rather than be betrayed by them into anything that is displeasing to God. Doubtless, we should do everything in our power to conciliate them; but if nothing but a dereliction of duty will satisfy them—then we must be prepared with meekness to reply, "Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, you judge."

Do our interests betray us into sin? Are we engaged in a trade which we cannot carry on without doing things which our consciences condemn? Or have we prospects in life which must be sacrificed, if we will follow the Lord fully? There must be no hesitation on this point: we must pluck out the right eye, and cut off the right hand, and "cast them away from us" with abhorrence, rather than allow them to warp our judgment, and defile our conscience.

Are our passions the occasions of sin? We must learn to subdue them by fasting and prayer, and to restrain the gratification of them to the limits which God himself has assigned. We must "mortify our members upon earth," and "crucify the whole body of sin."

Let it not be said, We require too much. It is not man, but God, who requires these things. He has promised that "his grace shall be sufficient for us;" so that, however the work may exceed all human power, we need not be discouraged: we are authorized, every one of us, to say with the Apostle, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Only "walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh."

The argument with which this advice is enforced, is such as no human being can withstand.

We have before observed, that our Lord assumes this as an acknowledged and indisputable truth, namely, that eternal misery in Hell must be the consequence of practicing one allowed sin. From hence he argues, that "it is expedient" to part with sin, rather than incur that tremendous punishment. The pleasure of sin will surely be too dearly purchased at such a price as this! Whatever we design to procure, we always consider what its value is. No man would give a large estate for a worthless insignificant bauble. Nor would any man gratify his palate with a poisonous drink, which he knew would fill him with excruciating agony to the last hour of his life.

We grant then that sin is pleasant, just for the moment: but will that momentary enjoyment repay an eternity of misery, of such misery too as no imagination can conceive? We grant too that something may be gained by sin: but can the gain ever equal the loss that will be sustained? "If a man should gain the whole world, what would it profit him, if by that means he lost his own soul?"

Moreover, the pain of mortifying sin cannot be compared with the pain which will follow from the indulgence of it. Be it so, the mortifying of sin is painful; but what are the sufferings of Hell fire? Were the pain of self-denial a million times greater than it is, it is but for a moment; whereas the pains of Hell are everlasting. Alas! who can think of them, and not tremble? Who can think of them, and hesitate one moment about the mortifying of sin?

See what we do when informed that the retaining of a limb will endanger our lives: we suffer amputation, however painful it may be; and are glad to pay the person that will perform the operation for us. O let us be equally wise in relation to our souls!

From the contemplation of this argument then, we most heartily concur in our Lord's advice: If your connections ensnare you, renounce them. If your interests ensnare you, sacrifice them. If your passions ensnare you, get them subdued and mortified. Having your choice given to you—learn with Mary, to "choose the better part."

We cannot conclude the subject without pointing out to you the importance,

1. Of ministerial faithfulness.

It can be no pleasure to us to speak of "Hell fire," and to alarm you with denouncing it as the portion of so great a multitude of our fellow-creatures. But what are we to do? What did our Lord himself do in the words before us? If we are silent, we cannot alter God's determinations; whether we tell you of it or not, this is the alternative which God has given you: we cannot reverse it; we cannot soften it; we cannot lower it to your wishes or attainments.

We may deceive and ruin you by our silence; but we cannot benefit you at all: we shall only involve ourselves in your eternal ruin. If indeed we have put a wrong construction on our text, then we are blamable for alarming you without reason: but yet, as long as we believe this to be the mind and will of God, we must declare it: "knowing, as we do, the terrors of the Lord, we must persuade men;" and you may at least derive this advantage from our warnings—namely, to be stirred up to a diligent inquiry after truth.

But suppose our interpretation of the passage to be just, of what infinite importance to you is it to be rightly informed respecting it! How many of you may now escape the miseries of Hell—who, but for this warning, might have been subjected to them forever! Surely then, brethren, you are indebted to us for our fidelity. You cannot but know that such faithfulness is the parent of contempt and calumny. But we would gladly endure infinitely more than ever we have endured, if only you would take heed to our words, and flee from the wrath to come. To all of you then we say, Be thankful for the ministry that probes you to the quick, and that consults your eternal welfare, rather than your approbation.

2. Of personal integrity.

Self-love inclines us always to view ourselves more favorably than we ought. If we are conscious of some secret evil, we excuse ourselves as much as possible, in order to dissipate all fear of future punishment. If we hear that evil exposed, we are rather led to contemplate it in others, than to view it in ourselves. Or if constrained to advert to our own case, we condemn the minister, either as too personal, or as too severe. But what folly is this!

If we had reason to apprehend that we had caught the plague, should we not be anxious to ascertain the truth, in order that we might counteract the infection, and escape its baneful effects? Why then are we not equally solicitous to know the state of our souls before God? Why will we shut our eyes against the light? What harm can arise from knowing what God has said concerning us? O put not away from you, brethren, the word of life! Rather come hither, in order that you may be probed; in order that there may be no undiscovered evil in you. Examine yourselves with all imaginable care.

Be afraid of nothing so much as being left in ignorance, and deceiving your own souls. When we speak the severest truths, apply them, not to others, but yourselves: take them as a light with which to search your own hearts: and beg of God to aid you by his Holy Spirit. Let David's prayer be ever on your lips: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting."

 

 

#1305

Divorces Forbidden

Matthew 5:31, 32

"Furthermore it has been said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery."

THE laws of men cannot always proceed to the extent that might be wished in the support of truth and virtue. They must sometimes bend to circumstances, and tolerate evils which they cannot totally prevent. Even under the Old Testament Theocracy itself this necessity was felt and admitted. The laws of Moses, as far as they were purely moral, were perfect and inflexible; but, as far as they were political, they yielded in a measure to the state and character of the people for whom they were made. The Jews were a hard-hearted and stiff-necked people, and extremely licentious in their ways. They would multiply their wives to any extent that they chose, and divorce on the most frivolous occasions. Moses knew that an absolute prohibition of such practices would only render the men more ferocious, and the women more miserable: and therefore he contented himself with laying some restrictions on the men, that if divorces could not be prevented, they might at least be rendered less frequent, by being made more solemn, more deliberate, more manifest. He limited the permission to those instances wherein there was in the woman some moral, natural, or acquired defect, which was the ground of her husband's alienation from her. He then ordered that a writing of divorcement should be drawn up, and in the presence of two witnesses be given to her; so that, if she were afterwards married to another man, she might be able to prove that she was not living in adultery, because her former marriage had been annulled. This restriction, which was only a permission granted on account of the hardness of their hearts, was by the Scribes and Pharisees construed into a command to divorce their wives, as soon as ever they ceased to love them: and, under cover of this law, the most licentious and cruel practices almost universally prevailed.

Our blessed Lord, who came to put all his followers under the authority of the moral law, and to reduce the world to its primeval sanctity, declared, that this licentious behavior was contrary to the original institution of marriage; and that henceforth, as Adam and Eve were formed for each other, and united in marriage, without any latitude allowed to either of them to dissolve the connection, or to admit any other to a participation of their mutual rights, so should every man and woman, when united in wedlock, have an inalienable right in each other, a right that should never be cancelled, but by a violation of the marriage vows.

To this subject our Lord was led by his exposition of the seventh commandment. He had shown, that that commandment was no less violated by an impure look than by the act of adultery itself: and now he proceeds to show that those practices, which were supposed to be sanctioned by the Mosaic law, were never to be tolerated among his followers, since they were directly contrary to the spirit of that commandment. There was one, and only one reason, which should henceforth be admitted as a proper ground of divorce: and if anyone in future should put away his wife in defiance of this restriction, he should be dealt with as an adulterer in the day of judgment.

The restriction itself being so clear and simple, we shall not attempt any further elucidation of it, but shall rather point out the importance of the restriction to the welfare of mankind.

I. It raises the female gender from the lowest state of degradation.

While men were at liberty to take, and to divorce, as many wives as they pleased, the female gender were viewed in no other light than as females are regarded by the brute creation. Their moral and intellectual qualities were overlooked. Whatever distinguished them as a higher order of beings, was disregarded: their beauty only was deemed of any essential consequence; and they were valued only as means and instruments of licentious gratification.

Consider the state of those whom Solomon and Rehoboam selected as ministers to their pleasures. Rehoboam had eighteen wives and sixty concubines. Solomon had seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines. What can be conceived more humiliating than the state of all those women? all cut off from converse with men; all precluded from a possibility of filling that station in life, to which, in common with other females, they had been ordained.

View those also who are selected for the choice of king Ahasuerus. Officers were appointed to gather together all the most beautiful young virgins throughout the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of his empire: these were all to be purified with oil of myrrh and sweet fragrances for the space of a whole year; and then in succession to be admitted to the king for one night, and never afterwards to see him, unless called for by name. Four years had the succession continued, before Esther's turn for admission to him arrived; and she, pleasing him beyond all the rest, was appointed Queen. How incredible does all this appear that such a state of things should ever exist; that the parents should ever allow it; and that the females should ever endure it! Were it reported in any other history than that which we know to be divine, we would never believe that the whole female gender would ever be reduced to such a state of horrible degradation as this.

But from this degradation the Gospel raises them. By the restriction in our text, they are again elevated to the rank which the first woman sustained in Paradise. Though still inferior to the man in power and dignity, they possess equal rights with him. He has no more power to repudiate them, than they him. The wife has now the same property in her husband as he has in her: nor can anything but a willful alienation of it by infidelity on her part deprive her of it. If in one single instance he transfers to another those regards which by his nuptial vows were exclusively assigned to her—he shall be condemned for it by God, as certainly as she would be, if she were guilty of a similar transgression.

II. It moderates the tempers and passions of men.

Every one knows that power is a snare; and that it is difficult to possess unlimited authority without being sometimes led to exercise it in an unfitting manner. Suppose a man at liberty to divorce his wife whenever he chose, and to take whoever he would to fill her place; is it not probable that he would presume upon that power to tyrannize over her and oppress her? Is it not to be expected also that he would be easily captivated by youth and beauty, as soon as ever sickness or age should have robbed his wife of her former attractions? Under such circumstances, little could be hoped for, but inconstancy in affection, irritability in temper, licentiousness in manners, and cruelty in conduct.

But by the restriction in our text all occasion for these things is cut off; and a necessity is imposed of cultivating dispositions directly opposite. A man when first he plights his troth to a virgin, knows that he takes her for better and for worse. He is aware that the knot can never be untied; and that his connection with her forbids even a desire after any other. Hence then he sees the necessity of patience and forbearance towards her: he feels the importance of gaining her affections by kind usage: and he determines, by contributing to her happiness as much as possible, to ensure his own. If any man thinks that the restriction operates unfavorably on him, let him compare the tumultuous passions of a lawless libertine, with the chaste enjoyments of conjugal fidelity: and he will soon see the one is "like the crackling of thorns under a pot," while the other is a source of steady and increasing comfort to the last hour of his life.

III. It provides for the happiness of the rising generation.

What must be the effect of that licentious fellowship of which we have spoken? Would men feel much regard for children whose mothers they had ignominiously divorced? Would even the mothers themselves feel that regard for their children, which they would have done, if they had still retained the affections of their cruel father? The women, reduced to great extremities, would doubtless in many instances leave their children to perish with cold and hunger, if not put an end to their existence with their own hands.

But how different the condition of children under the present system! Now both the parents become their guardians, and equally exert themselves to make provision for them. They look upon their children as their dearest treasure; and expect from them their richest comforts. Hence they feel interested in imbuing their minds with Christian knowledge, and in regulating their conduct according to the Christian code.

In short, their happiness being bound up in their offspring, they, for their own comfort's sake, instruct them in whatever is necessary to make them good members of society at least, if not also members of the Church above. We say not indeed that this effect is universally produced: but we do say, that the restriction in our text, if duly considered, has a direct tendency to produce it.

From this view of our subject we may see,

1. How great are our obligations to Christianity!

God, even under the law, bore strong testimony against the licentious cruelty of his people: but our Savior has decided the point forever. None can henceforth inflict, or allow, such injuries as the Jews inflicted on their wives. Even those who have no regard whatever for religion, are partakers of these benefits, in common with the whole Church. Christianity has raised the tone of morals, and made those things infamous, which are approved and applauded where the light of the Gospel is not known. But if the ungodly and unbelieving are thus benefitted by the Gospel, how much more are they who feel its influence on all their conduct and conversation! They, knowing that the marriage union is indissoluble, set themselves to fulfill its duties; and in fulfilling them, are made truly happy. Behold a Christian family conducting themselves after this manner, and then you will see what Christianity has done for an ungodly world.

2. How studious we should be to adorn its doctrines!

In nothing is Christianity more seen than in the deportment of its votaries in family and social life. It is easy for men to be on their guard when they are in company, and to demean themselves reverently in the house of God: but it is not easy for people to be consistent in all their conduct amidst the various occurrences of domestic life. Here the tempers, if not restrained by grace, will break out: the husband will be imperious and harsh; or the wife will be fretful, querulous, and disobedient. Feeling a confidence that their respective weaknesses will be hidden from public view, they show them to each other without restraint.

Beloved brethren, inquire whether this be not the case with you; and, if it be, learn to mortify these unhallowed tempers. The true way to adorn religion, is to propose to yourselves that image by which the marriage state is represented in the Gospel. It is compared to that union which exists between the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. The Church renders unto him all grateful obedience; while he exercises towards it the most self-denying and endearing affection. Thus should the wife be cheerfully obedient to her husband—even as to the Lord Jesus Christ himself, in everything which is not contrary to the will of God. Thus should the husband should account it his joy to manifest towards her all possible love, never exercising authority over her but with a view to her best interests and her truest happiness. Only let this be the pattern for your imitation, and you will never wish for a relaxation of that law whereby you are united to each other in an indissoluble bond. You will rather bless God that he has made the bond so strict; and you will avail yourselves of your mutual influence to advance in each other your spiritual and eternal interest, that, "as fellow-heirs of the grace of life," you may dwell together in Heaven for evermore.

 

 

#1306

Swearing Forbidden

Matthew 5:33–37

"Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.' But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one."

AMONG people unaccustomed to hear the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel, a kind of jealousy is often excited by the very recital of the text; especially if the preacher is known to be zealous for those doctrines, and the passage which he has selected evidently inculcates them. This feeling is manifestly wrong; and every one who loves the Gospel sees in a moment the evil of indulging it. But is this feeling peculiar to those who are ignorant of the Gospel? No, by no means: for religious people themselves are too apt to yield to it, when any text is announced which leads only to the discussion of some moral subject. But if this feeling is wrong in the unenlightened part of mankind, it is a thousand times more so in those who profess to be enlightened, and who ought on that very account to love every portion of the sacred volume, and gladly to hear every truth insisted on in its season.

The subject of swearing does not seem to promise much edification to an audience conversant with the sublimer mysteries of our religion: but, if our blessed Lord saw fit to speak of it so fully in his Sermon on the Mount, we may be sure that our time cannot be misspent in investigating, as we purpose to do,

I. The nature and extent of the prohibition before us.

You must be aware that there is a very respectable body of people in this kingdom, who not only deny the lawfulness of oaths altogether, but make the abstaining from them an essential part of their religion; insomuch that the legislature, which exacts an oath from all others, allows them to give their evidence in a way of simple assertion. Now these people understand the prohibition in our text as unlimited: whereas we consider it as limited.

To exhibit it in its true light, I shall show,

1. To what it does not extend.

It does not extend then to oaths taken in a court of judicature. This is evident from their being absolutely enjoined on many occasions by God himself. Moreover, our blessed Lord submitted to be examined upon oath; and, on being adjured by the living God, gave a reply, which nothing else could extort from him. And by his disciples also such a use of oaths is manifestly approved: it is said, that an oath for confirmation is an "end of all strife."

Now then I ask, would such kind of oaths have been commanded of God, taken by Christ, and approved by the Apostles, if there had been anything necessarily and inherently wrong in them? We are well assured, that had they been in themselves morally evil, the use of them would never have been so sanctioned.

Nor does the prohibition absolutely extend to the use of them on any other solemn occasion. On some particular occasions they were imposed and taken by holy men of old. Abraham exacted an oath from his servant whom he sent to seek a wife for his son Isaac. Jacob took an oath from Joseph, as Joseph also did of the children of Israel, that they would carry up his bones to Canaan, and bury them in the promised land. And Jonathan made David swear to him to exercise tenderness towards his posterity, after he would be seated on the throne of Israel. Under the New Testament, the most distinguished of all the Apostles very frequently made an appeal to God, when the subject was such as needed a solemn confirmation, and could not be confirmed in any other way.

Who that considers this statement can doubt for a moment the admissibility of oaths on such occasions as could not otherwise be satisfactorily determined?

2. To what it does extend.

The foregoing limitation is intimated even in the text: for though the words, "Swear not at all," appear to be indefinite, yet it is plain that the prohibition was designed only to reach to such oaths as were used in common "conversation." "Swear not; but let your conversation be Yes, yes, Nay, nay."

Nevertheless the import of the prohibition is very extensive. It extends, first, to all irreverent appeals to God. The "taking of God's holy name in vain" is forbidden in the third commandment; which our blessed Lord is here rescuing from the false glosses of the Scribes and Pharisees. They thought that nothing but perjury was a violation of that commandment: but he informs them that all light mention of the name of God, and all irreverent appeals to him, were sinful. Well would it be, if those who customarily curse and swear, and they also who occasionally use the words "God knows," were sensible of the guilt which they contract!

The prohibition extends also to all swearing by the creature. The Jews had a much greater reverence for the name of God than the generality of Christians have. Being averse to mention that, they invented an inferior kind of oaths, and swore "by Heaven, or by the earth, or by Jerusalem, or by their own heads." To these they annexed less sanctity, and were therefore less scrupulous about the violation of them. But our Lord shows that to swear by the creature was, in fact, to swear by the Creator himself; since every creature was his, and existed only by his providential care. On another occasion he entered more fully still into this argument, and showed the folly of recurring to such subterfuges. In fact, if a separation could be made, there would be to the full as much guilt in swearing by the creature as in swearing by the Creator; since it would be an ascribing of omniscience and omnipotence to that which is incapable of knowing the things about which the appeal is made, or of executing judgment between the parties. This is idolatry; and, as idolatry, will be visited with God's heaviest displeasure. This statement is abundantly confirmed by the Apostle James, who prohibits the same kind of oaths under the pain of eternal condemnation.

Once more, the prohibition extends to all unnecessary confirmation of our word. All vehement protestations are unfitting the Christian character. Unless the urgency of the occasion require some additional testimony, a simple affirmation or negation is all that we should use: our "Yes should be yes, and our Nay, should be nay." If questioned, we may repeat our answer; "Yes, yes," or "Nay, nay;" but beyond that we ought not to go, except the authority of a magistrate, or the importance of the subject, absolutely require it.

Having thus endeavored to mark the extent of the prohibition, we will proceed to state,

II. The reasons of it.

Our Lord says, "Whatever is more than these, comes of evil." The words which are here translated "evil," may also mean, "the evil one," and in this sense many understand them. If we take them in the former sense, it relates to the source of such expressions; and if we take them in the latter sense, it refers rather to their tendency: since Satan instigates men to swear, in order that he may accomplish by that means his own malevolent designs. Both senses being equally good and proper, we shall include both.

Our Lord then prohibits oaths, because they are evil,

1. In their source.

Whence do they spring? Frequently from an undue vehemence of temper. Those who are irascible, almost always are intemperate in their expressions. They will swear, if not by God, yet by their life, their soul, their faith; or they will pledge their honor, which yet is God's, as much as their "head" is God's.

In short, whether they affirm or deny, they will, directly or indirectly, make God a party in their cause. If reproved for this, they will urge their passion as an excuse; but this is to urge one sin as an excuse for another: and, if we grant that hasty expressions originate in hasty tempers, they are on that very account exceedingly criminal. They "come from evil," and are for that very reason to be condemned.

But they arise also from low thoughts of the importance of truth. A person duly sensible of the sacredness of truth will not hastily convey an idea that his simple assertions are unworthy of credit: he will be cautious what he affirms: and, having affirmed anything, he will expect his word to be taken as much as his oath. If unreasonable people require more, he will rather leave the confirmation of his word to other testimony, than admit, by unnecessary oaths or protestations, the existence of an intention to deceive.

In direct opposition to such a character is he who wantonly transgresses the commandment in our text: he proves by that very act, that he has no such high sense of honor, no such value for truth, no such disposition to maintain his character for veracity. What then must that habit be, which so degrades everyone that yields to it; or rather, I should say, which marks him so destitute of the noblest attributes of man?

We may further add that all violations of this commandment proceed from a disregard of God, and of everything belonging to him. Who that had a reverence for the Divine Majesty, would dare to profane his name, and to appeal to him on every trivial occasion? People, when they take God's name in vain, account it sufficient to say, "I did not think of it," but what excuse is that? It says, in fact, 'I have no reverence for God: he has forbidden such levity; but I have no fear of offending him. He is present when I profane his name; but I have no wish to please him. Were I in the presence of an earthly monarch, I would take heed to my words, and put a bridle on my tongue; but, though I know that God both sees and hears me, I regard him no more than if he did not exist. It is true, he declares, that, "if I take his name in vain, he will not hold me guiltless;" but "my lips are my own: who is he, that he should be Lord over me?" Let him say what he will, or do what he will, I am determined to have my own way, and to set him at defiance.'

Once more I ask, what must that habit be, which betrays such a disposition as this?

2. In their tendency.

Satan, "the god of this world," is ever "working in all the children of disobedience." As he put it into the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira to lie, so he puts it into the hearts of ungodly men to swear. By this he has several objects to accomplish.

By this he hopes, first, to eradicate truth and virtue from the world. When he has prevailed on men so to cast off the fear of God as to take his name in vain, he will easily instigate them to anything else. Having already lowered their estimate of truth, he will soon lead them to overstep the bounds of truth, and occasionally to confirm their falsehoods also with oaths. Indeed he stirs up men to confirm with oaths that which is doubtful, more frequently than that which is true; and consequently to perjure themselves, without being at all aware what guilt they are contracting: and could he influence all, as he does the great mass of those who are under his dominion, there would be no longer any truth or virtue to be found. He was a liar from the beginning; and he would take care that all his children should be known by their resemblance to him.

By this too he hopes, in the next place, to bring God himself into contempt. How ardently he desires to attain this object, we need not say: but this is clear, that the means he uses to attain it are admirably adapted to the end proposed. Tell a person who is accustomed to swear, that God is displeased with him; and you make no more impression on him than if he had never heard of such a Being. Tell him that he shall be fined a few shillings, and he is all alive to the subject: but if you speak of "the judgments of God—then he puffs at them" with perfect contempt. Nor is it in the speaker only that these effects are produced: the hearers of such conversation gradually lose their abhorrence of the sin, and their tender concern for the honor of their God: and the more this insensibility is diffused, the more does Satan exult and triumph.

Lastly, by this Satan aims to destroy the souls of men. What destruction he makes in this nation by means of oaths, none but God can tell. This appears to many to be a little sin; and Satan easily seduces men to the commission of it. But, even if it drew no other sins along with it, it would not be small, nor would the consequences of it be unimportant.

God has said, that "he will not hold such people guiltless." They may hold themselves guiltless, it is true; but God will not form his judgment according to their estimate: he has fixed his determination, and will never reverse it. This Satan knows: and if he can but deceive us with vain hopes, he has gained his end. Yes, in truth, that roaring lion goes about, seeking to devour us; and then does he most prosper in his endeavors, when he leads us to "sport ourselves with our own deceivings."

Address.

1. Those who are addicted to the habit of swearing.

I speak not to those who are familiar with oaths and imprecations (if their own consciences do not speak to them, all that I can say will be to little purpose)—but to those who make only occasional appeals to God, or take his name in vain.

View your sin as it has been set forth: view it in its source. What undue warmth of temper does it manifest! what insensibility to the value and importance of truth! and what a profane disregard of God! View it in its tendency: see how it tends to eradicate virtue from the world; to bring God himself into contempt, and to ruin the souls of men. Is this a habit that you will indulge? What do you gain by it? By other sins you obtain some kind of gratification; but by this, none at all—it brings no pleasure, no profit, no honor, along with it. In the commission of other sins you sell your souls for something; in this sin you sell your souls for nothing; you do not sell, but give, yourselves to your great adversary. O that God may impress this thought upon your minds, and that this word may be ever sounding in your ears, "Swear not at all!"

2. Those who are free from that habit.

Shall I tell you what the ungodly world are ready to say to you? "These people will not swear, but they will lie." Dearly beloved, this would be a dreadful reproach indeed if it were true: and whoever he is to whom this reproach attaches, that person has reason to tremble for his state before God. Tell me not of faith, or love, or anything else; for this is certain, that "all liars shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone."

Christian tradesmen, consider this in your dealings with mankind; for the generality of men lie in their buying and selling.

Christian servants, remember this when tempted to conceal a fault, or to exculpate yourselves from some blame.

Let all, of every class, and every degree, remember this. If you are Christ's indeed, you will remember him "in whose lips there was no deceit found." Let truth be in your inward parts, and let it be ever dear to your souls. Set a watch before the door of your lips; for "of every idle word you shall give account in the day of judgment." Yes, "by your words you shall be justified; and by your words you shall be condemned."

 

 

#1307

Retaliation Forbidden

Matthew 5:38–41

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two."

IF Christianity be worthy of admiration on account of the sublime mysteries it reveals, it is no less so on account of the pure morality it inculcates. Its precepts are as far above the wisdom of fallen man, as its doctrines. Search all the systems of ethics that ever were written, and where shall we find such directions as these? In vain shall we look for them in the productions of Greece and Rome: in vain shall we consult the sages and philosophers of any other nation: such precepts as these are found no where but in the inspired volume. The law of retaliation has in all nations been deemed equitable and right: but in the Christian code it is expressly forbidden.

In considering the subject of retaliation, we shall notice,

I. The errors which obtain in the world respecting it.

The Pharisees admitted of revenge; and grounded that license upon the word of God. The passages which they adduced in confirmation of their sentiments were strong; but they did not at all refer to the conduct of individuals towards each other, but of magistrates towards the community at large. To apply them to individuals, was a perversion of them, a perversion disgraceful to the teachers of such doctrines, and fatal to those who embraced them.

We, having our Lord's own comment on those passages, cannot any longer justify our errors by an appeal to Holy Writ: but yet our sentiments in relation to the subject treated of in our text, are, for the most part, precisely similar to those which were maintained among the Jews. Two things in particular we will specify, which are universally applauded among us, yet are exceeding contrary to the spirit of Christianity:

1. A rigid maintenance of our rights.

Doubtless our rights, whether civil or religious, ought to be dear to us: and a certain degree of watchfulness over them may well be admitted; because if our rights, whether public or private, are invaded by one person, they may by another; and if they are allowed to be curtailed, they may be altogether annihilated. But this will not justify that extreme jealousy which some express about their rights.

There are many who will talk incessantly about the rights of man, who yet will trample without remorse on all the rights of God. They will not allow the smallest infringement of their own liberty; while they themselves are the most oppressive tyrants, wherever their authority extends. These may boast of their firmness in maintaining what they think to be right: but "they know not what spirit they are of." How unlike are they to Paul, who, rather than insist upon the support to which, as a minister of Christ, he was entitled, would work at his trade by night, after having been occupied in preaching all the day! How unlike to Christ also, who, when, as the Son of God, he might have claimed exemption from paying tribute to the temple, wrought a miracle to satisfy the demand, rather than put a stumbling-block in the way of any by a refusal. We do not undertake to say, that, in cases of great importance, a person may not expostulate with his oppressor, as Christ did; or insist upon his right, as did the Apostle Paul; but we are perfectly sure that a readiness to demand our utmost right on every occasion, argues a spirit very different from that which is inculcated in the Gospel of Christ.

2. A keen resentment of wrongs.

This is thought highly noble. A disposition to pass by an insult or an injury would be deemed baseness and cowardice; and the person who indulged it would be banished from society, and held up to universal scorn and contempt. Hence arise wars, duels, and domestic feuds without number.

But is such a disposition agreeable to the word of God? Look at the conduct of David, when persecuted by Saul—he repeatedly had his adversary within his power, and could easily have killed him; but he would not: he preferred rather the committing of his cause to God; and rendered nothing but good, in return for all the evil that Saul had done unto him. And to show that he did not consider such conduct as a superfluous act of generosity, he brands the opposite conduct with the name of wickedness: "Thus says the proverb of the ancients; Wickedness proceeds from the wicked; but my hand shall not be upon you."

Compare with this the conduct also of the saints in the New Testament: James, speaking of them to their proud oppressors, says, "You have condemned and killed the just; and he does not resist you."

That the sentiments of the world on the subject of retaliation are quite erroneous, will appear yet further, by considering,

II. The line of conduct which Christianity does require.

The authoritative command of Jesus in the text, is this: "I say unto you, That you resist not evil," that is, that you resist not the injurious person. This, especially taken in connection with our Lord's illustration of it, undoubtedly enjoins us to live in the exercise of,

1. A patient spirit.

We are not to be inflamed with anger against those who treat us ill: but to bear their injuries with meekness and long-suffering. The direction of the Apostle is, "In your patience possess your souls," and again, "Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing." I am aware that it is difficult to bear injuries, when we know them to be altogether unmerited. But to abstain from everything vindictive was enjoined under the Old Testament: and much more is it insisted on in the New Testament. And the more undeserving we are of the injurious treatment, the more are we called upon to display our patience, after the example of our blessed Lord, who instead of rendering evil for evil, silently committed his cause to his righteous God and Father.

2. A yielding spirit.

Suppose a person were to carry the insult so far as to strike us a blow upon the face—what ought we to do then? Are we not at liberty to return the blow? No, we may expostulate with the injurious person as our Lord did, "If I have done evil, bear witness of the evil; but, if not, why smite me?" but we must not for a moment think of avenging ourselves. It may be said, this would be an encouragement to him to strike us again: we hope not; but if it were, it were better to "turn the other cheek," and be smitten again, than that we should resent the injury; for the blows only hurt our body; but the resentment would wound our soul.

Again, suppose any one were to injure us in our property, as well as our person, and, under the guise of law, were to "take away our coat"—what shall we do? Shall we indulge a litigious spirit, in order to get it back again? No! Rather let him "take our cloak also," than induce us to gratify an angry or vindictive spirit.

Once more—Suppose anyone, under pretense of some public emergency, were to infringe upon our liberty, and to compel us (as the Jews did Simon the Cyrenian, when they "compelled him to bear" our Savior's cross,) to carry a burden for them "a mile"—what then? Must we submit?

Whether in all cases, or not, I do not pretend to say: but this is clear; that it is better to "go with him two" miles, than to vex ourselves, and quarrel about it. The man that yields is always safe; he knows the extent of the injury which he receives: but he who once begins to contend, knows not where he shall stop, nor what injury he may suffer in his own soul, before the contention shall cease.

3. A forgiving spirit.

Forbearance and forgiveness are frequently united in the Holy Scriptures; nor should they ever be separated in our conduct. Nor would the exercise of forgiveness be so difficult, if only we considered how much greater injury people do to themselves, than they can possibly do to us. Do what they will, they can never injure us, except in mere external things. Our souls are beyond their reach. But, while they endeavor to injure us, they do the most irreparable injury to their own souls.

Let us suppose for a moment, that a person, robbing us of a little worthless fruit, were to fall down and break his leg; would not our pity for his misfortune swallow up all resentment for his fault? So then it should be with us towards all who injure us: there is no comparison at all between the injury they do to us and to themselves; and therefore we should be ready to exercise forgiveness towards them, and to implore forgiveness for them at God's hands.

Learn then, from this subject,

1. How rare a thing real Christianity is.

This is genuine Christianity—all, without this, is but an empty sound. Look then through the world, and see how little there is of it any where to be found; yes, let the saints themselves see how little of true Christianity they possess. This view of Christian duty may well fill every one of us with shame and confusion of face.

2. How necessary a renewed spirit is, either to a right discernment of religion, or to the practice of it.

The precepts of religion are no less foolishness to the natural man, than the doctrines. What heathen ever inculcated such lessons? or what unconverted Christian ever thoroughly approved them in his heart. People imagine that they have power to do the will of God: but can they do these things? As well may they attempt to turn the course of the sun, as so to turn the current of corrupt nature. We must have an understanding given us that we may know these things; and strength, that we may do them.

3. How ornamental true religion is to every one who possesses it.

Who can see a person acting up to the spirit of these precepts, and not admire him? Who can help admiring this spirit in Christ and in his holy Apostles? Surely, such are "beautified with salvation," and God himself must admire them.

4. How happy the world would be, if vital Christianity universally prevailed.

There would then be no scope for the exercise of these difficult graces, since no injuries would be committed upon earth. O that God would hasten that blessed time!

 

 

#1308

Liberality Enjoined

Matthew 5:42

"Give to him who asks of you, and from him who wants to borrow from you, do not turn away."

TO render good for evil is a duty of indispensable Christian obligation; and many commentators consider it as particularly enjoined in the words which we have just read. If we take the passage as connected with the directions which immediately precede it, its meaning will be, that we must not be contented with a patient submission to injuries, but must actively exert ourselves to render to our enemies any service which they may require. But, as this is plainly enjoined in the verses following our text, we rather understand the text as expressing in general terms the duty of liberality, without confining it to any particular description of people: and in that light we propose now to insist upon it.

We shall inquire,

I. What is that spirit which is inculcated?

Were we to adhere strictly to the literal meaning of the words, they would apply only to those whose circumstances in life empowered them to give and lend to their more necessitous brethren. Moreover, they might, as to the letter, be obeyed by a person of opulence, while he was far from yielding to God any acceptable obedience. We must therefore inquire, What that spirit is which they inculcate? They enjoin,

1. A spirit of compassion.

It is to be supposed that those who make applications to us for a gift or loan, are themselves in necessitous and distressed circumstances. And towards all such people we should exercise sincere pity and compassion. We should consider them not merely as children of the same heavenly parent, but as members of our own body; and should have the same sympathy with them and desire to relieve them, as any one member of our body would feel towards any other that had sustained an injury. We should "look, not on our own things only, but also on the things of others;" "bearing their burdens," and being as ready to participate their sorrows as their joys.

The language of our hearts should ever be in unison with that of Job, "Did not I weep for him who was in trouble? Was not my soul grieved for the poor?" This is a spirit which all must have, whatever be their situation and circumstances in life: and if we can "behold our brother in need, and shut up our compassion from him," it may well be asked, "How dwells the love of God in us?"

2. A spirit of benevolence.

This is a disposition of a higher kind. There is a natural tenderness in many, and a susceptibility of impression from tales of woe, at the same time that they are not active in searching out opportunities of exercising their benevolent affections. But our feelings towards mankind should resemble those of a tender mother, who needs not to have her sensibilities called forth by any distressing accident: she loves her child, and delights in administering to its needs: her regards are spontaneously exercised towards it; and, if she sees any occasion for more than ordinary attention, she finds her own happiness in contributing to the happiness of her child.

Thus, if we saw one to whom a gift or loan was necessary, we should be ready, at the very first intimation of the case, to stretch forth towards him the hand of charity, conceiving ourselves more blessed in an opportunity of imparting good, than he can be in receiving it at our hands. In a word, we should tread in the steps of our adorable Lord, who "went about doing good;" and, like the sun in its course, should exist only for the benefit of others, and diffuse happiness wherever we come.

3. A spirit of generosity.

Particular occasions must be met with a zeal proportioned to them. It may be that some urgent necessity has arisen, and that a great effort is requisite to sustain an afflicted brother. Or, it may be a season of general distress, when the multitude of those who need our assistance calls for more than ordinary exertions to relieve them.

We have an instance of this in the primitive Church. The Jews were so inveterate against their brethren who embraced Christianity, that they would, if possible, have deprived them of all means of subsistence. But the richer converts, who had lands or houses, sold them, and put all their money into one common stock; thus reducing themselves to a level with the lowest, that all might be supplied with "food necessary for them."

Another instance we have, in the churches of Macedonia, who, "in a trial of great affliction, and in the midst of deep poverty, abounded unto the riches of liberality," exerting themselves, "not only according to their ability, but beyond it," to supply their distressed brethren in Judea.

Thus should it be with us, when any great and extraordinary difficulty has arisen: our spirit should rise to the occasion: and, if we cannot emulate that glorious example, we should at least he ready to comply with the exhortation of the Baptist, "He who has two coats, let him impart to him that has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise."

Doubtless this disposition is amiable—but how shall we determine,

II. To what extent it should be exercised?

With respect to the disposition itself we do not hesitate to say, that it admits of no limit whatever.

There is not a person in the universe who is not called to exercise it. The mechanic, or the laborer, should exert himself, according to his ability, to relieve others; he should "labor, working with his hands, not to support himself merely, but that he may have to give to him that needs." Even the widow that has but two mites, may yet exceed in her liberality all her opulent neighbors. The very person that receives relief, may yet pant for an opportunity to afford it to others: and, in that case, God, who sees his heart, will accept the will for the deed: "for, if there is first a willing mind, it shall be accepted according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not." Nor is there any assignable limit to the degree in which the disposition should be exercised. The only limit that can be mentioned (if it may be called a limit,) is, to be "merciful—-even as our Father in Heaven is merciful."

But the precise manner in which it should be exercised must be regulated by circumstances. It must vary according to,

1. Our own means and abilities.

All people have it not in their power to do good to the same extent: nor can all who have the same income, devote the same proportion of it to the poor: for a man who has a family, cannot possibly have so much to spare, as he who has none but himself to maintain: nor can it be reasonably expected, that one, who, from his rank in society, has a certain degree of dignity to support, can afford as much as another, who, with the same income, has no such necessity imposed upon him.

Besides, people may be very differently circumstanced. One may be able to afford a loan, when he is not able, with propriety, to give outrightly. Another may be able to give a smaller sum, when he cannot lend a larger. Persons therefore must judge for themselves in such particulars as these; and regulate their conduct according to their circumstances.

2. The necessities of those who apply to us.

To offer to a person who has been suddenly brought from affluent circumstances to poverty, such a pittance as we might give to a beggar, would be to mock and insult him. On the other hand, to bestow on a common beggar, what would be suited to the other case, would be most unpardonable profusion. Besides, we must judge whether there exist any necessity at all: for, if we will give to all who are willing to ask, and lend to all who are willing to borrow—we shall soon exhaust our own resources, however great they may be: and, by giving or lending where there is no necessity, we shall incapacitate ourselves for assisting those who are in real distress. Here then, doubtless, is scope for the exercise of discretion. True liberality, instead of prohibiting such discretion, demands it at our hands.

3. The prospect there is of our aid being effectual for the relief of him who asks it.

Here is an idle man, who will do nothing for his own maintenance; a prodigal man, who never thinks of the use of money; a drunken and profligate man, who wastes all his substance in riotous living—to what purpose shall you exert yourself in any great degree for such people? If you give them all that you have, and they will soon be poor again. The best way to relieve such people, is to provide labor for them, and to make a reformation of their conduct necessary for their own subsistence. Sometimes a seasonable loan may enable a person to provide for his family, when, without such aid, he could not attain the situation which is open for him. There, to strain a point for him, is both liberal and wise: but where the case is such as occurs daily all around us, we must so give, as that we may have a reserve to lend; and so lend, as that we may have a reserve to give.

There are some cases, however, where we may well be absolved from either giving or lending, unless indeed just to supply the necessities of the moment; I mean, where a person's circumstances are so involved, that all we can do for him would be only as a drop in the ocean. There, if by public contributions we can aid him, well: but, if not, to impoverish ourselves without benefitting him, would be, not piety, but folly.

It will not be unprofitable to subjoin a few hints for the use of,

1. Those who want relief.

Many will ask a gift or loan without any real necessity. But such people should reflect, that while they trespass thus on the liberality of the rich, they are themselves oppressors of the poor. It is in no person's power to give to every one that asks, or to lend to every one that would borrow (for though Luke so expresses it, the direction must be limited in the nature of things); and consequently, those who by unnecessary applications exhaust the funds of a liberal man, deprive him of the power of doing good to others who need it more. None therefore should take undue advantage of the piety of others, or seek from others what by increased activity they might furnish from their own resources.

Another point of great importance is, that they who borrow, should adhere strictly to their word, as to the season of repaying the loan. It is incredible, how much they who violate their engagements in this respect—discourage, and (I had almost said) harden the hearts of those who delight in doing good. I know it is said, "Do good and lend, expecting nothing in return," and, if we be told, that the prospect of repayment is distant and uncertain, the duty is comparatively easy. But, when we are told that at such a season the loan shall be repaid, and find that the borrower thinks no more of his promises, or (as is frequently the case) asks a little forbearance in the first instance, and then, on finding it kindly exercised, construes that kindness into a forgiveness of the debt—that conduct has a sad tendency to wound the feelings of the liberal, and to make them averse from lending.

In this view, therefore, the injury which such wicked people do, is exceedingly great. I call them "wicked;" for so the Psalmist designates them; "The wicked borrows, and does not repay." Nor is it their benefactors only whom they injure, but society at large; inasmuch as they prevent the exercise of benevolence towards many people far worthier than themselves. To all therefore who have contracted such obligations, I would recommend tenfold diligence and self-denial, until they have executed their engagements, and fulfilled their word.

2. To those who impart relief to others.

It sometimes happens, that even in the generous mind a niggardly thought will arise, and a backwardness to exercise the benevolence that is called for. Against such thoughts God has very strongly cautioned us: and we shall do well to be on our guard against them. We should be careful "not to be weary in well-doing." We should remember, that God himself is pledged for the repayment of all that we either give or lend, provided we act from a principle of faith and love. The best means of preventing such an evil thought is certainly to get the soul impressed with a sense of Christ's love in dying for us. But, next to that, it will be well to reflect, that we are only stewards of what we possess; and that, though no individual has an absolute claim upon us, the poor at large have; a portion of our property is their "due," and we ought to pay it without delay. Let then every one put aside a portion of his income for benevolent use, and bear in mind, that both his present and future happiness will be augmented in proportion to his liberality.

 

 

#1309

Love to Enemies Enjoined

Matthew 5:43–48

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect."

IT is well said by the Psalmist, that "the commandment of God is exceeding broad;" since it reaches to every disposition of the mind, and requires infinitely more than man, in his present weak and degenerate state, can perform. Indeed, though many traces of the law still remain upon the heart, and are discoverable by the light of reason, there are depths in it which unaided reason could never have fathomed, and a breadth and length which it could never have explored. Among the precepts which we consider as known only through the medium of Revelation, we would particularly specify that which is contained in the text. Human nature would itself approve of love to friends; but our Lord commands us to love our enemies.

In discoursing on the text, we shall be led to consider,

I. The duty inculcated.

The Jewish teachers in general sanctioned the indulgence of hatred towards enemies.

We must, in justice to them, acknowledge that they had some shadow of reason for their opinions: for God had commanded the Jews entirely to extirpate the Canaanites: and, though some little favor was to be shown to the Edomites and Egyptians, the Ammonites and Moabites and Midianites were never to be treated with kindness; and "the very remembrance of the Amalekites was to be blotted out from under Heaven." Moreover, the duty of love seemed to be restricted to those of their own nation: and in case even a Jew should accidentally kill any person, the man who was the nearest relative of the deceased was at liberty to kill the manslayer, in case he could overtake him before he could enter into a city of refuge, or would be able afterwards to find him outside the gates of that city.

But these mistaken teachers did not consider that a commandment given in relation to those nations which were devoted to destruction was not intended to be made a rule of conduct between individuals. Nor did they recollect, that, while they restricted the word "neighbor" to those of their own nation, the Decalogue itself had taught them to comprehend the whole universe under that name: (for a Jew was no more at liberty to "covet the wife" of a Heathen, than he was of a Jewish man.)

Nor, lastly, did they reflect, that the ordinance relative to the man-slayer was altogether typical of Christ and of his salvation.

In opposition to such erroneous notions, our Lord enjoined, in the most authoritative manner, the love of enemies.

He takes for granted, that his faithful disciples would be "hated, reviled, and persecuted," and under all the evil treatment which they may receive, he commands them to return:
kind words for bitter words,
benevolent actions for spiteful actions, and
fervent prayers for the most cruel oppressions.

Not that this was any new precept: it was enjoined under the law as strongly as under the Gospel; and was exemplified too under the legal dispensation, in almost as eminent a degree as even by the Apostles themselves. There is this difference, indeed, that the exercise of such heavenly tempers was less frequent among the Jews, because few of them comparatively attained to any high degrees of piety. Whereas, now that "the Spirit is poured out more abundantly" upon the Church, this is a common attainment, or rather, I should say, a universal attainment, among all who are truly converted unto God. Our blessed Lord set us the example, "going as a lamb to the slaughter, and, as a sheep before her shearers, not opening his mouth," either in threatenings or complaints. Even in the agonies of crucifixion he prayed for his murderers, as Stephen also did in his dying moments, and thousands of others also have done amidst the flames of martyrdom. This is our duty, even in such extreme cases as are here supposed; and consequently must be so in all cases of inferior importance.

However difficult this duty may appear, we shall address ourselves cheerfully to the performance of it, if only we consider,

II. The reasons for performing it.

The Lord's people are represented by the Apostle as "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a special people, that they should show forth the praises (or virtues) of him that has called them." But how are they to answer this great end of their calling? It is very principally by attending to this duty. By their performance of it they are to mark,

1. Their resemblance to God.

The whole race of mankind, with comparatively few exceptions, is up in arms against God. A very great proportion of them are bowing down to stocks and stones: and almost all, even of those who acknowledge the one true God, are yet denying him daily, and showing their enmity to him by wicked works. But how does he requite them? Does he avail himself of his power to deprive them of every comfort, and to punish them all according to their deserts? No, with much long-suffering he endures all their provocations, notwithstanding they are "vessels of wrath already fitted for destruction." He even loads them indiscriminately with all the bounties of his providence, "making his sun to rise equally on the evil and on the good, and sending rain equally on the just and on the unjust."

In like manner must we act towards those who injure us. We must bear with them, and do them good according to our ability: and it is by such conduct alone, that we can approve ourselves his children.

Let us not, however, be misunderstood: it is not necessary that we should deal with such people altogether as our friends: for even God himself does not do that: he comes to his own people in a more intimate manner, and "sups with them," and "makes his abode with them," and "manifests himself unto them as he does not unto the world."

Thus also may we do. There is a love of benevolence, a love of beneficence, and a love of delight—if we may so speak. The two former must be exercised towards all: the last may fitly be reserved for those who alone possess the dispositions worthy of it. Such a preference God himself authorizes, when he says, "Do good unto all men, but especially unto those who are of the household of faith."

2. Their superiority to the ungodly world.

God will not be satisfied with seeing his people live after the manner of the ungodly. To what purpose have they been "redeemed," if they are to retain the same "vain conversation" which those around them follow? To what purpose have "their eyes been opened to behold the wondrous things of God's law," to what purpose have they been adopted into his family, and been filled with his Spirit, and been made heirs of his inheritance, if they are not to walk worthy of their high calling? Are their superior knowledge, obligations, prospects, and assistances, to have no practical influence upon their lives? The vilest of publicans and sinners will love and benefit their friends; and is this a standard for God's redeemed people? No, they must love their enemies: else, "What do they more than others?" Surely, if we are no better than others in our dispositions and conduct, we shall be no better than they in our eternal destiny.

That we may have a more complete view of this duty, let us inquire into,

III. The extent to which it is to be performed.

The law of God is at once the rule and measure of our duty.

The law is a perfect transcript of the mind and will of God. It was originally written upon the heart of man: and man's perfect conformity to it constituted that image of God in which he was created. To have these dispositions restored, and thereby to regain that image, is the object which we are taught to aspire after with incessant ardor. God has promised to his people that they shall be "renewed after his image in righteousness and true holiness," and of that promise we must seek the full accomplishment. To dream of a conformity to God's natural perfections, would be folly and madness: we cannot possibly be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. But his moral perfections we may and must attain: nor ought we to be satisfied with any precise measure of them; we should never think we have attained anything, while anything remains to be attained.

To a perfect conformity to that law we must be ever pressing forward.

This was Paul's mind. After he had preached the Gospel for twenty years, and had attained an eminence of piety which probably none but the Lord Jesus Christ himself ever surpassed, he said, "Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect, but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of God in Christ Jesus." Nor is this a pursuit proper for Apostles only; it is equally necessary for all. "Now are we the sons of God," says John: "and every one that has this hope in him purifies himself even as he is pure." In a word, the model for our imitation is God: nor must we ever stop, until we are as "holy as God is holy," and as "perfect even as our Father which is in Heaven is perfect."

We cannot contemplate this subject without noticing,

1. What need we have of mercy at the hands of God.

Let us look back through our whole lives, and see how numberless have been our transgressions against this holy law; and let us look into our own hearts, and see what a proneness there is in us yet daily and hourly to transgress it. Who does not find, that, when injured and insulted, his heart is ready to rise against his adversary in a way of retaliation and invective? Who does not feel, that, without the divine assistance, he can no more maintain the exalted spirit here spoken of, than he can create a world?

Let us then humble ourselves before God in dust and ashes. Let us acknowledge our desert of his heavy displeasure, and our need of pardon through the blood of Christ. Let us at the same time implore the assistance of his Holy Spirit, that we may be enabled to "walk as Christ walked," and to exercise that kindness towards others which we desire and hope for when standing before his tribunal.

2. What encouragement we have to expect mercy at his hands.

Has God required us to love our enemies, even while they are manifesting towards us their enmity to the utmost of their power; and will not he himself show mercy to us, when we lay down the weapons of our rebellion? Again; has he required of us such tempers as fruits of our conversion; and will he refuse us that grace which is necessary to produce them? Assuredly not. If he gives the bounties of his providence to his most inveterate enemies—then he will surely give the blessings of his grace to his suppliant and repenting friends? Let not then a sense of past guilt appall us, or a sense of present weakness discourage us: but let us "go boldly to the throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help us in the time of need."

 

 

#1310

Christians Do More Than Others

Matthew 5:47

"And if you greet your brethren only, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?"

OUR Lord is here rescuing the law from the false glosses with which the Scribes and Pharisees had obscured it. It is quite a mistake to imagine that he extended the law beyond its original meaning. The law was perfect, being a perfect transcript of God's mind and will. Had it required less than it now does, it would have been unworthy of God: in fact, unless its demands are now extended beyond what they ought to be (which we know is not the case,) it must have given men a license to love God and our neighbor less than we really ought: or, in other words, it would have given a license to sin.

