« السابقةمتابعة »
injured but comforted by constantly looking at the one colour, which alone could be long grateful and beneficial to the eye. We know indeed that horses are particularly subject to blindness. It does not seem to be so with cows, or sheep, or pigs, or other animals. But the horse for man's use is taken out of his natural state; and when he is shut up in a stable, with his head over the manger, he is constantly looking at a whitewashed wall; and even when not blind, there seems to be some particular error in the sight of a horse, which leads to what is called shying, or starting at the most trifling objects.
But, sir, when I began my letter, I did not intend to write about the "management of a horse," or to trouble you with so long a communication.
I am, sir, your obedient servant, AN OLD READER.
THE DUTY OF CHRISTIAN INTERCOURSE.
"Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name."
AMONG the many causes of prevailing degeneracy in the Christian character of any Church and nation, the neglect of Christian intercourse may be considered not the least. With the multitude, indeed, who are the lifeless members of the visible Church, the practice in question is altogether a dead letter; nor can we wonder that it should be so, considering that they only profess and call themselves Christians. But that any, who truly fear the Lord, should so deplorably forego this blessed and godly intercourse one with another, is sadly inconsistent both with the directions of Holy Scripture, and with the usages of the primitive Christian Church. And when we also consider the many opportunities that present themselves for this very purpose, but which, alas! are too often consumed in conversation, unprofitable and frivolous, surely Christians can scarcely escape the condemnation of this neglect, which savours so strongly of a worldly spirit, a guilty and Laodicean indifference to the things of God. Led by this conviction, I now proceed to consider the text,
as enjoining upon us by an exemplary instance the grace and blessedness of frequent Christian intercourse.
And notice, I. The times signified by the prophet. Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another. More than a century had now passed since the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity. During this time, although a period of much trouble and apparent uncertainty, God, in his providence, had allowed Nehemiah to rebuild the city, Zerubbabel the temple, and Ezra, the priest and scribe, to restore the book of the law, and to collect into one all the sacred writings that composed the canon of Scripture in his time. Thus then, compared with the dark days of captivity which had gone before, the time referred to was a season of light; and a corresponding improvement in the religious character of the nation at large might be reasonably expected. But alas! the ransomed people exchanged one captivity for another; the sins of lust, irreverence, rebellion, sacrilege, blasphemy, and the most shameless infidelity enslaved them, and exposed them afresh to the just anger of the God of Israel. Now, without offering any injustice to the religious character of the present age, an age indeed of light and extending knowledge, yet it must be seen and confessed that, as a nation, we do not sustain, as we ought, the character and spirit of our religion. We have privileges and advantages far beyond the experience of other ages and other countries. God has indeed planted us as a vineyard in a very fruitful field, no means of hopeful cultivation have been withheld; wherefore then, when He looked for grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? The truth is easily told; Christianity does not prevail to regenerate any nation, so long as individual piety is so generally disregarded. And in times like the present, although so much evil remains, it is indeed a blessed relief to have ground for hope that a godly remnant is on the increase amongst us, the remnant of those who truly fear the Lord!
I am thus led to notice, II. The persons spoken of: they feared the Lord and thought upon his name. Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; with this true wisdom begins, and men are but foolish adventurers until
they take this step. And do you wonder what kind of fear that must be, which has so much recommendation in it, so much blessedness attached to it? My dear readers, it is most easy to trace the close connexion that exists between the experience of this fear, and all the consolations of the Christian life. Thus, to give one instance among many: "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judæa and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." (Acts ix. 31.) Truly there are two kinds of religious fear; the one is distracting and slavish, the other reverential and filial. The first occasionally operates on the mind of the ungodly. The second is a holy principle engendered in the soul of every true convert, and shows itself in a genuine respect to all the revealed will and commandments of God. It was this principle that put Abraham upon the extreme proof of sincerity, in offering up his son Isaac. "Lay not thy hand upon the lad," said the angel, "neither do thou any thing unto him; for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me." (Gen. xxii. 12.) So significant indeed and comprehensive is this principle of godly fear, that it is employed throughout Scripture to express in one term the entire character of God's true servant. As, for instance, in 1 Kings xviii. 3: "Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly." Job, again, "was one who feared God, and eschewed evil." Add to these the blessed pilgrim band of brethren in my text, "they that feared the Lord." We repeat, this godly fear is a most comprehensive principle, and it is ever most closely associated with every other grace of the Christian's experience. It promotes love, peace, and joy, and by these is itself promoted. So that when we instance a man who is most under the influence of this blessed fear, we instance one in whom the love of God bears equal sway, and both unite to place and strengthen him in that course of universal obedience, which is as much the choice of his heart as it is the duty of his life.
