« السابقةمتابعة »
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another.
THAT We are commanded, in terms the most absolute, to cultivate a sincere and warm attachment to each other, and that no branch of christian duty is inculcated more frequently, or with more force, will be admitted without controversy. Our Lord instructs us to consider it as the principal mark or feature by which his followers are to be distinguished in every age. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another. As I have loved you, ye ought also to love one another;" whence it is evident that the pattern we are to follow is the love which Christ bore to his disciples, which is undoubtedly extended indiscriminately to every member. The cultivation of this disposition is affirmed to be one of the most essential objects of the christian revelation, as well as the most precious fruit of that faith by which it is embraced. "Seeing," says St. Peter, "ye have purified your hearts by obeying the truth unto an unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." Agreeably to which the beloved disciple affirms it to be the chief evidence of our being in a state of grace and salvation. "By this we know that we are passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." Let it also be remembered, that the mode in which we are commanded to exhibit and express this most eminent grace of the spirit, is the preservation of union, a careful avoidance of every temper and practice which might produce alienation and division. To this purpose, St. Paul reminds us of that union which subsists betwixt the several parts of the body, the harmony with which its respective functions are carried on, where the noblest organ is incapable of dispensing with the action of the meanest, together with that quick feeling of sympathy which pervades the whole; all which, he tells us, is contrived and adjusted to prevent a schism in the body. In the last prayer our Saviour uttered, in which he expressly includes all who should hereafter believe, he earnestly entreats that they may be all one, even as he and his Father were one, that the world might be furnished with a convincing evidence of his mission. For some ages the object of that prayer was realized, in the harmony of the first christians. To see men of the most contrary character and habits, the learned and the rude,the most polished and the most uncultivated, the inhabitants of countries alienated from each other by institutions the most repugnant, and by contests the most violent, forgetting their ancient animosity, and blending into one mass, at the command of a person whom they had never seen, and who had ceased to be an inhabitant of this world, was an astonishing spectacle. Such a sudden assimilation of the most discordant materials, such love issuing from hearts naturally selfish, and giving birth to a new race and progeny, could be ascribed to nothing but the operation of divine truth it was an experimental evidence of the commencement of that kingdom of God, that celestial economy, by which the powers of the future world are imparted to the present.
Let us learn from this, that no sect of christians can separate from their fellow disciples, and debar them from christian communion, and at the same time reconcile such a conduct with the import of the Saviour's prayer. He who foresaw diversities of sentiment, enjoined love as the badge of true discipleship.
CHRISTIANITY REJECTED BECAUSE NOT UNDERSTOOD.
I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.
HAD Festus condescended to examine the words of truth which his illustrious prisoner, Paul, had imparted, he would have revered Christ and his gospel.-But such is the prevailing folly of mankind. They judge with partiality and prejudice. Seldom do they inquire after truth with a humble and a candid mind; and what they do not understand they are prone to despise.
And this is peculiarly observable where religion is in question. Whence does it arise that the christian religion is so little esteemed, and the serious and sincere profession of it is so often the object of a sneer among certain men who set themselves up as the great oracles of all wisdom and philosophy; the self constituted great, the learned, and the wise; who scarcely regard a true believer as a man of a sound understanding? The fact is, that such persons are either too indolent to examine, or too prejudiced to form a correct judgment. They have just light enough to see to go wrong. And assuming, as they commonly and naturally do, that the established systems of faith are genuine christianity, they readily and justly conclude that such a religion can never claim God for its author.
Let not this be our condemnation. Let us maintain a severe guard against prejudice of every kind. Let us be cautious in our judgments and in our censures. Let us not underrate any thing, merely because we do not understand it. Let us not be hasty in forming a decision upon subjects of importance, and before we have obtained the proper means of information, or taken time sufficient to inquire.