The particular command to which our Lord refers in the context was, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." This the Scribes and Pharisees interpreted as giving a liberty, if not an absolute command, to hate our enemies. But our Lord shows, that every man, whether friend or enemy, is comprehended in the term "neighbor," and that every man therefore has a claim upon us to be loved by us as ourselves. If we extend our regards to friends only, "What," says our Lord, "are you doing more than others?" This is a very pointed question, importing that the Lord's people ought to do more than others, and may reasonably be expected so to do. In confirmation of this truth, I will,

I. Show why the Lord's people may reasonably be expected to do more than others.

The question is founded in reason and justice: for, if we be the Lord's people in truth,

1. We are more indebted to him than others.

All are indebted to him for the gift of a Savior, and for the offer of eternal life through him. (Of temporal blessings such as the whole world partake of, I forbear to speak.) But true Christians are indebted not merely for a gift of the Savior to them, but for having from eternity been given to the Savior as his peculiar people, whom he should redeem from death, and enjoy forever as "his purchased possession." It is surprising how often our blessed Lord speaks of them under this character in his last intercessory prayer. And it is always mentioned as a distinguishing mercy, that raises them far above the rest of the world, and entails the greatest obligations upon them.

Moreover, the faith by which they are brought into this union with Christ is also the gift of God. "To them it is given in the behalf of Christ to believe in him." And this is no less a distinguishing mercy than the other: for the whole world, with the exception of this little remnant, are in unbelief.

The peace too that flows from this union, O what an inestimable gift is that! "To the wicked there is no peace," but these have "a peace which passes all understanding," and "a joy that is unspeakable and glorious."

Say, whether this be not a very abundant reason for our showing to God more gratitude than others, and laboring to serve him with every faculty both of body and soul?

2. We have greater assistances from him than others.

Every man has, more or less, what may be called the common influences of the Spirit. For there is no man who has not occasionally felt some compunction for his sins, and some desire of amendment. But whence do "these good thoughts and holy desires proceed, but from God?" They would no more arise in the heart of fallen man than of the fallen angels—if they were not suggested by the Spirit of God. But believers have what may be called the special grace of God; by which I understand, not a different kind of grace, but a different degree, even such a degree as shall prevail over all the resistance which it meets with in the soul. Nor is it only in order to their first conversion to God that they are so wrought upon, but through the whole of their lives are they preserved and strengthened by the same Spirit, in order to their final salvation. To what a degree this strength is communicated to them, may be seen in various passages of Holy Writ: it is equal to that which God exerted in raising up Jesus Christ from the dead, and setting him at his own right hand, above all the principalities and powers of earth and Hell. It is such as to display the powers of Omnipotence itself, and to approve itself the workmanship of Him who created the universe out of nothing.

All this is unknown to others, who, having never earnestly implored this aid, are left under the power of Satan, and are "carried captive by the devil at his will." And is not this a call upon them for exertion? And does it not afford a just ground of expectation, that they shall do more than others who have no such assistance?

3. We make a greater profession of zeal for God than others.

The generality not only make no particular profession of love to God, but account this very want of profession a sufficient reason for all the carelessness and indifference which they manifest. But the believer does not thus glory in his shame. He knows his obligations to God; nor is he ashamed to confess them. He knows that he has been redeemed by the blood of God's only dear Son; and that, "having been bought with a price, he is bound to glorify God with his body and his spirit, which are God's."

He considers himself as called to die unto the world," yes, to be "crucified unto it, and to have it crucified unto him, by the cross of Christ." He acknowledges that "his affections are to be set, not upon things below, but on things above," and that he has nothing to do in this world but to prepare for a better world. Hence, if occasion require, he speaks of himself as . . .
running in a race,
wrestling for the prize,
and engaged in a warfare.

These things he professes, not from vain ostentation, but from necessity; or rather, he does not so much profess them as do them: and the profession is rather the result of his efforts, than any declaration independent of them. As far as mere profession is concerned, he would rather be silent than talkative: but his life speaks; and he is content that it should speak, if only it may afford a light which may be instructive and animating to those around him.

But this profession, whether voluntary or not, calls for consistency in his conduct, and makes it indispensable for him, while calling himself "a child of light and of the day," not to walk as those who are "children of darkness and of the night."

4. God's honor is more involved in our conduct than in that of others.

Others may do what they will, and no one thinks of reflecting on religion on their account. Nay, even the grossest immoralities may be committed by them, without exciting any surprise, or attracting any notice. But let a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ do anything amiss, and the whole world hears of it: nor is he alone blamed, who commits the evil condemned, but all who are connected with him in the same religious society are blamed also; yes, and all religious people generally, as being all alike. Even the Gospel itself is condemned as sanctioning such conduct, and as having a natural tendency to produce it. The general feeling on such an occasion is that of exultation and triumph by the wicked: "There, there, so would we have it." Had Saul committed the evils which David did, though the act might have been blamed, God's honor would not have suffered. But when David sinned, "the name of God was everywhere blasphemed on his account."

What an obligation then does this lay on Christians to "walk holily, justly, and unblamably" before men, that "the way of truth may not be evil spoken of through them!" If there is a "woe unto the world because of the offences" which are committed in the Church, and which harden multitudes in their infidelity—then much more does woe attach to that man who commits the offences, and casts a stumbling-block in the way of others, to the destruction of their souls as well as of his own. In proportion therefore as any deviation from the path of duty in us may prove injurious to God's honor and the interests of his Gospel, we are bound to "Pay careful attention, then, to how we walk—not as unwise people but as wise;" that all who behold our light may be led rather to approve of our principles, and to glorify our God.

If our obligation to approve ourselves "more excellent than our neighbors" has been established, let us,

II. Inquire what we do more than others.

What do we more,

1. For our own souls?

The world, alas! evince but little concern for their own souls. A formal round of duties is all that they judge necessary: and if they are observant of the outward decencies of religion, such as frequenting the House of God, attending upon the Lord's table, maintaining family prayer, and repeating some form of devotion twice a day in their closets—they think they have done all that is required of them, and are ready to say, "What lack I more?" But all this may be only "a form of godliness, without the power," and a service wholly unacceptable to the heart-searching God.

"What then do you more than this?" Are all of you doing even as much? Are not even these forms neglected by too many? But supposing you to be observant of these, what do you more than others? Alas! the generality would be utterly at a loss to answer this question. But the true Christian shall answer it, even though he be only at present "a babe in Christ."

Do you ask me, What I do more? (he may say,)

I search out my sins yet daily, in order to humble myself before God on account of them.

I mourn over all that I have seen amiss in my whole conduct through life.

I sigh, I groan, I weep, I smite upon my breast from day to day, crying, "God be merciful to me a sinner!"

I flee to the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge.

I renounce utterly all other ground of hope.

I trust altogether in his atoning sacrifice, as expiating my guilt, and reconciling me to my offended God.

I set my face towards Zion. Though I travel not so expeditiously as I could wish, I make it my daily labor to advance. I make no account of any difficulties, if only I may get forward in my heavenly way.

The one concern of my life from day to day is, how shall I save my soul? "What shall it profit me if I gain the whole world, and lose my own soul?"

Now, my dear brethren, is this your state? are you thus concerned about your souls? and does your conscience bear witness, that, while others are occupied chiefly about the things of time and sense, "you account the whole world but as dross and dung, that you may win Christ, and be found in him, not having your own righteousness, but his?"

Is this, I say, your state? Is it the state of all among you? of all? O would to God it were! But, if the truth were known, and it is most assuredly known to God, there are but few who can truly declare this to be the daily habit of their minds. Yet must it be your habit, if ever you would be Christians indeed, and behold the face of God in peace.

2. For the honor of our God?

Little is this thought of by the world at large. But the true Christians are not unconcerned about it. They know that God may be honored by them: and it is their most anxious desire to bring glory to their God. There is not a perfection of the Deity which they do not endeavor to honor and exalt:

his omniscience, by walking as in his immediate presence:

his omnipotence, by committing altogether to him their every concern:

his love, his mercy, his truth, his faithfulness, by embracing his gracious offers in the Gospel, and relying on his promises as a sure ground of their hope.

They walk with him, as Enoch did: they maintain "fellowship with him and with his Son Jesus Christ" all the day long: accounting it their chief joy to have a sense of his presence, and the light of his countenance lifted up upon them. In their actions, they consider not what will advance their own honor or interests, but what will promote his glory: and, having ascertained that, they go forward in the prosecution of it, without any regard to consequences. A fiery furnace, or a den of lions, has no terrors for them. They fear nothing but sin, and account it an honor and a privilege to lay down life itself in His service, and for His glory.

And now let me ask, is it thus with all of you? Are all of you thus studious to exalt, to honor, and to glorify your God? Have earthly things no value in your eyes, in comparison of God's favor, and of his love shed abroad in your hearts? Yet without this you cannot be Christians indeed. Our blessed Lord has said, that "whoever loves his life shall lose it; and that he only who is willing to lose it for his sake, shall find it unto life eternal."

3. For the benefit of mankind?

To this there is a special respect in my text. The Pharisees maintained, that we were at liberty to hate our enemies: but our Lord said, "If you love your friends only, what do you more than others?" The loving of enemies is an attainment far above the reach of the world at large. If they abstain from revenge, it is quite as much as they ever aim at. And as for endeavoring to "win the souls" of their enemies, the thought never so much as enters into their minds.

But the true Christian has a far higher standard of duty in reference to these things. He feels, indeed, that it is no easy thing to

"love his enemies,
to bless those who curse him,
to do good to those who hate him, and
to pray for those who despitefully use him and persecute him;"

but he labors to do it, and implores grace from God that he may be able to do it; and determines, through grace, "not to be overcome bt evil, but to overcome evil with good."

Nor is he forgetful of his obligation to seek the eternal welfare of mankind. Hence he labors for the diffusion of the sacred oracles throughout the world: he finds delight in aiding every effort that is made for the salvation both of Jews and Gentiles: and in his more immediate neighborhood he strives to promote, as far as in him lies, the spiritual and eternal interests of all around him.

In his relative duties also especially he endeavors to show the influence of true religion: as a parent or child, as a husband or wife, as a master or servant, as a ruler or subject, he makes a point of fulfilling his duties, so that the most watchful enemy shall have no reason to speak reproachfully.

Once more then let me ask, is it thus with you? Is there among all of you such government of your own tempers, and such a victory over all your evil passions, as that you adorn the doctrine of God our Savior, and exhibit in the whole of your deportment his blessed image? As followers of Christ, all this is required of you: you are called, "as the elect of God, holy and beloved, to put on affections of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; and to be forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if you have a quarrel against any man, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you" If you will approve yourselves to be Christ's, "your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees." You must take even God himself for your pattern, and seek to be "perfect, even as your Father who is in Heaven is perfect."

See then,

1. How vain is that plea, that you are as good as others!

Before that plea can be of any avail, you must inquire whether others are as holy as they ought to be: for if they are not, your equality with them can be no ground of satisfaction in the prospect of the future judgment. What consolation will it be to those who shall experience the wrath of God in Hell, that they were as good as any who walked in "the broad road that led them to destruction?" It is not by any human standard that you will be judged in the last day, but by the standard of God's unerring word: and whether you are as good or better than others, it will avail you nothing, if you are not found such as God requires, "Israelites indeed, and without deceit".

2. How desirable is it to have our evidences of piety clear and decisive!

The question put to us in the text, will be put to us in the last day: "What did you more than others?" This question we ought to be able to answer now, in order that we may give a satisfactory answer then: and the more satisfactorily we can answer it now, the more comfort we shall have in looking forward to that day, and the more boldness when we shall stand at the judgment-seat of Christ. Whatever then you have attained, forget it all, and press forward for yet higher attainments, so that, whenever the day of Christ shall arrive, you may rejoice, "and not be ashamed before him at his coming."

 

#1311

Directions Respecting Alms-Deeds

Matthew 6:1–4

"Take heed that you do not do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in Heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly."

THERE are some duties so plain and obvious, that it is scarcely necessary to insist upon men's obligation to perform them. Among these is the duty of relieving our fellow-creatures in distress, and making our abundance instrumental to the supply of their necessities. Our blessed Lord takes it for granted that all his disciples will be found observant of the duty itself; and therefore does not stop to inculcate the necessity of it; but merely gives directions respecting it, that it may be performed most beneficially to themselves, and most honorably to God.

The passage according to this reading requires, first, that our acts of righteousness in general should be devoid of ostentation.

Next, that we should guard against ostentation, more especially in those several duties, which, as Christians, we are bound to perform. We are called to serve God with our souls, our bodies, and estates; and we must do the first by prayer, the second by fasting, and the third by alms.

Whichever reading we adopt, our subject will be the same: we shall be led to consider the directions which our Lord gives us in reference to alms. He tells us,

I. What we are to avoid.

A very principal feature in the character of the Pharisees was ostentation: "they did all their works in order to be seen by men." Against this in particular our Lord cautions us.

1. Ostentation is an evil to which we are prone.

While the caution itself implies this, ("Take heed,") the experience of every individual attests it. Who does not feel a desire after the applause of man? Who does not consult in too great a degree the opinion of those around him? The more decent among the unconverted seem to be actuated by no other motive than applause of man: while even the godly themselves are by no means exempt from its influence. It is not, however, without much self-knowledge and self-examination, that we can discern the workings of this principle within us. We give ourselves credit for better motives and better principles, at the time that impartial observers mark distinctly the deceptiveness of our dispositions and conduct.

2. Ostentation is an evil to be most carefully avoided.

The bestowing of alms, like everything else, must be judged of by the motive from which it springs.

When done in order to acquire a character for benevolence and liberality, it is pride.

When done with a view to the obtaining of influence, it is worldly ambition.

It is then only to be deemed piety and charity, when it is produced by a concern for God's honor, and from real love to our fellow-creatures. Precisely in proportion as any ulterior motive actuates us, the action, however good it may be in other respects, is debased. It is not only stripped of all the good which it might otherwise have, but has in it a positive infusion of evil. Our blessed Lord called those "hypocrites," who in distributing their alms, sought to draw the attention and admiration of the public—and such are all who tread in their steps.

If our actions proceed from principles different from those which are pretended and avowed—we may palliate them as we please; but God will affix to them no other name than that of vile hypocrisy. It is scarcely needful, methinks, to say, that such a disposition must be put away with abhorrence.

But there is yet a further reason for guarding against this evil; namely, that actions proceeding from such a principle can never be accepted of God. They may, and probably will, procure us the reward we seek after—they may render us popular, gain us applause, increase our influence, and bring us into high reputation for liberality and goodness. But they will never receive any reward from God: they are not done for him; and therefore he will not accept them: they have no real piety in them; and therefore he will not reward them.

We can easily see, that, if a person should spend ever so large a sum in feeding those by whose charity he is to be raised to eminence and distinction, he would not for a moment imagine that he laid God under any kind of obligation, or was entitled to expect any remuneration from him; the sums he lavished were the price of his worldly honors.

Thus, as far as pride, or ostentation, or vanity, or worldly interest, excite us to liberality—we renounce all claim upon God. He has said indeed, that "what we give to the poor, we lend to him; and that he will repay it;" but he will never acknowledge as a loan to him, what was given by us to purchase the applause of man. Supposing it was pure gold in the first instance, we turn it all to dross the very moment we begin to pride ourselves in it.

In both of these views then the caution deserves our deepest attention, and ought to be followed with the greatest care.

Having told us what to avoid, our Lord proceeds to inform us,

II. What we should observe and do.

We should, to the utmost of our power, strive for secrecy.

Doubtless there are occasions whereon we are called to dispense charity in a more public manner, and when the concealment of our name would have an injurious effect. On such occasions we do right to "let our light shine before men." But, in all such instances, we should have the testimony of our own consciences, that it is the honor of God, and not our own honor that we seek. Where no such necessity is imposed upon us, we should "not let our left hand know what our right hand does," we should hide our good deeds from others; we should hide them also from ourselves.

Where we have not made an open parade of our charities, but have conformed to this precept as it respects others, we yet are too apt to contemplate our own actions with a very undue measure of self-delight. Though we have not studied to make them public, we are delighted to find that they are known; and are pleased with the thought that we stand high in the estimation of others. The hints which are suggested to us respecting the extent of our benevolence, and the greatness of the benefits we have conferred, are very gratifying to our proud hearts; and the accidental discovery of our goodness is relished by us, as a rich equivalent for the self-denial we exercised in concealing it.

Alas! what deceitful hearts we have! At the very time that we profess to avoid the notice of others, we are secretly reveling in self-delight. If we view our actions with right motives, they will furnish us rather with grounds of humiliation and gratitude. For, how small are our utmost exertions, in comparison with the greatness of our obligations, or the extent of our duty! What reason have we also to be ashamed of the mixture of motives, which has often operated to the production of them! And more particularly, what reason have we to adore and magnify our God, who has deigned to make use of such unworthy instruments for the good of his people and the glory of his name! This is the light in which our benevolence should be viewed; this is the spirit in which it should be exercised.

What we do secretly for God, shall be openly rewarded by him.

He notices with approbation the hidden purposes of our heart: and every man who seeks only the praise of God shall assuredly obtain it. God will look not at the sums we give, but at the motive and principle from which we give it: and even "a cup of cold water given with a single eye to his glory, shall in no wise lose its reward."

Even a desire which we were not able to carry into effect shall be accepted by him, just as David's was, who desired to build a house for the Lord: "You did well, in that it was in your heart."

How far God will recompense our liberality with present comforts, we cannot absolutely determine; but he will surely "recompense it at the resurrection of the just;" and he would account himself unrighteous, if he were to forget to do so. This, however, we must ever bear in mind, that our actions are always exalted in God's estimation in proportion as they are lowered in our own: and that the people whom he represents as honored and rewarded by him, are those who were altogether unconscious of their own excellencies, and were surprised to hear of services noticed by their Judge, which were overlooked and forgotten by themselves.

Matthew 25:37-40. "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and go to visit You?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.'

From this subject we may learn,

1. How impossible it is for any man to be justified by the works of the law.

We inquire not now into any kind of gross sin—we will suppose that all of us are free from any imputation of that kind; and that our lives have been altogether spent in doing good. Yet who among us would present his alms-deeds before the heart-searching God, and defy him to find a flaw in them? If we cannot do that, we must renounce all confidence in the flesh, and rely only on the meritorious sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

2. How thankful we should be that a Savior is provided for us.

The Lord Jesus Christ is come into the world to seek and save us. He is that Great High Priest who "bears the iniquity of our holy things," and will clothe us with the unspotted robe of his righteousness, provided we are willing to put off "the filthy rags of our own." Let us look then to him, whose works alone were perfect. Let us remember, that "though we know nothing against ourselves, yet are we not hereby justified." God may have seen much sin in us, where we ourselves may have been perfectly unconscious of it. But if, on the whole, our "eye has been single," our imperfections shall be pardoned, and our services be recompensed with "an eternal great reward!"

 

 

#1312

Directions Respecting Prayer

Matthew 6:5–8

"But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him."

WHAT David spoke respecting the Pentateuch is strongly exemplified in the Sermon on the Mount, "By it are God's servants warned." Both sins and duties are here exhibited to us in their proper light. The sins of the heart are reprobated, no less than those of the outward act. The duties which are performed without proper motives and dispositions are shown to be void of any real worth. Hence we are warned to look chiefly at the heart, and to judge of our state entirely by what we find there.

If, for instance, we have been in the habit of dispensing alms, we must not therefore conclude that we have pleased God, unless, upon an examination of our own hearts, we have the testimony of our conscience that we desired to please him.

In like manner, if we have been given to prayer, we must not imagine that our prayers have been accepted, unless they have been offered in sincerity and truth. To this effect our Lord teaches us in the words of our text; in which he gives us directions respecting prayer, and guards us against those dispositions which are too frequently indulged in the performance of that duty.

I. Against hypocrisy.

An ostentatious display of devotion is most hateful to God.

The Pharisees of old were intent only on gaining the applause of man. Hence, on every occasion, they acted a part, as players on a stage. Even their private devotions were made subservient to their main design; and were ostentatiously displayed in places of public concourse. They pretended to have so much reverence for God, that they would not defer their accustomed services even for a few minutes, but would perform them on the corner of a street, or in any other place, however conspicuous and frequented; while, in reality, the whole was a contrivance, in order to attract notice, and obtain a high reputation for sanctity. Such people our Lord justly calls "hypocrites," and their services he declares to be altogether unacceptable to the heart-searching God.

These ostentatious acts are no longer seen; but the disposition from whence they arose, prevails as much as ever. We shall not now speak of formalists, who frequent the house of God in order to be accounted religious, because we shall notice them under another head. Yet there are many in the religious world who very nearly resemble the Pharisees of old, while they themselves have not the least idea that there is any such defect in their character.

I refer to those who are forward to pray and to expound the Scriptures in religious societies, while they have no delight in secret prayer, but only in displaying their gifts and talents. I would notice those also, who, in the house of God, use unnecessary peculiarities, whether of voice or gesture, in order that they may appear to be pre-eminently devout. Nor must we overlook those who carry the same hypocritical desires even into their own closets, and contrive, either by the loudness or the length of their devotions, to convey to their families an idea of eminent piety. But such dispositions, by whoever indulged, are hateful to God: and in proportion as we are actuated by them, we debase our best services, and render them an abomination to the Lord.

In all our approaches to God, we must strive for privacy and retirement.

Doubtless, when in the house of God, we ought to conduct ourselves with the deepest reverence: nor should we be afraid of the observations which may be made upon us by ungodly men. Whatever consequences may attend a reverential regard for God, we ought not to put our light under a bushel; but should, like Daniel, brave death itself, rather than for a moment deny our God.

But where our devotions are professedly private, and no necessity is imposed upon us, we should shun everything which has the appearance of ostentation or vain-glory, and study to approve ourselves to Him alone "who sees in secret." It is his approbation only that we should regard; and from him only should we seek "a recompense of reward."

At the same time it becomes us to be equally on our guard,

II. Against superstition.

Superstitious services are scarcely less common than those which are hypocritical.

The Heathen imagined that their gods were to be moved by long services and vain repetitions. Hence the worshipers of Baal cried to him, "O Baal, hear us! O Baal, hear us!" and continued their cry from morning to noon, and with increased earnestness from noon to evening. And to this hour a great part of the Christian world (the Papists, I mean) continue a superstition as absurd as any that can be found in the heathen world: they repeat their Ave-Marias and their Paternosters a great number of times; (keeping an account thereof with their beads;) and then think that they have performed an acceptable service to the Lord, though they have not offered to him one spiritual petition.

Happy were it if such superstition were confined to them: but the same thing obtains also among ourselves. What is more common than for people to attend the house of God, and to go through the service in a dull formal manner, and then to return home satisfied with having performed a duty to their God? Yet the religion of many who imagine themselves devout, consists in nothing but a repetition of such services: and if these services are repeated on the week days as well as on Sunday, they take credit to themselves for possessing all the piety that God requires.

In some things, I confess, these people set an example worthy the imitation of the religious world: they are always in their places at the beginning of the service; and they show a becoming attention to it throughout the whole, both in their reverent postures and their audible responses: and, if my voice could reach to every professor of religion throughout the world, I would say, Learn from them; and as far as these things go, Imitate them.

Still, however, inasmuch as the religion of these people consists in forms only, without any suitable emotions of the heart, it is no better than the worship of the heathen. Our Lord himself says, that "in vain do any people worship him, who draw near to him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him."

Some who are truly saved, have yet the remains of this old leaven within them; and are apt to judge of their state, rather by the number and length of their services—than by the spirituality of their minds in them. It would be well if some who minister in holy things, and who multiply their services beyond what their strength will endure, would attend to this hint.

But we should have more correct notions of the Deity, than to imagine that he requires or accepts, such services as these.

We mean not to say, that people may not profitably and acceptably prolong their services to any extent, when their spirits are devout and their hearts are enlarged; for our Lord himself spent whole nights in prayer and in communion with his Father. Nor do we say, that all repetitions of the same requests must necessarily be superstitious; for our Lord himself, thrice within the space of one hour, retired for prayer, and poured out his soul in the very same words. But we must be understood to say, that the acceptableness of our prayers does not depend on the length of them. God does not need to be informed or to be persuaded, by us: he is omniscient, and "knows what we need, before we ask him;" and he is all-merciful, and is infinitely more ready to give than we are to ask. We mistake the nature of prayer altogether, if we think that God is prevailed upon by it to do what he was otherwise averse to do. It is true, he requires us to be importunate: but such expressions as these are not to be strained beyond their proper import.

The use of prayer is,
to affect our own souls with a deep sense of our guilt and misery;
to acknowledge our entire dependence upon God;
to raise our expectations from him; and
to prepare our hearts for a grateful reception of his blessings; that, when he has answered our petitions, we may give him the glory due unto his name.

It is a truth not generally known, that the very disposition to pray is a gift from God; and that God does not give because we pray, but stirs us up to pray, because he has before determined to give. This truth, well digested in the mind, will keep us equally from a presumptuous neglect of prayer, on the one hand, and from a superstitious use of it, on the other hand.

In addition to the foregoing cautions, we will suggest two or three others, arising out of a more minute attention to the text, which will serve as a further application of the subject.

Guard then,

1. Against neglect of prayer.

Our Lord does not here directly enjoin prayer as a duty, but he takes for granted that all his followers will pray. On any other supposition than this, his directions would lose all their force. In a subsequent part of this sermon he both enjoins it as a duty, and suspends on the performance of it all hopes of obtaining blessings from God. In truth, it is not possible for a child of God to neglect prayer. Prayer is the very breath of a regenerate soul, and "as the body without the spirit is dead," so the soul, without those spiritual affections which go forth to God in prayer, is dead also. As soon as ever Saul was converted to God, the testimony of God respecting him was, "Behold, he prays."

Those who neglect prayer, are decidedly ranked among the workers of iniquity, on whom God will pour out his everlasting vengeance. Think then, beloved, how many there are among us, who have reason to tremble for their state! O that every prayerless person would lay this thought to heart!

2. Against formality in prayer.

Prayer is a service of the heart, and not merely of the lip and knee. It is a "pouring out of the soul before God," and "a stirring up of ourselves to lay hold on God." Let none then deceive themselves with mere formal services, whether public or private.

As to the circumstance of using a written form of words, that makes no difference either way: a person may pray spiritually with a form, or formally without one. The true point to be ascertained is, Do the feelings and desires of our souls correspond with the expressions of our lips? If they do, that is acceptable prayer; if not, it is altogether worthless in the sight of God.

In the foregoing address, we have warned the infidel and profane. In this address, we would warn the superstitious and hypocritical. Yes, we must testify against them, that God looks at the heart; and that they never will find acceptance with him, until they come to "worship him in spirit and in truth".

3. Against unbelief in prayer.

It is our duty not only to pray, but to pray in faith. We are to draw near to God as "a Father," and as "our" Father. It is our privilege to "have access to him with boldness and with confidence by faith in the Lord Jesus." We "should lift up holy hands to him, without doubting." We are told that "if we waver in our minds, we must not expect to receive anything at his hands." Let us then come to him with enlarged hearts: let us "open our mouths wide, that he may fill them." Let us ask, whatever we feel that we stand in need of: and, when we have asked all that we are able to express, let us think what unsearchable gifts he has further to bestow: and when we have exhausted our store of words and thoughts, let us remember that he is "able to give us exceedingly abundant above all that we can ask or think." Petitions offered in such a frame as this, will never be unacceptable: such addresses will never be considered as "vain repetitions," even though they were offered every hour in the day. Indeed, such a frame as this is intended by the Apostle, when he bids us to "pray without ceasing," and such devotions will surely bring with them a rich reward. Even in this world will God "reward" them, and "openly" too, by the manifestations of his love and the communications of his grace. And, in the world to come, he will say concerning us, as of Nathanael of old, "Behold an Israelite indeed," a man of prayer: "I saw him under the fig-tree," and in other places where he retired for prayer; and I now, in the presence of the assembled universe, bear testimony to him as a faithful servant, who shall inherit the kingdom, and possess the glory which I have prepared for him.

 

 

#1313

Hallowing God's Name

Matthew 6:9

"After this manner therefore pray: Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be your name."

IT is of the utmost importance to every human being, to know how he shall approach his God with acceptance. Hence some even of the heathen philosophers endeavored to instruct their disciples how to pray. We do not find indeed any form of prayer provided for the Jews, with the exception of some short passages which may be regarded in that light. But in the New Testament we are informed that John the Baptist gave special instructions to his disciples respecting prayer; and our blessed Lord composed a prayer which should be used by his followers, and should serve also as a pattern for prayer to his Church in all ages. If it be thought that it was intended only for his disciples in their infantile state, previous to the outpouring of the Spirit upon them, let it be remembered, that it was recorded by the Evangelists a great many years after the full establishment of Christianity, without any hint of its use having been superseded: and consequently, we have the same reason to use it as the form and pattern of our supplications, as the Apostles themselves had. The only difference is, that as our Lord more clearly taught them afterwards to offer their petitions in his name, we must avail ourselves of that further information, to render our prayers more acceptable to God.

It being our intention to enter at large into the consideration of this prayer, we shall confine ourselves at present to that portion of it which we have read; in which are two things to be noticed:

I. The invocation.

It is to God alone, and not to creatures, whether angels or men, that we are to address our prayers: "God is a jealous God, and will not give his glory to another." But to him we are invited to draw near; and are taught to regard him,

1. As a loving Father.

Under this title God was known to his people of old. Indeed it was the appellation, which, in their eyes, was the surest pledge of his love: the appellation too in which he himself appeared peculiarly to delight. And well may it be a comfort to us to be permitted to address him by this endearing name: for, if he is a Father, he will . . .
pity our weakness,
and pardon our sins,
and supply our every want.

True, if we have no nearer connection with him than the ungodly world, and are his children only by creation, we can derive comparatively but little comfort from it, because we are in rebellion against him. But if we are his children by adoption and grace, what may we not expect at his hands? When we come to him as members of that great family, pleading for ourselves individually, and for the whole collectively, and addressing him in the name of all, as "our Father," methinks he cannot turn away his ear from us: "We may ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us." Only let us come with "a spirit of adoption, crying, "Abba, Father!" and, however "wide we may open our mouths, he will fill them."

2. As an almighty Friend.

When we are taught to address God as our Father "in Heaven," we are not to understand it as merely distinguishing him from our earthly parents, but as intended to impress our minds with a sense of his majesty: to remind us, that he sees everything which passes upon earth, and that he has all power to relieve us, to the utmost extent of our necessities. The consideration that he is our Father, encourages us to come "with boldness and with confidence;" but the thought that he is that "high and lofty One who inhabits eternity," and dwells in the light which no man can approach unto; the thought that he knows even the most secret motions of our hearts, and is alike able to save or to destroy; these considerations, I say, are calculated to beget a holy fear in our minds, and to temper our boldness with reverential awe.

Such are the feelings which should be blended in our hearts, whenever we draw near to a throne of grace. We should go to God as our Father; but, remembering that "he is in Heaven and we upon earth, we should address him in words select and few."

Let us now turn our attention to,

II. The address.

In this prayer there are six different petitions:

three for the advancement of God's honor,

and three for the promotion of our happiness.

The former having the precedence, may fitly teach us, that a regard for God's honor ought to be first in our intention and desire. Yet it may well be doubted whether the address which is presented to God in our text, is a petition, or a thankful acknowledgment. Perhaps, in so concise a form as this, both may be properly included. Agreeably to this idea we shall consider the address,

1. As thanksgiving.

Though not generally regarded in this light, it seems naturally enough to bear this construction, inasmuch as it accords exactly with the feelings of a devout soul, when impressed and animated with a sense of God's paternal love. Suppose a person to have been meditating on:
the perfections and attributes of his God,
the stupendous display of his love and mercy in Christ Jesus,
his covenant engagements to his believing people,
and the innumerable benefits conferred upon them;

suppose him also to be warmed with the thought that this God is his God, his Father, and "his eternal great reward"—what would be the first effusions of his soul? Would he not burst forth into praises and adorations, and even labor for words whereby to express his love and gratitude towards him? Thus it was with David on many occasions; and thus it will be with all who truly delight themselves in God. Sometimes, no doubt, the believer's mind will be led to dwell rather on other subjects, whether of confession or petition, as circumstances may require: but where nothing extraordinary has occurred to distract his attention, surely the language of adoration is most expressive of his feelings, and most suited to his state.

2. As supplicatory.

The Christian will not be satisfied with his own personal endeavors to honor God. But will wish and pray that the whole universe may render him the honor due unto his name. Hence he will beg of God to banish from the world all ignorance and error; and so to reveal himself to mankind, that all may be constrained to show forth his praise.

This, I say, is near unto the heart of the believer: he will long to promote it to the utmost of his power: he will pant after it, as an object of his most anxious desires: and he would be glad if every creature, rational and irrational, animate and inanimate, could unite in this as their one blessed employment.

Hence we may learn,

1. How glorious is the liberty of God's praying people.

They are rescued from the dominion of slavish fears and selfish desires. "Happy are you, O Israel, O people saved by the Lord!" Inexpressibly happy are all whose hearts accord with the language of our text! Methinks they resemble, as nearly as such imperfect creatures can, the inhabitants of the realms of light. The cherubim around the throne veil their faces and their feet, in token of that reverential awe which they feel in the presence of the Deity: and the glorified saints cast down their crowns before the footstool of their Lord, to express their sense of their unworthiness of the mercies given unto them; while the whole united choir vie with each other in hallelujahs to God and to the Lamb!

Thus it is with the saints on earth, both in their secret chambers and in the house of God: they are filled with adoring thoughts of God their Savior, and "rejoice in him with joy unspeakable and full of glory." Doubtless they experience changes in their frames, and seem at times almost to have forgotten their high privileges: but in their better seasons they show forth the power of divine grace, and enjoy a foretaste of Heaven. O that all of us might know their blessedness, by sweet experience!

2. What losers are they who neglect prayer.

The generality of people account prayer a drudgery: but they are bitter enemies to their own souls. What loss do they suffer in having God for an enemy, when they might have him for their Friend and Father! As for God, he suffers no loss: if they refuse to glorify him willingly—then he will glorify himself upon them against their will. Reflect then, brethren, what sufferers you are, while you are turning your back on God! You have no Father to go to in the time of trouble; no sweet assurance that Almighty wisdom and power are exercised for your support; no anticipations of the blessedness of Heaven. On the contrary, all your enjoyments are empty, and all your prospects are dark. In this world you have little happiness above the beasts; and in the world to come, an eternity of extreme sorrows. O that you would now begin to pray! O that God might say of you this day, as he did of Saul immediately after his conversion, "Behold, he prays!" Then, however desperate your case may now appear, you would soon be received into the family of God, and be partakers of his inheritance for evermore.

 

 

#1314

The Lord's Prayer

Matthew 6:10

"May Your kingdom come. May Your will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven."

HIGHLY as the Lord's Prayer is esteemed among us, and frequently as it is used, there is scarcely any part of Scripture less considered: we are contented with repeating the words, without ever attending to its true import. The fact is, that though it is written for the use of all, none can use it aright but the true Christian: it is the Christian alone, whose heart can embrace the subjects contained in it.

The first petition which we are taught to offer, is, that God's "name may be hallowed" and adored. The two next petitions (which now come under our consideration) are intimately connected with it; they have respect to,

I. The universal establishment of his kingdom.

The kingdom, for the establishment of which we pray, is that of the Messiah.

The dominion which God exercises by his providence, cannot be more universal than it is: "his kingdom rules over all." But the government which he maintains over the souls of men has in every age been extremely limited and partial. That is the kingdom which God has determined to erect: of that the prophets have distinctly prophesied, and declared that it should be subjected to "Messiah the Prince," its extent is to be universal, and its duration to the end of time.

The time was now at hand when the foundations of this kingdom were to be laid: and there was a general expectation, both among the godly and the ungodly, that measures for its establishment would speedily be adopted. True it is, that few, if any, sufficiently advert to the spiritual nature of this kingdom: but our Lord gradually rectified the apprehensions of his followers respecting it: and taught them to expect the long-wished-for period; and to pray that nothing might be able to retard its arrival.

Some have thought, that, since the establishment of Christianity in the world, there is no further occasion for this petition: but there is, in fact, the same occasion for it now as there was at the first moment it was suggested to the disciples: the only difference between their use of it and ours is, that they prayed for the commencement of this kingdom, and we pray for its progressive and final establishment. Indeed, the kingdom itself will never have attained its utmost bounds, until every enemy of it be put under the Messiah's feet, and every subject of it be perfected in glory.

Nor can this event have too prominent a place in our prayers.

After the general petition that God's name may be glorified, we are taught immediately to desire the advent of the Messiah's kingdom. Nor is this without reason: for it is by the establishment of this kingdom, and by that alone, that God's name can ever be sanctified in the earth.

Look at the Heathen world, who are worshiping devils, or bowing down to stocks and stones: what glory has the Lord from them?

Look at those who are carried away by the Mohammedan delusion, or hardened by Jewish infidelity: these profess indeed to acknowledge the one true God; but they cast his word behind them, and are avowed enemies to his only-begotten Son.

Look at the professing Christian world, by whom he is dishonored no less than by any of those whom we have before mentioned. With the exception of a little remnant whom he has renewed by his grace, there is not one on earth that truly loves him, or cordially adores him. All others have some idol in their hearts which they prefer to him, some darling lust which they will not sacrifice for his sake. Here surely is abundant reason why we should entreat him to put forth his almighty power for the conversion of the world.

Let this petition then be offered by us with constancy, and with an earnestness proportioned to its importance. Let us pray that "the word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified among us," that he would "gird his sword upon his thigh, and ride on in the cause of meekness and truth and righteousness;" until "all the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of the Lord and of his Christ."

God requires this at our hands; nay more, the creation itself demands it of us. "The whole creation are represented as groaning and travailing in pain together" in expectation of this event; and therefore may well be considered as calling on us to exert ourselves in every possible way for their complete deliverance. Whenever then we contemplate the state of those around us, or extend our views to the Heathen world—let us lift up our hearts to God, and pray, "May Your kingdom come!"

Closely connected with this petition is that which next occurs, for,

II. The unlimited execution of his will.

This will flow from the former, as an effect inseparable from it. We cannot approve ourselves subjects of the Redeemer's kingdom in any other way than by our obedience to his will. Hence we are taught to pray, that God's will may be done by ourselves and all mankind, even as it is done in Heaven: and that too,

1. In a way of cheerful acquiescence.

The angels, notwithstanding they dwell immediately in the presence of their God, and behold "the works which he does for the children of men," are yet not privy to his ultimate designs; nor do they understand the full scope of all that they behold. As, under the Mosaic dispensation, the cherubim upon the mercy-seat were formed in a bending posture, looking down upon the ark, in order, as it were, to search out the mysteries contained in it, so are the angels represented by Peter as "desiring to look into" the Gospel salvation; and Paul says, that the revelation which God has with progressive clearness made of himself unto the Church, is no less instructive to them than to us. But we are well assured that they never for a moment doubt either the wisdom or goodness of God in any of his dispensations.

In this they are a fit pattern for our imitation. We know not the secret purposes of God in anything that he does: his ways are in the great deep, and his footsteps are not known. But we should be satisfied in our minds, that "he does, and will do, all things well;" and that, though "clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and judgment are the basis of his throne." However mysterious his ways may appear, we should at all times solace ourselves with this, that "what we know not now, we shall know hereafter." Were this spirit universally prevalent, discontent would be utterly banished from the world. Under the most afflictive dispensations we should maintain a humble composure and a thankful frame. What a desirable state! How honorable to God! What a source of happiness to man!

2. In a way of active obedience.

Here also are the angels a pattern for us: they are "ministers of God, to do his pleasure; and they do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word." The very first intimation of the Divine will is quite sufficient for them. Whatever the office is, whether to deliver Lot from Sodom, or to destroy a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians, they execute it with equal readiness and equal pleasure. Thus should we engage in the service of our God: it should be "our food and our drink to do his will." We should hearken diligently to his word, in order to learn what we have to do; and then we should do it:
without hesitation,
without weariness,
without reserve.

Nor should we be satisfied with having our own souls brought into this state; we should long to see every sinner upon earth, and "every thought of his heart, captivated in like manner to the obedience of Christ." The Apostle's prayer should be the language both of our hearts and lips.

But who can effect this change? Who can subdue the unruly wills and affections of sinful men? None but God! He must "make them willing in the day of his power, or they will continue in their rebellion even to the end. To him therefore we should look; and to him should we make our supplication, that he would "reveal his almighty arm," and subdue the nations to the obedience of faith.

From this directory for prayer, we cannot but observe,

1. What elevation of mind true piety inspires.

Statesmen and philosophers, however enlarged their minds, are occupied solely about the things of time and sense. Whereas the Christian, even though he is poor and illiterate, "separates himself" for the pursuit of higher objects, and is primarily concerned with eternal and heavenly realities.

The universal establishment of the Messiah's kingdom,
the unlimited execution of the Divine will,
the bringing down of Heaven to earth,
and the assimilating of earth to Heaven,
these are the subjects of his daily interest and meditation; these are the objects of his most ardent desire.

The men of science justly value themselves on having enjoyed the blessings of education: they know and feel the benefit of having their thoughts raised to the contemplation of objects that are out of the reach of vulgar and illiterate minds. But the Christian surpasses them incomparably more than they surpass the lowest of mankind: his meditations are more noble, and his mind is more enlarged. Let us learn then to form a proper estimate of piety; and to regard it with the veneration it deserves.

2. What happiness true piety is calculated to produce.

Let these petitions be answered; let this state of things prevail; let the Messiah reign in the hearts of all mankind; let the example of angels be emulated by every human being. Will anyone say that this would lessen the happiness of the world? Will anyone say that he even feels a doubt upon the subject? No, we are all convinced in our consciences, that in proportion as we approximated to the holiness of angels, we should also participate their bliss.

See what it is that occasions by far the greater part of misery in the world: "Whence spring wars and fightings among us, but from the lusts which war in our members?"

It is to the same source that we must trace the greater part of our bodily disorders and our mental troubles. Sin is the parent of misery in ten thousand different forms—and it is piety alone that can heal the wounds which sin has made. If any who profess piety are not happy, the fault is not in piety, but in them: they have either erroneous notions of God's kingdom, or a partial regard for his will. Let them only possess the dispositions implied in these prayers, and they will have a very Heaven upon earth!

 

 

#1315

The Lord's Prayer

Matthew 6:11

"Give us this day our daily bread."

IN those petitions which relate to the glory of God, that occurs first which is the most comprehensive and the most important. In these petitions which relate to the welfare of man, a different order is observed. The comfortable support of our bodies, instead of being of chief importance, is, when compared with spiritual blessings, quite insignificant. Yet is a petition respecting that with great propriety placed first; because, unless our bodies are preserved in life, there will be no further scope for the communication of grace on God's part, or the exercise of it on ours. The subject of this petition indeed is such, as many would think scarcely worthy of a place in so short a summary of prayer as that before us: but our Lord did not account it so; and therefore we should not.

That we may form a right judgment concerning it, let us consider,

I. The import of this petition.

There are two things in it which call for explanation:

1. The general scope of it.

Some have thought, that, because Christ is represented as "the bread of life" which every one must eat, we are here taught to pray for the knowledge and enjoyment of Him: while others have thought, that the prayer referred to the sacramental bread, which in the primitive Church was partaken of daily by the whole body of believers. But neither of these interpretations accords with the terms in which the petition is conveyed. The plain and literal sense of the words seems to be that which was intended by our Lord. It may be thought strange indeed, that, when three petitions only are suggested for the welfare of man, one of them should be confined to his bodily concerns. But it must be remembered that those are the concerns in which we are most apt to overlook the interpositions of Heaven; and consequently, that we particularly need to have this very direction given us. Nor is it a small matter to acknowledge the agency of God in things of such apparently inferior importance: for it leads us to realize the thought of an overruling Providence in everything, even in the death of a sparrow, or the falling of a hair of our head.

2. The particular limitations contained in it.

The things for which we pray, are limited to the necessities of life. This is the general acceptance of the term "bread" in Scripture: it comprehends all the things which are needful for the body, but not any luxuries or extravagances. Doubtless those necessities will vary according to our rank and situation in life, and according to the numbers we have dependent on us for support: and what would be a extravagance under some circumstances, would be no more than absolutely necessary under other circumstances: but, due respect being had to these things, this must be the limit of our requests. If we ask for anything, "to consume it upon our lusts, we ask amiss."

The measure also of these necessities is limited. We are not to ask for a future store of things upon which we may exist for a time independent of God; but simply for such things as are requisite for our present subsistence. The term that is used in our text is indeed variously interpreted: but, when compared with the corresponding passage in Luke, its meaning will evidently appear to be that which our translators have affixed to it: We pray from day to day, that God will give us what is necessary for the day. We are not even to "take thought for the morrow;" at least, not so as to feel any anxious care respecting it: for we know not that we shall be alive on the morrow; or, if we be spared, we know that He who provided for us yesterday and today, can do the same tomorrow. On Him therefore we should "cast our care, believing that he cares for us," and that he will provide whatever in his wisdom he shall see good for us. In every place, in every event, in everything, we should see, as it were, that name inscribed, "Jehovah-jireh," The Lord will provide.

Now this petition will be found extremely important, if we consider,

II. The instruction to be derived from it.

We need not put any forced interpretation on our text in order to render it instructive; for, it teaches us many practical lessons that are of great importance:

1. That we should be moderate in our desires of earthly things.

Our hearts are naturally set on earthly things. Our Lord tells us, that the Gentiles think of little except what they shall eat, and drink, and wear. And it is precisely thus with the great mass of those who bear the Christian name. The heathen themselves do not exceed us in an eager pursuit after the good things of this life. Nor is perfect contentment known even among those who possess the largest fortunes: there is always something beyond their present attainments which they are aspiring after, and anxious to possess.

But it should not, nor indeed can it, be thus with any true Christian. The man who sees the worth and excellence of heavenly things can no longer pant after the worthless things of time and sense: he is like a man, who, having looked at the sun, sees a dark spot upon every earthly object. From that moment, Agur's wish is his: in his addresses to his heavenly Father, he can ask for nothing more than food and clothing: possessing that, he is content: or even if he does not possess it, he "knows how to suffer need as well as to abound;" and, when "having nothing, feels that he possesses all things."

Let this lesson then be learned by us: and let every one of us apply to himself that solemn caution, "Do you seek great things unto yourself? Seek them not."

2. That we should depend on God's providence for the supply of them.

God is the true source of temporal blessings, no less than of spiritual blessings. It is he who causes the earth to bring forth, and instructs men how to cultivate it to advantage: and, without his blessing, all our labors would terminate in disappointment. The whole creation exists upon his kind and bounteous provision. Now because we have so long been habituated to receive the productions of the earth, either spontaneously presenting themselves to us, or rewarding the labors of our hands—we are very apt to overlook the Divine Donor, and to forget our dependence upon God. But we are in fact as dependent on him as "the birds of the air, which neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns," and we should in the habit of our minds live upon his providence, precisely as the Israelites did in the wilderness; and receive "our daily bread" at his hands, as much as if it were daily given to us from the clouds.

We are indeed to labor for the things which are necessary for the body, as well as for those which pertain to the soul. The prohibition which our Lord gave respecting this, is not absolute, but only comparative. If we will not labor for ourselves, we have no claim for assistance either from God or man. Nevertheless, when we have labored with ever so much skill and diligence, we must bear in mind, that "our daily bread is as truly the gift" of God, as if we had not labored for it at all: and our hope for the future must be in him alone, as much as if we were, like Elijah, subsisting daily on provision brought to us by ravens.

3. That, whatever be the portion which God sees fit to give us, we should be therewith content.

A person who should form his judgment by outward appearances, would think that there is an exceeding great difference between the comforts of the rich and of the poor. But there is really far less difference than we are apt to imagine. The richest man has no security for his possessions: experience proves that kings may be hurled from their thrones, and nobles be reduced to exist on charity. Moreover, while men possess their wealth, they may, by disease of body or disturbance of mind, be deprived of all comfort, and be made to envy the poorest man who is in the enjoyment of health and peace. But the pious poor have necessities secured to them on the most inviolable of all tenures, the promise of a faithful God.

Besides, the rich have very little conception of the happiness that is derived from seeing the hand of God in their daily provision. This happiness is reserved for the poor. They are constrained to feel their dependence on God: and, when they receive their supplies, they often behold such peculiar circumstances attending them, as mark in the strongest manner the interposition of their Divine Father in their behalf.

Can anyone doubt whether provision sent in such a way be enjoyed with a greater zest than that which is supplied out of our own store? Surely the thoughts which arise in the mind of a poor man on such occasions, which fill his eyes with tears of gratitude, and his mouth with songs of praise—are an infinitely richer feast than all the luxuries which even royal wealth could procure.

Let not any then be discontented with their lot: "the rich and the poor meet together" far more nearly than is generally supposed: "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesses," but in the blessing which he enjoys along with it: "The blessing of the Lord, it makes rich; and he adds no sorrow with it."

Our blessed Lord, who often lacked bread to eat, and "a place where to lay his head," has sanctified a state of poverty, and shown that the Father's love is not to be judged of by his external dispensations, or his children's happiness substantially affected by them.

Are any of you then under circumstances of trial? Be of good cheer: it is a small matter. It is a small matter for your bodies to be in want, provided "your souls be satisfied with the plenteousness of your Father's house." Only "eat abundantly" of "the living bread," "which is meat indeed;" and then the scantiest pittance that you can exist upon shall be sweet as honey or the honeycomb. Feed richly, I say, on that; and "you shall never hunger," as long as the world shall stand. As it respects your body, "your bread shall be given to you, and your water shall be sure." As it respects your soul, you shall evermore "delight yourself in fatness."

 

 

#1316

The Lord's Prayer

Matthew 6:12

"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."

THE petitions of men to the Supreme Being will be presented in a different order, according to the general state of their minds, or according to the particular circumstances in which they are placed. A person just awakened to a sense of his guilt and danger, would most probably assign the first place in his petitions to that which, at such a season, would press most forcibly upon his mind—the obtaining of reconciliation with an offended God. But when he has obtained peace with God, and is enabled to come to him as a child unto his father, his slavish fear gives way to an sincere concern for his father's honor, and his own personal safety occupies a less prominent situation in his prayers. Not that he is less interested in the welfare of his soul than before; but he is more interested in other concerns, which, at the first, had no place in his thoughts. Accordingly we find, in that form of prayer which our Lord himself has prescribed as the most perfect prayer, this order is observed.

The devout soul is first led to express its concern for the universal establishment of the Redeemer's kingdom; and then, after one petition for the preservation of its existence in the body, it is taught to implore the pardon of all its multiplied transgressions. This is the portion of that prayer which we are at this time to consider: and in it we shall notice,

I. The petition itself.

To pray for the forgiveness of our sins is,

1. Universally necessary.

Sins are here spoken of under the notion of debts: for as by the preceptive part of the law we are bound to obedience, so by the sanctions of the law there is laid upon us an obligation to suffer punishment in case of disobedience. Our sins therefore are debts which we owe to divine justice for our violations of the laws of God. And who is there among the children of men that has not many debts to be forgiven? We readily acknowledge that there is a great difference between different people in respect to the guilt they have contracted. But "there is no man that lives and sins not," "in many things we all offend," "if any say that they have not sinned, they make God a liar, and his word is not in them." God's testimony respecting the whole race of mankind is that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;" and, consequently, that "every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before him."

