صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors]

countenance for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. Do not follow the example of the hypocrites, who, in order to shew that they fast, veil themselves, or, it may be, disfigure their countenances, by sprinkling ashes on their heads. I assure you, persona of this character shall have no other reward but the esteem of those whom they deceive by such appearances. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face, come abroad in thine ordinary dress; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. That, desiring the approbation of God, and not the applause of men, thou mayest chiefly be solicitous to appear before God as one that fasteth; and God, who is ever with thee, and knoweth thy most secret thoughts, shall openly bestow on thee the rewards of a true penitent, whose mortification, contrition, and humility, he can discern without the help of looks, or dress, or outward expressions of any kind. But it must be remembered, that our Lord is speaking here of private fasting, to which alone his directions are to be applied; for, when public sins are to be mourned over, it ought to be performed in a public manner.

Having thus spoken of fasting, he proceeded to consider heavenly-mindedness, which he inculcated with peculiar earnestness; because it was a virtue which the Jewish doctors were generally strangers to, but which he would have his disciples eminent for, [Mat. x. 9.] being an excellent ornament to the character of a teacher, and adding much weight to what he says. This virtue our Lord powerfully recommended, by shewing the deformity of its opposite, covetousness, which has for its object things perishable. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. In the eastern countries, where the fashion of clothes did not alter, as with us, the treasures of the rich consisted not only of gold and silver, but of costly habits, and fine wrought vessels of brass, and tin, and copper, liable to be destroyed in the manner here mentioned. [See Ezek. vi. 69. Job xxvii. 16. James v. 2, 3.] But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. Nothing can be conceived more powerful to damp that keenness with which men pursue the things of this life than the consideration of their emptiness, fragility, and uncertainty; or to kindle in them an ambition of obtaining the treasures in heaven, than the consideration of their being substantial, satisfying, liable to no accident whatever. These considerations, therefore, were fitly proposed by our Lord on this occasion. He next shewed them that covetousness always leads a man astray, by corrupting the faculties of his mind. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also if your treasure is upon earth, your heart will be earthly and sensual; and, consequently, piety, resignation, and charity, will, in a great measure, be banished from you. The light of the body is the eye: if, therefore, thine eye be single, simple, not mixed with blood and other noxious humours, but clear and sound, thy whole body shall be full of light every member of thy body shall be enlightened by the light of thine eye, and directed to perform its proper office. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness; none of thy members shall be able to perform its office. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness ! If the crgan of the body, whose office it is to supply light to every member, does itself occasion darkness, how great, how pernicious, is that darkness ! Reason performs to the mind the office which the eye does to the body. Therefore, as the body must be well enlightened if its eye is sound and good, or greatly darkened if it is spoiled with noxious humours, so the mind must be full of light if reason, its eye, is in a proper state, or full of darkness if it is perverted by covetousness and other worldly passions;

but with this difference, that the darkness of the mind is infinitely worse than the darkness of the body, and attended with worse consequences, inasmuch as the actions of the mind are of far greater importance to happiness than those of the body.

In the third place, he assured them that it was as impossible for a man to be heavenly-minded and covetous at the same time, as it is for one to serve two masters. For, to make the most favourable supposition imaginable, though their commands should not be contrary, they must be, at least, different. And experience shews us that the faculties of the human mind are so limited, that the generality of mankind cannot mind two things at once with any tolerable degree of earnestness. By this means it must always happen, that he who serves two masters will attach himself either to the one or to the other; and, therefore, while he employs himself in the service of the one, he must, of course, neglect the interest of the other. 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. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Lastly, he insinuated that all the arguments by which covetousness is usually justified, er palliated, are entirely overthrown by considering the power, perfection, and extent, of the providence of God. This grand subject he handled in a manner suitable to its dignity, by proposing a few simple and obvious instances, wherein the provision that God has made for the least and weakest of his creatures shines forth illustriously, and forces on the mind the strongest conviction of that wise and fatherly care which the Deity takes of all the works of his hands. From what they were at that instant beholding, the birds of the air, the lilies, the grass of the field, he led even the most illiterate of his hearers to form a more elevated and extensive notion of the divine government than the philosophers attained to, who, though they allowed, in general, that the world was ruled by God, had but confused conceptions of his providence, which many of them denied to respect every individual creature and action. He taught them, that the great Father Almighty has every single being in his hand and keeping, that there is nothing exposed to fortune, but that all things are absolutely subjected. to his will. This notion of providence affords a solid foundation for supporting that. rational trust in God which is the highest and best act of the human mind, and furnishes us, at all times, with the strongest motives to virtue.