Let us especially guard against this pragmatical spirit in the concerns of religion; nor let us, at any time, treat those with contempt who hold sentiments different from our own. It is not honourable, it is not candid, it is not christian to represent modes and opinions different from those which we profess, as questions of mean superstition, Others or as notions which are fit for none but idiots or madmen. may, perhaps, have better reasons for their opinions than we are acquainted with; and till we prove our own infallibility, it becomes us to think and speak with modesty and reserve; and, as others differ from us no further than we from them, we ought in all reason to treat the opinions which they hold to be true and important, with the same tenderness and respect with which we desire that If we take it ill to be regarded our own may be treated by them. with unkindness, and to be treated with harshness, because of the opinions which we embrace, in consequence of the freedom of our enquiries, let us beware that we do not provoke this treatment by Let any unbecoming asperity in our own language and behaviour. every one be ambitious to demonstrate the excellence of his system by the moderation of his language, the gentleness of his manners, the beauty of his example, and the dignity of his character.
How precious, Lord! thy holy word!
To souls benighted and distressed!
Thy promise leads the heart to rest.
JESUS CHRIST THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.
I am the resurrection and the life.
LET us learn to set a just value on the christian revelation. If we understand it rightly, we must esteem it highly; and we shall reckon the gospel as our chief treasure. It is indeed a pearl of great price, for the purchase of which it is worth while to part with all that we have. I am free to acknowledge, for my own part, that I see no other sufficient ground on which to build the hope of a future life but the revelation of the gospel. If that fail us, all is lost. But if Jesus died and rose again, we are assured that those also who die in Christ, will God bring with him; and because he lives we shall live also. And I bless God that the evidence of that all important fact, the resurrection of Jesus, is such as to warrant the most satisfactory practical assent.—As a fact it stands the strong pillar of christianity; the precious corner stone, supporting and binding together the whole frame work of the building. The fact is asserted as notorious and indisputable, and such as no one at the time even dreamed of controverting. Christ was put to death by his enemies publicly crucified as a malefactor: thousands were witnesses to his expiring agonies, and his death was officially certified by his executioners to the governour. These remarkable circumstances were wisely ordered by divine providence to obviate the suspicion, and even to prevent the possibility of collusion.-After the maturest deliberation, I am convinced that it would be the extreme of folly to act upon the supposition that christianity is untrue: and by the help of God, no secular consideration, no scoffs of infidelity, no violence of persecution, shall ever induce me to let go this anchor of my hope. And I trust that I am now speaking the language and the feelings of all who have within them nature's longings after immortality.
Nevertheless we are not to wonder if many despise and reject the christian doctrine; nor ought we to be discouraged on this account. It is owing, either to ignorance, or to some unhappy prepossession. They have not duly considered, nor impartially examined the subject. What, though like the priests they be men of learning, or noble, like Agrippa, or powerful, like Festus, yet, if they reject christianity, they are ignorant of that which it most concerns them to know, and are destitute of the one thing needful, of the best balm and consolation of human life. Let such persons, if they please, sneer and scoff at the christian religion. Let them represent its serious professors as hypocrites or fanatics. He must possess a very feeble mind who can be influenced by such pointless ridicule to abandon his profession; and that man must be very deficient in the christian temper who can repel these attacks with any other weapons than powerful argument and mild expostulation, thus endeavouring to convince these rash and violent assailants, that christianity is the most rational system in the world, and that the pure, uncorrupted religion of Jesus is the truest and most sublime philosophy.
When from the dead God raised his Son,
He gave our souls a lively hope,
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
ARE we in youth, and have we been called to affliction ?-then, we are drawn near to God, and God is drawing near to us. Have our plans failed, have our means lessened, have our opportunities fled, have our bodily or our mental powers become weak, or have our friends died ?-then we are called to take a view of the world from a new position, and to see, in the night of sorrow, those stars of glory which are not visible in the day of prosperity.
