« AnteriorContinuar »
A CONTRITE HEART THE BEST SACRIFICE.
Psalm li. 17.
“ The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O
God, Thou wilt not despise."
WHENEVER we approach to ALMIGHTY GOD through JESUS Christ, whether it be at the Holy Communion, or at the season of Christ's Death and Passion, or at the commemoration of His first and second Coming, there is no service on our part so acceptable to Him as that of a contrite heart; for thus only can we offer up ourselves in union with that One great Oblation which Christ hath made for us.
We have no hope but in the Cross of Christ; none of us are saved but by the Cross of Christ; our salvation, therefore, depends entirely on the temper of mind with which we venture to approach the Cross of Christ, and receive the doctrine of Christ crucified.
And, therefore, the difference between good and bad men in Holy Scripture may be said to consist in this, whether they have or have not “a broken and a contrite spirit;" the degrees of their acceptance with God seem to depend on this : and in consequence we shall find in those who are most of all approved, some expression that implies this temper. Thus Abraham, the father of the faithful, says, that he was before God but “dust and ashes." What better words could express a penitent than “dust and ashes ?" It is written of Moses, that he was " the meekest of men ;” and what is meekness, but the fruit of a contrite spirit ? Holy Job exclaims, “Now mine eye seeth THEE; wherefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." The Prophet Isaiah says of himself, Woe is me, because I am a man of unclean lips.” Jeremiah was “a man of sorrows." There is no more solemn confession of sin, than that of Daniel, the man of loves. And a penitent most deeply stricken with a sense of his condition, will find no words that more strongly express a broken spirit than the Psalms of David, “ the man after God's own heart." Again, St. Peter, so pre-eminent among the Holy Apostles, fell down at Christ's feet, with great earnestness, begging Him to depart, for “ he was a sinful man.” As he was the chief of Apostles, so is he also the chief of penitents. And any one may perceive that the love which St. John expresses, proceeds from a broken spirit. And St. Paul, who laboured more abundantly than all the Apostles, is known to all the world as one who considered himself as the “chief of sinners.” The same temper may be found in all the saints of the Ancient Church : they are ever expressing, in various ways, their self-abasement before God.
If we come to those of our own Church, who have been most remarkable for piety, we find the same spirit. The laborious and devout Hammond emphatically applied to himself those words, that he was the “chief of sinners;" the good Bishop Andrews, in all his Devotions, ever speaks of himself as
a very great, a very great sinner," "a sinner worse than the publican,”
a sinner beyond all men,” “the chiefest, the very chiefest of all—the very greatest of sinners.” And Bishop Wilson, in his Prayers, seems ever seeking for words to express the greatness of his humiliation, and eagerly taking hold, as it were, of every sentence or incident in Scripture which implied mercy to the penitent. The holy Herbert at his death praised God that he had “practised mortification, and endeavoured to die daily, that he might not die eternally:" and left his poems to the world only that they might “turn to the advantage of any dejected 'poor soul;" so much are they all expressive of God's consolations under deep penitence. Many more such instances might be mentioned.
Thus may it be found consistently of all good men, that the
better they are, the more are they always of a “broken and contrite spirit.” And this fact may be explained by the very nature of all Christian graces and duties; for a good man (if any one can be so called) is he who practises and cultivates these duties and graces. Now we find that there is nothing which Holy Scripture insists on so earnestly, so repeatedly, and so constantly as this ;—that our salvation does depend upon our works, “ the deeds done in the body;" that exactly in proportion to our works done in this life, will be our everlasting portion: it implies that this is the subject, beyond all others, on which men are in some way apt to be deceived, often alluding to it with expressions such as
“ take heed,” “ be not deceived,” and the like. And it sometimes describes to us the proceedings of the Day of Judgment, and the assigning of their different conditions to all mankind on that day ; in all of which it takes pains to assure us, that it will be most strictly according to our works in this life, the use of the talents committed to us, the fulfilling offices of mercy, the having our lamps burning, the having laid up treasure in Heaven beforehand; that it will be reaping precisely according to what we have sowed ; that those who will be rejected, will be condemned because they have not worked righteousness; that those who will be accepted will be rewarded, because they have done these works; that those who have not done these works, will be like those who have been building a house on the sand; that those who have done these works, will have made their foundation on a rock. And the eternal reward will be in exact proportion to the work done, for among the good some will bear thirty, some sixty, some an hundred-fold. This doctrine, of our portion being according to our works, is a point which Holy Scripture is most earnest in insisting on, as being that in which we are, all of us, apt to deceive ourselves.