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, nor yet, for your body, what ye shall put on. The thought for our life, our food, and our raiment, which Christ forbids us to take, is not that which prudent men use in providing sustenance for themselves and friends; for, in other passages of scripture, diligence in business is inculcated, that men, instead of being useless loads on the earth, may, at all times, have it in their power to discharge the several duties of life with decency. [Tit. iii. 14.] But it is such an anxious care as arises from want of faith, that is, from improper conceptions of God's perfections, and wrong notions of his providence; and therefore such an anxious solicitude as engages all the desires, engrosses all the thoughts, and demands the whole force of the soul, to the utter exclusion of spiritual affections and pursuits. Is not the life more, or a greater blessing, than meat, and the body than raiment? And will not he who has given us the greater blessing give the lesser also? Behold the fowls of the air, for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Why are ye anxious about food? look to the fowls of the air that now fly round you! Without foreseeing their own wants, or making provision for them, they are preserved and nourished by the unwearied benignity of the divine providence. Are ye not much_better than they? Are ye not beings of a nobler order, and destined for a higher end than they, and, therefore, more the objects of the divine care? Moreover, Which of you

by taking thought, can add one cubit unto his stature? By all the pains you can possibly take, you may not prolong your lives one moment beyond the period assigned it in the divine decree.

And why take ye thought for raiment? consider the lilies of the field, how they grow! they toil not, neither do they spin. By the lilies of the field our Lord understood the flowers of the meadows in general; for, in the following verse, he calls them the grass of the field. He mentions the flowers, because they are made not so much for use as for beauty, in which light his argument is the stronger. And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. Solomon, when in the height of his prosperity, and dressed in his most magnificent apparel, was but poorly arrayed in comparison of the flowers of the field, whose beautiful forms, lively colours, and fragrant smelis, far exceed the most perfect productions of art. tions Solomon rather than any other prince, because, in wealth, and power, and wisdom, which are the instruments of magnificence and splendor, he excelled all the kings that had been before him, or were to come after him.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? If an inanimate thing, so trifling in its nature, and uncertain in its duration, is thus beautifully adorned, will not God take care to clothe you who are more valuable, as ye are men, eudowed with reason, but, especially, as ye are my servants and friends? He calls them who distrust the providence of God men of little faith; yet it does not follow from hence that it is an exercise of faith to sit with our arms folded, expecting support from the divine providence without any action of our own: but, after having done what prudence directs for providing the necessaries of life, we ought to trust in God, believing that he will make our labours effectual by his blessing. Therefore, take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or what shall we drink? or wherewithal shall we be clothed? (for after all these things do the Gentiles seek.) It was the general character of the heathens that they prayed to their gods, and laboured themselves for no blessings but the temporal ones here mentioned, as is plain from the tenth satire of Juvenal; and that, because they were, in a great measure, ignorant of God's goodness, had erred fundamentally in their notions of religion, and had no certain hope of a future state. For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. In no part of this discourse does Jesus call God the father of the fowls; but he calls him our Father, to make us sensible that men stand in a much nearer relation to God than the brute creation does, and, consequently, that we may justly expect much greater expressions of his love.

Farther, there is a noble antithesis in this passage. Christ sets God's knowledge of our wants in opposition to the anxiety of the heathens about having them supplied, to intimate that the one is much more effectual, for that purpose, than the other. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you. Let it be your chief aim to obtain the happiness of the life to come; and, in order thereto, make it your principal care to acquire that universal goodness which God possesses, which he sets you a pattern of, which he has declared he will accept, and which is necessary to your enjoyment of him in heaven for these are objects far more worthy of your attention than the perishing goods of this life. Besides, if you seek the kingdom of God first and principally, all things pertaining to this life shall, in the course of the divine providence, be bestowed on you as far as they contribute to your real welfare, and more you would not desire.

Take, therefore, no thought for the morrow. In the Hebrew idiom to-morrow signifies futurity. Thus the word is used Gen. xxx. 33. Since the extent and efficacy of the

divine providence is so great, and since you are the objects of its peculiar care, you need not vex yourselves about futurity; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself; or rather, according to the Hebrew idiom, shall make you take thought for the things of itself, viz. in a proper time, it being sufficient that you [rovide the necessaries of life for yourselves as they are wanted. Besides, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Every time has abundant necessary troubles of its own; so that it is foolish to increase present distresses by anticipating those that are to come, especially as, by that anticipation, it is not in your power to prevent any future