What then must be done? Can anyone discharge his own debt? If any will attempt it, what method will he pursue? If he will perfectly obey the law in future, that will no more satisfy its demands for past disobedience than the ceasing to increase a debt will discharge a debt that is already contracted. If he will endeavor to atone for his sins by tears of penitence—rivers of tears will never suffice to wash away one sin. There is but one possible remedy remaining for him; and that is, to cast himself upon the mercy of God, and to implore forgiveness for the Redeemer's sake. In this respect all are upon a level: whether our sins have been greater or less, this is the only way in which we can return to God with any hope of acceptance. The proud self-justifying Pharisee will be dismissed with abhorrence; and only those who come in the spirit of the self-abasing publican will obtain mercy at his hands.

There are two sorts of people indeed, who are apt to indulge very erroneous conceptions on this subject. Some suppose that they are so completely justified as not to need any renewed applications for pardon. Others suppose that they are so perfectly sanctified as not to have any fresh occasion for pardon. But as David, after God by Nathan had sealed his pardon, still implored mercy at the hands of God, so must we; and those who fancy themselves living in a sinless state, are proud deceivers of their own souls. There is not a day or an hour in which any human being has not just occasion to offer the petition in our text.

The corruption of his nature,
the transgressions of his former life, and
the imperfections of his very best services,
all require it of him.

2. Infinitely important.

Consider the state of a man whose iniquities are not forgiven: God, the Almighty God, is his enemy. He is every moment in danger of dropping into Hell. He neither has, nor can have, any solid peace in his mind. He lives but to aggravate his guilt, and augment his condemnation. Can anyone reflect on this, and not see the importance of urging the petition in our text? The only wonder is, that any person in an unforgiven state can close his eyes in sleep, or give attention to any of the concerns of time or sense—until he has first implored mercy at the hands of his offended God.

But while the general importance of this petition is obvious, there certainly is some obscurity in,

II. The limitation or condition annexed to it.

To understand this part of the Lord's Prayer aright, we must compare the expressions as recorded by Luke, with those which are used in the text. Luke says, "Forgive us, for we forgive others," but in the text we pray, "Forgive us, as we forgive others." Now we cannot doubt but that both the Evangelists have given the prayer with accuracy, so far at least as not to comprehend in it anything which was not intended by our Lord. We, therefore, shall take the petition in both views, and consider it as importing,

1. A profession of our readiness to forgive others.

This is a frame of mind which God requires in all who come to him for mercy; and he warns us not to expect mercy at his hands while we are indisposed to exercise it towards others. Such is the explanation which our Lord himself gives of his own words: and, taken in this sense, they are a kind of plea with God to grant us our desire, and an encouragement to ourselves to expect it.

The duty of forgiving others being imposed upon us as a condition, without the performance of which God will not forgive us; a consciousness of having performed the duty emboldens us to ask forgiveness at his hands. Moreover, while we thus appeal to God respecting our endeavors to obey his commandments, we do in effect acknowledge the agency of his Spirit, and the efficacy of his grace; without which we should have neither the ability nor inclination to fulfill his will.

In this view then it is also encouraging; for, if God has already bestowed his grace upon us, and we have a clear evidence of it by its operation on our hearts and lives, we may reasonably hope, that he will yet further extend his mercy to us in the pardon of all our sins: we may regard his past favors as a pledge and earnest of others yet to come, and especially of those which our souls most need, and which he himself is most ready to bestow.

2. A consent that the mercy we show to others should be made the pattern of God's mercy to us.

We cannot with propriety request that the forgiveness which we exercise towards others may be the measure of that which we would receive from God; (because everything we do is so extremely imperfect:) but the pattern it may and ought to be.

Of course, as in the former case, when we speak of a condition, we are not to be understood as if there were anything meritorious in forgiving others, or as if God bargained with us, as it were, and bartered away his mercies. Just so, in the present case, we are not to be understood as if there were, or could be, anything in us that was worthy of God's imitation. There is a sense in which we are to be "pure, as God is pure," and "perfect, as he is perfect." In a similar sense, though not with equal strictness, we may beg of God to forgive us our offences, as we forgive our offending fellow-creatures; that is,
freely,
fully,
cordially,
and forever.

True it is that, in offering this petition, we need to speak "with fear and trembling;" lest there be in our hearts any root of bitterness unperceived by us, and lest, when praying for forgiveness, we do in effect pray, that we be not forgiven. And, that no doubt may exist respecting our sincerity in forgiving others, we ought to be rendering good for evil, and "heaping thereby coals of fire on the heads" of our enemies, to melt them into love. Then may we use this petition with safety, with confidence, and with comfort.

From this view of our subject, we learn,

1. The temperament of a Christian.

Knowing that his own debt to God is ten thousand talents, and that his fellow-creature can at the utmost owe to him only a few pence, the Christian dares not take him by the throat unmercifully; lest God should retaliate on him, and require at his hands the debt, which the whole universe could never pay. Freely has he received forgiveness; and freely does he grant it, even to those who may have injured him in the highest degree. All bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, are put away from him, with all malice. He is kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving towards others, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven him.

Let us examine then whether this is indeed our character. Let us search whether our mode of speaking of others, and of acting towards them, accord with it. For, if we bring our gift to the altar with an unforgiving spirit, God bids us to "go our way," and not presume to expect any tokens of his favor, until the most perfect reconciliation has been sought with our offending or offended brother.

2. The privilege of a Christian.

Here God permits, encourages, and commands us to ask of him the free and full pardon of all our sins. No consideration whatever is had to the number or greatness of them: the command is given to every human being; and the fullest possible assurance, that none shall ask in vain.

Some however have thought, that because no mention is here made of Christ and his atonement, we need not to have respect to him in our addresses at the throne of grace. But we must remember, that our Lord had not yet declared the whole of what he had come to reveal. This sermon was delivered quite at the commencement of his ministry, and before the minds of his followers were sufficiently prepared for the clearer manifestation of divine truth. What therefore he afterwards declared respecting the intent of his death and resurrection, must direct us in our use of this prayer. He has told us that he "shed his blood for the forgiveness of sins;" and that we must present our petitions to God in his name. Consequently we must have respect to the merit of his blood, and to the efficacy of his intercession, whenever we approach our God, whether in the use of this prayer, or of any other, which we may think suited to our state. If the necessity of Christ's atonement seems to detract from the freeness of the pardon, Paul saw no ground whatever for such an objection.

Be it known then to all, that the way of access unto the Father is opened to us through the crucifixion of the Son of God; and that, if only we ask forgiveness in the Redeemer's name, our iniquities, whatever they may have been, shall be "blotted out as a morning cloud," and be irrecoverably "cast into the depths of the sea!"

 

 

#1317

The Lord's Prayer

Matthew 6:13

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

THE obtaining of God's pardon would satisfy a person who was merely alarmed by the terrors of Hell; but a truly regenerate person will desire deliverance from sin as much as from Hell itself. He knows that he could not be happy even in Heaven, if sin retained in any respect dominion over him. Hence, having implored pardon for his past sins, he will, with equal earnestness, desire victory over his remaining corruptions. But how is this victory to be gained, seeing that we are encompassed with temptations, and assaulted by all the powers of darkness? It must be gained by committing ourselves to the care of our heavenly Father, and by seeking from him,

I. The guidance of his providence.

We are continually endangered by the temptations that surround us.

Temptations present themselves to us on every side. Everything that is agreeable to our senses or flattering to our minds, has a tendency to draw us from God. Even the things which are the most innocent when moderately enjoyed, often become snares to us. Our food, our clothing, our comforts of every kind, and even our dearest relatives—are apt to engross our affections too much, and to become the objects of an idolatrous regard. The cares and troubles of life also are frequently sources of unbelieving anxiety, or murmuring discontent. Moreover, the contempt too generally poured upon religion has not infrequently a fatal influence on our minds, to keep us from inquiring after God at all, or from confessing him openly before an ungodly world.

To these external temptations, incalculable force is given by the corruptions of our own hearts. We are of our own selves prone to evil. The heart is ready to catch fire from every spark; and all the appetites and passions are quickly brought into activity in the service of sin. In vain does reason remonstrate with us: "the law of sin that is in our members, wars against the law of our minds, and brings us into captivity," yes, even when the spiritual principle lusts and strives against the corruptions of the flesh—so strong is the corrupt principle within us, we cannot do the things that we would.

Well therefore may we pray to be kept from their power.

We are not to suppose that God is active in tempting us to sin: James expressly says that it is our own lust, and not God, that is the occasion of sin. But God may in his providence give scope for the exercise of our corruptions, as he did when he raised up Pharaoh to the throne of Egypt, and opened the Red Sea before him for the purpose of making him a more signal monument of his displeasure.

On the other hand, he will often put an obstacle in the way of his people, so as to keep them from executing the evil suggestions of their hearts. He will plant a "hedge;" and, if that will not suffice, "he will build up a wall against them, that they may not find their former ways." This he can do in ten thousand ways, without at all infringing upon the liberty of the human will. Thus he diverted the patriarchs from destroying Joseph, and David from wreaking his vengeance upon Nabal.

Moreover, he has promised to do this in answer to our prayers. He will either make a way for us to escape from the temptations that assault us; or he will moderate them, so that they may not be too powerful for us; or he will increase our strength, that we may be able to overcome theme. In a word, he will "order our goings," and "direct our paths."

If we were to depend on our own wisdom, we would only increase the difficulties which we designed to avoid: but if we make God our refuge, we shall be preserved. He has bidden us "watch and pray that we enter not into temptation;" and he will never allow us to use these means in vain.

But as we cannot hope to be kept from every temptation, we should also pray to God for,

II. The assistance of his grace.

Besides our in-dwelling corruptions, we have, in Satan, a great and powerful enemy.

The words which in this and some other places are translated, "from evil," might properly be translated, "from the evil one." Satan is represented in Scripture as a most subtle and cruel adversary to man. He is called:
a serpent for his subtlety,
a dragon for his fierceness, and
a God for the dominion that he exercises over the children of men.

To withstand him in our own strength is impossible. He has wiles which we cannot discover, and devices which we cannot fathom. If permitted, he could destroy the holiest of men. None are out of his reach. He not only instigated a wicked Judas to betray his Master, and a hypocritical Ananias to lie unto his God—but an intrepid Peter to deny his Lord. If our Lord's intercession had not prevailed to secure the faith of this favored servant, Satan would have "sifted him as wheat," and brought him to everlasting destruction.

We should therefore pray to be delivered from him also.

God will deliver us from him, as well as from temptation. He has provided armor for us, which, if used aright, shall defend us against all his fiery darts. The head, the chest, the legs, have their several and appropriate means of protection. Every part is also doubly guarded by the shield of faith: and a sword of heavenly temper is put into the believer's hands; a sword which Satan is not able to withstand; a sword by which the Savior himself prevailed over him, and which, though in the weakest hands, shall vanquish all the powers of Hell.

Does anyone ask, How shall I get this armor? We answer, Pray to God to give it to you. It is . . .
by prayer that it is obtained;
by prayer it is put on;
by prayer we are rendered expert in the use of it;
and by prayer our heart is steeled with courage, and our arm confirmed with strength.

The petition that is taught us in the text will answer every end; and urged with frequency and faith, will soon make us more than conquerors.

Would we see the whole exemplified? Behold the instance of Paul: in him, the assault, defense, and victory, are all exhibited before our eyes. Satan assaulted him with the utmost violence: the Apostle instantly betook himself to prayer; and his triumph was speedy and complete: and in like manner shall "God's strength be perfected in our weakness," if only we rely on him for our deliverance. Were we a thousand times weaker than we are, his grace should assuredly be sufficient for us.

The petition, thus explained, is of use,

1. For caution.

When people are urged to watch and pray, and to abstain from those things which are the occasions of sin—they are ready to complain that we are too strict, and that we abridge the liberties of men without necessity. But, what can be expected, if we will frequent every scene of vanity, and mix indiscriminately with all, whether godly or ungodly? What can be expected, but that we should drink into the spirit of the world, and be drawn into many sinful compliances? Does not every one find this to be the effect of associating with the world? Is not a conformity to its maxims and habits the almost necessary consequence of such conduct? Men, if on a field of battle, would not for their pleasure go and expose themselves where it was almost impossible to escape a wound; and yet, when their souls are in danger, they will venture any where for the sake of conforming to the world, or of obtaining some worthless gratification.

But how can such people offer the prayer which our Lord has taught us? Is it not a mockery to beg of God "not to lead us into temptation," when we are rushing into it daily of our own accord? Know you then, beloved, that your practice should correspond with your prayers. Know, that to expose yourselves to sin is to tempt your God: yes, it is to tempt the devil to tempt you. If you would be preserved by God, you must "keep" yourselves, not your feet merely, but "your hearts also, and that with all diligence," avoiding not only sin itself, but also the means and occasions of sin.

2. For encouragement.

It may please God for wise and gracious ends to allow you to be strongly tempted by the wicked one. Perhaps he may design to manifest and confirm the grace he has already given you; or to discover to you some hidden evil in your own hearts; or he may design to keep you from falling into sin, or to make use of you for the strengthening of others by a contrasted exhibition of your own weakness, and of his unbounded mercy in your recovery.

But, whatever be his object, and however painful your trial may be, remember, that Satan is a vanquished enemy; that he cannot go beyond the limits which God has assigned him; and that your God is ever at hand to hear and answer your petitions. Were you called to contend in your own strength, your situation would be awful. But you are commanded to "cast your care on God, who cares for you," and to "encourage yourselves in the Lord your God." Be strong then, and fear not: "be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might," and know that he who has taught you to look to him for guidance and protection, will "keep you from falling," and "bruise Satan under your feet shortly."

 

 

#1318

The Lord's Prayer

Matthew 6:13

"For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever Amen."

ON a review of the Lord's Prayer, we cannot but be thankful that such a summary is here given us, not only because we are hereby instructed what to pray for, but are assured that, as great as the petitions are, they shall all be granted, if we offer them up in faith.

The conclusion of the prayer which we have now read, is not contained in Luke's Gospel. But we must remember, that the prayer was given to the disciples at two different times, and on different occasions: and that in the one it might be contained, though it might be omitted in the other. Doubts indeed have been suggested whether it originally formed any part of the prayer before us: but, while the Latin versions and fathers omit it, it is found in most of the Greek manuscripts, and is quoted by most of the Greek fathers: from whence the translators of our Bible have admitted it as a part of the sacred text; as we also may safely do on their authority. Certain it is that there is in these words a perfect correspondence with the prayer itself; and that they admirably express the feelings of a devout soul. This may be understood in a twofold view:

I. As a devout acknowledgment.

It is often called a doxology, or an ascription of praise to God: and in this view we may observe concerning it,

1. That it accords with many other passages of Holy Writ.

Such effusions of praise are frequent in the Holy Scriptures: indeed the very words appear to have been taken from that thanksgiving of David, which he uttered when both he and his people had been consecrating their offerings to the Lord for the building of his temple. In the New Testament such doxologies abound. The Apostles frequently interrupt the thread of their argument, (if it can be called an interruption,) by breaking forth into rapturous expressions of praise and thanksgiving; and more frequently conclude their epistles with such tokens of grateful adoration. Sometimes also we find, that, after pouring out their souls before God in prayer, the Apostles address their thanksgivings to him, just in the way that we are taught to do in the prayer before us. The propriety therefore of addressing God in this manner is evident, since it is sanctioned by the example of the saints in all ages.

2. That it is well calculated for the use of the Christian Church.

Every work of God, whether animate or inanimate, renders unto him a tribute of praise: the beauty and order of the whole creation, and the adaptation of everything to its proper end—declares aloud the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of the Creator. But the people of God must be active in rendering praise to him; according to that distinction of the Psalmist, "All your works praise you, O God; and your saints shall bless you." The redeemed of the Lord are called upon to testify their obligations to him in this manner day and night: it is "lovely" for them so to do, and, "if they should hold their peace, the very stones would cry out against them."

Where shall we find words more proper for our use? They are so concise as to be easily remembered, and so comprehensive as to include every thing that we could wish to say. They are, in fact, an epitome of that song which saints and angels are singing in the realms above—and, if we offer them in a befitting manner, we shall have an earnest and foretaste of the heavenly bliss.

Nor is there a small emphasis to be laid on the word with which the prayer concludes. "Amen," when annexed to praise and thanksgiving, denotes the full concurrence of the soul in all that has been uttered. In the fourth century, it was customary for the whole Church to utter this word aloud, in order to express their cordial assent to everything that had been spoken; and at times, as Jerome tells us, the sound was like thunder. As far as respects their earnestness, we approve of their custom: but we think that true devotion would be less clamorous: and we far prefer that mode adopted by the Church in the days of Nehemiah, when the earnestness was equally, but more suitably, expressed; being chastened and tempered with ardent affection and reverential awe.

But we have observed that the words of our text may be also interpreted,

II. As a humble plea.

Pleading with God is the very essence and perfection of prayer.

In all the more solemn addresses to the Deity recorded in the Scriptures, pleading bears a very conspicuous part.

We must not however imagine that such a mode of prayer was adopted with a view to prevail upon God to grant what he was otherwise averse to give: we mistake the nature of prayer altogether, if we think that it has any such power, or is to be used for any such end.

Prayer is rather intended to impress our own minds with a sense of our manifold necessities, and of our dependence upon God for a supply of them; and thus to prepare our souls for a grateful reception of the Divine favors: and consequently, the more urgent our prayers are, the more will these ends be answered; and God will be the more glorified by us, when he has imparted to us the desired benefits. It was with such views that Moses, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and all the saints of old, presented their petitions, enforced and strengthened with the most urgent pleas. And it is impossible to feel our need of mercy, without following their example in this particular.

As a plea, this part of the prayer admirably enforces every petition in it.

Great are the things which we have asked in it: and utterly unworthy are we to offer such petitions at the throne of grace: but God is a mighty Sovereign, who "may do what he will with his own," and therefore may hear and answer us, though we be the basest and the vilest of the human race. It is this idea which we express, when we say, "for yours is the kingdom." The word for shows that it has respect to what goes before, and that we urge this consideration as a plea, to enforce the preceding petitions. Next to the sovereign right of God to answer us, we plead his power. Nothing short of omnipotence can effect the things which we desire of God in this prayer: but he is almighty, and all-sufficient: "with him all things are possible," and we acknowledge our conviction, that "there is nothing too hard for him."

Lastly, we plead "the glory" which he will derive from granting all the things which we have prayed for; in the conversion and salvation of the world at large, and in every mercy given to ourselves in particular, whether in the supply of our bodily needs, or in the pardon of our sins and the preservation of our souls. This sovereignty and this power are his immutable perfections; and this glory will redound to him through all eternity, even "forever" and ever.

Such considerations may well animate us in our addresses at the throne of grace, and encourage us in a further confirmation of our petitions by the word "Amen."

We have already mentioned one sense of the word "Amen;" namely, that it is a full assent to all that has been uttered. But it has another meaning also, and imports a desire that the things which have been asked may be granted. In this latter sense it is often doubled, in order to express more strongly the ardor of that desire.

Would we understand its just import? we may see it illustrated in the prayer of Daniel; where, having enforced his petitions by many urgent pleas, he comes at last to renew them all with redoubled ardor; not indeed by the word "Amen," but in a more copious strain, expressive of the idea contained in it.

In the Apostolic age the use of this word was universal in the Church: while one person addressed the Lord in the name of the whole assembly, all who were present added their "Amen," and thereby made every petition and thanksgiving their own.

Nor has the word lost its use and emphasis even in Heaven: for the whole choir, both of saints and angels, are represented as using it in both the senses that we have mentioned; "saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen."

O that, in adding our Amen to the prayer before us, we might resemble them; and so utter it now from our inmost souls, that we maybe counted worthy to utter it in full concert with them to all eternity!

 

 

#1319

A Forgiving Spirit Necessary to Our Acceptance with God.

Matthew 6:14, 15

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

THE different petitions of the Lord's Prayer are collected from different parts of the Old Testament, and concentered so as to form a concise and comprehensive summary of all that we need to pray for. But there is annexed to one of the petitions a limitation, which was altogether new, and which greatly needed some elucidation. Our Lord however did not stop to explain it at the time, but finished the prayer first, and then added, in confirmation of it, the words which we have now read; showing us thereby that the clause had not been lightly introduced, but was of great importance, and indispensable necessity.

It certainly appeared strange, that we should presume to make our own compassion towards others the pattern and the measure of God's compassion towards us: but our Lord would have us to know, that it will be in vain to expect mercy at God's hands, unless we exercise it towards our fellow-creatures: on this condition, and on this only, can we hope for acceptance with him in the day of judgment.

Having already had repeated occasion to consider the subject of forgiveness of injuries, we shall now advert rather to the manner in which that duty is here enjoined; and shall show,

I. In what sense the salvation of the Gospel may be called conditional.

This subject has been a fruitful source of controversy in the Church of Christ: but both sides of the question are true according to the sense which we annex to the word "condition."

Salvation is not conditional in a way of personal merit.

There are those who think that God engages to give us Heaven, if we will perform so many good works; and that, when we have performed those good works, we may claim Heaven as a debt. To affirm that salvation is conditional in any such sense as this, would entirely make void the Gospel of Christ. Salvation would then be of works, and not of grace.

It would be to no purpose to say that these terms were procured for us by Jesus Christ, and that we must therefore refer the honor of our salvation unto him, and accept our reward as the purchase of his blood: for, though the procuring of the terms might be his act, the performing of them must be ours: and when we had performed them, we should have whereof to glory before God. But by the Gospel all glorying is excluded: and therefore salvation cannot be conditional in the way that we are now speaking of.

But salvation is conditional in a way of inseparable connection.

"God has chosen men to salvation;" but it is "through sanctification of the Spirit, and through belief of the truth." Faith and holiness are required of us; but the performance of them gives us a claim upon God only so far as he has freely engaged himself by his own gracious promises. It does not warrant us to expect anything on the ground of merit: we cannot go to God, as laborers that have performed their task, and say, "Pay me what you owe me!" On the contrary, "if we had done all that was commanded us, we would still account ourselves unprofitable servants;" and must accept eternal life as the free gift of God for Christ's sake.

But still we must do these things—and without doing them we cannot possibly be saved. God has appointed the means as well as the end; and the end is to be attained only in and by the means. It is certainly true that "the purpose of God according to election shall stand;" but it is no less true, that it shall be effected only in the way that he has appointed; and that, whatever men may fancy about their predestination to eternal life, "unless they repent they shall all perish;" and "if they believe not, they shall not see life;" and "without holiness no man shall see the Lord." In this sense therefore salvation is conditional: the obligations that are upon us are indispensable; and no person whatever shall be saved who disregards them.

The import of the term condition being fixed, we shall proceed to show,

II. The reasonableness of the condition here imposed.

Here it will be proper to mark the precise nature and limits of the condition imposed.

The forgiving of others is not so to be understood as to supersede the exercise of governmental authority. God has appointed magistrates as his vice-regents in the world, and has put the sword into their hands "for the punishment of evildoers, and the support of those who do well," and if they should forbear "to execute wrath" upon those who violate the laws, they would themselves be guilty of a dereliction of their public duty. Such lenity therefore is not comprehended in the duty which is here inculcated.

Neither does the duty here spoken of altogether prohibit us from the personal exercise of our just rights, either for self-defense, or for the obtaining of legal redress. The Apostle Paul pleaded his right as a Roman citizen in order to protect himself against the injuries with which he was menaced; and appealed to the tribunal of Caesar to obtain that justice which was denied him in the inferior courts. He has indeed expressed his disapprobation of a litigious spirit, and especially such a shameful exercise of it as led Christians to drag one another before the tribunals of heathens. But he does not prohibit Christians from submitting their claims to the arbitration of judicious people among themselves; and consequently he does not require us so to forgive those who injure us, as in no case to seek redress.

If the only alternative be to suffer an injury, or by angry contention to embroil ourselves in difficulties and quarrels—our Lord has determined the point for us, and bidden us to "turn the other cheek to a man who has smitten us," rather than retaliate the injury, or do ourselves a still greater injury by yielding to a vindictive spirit.

But to a certain extent, the support of our just rights is necessary for the preservation of the peace of the community; and consequently we not only are permitted, but bound, in some instances, to maintain our rights, and to punish those who would rob us of them.

But nothing is ever to be done from a vindictive spirit. The smallest disposition to revenge is strictly prohibited. We not only must not avenge ourselves, but must not for a moment be pleased with the news that any evil has happened even to our most inveterate enemy. So far from wishing him evil, we ought to the uttermost to do him good: to love and bless him when he hates and curses us; and to pray fervently to God for him, at the very time he is doing us all the injury in his power. The work of retribution must be left to God, "to whom alone vengeance belongs;" and we must content ourselves with "heaping coals of fire upon his head"—to melt him into love.

Now on our performance of this duty God suspends the salvation of our souls.

The reasonableness of this condition will easily appear. If we exercise this grace of forgiveness from proper motives, and in a becoming manner, it will be a clear evidence that we are renewed in the spirit of our minds. There are, it is true, some people of so easy and gentle a disposition, that they would rather pass by an offence than be at the trouble to resent it. But the forgiving spirit of which we are speaking must proceed from a sense of our own utter unworthiness, and of the exceeding greatness of that debt which has been forgiven us. It must proceed also from a sense of love and gratitude to our Lord and Savior, and from a desire to honor him by treading in his steps and "walking as he walked."

Now where such principles and such conduct are found, there will every other grace be found also: there is in an eminent degree the image of God enstamped upon the soul; and there is "a fitness for the inheritance of the saints in light." It is reasonable therefore that such a person, possessed of such humility, such faith, such love, such patience, such self-denial, and such an obediential frame—should be forgiven by his God. There is a perfect correspondence between his work and his reward.

On the contrary, a person of an unforgiving spirit shows, beyond a doubt, that he is altogether unhumbled for his own sins. If he had a proper consciousness of the guilt which he himself has contracted, he would feel no disposition to cast a stone at others. Nor would he take a fellow-servant by the throat for a few pence, when he was sensible how many talents he himself owed unto his God. Who, that reads the parable by which our Lord has illustrated this subject, does not see the equity of the sentence passed upon the unforgiving servant? So must also that universal sentence be accounted reasonable by every dispassionate man, "He shall have judgment without mercy, who has showed no mercy."

On whichever side then we view the condition, it appears most reasonable. It is most reasonable that the forgiving should be pardoned, and the unforgiving punished: and knowing as we do, the determination of God to act agreeably to this rule, we must prepare to expect our sentence of condemnation or acquittal according to it.

From this one subject we may obtain a deep insight into Christianity: we may behold,

1. Its consistency.

Persons from different motives are apt to represent the declarations of God in his word as at variance with each other; and, according to their respective views, to wrest the meaning of them for the purpose of maintaining their own particular system.

Some, because the grace of God is freely proclaimed to sinners, will not endure the mention of a condition, or admit that there is any kind of conditionality in such passages as that before us.

Others, because of such passages, will not endure to hear of God's electing grace, which they suppose to be inconsistent with them.

Others again, because of the difficulty of reducing everything to their comprehension, are ready to reject Christianity as altogether inconsistent with itself.

But there are no two positions in the whole book of God, which are inconsistent with each other. That there are difficulties, we admit: but so there are also in every other work of God, whether of creation or providence: and if there were none in the work of redemption, we would have reason to think that it was not really of divine original. No man that ever lived could reconcile the existence of sin with the holiness of God: but is there therefore an absolute inconsistency between them? Does not everyone see that the inability to reconcile them arises from the weakness of our intellect and the narrow limits of our knowledge? The same difficulty is complained of by some in reference to the subject before us. But it is obvious from the statement we have made, that enough may be said to satisfy a humble mind, though there may still be difficulties left for the confounding of a proud spirit. This is really the case with respect to every other doctrine in the Bible: there may be, as in some works of human production, wheels moving in a variety of directions, and appearing to an ignorant person to obstruct each other; but there is a unity in the whole design, and a subserviency in every part to the production of one common end.

Let us then be on our guard against that controversial spirit that leads men to wrest or stumble at the word of God. And, if there are difficulties which we cannot reconcile, let us be content to say, "What I know not now, I shall know hereafter."

2. Its equity.

It is astonishing to hear with what presumption many will arraign the justice of God: 'If he has not elected me, then how can I help myself? If he imposes on me conditions which I cannot perform, then with what equity will he condemn me?' The Apostle's answer to such proud objectors is that which most befits their state: "Nay but, O man, who are you that replies against God?" Yet the subject before us may suffice to show, that "God will be justified in his sayings, and be clear when he judges." The day of judgment is called "the revelation of the righteous judgment of God;" and such it will appear to all.

Those who now quarrel with the deep doctrines of predestination and election, will then find, that God has ordered everything in perfect wisdom and equity. None will then presume to arraign his counsels. None will then object that any are saved or condemned contrary to strict justice. Not one ungodly person will be found among those that are saved, nor one godly person among those that perish. Both the forgiving and unforgiving will have judgment "measured to them, according as they have meted unto others;" and every man's happiness or misery will be exactly apportioned to him, according to his works. The godly indeed will feel no difficulty in ascribing their salvation to God and to the Lamb. The ungodly must forever ascribe their condemnation to their own incorrigible folly and wickedness.

3. Its excellency.

The evils which Christianity are intended to remedy are guilt and wickedness: and these it does remedy most effectually. Forgiveness of sins is freely offered to every penitent believer, without any respect to the number or greatness of his offences: "the blood of Jesus Christ shall cleanse him from all sin," if only the sinner believes in Jesus, "he shall be justified from all things," without exception.

But does Christianity make no provision for holiness? Does it leave men a prey to evil dispositions, and a torment to each other? No, it requires a change both of heart and life. It requires the exercise of universal love. It requires a conformity to God himself. It saves not one single person, whom it does not increasingly change into the image of God.

Were Christianity universally prevalent, and if it had its full operation in every heart, there would be no unkindness in men towards each other, nor any trouble in their own minds. O that its influence were more generally known, and more deeply felt! Let those at least who profess to have embraced it in sincerity and truth, show forth its power. Let them show what amiable tempers it produces in the mind, and what a lovely behavior it produces in the life. If at any time they receive an injury, instead of meditating revenge, let them say, 'Now has my God given me an opportunity of recommending religion, and of glorifying his name: now has he called me to display the excellency of his Gospel and the efficacy of his grace.' Such conduct would serve as an evidence to our own minds that we are the Lord's, and would constrain others also to acknowledge that God is truly with us.

 

#1320

Directions Respecting Fasting

Matthew 6:16–18

"Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."

IN temporal concerns, men rarely, if ever, confound the means with the end: they expect not the end, but in the use of the means; nor do they use the means, but in reference to the end: they put both in their proper place, subordinating the one to the other; and using the one in order to the other.

But in religion, nothing is more common than either to separate or confound the means with the end. To separate them, by expecting the end without the means. Or to confound them, by resting in the means, as if they were the end. For instance: God has appointed fasting as the means of advancing our souls in holiness; but while some expect to attain holiness without any such self-denying exertions—others rest in the duty itself, and make that their righteousness. Of the former description are the generality of Christians at this day. Of the latter were the Pharisees of old, against whose errors our Lord is guarding his disciples throughout the whole of this Sermon on the Mount. In the foregoing chapter he has rectified our views in relation to sin; he now rectifies them in relation to duty.

In considering the words before us, we shall notice,

I. What is implied in them.

It is obvious, that, while our Lord gives us directions how to fast, he intimates,

1. That fasting is a duty.

Of this there can be no doubt. Some indeed have thought, that the only fast required of us was to abstain from the commission of sin: but, by the same mode of interpreting other parts of this chapter, they will set aside prayer and almsgiving; both of which are required here, not by a positive precept, but by implication only, precisely as fasting is required in the text.

Under the Jewish economy there was an annual fast, which all were bound to observe with great strictness, namely, that on the great day of atonement. On particular occasions other fasts were instituted: by Joshua, when some of his men had been slain by the men of Ai: by the eleven tribes of Israel, when in two successive conflicts they had been defeated with great slaughter by the tribe of Benjamin.

Besides other public fasts ordered by those in authority, we find the most eminent of God's servants observing fasts in private. David, as well on account of the unhappy state of his enemies, as on account of his own personal afflictions, "wept and chastened his soul with fasting" Daniel, desirous of knowing the time which God had fixed for the deliverance of his people from Babylon, sought the Lord, not in prayer only, but "with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes."

These things, though observed under the law, show that fasting was not a mere legal ordinance, which in due time was to be disannulled; but a mode of worship suited to the necessities of our fallen nature, and acceptable to God at all times. Indeed, the heathens themselves saw the propriety of approaching God in this manner; insomuch that the governors of Nineveh, when threatened with the divine judgments, proclaimed a fast, and caused it to be strictly observed, not by the people only, but even by the animals themselves.

2. That all his followers would be observant of it.

This he takes for granted: for why should he give them directions respecting an ordinance which he did not intend them to observe, and which he knew they would not observe? It is manifest that he expected his people to fast, as well as to give alms and pray; and indeed, on another occasion, he declared they should fast. During his presence with them, it would not have been expedient for him to require it, (because his disciples were not yet prepared for such austerities;) nor would it have been suited to their state and condition, (because it was rather a season proper for holy joy.) But after his removal from them, there would be abundant occasion for such self-denying duties; and his disciples would be strengthened for the performance of them. Accordingly we find that they were "in fastings often," and that they rarely addressed themselves to any extraordinary duty, such as that of ordaining elders, or separating people to the work of the ministry, without having first implored direction from God in fasting and prayer.

Having shown that there is a duty implied in the text, we proceed to consider,

II. What is expressed.

Here are directions given for the due performance of this duty.

1. Fasting should he performed unostentatiously.

Religion, of a certain kind at least, was in high repute among the Jews: and consequently there was a great temptation to assume an appearance of piety among them. Hence the Pharisees observed frequent fast-days, (generally "twice in the week,") and studiously endeavored to attract the attention of others by their squalid appearance. They omitted to cleanse and anoint themselves, as at other times; and "disfigured their faces," probably by dust and ashes which they had strewed on their heads, or, at all events, by downcast and gloomy looks.

Similar temptations do not occur to us. The habits of modern times are not such as to render that kind of sanctity an object of applause: it would rather be thought an indication of insanity: and therefore hypocrisy is rarely seen among us in that garb. Nevertheless, the caution against an ostentatious display of piety is at no time unseasonable. Diversity of customs, however they may produce a change in the modes of showing hypocrisy, make no change at all in the dispositions of the heart: and therefore we must understand this caution as extending to everything whereby our religious exercises may be ostentatiously displayed.

2. Fasting should he performed sincerely.

As on the one hand, we are not to desire to be seen by men; soon the other hand, we should act as in the presence of the all-seeing God. But here we fail. In seasons of great public calamity, our government has always called us to humble ourselves before God: and the words which we have uttered at such times have been well suited to the occasion.

But how little of real repentance has God seen among us! The true way to keep a fast unto the Lord, is by deep humiliation of our souls, and a resolute amendment of our lives. The former is inculcated by the Prophet Joel—the latter by the Prophet Isaiah. But in how few instances have our professions been realized! Well may God complain of us, as of his people of old, "When you fasted, did you fast unto me, even unto me?" Truly, in sincerity of heart we have been as deficient as ever the Pharisees of old were. The only difference between them and us has been that they had the appearance of piety without the reality, and we have been equally destitute of both. We have, with the exception of uttering a few words in a place of worship, rejected even the form of that duty, which we ought to have observed in deed and in truth. But "God is not deceived; nor will he be mocked," if we thus pour contempt on him and his ordinances, he will require it at our hands at the last day. Let us then, on every renewed occasion, endeavor so to approve ourselves to God, that "he who sees in secret may reward us openly."

In the review of this subject, we may learn,

1. Whence it is that religion is at such a low ebb among us.

Many are convinced of their lost estate, and live miserably under a sense of guilt, without ever obtaining either pardon of their sins, or victory over them. The reason is precisely that which is stated by our Lord himself: "they seek to enter in at the strait gate, but are not able because they do not strive." They do not rise to the occasion: if a few vague wishes would be effectual, they would soon become new creatures: but if days of fasting and humiliation be found requisite, they will not submit to such a task: they will rather lose Heaven, than be at so much cost to obtain it. They find by experience, that what our Lord said respecting some evil spirits whom his disciples could not cast out, is true respecting some of their deep-rooted lusts and habits: "This kind cannot come out, but by prayer and fasting," but, as they will not use the means of deliverance, God leaves them still in bondage; and "they are led captive by the devil at his will."

The want of spirituality in many religious people must be traced to the same source: they do not aspire after high degrees of piety; they are satisfied with low attainments, and with scanty measures of peace and joy. What might they not attain, if they would even learn of a heathen centurion to abound in fasting and prayer! How much happier too, as well as holier, would married people be, if they were occasionally to practice those habits which obtained frequently in the primitive Church! Let it be remembered by us, that they who will build high, must dig deep; and, that the more we are abased in humiliation and contrition, the more shall we be exalted in peace and joy.

2. Whence it is that our nation is still under the afflicting hand of God.

To those who would show true patriotism, we would recommend the example of Nehemiah; confident that such intercessors are the real bulwark of the nation. If the humiliation of so wicked a prince as Ahab succeeded so far as to defer the judgments of God to the next generation, we may well hope, that the genuine repentance of many would prevail for the entire removal of them from our land. "As long as we continued to seek the Lord, the Lord would make us to prosper."

 

 

#1321

Laying Up Treasures in Heaven

Matthew 6:19–21

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

MUCH of our Lord's sermon on the mount was intended to explain the true import of the Law, in opposition to the false glosses with which the Scribes and Pharisees had obscured it. But in many parts of it the instruction is general, and unconnected with any particular people or circumstances. The Pharisees indeed were covetous: but the whole human race are more intent on earthly than on heavenly things; and therefore the exhortation in our text may be considered as equally important in every age and place.

In discoursing upon it, we shall consider,

I. The direction given.

This consists of two parts, the one negative, the other positive:

1. The negative part.

This is not to be understood as though there were no situation or circumstances wherein it were allowable to lay up money: for it is certainly the duty of all people to make provision for those whose subsistence depends upon them. Those who refuse to support their aged parents or relatives would be deemed worse than infidels: nor, by parity of reasoning, can they be considered as acting more suitably to their Christian profession who neglect to make a necessary provision for their children. But we may gather from the very terms in which the direction is expressed, what are the limitations with which it is to be understood. The measure, the manner, the end, are all clearly defined.

We are not to lay up "treasures." What is necessary for the carrying on of our trade, or for the supporting of ourselves in old age, or for the enabling of our family to maintain that rank of life wherein they have been educated, may be considered as allowable. But what is laid up for the sake of enriching and aggrandizing our family, may be justly included in the prohibition before us. Of course, no precise sum can be fixed; because what would be wealth to one man, would be poverty to another. But whatever argues discontent, and a desire of elevating ourselves and our families above the rank which Providence has allotted us in life, should be regarded with a jealous eye and a trembling heart.

The "treasuring up treasures," as the original term imports, may fitly represent to us that kind of solicitude which our Lord forbids. Though it is a mode of expression quite common in the Greek, yet it conveys an idea of selfishness and covetousness which are altogether contrary to the Christian character. Christianity does not require a man to cast away, or even to give away his paternal inheritance, or all the fruits of his own labor: but it absolutely forbids him to find delight in treasuring up his wealth, or in looking to it as a source either of safety or happiness. The laying up of treasures "for ourselves" is also particularly forbidden: and in this view there is little difference, whether we have respect to our own personal comfort, or the comfort of our children, who are, in fact, a part of ourselves. The saying, "Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years," argues a selfish and earthly mind; and renders us peculiarly obnoxious to the Divine displeasure.

Thus the prohibitory part of this direction must be taken somewhat in a qualified sense, as it respects the act; though it is altogether unqualified, as it respects the habit of our minds.

2. The positive part.

Here there is not the same necessity for assigning any limits to the expression, or for guarding people against excess in their endeavors to follow the Divine command. Here the measure, the manner, the end of our desires should accord with the full import of the words themselves. What we lay up in Heaven should be considered as our richest "treasure," and we should "treasure it up" with insatiable avidity. We should lay it up also with an especial view to "ourselves." What we now possess, we should dispose of for the good of others; but what we lay up in Heaven, can be enjoyed by ourselves only; and should be regarded by us as the only portion deserving our pursuit.

This then is the direction which we are to follow: and herein we may well take for our guides those people who go abroad for the acquisition of wealth. They go thither for one fixed purpose, which they follow uniformly during their continuance there. They never for a moment forget that they are laboring with a view to their future happiness in their native country. They never allow a year to pass without inquiring how far they have succeeded in expediting or securing the great object before them. They lose no opportunity of remitting home the produce of their labor: and they feel increasing satisfaction in proportion as the time approaches for the termination of their present exertions, and the complete fruition of their long-wished-for enjoyments.

So should it be with us. We should follow our present occupations as subservient to future happiness. We should account every day lost which has not added somewhat to our store, and laid a foundation for eternal bliss. We should make our remittances from time to time, depositing to the utmost of our power in the bank of Heaven; and should consider ourselves as rich, not in proportion to what we spend at present, but rather in proportion to what we can lay up for future enjoyment.

Let us now turn our attention to,

II. The reasons with which it is enforced.

These are taken from different sources:

1. From the comparative value of the different kinds of treasure.

Earthly treasure, of whatever kind it be, is perishable in its nature, and uncertain in its duration. Whereas heavenly treasure is incorruptible, and eternal.

The wealth of the ancients consisted much in the number of their superb garments, which "moths" might easily destroy. Even their precious metals might at last be consumed by "rust" and canker; and at all events they might be taken away by deceit or violence. The uncertainty of earthly possessions was never more manifest than in the present age.

But if we are rich in faith and in good works, if we have laid up treasures of that kind in Heaven, what shall ever lessen their value, or who shall ever rob us of the enjoyment of them? "No moth or rust shall ever corrupt them; no thief shall ever break through to steal them."

Say then, Whether this is not reason sufficient for laying up treasures in Heaven, rather than on earth? Even if we could realize all our expectations with respect to this world—our happiness must be short, because life itself is coming speedily to a close. There is not a human being who does not feel the insufficiency of earthly things to make him happy What then can they contribute to our happiness in that day, when nothing of them shall remain, except the fearful responsibility for having idolized and abused them, and the tremendous judgments of God for having allowed them to alienate our minds from him?

But the very exercise of grace is happiness, independent of the reward which it will receive in glory; and the more we abound in good works now, the happier shall we be to all eternity; for "every one shall receive according to his own labor."

2. From their uniform influence upon the heart.

Whatever our treasure is, it will occupy the supreme place in our affections, and engage in its service the noblest powers of our souls. But is such regard due to any earthly thing? Does not God claim our heart as his throne, on which he is to reign without a rival? Has he not required us to "love him with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength?" If then we make anything else our treasure—we rob him of his honor, and cast him down from his throne. And will he not fearfully resent such conduct? Will he not say, "Bring hither those who were mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, and slay them before me?"

Surely this consideration may well instruct us in the path we are to pursue: it proclaims loudly to us, "Set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth." If, indeed, God would be contented with a divided heart, we might be less scrupulous about the objects of our pursuit: but as "he is a jealous God," and "will not give his glory to another," it befits us to live in this world "as pilgrims and sojourners," and to direct all our efforts towards the attainment of his favor and his inheritance.

This subject affords abundant occasion,

1. For reproof.

Would one not suppose, from the conduct of the world at large, that our Lord's instructions had been the very reverse of what they are? If he had bidden us lay up treasures on earth, and not in Heaven—he would have found us to be a very obedient people. But his command is plain; and it is at the peril of our souls to disobey it. True it is, that a compliance with it is deemed folly; and a habitual violation of it is accounted wisdom: but "God sees not as man sees," his judgment respecting this is the very reverse of theirs: and by God's judgment shall our doom be regulated in the eternal world.

Think not that we mean to decry industry; for diligence in earthly pursuits is recommended and enjoined by God himself. It is the regarding of earthly things as the sources of our happiness that is condemned in the text. If we will make earthly things our treasure, they are the only treasure which we shall ever possess.

2. For encouragement.

If it were necessary to lay up treasures on earth, you might well be discouraged. One might say, I have not abilities for it: another, I have no capital to trade with: another, There are too many competitors in my line of business: another, I have been robbed and impoverished by a treacherous partner, or a dishonest debtor. But no such grounds of discouragement exist in relation to heavenly treasures. The wisest philosopher has no advantage over the most illiterate peasant: there is equal access afforded to every one to the inexhaustible riches of Christ, by the improvement of which alone any one can be made "rich towards God," competitors for heavenly wealth promote, instead of impeding, each other's success: nor shall either deceit or violence ever prevail against those who commit their cause to God. Let all of us then unite in this glorious work: let us be satisfied with no attainments; but "covet earnestly the best gifts," let us be ever "pressing forward, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth to that which is before."

Whatever we have of this world's goods, let us lay them out for the Lord with prudent generosity: let us "lend" them to him, and he will repay us again. But if we are poor in this world, let us honor the Lord by cheerful contentment; assured that every grace we exercise, whether passive or active, shall be richly "recompensed at the resurrection of the just."

 

 

#1322

The Single Eye

Matthew 6:22, 23

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore your eye be single, your whole body shall be full of light. But if your eye be evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!

REASON is certainly the richest endowment of the human mind. When regulated by the word and Spirit of God, it will direct our paths, and enable us to guard against every dangerous error; but it is capable of being so warped by specious reasonings, and selfish considerations, as to become an engine of Satan, and an instrument of our more aggravated ruin. There is nothing, however unreasonable, which a perverse spirit will not do; nor anything, however criminal, which it will not justify. Hence our blessed Lord, in the passage before us, inculcated on his followers the necessity of having "a single eye," and of acting on all occasions with a well-informed and upright intention.

Let us consider,

I. The instruction here given us.

There is "a light within us," which is to the soul what the natural eye is to the body; and, if preserved in healthful exercise, will serve, in most instances, to direct our steps: but if it be vitiated and obscured by the film of vile affections, it will itself become as darkness.

But it may be asked, Can reason or conscience ever be so perverted as to become darkness? I answer, Yes, and this is actually the case,

1. When, though it does shine, we will not follow its direction.

The eye, supposing it to be free from any defects, is capable of directing all the motions of the body. So reason or conscience, if freed from all undue bias, will serve in a great measure to regulate the active powers of the soul. But as a person who should keep his eyes shut in order that he might not behold the light, would be in the same predicament with one who was really blind; so the person who either will not bring his reason and conscience to the light of God's word, or obstinately determines to persist in the paths of error, is, in effect at least, as much in darkness, as if he did not possess any such faculties.

2. When it is obscured by any defect in the organs of vision.

As diseases or defects will destroy the sight of our bodily eyes, so will sinful affections impair the powers of the mind. Prejudice, passion, or interest, will often blind us to such a degree, that we cannot discern the things that are most obvious to others. We all are sensible of this weakness in others; and it would be well if we were more on our guard respecting it in ourselves.

Not to mention the innumerable instances which manifest themselves in our conduct towards each other, how universally are men blinded in their conduct towards God! While Christianity in general, is allowed to be both good and necessary, there is scarcely any regard paid to its particular, and most distinguishing tenets. Its fundamental doctrines, such as original sin, justification by faith, regeneration by the Holy Spirit—are discarded as erroneous; and its most essential precepts of holiness and self-denial are ridiculed as preciseness and enthusiasm. Where the jaundiced eye receives such an impression respecting the most important truths, its light must be considered as no better than darkness.

3. When under a professed regard to it, we do what is in itself evil.

It is no uncommon thing to put "evil for good, and darkness for light," and to engage earnestly in some evil conduct under the idea that we are doing what is right. Our Lord has taught us to expect that men would persecute and even "kill his faithful followers, and imagine all the time that they were doing God service." And Paul, in the midst of all his boasted morality, persecuted the Christians even unto death, and persuaded himself that "he ought to do" so. A similar conduct yet obtains in the world. There are thousands who yet think it their duty to oppose the progress of the Gospel, and to repress by every means in their power its influence over their friends and relatives. The light of such people surely is, not only dark, but darkness itself.

It appears then, that our Lord cautions us not to neglect or violate the dictates of our conscience. And to impress this lesson more deeply on our minds, I will mark,

II. The vast importance of it to every child of man.

The Jews had manifested a most astonishing perverseness in resisting all the evidences of our Lord's mission; and he well knew how fatal it would prove to them, if they should persist in it any longer. Hence he gave them this solemn caution, which may, for similar reasons, be given also unto us,

1. The evil against which we are guarded, is a common evil.

Though there is much ignorance in the world, yet there are few, if any, whose practice does not fall very far short of what they know to be their duty. There certainly are different degrees of light in the minds of unconverted men; but all in some measure "resist the truth," and "imprison it in unrighteousness." When therefore this evil is so general, should we not be on our guard against it? When all of us see how much it prevails in others, should we not suspect its influence over ourselves? Let every one tremble for his own house, when he sees it standing in the midst of a general conflagration.

2. It is an evil to which we are prone.

The heart is justly said to be "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." It is ready and ingenious in coloring over its own devices, and in justifying whatever tends to its own satisfaction.

The world also presents to us ten thousand pleas that serve to confirm our delusions.

And Satan, who beguiled our first parents in Paradise, doubtless lends his aid to lead us astray, and to keep us ignorant of our real state.

Who is there among us that has not experienced this proneness to self-deception? The very Apostles on some occasions "knew not what spirit they were of." And who has not repeatedly found, that the things, which seemed right in his eyes at one time, have, in an hour of sober reflection, appeared to have been extreme folly? Surely then we never can be too watchful against the treachery of our own hearts.

3. It is an evil that greatly aggravates our guilt.

God has given us a conscience capable of "accusing or excusing" us according to the true tenor of our actions. Now if we either warp it by vile affections, or silence it by continued opposition to its dictates—then our sin is aggravated a hundred-fold. This is repeatedly declared both by Christ and his Apostles. And can we suppose that our punishment also will not be proportionably enhanced? Will not "the servant who knew his Lord's will and did it not, be beaten with more stripes than he who transgressed through ignorance?" Will not those, who improved a less degree of light, "rise up in judgment against" those who enjoyed more ample means of instruction, and yet neglected to improve them? No doubt, it were "better never to have known the will of God at all, than, having known it," to live in an allowed opposition to it.

4. It is an evil that involves us in the greatest danger.

If we will not receive the truth in the love of it, we have reason to fear that God will give us up to our own delusions, that we may believe a lie, and receive the condemnation due to our perverseness. He sometimes allows the light itself to have no other effect than to blind our eyes. And what a tremendous judgment would that be! We should only wander further and further from God, until we had "filled up the measure of our iniquities," and be thus "treasuring up for ourselves wrath against the day of wrath." Should we ever be left to this state, "better were it for us that we had never been born."

Having thus explained the reasons of this caution, we shall conclude with a few words of advice.

1. Get your conscience truly enlightened.

It needs the illumination of God's word and Spirit. Without that it will be but a blind guide at best. God however has promised, for the comfort of those who seek him, that "The meek he will guide in judgment, the meek he will teach his way."

2. Regard the dictates of conscience in little things.

Conscience must maintain an uncontrolled, unlimited sway. You must "exercise yourself daily to keep it void of offence towards God and man." If you violate its dictates in small things, you will soon cease to reverence it in greater matters. But listen to its voice on all occasions, and it will never allow you to err greatly. There shall always be a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it."