But then, again, we know also, that our salvation does depend on our faith in CHRIST; and therefore we may suppose, that not only will those who will fail, be rejected for want of this faith ; but even among those who have this faith, that those who have most faith will be most happy hereafter, according to their various degrees of faith.
Now in whatever way these two doctrines may be explained, we must take Holy Scripture as we find it, and believe as it is written. But the two things may, perhaps, be reconciled in this way—a broken and contrite heart alone can embrace Christ Crucified; and he who is most diligent in works of Evangelical righteousness, will be most contrite, and therefore will most of all have faith in Christ Crucified.
Thus, if we take those three duties in which our Lord has instructed us, as the means of obtaining holiness, viz. alms, fasting, and prayer, we may, I think, consider it quite certain from God's Word, that he who most of all practises these duties (i.e. most sincerely, earnestly, and constantly) will be the highest in Heaven: for we are often told, that alms is laying up treasure in Heaven; we are assured, that prayer is always answered ; and that God will reward openly him that fasts secretly. And it will be evident, on a little consideration, that he who practises these duties most conscientiously, will most of all be brought to a broken and contrite spirit; for, indeed, prayer is seeking for aid beyond ourselves, and therefore is an expression of helplessness ; and fasting is a practical confession of unworthiness; and alms a sort of sacrifice, which implies both. But the effect of these duties
may be easily seen :-let any one who is full of carelessness and self-confidence, give himself up to these duties for one day only, and he will find his spirit has become, in some degree, altered and changed, more broken and contrite. This will be sufficient to account for the effect which the constant practice of these duties has on the temper of holy persons.
In many other ways it may be shown, that all the practices of a good man tend to produce a broken and contrite heart, and therefore bring him to Christ Crucified. He is the best of men who most of all considers and directs all his conduct under the most lively sense of the Day of Judgment. This is the thought that magnifies every sin he has committed,-every omission, every negligence;-it is in the light of the JUDGE's Presence he views them all; it is the light of this, in which he walks daily : it is in the scale of that never-never-ending portion that is to ensue, in which he weighs his actions; at least, as far as he is a good man, he endeavours to do so ;-how, then, can he be otherwise than of a broken and contrite heart?
Or, again : :-a good man is he who lives under the strongest and most abiding sense of God's Presence, as being about his
path and about his bed; and therefore piety is often called the Knowledge of God: and surely to know Him Who is infinite Holiness, infinite Love, and infinite Power, may well make a sinful man to hate his own sinfulness, and fill him with a contrite spirit at the thoughts of it. And the more he practises reverence in Church, and other things which imply a consciousness of God's Presence, the more is he thus humbled.
Or, again ;--a good Christian is he who meditates most seriously and practically on the life and death of Christ: and surely he who most thinks of Christ's sufferings, will most lament the sins that occasioned them : the more he contemplates Him, Who being equal with God, lowered Himself to the very dust, to teach us humiliation and repentance, the more he will have a spirit broken.
Or, moreover, if we consider the promises made to good men in Holy Scripture, they are all made to them so far as they partake of this temper of a contrite heart; it is “the poor in spirit” to whom the kingdom of Heaven belongs; those " that mourn” receive the consolations ; “ the meek” inherit the kingdom; it is to those alone who are heavy-laden that CHRIST offers rest; it is with the contrite the Holy Spirit will dwell; it is those who have most of all humbled themselves as little children upon earth, who will be highest in Heaven,--the place in Heaven will be exactly according to the lowliness of mind.
And not only this, but those external circumstances are most blessed, which tend most of all to produce a broken spirit: and woe is awfully denounced on all those conditions of life which most of all keep us from poorness of spirit. The blessing is pronounced on the poor ; woe upon the rich; woe on those who are spoken well of; blessing on those who have all manner of evil spoken of them falsely. To receive a recompense in this life, to obtain good things or consolation in the world, is, we are told, a great evil: the chastenings of God are the greatest signs of His love. And why all this? but that natural evil and hardship brings us most of all to a sense of our true condition, such as it is in the sight of God and His good Angels: and the advantages of this life lead us to forget it.
In like manner in all the parables and incidents in the Gospels, it is the temper of a contrite spirit which is alone received ;