Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

nay, it is necessary, as daily experience shows, for every one that either already is, or desires to be, a real Christian. It can hardly be, that we should spend one entire day in a continual intercourse with men, without suffering loss in our soul, and in some measure grieving the Holy Spirit of God. We have need daily to retire from the world, at least morning and evening, to converse with God, to commune more freely with our Father which is in secret. Nor indeed can a man of experience condemn even longer seasons of religious retirement, so they do not imply any neglect of any worldly employ wherein the providence of God has placed us.

2. Yet such retirement must not swallow up all our time; this would be to destroy, not advance, true religion. For, that the religion described by our Lord in the foregoing words, cannot subsist without society, without our living and conversing with other men, is manifest from hence, That several of the most essential branches thereof can have no place, if we have no intercourse with the world.

3. There is no disposition (for instance) which is more essential to Christianity than meekness. Now although this, as it implies resignation to God, or patience in pain and sickness, may subsist in a desert, in a hermit's cell, in total solitude ; yet as it implies (which it no less necessarily docs) mildness, gentleness, and long suffering, it cannot possibly have a being, it has no place under heaven, without an intercourse with other men: so that to attempt turning this into a solitary virtue, is to destroy it from the face of the earth.

4. Another necessary branch of true Christianity is peace making, or doing of good. That this is equally essential with any of the other parts of the religion of Jesus Christ, there can be no stronger argument to evince, (and therefore it would be absurd to allege any other,) than that it is here inserted in the original plan he has laid down of the fundamentals of his religion. Therefore to set aside this, is the same daring insult on the authority of our great Master, as to set aside mercifulness, purity of heart, or any other branch of his institution. But this is apparently set aside, by all who call us to the wilderness ; who recommend entire solitude either to the babes, or the young men, or the fathers in Christ. For will any man affirm that a solitary Christian (so called, though it is little less than a contradiction in terms) can be a merciful man,—that is, one that takes every opportunity of doing all good to all men ? What can be more plain, than that this fundamental branch of the religion of Jesus Christ, cannot possibly subsist without society, without our living and conversing with other men ?

5. But is it not expedient, however, (one might natura!!y ask,) to converse only with good men,-only with those whom we know to be meek and merciful, holy of heart and holy of life? Is it not expedient to refrain from any conversation, or intercourse, with men of the opposite character,-men who do not obey, perhaps do not believe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? The advice of St. Paul, to the Christians at Corinth, may seem to favour this : "I wrote unto you in an epistle, not to company with fornicators,” i Cor. v, 9. And it is cerainly not advisable so to company with thens, or with any of the workers of iniquity, as to have any particular familiarity, or any strictness of friendship with them. To contract or continue an intimacy with any guch, is no way expedient for a Christian, It must necessarily expose him to abundance of dangers and snares, out of which he can have no easonable hope of deliverance.

But the apostle does not forbid us to have any intercourse at all even with the men that know not God: “For then,” says he, “ye must needs go out of the world ;" which he could never advise them to do. But he subjoins, “ If any man that is called a brother," that professes himself a Christian, “be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner," 1 Cor. v, 11; “ now I have written unio you not to keep company with him ; with such a one, no not to eat.” This must necessarily imply, that we break off all familiarity, all intimacy of acquaintance with him. “Yet count him not,” saith the apostlc elsewhere, as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother," 2 Thess. iii, 15; plainly showing that even in such a case as this, we are not to renounce all fellowship with him. So that here is no advice to separate wholly, even from wicked men. Yea, these

very

words teach us quite the contrary. 6. Much

more the words of our Lord: who is so far from directing us to break off all commerce with the world, that without it, according to his account of Christianity, we cannot be Christians at all. It would be easy to show, that some intercourse even with ungodly and unholy men is absolutely needful, in order to the full exertion of every temper which he has described as the way to the kingdom; that it is indispensably necessary, in order to the complete exercise of poverty of spirit, of mourning, and of every other disposition which has a place here, in the genuine religion of Jesus Christ. Yea, it is necessary to the very being of several of them; of that meekness, for example, which instead of demanding “an eye for an eye, or a tooth for a tooth," doth “not resist evil,” but causes us rather, when smitten “on the right check, to turn the other also;"—of that mercifulness, whereby we'love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us, and pray for them which despitefully use us and persecute us ;"—and of that complication of love and all holy tempers, which is exercised in suffering for righteousness' sake. Now all these, it is clear, could have no being, were we to have no commerce with any but real Christians.

