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104 THE CHRISTIAN READY To suffer for His FAITH.
heavenly things; they are so to have their treasure and their citizenship in heaven, as that no earthly consideration shall be able to make them swerve from their duty. If any thing as dear to them as a right hand, or a right eye, would lead them to wrong conduct, they must cut it off, and cast it from them. They must not even hold their lives dear unto them, if it would prevent their finishing their course, or discharging the duty of a Christian, and that with joy, in every situation in which it shall please Divine Providence to place them. Our particular duties change with our circumstances, but the principle which leads to all duty, must ever be the same. This never changes; and where it really exists, it will not fail to make our duty, in all cases, eligible and joyful. A good man and a good Christian fears nothing but God, and hates nothing but sin. Have we, then, my Christian brethren, this principle of duty within us? Have we that steady attachment to Christianity, and that firm faith in a future life, and the rewards which Christ has promised to his disciples there, that would enable us to bear persecution, and even death, rather than swerve from it? If we have, we are Christians, and shall undoubtedly receive the proper rewards of Christianity, whether we be actually called to suffer persecution and death, or not ; as that soldier who keeps his rank, and holds himself ready to engage when called upon, is justly entitled to share the rewards of victory with those of his fellow-soldiers who happened to be called to the hottest action; because he would have engaged, and with as much alacrity, if it had been his place. But, my brethren, (and it behoves us seriously to question ourselves on the subject,) if we be not ready and determined, when called upon, to bear persecution, and even unto death in the cause of Christ, we are not true Christians. If we be not prepared to suffer with Christ here, neither shall we reign and be glorified with him hereafter. If, in such a case, we would, in fact, deny him, he also will deny us. And though
THE CHRISTIAN READY To suffer For His FAITH. 105
it does not now appear to the world, or may not even be known to ourselves, what our behaviour in time of persecution for conscience' sake would be, it is always known to God. He sees and judges by the heart, and whatever our final destination may be, we shall then be satisfied of the equity of his decision. # # #
The principles and prospects of Christianity are, in themselves, so great, and so far overbalance all the things of the present life, that they only require to be sufficiently attended to, to make any person do or bear any thing for their sake.
What hardships will not men undergo, and what risk, even of life, will they not run, in order to obtain a great estate, and much more a crown, in this world? In such a case as this, the mere pain of dying would not be regarded by them, if they were sure that they should not actually die, but that, after this suffering, they should certainly gain their purpose. This we see in history, and in common life, continually. There can be no doubt, therefore, but that if the same persons had the same firm faith in the future glorious rewards of Christianity that they have with respect to the things of this life, it would enable them to do and to suffer as much in order to obtain them.
It is only a deficiency of faith that makes persons shrink from persecution and death in the cause of Christianity. Because, in reality, all the pains of this transitory life are nothing in comparison of that eternal weight of glory which awaits those who have faith and patience unto death, with respect to another.
FORGIVENESS OF INJURIES.
As to the motives for the forgiveness of injuries, what should operate more powerfully upon Christians than the example of Christ, from whom we are denominated ? And very ill shall we be entitled to the name of Christians, if we do not adopt the sentiments, follow the example, and obey the precepts of Christ. What are the injuries that we have received, great as they have been, compared to his, to say nothing of the difference of our characters and deserts, his superiority with respect to which ought not only to have exempted him from injuries, but ensured to him the gratitude and best offices of his countrymen and the world. Instead of this, as soon as ever he made himself conspicuous, though it was by the most exemplary virtue and universal beneficence, he began to be envied, hated, and ill-treated, by the priests and leading men of his nation; (the church, as we may say, and the state;) and this malignity against him increased in proportion as he distinguished himself, till they carried into execution their diabolical purpose of putting him to a cruel and ignominious death.
Notwithstanding this, in the very moment of his greatest agony, he could pray, in the words of my text, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” What dignity, my brethren, what greatness of mind, what self-command, what benevolence, and what piety, were here! All that we can feel or do, will fall far short of this. But, nevertheless, let us strive to come as near to it as we can ; for this is to approach the Divine character and conduct, which he imitated, and taught his followers to imitate, when he exhorted them to be “merciful, as our Father who is in heaven is merciful, and perfect, as he is perfect.”
CHARITY THE DEBT OF THE RICH TO THE POOR.
The rich, therefore, reflecting on the wise intentions of Providence, should not suppose that they have an absolute exclusive right to their superfluity; the wise should not be wise for themselves alone, nor should the powerful protect themselves only from insults and injuries. Our common Parent had far other and more extensive views in appointing this inequality. It was no less than to bind all the parts of the great whole more strictly together, to make the one more dependent upon the other; and by an exchange of good offices, easy to some, and necessary to others, give scope to the increase of generosity on one side, of gratitude on the other, and of benevolence on both ; thus to advance them in real dignity and excellence of character, and thereby bring them to a near resemblance to Himself, the pattern of all perfection and excellence, to Him who is supremely, and, strictly speaking, alone good, as being the source of all goodness, who “ is good to all, and whose tender mercies are over all his works.”
Had all men been equally well provided for, they would have been independent of one another, and of course unsocial and unfriendly, and therefore might have been disposed to avoid, rather than to court, that society of which they stood in no need; and a spirit of envy and hatred might have been the result. But the wants of some teach them humility, patience, and gratitude, excellent moral qualities; and the sight of distress softens the heart, and excites to acts of kindness in others, which strengthens the principle of benevo-. lence, and thus meliorates the disposition, consequently the
108 CHARITY THE DEBT of THE RICH To THE Poor.
characters of both are improved, and it is not easy to say which is the more so, by this circumstance of inequality in the distribution of the gifts of Providence. Let not the rich man make a boast of his charity, as if he gave what he was under no obligation to give ; for, strictly speaking, it is a debt which he owes to the needy. Benevolence being the great law of our natures, and the happiness of all being the great object of the Divine government, whatever it be that promotes this end, is the proper duty of all, according to their respective abilities to contribute to it; and any person is guilty of a breach of trust, who refrains from doing it. All the good that any man can do, he ought to do. The Divine Being, our common Parent, expects it of him, as a member of his large family; and if he “judge the world in righteousness”, as he assuredly will, he will punish the person who does less than it was in his power to do, as having neglected a duty that was incumbent on him. In whatever manner any person becomes possessed of wealth, it is the gift of God. If it have accrued to him from superior ingenuity or superior industry, that very superior ingenuity and spirit of activity, are alike the gift of God, who makes one man to differ in these respects, as well as others, from another man; so that, as the apostle says, God may say to any man, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive?” And “if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” Consequently, not to make that disposition of our wealth which the Giver of it intended that we should, is to be guilty of ingratitude to God, and real injustice to man. It is to act the part of an unfaithful steward. For in this light, and no other, ought we to consider ourselves with respect to every thing that we have to spare, after the supply of our own wants. Neither let the rich boast of their independence with respect to the poor. In fact they are more dependent upon the poor, than the poor are upon them ; and were all persons reduced to a level, every advantage of which they now boast