The bearing of the yoke is an easy and obvious metaphor, importing the restraint of liberty, when our desires are denied, and we have not our will; and also the pressure of afflictions which wound and chasten us, and under which we smart and groan. Such is the yoke which the prophet tells us it is good for a man that he bear. A strange doctrine indeed to flesh and blood! and O how few believe it! We judge of things by their outward appearance, and as they affect us at present; now no affliction or chastening seemeth for the present to be joyous, but grievous; and we cannot persuade ourselves that there is any good in that which we feel to be troublesome and unpleasant. But, if we consult our reason and our faith, they will soon bring us to the acknowledgement of this truth, That affliction cometh not forth of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground. The crosses we meet with, are not the effects of blind chance; but the results of a wise and unerring providence, which knows what is fittest for us, and loves us better than we love ourselves. There is no malice or envy lodged in the bosom of that blessed Being, whose name and nature is love. He takes no delight in the troubles and miseries of his creatures : He doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. It were infinitely unworthy of his wisdom and goodness, to please himself in seeing us, his creatures, enduring any suffering which would not benefit us, to behold our anguish, and hear our groans. It is our happiness and welfare which he designs in all his dispensations; and he makes choice of the most proper and effectual means for that end. He sees us wandering out of the way, ready to ruin and undo ourselves; and he first endeavours to reduce us by milder and more gentle methods he tries our gratitude and ingenuity, by all the endearments of mercy and goodness; he draws us with the cords of love, and with the bands of a man. But if we break all these bands asunder, and cast away these cords from us; if we abuse his goodness, and turn his grace into wantonness; then, not only his justice, but his love to us, not only his hatred to sin but his affection to us, will oblige him to alter his method, and to take the rod in his hand, and try severity. God's design in afflicting us is excellently expressed by the author to the Hebrews. "He chasteneth us for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness." Holiness is the highest perfection and greatest happiness of which we are capable it is a real participation of the divine nature, the image of God drawn on the soul; and all the chastisements we meet with, are designed to reduce us to this blessed temper, and to make us like God; and thereby capable to be happy with him to all eternity.
Let a man examine himself.
He who wishes to be virtuous, or useful, or wise, must seek to know his own character; he who wishes for happiness must both know and have power over himself, without which it is unattainable. That each one is better acquainted with himself than any one else, is probable; that each one can know himself best, is certain. But either not being conscious of this power, or wanting disposition to exert it, another's opinion is often mistaken for our own consciousness, and the estimation of our character accommodated to the image reflected from another's mind. The opinions entertained concerning us, cannot but affect us, and if we are disposed to consider only or principally what is said or thought that is good, or that alone which is bad, concerning us, distrust of our powers, or a vain estimation of ourselves will be produced. Although then what is said of us may be of some assistance, and what is thought would be of much more, yet as we have in our full possession the subject of knowledge, and the instruments for examining it, we ought to form our opinion of our character principally from the observations which we can make upon ourselves.
The most important object of self examination, is the state of the heart. It is above all other things interesting to know in what measure our lives are conformed to the will of our heavenly Father, and to the example of our beloved Saviour, whose blessed gospel is the light of our world. Do we view the character of God with complacency are we penitent for our sins? do we aspire after greater virtue than we possess? are our actions influenced by proper motives? are we acquiring such characters as belong to the inhabitants of heaven? are we willing, that our future condition shall be determined by God?-These are questions which are worthy to occupy our minds. They are not to be answered by recurring to any creeds or systems of faith. Virtue does not consist in, or very much depend upon the speculative opinions which we may adopt; for there are but few articles of belief which are requisite to the christian character, and those are possessed by almost all who call themselves christians, while controversies and disputes are agitated upon subjects of comparatively little importance. The light which God has given us is sufficient to indicate our duty, and knowing our obligations, we can judge whether we discharge them. The opinions of others will afford us no assistance in forming this judgment, for all virtue has its residence in the heart, and this is a retreat into which no human eye can penetrate. This is the residence of all our principles and motives; it is upon the nature of these that our character depends; and it requires an attentive and discriminating exercise of the understanding to become properly acquainted with them. Nor will it be beneficial to compare ourselves with others, for their thoughts are as inscrutable to us, as our own are to them. They may be good and seem evil, or be evil and seem good. In short, we can only learn our religious character by examination of our own hearts, and when we reflect upon the great importance and high interest of moral excellence, and the ruin which may follow self-deception upon this subject, we must be convinced that this examination, above all others, is to be performed with the utmost sincerity and fairness.