7. Indeed were we wholly to separate ourselves from sinners, how could we possibly answer that character which our Lord gives us in these very words; “ Ye” (Christians, ye that are lowly, serious, and meek; ye that hunger after righteousness, that love God and man, that do good to all, and therefore suffer evil; ye)“ are the salt of the earth :" It is your very nature to season whatever is round about you. It is the nature of the divine savour which is in you, to spread to whatsoever you touch; to diffuse itself, on every side, to all those among

whom

you are. This is the great reason why the providence of God has so mingled you together with other men, that whatever grace you have received of God, may, through you, be communicated to others; that every holy temper and word, and work of yours, may have an influence on them also. By this means, a check will, in some measure, be given to the corruption which is in the world; and a small part, at least, saved from the general infection, and rendered holy and pure before God.

8. That we may the more diligently labour to season all we can, with every holy and heavenly temper, our Lord proceeds to show the desperate state of those who do not impart the religion they have received; which

indeed they cannot possibly fail to do, so long as it remains in their own hearts. “If the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted ? It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and trodden under foot of men :" If ye who were holy and heavenly minded, and consequently zealous of good works, have no longer that savour in yourselves, and do therefore no longer season others; if you are grown flat, insipid, dead, both careless of your own soul, and useless to the souls of other men; wherewith shall ye be salted ? How shall ye be recovered ? What help? What hope ? Can tasteless salt be restored to its savour ? No; “it is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out,” even as the mire in the streets, “and to be trodden under foot of men,” to be overwhelmed with everlasting contempt. If ye had never known the Lord, there might have been hope,—if ye had never been “found in him :" but what can you now say to that, his solemn declaration, just parallel to what he hath here spoken, --"every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he (the Father) taketh away. He that abideth in me, and I in him, bringeth forth much fruit." “If a man abide not in me, (or do not bring forth fruit,] he is cast out as a branch, and withered ; and men gather them (not to plant them again, but] to cast them into the fire,” John xv, 2, 5, 6.

9. Towards those who have never tasted of the good word, God is indeed pitiful and of tender mercy. But justice takes place with regard to those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, and have afterwards turned back “from the holy commandment (then) delivered to them.' For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened ;" Heb. vi, 4, &c; in whose hearts God had once shined, to enlighten them with the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Chriet; "who have tasted of the heavenly gift," of redemption in his blood, the forgiveness of sins ; "and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,” of lowliness, of meekness, and of the love of God and man shed abroad in their hearts, by the Holy Ghost which was given unto thein; and " have fallen away;"--O TaEATED ONTOS,(here is not a supposition, but a flat declaration of matter of fact,) “ to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."

But that none may misunderstand these awful words, it should be carefully observed, 1. Who they are, that are here spoken of; namely, they, and they only, who were once thus enlightened; they only, “who did taste of” that “ heavenly gift, and were” thus "made partakers of the Holy Ghost.” So that all who have not experienced these things, are wholly unconcerned in this scripture. 2. What that falling away is, which is here spoken of: It is an absolute, total apostasy. A believer may fall, and not fall away. He

may fall and rise again. And if he should fall, even into sin, yet this case, dreadful as it is, is not desperate. For we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins." But let him above all things beware, lést “ his heart be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin;" lest he should sink lower and lower, till he wholly fall away, till he become as salt that hath los its savour : for if we thus sin wilfully, after we have received the experimental " knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins; but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”

[ocr errors]

II. 1. “But although we may not wholly separate ourselves from mankind, although it be granted we ought to season them with the religion which God has wrought in our hearts, yet may not this be done insensibly ? May we not convey this into others in a secret, and almost imperceptible manner, so that scarce any one shall be able to observe how or when it is done ?-even as salt conveys its own savour into that which is seasoned thereby, without any noise, and without being liable to any outward observation. And if so, although we do not go out of the world, yet we may lie hid in it. We may thus far keep our religion to ourselves; and not offend those whom we cannot help.”

2. Of this plausible reasoning of flesh and blood, our Lord was well aware also. And he has given a full answer to it in those words which come now to be considered ; in explaining which I shall endeavour to show, as I proposed to do in the second place, that so long as true religion abides in our hearts, it is impossible to conceal it, as well as absolutely contrary to the design of its great author.