3. Guard against worldly and carnal lusts.

It is astonishing to what a degree even the most sensible men, as David and Solomon, may be blinded by "foolish and hurtful lusts." The love of money, of pleasure, or of honor, alas! how will they warp the judgment, how will they divert us from the path of duty! Love not the world if you have any wish to possess the love of God. The two attachments are inconsistent and incompatible with each other.

4. Set the Lord Jesus ever before you.

He is the light of the world; and if you will follow him, you shall never walk in darkness. If know what Christ would have done in your situation—then do that resolutely and universally.

 

 

#1323

The Services of God And Mammon Inconsistent

Matthew 6:24

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon."

THE dictates of pure and undefiled religion are so remote from the apprehension of the natural man, and so contrary to his inclinations, that they need to be presented to him with the clearest evidence, and most convincing energy. Hence our blessed Lord continually illustrated his doctrines by images taken from common life, or by truths universally known and acknowledged.

The irreconcilableness of the service of God with the service of Mammon is very little considered: the world in general have no idea of it: but the impossibility of being wholly at the disposal of two earthly masters is obvious enough; because, when their commands interfere with each other, the servant, in obeying one, must disobey the other; and in cleaving to one, must, virtually, renounce the other. This being acknowledged, we are prepared to confess the same in relation to God and Mammon. It is thus that our Lord introduces and confirms the aphorism before us: in discoursing upon which, we shall show,

I. The import of our Lord's assertion.

"Mammon" is a Syriac word, signifying riches; and it is the great idol to which all the world are bowing down. But as wealth is principally sought for on account of its connection with pleasures and honor, we need not confine ourselves to the precise idea of riches; but consider Mammon as signifying the world with all its vanities, of whatever kind they be.

But what are we to understand by "serving" God and Mammon? Here is the difficulty; and this is a point that must be determined with much caution and judgment. When our Lord says, "You cannot serve God and Mammon,"

He does not mean that we cannot render them any services.

This is not the case even with earthly masters: for we may serve two or three masters, provided they be contented with services that are partial, subordinate, or successive. And in such a manner as this, we may serve both God and Mammon.

He does not mean that we cannot render them the services which are their due.

If only we clearly ascertain what services are due to each, we shall find that they are not at all incompatible with each other. Those who are averse to perform their duties to God, are very apt to represent them as inconsistent with the duties of relative and social life. But this is without any just foundation. It would be strange indeed if the duties of the two tables opposed each other: on the contrary, we cannot truly perform the one without performing the other also: in serving God, we shall serve the world; and in serving the world, we shall serve our God.

His meaning is, that we cannot render them the services which they require.

God requires that we should love and serve him with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. He requires that . . .

everything evil shall be renounced for him;

everything indifferent be subordinated to him;

and everything good be done with a direct reference to his will as the rule, and his glory as the end.

The world, on the contrary, prescribes laws and maxims for our conduct which God has never prescribed, yes, which he has expressly forbidden. And it is in this contrariety of the one to the other, that we must look for the fuller explanation of the words before us.

Let us then proceed to state, in reference to this assertion,

II. The grounds and reasons of it.

If it be asked, Why can we not serve both God and Mammon? we answer, Because,

1. Their interests are different.

God has a cause which is exceedingly dear to him; a cause which occupied his mind from all eternity, and for the promotion of which he has given his only-begotten Son to die for us, and his blessed Spirit to instruct us. The interest he pursues, is the reign of Christ on earth, and the establishment of his kingdom throughout the world. He longs to bring down Heaven upon earth, that men may be, as nearly as possible, in a paradisiacal state, and in a constant fitness for glory.

The world knows nothing of such an interest as this: it proposes nothing of the kind: on the contrary, to please and gratify the carnal mind is the one scope of all its plans. In pursuit of this it labors to draw away its votaries from the consideration of heavenly things, and to fix their attention upon the things of time and sense.

What prospect have we then of rendering acceptable service to those whose interests are so widely different?

2. Their commands are contrary.

God commands us to "make our light shine before men." He tells us "not to be conformed to this world," but to "come out from it," and to be "crucified to it through the cross of Christ." He tells us not only to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather to reprove them."

Against all this the world sets its face. It does not approve that we should serve God even in secret; but that we should trouble others with our light, this is insufferable. How peremptory it is in its commands respecting this, may be seen in every age, from the time of Cain to this present moment.

Now how is it possible that we should render obedience to both these masters? The one says, "Arise, shine!" The other says, "Make the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us." It is evident, that, whichever we obey, we must of necessity disobey the other.

3. Their services are inconsistent.

This appears in part from what has been already spoken. But the inconsistency is expressly and frequently stated by God himself. "If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him," "the friendship of the world is enmity with God." "The minding of earthly things marks us enemies of the cross of Christ." "The carnal mind is enmity against God;" and "we must mortify it, if ever we would enter Heaven."

Here the point is determined by God himself, and it is carried further than under the preceding head. For, if we would serve God acceptably, we must not only in some things disobey the commands of the world, but must utterly renounce all kind of allegiance to it. We must even oppose it, and fight against it. To parley with it, is betrayal of God. To make a truce with it, is treason to God.

People standing very differently affected towards the world, we must address,

1. Those who are altogether servants of the world.

Too many, alas! think not of anything but the world: they find no pleasure but in its services. Now, we grant that its service is pleasing to flesh and blood: but to whom has it ever afforded solid and permanent satisfaction? But suppose it could satisfy us here, what can it do for us hereafter? If we have served it, we must look to it for our reward. We cannot expect any recompense from God, except indeed that which our contempt of him has merited, "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish."

2. Those who are endeavoring to unite the services of God and Mammon.

Notwithstanding our Lord has so plainly declared the absurdity of all such attempts, men will not be persuaded to desist from them. They think that they may serve God sufficiently to secure his blessing—and yet serve the world in such a manner as to retain its favor. But, in addition to what our Lord has spoken, such people have also within themselves a demonstration that their wishes are impossible.

What is the state of their minds after mixing with worldly company, and drinking of the cup of worldly pleasures? Can they go to their God with freedom, and find access to him with confidence? Have they any enlargement of heart in their addresses to him? Are not their religious services a mere form—a cold, lifeless ceremony, in which they find no pleasure, and from which they derive no benefit? Is it not manifest that they make no progress in religion, and that, while their services are divided, the world has their hearts? Such people's religion answers no other end than to deceive and ruin them forever: for God is "a jealous God;" and will despise the offerings of a divided heart.

3. Those who are halting between the two.

Many are convinced that they ought to serve God alone; and yet they know not how to turn their backs upon the world. They are afraid of the contempt and ridicule which they shall incur, or of some losses which they shall sustain—and therefore they are undecided in their minds, how to act. But what folly is this! Is not the approbation of God and of our own conscience sufficient to counterbalance all the frowns of the world? and is not Heaven sufficient to compensate for any sufferings which we can be called to endure on earth? Let it only be remembered that eternity is at hand; and that will be sufficient to make all the concerns of time to appear lighter than vanity itself. Our Lord has plainly told us, that we must "hate even our life itself, if we would be his disciples."

Let us then make our choice: "If Mammon be God, let us serve him; but if Jehovah be God, let us serve him." Let us say, with Joshua, "We will serve the Lord."

4. Those who are decidedly in the service of God.

Who among you has ever found reason to regret that he took a decided part? Who has not found it a ground of exceeding thankfulness to God for enabling him so to act? Go on then, having the world under your feet, and God in your hearts. Be bold, yet be meek, in the service of your Lord. Be meek, I say, and patient under any trials you may meet with. You must carefully distinguish between the ways of the world and the people of it. The ways of the world you are to regard with aversion; the people of the world you are to regard with pity. Let it be seen in your temper, as well as in your conduct, "whose you are, and whom you serve." Show that, though you refuse to be servants to the world, you are its greatest benefactors. Look forward to the day when God will acknowledge and reward your services in the presence of the assembled universe.

 

 

#1324

Against Worry

Matthew 6:25–34

"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

IF we affirm that men must serve God only and with their whole hearts, we appear to them to require more than is necessary, and to assign them a task which it is impossible to perform. But, while they are so averse to hear of what God requires, they do not consider how closely privilege and duty are united. For, while we yield up ourselves wholly unto God, he, on the other hand, permits us to look to him for a supply of all our needs. As an earthly master provides for the necessities of his servants, so much more will God, who therefore commands us to leave all our affairs to his disposal, and requires an affiance in him as a very essential part of our duty. Hence our blessed Lord having taught us how inconsistent are the services of God and Mammon, adds, "Do not worry about your life." That is, while you are serving God with fidelity, commit all your concerns to him with full confidence in his kind paternal care.

Let us consider,

I. The caution here given.

The evil against which we are cautioned is anxious worry.

Paul to the Corinthians, says, I would have you without worry." The word which he uses, is the same as that used by our Lord throughout this whole passage. A thoughtfulness about the future is by no means improper: there is a care and a foresight which Christian prudence requires: and they who go forward without due deliberation, invariably involve themselves in difficulties. The Apostles themselves, who under peculiar circumstances were supported without any care of their own, were afterwards commanded to use such means for their support as prudence dictated; and by this rule Paul himself walked.

The ants are proposed to us as examples; and, in truth, we cannot conceive the instinct of animals to be in anything more worthy of imitation, than theirs is in the particular to which Solomon alludes. They, in the harvest, lay up what will be necessary for their sustenance in winter; in like manner should we improve all present opportunities with a view to our future good, both temporal and spiritual. But they know nothing of worry.

Thus precisely should it be with us. We cannot be too industrious in our respective callings, if only we leave outcomes to God, and rest satisfied with his dispensations.

There are few perhaps who will not acknowledge, that all worry about superfluities, or about very distant events, is wrong: but yet they will vindicate it in reference to things which are near at hand, or are of prime and indispensable necessity. But it is respecting these very things that our Lord speaks: he bids us take no thought about "food or clothing;" no, not even "for the morrow," and, because we should be ready to pass over such a caution if it were only once or obscurely given, he repeats it no less than four times in the passage before us, sometimes in a way of plain direction, "Do not worry;" at other times in a way of expostulation, "Why take you worry?" This marks the vast importance of the subject: and it should dispose all our minds to humble submission and cordial acquiescence.

How much need there is for such a caution, every man's observation and experience will tell him.

Even the rich, who on account of their opulence should be thought most out of the reach of this evil, are as much under the power of it as any. No man indeed is exempt from it, unless he has been delivered from it by the grace of God. The worldly man feels it in reference to the things on which his heart is fixed: and even those who are in pursuit of heavenly things, are too often, through the prevalence of unbelief, still subject to its dominion; insomuch that they are harassed continually with disquieting fears, when they ought rather to be "filled with joy and peace in believing." There is therefore no order of men to whom this caution is not proper to be given; since all, from the highest to the lowest, stand in need of it; and it is no less applicable to the people of God than to the ignorant and ungodly world; to those who have "a little faith," as well as those who have no faith at all.

Let us now attend to,

II. The arguments with which it is enforced.

In this beautiful address, (which cannot be too much admired,) our Lord shows in a very convincing manner that worry ought on no account to be indulged.

1. Worry is unnecessary.

Let us only look around us, and see what God is doing in the animal and vegetable creation; how he feeds the birds of the air, which make no provision for themselves; and clothes with unrivaled beauty the flowers of the field, which have so short a continuance, and such an ignominious end. Can we conceive that God will take less care of us, who are so much higher in the scale of being, and whom he condescends to call his children?

Let us see also what he is doing in and to ourselves. He has given us a body, exquisitely wrought, and fitted to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. He has endued it not only with animal life, but with a rational and immortal soul. These also he has preserved even to the present hour; and altogether without any aid from us, or any anxiety on our part. If then he has given and upheld these noble faculties and powers, will he not give such provision as shall be necessary for the preservation of them? Can we suppose that He who has bestowed upon us so much, will withhold or grudge the food or clothing that are necessary for us?

Above all, let us see what he has engaged to do for his believing people. They "seek the kingdom of God" to be established in their hearts. They "seek his righteousness" and salvation. They seek "in the first place," and as their one great object, a saving interest in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the enjoyment of those blessings he has purchased with his blood. While they do this, God has promised that all earthly comforts, as far as they are necessary, "shall be added unto them." Thus, in fact, they have a more secure title to earthly things, and a more certain possession of them, than any other people upon earth. What need is there then for such people to indulge anxious cares about the world? Both around them and within them they have an evidence of what God is doing; and in the Scriptures of truth they have a pledge of what God will do. Surely, then, it becomes them to suppress every anxious thought, and to commit all their concerns to the disposal and government of a faithful God.

2. Worry is unprofitable.

What good can any man obtain by all his worrying? Can he add "one cubit to his stature," or one moment to his age? Can he make one hair black or white; or "do even the least thing," which would not as easily be done without any solicitude at all? On the other hand, does not every man who indulges anxiety greatly injure himself by it? Every day brings evils enough along with it: and every man shall find scope enough for the exercise of all his patience, without multiplying sources of discontent.

What would we think of a man, who, being doomed every day to carry a burden which he was but just able to support, should be constantly augmenting his labors by taking on him tomorrow's burden, in addition to that which he was compelled to bear? Yet such is the conduct of those who harbor anxious thoughts about the morrow. And what is a man profited by such folly? What is the effect which he finds invariably produced upon him? Were he to act more wisely, he might pass comfortably through life; but by his own folly he is oppressed and overwhelmed, and his very existence is embittered to him, so that he is almost ready to "choose strangling rather than life."

The manner in which our Lord argues this point, deserves to be attentively considered. We are ready to think in general that worry is a fruit and evidence of our wisdom; but he again and again appeals to our reason, to convince us of the folly of such a disposition; and defies any human being to give him a satisfactory reason for indulging it. If therefore we will persist in indulging it, let us prepare an answer to that question of his in the text, "Why do you worry about clothing?"

3. Worry is atheistic.

"After all these things," says our Lord, "do the heathen seek." That the heathen should be making anxious inquiries about the things of this life, we do not wonder, because they know of no higher objects to be pursued, nor of any God who is able and willing to undertake for them. But does such conduct befit us? Us, who know that there is a God, and have been taught to call him by the endearing name of Father? Us, who profess to regard this world but as a passage to a better world, and to have our affections set entirely on things above? To what purpose have we been instructed in the knowledge of God, and in the great mystery of redeeming love? To what purpose have the unsearchable riches of Christ been opened to us, and the ineffable glories of Heaven revealed—if, after all, we are to live like heathen—anxious about the body, as if we had no soul; and depending on ourselves, as if there were no God?

As excusable as anxiety may appear:
it proceeds from atheism in the heart;
it overlooks God's providence;
it usurps his power;
it places self upon his throne.

If then we would not perish with the heathen, or rather under a heavier condemnation than they, in proportion to the superior light we have abused—let us guard against this evil disposition, and look to God to supply all our needs according to his own sovereign will and pleasure. Let us "cast all our care on him," assured and satisfied that "he cares for us."

Advice.

Our Lord traces this evil to a lack of faith: hence we see what is its proper antidote; and what advice should be given to all who would avoid it. It is that which our Lord himself repeatedly gave to his Disciples, to compose their minds under trials, and to qualify them for every part of their arduous undertaking: "Have faith in God." Believe in him,

1. As a God of providence.

Men think they honor God when they limit his operations to what they call great things: but, in fact, they dishonor him exceedingly, for they judge of him by themselves; and, because they would be distracted by a multitude of little concerns, they think that He would be also; or, at least, that they are unworthy of his attention. But there is nothing, however minute, which he does not order and overrule with as much care as he does the rise and fall of empires. "The very hairs of our head are all numbered!"

Let this then be a fixed principle in the mind, that "there is neither good nor evil in the city, but the Lord himself is the doer of it." As for men and devils, they are all, however unconscious of it, mere agents of his, "a sword in his hand," with which he effects his own gracious purposes. Be it so then, that we are destitute both of food and clothing for the morrow, and that we know not where to obtain a supply of either, we need not be anxious: for "godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come;" and if we call upon him, his word shall be verified, which says, "Those who seek the Lord, shall lack no good thing." Yes, the very straits and difficulties which we now feel, are "working together for our good," and shall hereafter form a ground of praise and thanksgiving to our God.

2. As a God of grace.

It is this view of God that will in a moment silence every doubt and fear. Who can reflect on what he has done, in giving his only dear Son to die for us, and his Holy Spirit to renew and sanctify us—and doubt whether he will overlook our necessities, either of soul or body? Hear Paul's opinion of that matter: "He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" The Apostle seems surprised that such a doubt should enter into the mind of man.

Be ashamed then, you who are filled with such anxiety about the issue of your warfare, and are saying, like David, "I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul." Be ashamed, I say, and learn rather, like Paul, to say, "I know in whom I have believed."

You may be reduced to straits in spiritual as well as temporal concerns; but they shall only issue in the fuller manifestation of God's faithfulness and truth. His promise to you is, that "your place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks; that bread shall be given to you, and your water shall be sure," and "He who has promised is faithful." Trust then in him, and "he will keep you in perfect peace;" trust in him, and he will "give you all things that pertain unto life and godliness;" nor shall you ever be "ashamed or confounded world without end."

 

 

#1325

Against Uncharitable Judging

Matthew 7:1, 2

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you."

AMONG the many faults with which the Pharisees of old were chargeable, that of censoriousness appears to have been peculiarly prominent. In the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, the Pharisee is represented as condemning his fellow-worshiper, and building his own reputation on the ruin of the Publican. To correct that evil disposition, our Lord proceeds to show the danger of indulging it. We must not however limit his observations as though they were applicable to Pharisees only; for they are of general utility; and the subject they refer to is as necessary for our consideration as for theirs.

Some indeed imagine, that a sermon upon such a subject as this is scarcely to be called evangelical: but it should be remembered that in the Gospel there are two things, a foundation, and a superstructure; that both of them are necessary to a complete building; and that if the distinction between their respective uses be kept in view, they equally tend to the edification of our souls.

In discoursing on the words before us, we must notice,

I. The prohibition.

The prohibition, though given in general terms, must of necessity be limited: and it is of great importance to have its limits clearly defined. We shall therefore,

1. Point out what is not included in it.

It does not forbid the exercise of magisterial judgment. Magistracy is of God's appointment. It was ordained by him for the restraining of iniquity; and those who are invested with it are "not to bear the sword in vain." They must hear, must judge, must determine, must enforce and execute the laws: and they who fulfill their magisterial duties with zeal and uprightness, are to be regarded among the brightest ornaments and the richest blessings of a land.

It does not forbid the forming of a discreet judgment, whether of things or people, for the regulation of our own conduct. We are rational beings, and must walk agreeably to the dictates of reason and religion. Are any things proposed to us for adoption? We must examine whether they be worthy of our choice. We must "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good." Do any people offer their advice, and profess to have their views rectified by the word and Spirit of God? We must not immediately take for granted that they are right, or yield ourselves implicitly to their direction: "Believe not every spirit," says John; "but test the spirits, whether they be of God."

It does not forbid our declaring of the judgments of God against sin and sinners. When we state, that "the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men," we are considered by many as violating the rules of charity. But charity does not require us to confound good and evil, or to contradict the plainest assertions of Holy Writ: it would be no charity, but rather the greatest cruelty, to act thus: and it is at the peril of our souls to do so. We must "rebuke a brother." We not only must "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but must rather reprove them." It was no violation of this law when Paul reproved Peter for his dissimulation: nor will it be any infringement of our duty to declare, that "the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God," or to suspend from fellowship with ourselves, and from the communion of the Church, an offending brother.

Doubtless, if these things be done in an uncharitable spirit, they are wrong. But if done with kindness, and from a sense of duty to God, they will be approved and applauded by him.

2. Mark distinctly what is forbidden.

The judgment which we pass on others is then faulty, when it is needless, unfounded, hasty, or severe.

judgment. We are not appointed judges over all mankind. Nor have we a right to summon all our fellow-creatures to our bar. If their actions do not concern us, we should let them pass without presuming to pry into the merits of them. We are not to be "busy-bodies in other men's matters." God repeatedly puts the question to us, "Who are you that judge another?" The same question we should put also to ourselves: "What right have I to judge him? what call? what occasion?" And if no necessity is imposed upon us, we should leave the exercise of judgment to those to whom it properly belongs.

Needless judgment. Frequently do men form a judgment without any just or adequate grounds. There is a strong propensity in the human mind to indulge prejudice, and to harbor unkind thoughts both against individuals and bodies of men without any specific reason. When this is done, we readily listen to any report against the object of our aversion, and put a bad construction upon everything he says or does.

It was thus that our Lord was treated by the Scribes and Pharisees: though he "spoke as never man spoke," and was altogether "without sin," yet they always found fault with him, and loaded him with all manner of accusations.

The same kind of prejudice still operates in the minds of many, especially against pious people; so that if a person is only branded with some opprobrious name, it shall be sufficient to degrade him in their eyes, and to give validity to every calumny that malice can invent.

Unfounded judgment. Indeed where religion is out of the question, such "evil surmisings" frequently arise; and a mere look, or motion, or word, that was perfectly innocent, shall be construed into a grievous offence, and be made an occasion of vehement indignation. That such judgment as this is wrong, needs no proof: it is too palpable a violation of the golden rule to admit of the smallest defense.

Happy would it be if religious people themselves were not too often blameable on this account. They are but too prone to lay a stress on matters of indifference, and to condemn those who differ from them, as severely as if their practice were ever so criminal. But, however this conduct is cloaked with a plea of religion, it is most hateful in itself, and most injurious to the Church, and most offensive to God.

judgment.

Hasty judgment. But further, if our judgment have some foundation, yet is it faulty, if it be rash. We should give to every person an opportunity of assigning the reasons of his own conduct. It is the motive which chiefly stamps the quality of an action; and, until we have ascertained the principle from which anything proceeded, we never can form a proper estimate respecting it. What injustice was there in the construction which Michal put on the conduct of David when he danced before the ark! Had she waited until she was informed respecting the reason of his gestures, which appeared to her in such an unfavorable light, she would have seen cause rather to adore God for him, than to load him with such bitter reproaches.

On the other hand, the benefit resulting from inquiry may be seen in the termination of the cause between the Reubenites and the other tribes, on the subject of raising an altar on the other side of Jordan. Had not inquiry been made into the reasons of that act, thousands of lives would have been lost in causeless warfare: whereas, on an explanation of the matter, the act was approved, and every heart was filled with joy. A similar effect was produced by Peter's explanation of his reasons for going to eat with uncircumcised Gentiles. The law of Moses, and even the Roman law, required that no man should be condemned unheard: and certainly the same equitable rule is proper to be observed by us also.

Severe judgment. It is possible, however, that where we have cause for censure, our judgment may be too severe. The act which we condemn may have been wrong, and the principle may have been wrong also; but yet there may have been many circumstances to palliate the fault; and, if we do not take them into consideration, we shall load the offender with an unmerited degree of blame.

In like manner, if because of a single act we impute to him a habit of any sin; or if because one or two people have done anything amiss, we impute blame to all the body or party to which they belong; this is a most unjustifiable severity, though, alas! it is but too common.

It was in this manner that David's enemies acted, when they made his sin an occasion of condemning religion altogether, and of "blaspheming the very name of that God" whom he professed to serve. The Apostle tells us, that such would be the effect of misconduct in religious people, whether servants or others, that "the way of truth would be evil spoken of," and that "the name of God and his doctrine would be blasphemed." But the people who indulge such unhallowed tempers will ultimately be the victims of their own severity.

Such are the limits of the prohibition before us. Let us now proceed to notice,

II. The considerations with which it is enforced.

There is frequently, though not always, a visible correspondence between the work and the reward of men, even in this life. "With the merciful you will show yourself merciful," says the Psalmist; "and with an upright man you will show yourself upright; with the pure you will show yourself pure; and with the froward you will show yourself froward." In the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount we have many expressions to the same effect. Now this consideration should operate to guard us against indulging uncharitable censures: for if we do, we may expect,

1. A similar recompense from man.

People are invariably grieved when they are loaded with unmerited blame: and though they may not have it in their power to punish the injurious person in any other way, they will almost universally repay him, measure for measure, according to his desert. This is a species of revenge which every man has within his own reach, and can indulge without much danger of reprisal.

Accordingly we find that a censorious and uncharitable man, though listened to on account of the fondness which all men have for scandal, is yet disliked and dreaded by the neighborhood in which he dwells; because the very people who listen to his censures, expect that they themselves in their turn shall be the objects of his invective.

A man that is kind and amiable, and ready to make allowance for the frailties of others, will usually find reciprocal kindness at the hands of others: but the harsh, uncharitable, censorious person has little to expect but merited hatred and general condemnation. If, like Adoni-bezek, we exercise wanton cruelty towards men, we cannot hope for much mercy when we fall into their power. We do not indeed justify this kind of recrimination, because it is the duty of all to render good for evil, blessing for cursing: but, where divine grace has not subdued the vindictive principle, men will "do unto us, according as we do unto them."

2. A suitable recompense from God.

God considers the sin of censoriousness in a far different light from that in which it is generally viewed. He regards it as an invasion of his right, and an usurpation of his prerogative. The indignation with which he addresses those who presume to judge their brethren, is perhaps as marked as any that is expressed on any occasion whatever: "He who speaks evil of his brother, and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law, and judges the law: but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who are you that judge another?"

So again by another Apostle, "For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Who are you that judge another man's servant? to his own master he stands or falls. Let us not therefore judge one another any more." "It is a righteous thing with God to recompense" good or evil unto men according to their conduct towards others: and these are solemn warnings: and, if we will not attend to them, we shall disobey them at our peril: for the express determination of God is this, "He shall have judgment without mercy, upon him who has showed no mercy."

Advice.

1. Search out diligently your own faults.

Those who are most inattentive to their own faults, are most observant of the faults of others, and most harsh in passing censures upon them. If we did but see the numberless evils that we have committed, and the base motives by which our more specious actions have been defiled, we would blush and be confounded before God; and, like those who accused the adulterous woman before our Lord, we would find other employment than that of casting stones at others.

2. Consider what mercy you have received at the Savior's hands.

How justly might he have left you, as he did the fallen angels, to receive the due reward of your sins! Yet, instead of that, he pitied your state; he came down from Heaven in order to apply a remedy; he even shed his own precious blood to wash away your guilt, and to cover it from the sight of an offended God. Go now, with this mercy before your eyes, and gratify your spleen in censuring and condemning your fellow-creatures. No; you cannot do it, if your minds are suitably impressed with the mercy you have received. Go then, and imitate your Lord; and exercise that "love that shall cover a multitude of sins."

3. Cultivate a spirit of love towards all mankind.

See how you are accustomed to act towards those of your own family, or of your own party: how ready are you to veil or to extenuate their faults! Think also how tender you are towards your own faults; and how ingenious in finding excuses for anything which you have done amiss. Deal thus then with all mankind: regard them all as your friends, and love them as yourself. Only think what, in a change of circumstances, you would think it right for them to judge you, and let that be the rule of your conduct towards them.

Would you have them manifest towards you the "love that believes all things and hopes all things?" Then exercise it towards them. Where their conduct will admit of a favorable construction, fail not to view it on the charitable side. Where necessity compels you to condemn, still cast a veil of love over their transgressions, and hide them, as far as the rights of justice, and the good of the community will permit. If judged yourselves, "let it be a small matter to you to be judged by man's judgment," and be content to leave both yourselves and others to the judgment of a righteous God.

 

 

#1326

The Beam and the Mote

Matthew 7:3–5

"And why do you look at the mote in your brother's eye, but do not consider the beam in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the mote from your eye'; when all the time there is a beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the mote from your brother's eye."

OBSERVATION and experience show, that the less any person is acquainted with his own sins and infirmities—the more he will be disposed to censure the sins and infirmities of others. But as such a disposition is totally repugnant to that love which Christianity inculcates, our Lord cautioned his hearers against it, and taught them, in the parable before us—to scrutinize and reform themselves before they presumed to take upon themselves the office of censuring and reclaiming others.

In this parable we may observe,

I. The evil of censoriousness.

Censoriousness is a compound of pride and malice. It originates in a high conceit of our own worth, and a desire to reduce others to a level with ourselves, or to a state below us. It is an evil:

1. Censoriousness is base in itself.

The man who censures others professes a high regard for virtue, and a zeal for the honor of God. But what regard has he for virtue, who does not cultivate it in his own soul? or what zeal has he for the honor of God, who does not bring his own heart into an obedience to his will? Even supposing that he were not himself notoriously faulty in other respects (which supposition however will never be found true) how flagrant is his breach of duty at the very instant he pretends such a regard for duty! He violates the most acknowledged principle of common equity. He acts not towards others as, in a change of circumstances, he would think it right for them to act towards him. Therefore at the very instant he condemns others, he unwittingly condemns himself.

Who does not see the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who were indignant with our Lord for working miracles on the Sabbath, while they themselves were conspiring murder against him? Such, in their degree, are all they, who are offended with a mote in their brother's eye, while they have a beam in their own. Well therefore does our Lord address them by that humiliating appellation, "You hypocrite!" A baser character than this can scarcely exist.

2. Censoriousness is injurious to our neighbor.

Every person values his reputation, and esteems the loss of it as a great misfortune. But in judging any man with severity, or exposing needlessly his faults, we rob him of his good name, and impoverish him without enriching ourselves. How injurious such conduct is we may see, if we will only consider what we feel when we are rigorously or unjustly censured. The sensibility we manifest, and the keen resentment we express, are sufficient indications of the injury which we suppose ourselves at least to have sustained.

3. Censoriousness is insulting to our God.

God claims it as his prerogative to judge. As he alone is privy to all the circumstances of any case—he alone can judge of it aright. Besides, he has appointed a day wherein he will display his righteousness, in awarding to every one a judgment suited to his real character: and he requires us to defer our judgment until that time. But in taking upon ourselves to censure and condemn others:
we invade his prerogative,
we usurp his power,
we set ourselves in his throne,
we supersede, or anticipate at least, his judgment.

In this light censoriousness is often stated by God himself; and a holy indignation is invariably expressed against those who shall presume to indulge it.

Our Lord having exposed the unreasonableness and impiety of this sin, gives,

II. The advice proper for those who are addicted to it.

The evil here reprobated is but too common, and that too, even among the professors of religion. Yes, perhaps, (their profession not being sufficiently tempered with humility and love) they are more exposed to it than others, from a mistaken idea that their professed regard for religion entitles them, as it were, to the office of censors. But to every one who has been guilty of it we should say,

1. Consider your own great and manifold infirmities.

There is no greater antidote to censoriousness than this. While we continue ignorant of ourselves, we shall consider our own faults as few and venial, and shall be disposed to magnify whatever we may see amiss in others. But a knowledge of our own hearts will convince us that if there is "a mote in our brother's eye, then there is a beam in our own." We may conceive many extenuating circumstances that may lessen the enormity of his conduct. But we shall know many aggravating circumstances to which God and ourselves alone are privy, which may serve to heighten our guilt, and to humble us as the very chief of sinners. When the woman taken in adultery was brought to our Lord, he bade those of her accusers who were without sin to execute the law upon her. We all know the effect which a conviction of their own personal guilt produced upon them. Thus shall we also drop the stone which we have taken up to cast at our neighbor, when once we are acquainted with our own vileness.

2. Recollect the relation in which he whom you would condemn, stands to you.

As every person wishes to conceal his own faults, so he will be ready to extenuate the faults of those who are near and dear to him. We do not usually hear men descanting on the infirmities of their parents or children, their wife or brethren.

Now the person whom the calumniator would traduce, is his brother. No less than thrice in the short space of the text is this endearing appellation given to our neighbor. Is he not entitled then, from this consideration, to some portion of that regard which we pay to our more immediate relatives? Should we officiously pry into his defects? Should we presume to incriminate his motives? Should we judge of his general character by a single act; or take an instance or two of indiscretion, and consider them as fixed and accustomed habits? Surely our "brother" should receive far different treatment at our hands. We should cast a veil over his infirmities, and exercise towards him that charity which hopes all things and believes all things.

3. Purge your own heart from evil, that you may be the better qualified to reprove or advise others as occasion shall require.

As people who dispense the laws must of necessity pass judgment on those who are brought before them, so must all the members of Christ's Church administer fraternal correction or reproof to each other.

It is not all judgment that the text forbids, but all harsh and severe judgment. It prohibits an over-officious prying into the faults of others, and a needless exposing of them to the world; but it leaves us at liberty to give that reproof which is necessary for the reclaiming of an offending brother.

But to admonish others with effect, we must attain some measure at least of purity ourselves. Let everyone then begin with rectifying his own conduct. Let everyone be solicitous to cast the beam out of his own eye, that he may afterwards assist with more propriety and effect in pulling out the mote from his brother's eye. We must not indeed wait until we are perfect before we attempt to benefit our brother; but we should study to attain an unbiased judgment, and should hide the lancet in a sponge if we would open a festering sore; and in every case we should regulate our endeavors with charity and discretion.

 

 

#1327

Caution to be Used in Reproving

Matthew 7:6

"Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces!"

IN the holy Scriptures there are not only such directions as are necessary for the saving of the soul, but such also as are of a prudential nature, calculated for the rectifying of our judgment, and the regulating of our conduct, in less important matters. A pious person would obtain salvation, though he should not be discreet in his mode of communicating instruction or reproof to others. But it is desirable that "the man of God should be complete, thoroughly furnished unto all good works," and therefore he should attend as well to those admonitions which are of secondary importance, as to those which relate to the fundamental points of faith or practice.

The words before us are connected with the prohibition respecting the judging of others. To judge others uncharitably will expose us to similar treatment from them, as well as to the displeasure of Almighty God.

Before we presume to judge others at all, we ought to be diligent in searching out and amending our own faults; without which we are but ill qualified to reprove the faults of others. We ought also to consider the state of the person whom we undertake to reprove: for if he is hardened in his wickedness, and disposed to resent our well-meant endeavors, it will be more prudent to let him alone, and to wait for some season when we may speak to him with a better prospect of success. Such is the import of the caution in our text; from whence we may observe,

I. That religious instruction is often most unworthily received.

The value of religious instruction is but little known.

Education in general is esteemed one of the greatest blessings we can enjoy; nor is any sacrifice, whether of time or money, deemed too great for the obtaining of the benefits arising from it. A richly-furnished mind, a cultivated taste, a polished manner—are distinctions which the richer part of the community particularly manifest: and they are most envied, who possess in the highest measure such accomplishments.

But knowledge of spiritual realities is considered as of little worth: though it would enrich the soul beyond all conception, and adorn it with all the most amiable graces, and is therefore most fully characterized by the name of "pearls," yet has it no beauty, no excellency, in the eyes of carnal men. The generality are as insensible of its value as swine are of the value of pearls, which they would "trample under their feet" as mire and dirt. Of this however we may be assured, that instruction, even though it be in a way of reproof, lays us under the deepest obligation to him who gives it.

Many, instead of being pleased, are only irritated and offended at it.

Nothing under Heaven has ever given more offence than this. Men may utter lewdness and blasphemy, and create but little disgust: but let them bear their testimony against sin, or proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ—and instantly an indignation is excited in every bosom. In the house of God indeed a certain license is allowed, provided the preacher be not too faithful: but in a private company the mention of such things is considered as a death-blow to social comfort, and is reprobated as an insufferable nuisance.

Even in the public ministry those who "labor with fidelity in the word and doctrine" are frequently treated with every species of indignity. No name is too odious for them to bear, no opposition is too violent to be raised against them.

It is supposed indeed by some, that the offence excited by ministers arises from the erroneousness of their statements, or the injudiciousness of their manner. But what then shall we say to the treatment which Christ and his Apostles met with? Did our blessed Lord lack any personal graces that could recommend his doctrine? Did he not exhibit "the meekness of wisdom," and "speak as never man spoke?" And was not Paul guided and instructed by God himself in his ministrations? Yet both he and his Divine Master were represented as babblers and deceivers; and one cry was raised against them both, "Away with them! It is not fit that they should live!"

Nor is it more against the doctrines of Christianity that this prejudice exists, than it does against its practice. The doctrine of "Christ crucified is still to some a stumbling-block, and to others foolishness," and the same anger that rankled in the bosoms of Herod and Herodias against John, who condemned their incestuous connection, is called forth at this time against any one who shall condemn the customs of the world. Our Lord's words may still be used by all his faithful followers, "The world hates me, because I testify of it that the works thereof are evil."

Doubtless the inveteracy of wicked men will show itself in different ways and different degrees, according to the different circumstances under which it is called forth: but no times or circumstances have ever superseded the necessity of attending to the caution in the text. There always have been multitudes who would take offence at the kindest efforts for their welfare, and, like ferocious "dogs, would turn again and tear you in pieces!" Reprove iniquity, and you will still be deemed "the troublers of Israel;" and those who are reproved will say of you, "I hate Micaiah, for he never speaks good of me, but evil."

From this aversion which men feel to religious instruction, it appears,

II. That great caution is to be used in administering it.

The direction in our text was given to the whole multitude of those who heard our Lord's discourse; and therefore may be considered as applicable,

1. To ministers.

Though it is not to be confined to them, it does not exclude them. Doubtless where numbers of people are assembled to hear the word of God, it is not possible to suit oneself to the disposition and taste of every individual. The rule which God himself has laid down must in such cases be followed: "He who has my word, let him speak my word faithfully." A minister must "warn men, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear." He must "commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God," "keeping back nothing that is profitable unto them," but "declaring unto them the whole counsel of God."

Still, however, the caution in the text is necessary for him. He should consider the state of his hearers, and should adapt his discourses to their necessities. Our blessed Lord, knowing how full of prejudice the Jews were, "spoke the word to them in parables, as they were able to hear it." In like manner, though we must not seek the applause of man, (for "if we please men, we cannot he the servants of Jesus Christ;") yet we should endeavor to "please all men for their good to edification," we should argue with them on principles which they acknowledge; we should be content to give "milk to babes," and to reserve the "strong meat" for such as are able to digest it. We should pay attention to everything that may lessen prejudice and conciliate regard. Though we must not affect "the wisdom of words, which would only make void the cross of Christ," we should "search out acceptable words," and be especially careful to "speak the truth in love." Our great object should be not to "deliver our own souls," (though doubtless we must be careful to do that,) but principally to "win the souls" of others.

2. To Christians in general.

As "men do not light a candle, to put it under a bed or under a basket, but to give light to those who are in the house," so God, when he illuminates any soul, expects that the light he has imparted should be diffused for the good of others. But in endeavoring to instruct others, we should consider the tone, the manner, the measure of instruction, that will be most likely to ensure success.

In particular, we should not press matters when our exhortations are contemned as foolish, or resented as injurious. Not that our concern should be about ourselves, as though we feared either the contempt of men, or their resentment; but we should be afraid of hardening them, and thereby increasing their guilt and condemnation. As to ourselves, we should gladly "suffer all things for the elect's sake," but for them we should "weep, as it were, in secret places," and "gladly spend and be spent for them, though the more abundantly we love them the less we be loved." If, indeed, after all our labor, we find that our efforts are only rejected by them with disdain, we may then with propriety leave them to themselves, and, like the Apostles, bestow our attention on more hopeful subjects. As the priests imparted of the holy food to every member of their families, but gave none of it to dogs—so may you give your holy things to others, and withhold it from those who have shown themselves so unworthy of it.

We will now apply the subject,

1. To those who are strangers to the truth.

From the indifference which is usually shown to divine things, it is evident that the value of religious knowledge is but little known. If we could inform people how to restore their health, or how to recover an estate, or how to obtain any great temporal benefit—they would hear us gladly, and follow our advice with thankfulness. But when we speak of spiritual benefits, they have no ears to hear, no hearts to understand: they are ready to say to us, as the demoniac to Christ, "Have you come to torment us before our time?" But let it not be so with you. Think in what light God represents such conduct. Think what regret you will hereafter feel. Think what augmented punishment you will endure. And may God "open your hearts, that you may attend to the things" that belong unto your peace, before they are forever hidden from your eyes!

2. To those who know it.

While we exhort you to be cautious in admonishing others, we would caution you also against being soon discouraged. Think not every one assimilated to dogs or swine, because he resists the truth for a season; but give "line upon line, and precept upon precept," and "instruct in meekness those who oppose themselves, if God perhaps will give them repentance, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, by whom they have been led captive at his will."

And while you take upon yourself to admonish others, be willing to receive admonition also yourselves. It is not every religious professor that is so open to conviction as he ought to be, and that will receive reproof like David, esteeming it as "an excellent oil, that shall not break his head." Watch over your own spirit, therefore, and exemplify in yourselves the conduct you require in others.

 

 

#1328

The Importance and Efficacy of Prayer

Matthew 7:7, 8

"Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asks receives; and he who seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.

WE need not look for a connection in every part of our Lord's Sermon on the Mount; because the account of it which we have in this Gospel is nothing more than a summary, in which only the principal heads, together with some important sayings, are recorded. But, if we suppose the words of our text to arise from what has just preceded them, the connection may easily be found.

The commands to abstain from all uncharitable judgment, and to be intent rather on searching out and removing our own imperfections, and even when the faults of our neighbor are most glaring, to exercise much prudence and caution in reproving him; these commands, I say, are difficult to be obeyed: and therefore our Lord encourages us by the consideration, that we may obtain by prayer whatever wisdom or strength we may stand in need of.

The import of the text, however, will be the same, whether we take it as detached from the preceding context, or as connected with it; and it will naturally lead us to set before you the nature, the importance, and the efficacy of prayer.

I. The nature of prayer.

Prayer is not indeed defined in the words before us; but we may collect from the different terms by which it is designated, what are its inseparable attendants and its characteristic marks;

1. Earnest desires.

The words, "ask," "seek," "knock," must certainly imply a solicitude to obtain some specific object. Now this is the very life and essence of prayer. It is not the posture of the body, or a repeating of any words, either with or without a form, that can be called prayer; but a prostration of the soul before God, accompanied with an ardent desire of acceptance with him. We may confess our vileness in the most humiliating terms, or petition for mercy with the most suitable pleas, or render thanks to God in copious and devout acknowledgments; and yet, if our hearts have not felt what our lips have uttered—we have offered no acceptable service to God; "we have worshiped him in vain, because we have drawn near to him with our lips when our hearts were far from him." Desires in the soul will be accounted as prayer, though not expressed in words; but words without earnest desires are no better than a solemn mockery.

2. Persevering endeavors.

A mere exclamation under an impression of terror cannot be considered as prayer. Prayer imports such a desire after divine blessings as engages us in the pursuit of them from day to day; and this also is intimated in the very terms of our text. "Asking" only is not prayer, unless we "seek" also for the things in God's appointed way. Nor is "seeking" sufficient, if we do not, like people anxious to obtain an answer, continue "knocking" at the door of mercy.

We do not indeed deny but that a prayer may be offered by one in trouble, and then speedily turns away from God; but it is not accepted; and it is of acceptable prayer that we speak; for nothing else deserves the name of prayer. Whatever therefore a person may do on some particular occasion, he prays not to any good purpose, unless he "sets his face" determinately to seek after God, and to obtain from him those daily supplies of mercy and grace which his soul needs.

Hence the command of God is, "Pray without ceasing;" "Continue instant in prayer;" "Pray with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, watching thereunto with all perseverance."

3. Humble expectation.

Here again the terms of our text afford us a correct idea of the duty of prayer. It is evident that when a person "asks," it is with some hope of receiving; and when he "seeks," he has some prospect of finding; and if he "knocks" at a door, it is with some expectation that it shall be opened to him. Now this, beyond everything else, marks the true character of prayer. "In the morning will I direct my prayer unto you," says the Psalmist, "and will look up;" that is, I will look up in expectation of receiving an answer to my prayers.

It is to the prayer of faith that the promise of an answer is given: "Whatever you shall ask, believing, you shall receive." Prayer destitute of this qualification is declared to be of no avail whatever: the man that offers it "must not think of receiving anything from the Lord." Hence the true and acceptable suppliant is distinguished as "looking unto God as a servant does to the hand of his master," and as "waiting upon God for his salvation."

The nature of prayer being explained from the text, we proceed to notice,

II. The importance of prayer.

We cannot but observe throughout the whole text the inseparable connection between the means and the end. It is thought by many that it is unnecessary to pray; because God, being omniscient, stands in no need of information from us; and being of his own nature inclined to mercy, he needs not our importunity to prevail upon him.

But these objections betray an utter ignorance of the intent of prayer. Prayer is not intended to give information to God, but to impress our own minds with a sense of our dependence upon him, and to give him glory as the only fountain of all our blessings.

Moreover, prayer, though often represented as prevailing with God, is not designed to dispose him to do anything to which he was before averse; but only to bring our souls to such a state as may prepare us for a worthy reception of those blessings which God has previously determined to bestow. Though, therefore, prayer does not answer, nor is intended to answer, the ends which ignorant people are ready to suppose—it does answer the most valuable ends; which are intimately connected with the salvation of our souls.

But we will suppose that there were no connection whatever between the means and the end; still, if God has united them, it does not befit us to put them asunder; nor can we ever expect the Divine blessing, if we attempt to separate them.

Moses was commanded to take his stick, or rod, and with that to work miracles in Egypt. What would he have wrought, if, in contempt of such means, he had left his rod behind him?

The Israelites were commanded to march around Jericho on seven successive days, and then to blow with rams' horns. Suppose they had disregarded these means on account of their inadequacy to produce any important result; would the walls of Jericho have fallen down?

Or if Naaman had persisted in preferring the waters of Abana and Pharpar to those of Jordan, would he have been healed of his leprosy?

Thus then, whether prayer has any proper effect or not, we must use it as God's ordinance; and if we will not use it, we shall infallibly lose those blessings, which, in the use of the appointed means, we might otherwise attain.

True, it is said of the Gentiles, that "God was found by those who sought him not;" but this refers only to their heathen state: for none ever ultimately found him, who did not walk with him in the daily exercise of faith and prayer: nor can there be found in all the sacred volume one single word that justifies a hope of obtaining anything at God's hands, in the neglect of this sacred duty.

On the contrary, when prayer is offered aright, the whole inspired volume attests,

III. The efficacy of prayer.

Nothing can be more express than the declarations of our text on this subject. The repetition of them is intended to assure us that no man shall ever "seek God's face in vain." It is of importance to observe, that in the promises before us there is no limitation whatever, either as to the person asking or the blessing desired. A person may have been as wicked as Manasseh himself, yet shall he not be cast out, provided he comes to God with sincere penitence in the name of Jesus Christ.

It must be remembered, that, since the coming of Christ, it is indispensably necessary that we should offer all our petitions in his name. This, in fact, was done even under the Jewish dispensation: for every penitent was obliged to put his hand upon the head of his sacrifice; and, when the Jews were in captivity, and consequently were unable to offer sacrifices, they must look towards the temple; which was a distinguished type of Christ, "in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily."

Let but our prayers be offered in a humble dependence on the sacrifice and intercession of Jesus Christ, and they shall assuredly prevail. God may not indeed answer us immediately; and, it may be, that he may not grant the precise thing which we pray for; but he will answer in the best time, and in the best manner, granting that which eventually will be most conducive to his own glory and to our good.

David and the Canaanite woman were allowed to wait for the blessings they desired; and Paul, yes, and Christ himself too, were answered, not so much according to the letter of their petitions, as according to the spirit of their petitions. But if we tarry the Lord's leisure, we may be as "confident" of an answer to our prayers, as of our own existence.

In this subject we may find abundant matter,

1. For reproof.

How many have never gone beyond the mere forms of prayer; and remain unmoved even when their self-deceit and hypocrisy are thus plainly set before them! How astonishing is this! Methinks, if God had appointed only one hour in a man's life, wherein he should be at liberty to avail himself of the gracious promises in the text—one would suppose that no one in the whole universe would be able to divert his attention from this sacred duty: he would long for the appointed season to arrive; he would meditate beforehand on everything which he could desire to obtain; and he would employ every moment of the prescribed time in most importunate supplications.

So, I say, we might suppose; but experience proves that, notwithstanding there is not an hour in our whole lives wherein we may not avail ourselves of this privilege, the generality have never found one single hour for that holy employment!

But would it be thus if God were for one hour to allow this privilege to those who are shut up in Hell? If the doors of Hell might be opened for their escape, would they neglect to "knock?" If all the blessings of grace and glory might be obtained by them, would they neglect to "ask?"

O then, let us "seek the Lord while he is near; let us call upon him, while he may be found." Think what a bitter reflection it will be in the eternal world, that we might have escaped the miseries of Hell, and obtained the glory of Heaven, by the exercise of humble and believing prayer—and we would not: we did not regard either the one or the other, as worth asking for. O that we may now be convinced of our folly, and not be left to bewail it to all eternity!

2. For encouragement.

If God had bidden us to do some great thing to obtain his favor, we should have been ready to do it. The poor benighted heathen, what pains and penances do not they undergo to obtain the favor of their gods! Yet no such things are required of us: we have nothing to do, but to "ask, and seek, and knock." Surely we should rejoice in so great a privilege, and determine to "take the kingdom of Heaven by the holy violence" of faith and prayer.

But some are discouraged, because they cannot pray with any fluency or enlargement of heart. Let not this however distress the minds of any. It is humility, and not fluency, that makes our prayers acceptable. Many a person who can only seek the Lord with sighs, and groans, and tears, will find acceptance with him—while others, who are admired by men, or filled with self-delight, will be rejected. Never, from the foundation of the world, was there a better prayer than that of the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner!"

But some are discouraged because they have prayed long without receiving any answer to their prayers. Let not, however, any despond on this account. God may have answered them, though not precisely in the way that they expected: and the very continuance of their prayers is an evidence that they have not prayed in vain. It is evident at least that God has given them his Holy Spirit, as a Spirit of grace and of supplication; and this is a pledge and earnest of other blessings which they stand in need of. Let them "tarry the Lord's leisure, and he will comfort their hearts;" "let them wait, I say, upon the Lord."

 

 

#1329

God's Readiness to Give His Holy Spirit

Matthew 7:9–11

"Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him!"

TO argue from ourselves to the Deity, and to conclude that, because we should do, or forbear any particular thing, he would do the same—is, in many cases, extremely fallacious; because many things may be proper as a rule of our conduct towards others, which can in no respect be applied to the moral Governor of the universe. There are, however, some instances wherein such an argument may be urged, not only with propriety, but with great effect. Such an instance occurs in the passage we have now read; in considering which, we shall,

I. Point out the force of our Lord's appeal.

Our Lord addresses himself both to our feelings and our judgment.

Men who cannot understand a logical deduction, may comprehend, without any difficulty, the argument before us. Every one, whether he is a parent or not, knows sufficiently the feelings of a parent, to answer the question here put to him. We can scarcely conceive that any father should so divest himself of all the sensibilities of his paternal nature, as to refuse a piece of bread to his child. Much less can we imagine, that he should mock his child, by giving him a stone; or give him, instead of necessary food, a serpent or scorpion to destroy him.