Having thus condemned covetousness, Jesus proceeded in his discourse, and forbade all rash and unfavourable judgments, whether of the characters of others in general, or of their actions in particular. [Mat. vii. 1.] Judge not, that ye be not judged. Be not censorious, lest you make both God and man your enemies. Luke, in the parallel passage, [vi. 37.] adds, condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned. From this it is plain, that the judging which Jesus reproves in the present passage comprehends, not only that restless curiosity of prying into the character and actions of others, which is so prevalent among men, but that proneness to condemn them upon the most superficial enquiry, which men discover always in proportion to their own wicked Dess. Accordingly, it is added, For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. I you judge charitably, making proper allowances for the frailties of your brethren, and are ready to pity and pardon their faults, God and man will deal with you in the same kind manner. But if you always put the worst construction on every thing that it will bear, and are not touched with a feeling of your brother's infirmities, and shew no mercy in the opinions you form of his character and actions, no mercy will be shewed to you from any quarter; God will treat you as you deserve, in the just judgment he shall pass upon your actions, and the world will be sure to retaliate the injury. Our Lord does not forbid judging in general, but rash and uncharitable judging of such actions and characters as can easily admit of a favourable interpretation. Last of all he pressed self-reformation upon them, as absolutely necessary in those whose office it is to reprove and reform others. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Nothing can be more unreasonable than to observe and condemn the faults of your brethren, while you yourselves are guilty of the same. Or, though you should be free from them, to remonstrate against them is absurd if you are con taminated with worse pollutions. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, let me pull out the mote out of thine eye, and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? With what countenance can you undertake to reprove others, while you are guilty of much greater faults yourselves, and neither are sensible of them, nor have the integrity to mend them. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam ou, of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. As by the eye we judge of things relating to the body, so by the understanding we judge of things pertaining to the soul. You may, therefore, lay down this as fixed and certain, that the more exalted your own virtue is, the better will you be able to judge of your brother's faults, and the better qualified both in point of skill and authority to reclaim him. Your judgment of his character and actions will be so much the more charitable, and, for that reason, so much the more just; your rebukes will be so much the more mild, prudent, and winning; and your authority to press a refor mation upon him so much the more weighty. How happy would the world be if all

who teach the Christian religion would conscientiously observe the precept given them here by their Master!

These are the several branches of the righteousness which the reformers of mankind ought to practise; yet, to render their labours successful, there must be in mankind, a willingness to receive instruction; if that is wanting, it is needless to attempt reclaiming them. Wherefore, our Lord added, Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. Do not reprove persons of a snarling or sottish disposition, because the effect, which advice has upon such, is generally bad. They will be provoked by it to do you a mischief, or, at least, will despise both you and your admonition. Persons of this kind will not be instructed, far less will they receive a direct rebuke. You may warn others against them, you may weep over them, and you may pray for them; but you cannot reprove them with success and safety; for which cause they are, by all means, to be avoided.

But lest the disciples should have imagined that his precepts were above the reach of human attainment, he directed them to seek from God the aids of his spirit, with all the other blessings necessary to their salvation. Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Withal he encouraged them to pray for these things with earnestness and perseverance, from the consideration of the divine goodness, the blessed operations of which attribute, he illustrateth by what proceedeth from the feeble goodness of men. For every one that asketh, viz. from God, receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom, if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? Will he deny him the necessary food that he asks, or give him, in its stead, something useless or hurtful? The words, which of you, are emphatical, giving great strength to our Lord's argument. If, said he, the wicked wretches among yourselves, the most peevish, weak, and ill-natured of you all, will readily give good gifts to your children when they cry for them, how much rather will the great God, infinite in goodness, bestow blessings on his children, who endeavour to resemble him in his perfections, and, for that end, ask the assistance of his Holy Spirit! If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father, which is in heaven, give good things, [Luke xi. 13, the Holy Spirit] to them that ask him! And, because he was referring them to what passed within themselves, he took occasion to ingraft upon those feelings the noblest precept of morality that ever was delivered by any teacher. Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. Look inward, and consider what sentiment the doing or not doing to others the things about which you deliberate would raise in you towards them, were you in their situation, and they in yours think seriously what you would, in these circumstances, approve of as just and equitable, and what you would think yourselves entitled to demand. Consult, I say, with your own hearts; and, on all occasions, do to others as you would be done to. This rule has a peculiar advantage above all other rules of morality whatever. For, by making the selfish passions operate in behalf of others, it altogether changes the influence of their suggestions and so these passions, instead of prejudicing us, and rendering us blind to the rights and interests of others, become so many powerful advocates in their favour. Our self-love thus changes its object for a little, and presents to our view every humane sentiment that can be urged in behalf of our neigh bour. Properly speaking, therefore, this is not so much a rule of action as a method

« السابقةمتابعة »