And first, It is impossible for any that have it, to conceal the religion of Jesus Christ. This our Lord makes plain beyond all contradiction, by a twofold comparison : “ Ye are the light of the world: A city set upon a hill cannot be hid.” Ye Christians are "the light of the world,” with regard both to your tempers and actions. Your holiness makes you as conspicuous, as the sun in the mid:t of heaven. As ye cannot go out of the world, so neither can ye stay in it without appearing to ali mankind. Ye inay not flee from men; and while ye are among them, it is impossible to hide your lowliness and meekness, and those other dispositions whereby ye aspire to be perfect as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Love cannot be hid any more than light; and least of all, when it shines forth in action, when ye exercise yourselves in the labour of love, in beneficence of every kind. As well may men think to hide a city, as to hide a Christian ; yea, as well may they conceal a city sct upon a hill, as a holy, zealous, active lover of God and man.

3. It is true, men who love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil, will take all possible pains to prove, that the light which is in you, is darkness. They will say evil, all manner of evil, falsely, of the good which is in you; they will lay to your charge that which is farthest from your thoughts, which is the very reverse of all you are, and all you do. And your patient continuing in well doing, your meek suffering all things for the Lord's sake, your calm, humble joy in the midst of persecution, your unwearied labour to overcome evil with good, will make you still more visible and conspicuous than ye were before.

4. So impossible it is, to keep our religion from being seen, unless we cast it away; so vain is the thought of hiding the light, unless by putting it out! Sure it is, that a secret, unobserved religion, cannot be the religion of Jesus Christ. Whatever religion can be concealed, is not Christianity. If a Christian could be hid, he could not be compared to a city set upon a hill; to the light of the world, the sun shining from heaven, and seen by all the world below. Never, therefore, let it enter into the leart of him whom God hath renewed in the spirit of his mind, to hide that light, to keep his religion to himself; especially considering it is not only impossible to conceal true Christianity, but likewise absolutely contrary to the design of the great author of it

5. This plainly appears from the following words : “ Neither do men light a candle to put it under a bushel.” As if he had said, As men do not light a candle, only to cover and conceal it, so neither does God enlighten any soul with his glorious knowledge and love, to have it covered or concealed, either by prudence, falsely so called, or shame, or voluntary humility; to have it hid either in a desert, or in the world; either by avoiding men, or in conversing with them. “But they put it on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house." In like manner, it is the design of God that every Christian should be in an open point of view; that he may give light to all around, that he may visibly express the religion of Jesus Christ.

6. Thus hath God in all ages spoken to the world, not only by precept, but by example also. He hath " not left himself without witness,' in any

nation where the sound of the gospel hath gone forth, without a few who have testified his truth, by their lives as well as their words, These have been “as lights shining in a dark place.

.And from time to time they have been the means of enlightening some, of preserving

remnant, a little seed which was counted to the Lord for a generation.” They have led a few poor sheep out of the darkness of the world, and guided their feet into the way of peace.

7. One might imagine that, where both Scripture and the reason of things speak so clearly and expressly, t) ere could not be much advanced on the other side, at least not with any appearance of truth. But they who imagine thus, know little of the depths of Satan. After all that Scripture and reason have said, so exceeding plaus ble are the pretences for solitary religion, for a Christian's going out of the world, or at least hiding himself in it, that we need all the wisdom of God to see through the snare, and all the power of God to escape it; so many and strong are the objections which have been brought against being social, open, active Christians.

III. 1. To answer these, was the third thing which I proposed. And, first, it has been often objected, that religion does not lie in outward things, but in the heart, the inmost soul; that it is the union of the soul with God, the life of God in the soul of man; that outside religion is nothing worth; seeing God " delighteth not in burnt offerings,” in outward services, but a pure and holy heart is the “sacrifice he will not despise."

I answer, it is most true, that the root of religion lies in the heart, in the inmost soul; that this is the union of the soul with God, the life of God in the soul of man. But if this root be really in the heart, it cannot but put forth branches. And these are the several instances of outward obedience, which partake of the same nature with the root; and, consequently, are not only marks or signs, but substanțial parts of religion.

It is also true, that bare outside religion, which has no root in the heart, is nothing worth; that God delighteth not in such outward services, no more than in Jewish burnt offerings; and that a pure and holy heart is a sacrifice with which he is always well pleased. But he is also well pleased with all that outward service which arises from the heart; with the sacrifice of our prayers, (whether public or privatc,) of our praises and thanksgivings; with the sacrifice of our goods, humbly devoted to him, and employed wholly to his glory; and with that of

« PredošláPokračovať »