Who then would think of ascribing such a disposition to God? God is the common parent of all his creatures; and he well knows that his Spirit is as necessary for the imparting and maintaining of spiritual life, as bread is for the support of our natural life. Will he then refuse that blessing to us, when we ask it at his hands; and leave us to perish without affording us the needful support?

It may happen, that an earthly parent may be indisposed, by passion or caprice, to do what is right; or he may be disabled through poverty. But there are no such impediments on the part of God, since he is subject to no infirmities; nor is there anything impossible with him. We may be sure therefore that he will at all times act worthy of the relation which he bears to his creatures.

But the force of the appeal lies in the contrast between God and us.

At first sight the appeal may seem inconclusive, since our children have a claim upon us, but we have none on God; and the gift of a piece of bread bears no proportion whatever to the unspeakable gift of God's Spirit. But it must be considered that we are "evil," so evil as to be capable of the greatest cruelties even towards our own children. Instances have occurred, wherein parents have not only murdered, but even eaten their own offspring; and the treating of them with extreme harshness and severity is no uncommon failing. Yet, with all our proneness to evil, and our readiness, under the influence of passion or temptation, to commit the greatest atrocities, there cannot be found a person on earth so depraved, as to act towards his children, in the general tenor of his conduct, in the manner stated by our Lord.

But God, on the contrary, is good, supremely, and only good, and therefore incapable of doing anything, which may in the smallest degree impeach his character. Besides, he has manifested his goodness in that most unparalleled act of mercy, the gift of his own Son; the gift of his own Son to die for us; and that too unasked; and at a time when we were in rebellion against him; and when he knew the treatment which his Son would meet with from an ungrateful world. Will he then refuse us anything? Will he not give us his holy Spirit, when we ask that gift at his hands; and when he knows that the bestowing of that gift will infallibly terminate in his own eternal glory?

It is in this very light that an inspired Apostle states the same argument; and therefore we may be well assured, that it is unanswerably conclusive.

That we may not however rest in a mere acknowledgment of this truth, we shall,

II. Suggest a suitable improvement of it.

Though the great scope of the text relates only to the prospect which we have of receiving answers to prayer,

We may learn from it,

1. In what light we are to regard God, when we come to his throne of grace.

Men in general either think of God as a Being that has no concern about this lower world, or as a harsh master, and a severe judge. Accordingly their prayers are either a mere lip-service, in which they themselves feel no interest; or the supplications of a slave under the apprehension of the lash. But we should rather go to him as a Father; we should consider him as a Being able and willing to support us, yes, infinitely more willing to give than we are to ask. How endearing is that address which we are taught to use, "Our Father in Heaven!" If we could approach him with the familiarity, and confidence, of dutiful and beloved children—then how sweet would be our fellowship with him, and how successful our petitions! Then, nothing would appear too much to ask, nothing too trifling to lay before him. We should spread before him our every want; and experience, on all occasions, his condescension and grace.

2. What we ought principally to desire in all our addresses to him.

The leading subjects of men's petitions usually are that their sins may be pardoned, and their ways reformed: and certainly these are important subjects for our supplications. But the offices of the Holy Spirit are very much overlooked even by the saints themselves: and though God will not altogether withhold his blessings, because we do not ask for them in the best manner, yet certainly it is of importance that we should feel our need of his Spirit, and express those feelings in our petitions to him.

We cannot repent or pray, unless God, "pours out upon us a Spirit of grace and of supplication."

We cannot know either our disease or our remedy, unless the Spirit is given to us "to convince us of our indwelling sin, and of the Savior's righteousness."

It is the Spirit's office "to glorify Christ, and to take of the things that are his, and show them unto us." If we would "mortify the deeds of the body," it must be through the Spirit's influence. If we would bring forth the fruits of righteousness, it must be through the operation of the same Spirit, whose fruits they are. Every act of the spiritual life must be performed by the intervention and agency of God's Spirit. As Christ is all in procuring salvation for us, so the Holy Spirit is all in imparting salvation to us. Our illumination and strength, our sanctification and comfort, are all his gifts; and therefore we should continually acknowledge our dependence upon him, and ask of God the communications we stand in need of.

The importance of this is strongly marked by Matthew, who, relating the substance of our Lord's discourse, says, "How much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?" But Luke sums up all good things in this, the gift of the Holy Spirit; because, without that gift, all that we possess is of no value; and with it, we cannot lack anything that is good.

3. The efficacy and importance of prayer.

Since God has so strongly declared his readiness to give us his Spirit, we may be well assured, that he will not refuse us any other good thing: "We may ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us." But, on the other hand, we can expect nothing without prayer: "God will be inquired of by us," even for those things which he has promised to give us; nor will he give, if we neglect to ask. This also is intimated in the text itself; his favors are limited to those who ask him.

It is true indeed, that the first desire after what is good is inspired by him; and, as far as relates to that, "he is found of those who sought him not, and known to those who inquired not after him," but when he has once communicated this desire, he expects that it should be cultivated and improved at the throne of grace; nor will he open the gate of Heaven to any, who do not knock at it with importunate and believing prayer.

And can we think hardly of this condition? What if we ourselves had invited a child to come and ask of us the richest gifts we could possibly bestow upon him, and had done everything in our power to assure him of our unalterable determination to grant his request; could he reasonably blame us for suspending our grant upon his performance of so easy a condition? Is there a parent in the world who would not say, If you are too proud to ask for it, you shall not have it?

Surely then if, through pride, or indolence, or unbelief, we will not make our supplications to God—we may well, yes, we must inevitably, be left to perish.

If this appears awful in one view, in another view it is most encouraging. Many are ready to say, 'Such an appeal as this affords no comfort to me: were I a child of God, I could not doubt but that he would give me all that I could ask, with greater readiness than I would give a piece of bread to my beloved offspring. But am I his child? and, if not, what is this assurance to me?'

But behold, as though he had intended to cut off all occasion for such a doubt, our Lord has here dropped the parallel, and says, "How much more will God give his Spirit, (not to his children, but) to those who ask him?" So then we have no occasion to inquire, Am I a child? We must go immediately to God and implore his best and choicest blessings, with a full assurance of success.

Some perhaps may reply, 'I have tried these means, and found them ineffectual.' But we are sure either that God has already answered in a way that was not expected, or that he will answer in due time. God cannot lie; and therefore we have nothing to do but to wait his time. Only let us "continue instant in prayer"—and Heaven, with all its glory, shall be ours!

 

 

#1330

The Golden Rule

Matthew 7:12

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

GOD is graciously pleased on some occasions to take those things which are good in men, for the purpose of illustrating his own ineffable and unbounded goodness. There is scarcely to be found a mother so destitute of feeling as to "forget her nursing child, and not to have compassion on the son of her womb." 'Such a monster,' says God, 'may be found: "yet I will not forget you."'

So, in the words before the text, we are told, that, "evil" as men are, there exists not a father so cruel as to give his child a stone or a serpent, when importuned by him for the food that is necessary for his subsistence: from whence this inference is made; "How much more shall your heavenly Father give good things unto those who ask him."

Such inferences are just and legitimate to a certain extent: but they must not be pressed too far. We must not presume to argue, as many infidels have done, "that because a benevolent man would not punish his enemy to all eternity, therefore God will not," for there is no parallel between the cases. Nor are God's actions to be measured by such a standard: his written word will be the rule of his procedure; and all conclusions that contradict that, will prove delusive at the last.

But though we cannot always argue from what man would do to what we may expect from God—we may safely, and in all cases, infer, from the superabundant goodness of God to us, the obligation which lies on us to exercise all possible degrees of kindness to our fellow-creatures. To this thought we are led by the connection in which our text stands with the preceding verses.

The words we have just read to you are an exhortation founded on the preceding representation of the Divine goodness: and certainly the argument is exceeding strong: for, if God in any case condescends to make our good actions a rule of conduct to himself—then much more should we make the unbiased convictions of our own minds the rule of our conduct towards all.

The direction that is here given us, is as important as any in the whole sacred volume. We shall endeavor to point out,

I. Its import.

It is almost dangerous to attempt an elucidation of so plain a command, lest we only obscure it, while we endeavor to explain it. But it is obvious that something must be supplied, in order to guard against the misconstructions which a caviler might put upon the words. The fact is, that all people do of themselves supply what is wanting in them, without being conscious that the sense which they affix to the words is the result of their own judgment, and not the strict meaning of the words themselves. I say there are TWO LIMITATIONS which all people do, though unconsciously, assign to the words, and without which they would not be a just rule of conduct to any man: and these are,

1. That we must exchange situations, as it were, with the person towards whom we are about to act.

It would be absurd to say, that we must actually conduct ourselves towards all people precisely as we would wish them to act towards us. There are a thousand menial services, which the more opulent part of the community must have done for them, and which it would be folly and madness in them to go and do for others. Besides, there are duties arising out of the very situations we hold; and which are not duties to any, except to those people who are so circumstanced.

Those, for instance, who are in authority, as rulers, or parents, or masters, are not called to obey their inferiors, because they desire to be obeyed by them. Were we therefore to construe the command without any limitation, we must break down all the distinctions in society, and set aside all the duties which God himself has connected with them. To prevent this, we must suppose the person to be in our situation, and ourselves in his; and then consider, what we would desire and expect from him. If, for instance, we are in authority, we should ask ourselves what treatment we should desire and expect, if we were in the place of our inferiors; and then we should act with all the kindness and condescension towards them, that we, in a change of circumstances, should expect at their hands.

2. That we must make, not our inclination, but our judgment, the rule of our conduct.

It is not sufficient to change places with the person towards whom we are about to act. For, if we put ourselves in the situation of a poor man, we might wish our rich neighbor to divide his property with us—but this is no reason why we should go and act thus: the thing is unreasonable in itself: and, however we might wish it, we should not for a moment think that justice or equity required it. So, if we were to put ourselves in the place of a convicted felon, we might wish the judge not to enforce the penalties of the laws against us: but that is no reason why we, if sitting in the place of judgment, should not enforce and execute the laws against others.

We must not consider so much what we might wish in such circumstances, as what we would, after full and impartial consideration, think right. We should think it right that the judge should investigate our cause with care, and make his decision with equity; and, on the whole, should lean to the side of mercy rather than of severity. But we could never persuade ourselves that felons should be permitted to violate the laws with impunity; because that would render the peaceful members of society a prey to every daring ruffian. It is evident then that we must call in the aid of judgment, and regulate our conduct according to its deliberate and unbiased dictates.

With the help of these two remarks, we shall be in no danger of misinterpreting the rule before us. Indeed these limitations are so obvious, that, as we said before, they are unconsciously supplied even by the most ignorant of mankind: so that we might have waved all mention of them, if it had not been expedient to mark with precision the limits, which, though generally acknowledged, are but indistinctly seen.

In a word, the rule is this: We must consider in all cases what we, under a change of circumstances, would think it right for another to do unto us; and that must be the rule of our conduct towards him.

Having thus considered the import of the rule, we proceed to show,

II. Its excellence.

A greater encomium cannot be passed upon it than is in the words before us: "This is the law and the prophets." But what is implied in this commendation? And what are those particular excellencies which it holds up to our view? It intimates, that the rule is eminently distinguished for the following properties:

1. It is concise.

"The law and the prophets" constitute a very large volume; to become well acquainted with which in all its parts, requires no little expense, both of time and labor. But, as vast as its circumference is, its lines all meet in this rule, as in their common center. We speak not indeed of the doctrinal part of this volume, but of the preceptive. This limitation, like those before mentioned, is necessarily implied, though not expressed: and, if we do not bear it in mind, we shall pervert this best of principles into an occasion of the most destructive error.

"The law and the prophets" have a twofold use:

first, to testify of Christ as the ground of our eternal hopes;

secondly, to state the law as the rule and measure of our duties.

To understand the commendation given to this rule as extending to the law and the prophets in the former sense, would annihilate the whole Gospel, and make the death of Christ of no avail. We must therefore understand our Lord as speaking of the law and the prophets only so far as they contain a rule of life. Moreover, when speaking of them expressly in this view, he comprehends the law under two great commandments:

The love of God.

The love of our neighbor.

And then he adds, "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." But it is only to this second commandment that the rule in our text refers; and consequently, when we speak of the rule as comprehending the law and the prophets, we must be considered as limiting our assertion not only to the preceptive part of the law, in opposition to the doctrinal, but to that part of the preceptive code which contains our duty to our neighbor.

Let it be remembered, however, that there is not a page of the sacred volume which is not replete with instruction upon this point; and that this short sentence in our text is a summary of the whole.

Now if, on every occasion, we had to search the sacred volume for some precept directly to our point, the opportunities of acting would be passed before we had found such a direction as would be satisfactory to our minds. This would be the case even with those who were most conversant with the sacred writings, and much more with those whose time is almost entirely occupied with temporal concerns.

But behold, here is a SUMMARY:
so short, that it is easily remembered;
so simple, that it is easily understood;
so suited to all occasions, that it is easily applied, by any person, and at any time.

Methinks this rule, to a Christian, is like the compass to a mariner. Were the master of a ship destitute of any means of directing his vessel, except those afforded him by the heavenly bodies, he might often be steering a very different course from that which he designed to take. But, by the help of the compass, the most illiterate sailor may know which way to steer: that little portable contrivance will direct him, whether by day or night, whether in a calm or tempest, and that too in every climate under Heaven.

Precisely thus it is with the Christian: there would be many times and occasions, when, if destitute of this rule, he would not know how to conduct himself aright: but, by the help of this, the most ignorant cannot lose his way—his path in every situation is made plain by it; and the "way-faring man, though a fool, shall not err therein."

2. It is comprehensive.

"The law and the prophets" contain directions proper for every person, in every rank, under every situation and circumstance in which he can possibly be placed. Nor is this rule at all less extensive: it will direct the king on his throne no less than the poorest subject in his dominions. There is not any single act, relating either to justice and equity, or to kindness and charity, or even to common decency and civility—which it does not equally embrace, and for which it does not provide a sufficient directory.

Under the Jewish dispensation, the high-priest had an opportunity of ascertaining the mind and will of God by means of his breast-plate. What the Urim and Thummim was, or how it conveyed information to the high-priest, is not positively known. But that God did make use of it in some way to convey to him the knowledge of his will, is certain: nor was there any subject whereon God would not have given him instruction, if he had sought it in a befitting manner.

Now we are repeatedly told in the New Testament, that all true Christians are both "kings and priests unto God," and one of the most distinguished privileges which, as Christians, we enjoy, is a liberty of access to God, every one of us for ourselves, without the intervention of any human being; and a permission to seek direction from him on every occasion. And has not God furnished us with the Urim and Thummim? Yes, he has: this very rule he has given us to carry, as it were, upon our breasts, that it may instruct us in every part of our duty. We may say respecting it, as Moses says of the Gospel salvation, "We need not go up to Heaven, to bring it down from above, nor descend into the deep, to bring it up from beneath; but the word is near us, even in our mouth and in our hearts."

Wherever we are, we need only set ourselves in the presence of God, and, with humble supplications to him, inspect our own bosoms, to see what light this rule will afford us; and we shall assuredly be guided in the right way. Whether we are rich or poor, learned or unlearned, and whether the subject be more or less important—no difference shall be made. If the point relates to states and kingdoms, or if it concerns only the smallest branch of moral duty to an individual—it shall equally be made known to us. And if, after that, we err—the error will not proceed from any defect in the rule itself, but from a lack of a more perfect discernment of it, or a more just application of it to the point before us.

3. It is complete.

What can be added to "the law and the prophets" to make them more complete? Vain would be the attempt either of men or angels to find in them one single flaw or defect: for while they comprehend every species of duty, they supply at the same time every motive for the performance of it: "The word of the Lord is perfect."

The same may be said also of the rule before us. No created wisdom can improve it; no man can find in it anything either superfluous or defective. Its comprehensiveness and conciseness we have before spoken of: and we may now notice, what indeed still more clearly displays its excellence, its singular operation on the human mind, not merely as a light to direct us in the path we should go—but as an incentive to us to walk in it.

The mode in which this rule operates upon us is this: it takes the most corrupt principle of the human heart, even that root of bitterness from whence every species of injustice springs; it suspends all the operations of that principle on the side of evil, and constrains it to become a powerful advocate of virtue.

Selfishness is the real source of all those evils and calamities which men bring on each other. It is to this principle that we must trace the wars of contending nations, the discord of families, the injustice, the fraud, and all the other evils that are found in the transactions of individuals. From this principle it is that men are universally disposed to expect too much, and to concede too little.

Now this rule, requiring us to put ourselves in the place of him towards whom we are about to act, cuts off at once all scope for the exercise of this principle in our own cause, and enlists it into the service of our neighbor; thereby inclining us as much to favor him, as it would otherwise have inclined us to benefit ourselves. At the same time it marks so strongly the reasonableness of true benevolence, as makes us abhor the thought of acting in opposition to it.

I may further add too, that while this rule operates thus as a stimulus to virtue—a consciousness of having acted agreeably to it is one of the richest rewards that man can enjoy on earth. If a man fails of accomplishing his benevolent purposes, he has a recompense in his own conscience from a sense that he has acted right himself. And, if he attains his end, he has double recompense: the testimony of a good conscience, and the joy of seeing that he has not labored in vain.

Say then, whether this is not justly called the golden rule? Surely, whether we consider the mode of its operation, or its peculiar efficacy, or the delight that invariably proceeds from conforming to it, its value is inestimable; nor can any terms be too strong in commendation of it.

From this subject we may learn,

1. The scope and intent of true religion.

It is surprising what a jealousy prevails in the minds of men with respect to this. Talk of religion, and especially of Christ, and of "the righteousness which is of God by faith in him, unto all, and upon all those who believe;" and a doubt immediately arises, whether you are not an enemy to good works. This is declared to be the proper tendency of such sentiments; and all manner of stories are raked together to countenance the idea.

As for those who deny that "the law and the prophets" testify of Christ, and point him out as the only source of "righteousness and strength"—we shall leave them to settle the matter with the Apostle Paul.

We shall at present notice those only who are so fearful about the interests of morality. Now we assert, that, however strongly the doctrine of justification by faith is maintained from "the law and the prophets," no man that pays the smallest deference to their testimony can fail to insist upon good works. When we read in one part of Scripture, that "the love of God and of our neighbor are the two great commandments, on which hang all the law and the prophets." And when we read in another part of Scripture, that "the doing unto others what we would have them do to us" sums up the Law and the Prophets (in substance); we are amazed that any human being could be found, who denies the necessity of good works; or that people would be so credulous as to impute this sentiment to all who embrace the doctrine of salvation through a crucified Redeemer.

Let the matter be investigated: let it be seen whether Paul was an enemy to good works; whether the great body of our English Reformers were enemies to good works: let us examine the writings of those who now uphold the same doctrine, and see whether they neglect to inculcate and encourage good works.

Truly, if people were not blinded by prejudice, they would see that one half at least of the obloquy that falls upon those who are contemptuously called Evangelical, is on account of the strictness of their lives and the holiness of their deportment. But, waving all these considerations, this at least is plain, that, whatever fault there may be in any set of men, "the law and the prophets" stand unimpeached: they, with one voice, require submission to the golden rule, and make the practice of that to be an indispensable test of men's regard for their testimony.

Let this then sink down into our ears; let it be remembered, that the very Scriptures which inculcate most forcibly the doctrine of salvation by faith in Christ, inculcate also a most exalted morality. The Gospel never did, nor ever will, bring any person to salvation in the way of sin; it is in the way of holiness only, and of a very exalted degree of holiness too, that any man can attain the salvation of the Gospel. Not that holiness will save him; it is the blood and righteousness of Christ that saves him: nevertheless it is an universal and unalterable truth, that "without holiness no man shall see the Lord." May God write that truth on the hearts of such as disregard good works, (if any such there be,) and especially on the hearts of all who set themselves against the doctrines of salvation through unfounded prejudices against them, as being of a licentious tendency!

2. The effect and benefit of true religion.

This is not to be looked for in the professions, but in the practices of men; yet not in the practice of some easy duties, such as those of generosity and kindness, but in an universal and habitual attention to the rule before us. Where Christian principles have their full operation on the mind, there this rule will be established in the heart, and be exhibited in the life. Take the conduct of the early converts to Christianity; and there you will see the precise change of which we are speaking: and their situations being peculiar, they carried the principle to the extent of selling all their possessions for the support of their poorer brethren. A still more wonderful instance we see in the Apostle Paul, who, from the time of his conversion to Christianity, was willing to do or suffer anything whereby he might facilitate the progress of the Gospel in the world. Knowing the advantages which, as a Christian, he enjoyed, he was willing even to lay down his own life, if by so doing he might bring others to a participation of them. The same change is still accomplished in the world; only it is less visible; the circumstances of the Church not calling for such a manifest display of it, and the measure of divine grace now enjoyed by the saints being, it is to be feared, more scanty than at that period. But can any one see the effects of religion, even as it is now exhibited, and not confess its excellence? Wherever it prevails, it establishes both in the heart and life this amiable principle: it brings men to do as they would be done unto. Suppose for a moment that one single man, the present disturber of the universe, were impressed aright by the Gospel of Christ, and brought under the influence of this principle, how many thousands and even millions of the human race would have reason to rejoice! And, if that principle were universally prevalent, what happiness would pervade the world! Such then is the effect, and such the benefit of true religion. It only remains that we urge you all to cultivate this principle. Let it not be said of any of you, 'He talks of faith in Christ, but he is covetous, dishonest, passionate, vindictive.' Let love reign in your hearts; and while you profess yourselves to be "trees of righteousness, of the Lord's planting," let the "tree be known by its fruit."

 

 

#1331

The Narrow Gate and the Narrow Way

Matthew 7:13, 14

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."

Sentimentalism and philanthropy lead many to adopt views directly repugnant to the Scriptures. They imagine that few, if any, perish; and that, though the bulk of mankind live in a total neglect of God, they find mercy at the last. But no pretense of philanthropy should induce us so to contradict the plainest declarations of God. If there be any truth in the Scriptures, there are comparatively few who go to Heaven. And we need to be awakened to a sense of our danger by the exhortation before us. We shall consider,

I. The duty enjoined.

The path of the ungodly is broad, and the entrance upon it is wide.

There is no difficulty at all in entering upon an ungodly life; we need only follow our natural bent and inclination. Nor will they who frequent the broad road at all interfere with each other. The gross sensualist, the proud Pharisee, and the specious hypocrite, may have ample scope for their respective pursuits. Sin may be indulged in ten thousand shapes; and "all may go astray, every one in his own way."

The path of the godly is narrow, and the entrance upon it strait.

The way of God's commandments is that to which the godly are confined: and the entrance upon it is by conversion. A man must have seen the evil and danger of his former ways: he must have come to Christ who is "the door;" and, renouncing every other hope, he must cleave unto Christ with full purpose of heart. Having thus entered, he must go forward in a uniform course of dependence upon Christ, and devotedness to him.

This is indeed a strait and narrow way. A partial repentance, a divided trust, a reserved obedience, will not suffice:
our contrition must be deep,
our faith must be sincere, and
our dedication of ourselves to God must be entire
—or we shall only deceive our own souls.

To enter upon this path is our bounden duty.

God never intended that men should follow the imagination of their own hearts. He calls us to himself, and invites us by every argument that can affect a rational being. Nor will he leave us to fail for want of strength. If we will exert ourselves in earnest and cry unto him for help, nothing shall be impossible unto us. As difficult as the duty is, it has been performed by many in all ages. We therefore should exert ourselves without delay. We must not stand aloof, doubting and hesitating whether we shall enter upon this way or not; nor must we put off the time of entering upon it to some more convenient season. The command of God is clear and universal, "Enter in at the strait gate."

We shall see the importance of this duty if we attend to,

II. The arguments with which it is enforced.

No stronger arguments can be urged than those suggested in the text.

1. The broad way, however crowded, will infallibly lead us to eternal destruction.

Every way of sin will destroy the soul. Whether our sin is open and notorious, or secret and refined—it will surely bring upon us the wrath of God. Nor will the numbers of those who walk in any way at all affect the quality of their actions. Sin will be sin, though the whole world should countenance each other in the commission of it. The idolatrous compliance of the Babylonish nation was not the less sinful because it was sanctioned by numbers; nor was the nonconformity of the three Hebrew youths rendered less acceptable to God on account of the fewness of those who dared to follow the voice of conscience. Neither indeed will the end of any way be changed on account of the numbers who walk in it. The inhabitants of Sodom, and of the antediluvian world—were not exempted from punishment because they were many. They were overwhelmed, as examples of God's vengeance to all future ages. Should not this then make us cautious what path we follow? Should it not stimulate us to flee from the destruction to which we are hastening? O! "Strive to enter in at the strait gate."

2. The narrow path, however unfrequented, will surely lead us to glory.

God cannot but delight in holiness; and he will testify his approbation of it in the last day. Was Lot overlooked in Sodom, or Noah in the antediluvian world? So if there were but one faithful servant of God in the whole universe, he should in no wise lose his reward. Every step he took in the good way should be marked by God; and in due season he will arrive at his desired end. And, while tribulation and anguish should be assigned to the ungodly and disobedient, the Christian's patient continuance in well-doing should be rewarded with glory and honor and immortality.

Should anyone then be afraid of singularity? Is it not better to be a persecuted Elijah worshiping the true God, than to be an applauded worshiper of Baal? Let the prospect of glory therefore encourage us to enter upon the narrow path; nor let us doubt but that the enjoyment of the end will amply compensate for the difficulties of the way.

Address.

1. To those who are not yet entered in at the strait gate.

Perhaps you think that the multitudes by which you are countenanced, afford a reasonable hope that you shall not perish; but it is not possible for God to assert the contrary more strongly than he has done in the words before us. Will you then, in spite of this warning, hope that the saved shall be many, and the damned few?

Or will you be contented to perish, seeing that you will have so many companions in misery? Alas! what comfort will it be to you to behold others as wretched as yourself? Will their torments assuage your anguish?

O dare to be singular in the midst of a wicked world; and say with Joshua, "As for me and my house, whatever others may do, we will serve the Lord.

2. To those who are walking in the narrow way.

You, no doubt, are blamed for your singularity. But "it is a small matter to be judged of man's judgment." To be reproached for righteousness' sake is no new thing. Nor have you any reason to repine if it is your lot. You have rather reason to rejoice and leap for joy.

Remember, however, that you are not to affect needless singularities, and call them religion. If you bring persecution upon yourselves by such means, you bear your own cross, and not the cross of Christ.

That alone which will be pleasing to God, is the following of his commandments. In that you cannot be too exact or resolute. But in indifferent matters it is desirable rather to manifest a meek and yielding disposition. Yet compliance may easily be carried too far. And, on the whole, it is expedient always to lean to the safer side. You are in continual danger of being turned out of the good path. Nor can you ever be safe except while you are looking to God for his direction and help.

 

 

#1332

Men Known by Their Fruits

Matthew 7:15–20

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them."

THE greater part of our Lord's Sermon on the Mount was intended to counteract the errors of the Pharisees, and the false glosses by which they had obscured the law of Moses. But, in the words before us, our Lord seems to have intended to counteract the general influence of the Pharisees. They were in high repute for sanctity among the people, even while they were filled with all manner of malignant passions. They pretended to have a high regard for religion; but they were, in fact, the bitterest enemies of all vital godliness. It was of great importance that the followers of Christ should know how to distinguish them: and for that purpose our Lord gave them a rule which, in its use and application, was easy, certain, and universal.

Let us consider,

I. Against whom we are here cautioned.

The term "prophets," though often applied to those who foretold future events, is often to be understood of those only, who, like common ministers, were engaged in preaching the word of God. Of these, many were occupied in disseminating error, rather than truth; and therefore they are justly called "false prophets." They were indeed, for the most part, very fair in their pretenses, and specious in their appearance; and in this respect were in sheep's clothing; but their views and designs were hostile to the best interests of the Church. They were proud, selfish, covetous, worldly, and oppressive; and when any opportunity arose of gratifying their malignant dispositions, they manifested their true nature, and showed themselves to be no other than "ravenous wolves." Of this kind are they,

1. Who lower the standard of the law.

This was the constant aim of the Pharisees: they explained away the spirituality of the law, and reduced it to a mere letter. Their great object was to reduce all religion to a few unmeaning observances. Against such people our Lord, not only in this, but in almost all his discourses, guarded his hearers. He represented them as hypocrites, and said, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees, which is hypocrisy."

Against such also it is necessary to guard men in every age. Persons of this description often obtain considerable influence by means of their rank and office in the Church; and make little use of that influence, except to decry all serious religion. Everything beyond their own attainments they call enthusiasm; and profligacy itself finds more favor in their eyes than true piety.

Whatever therefore be their station or their influence, our Lord bids us to "beware of them." If indeed they sustain the sacred office of ministers, then we must "observe and do whatever they enjoin," so far, at least, as it accords with the word of God. But we must not follow them one hair's breadth beyond: we must not be led by their influence, either to reject truth, or to embrace error; but must be on our guard against them; and "follow them only so far as they themselves are followers of Christ."

2. Who corrupt and pervert the Gospel.

Thus it was with the Judaizing teachers: they blended the observation of the Mosaic ritual with an affiance in the Lord Jesus Christ; and thus, in fact, destroyed the very foundations of the Gospel. Paul tells us, that they perverted the Gospel, and introduced another Gospel which was, in truth, no Gospel at all: and he guards us against them with a holy vehemence, which might appear almost to border on impiety: "If anyone, even though he be an angel from Heaven, preaches any other Gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be accursed." "I repeat it," says he: "if an angel from Heaven so corrupts the Gospel, let him be accursed."

But are there no such teachers in later ages? Yes; in every age of the Church they are very numerous. Men are prone to unite something of their own with the meritorious work of Christ, as a joint ground of their hope; and they are very specious in their arguments: they seem as if they had a great zeal for morality, and were only afraid of countenancing licentiousness.

But whatever be their pretenses, we must be on our guard against them. Hear how pointedly the Apostle speaks: "Beware of dogs, beware of evil-workers, beware of the false circumcision." Beware then of all such people, and of their fatal errors; for "by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified," either in whole or in part: nor "can any man lay any other foundation than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

3. Who distract and divide the Church.

Many there were of this description even in the Apostolic age; men who would bring forward their own particular notions with a view to draw away disciples after them. Some would insist upon something under the name of science or philosophy: others would deny some of the plainest truths of Christianity: others would plead for a latitude in the indulgence of some particular sins: others would exalt one teacher or Apostle above all the rest. In short, they were men of an unquiet, disputatious, forward, contentious disposition; loving to have any kind of pre-eminence, and to raise their own credit or interest on the divisions and dissensions of the Church.

Now, says Paul, "Mark men of this description, and avoid them." "Receive them not into your house," says John, "neither bid them Godspeed." And well may we be on our guard against them. Many of them are extremely subtle; and some would almost withstand an Apostle himself. But they are only wolves, yes ravenous wolves too, in sheep's clothing; and though they may express much concern for the welfare of the Church, they fatten on the spoils of every fold to which they can get access.

But as it may often be difficult to discern the characters of these men, our Lord lays down,

II. The rule whereby we are to judge of them.

It is a plain, acknowledged truth, that we must judge of trees by their fruit.

No person will expect for a moment to find "grapes on a thorn, or figs on a thistle," common sense will tell him that every tree has its own proper productions; and that even the fruit it does bear will not be found in perfection, unless the tree itself be good.

"A bad tree cannot bring forth good fruit; nor can a good tree bring forth evil fruit." The quality of the fruit will infallibly mark the quality of the tree itself. If the fruit be good, it will mark the tree to be deserving of culture and regard; but if the fruit be bad, to merit nothing but excision and the fire.

Precisely in the same manner we must judge of those who call themselves prophets of the Lord.

Twice is it repeated, "By their fruits you shall know them." We should inquire, What is the fruit of their doctrine upon themselves and on their hearers? If the people themselves be proud, worldly, covetous, and despisers of real piety—then we have no reason to think that they will ever produce the opposite dispositions in us. If they be resting on a wrong foundation themselves, they are not likely to build us up upon that which God has laid in Zion. If they be disputatious, contentious, ambitious of pre-eminence among their fellows, they are not calculated to be useful to us in bringing us to a meek, humble, and heavenly frame.

If our access to them be not such as to enable us to judge of their spirit and conduct, then we must endeavor to notice the effect of their doctrines upon others: and if we find that this is altogether unfavorable, we must be on our guard to prevent any evil accruing to ourselves. We may see in the Holy Scriptures, what was the temper, and what the conduct of Christ and his Apostles: and, if we find the word ministered unto us has a tendency to assimilate us to them, we may safely yield ourselves to its influence: but, if it be calculated to lower the standard of real piety, and to make us rest in low attainments, we should beware lest we be led astray by it, and beg of God that nothing may ever "corrupt us from the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus."

It may be said, that this will lead those who ought to be learners to put themselves in the seat of judgment and to become judges even of their own teachers. But it must be remembered that it is one thing to erect a tribunal for the exercising of public judgment, and another thing to form a judgment for the benefit of our own souls. The former is wrong, unless we are officially called to it: but the latter is necessary for our own salvation.

We are commanded "not to believe every spirit; but to test the spirits, whether they be of God." We are told also to "prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good." But this we cannot do, unless we examine what we hear, and bring it to the unerring standard of "the word and testimony."

Though, therefore, we be not qualified to lay down the law for others, we must all judge for ourselves; since on the exercise of that judgment the eternal welfare of our souls depends. And if we feel ourselves incompetent for the work, we may apply to God for help; assured that "he will guide the meek in judgment;" and that "a way-faring man, though a fool, shall not be permitted by him to err," in anything that shall be necessary for the salvation of his soul.

As a proper improvement of the subject before us, we would recommend to your attention the following advice:

1. Take care to profit by the ministry that you do enjoy.

Though we must so far have our judgment exercised respecting the ministry of the word, as to determine whether its general scope be likely to profit us or not, yet, when we have reason to believe that the truth of God is proposed to us, we should not listen to it with critical ears: we should rather receive it with all humility of mind; and "receive it with meekness, as an engrafted word, able to save our souls." We should not be satisfied with understanding and approving of what we hear, but should endeavor to reduce it to practice. "If we be hearers only of the word, and not doers, we deceive ourselves". Let us then look well to the effect produced on our own souls, and, "as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that we may grow thereby."

2. Judge of your own state and character by the fruits you produce.

If we are concerned to judge others, much more are we concerned to judge ourselves: for however wise and pious our instructors may be, it will be of no use to us, unless we be pious ourselves. Nor, however erroneous they be, shall we suffer, if we be taught and sanctified by the Spirit of God. We must therefore not be contented with adopting right sentiments; but must take care that they influence us in a befitting manner. We should often bring ourselves to the touchstone of God's word, and examine candidly what advancement we make in the divine life: knowing assuredly that if we be found cumberers of the ground at last, we shall be cut down and cast into the fire! But, if we have abounded in the fruits of righteousness to the glory of our God, we shall be accepted for Christ's sake, and be acknowledged by him as good and faithful servants, who shall forever participate in his joy.

 

 

#1333

The Nature and Importance of True Religion

Matthew 7:21–23

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'"

THE criterion, by which we are to judge of our spiritual state, is precisely the same as that whereby we determine the nature and value of things around us. As we know the different kinds and comparative excellence of trees by their fruits, so we may ascertain by our works whether we be real Christians, or only nominal Christians. It is by these fruits that we shall be tried in the last day; and, according as they have been conformable or not to the will of God, will our eternal doom be fixed.

Of this we are plainly warned in the words before us; which, as they cannot be rendered more intelligible, but would rather be enervated by any attempt to explain them, we shall endeavor to impress on our minds by an application of them to our hearts and consciences. There are three distinct characters, to whom, in prosecution of our purpose, we shall address ourselves:

I. To those who make a profession of religion, but walk unworthy of it.

Our Lord not only intimates, but expressly declares, that there are "many" who deceive themselves in the matter of religion. It is of infinite importance therefore that we should have just and accurate notions of vital godliness; and that we should bring our experience of religion to the touchstone of God's Word. It is evident that a person may have much which bears the semblance of piety, while he is far from feeling its genuine influence. He may say, "Lord, Lord," that is, he may not only profess to believe in Christ and to submit to his authority, but may profess it with considerable zeal and confidence; he may also preach, and even work miracles, in the name of Christ—and yet be destitute of that which alone can prove him to be a true Christian.

The examples of Simon Magus, and of Judas, sufficiently confirm this melancholy truth. It becomes us therefore to inquire, not only what notions we entertain, but what effects they produce on our hearts and lives?

Are we "doing the will of God?"

Are we doing it cheerfully, uniformly, progressively?

Do we walk with God, setting him constantly before us, endeavoring to approve ourselves to him in all we do, and worshiping him weekly in the Church, the family, and the closet?

Do we act towards our neighbor, as we, in a change of circumstances, should expect him to act towards us?

Do we pay a strict regard to truth and honesty in all our dealings?

Do we exercise candor in judging, patience in forbearing, kindness in pardoning, and generosity in relieving?

In short, is love the principle that regulates all our conduct?

Are we conscientiously discharging all our relative duties, as husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, magistrates and subjects?

Are we, moreover, duly attentive to the workings of our own hearts, in order to suppress the motions of pride, envy, malice, covetousness, impurity, or whatever else may defile the soul?

Are we studious to mortify sin in the thought and desire, no less than in its outward actings?

Such is the true way to judge of our state: for only in proportion as we are enabled to practice these duties, have we any scriptural evidence of our acceptance with God. We do not mean that the performance of these duties constitutes the whole of religion: but that our faith in Christ is of no further value than as it manifests itself by these fruits. If we have not oil in our lamps, whereby we are enabled to make our light shine before men, we shall, like the foolish virgins, be excluded, however confidently we may knock at the gate of Heaven in expectation of admittance.

II. To those who neither practice religion nor profess it.

The text, though not so directly applicable to people of this description, may yet suggest to them abundant matter for most serious reflection. While some deceive themselves by a mere profession of religion, there are others who are satisfied with declaiming against hypocrites; who, because they do not pretend to any serious religion, imagine themselves absolved from all obligations to it. But if our Lord does not approve of those who externally honor him, because their lives do not correspond with their professions—can we suppose that he approves of those who openly dishonor and despise him? If they are excluded from his kingdom, shall not these also? If they are disappointed in their expectations, must not the hope of these also be as a spider's web? If they who can appeal to the judge himself that they have done much for him, be bidden to depart—then shall those, who have never done anything for him, find a favorable acceptance?

Let such people then learn, that to hate hypocrisy in others is to little purpose, unless they hate it also in themselves. The same rule of judgment is established for all. We shall all receive according to what we have done, whether it be good or evil. There shall be one doom for those who abused the Gospel, and for those who rejected it. If to the former it shall be said, "Depart, I never knew you;" of the latter it will be said, "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slay them before me."

III. To those, who both profess religion, and adorn it by a suitable conduct.

Our Lord expressly declares, that those who do the will of his Father, shall enter into his kingdom: and his testimony is confirmed by numberless other passages of Holy Writ. Persons of this description are extremely different from the self-deceiving professors, not only in their practice, but also in their spirit and temper. Instead of making an ostentatious parade of their religion, they are intent rather on cultivating the inward graces. Instead of hastily entertaining an assured confidence, they are jealous over themselves with a godly jealousy. Instead of being forward to boast of what they have done for Christ, they are ashamed of their best services, and ready rather to dread his displeasure for what they have omitted, than to claim his favor for anything they have done. They still have indeed many infirmities: and it is their view of these that keeps them humble, and perhaps sometimes fills them with doubts and fears.

But God will easily distinguish between the allowed sins of the most specious hypocrite, and the lamented infirmities of the weakest of his children. While he says to one, "Depart you who are accursed," he will address the other in terms of approbation and delight.

Though neither leavened or blemished offerings should be presented in sacrifice to God, yet, if presented as free-will offerings, they were accepted. Thus shall the imperfect services of his people, if offered with a willing mind, come up with acceptance before him, and be recorded at the day of judgment as evidences of their faith and love. Let the believer then go on in a course of uniform and unreserved obedience: and let him not be discouraged because he does not possess talents that attract the admiration of men: but rather let him study to approve himself to God—and he who sees in secret, will before long reward him openly!

 

 

#1334

The Wise Builder

Matthew 7:24–27

"Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."

IT is of great importance in preaching the Gospel, to discriminate between the different characters to whom we deliver our message, and to separate the precious from the vile. If this is neglected, the wicked will hold fast their delusions, and the righteous will continue in bondage to their fears: but if we are faithful in the discharge of this part of our duty, those among whom we minister will be led to a knowledge of their own proper character and condition.

Our blessed Lord, at the conclusion of his Sermon on the Mount, shows us how we should apply our subjects to the hearts and consciences of our hearers. In the words before us he describes,

I. The character and condition of the godly.

Their character is drawn in simple but comprehensive terms.

"They come to Christ," this is absolutely necessary to their entrance on the divine life. Until they have come to Christ under a sense of their own guilt and helplessness, they have no pretensions to godliness; they are obnoxious to the curse of the law, and the wrath of God.

After they have come to Christ, "they hear his sayings;" they sit at his feet, like Mary," desiring to be fully instructed in his mind and will. With this view they study the Holy Scriptures, and "meditate on them day and night," with this view also they attend the ordinances, and "receive the word, not as the word of man, but as it is in truth, the word of God."

They do not, however, rest in hearing his sayings; but they go forth to "do them." They desire to know his will in order that they may do it. They love the most searching discourses, because by them they discover the evil of their own hearts, and are led to aspire after a fuller conformity to the Divine image. Nor would they rest, until they feel every "thought and desire captivated to the obedience of Christ."

Their condition is exhibited in an apt similitude.

A man who builds his house upon a rock, shows that however temperate the weather may be at the time he is building, he expects tempests to arise: and when the storms do come, he feels himself secure, from a consciousness that his house is so constructed as to withstand their violence.

Now a godly man resembles him in foresight and in security. He knows that, though he may at present be able to live in some tolerable comfort without religion, it will not be always so. He feels that, when misfortunes, troubles, sickness, and death shall come, he will be miserable without a well-founded hope of immortality. Hence he will not be satisfied with any religion that will not stand the test of scriptural examination, for he knows that no other will prove sufficient in the hour of trial.

When the storms blow, and the tempests beat upon him, then he finds the benefit of having "dug deep," and laid his foundation well. Then he stands immoveable secure: the promise and oath of Jehovah are his firm support: Omnipotence itself upholds him. In vain do troubles from without, or temptations from within, assault him: even in the immediate prospect of death itself he retains his confidence, "knowing in whom he has believed," and assured that Jesus will save him to the uttermost.

In a perfect contrast to this, our Lord exhibits,

II. The character and condition of the ungodly.

Their character is the very reverse of that already drawn.

It is worthy of observation, that nothing is said of their coming unto Christ. Here is their radical defect: had they ever come as perishing sinners to him, they should have lacked nothing for the perfecting of their salvation: but they are too proud to stoop to such an humiliating method of obtaining mercy. They do not feel their desert of God's wrath, or their need of a mediator: and therefore, though they will compliment Jesus with the name of Savior, they will not flee to him for refuge as those who know that without him they must forever perish.

They will indeed "hear his sayings; but they will not do them." They may take a pleasure in hearing the Gospel preached; and, like Ezekiel's hearers, attend the ministration of the word with as much delight, as others listen to a musical performance. They may even show an extraordinary zeal about the ordinances of religion, and may alter their conduct, like Herod, in many things: but there is some darling lust with which they will not part. When their besetting sin comes to be exposed, they draw back, unwilling to have their wounds probed, and their lusts mortified. When they are required to "pluck out their right eye, and to cut off their right hand," they turn away, exclaiming, "This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?"

This stamps their character as ungodly. It is not the commission of any gross sin that constitutes men ungodly; but it is the conscious retaining of some bosom lust, the conscious rendering of only a partial obedience to the Word, the "not having the heart right with God."

The similitude also reversed exactly describes their condition.

A person who, because the weather is fair, builds his house without any proper foundation, will, as soon as storms and tempests arise, find reason for regret. The house, for lack of a foundation, will be undermined, and fall. He will then lose all the labor and money that he has bestowed upon it, and perhaps, with all his family, be overwhelmed in its ruins.

The ungodly man "is like him" in folly and in danger. His religion must come to the test at last: if it bears him through his trials in life, and uphold him with some degree of comfort in death, still it can never bear the scrutiny of the judgment day. Then every man's work will be tried as by fire; and that which does not endure the fire, will be burnt up.

How will the folly of trusting to vain delusions appear in that day! What regret and sorrow will arise in the mind of him who has labored so much for nothing! And how "great will be his ruin," when he shall have no shelter from the wrath of God, and when the goodly fabric that he built shall crush him to atoms!

O that we well considered this; and that all of us would build as for eternity!

Let us learn from hence,

1. The necessity of practical religion.

Religion does not consist in mere notions, however just or scriptural; but in a conformity of heart and life to the will of God. We must not, however, mistake, as though our works were the foundation whereon we are to build (that would indeed be a foundation of sand.) Christ is the only foundation of a sinner's hope; the only rock on which we must build: but then we must show that we do build on him, by the super-structure which we raise upon him: and if the superstructure is not such as to prove that we are founded on him, our hopes of standing in the day of judgment are vain and delusive.

2. The excellence of practical religion.

A house, whose foundation is deep, and fixed upon a rock, will stand, whatever storms or tempests may beat upon it. And thus it is with the practical and consistent Christian. His principles will bear him up in the day of adversity. He may defy all the hosts both of men and devils; for none shall ever separate him from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And when the most specious structures shall fall, to the confusion and ruin of those who erected them—then the wise builder shall dwell secure amidst the desolating judgments and the wreck of worlds!

 

 

#1335

The Effect of Our Lord's Preaching

Matthew 7:28, 29

"And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes."

IT has been thought by many that this section which is called the Sermon on the Mount, was not delivered at one time, but is only a collection of sayings which at different times were used by our Lord. But, as our Lord went through all the cities, towns, and villages of Judea, instructing the people—it is reasonable to suppose that he should frequently deliver the same truths in nearly the same expressions, because the same instructions were necessary for all. The repetition of them therefore, at different times, and at distant places, is no reason at all why they should not now have been delivered all at once—when so great a multitude was attending his ministry, and he had gone up upon a mountain for the purpose of addressing them to more advantage. Moreover, the words before us clearly show that this was one continued sermon; or rather, that these were the chief topics contained in it, together with the principal illustrations of them.

Having successively considered all the different parts of this sermon, we now come to notice,

I. The peculiar character of our Lord's preaching.

We shall not enter upon the subject of his ministry at large, but confine our attention to the discourse before us; which, both in the matter and in the manner, appears to have been well calculated to make a deep impression on his audience.

The things with which they appear to have been particularly affected, were,

1. His wisdom.

There was an astonishing depth in all that he spoke. His knowledge of the divine law was such, as infinitely surpassed all that even their most eminent prophets had ever manifested. David had acknowledged his inability to explore its depth: "I have seen an end of all perfection; but your commandment is exceeding broad." But the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of it were open to the view of Jesus, who saw it in all its spirituality, and in its utmost perfection.

He was able to expose and refute all the false glosses with which their most learned teachers had obscured the law; and to set it forth as reaching no less to the thoughts and intents of the heart, than to the most open actions of the life.

There was also a luminousness in his statements, which, like the light of the sun, carried its own evidence along with it. His illustrations were so apt, so easy, so familiar, so convincing, that every one who was open to conviction was constrained to assent to every word he spoke. Nor did he ever, like the Scribes, dwell upon matters that were altogether useless and unedifying; but he was always on subjects of prime importance, the knowledge of which was necessary for the salvation of the soul.

In a word, as at an early period of his life the doctors in the temple "were astonished at his understanding and answers," so now, on this and many subsequent occasions, his hearers "were amazed and asked: How did this man get such learning without having studied?"

2. His faithfulness.

He never flattered the people by countenancing for a moment their expectation of a temporal Messiah, but showed the spiritual nature of that kingdom which he was come to establish. Moreover, in his reproofs he spared not any: the greatest and most learned among the people were rather the more exposed to his censures, on account of the influence which they exerted over the minds of others. The fallacy of their reasonings, the defectiveness of their morals, and the hypocrisy of their religious acts, (their alms, their prayers, their fastings,) were held up to universal reprobation. All the multitude were warned plainly, that "unless their righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, they could never enter into the kingdom of Heaven."

They were warned too:
that they must yield a cordial and unreserved obedience to his instructions;
that the conscious retaining of any bosom lust would infallibly destroy their souls forever;
that every sinful affection, though dear as a right eye, or apparently necessary as a right hand, must be cut off; or else they would assuredly take their portion "in hell-fire."

These were plain truths—not such as the people had been accustomed to hear from their teachers, who only "prophesied smooth things, or amused them with deceits." They were such truths as commended themselves to the consciences of all, and made them feel that they were sinners before God. Every person that heard him bore him witness, that "truly he was full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgressions, and to Israel his sin."

3. His authority.

The Scribes were in the habit of founding their instructions on their own fallacious reasonings, or on the dogmas of some of the more learned Rabbis. But our Lord appealed to no authority above his own. He reasoned indeed for the conviction of his hearers; but the ground on which he required every word of his to be received, was his own authority: "I say unto you; I say unto you." In this he differed from all the prophets that had gone before him: they delivered their messages, as from Jehovah; "Thus says the Lord!" But Jesus, being himself "God manifest in the flesh, assumed a right to dictate as from himself." "You have heard from others" such or such a thing; but "I say unto you" the very reverse; and require you to receive the word on my authority. To this his hearers were ready to submit, for the miracles which he had already wrought without number had evinced his almighty power and Godhead, and were a standing testimony, that his every word was to be received with implicit faith and unreserved obedience.

Doubtless there were many other things conspicuous in his ministrations: his gracefulness and ease, his tenderness and compassion, his zeal and diligence—could not fail of attracting notice; but the points above specified, are those which seem more particularly adverted to in the words of our text.

Such was the preaching of our Lord. Let us now consider,

II. The effect produced by it on his hearers.

They appear to have been exceedingly struck with his address; yet not so affected as we might have hoped. We shall endeavor to point out,

1. How far the effect was good.

The word which we translate "astonished" does certainly imply a very deep impression made upon their minds. This impression consisted partly in admiration, with which they were filled; and partly in conviction, with which they were penetrated—a conviction of the truth, the importance, and the beneficial tendency of all he had spoken. The novelty, united with the circumstances before mentioned, made his ministry appear as superior to that of others, as the effulgence of the sun is greater than the light of a twinkling star. One sentiment evidently pervaded the whole multitude, "Never any man spoke like this man." At the same time they felt in their consciences, that, if this was true religion, they had hitherto been ignorant of it in their minds, and destitute of it in their hearts.

Now these two feelings were doubtless good, inasmuch as they argued an openness of mind, a freedom from offence, and a desire of further instruction. Accordingly we find, that, "when he came down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him." But, from all that is recorded, we have no reason to conclude that the impression made upon them was altogether such as might have been wished.

2. Wherein it was defective.

They should have been "pierced to their hearts" with a deep sense of their wickedness, and should have been led to cry out like those on the day of Pentecost, "What shall we do to be saved?" Without such humiliation as this they could never be truly penitent: they never could abhor themselves, as every penitent must do, in dust and ashes.

