« AnteriorContinuar »
tian conversation, that his word has taken deep root in your mind, your fellow-Christians will rejoice over you, and join in blessing God that the day of visitation has been to you a day of salvation.
That which is crooked cannot be made straight, and that which is
wanting cannot be numbered.-Eccl. i. 15.
The wise man inquires, What is that good for the sons of men, which they should do all the days of their life ? At the close of his inquiries he answers, Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. But before he comes to this conclusion of the matter, as he calls it, he takes a large survey of human af. fairs, the result of every inquiry concerning which is, All is vanity and vexation of spirit. Every thing that passed under his review was either void of substantial good, or connected with some evil which embittered it.
Two of the marks of vanity inscribed on earthly things are, that a great number of them are inveterately crooked, or devious from the line of what is good for the sons of men ; and that a still greater number are wanting, or defective ; so that though there were nothing in them repugnant to what is good, yet they are insufficient to satisfy the mind.
That devious and defective things should be found in the world is not surprising ; but they are found also in the church, and our endeavours to rectify and supply them are often ineffectual. It is too much to infer from this that we are to sit down in despair, and attempt nothing ; but it will be profitable to know the limited ex
tent of our powers, so as not to waste our time and energies on that which will answer no good end.
Many have been employed during the greater part of their lives in striving to correct the errors and disorders of the church, and to supply its defects. This has certainly been a good work. What else were the labours of the Reformers, of the Puritans, of the Nonconformists, and indeed of all the servants of God in every age, but so many attempts to bend the minds of men to the mind of Christ ? Nor have they laboured without effect. When we compare the present state of things with what we wish, we seem indeed to have done nothing : but when with the state of things in times past, we may say, What hath God wrought ! Paganism has been excluded from Europe ; Popery has been so diminished as to have lost its wonted energies ; and Christianity, cherished under the wing of religious freedom, has of late taken a notable flight, alighting in the very heart of the Pagan world. But with all this, there are many crooked things among us, and things which by human hands cannot be made straight. The spirit of infidelity has pervaded the minds of millions in Europe, whose fathers were once the decided friends of the reformation. The systems of many who would be thought to be Christians are so tinged with it, as to become antichristian. And among those who profess to believe the doctrines of the reformation, many content themselves with the name of orthodoxy, without the thing. There is a tendency in the human mind to deviate from divine truth. Had it not been for the illuminating influence of the Spirit of God, we should never have understood it; not because of its abstruseness, but on account of the uncongeniality of our minds : and when we do understand and believe it, there is a continual tendency in us to get wrong. It might seem that when a person has once obtained a just view of the gospel, there is no danger of his losing it; but it is not so. There is a partiality in all our views, and while we guard against error in one direction, we are in equal danger from a contrary extremè. Many, in sbunding the snare of self-righteous pride, have fallen into the pit of Antinomian presumption ; and many in guarding what they consider as the interests of practical religion, have ceased to teach and preach those principles from wbich
alone it can proceed. Besides this, there are many ways by which a minister may get beside the gospel, without falling into any palpable errors. There may be nothing crooked, yet much wanting. We may deliver an ingenious discourse, containing nothing inconsistent with truth, and yet not preach that truth in which believers stand, and by which they are saved. We may preach about the gospel, and yet not preach the gospel, so as to show unto men the way of salvation. And if we get into a vain, carpal, and worldly frame of mind, this is almost certain to be the case. It is no breach of charity to say of hundreds of sermons that are ordinarily delivered by those who are reputedly orthodox, that they are not the gospel which Jesus commissioned his servants to preach : and if it be thus among preachers, is it marvellous that a large proportion of religious people are not strictly evangelical ; but imbibe another spirit? And if the doctrine of Christ be neglected, (not to say corrupted,) the effects will appear in a neglect of faithful discipline, in a worldly spirit, and in a gradual disregard of a watchful, circumspect, and holy individual conduct. .