My dear readers, if any one of us is ready to consider such a fear as this to be the spirit of bondage, he must
himself be the servant of sin. Why, this fear is perfectly consistent with the Gospel covenant. In this fear of the Lord is strong confidence-a confidence which, beyond all question, was the sanctuary of those happy souls, to whom my text refers: "they feared the Lord, and thought upon his name;" they made his name, his power, his goodness, his mercy, his judgments also, the theme of their thought and solemn meditation. They no doubt took deeply to heart the fearful degeneracy of their country; they mourned in secret for the abominations of the land; the worship of God openly called in question, rebellion branding even the very priests of the nation, the most shameless oppression of the widow, the fatherless, and the stranger; in a word, profaneness, irreligion, practical infidelity prevailed among all ranks and conditions of the Jewish people. But in the multitude of their thoughts within them, how precious to this Godfearing little flock must have been those divine promises, which engaged yet to deliver and bless the holy seed, even in the midst of this most corrupt and degenerate age. The promise of Christ for instance in chapter iii., verse 1, must have been a rock on which their faith might firmly and safely rest. So that while the heavens were again gathering blackness over the perverse and ungrateful nation, these faithful ones doubtless were enabled to behold in that nation's Judge their Almighty Friend, and so to commit themselves unto Him in welldoing, as unto a faithful Creator; and now observe,
III. The frequent social intercourse of these God-fearing Israelites. "They spake often one to another." Having noticed their general character, and their leading thoughts, we cannot be at a loss to know what was the sum and substance of their social intercourse on the occasions to which reference is made in the text. They feared the Lord, and therefore the proper and solemn influence of this principle was doubtless shed abroad in their hearts, so as to affect and dictate all their discourse and all their communion. And thus being persuaded of a common interest in the one great object of their holy fear, they met expressly for mutual confirmation in that broad mark of distinction which thus existed between
those who served God, and those who served Him not. In the godly simplicity, therefore, of hearts devoted to this blessed fear, they spake both of their Father's favour and smiles; beyond all question they saw and greatly deplored the offensive state of the nation in God's sight; they confessed the guilt which both defied and demanded Heaven's repeated judgments, and no doubt, with that true humility, which chiefly exists in the most holy and obedient hearts, they sought out among themselves and confessed their own share in the nation's responsibility, and in the nation's guilt. And while they deplored the daring impiety of the country at large, they sighed most deeply, and reproached themselves most severely for their own individual sins in the sight of God, knowing well that it is far more easy, but far less humiliating, to repent for others than for ourselves. We may therefore confidently infer, that these God-fearing associates met together with a lowly, penitent, and obedient heart, to celebrate indeed that sovereign grace, which had made them to differ from the prevailing irreligion of the land; but also to excite one another to a greater spirituality of affection, and devotedness of obedience in all the righteous ways of the Lord their God.
And truly, my dear readers, if there was but more life in our religion, we could not hold our peace as we are apt to do, on a subject by far the most important that can ever engage our attention. Christian principle enlarges the heart, expands the affections into a sympathy of love, because of a common faith, and a common interest; and it is a sad remainder of the old leaven, when any natural reserve of disposition prevents that mutual exchange of thought, and good counsel, and holy fellowship, which ought to bind together the various members of Christ's mystical body. I dwell not now upon the intercourse of this character which ought to exist between Christian parents and children, brothers and sisters, masters and servants, ministers and people. Such obligations, however neglected, must at once be admitted by all professing Christians; but we speak concerning the Christian Church generally. Such intercourse is indeed ever among the best proofs of personal friendship.