They should have also given up themselves entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ. He required all to take up their cross and follow him: but this was effected only to a very small extent, even to the hour of his death. The whole number of his followers amounted at the last to no more than one hundred and twenty.

Hence it is evident, that, whatever effects were produced on this audience, they were only transient; and, consequently, that the word preached did not profit the people, "not being mixed with faith in those who heard it."

They should have been brought to a new and heavenly life. Everything that falls short of this is in vain. We must "obey from the heart that form of doctrine into which we are delivered;" just as metal that assumes the shape of the mold whereunto it is poured. But we see not in this audience any . . .
such tenderness of spirit, such melting of heart,
such surrender of their souls,
such transformation of their lives.

They appear only to have been like Ezekiel's hearers, who were delighted with his oratory, but were uninfluenced by his reproofs. Ezekiel 33:30-32, "As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, 'Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.' My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice."

Learn then from hence,

1. How ineffectual is the Word without the Spirit.

If any words could of themselves convert the souls of men, surely the words of our Lord Jesus Christ would have produced this effect. But even his discourses were often as water spilled upon the ground.

So it was also when his disciples preached: "Paul might plant, and Apollos water, but God alone can give the increase." The truth is, that nothing ever has been done, or ever can, for the saving of immortal souls, but by the operation of the Spirit of God.

It is the Spirit who quickens us from the dead.

It is the Spirit who opens the understanding and the heart.

It is "the Spirit who enables us to mortify the deeds of the body."

It is the Spirit who renews us after the Divine image.

When, therefore, we come up to the house of God, let us look, through the means, to Him who alone can render the means effectual for our good. Let us remember that the ministry of Christ himself will produce no saving effects without the Spirit. Let us remember that the Word, by whoever delivered, if accompanied by the Holy Spirit—shall be sharper than a two-edged sword, and be more powerful than "the hammer that breaks the rock in pieces!"

2. In what a lamentable state are the generality of hearers.

Multitudes, where the Gospel is preached with fidelity, will approve the word, and perhaps admire the preacher; but they are apt to put those feelings in the place of true conversion! Surely this is a point that deserves to be well considered. We should judge ourselves, not by our feelings towards the word, or towards him that ministers it to us—but by the radical and abiding effects produced upon our hearts and lives. Let it be a matter then of serious inquiry, Wherein does my reception of the word differ from that manifested by the auditors of our Lord? Perhaps I have been often struck, yes, "exceedingly struck," with admiration and conviction: but have I been brought to the exercise of deep contrition, of lively faith, of radical holiness? Know beloved, that unless the word has this effect upon you, instead of being to you "a savor of life unto life, it will be a savor of death unto death." Yes, your state will be less tolerable than even that of Sodom and Gomorrah!

3. What reason we have for thankfulness that we possess the written word.

Many of Christ's hearers probably regretted that they could not retain his discourse in their memory, and that they had it not in their hands for subsequent perusal. And the generality among us have reason to lament our inability to remember what we hear, even when the discourse embraces perhaps only a single point of that which was so diffusively treated by our Lord. But, whether this forgetfulness is our misfortune or our fault—we have this consolation at least, that the sermon of our blessed Lord is in our hands; that we may hear him preach it over to us, as it were, again and again. Yes, that we may even ask him to explain to us every point in it. What an advantage is this! What a value should we set upon it, if now, for the first time, his sermon were put into our hands!

But, alas! because it is accessible at all times, we are apt to make light of it: and many are blind enough to disregard it, because it refers rather to the precepts than the doctrines of the Gospel. Let us not however so slight our privileges. Let us study this portion of Holy Writ with peculiar attention. Let us endeavor to get every precept wrought into our hearts, and exhibited in our lives. Then shall we be indeed improved by it, and show forth the excellence of Christianity in all its perfection.

 

#1336

How We Are to Follow Christ

Matthew 8:19–22

"Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, "Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." Then another of His disciples said to Him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead."

ONE would have supposed, that, in such a history as that of our Lord, none but great things would be recorded; and that smaller incidents would be passed over as unworthy of notice: but the inspired writers, notwithstanding an inexhaustible fund of matter presented itself to their view, and they had previously determined to be as concise as possible, were directed by God to relate many circumstances, which to us would have appeared too insignificant to be mentioned in such a work. And for this we have abundant reason to be thankful: for, had any other plan been followed, the Scriptures would have been less calculated for general use.

Great events occur but rarely, and to few people; whereas small circumstances arise daily and hourly to all; nor is there anyone to whom they may not profitably be applied.

The short conversations recorded in the text appear of little importance; yet are they singularly instructive, and applicable to every human being. They serve in a peculiar manner to put us on our guard against two destructive errors, presumption on the one hand, and procrastination on the other: they guard us, I say, against,

I. Presumption.

This is a common and fatal error in the Christian world.

The Scribe here mentioned was manifestly guilty of it. He came to our Lord professing a determination, which he was but ill qualified to execute. Doubtless his intention was good: he came in a very respectful manner, and voluntarily engaged himself to become a stated follower of Christ: but it is probable that he thought his office and talents, as a Scribe, would procure him a more elevated station among the disciples: and it is evident that he expected to find his adherence to Christ rewarded with an abundance of earthly comforts.

Our Lord therefore rectified his mistake, and told him, that his followers must expect no better fare than he himself had, which yet in some respects was inferior to that which the wild animals enjoyed: for "foxes had their holes, and birds of the air their nests; whereas the Son of Man, though Lord of all, had not where to lay his head."

The same fault obtains very commonly among ourselves. Multitudes take up a profession of religion upon grounds equally mistaken: they expect to find ease, and popularity, and honor, as their portion here: and, because such things are promised to the believer in a spiritual view, they are ready to look for them altogether in a worldly view. They see that vital religion ennobles the soul; and therefore they expect the world to estimate it according to its true value. But they are much mistaken.

It is of great importance that this error should be rectified.

Before any person makes a profession of religion, it is requisite that he should consider carefully, what duties are required of him, and what difficulties are to be encountered by him.

Now the DUTIES are not such as the Scribe apprehended: namely, to wait upon Christ in an external profession of his religion (for we may go to the outward ordinances with the greatest punctuality imaginable, and yet be as far from Christ as ever).

Our Christian duties are:
to mortify the whole body of sin;
to crucify the old man with the affections and lusts;
to be increasingly dead to the world, and alive unto God;
and to have the same mind as was in Christ Jesus, viewing everything as he viewed it, regarding everything as he regarded it, and doing everything as he did it.

This is a work not to be undertaken lightly, or to be executed easily.

There are also innumerable DIFFICULTIES to be encountered. Whatever a man may think about worldly ease, or popularity, or honor, he will find that he must sacrifice all these, and be, like his Master, "despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief."

He who will follow Christ acceptably, must "follow him outside the camp, bearing his reproach."

He must engage in a warfare, and maintain it manfully, against all his spiritual enemies.

He must endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

If his own life stands in competition with his duty to God, he must sacrifice it cheerfully, accounting death in his cause the greatest honor.

Now these things, I say, should be well considered, and maturely weighed. We should consider . . .
whether Christ is worthy of all this labor and sorrow;
whether Heaven will be a sufficient recompense for it;
and whether God has given us a heart to choose him thus for our portion and eternal great reward?

In this manner we should "count the cost;" and then, from a conviction that the Pearl of Great Price is indeed worth all that we possess, we should "sell all, and buy it."

But there is another error, against which we need equally to be guarded; namely,

II. Procrastination.

This indeed is even more common than the former.

The person whom our Lord enjoined to follow him, was already "a disciple," but it was our Lord's will that he should become a more stated attendant on him, and a preacher of his Gospel. But, though this man did not intend to shrink from the duty imposed on him, he thought he had a more imperious duty at the present, and that his obedience to the Savior's call should be postponed to that.

But our Lord would admit of no delay: he intimated to the man, that, however commendable it was to show a filial respect to his deceased parent, and however short the time might be that he would be detained by it—his call to follow him was clear, and of paramount obligation. He intimated further, that the business which he had desired to engage in might just as well be performed by others, who, being destitute of spiritual life, were unfit for the higher office to which he was called: "Let the dead bury their dead; but you go and preach the kingdom of God."

Now, though we may suppose that there was something peculiar in this, and therefore not applicable to ourselves in its full extent, it is evident that our Lord intended to impress on the minds of all this solemn truth, that nothing could justify a disobedience to his commands, or a delay in dedicating ourselves to his service.

But the fact is, that almost every one imagines he has some present engagement of more importance; and, when called to follow Christ, replies, "Let me first go, and do this or that: let me finish my present business; let me get out of my present situation; let me attain such an object." They will not say, "I will never follow Christ;" but they plead some excuse for not following him at present.

Alas! how many thousands perish through this delusion! They think "the fit time is not yet come;" they promise themselves "a more convenient season;" and thus they delay, until death cuts short their purposes, puts an end to their life, and begins their eternal doom.

But this evil, like the former, must be banished from us.

If so specious a plea was not admitted by our Lord, what other can be? We must not understand our Lord as pouring contempt on filial duty; for he requires all to "show piety at home, and to requite their parents" to the utmost of their power: but he would have us to know that the duty of devoting ourselves to him is superior to every other, and that "the kingdom of God and his righteousness must be sought by us in the first place." If any attention to worldly duties are pleaded for the neglect of our souls, he would remind us that the plea will not be admitted in the day of judgment. On some particular occasions, indeed, "he will have mercy and not sacrifice," but, in the great work of salvation, our duty to God must supersede every other. The care of our soul is the one thing needful; and that must be attended to, whatever else may be neglected. That admits of no delay. This is the only moment that we can call our own: and he who postpones the concerns of his soul until the morrow, has reason to fear that God will say to him, "You fool, this night shall your soul be required of you!" "This should be regarded as the only accepted time, the only day of our salvation."

From hence then we may further learn,

1. How to estimate the things of time.

Our blessed Lord has taught us this effectually by his example. Though he was the Maker and Proprietor of all things, he chose to dwell in a more destitute condition than the beasts of the field or the birds of the air, even without any stated place where to repose his head. By this he has shown what an empty worthless portion riches are; and how contented the poor should be with their humble lot. He has shown, that to serve, and honor, and enjoy God is the most desirable state on earth; and that whether we have a larger or smaller portion on our way to Heaven, is scarcely worth a thought. To follow him is our one duty, and should be our one concern. If we have much of this world, we should serve him with it. If we have but little of this world, we should live, like the birds of the air, in a cheerful dependence on his good providence; contented equally "to abound, or to suffer need;" and feeling that when we "have nothing, we are really possessing all things."

2. How to act in reference to eternity.

Eternity realities must, so to speak, swallow up every other concern. We must make no account of anything that is to be sacrificed, or anything that is to be endured, in the service of our God; but must devote ourselves to him without hesitation and without reserve.

If, like the disciple in the text, we are called to preach the Gospel of the kingdom, we should show what exalted thoughts we have of the ministerial office, by our self-denying diligence in the discharge of it. We should "not seek great things for ourselves," or "entangle ourselves with the affairs of this life," but be contented with less of this world's goods, that we may be more at liberty to advance the interests of our Redeemer and the welfare of his Church and people.

But, whatever be our station in the world, we are equally called to "follow Christ;" and on our obedience to that call, our eternal happiness depends. I say not that we should neglect our civil or social duties; for God commands us to perform them with all diligence: but I do say that where the concerns of time and eternity interfere with each other, we must labor, "not for the food that perishes, but for that which endures unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give unto us."

 

 

#1337

Christ Stills The Tempest

Matthew 8:23-27

Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!"

But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.

So the men marveled, saying, "Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?"

THE more we see of Christ, the more we are constrained to admire him. Every fresh miracle discovers to us more of his unbounded power and grace. The disciples had often been struck with wonder at the miracles wrought by him. They now beheld a miracle in which they themselves were deeply interested, and were stimulated by it to more exalted thoughts of his august character.

It will be profitable to inquire,

I. What it was at which they so marveled.

The disciples in crossing the lake were overtaken by a storm, and were in imminent danger of being overwhelmed by the waves. In this strait they called upon their Lord for help.

They had put to sea in compliance with their Lord's command; yet were they not exempt from the dangers incident to navigation. Christ himself submitted to be thus tossed by winds and waves, and in so doing has taught us what his Church must expect in this tempestuous world. His disciples, having exerted themselves in vain, applied to him.

In this they afford us a good example under our distresses. Perplexed by fear, and agitated by impatience, they addressed him rather in a querulous expostulation. Alas! how feeble is our nature under the pressure of heavy trials! How apt are we to mix our supplications with complaints against God! They showed however, with all their weakness, in whom their trust was, and that they had no hope but in his almighty aid.

He immediately interposed for their deliverance. He could, if he had seen fit, have prevented the storm; but then the disciples would not have discovered their own weakness, nor have seen this marvelous display of their Master's power.

It is for the same gracious ends that he permits our troubles; and, when they have brought us to him in fervent supplication, he will deliver us from them.

He arose from his pillow, and with authority rebuked the storm. Instantly the boisterous winds were hushed, and the roaring billows silenced. Though at other times the waters after a storm remained in a perturbed state, at his command they subsided to a perfect calm.

Such is the effect his word produces on "the tempest-tossed soul." Terrors that appalled the conscience, are dissipated as a cloud. Temptations that agitated the frame, are disarmed of their power. Afflictions, that overwhelmed the soul, are made to yield "the peaceable fruits of righteousness."

Well might they marvel on an occasion like this. Nothing seems so much beyond the control of man as the winds and waves; but even these heard the voice and obeyed the will of the Lord Jesus. Well therefore might the disciples exclaim, "What kind of man is this!"

So stupendous a miracle should lead us to consider,

II. What views of Christ will naturally arise from this display of his power.

The disciples, through their ignorance and perplexity, scarcely knew what to think. But to us his conduct naturally suggests the following truths:

1. Christ is the true and living God.

His sleeping, through fatigue, showed him to be a man like ourselves; but his exercise of such power proved him to be God also. Moses had opened the sea by his wonder-working rod; and Elijah had made a path through Jordan by his mantle: but both confessedly wrought their miracles in dependence on God. Jesus, on the contrary, performed this miracle by his own power: and who, but God, is sufficient for such things? It is spoken of as the peculiar prerogative of God to rule the sea. Let us then bear this in mind in all our addresses unto Jesus. Let us indeed make this the ground of our application to him.

2. He is never unmindful of his people's troubles, however he may appear to be so.

The Apostles rather reflected on him as though he "cared not" for them. But his providential care was not the less exerted because he was asleep.

We also are ready on some occasions to think him unmindful of us. We too often adopt the impatient language of the Church of old—but the answer he gave to them, is equally applicable to us. We never need to be afraid if we are embarked with him. His ark may be tossed about and driven by tempestuous winds; but though everything else should perish, that would outride the storm.

3. He will not withhold his aid on account of the weakness of our faith.

The excessive fears of his disciples showed their want of faith. He therefore reproved them for having so little confidence in him. But he would not on that account refuse their request. In us also he too often sees the workings of unbelief: but he will "not be extreme to mark what is done amiss." He frequently, when on earth, relieved those who doubted his power or his willingness to help them. It is well for us that he still exercises the same pity and forbearance. Doubtless, however, the stronger our faith, the more speedy and effectual, for the most part, will our deliverances be.

4. He is as able to save us out of the greatest difficulties as from the least.

We are ever prone to limit him in the exercise of his goodness; nor are even the most signal manifestations of his power sufficient to correct this propensity. But he who created and upholds all things can overrule them as he pleases; and his promises to his people are fully commensurate with their needs. Let us then go to him under our most pressing difficulties, and rest assured, that he is both able and willing to save us to the uttermost!

Address.

1. To the disobedient.

God has been pleased to bestow on man the gift of reason, and to leave him a free agent in all which he does. Alas! how vilely do the generality abuse this transcendent mercy! They are more regardless of the divine command than even winds and waves. And is this the end for which God has so distinguished us? Is the privilege of volition granted us to encourage our revolt? Is it not rather, that our obedience to God may be a rational service? Let the disobedient stand amazed at their impiety. Let them wonder that the Divine forbearance is so long exercised towards them. Surely they have abundant need to offer that petition. O that they may be more impressed with their danger than ever the disciples were!

2. To those who truly endeavor to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

All seasons are not alike in the spiritual, any more than in the natural, world. The greatest difficulties may encompass you, when you have the clearest evidence that you are in the way of duty. But know that your Lord is an all-sufficient, ever-present help. Do not then shun the path of duty because of any trial that may beset you. In the midst of all, possess your souls in faith and patience; and let the triumphant words of former saints be your song. Thus from personal experience you shall have richer discoveries of your Savior's care and love.

 

 

#1338

Mercy Before Sacrifice

Matthew 9:13

"Go and learn what that means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice."

PETER, speaking of his brother Paul, says, that in his writings there are "some things hard to be understood." The same may be said, in some degree, respecting all the inspired writers. There is, in many of their statements, a height which cannot be explored, and a depth which cannot be fathomed. Even the precepts which they give us are by no means always plain.

Some precepts are so figurative, that we are of necessity, constrained to divest them of their high coloring, in order to reduce them to the standard of practical utility. Thus, when it was said, "Whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also," we cannot take it altogether in a literal sense, but must understand it as inculcating only a very high degree of patient submission to the injuries inflicted on us.

Some precepts are obscure, on account of the unqualified manner in which they are expressed: "Give to him that asks you; and from him that would borrow from you, turn not away." Were this precept followed in its full extent, the richest man would soon have nothing either to give or lend.

Some passages, like my text, are difficult because, while they are expressed in the most positive terms, they are to be understood only in a comparative sense.

Our Lord never intended to say that God did not require sacrifice, for the whole Mosaic law was written to show what sacrifices God did require. His meaning was that mercy was in itself far superior to sacrifice; and that, where the two came into competition with each other, mercy was to be preferred to sacrifice, and to be exercised to the neglect of sacrifice.

That we may enter fully into this subject, let us consider,

I. The lesson that is here commended to us.

Our blessed Lord, after calling Matthew the publican to the apostleship, condescended to attend a feast which his new disciple had prepared for him. To this feast many publicans and sinners were invited; and our Lord did not disdain to sit down to eat in their company, and to converse familiarly with them. For this he was blamed by the Pharisees, who thought such a condescension, on his part, a violation of his duty both to God and man: to God, who bids us "not to sit with the wicked;" and to man, to whom it must appear an encouragement to vice.

But our Lord vindicates himself, by showing, that such people were most likely to profit from his instructions, as the sick are from the physician; and that his conduct was in perfect accordance with their own Scriptures, wherein this lesson was plainly inculcated, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." The import of this he bade them to learn: "Go and learn what that means."

Now, the meaning of it is,

1. That moral duties are more important than those which are merely ritual.

To this the whole Scriptures bear witness. You will find the utmost contempt poured on ritual observances, when devoid of piety: but in all the Bible you will not find one real exercise of grace despised. The smallest good imaginable you will see commended, and the will accepted for the deed. In moral duties there is a real and inherent excellence: in every one of them there is, what I may justly call, a conformity to God himself, to "whose image we attain by the universal exercise of righteousness and true holiness." They are good at all times, and under all circumstances. In contrast, ritual observances have no intrinsic value in them, except as being appointed of God for his honor, and as being made use of by God for our good.

For instance, what is there in the seventh day of the week, or the seventh part of our time? As far as regards the morality of that appointment, it might as well have been a third or a tenth or a twentieth part of our time.

And what is there in sacrifices? The killing of a bullock is in itself no better than the killing of a dog: and if God had so ordained, the blood of swine would have been as good as the blood of bulls and of goats.

As commanded by God, even the slightest ordinance is to be regarded with the deepest reverence: but, divest even Sabbaths and sacrifices of their divine authority, and I say again, they are of no value.

Hence David says, "You desire not sacrifice; else would I give it: you delight not in burnt-offering." And Samuel, reproving Saul, puts to him this pointed interrogation, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice; and to hearken, than the fat of rams."

2. That, where they come in competition with each other, ritual duties must give way, and be superseded by the moral duties.

The whole course of our blessed Lord's conduct upon earth attests this truth. On many occasions he, if I may so say, violated the Sabbath-day, performing his miracles then, as on any common day, and ordering a man to carry his bed upon the Sabbath-day. On account of these apparent violations of the Sabbath he was constantly accused as disregarding the laws of Moses and of God.

In the twelfth chapter of Matthew's Gospel we are informed that he authorized his disciples upon the Sabbath-day to pluck some ears of corn, and rub out the grain and eat it. The act was perfectly legal in itself: but, being done on a Sabbath-day, it was construed as a threshing of the wheat, and, consequently, as a work forbidden on that day. But our Lord justified them from the example of David, who, with his followers, had, contrary to an express command, eaten the show-bread which was the exclusive portion of the priests. He further justified them from the countless occupations of the priests in the temple, which turned the Sabbath, that should have been a day of rest, into a day of more than ordinary labor. These being works of necessity, the one for satisfying of their hunger, and the other for the serving of the altar, the ritual command was made void, being superseded by a call of more urgency, and of paramount obligation.

Such being the lesson here inculcated, let us consider,

II. The vast importance of learning it.

The manner in which our blessed Savior speaks, shows that this lesson is far from being generally understood; while yet it is so important, that it ought to be diligently studied by every child of God. It is a lesson of vast importance,

1. For the forming of our principles.

In the true spirit of the Pharisees of old, many among ourselves lay a very undue stress on outward observances, as recommending us to God. But the answer of Balaam to Balak, who had consulted him on this subject, gives us the true view of it: "With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" This was the question put to Balaam. His answer was, "He has showed you, O man, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."

To the same effect is the declaration of Paul: "The kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." It is the inward disposition of the mind that God regards, and not the service of the body. "The sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit is, in his sight, of more value than the cattle upon a thousand hills." We must not, then, form a judgment of our spiritual state by our punctuality in outward duties—but by the depth of our humiliation, the simplicity of our faith, and the integrity of our souls in the way of holy obedience. To this must we attend as of absolute and indispensable necessity: and any principle opposed to this will only deceive us to our ruin.

2. For the regulation of our conduct.

There must, of necessity, be times when our ritual duties and moral duties clash with each other. To wait upon God in the public assembly of his people is a duty which we all owe to him, and which should not be omitted without great necessity. But who will say that an attendance upon a sick and dying person is not a sufficient cause for neglecting, for a season, the house of God? Who will say, that if there was a general conflagration in a town, the inhabitants would be ill employed in extinguishing the fire, even though it were the Sabbath-day?

True, we must take care that we do not pretend a necessity which does not really exist: for we cannot deceive God; and therefore it befits us to be on our guard that we deceive not our own souls. But, supposing that we exercise an impartial judgment in determining the question before us, we may be sure that God will approve of the conduct that is founded on the rule before us.

There is a medium to be observed between a superstitious adherence to forms and a profane neglect of them: and it must be our endeavor so to approve ourselves to God, that we may have his Spirit witnessing with our spirit that we are accepted by him.

 

 

#1339

Two Blind Men Healed

Matthew 9:27–30

"When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, "Son of David, have mercy on us!" And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They said to Him, "Yes, Lord." Then He touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith let it be to you." And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, saying, "See that no one knows it."

WE are so much accustomed to read and hear the miracles of our Lord, that the recital of them produces little or no effect upon us. But had we seen the multitudes of diseased people continually coming to him, crying after him, and breaking in upon his retreats when he was in the houses of his friends, we would have been greatly astonished.

In the passage before us we have a specimen of their importunity: two blind men, having in vain supplicated our Lord's assistance in the street, followed him into a house, and there obtained that relief, which, from prudential considerations perhaps, he had not chosen to impart in the presence of the people.

Waving many observations which will arise, when another miracle, exactly similar to this, shall be considered, we shall fix our attention upon two things, which are very strongly marked in the words before us:

I. The object of faith.

The whole sacred volume is to be received by us; but God has revealed in it the proper object of our faith: his perfections are the foundation on which we build; and though every perfection is equally an object of our love, yet there seems a propriety in regarding his power as the more immediate object of our faith; because it will be to no purpose to believe him well-disposed towards us, if we do not also believe him able to effect his gracious intentions.

In confirmation of this we may observe, that in the most eminent instances of faith, the power of God has been chiefly regarded.

And in the most remarkable instances of unbelief, his power has been principally doubted. Moreover God in a peculiar manner points out this attribute to our noticed, expostulates with us for not attending to it sufficiently, and exhorts us to take it for our strength.

The address of our Lord to the two suppliants leads us further to remark,

II. The importance of faith.

Our Lord makes more inquiry after faith than after any other grace. He overlooked many faults, where faith was exercised; and disregarded everything that was apparently good, if this were wanting. He invariably bestowed the highest encomiums upon faith; and made it, not only a condition, but the very measure of his favors.

Application.

1. To unbelievers.

If men may manifest a very considerable earnestness about salvation, and yet leave room to doubt whether they really believe in the all-sufficiency of Christ, how evidently must they be unbelievers, who have no solicitude about their eternal welfare! To judge of your faith, see whether you resemble these blind men in your consciousness of your need of a Savior, and your conviction of the sufficiency of Christ to save you! Your need of mercy at his hands is as real and as urgent as ever theirs was: and, if you really believe in him, you are going to him with the same importunity as was expressed by them: nor will you account any time or place unfit for the silent offering of your requests.

Think then, what will you answer to the Lord when he shall inquire respecting your faith! And what will you do, if he should say, Be it unto you according to your faith? Alas! too many of you need no greater curse than this. If you have no more pardon, peace, or glory, than in proportion to your present exercise of faith, the great mass of you, it is to be feared, will be eternally miserable indeed. O remember the fate of the unbelieving Israelites; and flee to Christ, every one of you, lest you perish after their example of unbelief.

2. To those who are weak in faith.

Can you see the multitude of our Savior's miracles, and entertain any doubt of his sufficiency? or the examples of so many who were strong in faith, and not be ashamed that, with your superior advantages, you should ever indulge unbelief? O fix it in your minds that Jesus is able to save to the uttermost, and to keep that which you have committed to him. Believe in the Lord, so shall you be established; believe his prophets, so shall you prosper. But if you will not believe, neither shall you be established.

3. To believers in general.

You will find that peace of mind, purity of heart, victory over the world, and indeed all that you hold dear, vary according to the weakness or stability of your faith. Beware then of ever "limiting the Holy One of Israel." Beg that "what is yet lacking in your faith may be perfected." And seek to become "strong in faith, giving glory to God."

 

 

#1340

Our Duty to The Benighted World

Matthew 9:36–38

"But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."

IT is an honor to the present age, that religion has assumed her true character of diffusive benevolence. There is much going forward in the circulation of the Scriptures in the different languages of the world, and in the sending out of missions to every quarter of the globe. But, when I say that there is much going forward, I speak only comparatively with what has been done for ages past: for, in truth, all that is done at present is little more than a drop in the ocean.

It is a comfort, however, to know, that the proper office of religion is better understood; and that piety, which, until lately, has been circumscribed within the narrow limits of a man's own family, now comprehends in its efforts the whole family of mankind. This was the religion which our Lord inculcated on his first disciples, and which, from the words before us, I will take occasion to recommend to you.

Let us then consider,

I. The state of the world at large.

Doubtless our Lord spoke primarily of the Jews, whose condition, in respect of piety, was truly deplorable. The authorized teachers were altogether intent on their own temporal interests, while they forgot entirely the spiritual and eternal interests of the people: so that the people were really as sheep without a shepherd. Happy would it be if there were not but too much occasion for similar complaints in the present day; and that not only among other churches, but our own. However, it is of heathens rather that I propose at this time to speak. They, as my text intimates, are in a state,

1. Of destitution.

The people "fainted" through their want of that nourishment which their priests ought to have administered. And among the heathen world there are multitudes who feel their need of mercy, but know not how to attain it. Nothing can be more clear, than that the most uncivilized savages have an idea of some Superior Being, whom they conceive themselves to have offended, and whom they wish to propitiate. For this end, they have recourse to penances, and pilgrimages, and self-inflicted tortures. It is quite afflictive to read of the rites prescribed by the priests of different religions for the obtaining of favor with their deities. They seem to have exhausted their ingenuity in searching out modes the most painful, the most odious, the most absurd.

And what is the effect? The people, after all their self-denying efforts, faint as much as ever, under a sense of the fruitlessness of their endeavors, and with fearful anticipations of their future doom.

Like Hagar, when her little stock of water was consumed, they see no prospect before them, but to lie down and die. No angel have they at hand to point out the fountain; which, though hidden, is close at hand. And this is the state of many hundreds of millions of our unhappy fellow-creatures, even of the whole heathen world. Would to God it were not also the state of millions among ourselves!

2. Of danger.

Sheep, without a shepherd are exposed to dogs and wolves, who may tear them to pieces at their will. In like manner, are the heathen world exposed to the assaults of that roaring lion, who is never satiated with his prey; even with Satan, who prowls throughout the world, seeking whom he may devour. By temptations too on every side, as well as by their own indwelling lusts, are they assailed; so that there is indeed no hope of escape for them: for no shepherd have they, to warn them of their danger, or to point out to them a place of refuge. A Deliverer, indeed, is at hand with them, if they did but know where to find him, and how to make their application to him. But they have no man to care for their souls, or to give them the information which they stand in need of. Hence "they perish for lack of knowledge," not indeed like sheep, by a mere bodily destruction, but under a load of guilt, that sinks them into everlasting perdition; even into "that lake of fire and brimstone," where they shall "lie down in everlasting burnings."

And can we doubt what is,

II. Our duty towards them?

Our blessed Lord has taught it us: has taught it,

1. By his own example.

He "had compassion on the multitudes." And whence is it that we are so unfeeling towards them? Is it that the heathen are in so much better state than the Jews who attended the ministry of our Lord? Were they who had God in the midst of them by his word and ordinances, such objects of compassion; and are not they who are altogether "without God in the world?"

I say then, again, Whence is it that we perhaps, in the course of our whole lives, have never spent one hour in mourning over their unhappy condition, or in praying to God for them? Had the smallest interest of our own been in jeopardy, we would have thought of it, and devised means to avert the impending calamity. But for their souls we have felt no anxiety; nor have we put forth any exertions for their eternal welfare. Truly, we have lain in more than brutish apathy, when we ought to have wept over them, as our Lord over Jerusalem: and to have had great heaviness and continual sorrow in our hearts, as Paul had for his Jewish brethren.

2. By a particular command.

"Pray," says he, "to the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest." And who is "the Lord of the harvest," but Jehovah; for "all souls are his." And who but He can "thrust forth laborers into his harvest?"

For ministration at home, where ease, and honor, and emolument, are found, multitudes are ready to obtrude themselves, and to solicit employment in the sacred office.

But when God inquires for laborers in the heathen world, and says, "Who will go for us?" how few are found who are ready to reply, "Here am I; send me!" No, in truth: there are excuses enough then: one, like Moses, has not the qualifications for so great a work: another has some temporal occupation inconsistent with it: and another has married a wife, or intends to do so, and therefore cannot go. Much labor and little pay, is not the preferment which the generality of us desire. A thousand difficulties rise up to view; and every mole-hill becomes a mountain. And who but God can overcome this sad reluctance? Who can inspire men with zeal sufficient for this holy undertaking? None but He who formed the universe: none but He who called Andrew and Peter from their nets, and Matthew from the receipt of custom. "He has all hearts in his hands, and turns them wherever he will;" and can convert a proud and persecuting Saul into a humble, loving, and laborious servant of Christ.

We should therefore pray to him to effect this. He is a prayer-hearing God, and will not allow us to seek his face in vain. The whole night did Jesus spend in prayer, previous to his calling to himself his twelve disciples. And who can tell, if we were alike earnest in prayer, what might be effected in behalf of the heathen world? At all events, we are bound to use the means: and we have every reason to believe, that if "we would give no rest to our God," agreeably to his direction, he would arise for our help, and get himself praise throughout the earth.

Improvement.

1. Be thankful for the blessings which you yourselves enjoy.

Are you "faint," from a sense of your own guilt and helplessness? You have those at hand who are ready to offer you "the cup of salvation." Are you exposed to danger? You have shepherds to warn you of it, and to point out to you that Savior who is both able and willing to deliver. It may be that some of you understand, by painful experience, what it is to feel a sense of God's wrath upon the soul, and to be harassed with "a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation." O, what thanks do you owe to God, that the way of life is so plainly opened to you, and that you are so urgently called to walk in it! Be thankful, then, and avail yourselves of the privileges which you enjoy, and which "many prophets and kings have sought in vain."

2. Endeavor to extend them to the whole world.

This is the bounden duty of all, to whom the Gospel comes. Ministers and people are alike bound to use the efforts which are within their power. The poorest and weakest in the universe may lift up his soul in prayer. I call upon you, then; on you especially who are sensible of your own privileges; surely it will be strange indeed if you do not show a zeal for God. who has so distinguished you; and if you do not endeavor to impart to others the blessings which you yourselves enjoy. To you who are educating for the ministry I would particularly commend this subject. Not only pray that God would send forth others into his harvest. but beg him to give you grace. that you may be ready to go yourselves.

 

 

#1341

The Limited Commission of the Apostles

Matthew 10:5–7

"These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'"

AFTER our blessed Lord had chosen his twelve servants whom he called apostles, he gave them a commission to go forth and proclaim his advent, just as his forerunner John the Baptist had already done. But considering the unbounded benevolence of our blessed Lord and that he was really come in order to save the whole world, we are rather surprised at the charge he gave them. especially as contrasted with the commission which he gave them after he was risen from the dead, and which is now given to all who preach in his name. We propose to consider,

I. The restriction imposed on them.

They were commanded to proclaim that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand.

By "the kingdom of Heaven" was meant the kingdom which the Messiah was appointed to establish. The expression "the kingdom of Heaven" was generally so understood at that time; and the people to whom the Apostles were sent were in no danger of misapprehending the tidings which they heard. The whole nation of the Jews were then expecting their Messiah: and though they formed very erroneous notions respecting the nature of his kingdom. they were persuaded that he was to be a King and to reign over them, and to put all his enemies under his feet. The same proclamation and in the very same terms had been made by John the Baptist and by our Lord himself: so that the office of the Apostles was not to bring new tidings to the people's ears, but only to call their attention to the truth which had already been extensively circulated throughout the land.

But in the execution of their commission, they were restricted to the house of Israel.

They were "not to go into the way of the Gentiles, or to enter into any city of the Samaritans" but to give an exclusive attention to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." The Jews, though professing to belong to God, were really "lost sheep," having gone astray from him, and wandered far from his fold.

But whence arose this restriction, and this extraordinary partiality towards the Jewish people? It arose, I apprehend, partly from the relation in which they stood to God, and partly from the very tidings themselves which were at that time to be proclaimed.

The Jews were God's peculiar people, with whom he had entered into covenant, and who had been consecrated to him by the sacred rite of circumcision. They were regarded by God as "his first-born;" who were therefore entitled to a priority in everything which related to their Father's inheritance. Besides, they had been taught to expect the Messiah to be born among them, descended, like them, from Abraham, and of the family of David, whose throne he was destined to inherit. To them, therefore, the tidings would be welcome: and when he should have been received by them who were best capable of judging of his pretensions to the Messiahship, he might with greater propriety and credibility be commended to the Gentiles as their Savior also: whereas, if he should be in the first instance proclaimed as a Savior to the Gentiles, a suspicion might naturally arise, in the minds of those to whom he was proclaimed, that he was unwarrantably obtruded upon them, and that his title to that august character would not stand the test of careful inquiry.

In addition to this, it had been foretold, that "the law should go forth out of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and, consequently, the Gospel must first be established there, in order that it might proceed from thence. Hence, even after our Lord's resurrection, it was enjoined on the Apostles to preach the Gospel, "beginning at Jerusalem," and though the restriction before referred to was then withdrawn, a priority was still reserved to God's ancient people; "salvation being intended for the Jew first, and then for the Gentile."

With thankfulness to God, we now proceed to notice,

II. The liberty accorded to us.

The tidings which we are commissioned to declare are more full and complete than those which the Apostles were then authorized to announce.

They could declare only that "the kingdom of Heaven was at hand," but we proclaim, that it is actually established; that the Lord Jesus Christ has vanquished all the powers of darkness, "triumphing over them openly upon his cross," and, in his ascension, "leading captivity itself captive." He is now enthroned at the right hand of God; and will, in due season, "put all enemies under his feet." True it is, that though his kingdom is at present but very limited, it shall be extended over the face of the globe, and all the kingdoms of the world be comprehended under it. This we, no less than the Apostles, are authorized to declare: and while our authority is the same,

Our commission is far more extended than theirs.

Wherever there is a lost sheep, whether among Jews or Gentiles, there are we at liberty to invite the perishing creature to the good Shepherd, and to bring him home to the fold of God. The commission given to us is to "go into all the world, and to preach the Gospel to every creature," and wherever there is a rebel against God, we may call upon him to lay down his weapons, and to submit to the gentle yoke of Jesus, who is "King of kings, and Lord of lords."

Nay more: we are authorized to assure every sinner under Heaven, that if only he comes to Jesus, "he shall in no wise be cast out." Cast out, do I say? He shall, from being an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, and a stranger from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world—however far he may have been from God, he shall be brought near by the blood of Christ: and, from being a "stranger and a foreigner, he shall be a fellow-citizen with the saints, and of the household of God."

There is not a blessing enjoyed by any subject of the Redeemer's kingdom, which shall not be freely imparted unto him: and not in this world only, but also in the world to come. Every subject of the Redeemer's kingdom shall himself be made a king. He must indeed as "a good soldier of Jesus Christ" but victory shall surely be secured to him; and, having overcome his spiritual enemies, he shall be a partaker of his Savior's glory, and "sit down with him upon his throne, even as he also overcame and has set down with his Father upon his throne."

Such is the kingdom of God, as it was preached by Paul; and to a participation of it I invite every soul that hears me this day.

Now then learn,

1. What evidence there is of our commission.

You may well inquire what authority we have to declare these things; and expect that we should be able to adduce some testimony from God himself, as a seal to our ministry. Behold then, in a spiritual sense, the very testimonies with which the Apostles themselves were honored. Did they "heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and cast out devils?" Such are the effects wrought by our Gospel also, on the souls of men. Say, brethren, Are there none of you that were once sick and leprous, yes, "dead in trespasses and sins," and "led captive by the devil at his will;" and who have, through the ministry of the word, been "delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son?" I trust that there are among you such "seals to our ministry," and such witnesses for God in this sinful world.

But where are these effects ever produced by any other doctrine than, that which is here announced? Where are men "turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God," by any other doctrine than that which Paul preached, the doctrine of the Cross? If, then, this doctrine has wrought effectually among you, and be the only doctrine which is the power of God to the salvation of men, then have you an evidence that "the kingdom of God is come unto you."

2. What benefit you will derive from receiving our testimony.

Form to yourselves an idea of all that the wisest and greatest monarch can bestow upon his most endeared favorites, and you will fall infinitely short of what the Lord Jesus will confer on you.

3. what necessity is laid upon you to submit to Christ.

If those who slighted the ministrations of the Apostles, who could only say that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand, were in a state "more intolerable than that of Sodom and Gomorrah"—then what do you think must be the state of those who pour contempt upon it now that it is established? I pray God, my brethren, that this guilt may never attach to you; lest, in the last day, the Savior himself issue respecting you that awful sentence, "Bring hither those that were my enemies, who would not have me reign over them, and slay them before me!"

 

#1342

Diffusion of The Gospel, A Duty

Matthew 10:8

"Freely you have received, freely give."

COMPASSION for the needs and miseries of men is a very distinguished feature of the Christian character. It is a lovely grace, even when it has respect only to the temporal necessities of mankind. But it is of a far higher stamp, when it is called forth by a view of their spiritual needs, and seeks to administer to their eternal welfare.

Such was the feeling which our blessed Lord and Savior chiefly manifested on the occasion before us, and sought to diffuse among those who were to be his more immediate followers and servants: "When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." Then having, on the following day, called his twelve Apostles, he bade them go out and preach, saying, "The kingdom of Heaven is at hand;" and, in confirmation of their word, to work the most benevolent miracles; that so the people might have, in the healing of their bodily disorders, an emblem and a pledge of what He was come to effect upon their souls. Then, reminding them how sovereignly he had acted in selecting them to this high office, he added, "Freely you have received; freely give."

This direction of his to the Apostles will afford me a fit occasion to set before you,

I. The blessings which God has freely communicated to us.

Those blessings which had been conferred upon the Apostles were great.

The Apostles had been called, from their several occupations, to follow their Lord; and had been drawn with a power which they were not able to withstand. They had been selected from all the people of Israel, to be more especially instructed by their Lord in the nature of his religion, which he was about to establish: for to them did our Lord explain in secret the truths which he had delivered only in parables to his public auditories. To them also was given an experience of what they knew, by an operation of divine grace upon their souls; and an authority also was vested in them, to proclaim to others the truths which had been so far revealed to themselves. They were empowered, also, to work the most astonishing miracles in confirmation of their word: and, ultimately, to become instructors, yes, and instruments of salvation also, to millions of the human race. Finally, their names were written in the Lamb's book of life; and they were taught to look forward to all the felicity of Heaven, as their sure and everlasting inheritance.

Not one of these things had they merited: not one of these things had they purchased or procured to themselves: all these blessings, whether official or personal, had been freely given to them, as an act of sovereign grace on the part of their Lord and Savior: and, in reference to every one of the mercies, our Lord could say, "You have not chosen me; but I have chosen you."

Nor are the blessings which have been given to us less worthy of notice.

True, we are not called to be Apostles, or to receive truth by inspiration, or to work miracles: but if we fall short of them in what relates to their official character, we are not a whit below them in all that is personal. "To us it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven;" while the great mass of mankind are yet lying in heathen darkness, without so much as one ray of light to guide them into the way of peace. I may add, too, that a faithful Gospel ministry is a great mercy, of which millions of those who possess the Christian Scriptures are yet destitute. But what, if we can say that our eyes have been opened to behold the truth, and our hearts opened to embrace it? What, if we can say that we have been "quickened from our death in trespasses and sins;" and that we have been enabled to give up ourselves to Christ, as his stated and avowed followers? What, if we have a good hope that "our names are written in Heaven" and that we have been "begotten again to an inheritance that is incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in Heaven for us?" Have not we reason to bless our God?

Then, as to the freeness of these gifts; what have we ever done to merit them? Must we not acknowledge, in reference to every one of them, that God has gone before us with the blessings of his goodness? and that, in reference to them all, "He was found by those who sought him not, and made known to those who inquired not after him?"

Know you then, brethren, that as to the external ministration of the Gospel, it is what "you have freely received;" and if you have been made partakers of an inward experience of its power, for that also you are altogether indebted to the free and sovereign grace of God.

Let us, then, proceed to consider,

II. The obligation which God has thereby entailed upon us.

The Apostles received not their gifts for themselves only, but for the good of others. In like manner must we consider the benefits which we have received, as talents to be improved by us for the honor of our God, and the welfare of our fellow-creatures. This is true, even in relation to our faculties, our property, our influence in the world; but much more is it true in reference to the possession of divine knowledge, which is so distinguishing a mercy, and of such infinite importance to every man. To all, then, I say, "Freely give;" for,

1. The call on us is as urgent as it was on the Apostles.

Were the bulk of the Jewish nation ignorant; then what must the heathen be, who possess not one of their advantages? Cast an eye over a map of the globe, and see how small a part of the world is enlightened with divine truth. Not so much as the very name of Jesus is known to more than one-sixth part of the world; or, if known, is known only to be hated and abhorred. Go through the world, as the Apostles went through Judea, and say whether you will not find the souls of men diseased and leprous, and under the power of Satan, as much as ever their bodies were whom the Apostles were authorized and empowered to heal. Yes, truly, "the whole world lies in wickedness," and "under the power of the Wicked-one;" and it is the Gospel only that can heal them!

I therefore call upon you to send forth the Gospel, by any means in your power. Individually, I well know, you can do but little; but in concert you may do much. What might not the Christian world effect, if they all felt their obligations to the extent that they ought, and labored to fulfill them to the extent that they might? At all events, do you rise to the call of duty; and give as liberally as you have freely received.

2. The obligation, too, is as great on us as on them.

We are not to "hide our talent in a napkin," or, if we do, we must expect to be condemned as "unprofitable servants." We must give an account of our stewardship, and answer for every talent committed to our charge. On the score of responsibility, therefore, we are as much bound to exert ourselves as ever the Apostles were. But I am ashamed to urge such an argument as that.

Shall those who have been redeemed by the blood of God's only dear Son, and been renewed by his Holy Spirit, need any other motive to exertion than gratitude, especially when called to such a service as this? Should not "the love of Christ constrain them" to do all that they can in this blessed work? Let me hope that you need no other impulse than this; and that now, with one heart and one hand, you will combine in aiding the society whose cause I plead.

3. The opportunity, also, is as favorable as ever theirs was.

Was there at that time an expectation of the Messiah's advent? So is there now, to a vast extent, both among Jews and Gentiles. An idea seems to be gradually pervading the whole world, that one great religion is about to be established, to which all others will give way. And the Christian world, in particular, is beginning, and to an extent never known before, to feel its obligations, and to fulfill its duties in this respect. The diffusion of the Holy Scriptures in the different languages of the earth; the sending out of missionaries from almost every different church in Christendom; the zeal that is spread among all classes of society; and the liberality that is exercised; all bode well respecting the success of our endeavors. For, beyond all doubt, this zeal and liberality proceed from God: and what he has thus been pleased to excite, we may reasonably hope he will accompany with his blessing.

 

 

#1343

Wisdom and Innocence to Be United

Matthew 10:16

"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."

IT is a favorite idea with many, that a great part of the Scriptures was written for those only of the Apostolic age; and that it is improper for us to apply to ourselves what was delivered to them. Now we readily grant that some things had a peculiar and primary reference to the Apostles, and to others of that day; and that, as far as anything was peculiar to them, it would be wrong for us to take it to ourselves. But we must assert, on the other hand, that as far as we are in the same circumstances with them, what was spoken to them is strictly and properly applicable to us. What was delivered to the Apostles themselves in this address of our Lord, was only partially applicable to them at the time it was spoken. The foregoing part of the chapter was suited to them in their first mission through the land; but what is contained in our text and to the end of the chapter was comparatively inapplicable to them until after the day of Pentecost: yet, as far as circumstances required it, they were to regard it from the first moment that it was spoken to them. Thus then it is with us: every word of God, to whoever delivered, is to be considered as intended for us, in proportion as our situations accord with theirs to whom it was delivered.

Accordingly we do not hesitate to take to ourselves the direction in our text: nor is it to ministers only that we would apply it, but to Christians in general, whose situation in the world so far accords with that of the Apostles, that they universally need the same warning to be given them, and the same path of duty to be pointed out.

We shall proceed to notice then,

I. The situation of Christians in the world.

It may seem harsh to represent them as "sheep in the midst of wolves," and we will grant that the general establishment of Christianity, and the laws enacted for the support of it, afford a protection to us which the first Christians did not enjoy; but the enmity of the human heart against God is the same as ever; and the light of Divine truth is as offensive to the carnal mind as ever; and the hostility which exists against true Christians at this day, is the same as existed in the heart of Cain, and of all ungodly men in every age. It is the same in its nature, and, when unrestrained by law, is the same also in its degree; it only differs in the particular acts by which it is evinced. The distinction of wolves and sheep still exists, though the power of the wolves is restrained: but what Paul says in reference to Ishmael is still as true as ever, "As then he who was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit—even so it is now."

In confirmation of this, we appeal to the manner in which the godly are universally treated:

1. A universal prejudice exists against them.

Names of reproach are given them now, as much as in any age of the world. These names vary from time to time; but they are constantly understood to designate people that are weak and contemptible; and men universally affix a stigma to the character that is branded with them. Let any person, however respectable in himself, and however excellent in his deportment, be spoken of as a fanatic, or any other name of like import, and every one will conceive him to be either a weak enthusiast or a designing hypocrite. Everything that can be spoken to his disadvantage will be boldly asserted, eagerly listened to, and readily believed; nor will one single person in ever so large a company be found bold enough to vindicate his injured character. If a fault can be found in him, it will be magnified beyond all bounds—what he has done once or twice in his life, will be represented as his daily practice; and the faults of one will be imputed to the whole body. Nor can a wolf more delight in the blood of a lamb, than these do in tearing to pieces the characters of the Lord's people. We appeal to all, whether this is not true? and whether there is not still as much reason as ever to say, "we know concerning this sect, that it is everywhere spoken against?"

2. Their very character exposes them to injuries.

It is well known to be an established principle with them, to suffer patiently, and not to avenge themselves; insomuch that if a person professing godliness should indulge an angry and vindictive spirit, he would be universally considered as having no pretensions to real piety. Hence everyone is bold enough to insult or injure them: a man that would not dare to show the smallest disrespect to a worldly character, will take liberties with them, and calumniate them without fear. As the defenseless condition of the sheep invites the wolf, whose ferocity would be curbed in the presence of a lion—so a cowardly principle operates on the world, and instigates them to attack those from whom they expect no vindictive retaliation.

3. They are considered as the legitimate prey of all who choose to oppress them.

It is well said by the prophet, "He who departs from evil makes himself a prey." Let any other respectable person be calumniated, and he will find someone to espouse his cause. But, as we before observed, the pious man has no advocate; every one has a right to say of him whatever he pleases. Let any other order of men be loaded with opprobrium, and multitudes will start up in their defense. Yes, even a word that can bear an interpretation unfavorable to them, will be construed into a libel. But ten thousand words, the most harsh, the most cruel, and the most unjust, may be spoken against pious people; the whole order of them may be condemned as fools and hypocrites, and no one will feel himself offended, nor will anyone complain of the uncharitableness of such censures.

Why then is this? Is it not, that these people are generally understood to be excluded in a measure from the common rights of men; and that everyone has a right to attack them as he will? Let a disorderly man interrupt a public or private concert, and a universal indignation will be excited against him. But let him disturb a religious assembly in their public or social ordinances, and the world will be far more ready to vindicate than condemn him; or, at most, will only smile, as though he had committed but a slight and venial offence.

Do not these things show, that pious people are not on a footing of equality with others; and that, in respect to such treatment, they are as sheep in the midst of wolves? Yes, truly, it both is so, and must be so: "The servant cannot be above his lord; and, if they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household."

Let us now then consider,

II. The conduct which that situation calls for.

The serpent is said to be "more subtle than all the beasts of the field," and the dove is proverbially kind and innocent. Now the wisdom of the one and the harmlessness of the other are very desirable to be combined in the Christian character; because it is by such a union only that the Christian will be enabled to cope successfully with his more powerful enemies.