It is no breach of charity to suppose that many who profess evangelical principles are Christians only in name, and that these principles are professed merely on account of their popularity in the circles in which they move. The ways of such must be crooked. Like Saul, they know not how to go about obedience to God, but are always stumbling, or turning aside in pursuit of some carnal object.
There are few things more spoken against in the present times, than party zeal ; but there are few things more common. To unite with those whom we consider on mature examination as being nearest the mind of Christ, and having done so to act up to our principles,-is our duty : but few things are further from the mind of the partisan than this. Having enlisted in the cause of a party, he sees no good but that which is within its pale, and will say and do almost any thing to keep up its reputation. Many things have I seen in the days of my vanity! There is a man whose heart unites with every one who loves our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and who rejoices in the work of God wherever be sees it ; but not being of the right party, he is of little or no
account : and there is a man who gives no other proof of his liberality than that of boasting of it ; yet being of the right party, he is liberal.
Genuine candour and liberality are not to be looked for in parties, but in individuals of various parties. There are men who, while seeking the good of their immediate connexions, consider them not so much as their party, as an integral part of the kingdom of Christ, and who know how to rejoice in the success of truth and true religion wherever it is found : but is it thus with the bulk of any denomination, established or unestablished ? I fear not. He that has lived thirty or forty years in religious society, and has not met with things that must needs have shaken his confidence in professions, must either be a very happy man, or very unobservant of what has passed before him. What shall we say then ? Shall we sigh, and say, That which is crooked cannot be made straight ? Be it so; Let us distinguish between Christianity, and the conduct of its professors ? so that while we are grieved at the latter, we may not think worse of the former. Let God be true, and every man a liar! Let us also examine our own hearts, and pray that we may have grace at least to correct the deviations, and supply the defects, that are to be found in ourselves ; in wbich case, whatever may befall others, we shall find rest for our souls.
I shall conclude with a few remarks on misrepresentation. Some men in the course of their lives are exposed to a large portion of this, accompanied, it may be, with much foul abuse, the correction of which often becomes an object of despair. He that is first in his own cause, says the wise man, seemeth just, but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him. But how, if a man should be so deluged with misrepresentations, and his bands so occupied with more important concerns, as to have neither time nor inclination to refute them ? There are two ways left him.
First: He may safely treat the foulest and most unworthy of his opponents with neglect. Their calumnies will not do him much injury ; and if he attempt to answer them, he may be in danger of imbibing a portion of their spirit. This seems to be the fool that should not be answered according to his folly, lest we be like unto
Secondly: He may give a brief statement of the truth, and leave the misrepresentation and abuse to fall of its own accord. Wheu the Jews, after their return from Babylon, began building the temple, it caused a great sensation among their adversaries. They first offered to join them in the work, thinking, no doubt, to come in for a share, and perhaps the chief share, of the glory; and when their offer was refused, they accused them to the Persian government, so that the work for a time was stopped. We may wonder that the Jews did not by a counter-statement correct these vile misrepresentations, and expose the insincerity of their accusers : yet they did not ; but, as appears from the history, held their peace. When the storm had blown over, encouraged by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, they renewed the work ; and when interrogated anew by their adversaries, contented themselves with a simple statement of the truth. The substance of it was this : • We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth.We are engaged in rebuilding the house that was built many years ago by a great king of Israel.–Our fathers sinned against God, and he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, who destroycd this house, and carried the people away into Babylon.-But in the first year of Cyrus there was a decree to rebuild it, and its furniture was at the same time restored to Sheshbazzar, whom he appointed our governor.— The same Sheshbazzar began this work, which is not yet finished.' This simple statement of truth, which leaves out all reflections on their adversaries, would bear to be repeated even by them, in their letter to Darius, and in that form was repeated, and ultimately prevailed. Ezra iv. V. vi. The crooked things were let alone, and the straight rule exhibited, and Thus the end was answered.