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with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that whereas they speak evil of you as of evil-doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ." If you trust in God to teach you what to say, because you are sensible that you cannot order your speech by reason of darkness, he will teach you, and he will give you wisdom and faithfulness. The Lord God will give you the tongue of the learned, that you may know how to speak a word in season; and each of you may say, "The Lord God will help me, therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed."
LUKE XII. 13–21.
"And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. 14. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? 15. And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. 16. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 17. And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 18. And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 19. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. 20. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided? 21. So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
WHILE our Lord was addressing himself directly to his disciples, in the hearing, and for the instruction, of the multitude who had assembled near the house of the Pharisee with whom he had been dining, and while he was teaching his disciples how to conduct themselves when they should be called before magistrates and powers for his sake, he met with a very unseasonable interruption. "One of the company," or, as it might be rendered, one of the crowd, "said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me." As none of the other evangelists mentions this circumstance, we know nothing more of the character of this man than may be gathered from what is here said by Luke. It appears from Deut. xxi. 17, that the Jewish custom, sanctioned by divine authority, was, that a man's inheritance was divided among his children, so that the eldest son had a double portion. Whither this was the elder or the younger son does not certainly appear, though it seems probable that there were just two sons in the family, and that this was the younger. Nor is it certain whether this man was applying in order to receive what was merely his due, and what was unjustly and covetously withheld from him, or, in order to
get what was more than his due, such as an equal division of the property would have been. In any of these suppositions, there was a fault somewhere, and sufficient ground was laid for the warning Christ afterwards gave against covetousness. The man wished Christ to speak to his brother—that is, to speak with the authority of a judge-to tell him, in a way which would be effectual, to divide the inheritance with him according to the proportion he wished.
Our Lord positively declined to interfere in the affair, saying, "Man, who made me a judge, or a divider over you?” Christ was, indeed, King of kings, and Lord of lords; by him kings reigned, and princes decreed justice; and he could, with perfect ease, and unerring rectitude, have settled this dispute. But he would not do any thing which could give any handle to the rulers and judges to say that he was usurping their office; he had no such express appointment by human authority as would have been necessary, according to the common opinion of men to have warranted his acting as a judge; and therefore, he would not interfere. The words which our Lord here employed, seem to be in allusion to what we thus read of Moses,* "When he went out," "behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us?" The two cases are by no means exactly parallel; there is, however, a similarity to a certain extent; and our Lord may have intended to signify, that, if he had judicially determined the dispute submitted to him, the same objection would have been made to his conduct as to that of Moses.
The Word of God, my friends, affords men direction in all the circumstances of life, inasmuch, at least, as it contains general rules which may be applied to particular cases. It principally treats of spiritual topics; but most of these are such as bear on the concerns of common life. Its doctrines and duties are interwoven; and those who are guided by its dictates, are fitted for acting their part rightly in this world, while they are preparing for a better. The incident which it here records, affords a good illustration of this, as will appear from the following remarks which the history naturally suggests.
1. Injustice and quarrels between near connexions, regarding the property of deceased relations, are very unseemly
*Exod. ii. 13.
and unchristian. It sometimes happens that the head of a family, or a very near relation, is no sooner laid in the grave, than the survivors, who expect to benefit in their substance by his decease, begin to strive about what he leaves behind him. How unbecoming, in the very face of such a memento of the vanity of earthly things, to be carried away by the desire of having, and that in such a way as to overlook the ordinary proprieties of life! Common feeling, not to speak of any higher principle, should at least teach them to keep such disputes to themselves (if they do at all arise), and not to outrage decency by making them public. Those who are so situated ought to avoid selfishness and injustice, to study each others' interest, and to pay particular attention to the more dependent, who should feel, on their part, that various kindnesses may be shown to them, as a matter of favour, which they have no room to claim as a matter of right; and all concerned ought to be ready, in every matter of doubt, to yield to the opinion of the wise and disinterested.
2. We may remark, from this passage, that those who have any property to leave behind them should be careful timeously to settle their affairs, by a latter will, so that justiee may be done, and disputes prevented, after they are gone. In some cases, the law of the land may be sufficient to divide an inheritance as justice and a man's own reasonable inclination might desire. In most cases, however, there would be room for litigation; and in many cases, especially where there is much property, something that equity, or mercy requires, will be neglected, if there be no distinct testament. How far a man is at liberty to consult his own particular wishes on such an occasion, independently on the general principles of nearness of kindred, which are usually observed, is a very difficult question. No particular rules can be laid down to meet every case. The Christian should consult conscience, the Word of God, and, perhaps, also a judicious friend or two. No doubt, great injustice is often done in this way, by following out prejudices, and partialities, to the neglect of some who have a good claim on consideration. Mere caprice can never justify men in overlooking near relations, or those who have been long and remarkably serviceable to them, who are dependent on them, or stand in need of such aid: nor can that be justly considered as true charity, which is left to some public object, however useful in itself, when near relations, in a
state of destitution, are forgotten. Where the property is great, something, more or less, according to circumstances, should be done for charitable purposes, even when there are heirs of the nearest relation to inherit the bulk of the property. Where there are no near connexions in a dependent condition, certainly a rich man is more at liberty to look abroad on society at large, and may feel himself in the way of duty, and may act very wisely and benevolently, not only in being ready to every good work, and giving with his own hands very freely while he lives, but also, in ordering his affairs so that the cause of religion and humanity shall be assisted by the greater part, or a large part, of his property, when he is gone. In all cases, men should consider themselves as accountable, at least to God, for the faithful discharge of their stewardship; and they should take care to settle their affairs, not only equitably and wisely, but also, in such a distinct manner as, may effectually prevent disputes, and fulfil their just and benevolent inten
3. The Gospel of Christ does not interfere with civil rights, or human laws. No doubt, it is intended, and fitted, to influence them indirectly, for, every thing ought to be managed in a way consistent with its holy precepts; but it gives no countenance to its adherents to disregard existing institutions, or to usurp the places assigned to others. Dominion is not founded on grace. The provinces of civil and ecclesiastical government are quite distinct. Not but that they may, and should, be so managed, as mutually to assist each other; but still, their office is distinct, and relates to quite different things. The civil power must not presume to usurp the office of Church government and discipline; nor must the ecclesiastical rulers presume to exercise the office of the judges, or wield the sword of state. Christ's followers must not, merely on the ground of being his followers, pretend to what he himself did not assume. He is the greatest of princes, and his gospel is the most powerful of dominions; but the influence he exercises by it is over the minds and hearts of men, not over their bodies and their property; or, at least, if he influence these latter, it is not by direct interference, but through the medium of the former. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate, therefore, said unto him, Art