He should unite these graces,

1. In the avoiding of evil.

It is lawful and proper to avoid persecution, when we can do it without violating the laws of truth. The Apostles, "when persecuted in one city, were directed to flee to another," and that great champion of Christianity, Paul, when the Jews laid wait for him at the gates of Damascus, was "let down the wall in a basket," that he might escape their fury. Our Lord himself too, when ensnaring questions were put to him, so that his answer, whatever it might be, would be made an occasion of accusation against him, repeatedly avoided the snare, sometimes by not answering at all, sometimes by a significant action, sometimes by asking a question in return. Thus baffling the designs of his blood-thirsty enemies, and constraining them to say, "Never has any man spoke like this man."

In this way we may act also. We must not dissemble, like Peter, to please or satisfy any set of men whatever; but we may take advantage of the peculiar views and prejudices of our enemies, to divide their counsels, and avert from ourselves their combined malignity.

Thus did Paul, when the Pharisees and Sadducees were persecuting him with united fury: by professing himself a Pharisee, he engaged one half of his enemies on his side, and disconcerted the measures which would otherwise have been executed against him. There is danger, however, when on such ground as this, of violating Christian simplicity. It is safer far to take for our model the condescending kindness of the Apostle, in "becoming all things to all men," and in conforming ourselves to their habits and sentiments, wherever we can do it without violating the essential principles of the Gospel. In this way we shall truly comply with the direction in our text, and make the enmity of others against Christianity an occasion of displaying its unrivaled excellence.

2. In the doing of good.

It is lamentable to see how often well-meaning Christians defeat their own purposes by their lack of wise judgment. They will reprove sin; but they will reprove it with so much harshness, or in so public a manner, as to irritate only, and not to reclaim, the offender. In conveying instruction also, they overlook all the circumstances of time and place, as well as the state of those they address. They forget that there is much wisdom required "to win souls;" that they should "choose out acceptable words," which shall "distill as the dew," and insinuate themselves gently into the minds of the hearers. They will speak the truth freely at all times, without considering whether they be not "casting their pearls before swine, who will only tarn again and rend them."

Some, as soon as they have attained a little knowledge themselves, will set themselves up for public teachers, and take upon themselves the office of the ministry without any call, either from God or man; little thinking what a stumbling-block they cast before many, whom they harden in their prejudices against the Gospel of Christ. In a word, they think that zeal is everything; and that, if only they endeavor to do good, they need not be much concerned in what way they do it.

But they need to be told, that Paul himself, even when going to meet the whole college of Apostles, took the precaution of communicating privately with the chief among them first, lest by an abrupt disclosure of all his history at once he should excite their prejudices, and occasion disorder in the Church. It will be well for them to treasure up in their minds that observation of Solomon, "I wisdom dwell with prudence."

3. In the whole of their deportment.

Christians should be "a wise and understanding people," and should have their whole conduct regulated by "sound wisdom and discretion." They should be careful "not to give occasion to their enemies to speak reproachfully." They should rather be studious to "cut off occasion from those who seek occasion against them," and to "put to silence the ignorance of foolish men by well-doing."

This is strongly inculcated in those words of the Apostle, "Walk in wisdom toward those who are without," and it was admirably illustrated in the conduct of Daniel, which constrained his bitterest enemies to say, "We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it concerning the law of his God."

With this view, therefore . . .
we should avoid all needless singularities;
we should cultivate a meek and courteous spirit;
we should be especially attentive to all the duties of our calling;
we should labor to "please all men for their good and edification."

In short, our determination through grace should be like that of the Psalmist, "I will walk wisely before you in a perfect way."

We must however avoid everything that savors of artifice and deceit. There is an immense difference between carnal wisdom and that which is truly spiritual; there is a frankness and godly sincerity in the Christian's character which abhors all deceit and craftiness. Paul distinguishes them in that advice of his, "I would have you wise unto that which is good, but simple concerning evil;" and in his own example he observed that distinction with undeviating, unremitting cared.

To assist you in the execution of these arduous duties, we subjoin a few directions:

1. Do not expect too much from man.

You have been enabled perhaps to be "blameless and harmless, as sons of God, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation;" but do not therefore expect that the world will become your friends; if they "are at peace with you," it is as much as the Scripture authorizes you to hope for under the most favorable circumstances. The wolf must change its nature, before it can perfectly accord with the sheep. If wisdom and piety could have disarmed the world, Christ would never have suffered and died. "To do well and to suffer for it," is all that you are to expect from man.

2. Do not be grieved at the evil treatment that you meet with.

If you suffer for righteousness' sake, you are rather to rejoice; it is a great honor conferred upon you, a testimony from God in your favor, a means of glorifying him before men, and of augmenting your own glory in a future world. Be not then cast down by your afflictions, but rather glorify God on this behalf.

3. Guard against the risings of your own spirit.

If others are wolves, you are still to be as sheep—meek and patient, even like Him who was "led as a sheep to the slaughter, and, as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." "In your patience possess your souls;" and "let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing."

4. Look up to God for daily supplies of wisdom and grace.

It is by the grace of God alone that we can do any good thing. If we attempt anything in our own strength, we shall fail. But God has promised, "if any man lacks wisdom or grace, and ask it of him, he will give him liberally and without upbraiding." Beg of him, therefore, to give you such continued and abundant grace, that you may be enabled to "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God."

 

 

#1344

Enduring unto the End

Matthew 10:22

"He who endures to the end shall be saved."

ONE cannot but admire the faithfulness of our blessed Lord, when calling his Disciples to follow him. It almost seems as if he intended rather to deter them from following him, since he forewarns them that such a step would inevitably bring upon them the heaviest trials from all around them. He goes so far as to tell them that they would be only "as sheep among wolves," in danger every moment of being devoured by their enemies. And all the consolation he administers to them is taken from the hope of his presence here, and his glory hereafter. You will have to sustain all these things; "but he who endures unto the end, the same shall be saved." In these words we have,

I. A caution intimated.

It is evident that our Lord intended to tell them what they must expect to endure for his sake; and how much depended on their patient perseverance in well-doing.

They must experience great and heavy trials on their way to Heaven.

They would have to contend with much from within—a carnal mind and a corrupt heart. They would have to contend with much from without—a tempting world and a subtle adversary, whose devices are capable of beguiling the most wary soul. All these they would have, to obstruct their way to Heaven; and all of them must be withstood, in order to a successful outcome of their labors.

Many trials, also, they would meet with, insomuch that "their own dearest friends would become their bitterest enemies." No other thing that could be done by them would give such general and inveterate offence as their adherence to him. They might become infidel, or licentious, and even profligate, and excite only pity; whereas their attachment to Jesus would provoke the most embittered hostility; and not from the immoral only, but the moral also: yes, on the whole, the self-righteous moralists would be the fiercer enemies of the two. Nor would imprisonment and death be too heavy penalties for them to expect at the hands even of their own parents or children.

On their enduring of these to the end, would their everlasting salvation depend.

It would be to no purpose for them to run well for a season, if they should stop before they reached the goal. They might suffer much and long, and yet perish—if they had not fortitude to sustain the utmost extremity of pain that could be inflicted on them. "If they would save their life, they must lose it: and on no other condition could they hope to save it to life eternal."

To this effect the Church has been warned in all ages. Lot's wife was made a sad example of the danger of looking back, after she had escaped from Sodom; as the whole Jewish nation had been, after their deliverance from the land of Egypt. The Prophet Ezekiel, in particular, had warned the Jews, that a declension from the ways of godliness would infallibly involve them in ruin. In like manner, the Church in all ages is here warned by our Lord, that "then only will his followers be made partakers of his salvation, if they hold the beginning of their confidence firm unto the end." "If any draws back, whatever be the occasion of that departure, it will be to inevitable and everlasting perdition."

But in my text there is, more directly and obviously,

II. An encouragement expressed.

"Salvation" is here declared to be the certain recompense of our fidelity.

Who is able to tell us what salvation is, even "that salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory?" Who can fathom any just idea of it? Who can inform us what it is to behold the Savior face to face; and to be seated with him on his throne; and to enjoy the most intimate communion with him to all eternity? Who is able to describe the blessedness of Heaven, and make us acquainted with the place, the company, the employment? Suffice it, however, to know, that the felicity of all the glorified saints shall be accorded only to those who are conquerors in this glorious warfare.

And will not that abundantly compensate for all that we can ever do or suffer for Christ?

Our sufferings, be they ever so heavy, are, in fact, but short and light even in our present estimation, provided we are looking steadfastly to the "things which are invisible and eternal." How light, then, will they appear, when once we come into the possession of that glory! Truly, if now, in the midst of all our trials, we say, that "the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us;" much more shall we say so, when all our troubles shall have passed away, and all the fullness of heavenly blessing shall be poured into our souls.

Application.

1. Let those who are just entering on the Christian course "first sit down and count the cost".

You well know how a man beginning to build a house, and relinquishing the work for lack of funds to complete it, exposes himself to shame and ridicule among men. And to what shame will you be exposed in the presence of God, if, after having begun to follow Christ, you turn back, for lack of fortitude to bear the cross which you had taken up for his sake! You must expect tribulation for his sake! You must expect persecution even unto death! You must be "willing not only to be bound, but also to die for his sake."

At the same time, you may expect grace sufficient for you in the time of trial. Only look to Him, and depend on him; and he will never leave you, nor forsake you; "nor shall any temptation come upon you without a supply of grace equal to your day, or a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."

Put into one scale all that man can inflict on the body; and in the other, all that God can confer upon the soul, in time, to sustain you under your sufferings; and in eternity, to recompense you for them. This do, I say; and you need not fear but that, however numerous your enemies may be, you shall be "more than conquerors through Him who loved you."

2. Let all expect trials, "even to the end".

"Never are you to put off your armor," until God gives you a discharge from this warfare. Satan, when repulsed in the wilderness, departed from our Lord "only for a season." At the close of our Savior's life, that wicked adversary made his assaults more powerfully than ever.

Just so he may do with you. You may have a long intermission of trials, both within and without: but you never know what a single day may bring forth. Gird on, then, your armor daily, even the whole armor of God; and "war a good warfare" even to the end.

When you first begin to follow Christ, you come to him as your only Savior; and, professing to renounce every other ground of hope, you say, "In the Lord I have righteousness and strength."

You profess, also, to "live altogether by faith in him;" "receiving everything out of his fullness," precisely "as the branch from the vine." This, then, is the course in which you are to continue. It is this which brings your trials upon you. It is because "you live godly in Christ Jesus, that you suffer persecution," and by persevering in this path, you shall surely attain the promise in my text, "You shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation!"

3. Let all keep their eye fixed upon the heavenly prize.

It was "to this that Moses looked, when he accounted the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt." And you, brethren, if you keep the felicity of Heaven in view, will think little of the labor or the pains which you may endure in the acquisition of it. True, you must not look to it as what you are to earn by labor, or to merit by sufferings—you must look to it as the purchase of the Redeemer's blood, and as the gift of his grace. But still it will be granted only to those who seek it in God's appointed way: and it is "through much tribulation only that you are to hope to attain it."

If this appears formidable to flesh and blood, open the sacred volume, and see how others before you have triumphed, and how glorious the recompense will be when once it is attained. Survey the meridian sun for a few moments, and all earthly glory will appear dark. Get Pisgah views of the heavenly glory, and all earthly trials, however dark they may appear to the natural man, will have a splendor round about them, not unlike to the fiery furnace which was to preserve and sanctify the Hebrew youths, or like the fiery chariot which was to transport Elijah to the realms of bliss. In the near views of Heaven, you will welcome either sufferings or death; and, like the first martyr Stephen, you will bless the murderers who are transmitting you to the full enjoyment of it!

 

 

#1345

The Doctrine of Particular Providence

Matthew 10:30

"The very hairs of your head are all numbered."

NONE are so ignorant among us as not to acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being; but the extent of his agency, and the interest which he takes in the affairs of men, are by no means duly appreciated. We may judge however of this from the words before us; which we shall consider,

I. As a speculative truth.

To imagine a general Providence, and to deny or question his particular agency in everything that occurs, is absurd in the extreme. The doctrine of a particular Providence is fully confirmed,

1. By reason.

If there is anything in the universe which God does not inspect and control, there can be no dependence on prophecy; for untoward and unlooked—for circumstances may occur to thwart the purposes of God.

Suppose, for instance, that God had intended the murderous designs of Haman to take effect: then the little accidental circumstance of Ahasuerus not being able to sleep one night, and of his calling for the records of his kingdom to amuse him, and of their being opened at one particular part, would have given an unexpected turn to events, and disappointed the purposes of God. But, if all these things were ordered of the Lord, then were the most minute things that can be imagined, under his control, and subservient to the accomplishment of his will.

Again, if there is anything really fortuitous and unforeseen by God, He cannot be fit to govern the world. He cannot be omniscient; because he will gather information from accidental circumstances that were independent of him. He cannot be omnipotent; because there will be some things over which he has no control. In a word, He cannot be God; because he will lack all those attributes which are essential to a perfect Being. He will be weak and mutable; and will change with events, as we do. But, if all things are "ordered according to the counsel of his will," then is He every way fit both to govern and to judge the world.

2. By Scripture.

The Scriptures uniformly represent Jehovah as "doing according to his will, in the armies of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth." All creatures are alike subject to his control, rational and irrational, animate and inanimate. The angels in Heaven, and men on earth, and devils in Hell—all do his will. The sun, moon, and stars move or stand at his command. The elements exert or suspend their accustomed operations. The brute creation, beasts, birds, fish—all move and act agreeably to his will. There is neither good nor evil, which is not done by him. Even moral evil is so far under his control, that, though he is not properly the author of it—it infallibly accomplishes his secret counsel, and his determined purpose. It is clear then, to the full extent of the assertion in my text, that "not a sparrow falls to the ground without him; and that the very hairs of our head are all numbered."

Let us next view the text,

II. As a consolatory declaration.

It speaks the richest encouragement,

1. To ministers.

Their trials and difficulties are great—as our Lord in the context has forewarned us. But, however great or numerous they may be, there is not one that can come upon us but by His appointment, or press more heavily than He sees fit to permit, nor operate but for the advancement of His glory and our greatest good. We have only to look to Him, and depend on Him; and he will give us all the protection, support, and consolation, that we can possibly stand in need of. If the very hairs of our head are numbered—then what shall we not be ready to encounter for Him, or to sustain in the execution of our high office?

2. To the Church at large.

Every person has his own peculiar trials, but the declaration in our text is equally applicable to them all: and that, realized in the mind, is abundantly sufficient to carry us through all and make us triumphant over all. Let every one call to mind his own peculiar temptations—and apply to himself the text, as if he were the only individual to whom it was addressed: and then let him go on his way, saying, "If God is for me, then who can be against me?"

With such a word for our support,

1. Let us give ourselves up sincerely to God.

It is only when we belong to Christ, that we can derive full comfort from the declaration before us. We must be God's people, if we would have him for our God. The duty and the privilege must go hand in hand.

2. Let us serve our God cheerfully, and with our whole hearts.

Let no call of duty be thought too hard, no service too difficult, no danger too great. Only let us realize in our minds the passage before us, and rest assured, that "our strength shall be according to our day," and "our reward according to our labor."

 

 

#1346

The Rule of Christ's Procedure in the Last Day

Matthew 10:32–39

"Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in Heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in Heaven. "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it."

TO stand up in the place of Jehovah, and to declare his word to men, is so solemn and arduous an office, that the greatest of all the Apostles was constrained to say, "Who is sufficient for these things?" But, if it is so arduous under any, even the most favorable, circumstances—then what must it be when we are called to utter such solemn and weighty truths as those which we have just heard?

We should never forget that the word of God is delivered in terms that are broad and general; and that the modification of those terms, or the application of them to all the different circumstances that may occur, requires much caution, much wisdom, much discretion, lest, by too strong an enforcement of them, we "make the heart of the righteous sad;" or, by too lax an application of them, we make void the declarations of Heaven, and deceive men to their eternal ruin. May God enable us to discriminate aright, while, with a just mixture of tenderness and fidelity, we call your attention to the rule of Christ's procedure with his people in the last day; which rule is here stated, vindicated, confirmed.

I. The rule of Christ's procedure with his people in the last day, STATED.

The Lord Jesus requires that we confess him before men.

It is not a mere assent to his religion, as true, that He requires; he calls us to embrace it with our whole hearts, and to let all men see our attachment to Him who is the founder of it. We must never be ashamed to acknowledge that all our hope of acceptance with God is founded on his meritorious atonement; and that from Him, even from the fullness which God has treasured up for us in Him, we receive all the grace and all the strength whereby we are enabled to fulfill his will. We must avowedly take his word as the exclusive rule of our conduct; and not be afraid to declare, that the same is obligatory upon every man. We must be as lights in a dark world, and must so walk, that all men may read in our conduct, as in a written epistle, what is the whole of his will concerning us. On no account are we to "put our light under a bed, or under a bushel; but to set it on a candlestick," that all may see it, and be enlightened by it.

No consideration whatever should induce us to "deny him" in any way. If shame, or loss, or suffering, attach to a confession of him, we must not yield to intimidation, or be prevailed upon, for a single moment, to dissemble our attachment to him.

Our love to him must be paramount to every personal consideration; and our zeal for his honor be sufficient to bear us up under all the trials and difficulties which we can be exposed to for his sake.

According as we approve ourselves to him in this respect, will be his conduct towards us in the day of judgment.

Those who have confessed him in this world, he will then confess before his heavenly Father. 'These,' he will say, 'were my disciples indeed: they knew their duty to me, and they fulfilled it. I saw the trials to which they were called for my sake, and the fortitude with which they encountered all their difficulties; and therefore I say to them in your presence, and before the whole assembled universe: Well done, good and faithful servants; enter into the joy of your Lord!'

But widely different will be his conduct towards those who have denied him. They will come before him, perhaps with confidence, claiming him as their Lord, whom they have served and honored: but he will say to them, "Depart from me; I never knew you!" I never approved you, in the midst of all your professions of regard for me. Father, I deny their title to the name of my disciples: I disclaim all interest in them, all connection with them: "they were ashamed of me, and I am ashamed of them," and my sentence respecting every one of them is, that they "depart accursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."

Now, if this rule, as carried into execution thus, appear exceptionable to any of you,

II. The rule of Christ's procedure with his people in the last day, VINDICATED.

This rule may be complained of perhaps:

1. As unnecessary.

Christianity, it may be said, is a religion of love, and is intended to produce nothing but harmony upon earth. Is not this the description given of its effects by the Prophet Isaiah: "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall he down with the kid, and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them?" How, then, shall such enmity be shown against it, as shall tempt any man to deny his Lord? It is possible that such an effect might be produced, if it did not improve the characters of men: but its avowed tendency is, to change even the vilest of men into the very image of their God. How, then, can people so changed become objects of scorn and hatred to those around them? The rule is plainly unnecessary, because there never can be any occasion for the execution of it: Christianity can produce nothing but peace; and therefore the supposition that any should ever be tempted by persecution to deny Christ is altogether vain.

But, as specious as this objection is, it is not founded in truth: for though the proper tendency of Christ's religion is to diffuse peace and love, the actual effect of it is the very reverse. "Think not," says our Lord, "that I have come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes shall be those of his own household."

'What!' it maybe asked, 'was this really the design for which Christ came into the world?' No, but this effect is as universal and invariable as if it had been actually designed. And this may easily be accounted for:

Wherever the Gospel works effectually on the heart, there a great and visible change is wrought; for the person that obeys it is "turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God." This change cannot fail to attract the notice of his neighbors, who are thereby reduced to the alternative of condemning it in the person changed, or of acknowledging the necessity of a similar change in themselves. Not wishing to experience it themselves, they embrace the other alternative, and reprobate the change as absurd fanaticism. If the person so changed stands in any near relation to them, they feel it on that account the more offensive, because the odium attached to it is, in a measure, reflected on themselves; and the self-condemnation, which they are constrained to feel, is far more acute than if the person exciting it had no connection with them.

Hence parents and relatives are generally among the fiercest opposers of such a change; and "a man's greatest foes are usually those of his own household."

Another reason for this is, that as those who are most nearly related to us possess a greater influence over us than others, they are the first people looked to, to exert that influence, whether of authority or love, for the reclaiming of us from our supposed errors.

Hence then it appears, that the rule is by no means unnecessary; since, if the world at large should forbear to show their hatred of the change, a man's nearest relatives will be sure to lay all kinds of stumbling-blocks in his way, to keep him from confessing Christ, and to lead him to a denial of him.

2. As unjust.

It is here taken for granted, that the person rejected by this rule has never been guilty of any flagrant transgression; and that his only offence has been that he did not confess Christ so boldly as he ought to have done; but, on some occasions, has rather denied him. Now, can it be supposed, that for such a slight offence as this the Lord Jesus will "deny," and everlastingly reject, "him?" Impossible! he can never inflict so severe a punishment for so trivial an offence.

But this objection has no real weight, as our Lord plainly shows us: "He who loves father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me: and he who loves son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. And he who takes not his cross, and follows after me, is not worthy of me."

Let any man judge in this matter for himself. Can a person who, from fear of his parents, or love to his children, proves unfaithful to his conscience, and violates his duty to his Lord—be worthy of Christ? Can the Lord Jesus Christ ever confess such a one before his Father, and say, 'Here is one who has served me faithfully, and is worthy of partaking with me in my kingdom and glory?' Must he not rather say. 'Here is one who feared and loved his earthly relatives more than me; and therefore must look for his reward from them; for he is unworthy of any recompense from me?'

Again, supposing the person to maintain his steadfastness until matters came to the greatest extremity, and he were called, like the Roman criminals, to carry his cross, as our Lord and Savior did, to the place of execution, in order to die upon it—still could he be deemed worthy of Christ if he drew back then? May not the Lord Jesus say to such a one, 'Why have you drawn back? Did I not bear my cross for you? Did I not come from Heaven on purpose to bear it? Did I not bear it under circumstances ten thousand times more dreadful and appalling than any that you were ever called to encounter? And did I not do this for you, when you were an enemy? Did I not drink to the very dregs the cup of bitterness, of which you have been called only to take the slightest taste? How, then, can I confess you before my Father, when you would not endure such a transient pain for me? When you have loved your own ease or interest more than me—how can I account you worthy of my kingdom and glory? You are unworthy of me; and cannot but know that you are so. Had you "been faithful unto death, you should have had awarded to you a crown of life," but seeing you have turned back from me, my soul can have no pleasure in you?'

Who must not subscribe to such a sentence as this? This rule is thus fully vindicated by our Lord.

III. The rule of Christ's procedure with his people in the last day, CONFIRMED.

"He who finds his life, shall lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake, shall find it." A person may imagine himself a gainer by avoiding persecution, and regarding his present interests. But, "what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" If but the life of the body were at stake, who would accept a momentary possession of the whole world in exchange for it? How much less, then, would any person act thus, when the everlasting welfare of his soul was to be the price of his transient enjoyment?

On the other hand, Who does not submit to a momentary pain, when he is assured that it shall be productive of permanent and perfect ease? How much more may any momentary sacrifice be made in the assured prospect of eternal happiness and glory?

Know, then, that this is the alternative set before you. You may not, indeed, be actually called to lay down your life for Christ; but you must be ready to do so at any moment, and in any manner that you may be called to do it. If these terms appear too severe, nothing remains for you, but "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power."

If, on the contrary, you accept the Lord on these terms, even though you should be eventually required to lay down your life for his sake, you will be gainers in the final outcome; since "the sufferings of this present life, however severe or protracted they may be, are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us."

Thus, "are life and death set before you." Our blessed Lord has warned us, that "if any man comes to him, and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be his disciple." Of course, we are not called positively to hate our relations, and our own life. But comparatively we are: and nothing under Heaven, whether pleasing or painful, is to have any influence upon our minds in comparison of love to the Savior's name, and zeal for his glory.

Lest, however, this subject should be in any wise misapprehended, let me add a few words of ADVICE.

1. Do not affect needless singularity.

Piety will make you sufficiently singular, without distinguishing yourselves by any marks, which a hypocrite may assume as well as you. Be as eminent for piety as you will. But in things that have no real connection with vital godliness, I would rather recommend a conformity with those of the age and station to which you belong.

2. Do not lay too great a stress on non-essential matters.

There are some things which are essential to the maintenance of a good conscience before God; and these things must be done or forborne, according to the dictates of your own judgment. But there are many things which are really indifferent, and which may be either done or forborne, according to the views which different people entertain respecting them.

In reference to such things, endeavor to understand and to maintain your liberty. Only use not your own liberty to the endangering of another's welfare; and neither judge those who allow themselves in a greater latitude than you; nor despise those who have not the same insight with you into the full liberty of the Gospel.

3. Be particularly attentive to your own spirit.

You may be right in the line of conduct you pursue, and yet be highly criminal in respect to the spirit you indulge in pursuing it. A parent, for instance, will urge upon you a conformity to the world, in some things that are positively and intrinsically evil; and you do right in resisting his solicitations or commands; because "you must obey God rather than man." But if you do it with petulance and disrespect, you sin against God; for no conduct on the part of your parent can absolve you from the duty of honoring him, even while the sinfulness of his injunctions prevents you from obeying him. A meek, humble, modest, and respectful deportment must be observed towards all people, and under all circumstances. Every violation of this is decidedly and unquestionably wrong. Your duty is, to "show all meekness to all men."

4. Take the Word of God alone as your rule.

Your friends will often bring before you the examples of different people, as sanctioning this or that conduct. But men are no examples to you. You must go to the word and to the testimony; and be regulated only by Scripture-precepts, and Scripture-examples. If you adhere not to this standard, no one can tell where you may be drawn. By complying with everything that any reputed saint has ever done—you may be drawn into evils without end. Leave others to stand or fall to their own Master; and be careful to approve yourselves to Him, whose judgment will determine your eternal state.

5. Look up to God for strength to do his will.

In the passage which our blessed Lord has quoted in our text, the Prophet teaches us to make this improvement of it. "The son dishonors the father, the daughter rises up against her mother; the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law: a man's enemies are those of his own house." "Therefore I will look unto the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me." Yes, your God will hear you: and however difficult you may find it, on some occasions, to hold fast your integrity, "His grace shall be sufficient for you," and "you shall be able to do all things through Christ who strengthens you."

 

 

#1347

Christ's Answer to John's Disciples

Matthew 11:4–6

"Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."

IT has pleased God in every age so to deal with his most favored servants as to show, that though he had raised them up and qualified them for his service, he was not dependent on them, nor needed their labors for the support of his interests in the world. He has permitted many to languish on a bed of sickness, or to be immured in a prison, or to be cut off by an untimely death, when they might have been actively engaged in promoting his glory: and this circumstance has sometimes filled the weak and inexperienced with doubt. But it becomes all to submit with meekness even to his darkest dispensations, assured that, though clouds and darkness may be round about him, righteousness and judgment are the basis of his throne.

We are persuaded that this was the frame of the Baptist's mind when shut up in prison, and apparently neglected by his Lord and Master. Some indeed imagine that John was himself beginning to doubt whether Jesus was the Messiah: but when we consider the miraculous attestations of it which he had received from Heaven, and the many testimonies which he himself had borne to Christ, and the evidence which Christ daily gave of his Messiahship, and that there was no other person at that time existing as a rival of Christ—we cannot admit the idea that John's faith was at all shaken. But his disciples hearing of the wonderful miracles which Christ wrought, yet thinking that if he were the Messiah, he would have shown more regard for John, and used his almighty power to liberate him from prison—were much in doubt, and were therefore referred by their master to Jesus himself, in order to get all the satisfaction which they desired. To Jesus they came, and inquired whether he was the true Messiah or not. Our Lord, not choosing to let their faith rest on a mere verbal testimony from himself, gave them the fullest evidence of their senses, and cautioned them against yielding to the force of prejudice, or rejecting him on account of any circumstances which they could not altogether account for.

His answer to them will naturally lead us to consider,

I. The grounds we have for faith in Christ.

There were two things to which our Lord appealed in proof of his divine mission:

1. The miracles he wrought.

These were great and stupendous, wrought on the occasion, publicly, in the sight of these messengers; and they were of such a nature as did not admit of any confederacy or collusion. Nothing but a Divine power could have effected such things; and consequently they were unexceptionable testimonies from God himself that he was the true Messiah.

With the disciples of John, these miracles must have had peculiar weight; for John, whom they regarded as their master, had wrought no miracle; whereas the miracles which they had just seen were precisely such as the Messiah was to perform: and the very same prophet who had spoken most plainly of John's office, as the forerunner of the Messiah, had specified these very works as distinctive of the Messiah himself.

These works are still a standing proof that Christ was the promised Messiah. The spiritual effects which are still wrought by his word, and which precisely correspond with those miracles, are yet further evidences of the same truth: for wherever the true Gospel is preached, there "the spiritual blind receive their sight, the spiritual lame walk, the spiritual lepers are cleansed, the spiritual deaf hear, and the spiritual dead are raised up" to a new and heavenly life.

2. The preaching of the Gospel to the poor.

The philosophers of old addressed themselves only to the great and learned, while they wholly overlooked the lower classes of society; and even the prophets were sent principally to the kings and nobles of Israel.

But our Lord addressed himself chiefly to the poor—he sought to benefit the meanest and the vilest of mankind. This of itself was a strong presumptive proof that he was the Messiah, because an impostor would rather have sought to gain over to his interests the great and powerful. But it was foretold that the Messiah would have peculiar respect to the poor in his ministrations, and that this regard for them should eminently distinguish his kingdom upon earth.

This evidence also still exists, not merely as a historical fact, but as a matter of daily experience and observation: for it is universally true that wherever the Gospel is preached, that the poor are the people to whom the word is sent, and that they chiefly, though not exclusively, are benefitted by it.

But faith in Christ, notwithstanding these grounds, is not easy to be exercised; as will appear by considering,

II. The difficulties it has to surmount.

Our Lord himself intimates, as indeed the prophets had before declared, that he was likely to prove a stumbling-block to many: and it must be confessed that there were many things in him which were calculated to offend a carnal mind.

1. The baseness of his appearance.

His birth and education as a carpenter, his abject condition, (without even a place where to lay his head,) the poverty of his followers, together with the contempt poured upon him by all ranks and orders of men—were circumstances which must have been an occasion of stumbling to anyone, but especially to those who had been taught to expect only a temporal king, and a triumphant Messiah.

Let us only put ourselves in their place, and conceive of a poor carpenter, surrounded by a few illiterate fishermen, and professing himself to be the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world; what would we think of such pretensions? Whatever miracles he wrought, we would be very slow of heart to believe in him, and very backward to become his acknowledged followers.

Something of the same difficulty still exists; and it operates with great force upon the world at large. The followers of Jesus are still "a poor and afflicted people," despised and hated for his name's sake: and it is no easy matter to think that they are right, in opposition to the great and learned who reject him. We cannot endure to be told, that "what God has hidden from the wise and prudent, he has revealed unto babes." We are ready to reply, like those of old, "Have any of the rulers, or of the Pharisees, believed on him? But for this people, who knows not the law, they are cursed;" they are misguided, ignorant enthusiasts, wholly undeserving of any notice or regard.

2. The mysteriousness of his doctrines.

As poor and despised as he was, he professed to be God while he was yet on earth; yes, to be one with the Father, and to know and do all that the Father himself either knew or did. He declared that he would give his life a ransom for the souls of men; that all must "eat his body and drink his blood," if they would be partakers of his salvation; and that as soon as ever they should eat his flesh and drink his blood, they should dwell in him, and he in them, and he would give them eternal life, and raise them up to the enjoyment of it at the last day. Now these were "hard sayings," which they were not able to bear.

And are they not hard savings still? When we speak of a life of faith in the Son of God, of maintaining the most intimate fellowship with him, and receiving out of his fullness a constant supply of all spiritual blessings—are not these things deemed enthusiastic and absurd? Wherever these truths are insisted on with befitting energy, does not a considerable degree of reproach attach both to those who preach, and those who receive them? Yes, notwithstanding we profess ourselves followers of Christ. "The preaching of the cross is yet foolishness to us"—until God himself has humbled us in the dust, and subdued our spirits to the obedience of faith.

3. The radical self-denying nature of his precepts.

The very first condition imposed on his disciples was to "deny themselves, and take up their cross daily, and follow him." He showed them by his own example what a superiority to everything in this world he required, and told them plainly that they must be no more of the world than he was. Finally, he warned them that he would acknowledge none as his disciples unless they were truly willing, at any time and in any manner, to lay down their lives for him.

How offensive these declarations and injunctions were to the carnal hearts of his hearers, we may judge by the conduct of the Rich Youth, who, though convinced in his judgment that Jesus was the Messiah, could not prevail upon himself to follow him, but abandoned all his hope in Christ, rather than make the sacrifice that was demanded of him.

And what is it that at this day forms the principal ground of offence against the Gospel? It is the purity and radicalness of its precepts. If only we would leave men at liberty to indulge their corrupt desires, and to retain their earthly and sensual dispositions—we might set forth the mysteries of the Gospel as strongly as we pleased. But, if we require from our hearers the mind that was in Christ Jesus, and a conformity to his heavenly example and holy precepts, we put a stumbling-block before them, which they fall over to their eternal ruin! They cannot, they will not endure to hear of such requisitions; and on account of their aversion to such restraints, they reject the Gospel altogether.

But that faith which is the gift of God will triumph over all, hence,

III. The commendation given it, when duly exercised.

To have the mind brought to a cordial acquiescence in all that is spoken of the Lord Jesus, is indeed a great victory; and blessed is that man who has attained it: for that acquiescence clearly shows,

1. That he is taught of God.

It is impossible for the human mind, blinded as it is by innumerable lusts and prejudices, to see the truth and excellence of the Gospel—unless it have been first enlightened by the Holy Spirit. "The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

When Peter confessed his Master to be "the Christ, the Son of the living God," our Lord told him, that "flesh and blood had not taught him this, but that his heavenly Father had revealed it to him;" on which account he pronounced him truly blessed: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah." And at another time he pronounced all his disciples blessed on a similar account: "Blessed are your eyes, for you see; and your ears, for you hear."

2. That he is brought into the path of life.

The man who exercises true and saving faith, must have "passed from death unto life;" for our Lord himself says, "This is life eternal, to know you, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." The change that has taken place in him is not in his understanding only, but in his heart—he must have become a new creature. The same Divine operation that wrought faith in his heart, must have produced every other grace, according to the measure in which the gift of faith has been bestowed upon him. Having "received Christ Jesus the Lord, he has the privilege of being a child of God."

And is not he blessed? What man on earth has so much reason to rejoice as he? When some were ready to magnify the blessedness of our Lord's mother on account of her having borne and nourished such a son, our Lord rectified their mistake, and taught them to consider every true believer as more blessed on account of his spiritual relation to him, than she was on account of her relation according to the flesh. "Yes rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it."

3. That all the glory of Heaven is his.

Being born of God, he is born "to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in Heaven for him; and he shall be kept by the power of God, through faith," unto the everlasting possession of it. "The Lord will not forsake his people, because it has pleased him to make them his people." Say then, is not he blessed who has such a Father, such a Friend, such a Protector, and such a portion? Truly he is blessed: and the Lord himself will before long pronounce him so: "Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

Address.

1. Those who openly stumble at Christ.

You think that because many learned people deny the divinity of his person, and the sin-atoning power of his death, your rejection of him is excusable. But no such excuse was ever admitted for his enemies of old: nor will it ever be admitted for you. It was foretold that he should be "a rock of offence; and that many would stumble at him and fall," but it was declared by our Lord himself, that "all who would fall on that stone would be broken in pieces; and that on whoever it would fall, it would grind him to powder." Beware then how you justify your infidelity or attempt to extenuate its guilt; for the unalterable determination of God is, that "he who believes not, shall not see life, but that the wrath of God shall abide upon him!"

2. Those who profess indeed to receive him, but are inwardly offended at him.

It is to no purpose to receive his word in theory, while we practically deny its influence on our hearts. He himself says, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" Do not judge yourselves, therefore, by your professions, but by the manner in which you live upon him, and serve him. While there is any one saying of his that appears hard to you, or any one commandment that is grievous, or any other attainment that is not ardently desired by you—your heart is not right with God; and Christ, in that particular, is an offence unto you. O "judge yourselves, that you be not judged of the Lord."

3. Those to whom Christ is altogether precious.

To those who truly believe, he is precious. His person, his office, his character, his word, his dispensations, all are precious. "Yes, he is altogether lovely!" And what shall I say unto you? What is more suitable than the angel's address to Mary? "Blessed are you among men; you are highly favored of the Lord." You have within yourselves the evidence that Christ is "he who was to come;" and you have no occasion, or disposition, to "look for any other."

If you are "poor," adore his name that "his Gospel has been preached to you," and that you have not heard it in vain. Adore your heavenly Father too, who has "chosen the poor of this world, to be rich in faith and heirs of his kingdom."

If, on the other hand, you are among the rich, you have, if possible, still greater reason to adore the riches of his grace, for distinguishing you thus from the great mass of those who reject him, and for bringing you into his kingdom, notwithstanding all the difficulties which your wealth has interposed to obstruct your entrance. Labor then, with your more numerous talents, to bring more honor to him, and to evince to all around you, that his grace is still as efficacious to heal the diseases of the soul, as ever his word was to heal the diseases of the body. The various people whom he healed or raised from the dead were witnesses for him in every place. You be the same; and let the whole of your spirit and conduct approve itself to the world as his workmanship. So shall you be truly blessed both in time and in eternity.

 

 

#1348

Christ's Commendation of John

Matthew 11:11-12

"Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force."

OUR blessed Lord lost no opportunity of encouraging people to believe on him. He had forborne to applaud the character of John while John was bearing testimony to him, lest it should be thought that there was a concerted plan between them to exalt each other: but, when John was now shut up in prison, and come near to the close of his ministry, our Lord bore testimony to him in the most exalted terms. The people had flocked from every quarter to hear John: they had not traveled so far to see a fickle man, like a reed shaken with the wind, or a soft effeminate man, like those often bred in courts; but a prophet, who, with self-denying labor and unshaken steadfastness, was instructing and reforming the land: and such indeed he was, even like Elijah of old, whose spirit and character he bore, agreeably to the prophetic representation that had been given of him four hundred years before. Yet as eminent as John was, even greater than any prophet that had ever lived, our Lord told his hearers, that the least of his true disciples was really greater than the Baptist himself.

Many interpret this as referring only to those who should preach his Gospel; but though it is true that the Apostles were superior to John in their office, and should far exceed him in the success of their labors—we see no reason for limiting to them what was spoken to the whole multitude. We are persuaded, on the contrary, that this information was intended for the encouragement of all, and as an incentive to them to follow him, with the same avidity and zeal as they had manifested in following John.

Considering the passage thus as referring to all true Christians, we shall take occasion from it to point out,

I. Their pre-eminent advantage.

John was greater than all who had ever been born of woman, not in sanctity (for Daniel, and perhaps several others, were not a whit inferior to him in this respect,) but in office; being the forerunner of the Messiah, who did not merely speak of him at a distance, but pointed him out as present; and declared him to be that very "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." But the least in the Messiah's kingdom, which was just then founded upon earth, are greater than he, inasmuch as they have,

1. A fuller discovery of Christ's character.

John himself, and indeed the Apostles too, until after the resurrection, had very imperfect views of Christ. They saw not, or saw but very faintly, the dignity of his person, the necessity of his death, the certainty of his resurrection, or the nature of his kingdom. But the most ignorant of Christ's disciples have a comparatively clear, enlarged, and certain knowledge of him. They know what God has revealed concerning:

his person, as Emmanuel, God with us;

his work, as fulfilling and satisfying the law for us;

and his offices, as the Prophet, Priest, and King of his redeemed people.

In this they are as superior to John, as John was to the least enlightened of all the ancient prophets.

2. A richer experience of his love.

They can tell, not merely what he is to do, but what he has done: yes, they can say, "He has loved me, and given himself for me." They have felt the virtue of his blood in purging their consciences from guilt, and the efficacy of his grace in subduing their most inveterate corruptions. They know what it is to receive out of his fullness the blessings which they need, and to maintain sweet fellowship with him from day to day. They have within themselves the evidence that he is a living, a gracious, and an almighty Savior, who . . .
fulfills all his promises to them,
guides them by his Spirit,
upholds them by his arm,
sanctifies them by his grace,
comforts them with his presence,
and renders them fit for the enjoyment of his heavenly kingdom.

In this their superiority to the Baptist is as the meridian sun to the early dawn.

The ministry of John was as remarkable as his endowments. As he had clearer views than all who preceded him, so was the success of his labors incomparably greater: for almost the whole of Judea, and even of the people beyond Jordan, came and were baptized of him. Even those who were the most remote from the kingdom of Heaven, according to human apprehensions, were the foremost to seek admission into it, and to take it, as it were, from those, who, from their education and professions, seemed most likely to become the subjects of it.

In this conduct of theirs we may see a lively image of the followers of Christ, and may read,

II. Their universal character.

While they approve themselves the Lord's people by their views of his salvation, they manifest in relation to it,

1. A fixed purpose.

They regard the care of the soul as the one thing needful: other things may be good and useful; but this is necessary. It cannot be dispensed with for a single day: nor will anything be tolerated that would interfere with it. Allurements or menaces are alike disregarded by them. No menace is terrible to them in comparison of God's displeasure. No pleasure is desirable in comparison of his favor. Hence, if tempted, they reply: What shall it profit me to gain the whole world and lose my own soul? And, if threatened, they answer, "Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, you judge." In a word, they readily part with all to obtain the pearl of great price; and having "bought the truth," nothing under Heaven can induce them to sell it.

As in a race the people contending for the prize may easily be distinguished from the spectators by the earnestness with which they pursue their object, so may these be known amidst a supine and thoughtless generation: they are lights shining in the midst of a dark, benighted world.

2. A persevering endeavor.

Having put their hand to the plough, they will not look back again. They know that they must "endure unto the end, if ever they would be saved;" and they wait upon God in prayer, and beg him to perfect that which concerns them. They now desire, not merely to be saved from death and Hell, but to have Christ dwelling and reigning in them: nor will they ever be satisfied until "every thought of their hearts is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."

Hence their diligence in reading the word, and in every ordinance of religion, whether public or private. They find enemies both without and within: but they will not yield to discouragement. They know that their Redeemer is mighty, and able to save them to the uttermost; and therefore they go forth in his strength, and, though defeated, they rally; though wounded, they fight; though faint, they pursue; and never put off their armor until they are made more than conquerors.

Address.

1. The ignorant Christian.

Wherein are you superior to John and all the prophets? Truly you are worse than heathens, because of your neglect of your superior advantages. Remember that God will "take vengeance on those who know him not, and that obey not his Gospel."

2. The formal Christian.

You value yourselves on your moderation: and, if there be a person striving to take the kingdom by violence, you discourage him. You approve of striving in everything else; and disapprove of it where alone it should be used. Did you never hear that "many seek to enter into Heaven, but fail," because they do not strive? Beware lest that be your unhappy case.

3. The fainting Christian.

Be not weary in well doing. You have many difficulties, it is true; but you have omnipotence on your side: and "if God be for you, then who can be against you?" The temptations you have, may seem peculiar to you; but they are only "such as are common to man," and God engages that you shall have "none without a way to escape" from it, or strength to withstand it. "Be strong then in the Lord, and in the power of his might."

But beware of sloth: that will soon enervate the soul, and paralyze every effort in the way to Heaven. The promises of God and the assistances of his Spirit do not supersede your own exertions: it is true at this day, as much as in the days of Christ, that "the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent must take it by force."

 

 

#1349

The Heavy-Laden Invited to Christ

Matthew 11:28

Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

IT is thought by many that the Gospel is a mere system of notions which may be received without benefit, or rejected without loss. But it is rather proposed to us as a remedy for all the miseries which sin has brought into the world. In it we are represented as guilty and undone: but Christ is set before us as a Savior, and is exhibited under every figure that can unfold his excellency, or endear him to our souls.

Under the Old Testament, he is shadowed forth . . .
as a brazen serpent to heal the wounded,
as a city of refuge to protect the man-slayer,
and as a sacrifice to remove the sinner's guilt.

In the New Testament, he speaks of himself. . .
as bread for the hungry,
as living water for the thirsty,
as a physician for the sick, and
as a kind and hospitable friend, who invites the weary and heavy-laden to himself.

In the words here addressed to us, we may notice,

I. The characters invited.

Under the description of the weary and heavy-laden, we must certainly include those who groaned under the burden of the Mosaic law.

The ceremonial law required a great multitude of ritual observances, which, to those who saw not their typical use and tendency, must have appeared frivolous and arbitrary; and, even to those who had some insight into their meaning, they were an irksome task, and an intolerable burden. From this yoke however the Messiah was to deliver them; he was to annul the old covenant with all its ceremonies, and to establish a better covenant in its stead.

When therefore our Lord proclaimed himself to be the Messiah, he invited to him all that were weary and heavy-laden with the Mosaic law, and assured them that the yoke which he would impose upon them was light and easy.

There is however a further reference to those who labored under temporal afflictions.

None are such strangers to the common lot of mortality, as not to know that mankind are subject to many grievous troubles. Indeed, such are the calamities incident to life, that few, who have been long in the world, can cordially "thank God for their creation." But more especially when the hand of God is heavy upon us, and we feel the weight of great and multiplied afflictions, we are ready to hate our very existence, and to "choose strangling rather than life."

Many probably of those, to whom Jesus addressed himself, had drunk deep of the cup of sorrow: for their encouragement therefore he promised that, whatever their trials were, whether in mind, or body, or estate—if only they would come to him, they should find a relief from all, or (what would be of equal value) support and comfort under their pressure.

But doubtless we must principally understand by these terms those who are oppressed with a sense of sin.

Though all are sinners, all do not feel the weight of sin, because they know not what tremendous evils it has brought upon them. But when any are awakened from their lethargic state, and see what a good and holy God they have offended, they begin to tremble, lest the wrath of God should break forth upon them to consume them utterly. Perhaps they obtain a transient peace by means of their repentance and reformation; but their subsequent falls and backslidings rend open the wounds afresh, and make them feel how hopeless their condition must be, if they are left to themselves.

Even after they have attained peace through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus, so that they no longer tremble for fear of condemnation, they groan more than ever under the burden of their indwelling corruptions, saying, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?" These are the people for whose relief our Lord came into the world, and whom, above all, he invited to him in the words before us.

To ascertain more fully the import of his address, we proceed to consider,

II. The invitation itself.

By the expression, "Come unto me," our Lord could not mean to call them nearer to him, because they were already round about him: but as he himself explains the words, he called them to believe on him; or, in other words, to come to him in the exercise of faith, of hope, and of love.

Its import will best appear in a short paraphrase.

'To impart rest unto you all is the great end of my appearance in the world. Seek it therefore in me, and come to me, that you may receive it at my hands. Turn not away from me as an impostor; for I am the very person referred to in your prophecies, and sent unto you by the Father. Go not any longer to the vanities of this world in search of rest; for it is not in them; it is a gift which none but myself can impart unto you. Keep back from an apprehension that you can make satisfaction for your own sins, or cleanse yourselves from your iniquities: for you can never have redemption, but through my blood; nor can you ever subdue your lusts, but by my all-sufficient grace.

Neither delay your coming on account of your own unworthiness, as if it were necessary for you to bring some meritorious services as the price of my favor.

Come just as you are, with all your sins upon you! Stop not to heal yourselves in part; but come instantly to your Physician; come and receive all my blessings freely, "without money, and without price."

Come in faith, believing me able to save you to the uttermost, and as willing as I am able.

Come also in hope: let your expectations be enlarged: "you are not straitened in me; be not straitened in your own affections." Count up all the blessings of time; survey all the glories of eternity; stretch your imagination to the uttermost; ask all that eye ever saw, or ear heard, or heart conceived; and I will not only grant your requests, but give "exceeding abundantly above all that you can ask or think!" "Open your mouths wide, and I will fill them."

Come moreover in love. Be not like people driven to me through mere necessity, and influenced by nothing but a dread of condemnation; but contemplate my character, meditate on my kindness, strive to comprehend the heights and depths of my love; and let a sense of my love constrain you to walk with me, to depend upon me, to delight yourselves in me.'

Such may be supposed to be the import of the invitation. And every one who is weary and heavy-laden, whatever his burden is, may consider it as addressed to himself in particular, as much as ever it was to those, who waited on the personal ministry of our Lord. Let us then hear him thus inviting us, as it were, with his dying breath, and from his throne of glory. Let us go to him with one accord. Yes, let us fly to him on the wings of love, even "as the doves to their windows."

That nothing might be wanting to give efficacy to his invitation, our Lord added,

III. The promise with which it is enforced.

The world is glad to see us in our prosperity, and when we can participate in their pleasures. But in a day of adversity, when want and trouble come upon us, they are but too apt to lessen their regards for us, and to grow weary of our complaints. How different is the conduct of the Lord Jesus! He bids us "call upon him in the time of trouble," and, instead of turning a deaf ear to our complaints, promises to "give us rest."

How suitable is this promise to those to whom it is made!

What do the weary and heavy-laden desire?

If their troubles are of a temporal nature, they wish for something that shall soothe the anguish of their minds, and be a support unto their souls: and this our blessed Savior administers by the aids of his grace, and the consolations of his Spirit.

Are their sorrows altogether spiritual? He speaks peace unto their conscience, saving unto them, "Be of good cheer, I am your salvation," he discovers unto them the sufficiency of his blood to cleanse them from sin, and the efficacy of his grace to subdue and mortify their lusts. He gives them that which nothing else in the universe can supply, a firm and stable hope of pardon and peace, of holiness and glory. Whatever other blessings he should offer to the soul, they would all be despised in comparison to this: it is . . .
bread to the hungry,
drink to the thirsty,
healing to the sick,
and life to the dead.

And can anything be more precious to a heavy-laden soul?

The term used in the text imports far more than an exemption from labor and trouble: it implies also that refreshment which a great and seasonable relief administers.

And how sweet is that peace which he imparts to a believing penitent! it is a "peace that passes understanding," a "joy unspeakable and full of glory!" Surely the consolations of his Spirit are fitly called "a pledge of our inheritance," since they are indeed a beginning and foretaste of Heaven in the soul. But we must extend our thoughts yet further, even to "the rest that remains for the people of God." Doubtless that was most eminently in the view of our blessed Lord; nor shall anything short of all the glory and felicity of Heaven be the portion of those who come to him aright.

That it is also a true and faithful saying, there can be no doubt.

Never did any come to our Lord without experiencing his truth and faithfulness. Many indeed there are who profess to follow him, while yet they are far from enjoying this promised blessing: but, instead of coming to him in faith and hope, and love, they are impelled only by terror; they listen to the suggestions of despondency; and they live under the reigning power of unbelief. No wonder then that they find not the rest which they desire.

But if any go to him aright, there is no guilt, however great, which is not removed from their conscience; there is no tumult of contending passions that is not moderated and restrained; there is no any earthly trouble in which they are not enabled to rejoice and glory. If under any calamity whatever we go to him like the Apostle, like him shall we receive such an answer as will turn our sorrow into joy, and make the very occasions of grief to be the sources of exultation and triumph.

Application.

1. To those who feel not the burden of sin.

If we are exempt in a measure from earthly calamities, we have reason to rejoice. But to be unacquainted with spiritual troubles is no proper subject for self-congratulation. It is "the broken and contrite heart alone which God will not despise." We may boast of our goodness, like the Pharisee, or the elder brother in the parable: but, like them, we shall have no forgiveness with God, nor any part in that joy, which returning prodigals shall experience in their Father's house. We must "sow in tears, if ever we would reap in joy." We must be heavy-laden with a sense of sin, if ever we would experience the rest which Christ will give.

2. To those who are seeking rest.

It is indeed a mercy to have an awakened conscience: but you must now guard with earnest and equal care against self-righteous hopes on the one hand, and desponding fears on the other. You may be ready to fear that your burdens are too heavy to be removed, and your sins too great to be forgiven: but the people, whom Christ invites, are the heavy-laden; yes, all of them without exception, whatever be their burdens, and whatever be their sins.

On the other hand, you may be tempted to seek rest in your duties or your frames: but it is Christ alone that ever can bestow it, and from him you must receive it as a free unmerited gift. Endeavor therefore to draw near to him in his appointed way; and be assured that he will draw near to you with his promised blessings.

3. To those who have attained rest and peace.

A deliverance from fear and trouble, instead of relaxing our obligation to watchfulness, binds us to tenfold diligence in the ways of God. When therefore our Lord invites us to come to him for rest, he adds, "Take my yoke upon you;" and then repeats the promise, in order to intimate that a submission to his will is as necessary to our happiness, as an affiance in his name. Let this then be your daily care. If his yoke were ever so grievous, you could not reasonably hesitate to bear it, since the burden of sin and misery, that he has removed from you, is infinitely heavier than any other can be. But "his yoke is easy and his burden is light;" and the bearing of it will conduce no less to your present, than to your everlasting felicity.

 

 

#1350

Christ, A Meek and Lowly Teacher

Matthew 11:29

"Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest unto your souls."

EVERY office which Christ sustains in the economy of redemption, is replete with encouragement to sinful man. His sufficiency as our great High-Priest to make atonement for us, and his power as our King to subdue our enemies, are subjects of frequent meditation, and sources of unspeakable comfort, to the true Christian. His prophetic office, especially as exercised towards ourselves, is less considered by Christians in general, though it is equally necessary for us, and no less conducive to our eternal welfare.

In a preceding verse our Lord has told us, that none can know the Father, except those whom the Son should reveal him; and, in the words before us, he invites all to come and learn of him the mysterious truths, which, though already recorded in the written word, cannot be apprehended aright—unless he unfolds them to us, and enables us to understand them.

In these words we may discern,

I. Our duty.

Christ having undertaken to teach us the way of safety and the way of duty, we should learn of him,

1. With the teachableness of children.

Children receive with the most implicit submission whatever their teachers tell them. Just so should we learn of Christ: we should not bring our own preconceived notions to the Scriptures, or presume to try the mysteries of revelation at the bar of our own corrupt reason; but we should believe whatever God has spoken, and receive it simply on the authority of the speaker. Nor should the opinions of the wisest men be of any weight with us, if they are clearly contrary to the voice of inspiration.

2. With the diligence of students.

They who have a thirst for knowledge, are almost constantly employed in deep thought, and laborious investigation. Nor do they account any pains too great, if only they can gain that eminence and distinction, which superior attainments will ensure. Thus should we be occupied in pursuit of divine knowledge; reading the word, "searching into it as for hidden treasures," meditating upon it day and night, and praying over it for divine illumination. While others are distracted and cumbered about many things, we should be sitting at the feet of Jesus, and embracing all opportunities of religious instruction, whether in public or in private.

3. With the obedience of devoted followers.

Earthly knowledge may be merely speculative. But divine knowledge must be practical—it is of no use at all, any further than it purifies the heart and renews the life. Whatever we find to be the mind and will of God, that we must do without hesitation, and without reserve. As the reasonings of men are to be disregarded when opposed to the declarations of God; so are the maxims of men to be set at nothing, when by adopting them we should violate a divine command. One single word, confirmed with Thus says the Lord, should operate more powerfully to the regulating of our faith and practice, than the sentiments and customs of the whole world combined.

The description which our Lord has given us of his own character, shows what abundant provision is made for,

II. Our encouragement.

Our Lord's words are not to be understood as an exhortation to learn meekness and lowliness from his example, but as a reason why we should cheerfully submit ourselves to his teaching. In this view they are very encouraging: they imply, that,

1. He will condescend to our ignorance.

Those who are proficients in deep knowledge, cannot bear the drudgery of teaching children the first rudiments of language. But Jesus, who is able to instruct the highest archangel, is yet willing to take, as it were, under his tutelage the most ignorant of mankind. As in the days of his flesh, "he spoke the word to men as they were able to bear it," so now will he give us "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little." When his own disciples forbade people to bring their children to him, under the idea that his time ought not to be occupied with people so incapable of benefitting by his instructions—he rebuked them, and desired that all, of whatever age or description, might have the freest access to him; being as willing to adapt himself to the capacity of a child, as to the more enlarged understandings of the Scribes and Pharisees.

2. He will bear with our dullness.

Human teachers are but too apt to feel irritation from the stupidity of their disciples. But Jesus, who has infinitely more to bear with than we can have, is ever patient, and ready to renew yet again and again the lessons that he has given us a thousand times. Scarcely any person can be conceived more dull of understanding than his own disciples, who, after he had been teaching them for nearly four years, were yet ignorant of the necessity of his death, of the ends of his resurrection, and of the spiritual nature of his kingdom. He was constrained sometimes to complain of them in this very view, "Are you also yet without understanding?" Nevertheless he continued to teach them, until he had initiated them fully into all the mysteries of his kingdom. And thus will he do to the most ignorant of men; he will "open their understandings," and "guide them into all truth."

3. He will encourage our feeblest efforts.

It frequently happens that those who are slow of understanding, are altogether driven to despondency through the impatience of their teachers. But Jesus is all meekness and lowliness and, however weak our efforts be, provided only they be sincere and humble, he will bless them with a measure of success, and with manifest tokens of his approbation. We may appeal to the experience of all, in confirmation of this truth. Who ever sought instruction from him in a way of reading and prayer, without finding his mind gradually opening to an apprehension of the truth? Has not Jesus shown, if we may so speak, a partiality for the poor and weak, revealing to them what he has hidden from the wise and prudent; confounding thereby the wisdom of the wise, and securing to himself the glory of his own work? Yes; in reference to the illumination of the mind, as well as to anything else, we may say, "He will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, but will bring forth judgment unto victory."

But, in addition to the encouragement which his condescension affords us, we have a further inducement to learn of him, from the consideration of,

III. Our reward.

An attention to the instructions of earthly teachers is productive of no little benefit. But if we diligently learn of Christ, our advantages will be greater than we can well conceive: we shall find benefit to our souls; we shall obtain "rest,"

1. From the uncertainty of conjecture.

Mankind in general are in a state of doubt respecting the most important of all concerns: though they may assent to the principal truths of Christianity, they feel no assurance respecting them. But those who have learned of Christ, soon attain a full persuasion of the things they have been taught. The Scripture speaks of a threefold assurance:
an assurance of understanding,
an assurance of faith,
and an assurance of hope.

Of all these, the men of this world have no idea—they are ready to speak of such things as marks of daring presumption. But the disciple of Christ has an inward witness of the truths he has learned; and knows perfectly that they are not a cunningly-devised fable. He can venture his soul upon them with as much confidence, as he can recline his weary body upon his bed. He knows in whom he has believed; and that the soul which is committed to Jesus, is safe forever.

2. From the accusations of conscience.

In spite of men's endeavors to silence the convictions of their conscience, they never can obtain peace but in God's appointed way. But the person that has learned of Christ to rely simply on his blood and righteousness, enjoys a "peace that surpasses all understanding." He knows that "the blood of Jesus will cleanse him from all sin," and that "there is no condemnation to the soul that believes in him".

3. From the turbulence of passion.

Whatever difference there may be in the natural tempers of men, all have some predominant passion or besetting sin that leads them captive. But the disciple of Christ has a new and more powerful principle infused into his soul; by means of which he is enabled to bring into subjection his corrupt appetites, and to mortify those evil dispositions which are such a fruitful source of misery to the unregenerate. This forms the great line of distinction between the Lord's people and others; for, whereas others are led captive by some sin, believers "have not so learned Christ, if they have indeed heard him and been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus," on the contrary, "they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts."

4. From the fear of death.

Men may brave death on a field of battle; but all, except the true Christian, shrink from it in its more silent and gradual approaches. But Christ purchased for his followers a deliverance from this bondage to the fear of death. With respect to them, death has lost its sting: yes, death is counted among their richest treasures: and they are enabled to look forward to it with pleasure, as the period when all their conflicts will cease, and their joys be consummated forever.

"Such is the heritage of the servants of the Lord;" and such is the rest that Christ will impart to all who learn of him.

Address.

Are there any among us that are pursuing human learning with avidity? O remember, that the knowledge of Christ infinitely transcends all other knowledge, and will bring with it a more certain, and far nobler, recompense. Be persuaded then to devote to it some portion of every day, and the whole of your sabbaths, that you may not only be wise, but "wise unto salvation."

Are there any that are dejected on account of their own incapacity to learn? Consider the abilities of your Teacher; and say, whether he is not able to instruct you, as well as others? He can make "the blind to see out of obscurity, and out of darkness," yes, he will the more readily exert himself on your behalf, because the excellency of the power displayed in your proficiency will the more evidently appear to be of him. Take comfort then, and expect the certain accomplishment of that promise, "Then shall you know, if you follow on to know the Lord."

 

 

#1351

Christ Greater Than the Temple

Matthew 12:6

"I tell you that one greater than the temple is here."

IT is said, concerning our blessed Lord, that he "endured, in a most extraordinary degree, the contradiction of sinners against himself." And in reading his history, we are struck with it continually. There was not anything which he either said or did, which was not made a subject of cavil to his enemies. Even his most beneficent acts were condemned as violations of the law, or as affording occasion for "the Romans to destroy both their place and nation."

In the chapter before us, we have a remarkable instance of their carping at an action in his Disciples, which, if done by any other person, would have caused no complaint. Our Lord was going with his Disciples through a corn-field, on the Sabbath-day; and they, being hungry, plucked some ears of corn, and rubbed them in their hands, and ate the corn. This the law of Moses expressly authorized them to do; and therefore the act could not be condemned. But the law prohibited all kinds of labor on the Sabbath-day; and the Pharisees, with hypocritical malignity, interpreted this act as a kind of reaping and threshing-out the corn; and cast reflections on our Lord for sanctioning such a violation of the Sabbath.

Our Lord therefore vindicated his Disciples: first, on the ground of its being a matter of necessity, in which case it superseded the observance of a ceremonial institution. In proof of this, he adduced the instance of David, who, having no food to satisfy himself and his followers on one particular emergency, took the loaves of show-bread, which were to be eaten by none but the priests alone, and satisfied the calls of nature with that. This was generally acknowledged as a justifiable act in David, because of the urgency of the occasion; and on the same ground the conduct of his Disciples was justifiable, as was his also in permitting it.

Our Lord next vindicated it on the ground of precedent: for, notwithstanding all the injunctions respecting rest on the Sabbath-day, the priests in the temple engaged in labor, to a very great extent, on every Sabbath, being occupied in slaying and offering the appointed sacrifices. They, notwithstanding they thus "profaned the Sabbath, were blameless," because the service of the temple required it.

In like manner, the Disciples, being engaged in his work, were blameless: for "He was greater than the temple;" and, consequently, was entitled to suspend the observance of the Sabbath, so far as his service required it; for "He was Lord even of the Sabbath-day."

In discoursing on this subject, I will,

I. Confirm our Lord's assertion.

Our blessed Lord did not so fully declare his Messiahship to the Pharisees as he did to some of a more candid disposition; as the Samaritan woman, and the man who had been born blind. Yet, on proper occasions, he was not backward to assert his superiority to all the sons of men. Jonah was a prophet; and Solomon a king; but he was, in every view, greater than either the one or the other of them. And, of all the structures in the universe, the temple was infinitely the most august and sacred: yet did he, without hesitation, declare himself to be greater than the temple.

In order to confirm this assertion, I shall not enter generally into the proofs of the divinity of Christ, but shall consider minutely the comparison here instituted between the temple and him: and, stating those things which most ennobled the temple, I will distinctly mark the superiority of Christ in every particular.

The temple then, with every vessel in it, was made after a pattern formed by God himself; and given to David, and to Solomon, for that end.

But the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ was himself formed by the very hand of God. He was formed, as no other person ever was, by the immediate agency of the Holy Spirit; as the angel had announced to the Virgin Mary: "The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore, also, that Holy One who shall be born of you, shall be called the Son of God."

Nor was it in his person only, but in his offices also, that he was pre-eminently the product of Divine wisdom and power. In him are combined the kingly, prophetic, and sacerdotal offices; all of which he executes, in a spiritual manner, over the face of the whole earth, yes, and in Heaven itself too; and will continue so to do, even to the end of time. It was in reference to him and his offices that the temple itself was formed, and all its ordinances were appointed. They were but the shadow, of which he was the substance: and consequently his superiority in this respect is fully established.

Again: the temple was richly furnished with everything which could conduce to the glory of God, or to the welfare of man.

The candlestick, the table of show-bread, the altar of incense, the censer, the ark of the covenant, with numberless other vessels, all of the purest gold, and of the most exquisite workmanship, distinguished this building far beyond any that ever existed upon earth. But they were very faint shadows of his incomprehensible fullness and excellency. In Him their respective uses were all combined. He was at once the sacrifice, the altar that sanctified it, and the Priest that offered it. He was "the light of the whole world;" and "the living bread, of which whoever eats shall live forever." He was the laver in which every child of man must wash both his person and his offerings. He was the ark, which contained in it the law, and was covered in all its exact dimensions by the mercy-seat; for, by his own fulfillment of the law for us, he rendered the exercise of mercy commensurate with the necessities of fallen man.

Here again, then, compare the shadow with the substance, and say whether the Lord Jesus Christ does not infinitely surpass the temple in the very things which constituted its chief grandeur.

But further: the temple had the Shechinah, the bright cloud, the symbol of the Deity, constantly residing in it. This was doubtless its highest glory. (I speak of the former temple, previous to the Babylonish captivity; and not of the latter, in which many of its principal ornaments were lacking.) But in the Lord Jesus Christ dwelt, not a symbol of the Deity, but the Deity himself, "even all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." This explains that prophecy of the Prophet Haggai, that "the glory of the latter house should exceed the glory of the former." How could that be, it may be asked, when in the latter temple were lacking the Shechinah, the Urim and Thummim, and the fire that came down from Heaven?

The answer is plain: The Lord Jesus Christ himself came to the latter house: and his presence in it was an honor infinitely exceeding all that ever was conferred on the first temple; because he was not a symbol of the Deity, but the great God himself in an incarnate state, even "Emmanuel, God with us."

I add yet once more: the temple was the place of confluence to all the tribes of Israel, even to all who desired to have access to God, or to obtain blessings at his hands.

And where does every sinner in the universe go, but to Jesus? To him is every eye directed: "through him alone can any man have access to God," in him does every saint "desire to be found," and through him shall all blessings, temporal, spiritual, eternal—flow down in richest abundance upon all who believe in him. Indeed, in this respect his superiority is most amply marked: for all that he does, is by virtue of the "one offering of himself once offered," whereas the offerings in the temple, because of their inefficacy, were renewed from year to year. His grace also extends to sins which the law of Moses could not reach; and confers benefits which that was unable to impart; and endures, not for a year only, like that under the law, but through the countless ages of eternity.

To add anything further would be superfluous. The superiority of Christ to the temple is so evident, that, without dwelling any longer upon it, I will proceed to,

II. Point out the peculiar interest which we have in it.

Here again we go back to our text, that we may derive from thence as much as possible for the elucidation of our subject. The establishment of Christ's superiority to the temple shows,

1. His right to command.

That was the precise point at issue between him and the Pharisees. Had he a right to authorize a deviation from the letter of the Mosaic law? He affirmed he had. They themselves admitted, that the strict observance of the Sabbath was dispensed with for the service of the temple: and if He was greater than the temple, the same right was vested in him. Nothing less than divine authority could in any case supersede a divine command: and, if he were greater than the temple, a divine authority must reside in him; consequently, he exercised no other right than what strictly, and of necessity, pertained unto him.

Now, there are divine commands, which we also, under all ordinary circumstances, are bound to obey. We must yield compliance with the lawful edicts of the civil magistrate: we must "obey them, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake." "Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."

Yet, if the civil magistrate enjoins what is contrary to the command of Christ, or forbid anything which Christ has enjoined, we must obey Christ in preference to him. The Apostles, when forbidden to preach or teach in the name of Jesus, appealed to his very judges, saying, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, you judge; for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."

In like manner, we are commanded to love and honor our parents: and so important is that command, that it is distinguished from the rest, by being enforced, as the Apostle observes, with a special promise. Yet even that is superseded, when they exert their authority in opposition to Christ. Nay, more: strange as the injunction sounds, we are commanded even to "hate father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, in comparison of him; and on no other terms can we ever be acknowledged as his disciples." Of course, no one will be so absurd as to imagine that this declaration is to be understood in any other than a comparative view: for in any other view we are not authorized to hate an enemy, much less our nearest relatives.

Our duty to the Lord Jesus Christ is of paramount obligation, and supersedes everything that is opposed to it. The law of self-preservation is strongly binding upon us: but if fidelity to Christ requires the sacrifice of it, "not even life itself must be dear to us," we must be willing to lay it down at any time for his sake: and if, at the expense of our duty to him, we save our lives, then we shall lose them to all eternity.

This, then, must be a principle deeply fixed in our minds: That the authority of Christ is to rule us under all circumstances; and that nothing under Heaven is to be allowed to interfere with it. Men who cast off his yoke will indeed clamor against us, and express their indignation against us for not complying with their will. But we may safely leave ourselves in the hands of Jesus; who, as our Advocate, will plead our cause; and, as our Judge, will pass a sentence of approval upon us in the last day. He will then at least, if not before, vindicate our conduct, and "make our righteousness to appear as the noon-day."

2. His sufficiency to save.

To all who observed the institutions of the law in faith, they were effectual for the salvation of their souls. And who ever applied to Jesus in vain? Who ever relied on his sin-atoning sacrifice, and was confounded? What is there that shall be kept back from one who implores blessings at his hands?

Shall pardon be refused? No, "though his sins were red as scarlet or as crimson, they should become white as snow." "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses him from all sin."

Shall peace be denied to the believing suppliant? No, "being justified by faith, he shall have peace with God;" so that, instead of looking forward with terror to the eternal world, he shall even now "rejoice in hope of the glory of God."

Shall strength for future obedience be withheld? No, "the grace of Christ shall be sufficient for him;" and he shall be "able to do all things through Christ, who strengthens him."

Shall glory be deemed too good for him? No, the Savior, in whom he has believed, will judge him, and exalt him to a participation of his own inheritance, his own kingdom, his own glory.

The principal utensils of the temple, the lavers, the tables, the candlesticks, were, in the temple, ten times more numerous than in the tabernacle: and this marked the great superiority of the temple and its services to the tabernacle and the ordinances observed in it. And do I say too much, if I say that in Jesus our blessings are increased? Truly, they are increased, not tenfold, but a hundredfold: for, until he was glorified, they were sent forth only in slender portions: but from that time they have been poured out like a river.

Let us then observe from hence,

1. How highly we are privileged under the Christian dispensation.

Jesus came in person to the second temple, and thereby raised it above the first. And does he not come to his temple in our day? Yes, he does—not corporeally indeed, but spiritually, and with great power. He has promised that he would do so: "Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them." And this he will continue to do: as he has said, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world."

Nor is it any disadvantage to us that he comes only in a spiritual way: for those who beheld him in person were stumbled at the baseness of his appearance; and could not conceive how one so poor and destitute and despised should possess the authority he claimed. But we have no such stumbling-block in our way. We know who he is, and what he is, even "the Mighty God, and the Prince of Peace." We also know what he can do: and that all which was done, under the law by God, in his temple, he can and will do in the midst of us. To us he will give his answers of peace; yes, "he will give grace and glory: and withhold no good thing from us" in time or in eternity. Let us know, then, our exalted privilege, and have our expectations enlarged, in proportion to the advantages we enjoy.

2. With what delight we should attend the ordinances of our God.

Never should we go up to the House of God without expecting to meet our Savior there. We should not go to public ordinances merely to perform a duty, but to enjoy a privilege; not to hear a preacher, but to meet our God and Savior. O, what a different appearance would there be in ordinances, if we all attended them in a befitting frame! What devotion would there be in our prayers! What reverential attention would there be to the Word delivered! What "showers of blessings" would be poured out upon our souls!

Remember, I pray you, brethren, that, when you come up hither, you come to meet your Lord, who is already waiting here to receive you. Be never satisfied, if you do not see him. If at any time his word be applied with power to your souls, acknowledge him in the gift: for it is through his power alone that the word is effectual for any spiritual good. Thus shall your worship here, prepare you for higher services above; and your acknowledgments of his goodness, be a prelude to your Hosannahs in the realms of bliss!

 

 

#1352

The Compassion of Christ Towards the Weak

Matthew 12:15–21

"But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: "Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust."

ONE might gather almost as complete a character of Christ from the Prophecies, as from the Gospels themselves. Not only the great incidents relating to his life and death were foretold, but his spirit and conduct were most minutely delineated.

He had just withdrawn himself from the Pharisees who sought to destroy him; and had strongly enjoined his attendants not to make known his miracles. This conduct appeared strange to those who were expecting him to erect a temporal kingdom. But the Evangelist declares that these very things had been made the subject of prophecy many hundred years before. The passage quoted by him from Isaiah is recorded, not with literal exactness, but according to its true import. It declares,

I. The commission given to Christ.

Christ was the Father's ambassador to our ruined world.

However, in his divine nature, Christ was equal to the Father, yet, in his mediatorial capacity, he was the Father's servant. The office assigned him was to show the way of righteousness and salvation both to Jews and Gentiles; and for this he was qualified by an immeasurable communication of the Spirit to him.

In this view the Father exceedingly delighted in him.

The Father doubtless regarded him as his beloved for his own sake; but was peculiarly pleased with him as having undertaken the work of man's redemption. In him he saw, as it were, all his own perfections glorified, and the thrones of apostate angels occupied by sinners of the human race. Hence in triumphant exultation he declares his acquiescence in him, and calls every human being to "behold" him.

The prophet further specifies,

II. The manner in which he should execute it.

He was to accomplish his work,

1. Silently.

There was to be nothing in him ostentatious, contentious, or clamorous. Together with firmness and fidelity, he exercised continued gentleness and meekness. Would to God that many who bear a similar commission would learn of him to execute it in a similar way!

2. Tenderly.

The terms here used seem to be proverbial.

The former metaphor is taken from reeds which were used as musical instruments by shepherds, and which, when bruised, could no longer emit any melodious sound.

The smoking flax alludes to the wick of a lamp which, when the flame is extinct, produces an offensive smell.

Both of these metaphors fitly represent the state of a soul bruised under a sense of sin, and lamenting that its grace is nearly extinguished, while whole clouds of corruption are arising from it. But Jesus, instead of despising its low estate, will rather fan the spark into a flame, and cause the worthless reed to send forth melody that shall delight the ears even of God himself.

3. Successfully.

However gentle his exertions, he shall never ultimately fail. As his forbearance towards his enemies gave them a momentary appearance of triumph, so he sometimes delays his aid even to his most favored people; but he will at last prevail, and make his grace victorious in their souls.

To this description of the Savior the prophet naturally subjoins,

III. Our duty towards him.

Blessed be God, our duty is our highest privilege!

We are commanded to trust in him,

1. For instruction.

Jesus is both qualified and commissioned to enlighten the Gentiles; nor are there any so weak and ignorant but that he can make them wise to salvation. Let us then "not lean to our own understanding," but seek to be "taught of him."

2. For acceptance.

It is not merely in his individual capacity, but as the head of the elect world, that he is so pleasing to his heavenly Father. We therefore, if we believe on him, may be certain of acceptance through him; yes, God will not behold a spot in the most polluted soul, if it be only washed in his blood, and clothed in his righteousness.

3. For victory.

None have need to despond on account of their own weakness and corruptions: the "grace of Christ is sufficient," and shall prove so to all who trust in him. "Wherever he has begun the good work, he will carry it on unto the end."

Application.

1. The text is addressed to all the Gentile sinners.

How gracious is God in thus inviting sinners to "behold" his Son! And how powerful the recommendation that is this enforced by the example of God himself! But can anything be a stronger reproof to those, who, instead of choosing Christ, and being well pleased with him, have uniformly despised and rejected him? Say then, you ungrateful world, whom will you condemn: yourselves, or God? Still however, the invitation is addressed to you, "Behold my Son." O that you may behold him now to your joy, and not hereafter to your eternal damnation!

2. But the words are more eminently suited to the weak and desponding.

More consolatory declarations could not have been desired by man, or given by God. The lowest possible state of grace is here described in most appropriate terms, and an assurance given that it shall prove victorious in the outcome. Let the desponding soul then learn to "trust" in Jesus; and even in the midst of conflicts sing, "Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."

 

 

#1353

The Blind and Mute Demoniac Healed

Matthew 12:22, 23

"Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said: Could this be the Son of David?"

IN establishing the Mosaic dispensation, God introduced it with many miracles. It might well be expected therefore that, when he should supersede that dispensation, and establish another in its place, he would confirm that also with miracles, so as to leave no doubt but that he was the author of "that which should remain, no less than of that which was to vanish away." Accordingly our blessed Savior wrought miracles without number, and appealed to them as substantiating his claim to divine authority: "Though you don't believe me, believe the works; that you may know and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him." It should seem that, for the furtherance of this end, Satan was permitted to exercise greater power over the bodies of men, than was ever exercised by him either before or since: so that the divine mission of Jesus might be the more signally marked by his conquests over Satan.

In discoursing on the miracle before us, I shall show,

I. What proof the Lord Jesus here gave of his Messiahship.

There was a man whom Satan by his malignant influence had caused to be "both blind and dumb," and him did our Lord in an instant restore to the perfect use of his faculties, so that "the blind and dumb both spoke and saw." At this stupendous miracle "the people were all amazed," and the conclusion which they drew from it was, "Is not this the son of David?" Under the name and character of "the Son of David" the Messiah was expected: and from the miracle which they had seen, the people inferred, that Jesus must be he: yes, so undeniable did this inference appear, that they asked with confidence, "Is not this the son of David?"

This miracle was precisely of the kind that the Messiah was expected to perform. It had been foretold by the prophet, "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped: then shall the lame man leap as a deer, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing, etc." And to such miracles as these our Lord himself referred in proof of his Messiahship. When John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to inquire of Jesus, "Are you he who should come, or do we look for another?" Our Lord replied, "Go and show John again the things that you do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them: and blessed is he who shall not be offended by me."

Indeed so wonderful was this miracle, and so evident, on Scripture principles, the truth deduced from it, that the envious Pharisees, in order to obviate the conclusion drawn from it, ascribed the miracle to a confederacy with the devil. But our Lord showed them, that, on their view of the matter, Satan would be subverting his own kingdom: but, as they could not conceive he would do that, it was clear that the kingdom of God must be come unto them.

Thus did our Lord by this miracle establish his claim to the Messiahship, and give ample ground for all the people to receive him as the appointed Savior of the world.

And have these wonders ceased? No, I feel myself authorized to declare,

II. What corresponding proofs he is ever ready to give to us at this day.

Satan has no longer the same power over the bodies of men that he once exercised. But he has as great power over their souls as ever, and

We are spiritually in the same predicament with the man whom Jesus healed.

We are, while in an unregenerate state, "both blind and mute." We are "blind." What is there which we see aright? What views have we of our duty, our interest, or our happiness? One would suppose that every rational being should see it his duty to love and serve his God; and his interest to secure the divine favor; and his happiness to enjoy the presence of God, and a foretaste of his eternal inheritance. But where do we find people acting in accordance with such views? Men's earthly pursuits appear to them of paramount obligation; and all desire after heavenly things is swallowed up by their anxiety about the things of time and sense. In vain does God tell them, that this world is only as "a broken cistern that can hold no water;" and that no solid comfort can be derived from any source but from God, "the fountain of living waters." This they will not believe, notwithstanding the experience of every day bears testimony to it. And whence is this unbelief, but from the influence of Satan upon their minds? Yes, "The god of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not."

So also are we "mute." Our tongue is spoken of by God as "our glory," because by that, more than by any other member, we are enabled to glorify him. But how is that member employed for God? We speak not to him in the exercise of prayer and praise, though our multiplied necessities and mercies call for these acknowledgments every day and hour of our lives. Nor do we in our converse with the world speak of God. Every other subject that can be thought of occupies our tongues rather than this, insomuch that among our friends and relatives it seems, as it were, to be banished by general consent. Still less do we speak for God. We see him dishonored on every side; but we dare not advocate his cause. If our own father or friend were so insulted, we would find somewhat to speak in their behalf. But for God and his honor we have no concern: we can see the whole world risen in rebellion against him, and never once bear our testimony against their impiety. And whence is this, but from the same Satanic influence? Yes, "our walking thus according to the course of this world is owing to that prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in all the children of disobedience."

But from this state our blessed Lord is ever willing to deliver us.

He is constituted "both Lord and Christ." He is exalted on purpose that he may give us the grace we stand in need of, and thus "destroy in us the works of the devil." He on his ascension to Heaven poured out the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which he has promised to us also; and by his Spirit "he will open the eyes of our understanding," and "open our lips also that we may show forth his praise." This is the very office which he has undertaken to perform: He is "made Head over all things to the Church for this very end;" and "there is a fullness treasured up in him for this express purpose." No man has any need to be discouraged, as though he were beyond the reach of this mercy: he cannot be in a more hopeless state than the man who is spoken of in my text: and we are assured, that "the things which are hidden from the wise and prudent, our Lord will reveal unto babes." Let all then look unto him; the blind, that they may see, and the mute that they may speak; and not one shall be disappointed of his hope: for our blessed Lord has "counseled all to come to him for these blessings," and "no soul shall ever seek his face in vain."

Address.

1. Those who are yet under the power of Satan.

But where shall I find these, or even so much as one of them? Are you among this unhappy number? No; if we will take your own word, we shall not find so much as one. But are there none among you that are destitute of a spiritual discernment, and whose whole conduct shows them to be blind as to all practical perception of their spiritual duties, their interests, and their happiness? Alas! we need not go far to find such as these; for on every side of us we see people living for themselves, and not for God; for time, and not for eternity.

I ask not then respecting your worldly possessions or your intellectual attainments. If you have not a truly spiritual use of your faculties, possess what else you may, you are in a far worse condition than the man whom Satan had rendered blind and mute. His wants might be supplied by others; yours cannot. His would cease at death; yours will never terminate: his might be far more than compensated by the acquisition of spiritual attainments; but what can ever compensate for the wants which you experience? Ten thousand worlds could not be to you any compensation for the loss of spiritual faculties and spiritual enjoyments. Then I entreat you come to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is as able and as willing to supply your wants as ever he was to heal those who were brought to him in the days of old.

2. Those who have been delivered from Satan.

Who that beheld that man's change of state did not cordially congratulate him on the mercy he had received? Yet was not the blessing conferred on him in any degree to be compared with that which they have experienced, whose eyes are opened to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and whose tongues are loosed to speak forth his praise. Dear brethren, so far as these blessings are enjoyed by you, you are restored to the happiness which Christ has purchased for you by his blood, the happiness which shall before long be perfected in glory.

Give honor then to the Lord Jesus Christ: and, when you see how many around you still remain both blind and mute—then stand amazed at the distinguishing mercy which has been given to you.

And now, need I tell you how to employ the faculties which have been thus renewed? Surely of yourselves you will feel, that they should be henceforth consecrated altogether to your God. "Get then your spiritual senses more and more exercised" on spiritual things; and let your one employment henceforth be on earth, what it will be before long without interruption be in Heaven, to behold the glory, and to show forth the praises, of your adorable Benefactor.

 

 

#1354

The Necessity of A Decided Adherence to Christ

Matthew 12:30

"He who is not with me, is against me; and he who gathers not with me, scatters abroad."

TO inculcate a devotedness of heart to God, and to insist upon it as indispensably necessary to salvation, is generally deemed harsh and uncharitable: and certainly, if it were not required in Scripture, we should be exceedingly blame-worthy in so alarming and terrifying the minds of men: but we must speak what God has spoken, and deliver faithfully what he has commissioned us to declare.

To what purpose would it be for us to deceive our fellow-creatures? We might speak of candor, and prophesy smooth things, and lull men asleep in sin; but we could not invalidate the word of God, or reverse the sentence that he shall utter: the declaration of our Lord would still condemn both our hearers and ourselves: "If we are not with him, then we must be against him," and he will account us his enemies in the last day.

In considering this declaration, it will be proper,

I. To explain it.

Taken by itself, it has no material difficulty in it.

The Lord Jesus Christ is a Sovereign, who is at war with all the powers of darkness: and we, as his subjects, are bound to fight his battles. Among the subjects of earthly monarchs no neutrality is admitted: if their kingdom be invaded, all must unite to repel the enemy: neutrality in such a case would be treason. Now thus, whoever joins not himself to the standard of our Lord, to fight under his banners, and to oppose his enemies, is a traitor to his cause; "he is really against our Lord, if he be not for him."

As a laborer who has neglected to gather up his corn, has in fact wasted and scattered the property of his employer; just so he, whose duty it is to exert himself in gathering a harvest of souls for the Lord Jesus, if he neglects his duty, is really the means of alienating them the more, and of driving them farther from him.

But, when compared with a passage of an opposite aspect, a considerable difficulty arises from it.

Our Lord on another occasion used an expression apparently the very reverse of this: "He who is not against us, is for us." Now which of these assertions is true? for, in words, they plainly contradict each other: or, if both be true, how are we to reconcile them with each other? The true way to ascertain their meaning is, to consider the occasions on which they were spoken.

When our Lord uttered the words of our text, he had been arguing against those who imputed his miracles to a confederacy with Satan; and had shown, that as the whole aim of his life was to destroy the influence of Satan over men, Satan would never have aided him in such a work; he would rather have withstood him to the utmost of his power: and consequently, the miracle which Jesus had wrought in expelling Satan from the demoniac, evinced his power over Satan, and his determination finally to bruise him under his people's feet. From hence our Lord took occasion to observe that there must be the same determined hostility in his power against sin and Satan as he himself had evinced; and that, if any of them should make a truce with Satan even for an hour, they would instantly be considered as traitors to him, and be dealt with as his enemies.

But when our Lord spoke the words recorded by Mark, he had been reproving his disciples for presuming to forbid a man to cast out devils in the name of Jesus, merely because he did not associate himself with them: "Forbid him not," says our Lord: 'he is not a partisan of yours, it is true: but he is advancing my interests, as well as you; only he is doing it in a somewhat different way. His performing of miracles in my name is a proof of his faith in me, and of his concern for my honor: and therefore, though he may not have such clear views as you, or walk exactly in the way that you would have him—yet he is to be acknowledged as a friend of mine: he does nothing against me; and therefore must be considered as on my side.'

Thus the two passages, though apparently opposite, involve no contradiction whatever: the one shows us how to act towards the avowed enemies of Christ; the other, how to act towards his less conspicuous friends: the one forbids neutrality; the other forbids bigotry, or party-spirit.

Viewing these words then as a declaration that neutrality cannot be endured among the followers of Christ, we proceed,

II. To confirm it.

There is a twofold warfare, which, as Christian soldiers, we are to maintain; and to each of them does the declaration in our text apply. We must be decided and constant in our opposition to,

1. The enemies of Christ within us.

Among these we must number all our corrupt affections and propensities, which tend to the subversion of Christ's authority within us. Not one of these is to be spared, though it should be dear as a right eye, or apparently necessary as a right hand. They are indeed exceedingly numerous, and have "strongholds" which are almost impregnable. They are also mustered and led on by a subtle adversary, "the prince of the power of the air, who works in all the children of disobedience." Still, however, we must not be discouraged, but must go forth against them, "strong in the Lord and in the power of his might." We have armor, if I may so say, forged for us in Heaven, and fitted to every part that is vulnerable, except the back, which we are on no account to turn to our enemy. Clothed in this, we need not be afraid: with the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith, we shall in due time be "more than conquerors." But we must never make a truce, or even parley with any of our enemies. "The filthiness both of the flesh and of the spirit" must be opposed without ceasing, and without reserve. Every evil temper, every sensual inclination, all sloth, impenitence, unbelief, or whatever it be that "wars against the soul"—must be mortified and subdued; nor must we ever cease from our conflict until we have overcome, and are crowned with victory.

Now, if we be not thus resolute, we shall not only not advance the kingdom of God within us, but we shall weaken and destroy it. The work of grace within us is not like that of a painter or statuary, that may be left and resumed at pleasure, but like that of a ponderous stone rolled up a steep ascent, which will return, as soon as the force that impelled it is withdrawn. Relapses into sin tend exceedingly to impair the gracious principle within us; they harden the heart, and sear the conscience, and "grieve the Holy Spirit of God;" and if not speedily repented of, set us further from God than we were before our minds were first awakened: so true is it, that, if we "cease to gather with Christ, then we scatter abroad."

2. The enemies of Christ around us.

The whole world is, as it were, risen up in arms against our Lord and Savior; all of them saying, "We will not have this man to reign over us." Against them, therefore, we are to take part with our blessed Lord. We must protest against their maxims, their principles, and their conduct. We are "not to be of the world, even as Christ was not of the world." Instead of attempting to hold communion with them, which is impossible—we should "come out from among them, and be separate." The attempting to seek their friendship is an act of hostility against Christ himself. Let us not however mistake, as though religion required us to hate any of our fellow-creatures; we must love their persons, but hate their ways. This line of conduct is prescribed to all the followers of Christ: while they "glory in the cross of Christ," they must "by means of that cross be crucified unto the world, and the world be crucified unto them."

Now, if we draw back from this avowal of our sentiments and this decision in the cause of Christ, we rank ourselves immediately on the side of his enemies. "In forsaking his law, we praise the wicked," when rather, "by keeping his law we should contend with them." "We strengthen the hands of Christ's enemies," and in the most effectual manner promise them life, though every part of the inspired volume threatens them with death. Let us remember then that we must be faithful to our profession: we must show "whose we are, and whom we serve," we must "shine as lights in a dark world," and, "instead of being conformed to the world, we must, by being transformed through the renewing of our minds, prove, and exhibit to all around us, what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."

Let us learn then from hence,

1. The proper objects of Christian zeal.

There is a zeal that is good; and there is "a zeal that is not according to knowledge." Of the latter kind was that which the Apostles manifested when they forbade a man to cast out devils, merely because he did not follow with them. The work itself was good; and its being done in the name of Jesus, gave them reason to believe that he was a believer in Christ, though he did not unite himself to them. Should they not then rather have rejoiced in the good that was done, though it was not done precisely in the way which they would have preferred?

Alas! the spirit which they indulged prevails in every age: men do not like to see the empire of Satan assailed, or the kingdom of Christ established—if it is not done by their own particular party, or by the means which they particularly prefer. They would rather that the good were wholly left undone, than that people, differing from each other in smaller matters, should unite together to effect it. All this is the effect of pride, and envy, and bigotry. Whatever such people may think, they will be reproved by Christ, even as the Apostles were. The proper object of our zeal is the advancement of Christ's kingdom upon earth, and in our own hearts in particular. To be zealously affected always in such a cause is a good thing: and I pray God that we may never relax our exertions in it to the last hour of our lives.

2. The necessity of abounding in it more and more.

We have observed, that men cannot continue stationary in the divine life: we must either advance or decline. Now it is not at our first conversion only that the words of our text are applicable to us, but at every period of our lives. The longer we have professed ourselves as the Lord's servants, the more necessity there is for firmness and decision. To become lukewarm, is the worst of states, the most offensive to God, and the most injurious to ourselves. We have this only alternative, either to maintain a warfare against all the enemies of Christ, or to make Christ himself our enemy: and can anyone doubt which he should prefer? If we provoke him to anger, "will our hands be strong in the day that he shall deal with us?" Let us then "fight a good fight, and act like men," then shall we "be approved of him who has chosen us to be soldiers," and reign with him in glory for evermore.

 

 

#1355

The Sin Against the Holy Spirit

Matthew 12:31

I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men.

THE sins of men have, in all the ages of the world, been the means and occasions of displaying the Divine goodness. It is through the fall of the first Adam, and the crucifixion of Christ, the second Adam, that we attain the knowledge of God's mercy, and see how the exercise of it can consist with the rights of justice. The wickedness of the Pharisees, to whom the words of our text were addressed, was exceeding heinous: yet was it an occasion of manifesting the most unbounded compassion of our Lord. He had cast out a devil, and thereby not only conveyed a rich blessing to the person whom he had healed, but had given an irrefragable proof of his own divine mission.

But the Pharisees, blinded by prejudice, imputed his miracle to a confederacy with the devil. Our Lord, instead of giving them up, as he might have justly done, to judicial blindness and impenitence, condescended meekly to reason with them on the subject, and then affectionately cautioned them against indulging so base a spirit; assuring them that all which they had said and done against him might be forgiven; but that if they should persist in this conduct towards the Holy Spirit also, and reject his testimony, they would cut themselves off from all possibility of obtaining mercy.

Our Lord's address to them leads us to consider the extent of God's mercy; and shows us,

I. To what it will not extend.

It is of great importance to ascertain correctly what is meant by the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Many have thought that the sin against the Holy Spirit consisted in ascribing the miracles of Jesus to the agency of Satan. But this opinion is founded on a misconstruction of a passage in Mark's Gospel. The Evangelist's observation, "Because they said, he has an unclean spirit," was not intended to show what the sin against the Holy Spirit was, but to specify what the occasion was, which called forth so awful an admonition.

In that very place, the inspired writer contrasts the blasphemy against the Son of man, which the Pharisees now uttered, with the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which they were in danger of uttering, when the Holy Spirit would be sent down from Heaven: and he observes that the former might be forgiven; but that the latter could not.

The sin against the Holy Spirit was the acting towards the Holy Spirit, as they now did towards Christ—it was the resisting of all the evidences of Christianity, so as deliberately to pour contempt upon the truths revealed by the Holy Spirit: and, the ascribing of his miraculous powers, and gracious influences, to the agency of Satan."

Why this sin in particular is excepted from the general offers of pardon, it is also of great importance to understand.

It is plainly declared to be unpardonable. But is not the mercy of God sufficiently extensive to cover this? Yes, doubtless; for it is infinite, as all his perfections are. Is there not then a sufficiency in the blood of Christ to atone for this? Yes, his death is a sufficient atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

Must we then refer it to the sovereign decree of Heaven; and say, that God, in righteous judgment, has excepted this from the general proclamation of forgiveness? Perhaps this may be one reason: for John mentions "a sin unto death," for the forgiveness of which it is in vain to intercede. But the more substantial reason is, that the sin itself, in the very nature of things, excludes a person from all hope of mercy.

God has provided salvation for us through the blood of his Son, and the influences of his Spirit; and has told us that there neither is, nor ever will be, any other way of salvation for sinful man. Now if we despise this salvation, and account it only a devilish delusion—then what can be done? We must die, because we reject the only means of life. As a man who has taken a poisonous draught, may live, provided he applies a proper remedy, so a man who has committed the most deadly sins may nevertheless be saved at last, if he truly embraces the Gospel of Christ: but if he will not use the remedy provided for him, he must abide the consequences, and perish forever.

We must not however imagine, that every rejection of the Gospel is unpardonable; for that which is occasioned by an ignorance of its true nature, may be forgiven; but it then becomes unpardonable, when it is willful and deliberate, against the convictions of our conscience, and the dictates of an enlightened judgment. It then argues a mind given up to its own delusions, and sealed up under final impenitence; and therefore it cannot be forgiven, because it will never be repented of.

There being no other limit to God's mercy, it is easy to see,

II. To what it will extend.

This only excepted, every species and degree of sin may be forgiven. This blessed truth may be abundantly proved,

1. From Scripture examples.

If we look at sins committed before conversion, we shall see that every species of enormity has been pardoned. What horrible impurity had the Corinthians been guilty of! Yet they were washed, justified, and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. Murders have in some instances been, not only committed, but multiplied: yet Manasseh, who, in addition to the most impious idolatries, had "filled the streets of Jerusalem with the blood of innocents," was pardoned. The persecuting of God's Church and people also, though it is like the "piercing of the apple of God's eye," has been forgiven. Yes, Saul, the most furious of all zealots, was stopped in the midst of his outrages, and transformed into a blessed Apostle, in order that he might be an everlasting monument of the power and grace of Christ.

To sum up all in one; the very murder of the Son of God himself has been forgiven; and thousands of those who cried out, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" were converted in answer to that petition of our Lord, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

We may extend our observation also to sins committed after conversion. Who can contemplate without horror the conduct of David; who, though an eminent professor and patron of religion, defiled the wife of his faithful subject, and, in order to conceal his crime, laid a plot to destroy him? Consider him, I say, murdering this man who was exposing his life continually for his sake, murdering also a multitude of other people together with him, involving another person in the guilt of all these murders as his instrument and accomplice, and making the very man, whose death he was contriving, the bearer of that letter, which was devoting him to destruction. Consider him moreover, when he had accomplished his purpose, blasphemously ascribing the death of all these people to God, then instantly taking the adulterous Bathsheba to live with him as his wife; and, after all, living at least nine months in utter impenitence, as though he had committed no crime at all!!

In an ignorant heathen, such conduct would have been inexpressibly vile; but in a saint of God, the man after God's own heart—who would conceive it possible? To believe that such iniquity was ever committed, seems almost a libel upon human nature. Yet even this, surpassing as it does almost the bounds of credibility, was forgiven, and that too, upon the very first motion of penitence in David's heart.

Peter's sin, if viewed in all its aggravations, was scarcely less than this: yet, even while he was committing it, our Lord looked on him with pity and compassion; and afterwards thrice repeated the commission, which restored him openly to his apostleship.

2. From Scripture declarations.

Consult we the Prophets? They speak strongly on this point, declaring that we are redeemed from all sins, even those of a scarlet or crimson die.

Ask we of the Apostles? They speak in terms of similar import, and contrast the Gospel with the law in this particular; that whereas there were some sins, for which there was no sacrifice appointed under the law of Moses, there is no iniquity whatever from which we may not be justified by the Gospel of Christ.

If we attend to the voice of Christ himself, we shall find him no less explicit: he assures us that whoever believes in him shall never die, shall never be cast out. Thus universally do the Scriptures testify, that "all manner of sin," yes, even the most horrid "blasphemies with which any man can blaspheme," (except the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) "shall be forgiven unto men."

It must however be remembered, that these declarations suppose that we repent and believe the Gospel; for, without repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, no sin whatever can be pardoned.

Before we close, it will be proper to add,

1. A word of admonition.

We hope and trust that there are not any in this day, who are guilty of the sin which is here declared unpardonable: but many who scoff at religion, and deride the influences of the Spirit, may be much nearer to the commission of it than they imagine. It will be well for all such people to pause and consider on what a precipice they stand—for they may do despite to the Spirit of grace until they have quenched his sacred motions, and provoked him to abandon them to their own delusions. The Lord grant that none of us may bring down on ourselves such a tremendous judgment!

2. A word of consolation.

Some are tempted to think that they have committed the unpardonable sin: but if it be true, that the commission of it is always attended with judicial blindness, and followed by final impenitence, then no one can have committed it, who is apprehensive that he has been guilty of it: because, instead of indulging such fears, he would go on glorying in his shame, and hardening himself in his iniquities. Let all such apprehensions then be put away; and let that other declaration of the text abide upon our minds for our comfort and encouragement under all the accusations of a guilty conscience. O let all of us avail ourselves of this gracious declaration, while yet the offered mercy lies within our reach!

 

 

#1356

Idle Words to be Accounted For

Matthew 12:35-37

"The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every worthless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."

THERE is not any plainer or more acknowledged truth, in relation to natural things, than that "a tree is known by its fruit." In morals, the same would be equally obvious, if we were equally unbiased in our judgment respecting it. But, if we speak of morals, we must not confine our attention to actions only: we must take also the words of men into the account; since by them the heart betrays itself, no less than by overt acts. The communications which proceed from the heart will, of necessity, correspond with the matters which abound in it; even as a stream will manifest the quality of the fountain from whence it flows. Our blessed Lord has determined this point; and grounded on it a most solemn declaration, that is of the utmost importance to every child of man: "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every worthless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

To impress this declaration upon your minds, I will,

I. Explain it.

In explaining the Holy Scriptures, and especially such solemn declarations as that before us, the utmost possible care must be taken to avoid too strict an interpretation on the one hand, or too lax an interpretation on the other. Respecting the precise import of the passage before us, a variety of opinions have been entertained; some limiting it to the expressions which had been made use of by the Pharisees in the preceding context, while others extend it to the most innocent communications in social and domestic life. The former of these enervate the force of the declaration altogether: the latter make it an occasion of continual distress to their own souls.

Let us first endeavor to ascertain what is meant by the expression, "every worthless word".

I think we must confine the term to words which are in some respect evil: for it cannot be conceived that our blessed Lord should speak so strongly respecting words which were altogether innocent. Yet must the expression be very comprehensive, else such a declaration would scarcely have been made; since, respecting words that were palpably and grossly wicked, there could have been no doubt. I think, then, that we must comprehend under the term "worthless words,"
first, all that are sinful in themselves;
next, all that are sinful in their tendency; and
lastly, all that are sinful in their source and origin.

The suggestions of the Pharisees respecting our blessed Lord were in the highest degree injurious to his character, and profanely impious towards God. And, as those were the immediate occasion of our Lord's declaration, we are sure that every expression which pours contempt on true religion, or inflicts any injury on man, must of necessity be numbered among the words which he intended to condemn. They bear confessedly, as all words that are false, or lewd, or profane, or scandalous, most evidently do—the stamp of sin upon them.

But there are many words which do not wound the ear by any positive offensiveness, which yet are evil in the sight of God, because of their tendency to taint the mind, or pervert the judgment, of those who hear them.

Among these I would rank all flattering words, which tend to puff up people with pride and self-conceit.

I should include also those facetious turns of wit which are calculated to convey to the mind ideas of an impure or licentious cast; such as the Apostle calls "foolish talking and jesting," and which he declares to be altogether unsuited to the Christian character, and displeasing to God.

Nor should I omit to mention eulogies on the world, its pleasures, its riches, its honors, of which you hear so much in every place and company, and which lead the youthful mind into an opinion, that the world, if attained, can make us happy. Thousands, by means of such conversation, are betrayed into error, and hardened in sin; and brought, without being at all aware of it, to the brink of ruin, yes, to everlasting destruction, both of body and soul, in Hell!

I must however go one step further, and say, that whatever indicates evil in the heart, must be regarded as coming under the comprehensive expression of my text. Whatever is the offspring of pride, or envy, or malice, or vanity, or folly, or indifference to piety; in short, whatever betrays a lack of a pious principle within us, must be denominated "worthless." I think this is the true distinction. It is not necessary that in ev