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CMF eZine


The online magazine of the Christian Military Fellowship.


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Happiness and Joy

HAPPINESS AND JOY

These two words are often considered as synonyms, but the Scriptures make a distinction between them.

Biblical HAPPINESS is generally dependent upon the circumstances that one experiences. The law of Moses identifies happiness in marriage, “When a man takes his new wife, he shall not go out with the Army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken” (Deuteronomy 24:5).

Another example, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, “your God reigns”” (Isaiah 52:7).

In general, you are happy when life and things are going well, and you are unhappy when life and things are not going well as you had hoped they would.

Biblical JOY is more of a state of being and not dependent upon your circumstances. “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, he will be quiet in his love, he will rejoice over you with shouts of joy (Zephaniah 3:17).

Jeremiah the prophet discovered that ingesting God’s word brought him great joy. “Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became for me a joy and a delight of my heart; I have been called by your name oh Lord of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16).

The apostle John gives us a few quotes of Jesus Who is our joy, “These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11).

Jesus prays to His Father, “But now I come to you; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves” (John 17:13).

The apostle Paul adds, “You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us… Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1 – 2).

Jesus Christ endured the cross expressly for the joy of bringing you into his eternal kingdom.

THE ANGELIC ANNOUNCEMENT TO SHEPHERDS

“There were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over the flock by night. And the angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”” (Luke 2:8 – 11).

THE SHEPHERDS TERROR CHANGED TO GREAT JOY

“When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another; “let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that is happened which the Lord has made known to us. So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as he lay in the manger. When they had seen this, [with great joy] they made known the statement which had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:15 – 17).

THE MAGI’S LONG JOURNEY BROUGHT THEM GREAT JOY

“After coming into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they [with great joy] fell to the ground and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:1).

“Now when they had gone, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘get up! Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.’ So Joseph got up and took the child and his mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt” (Matthew 2:13 – 14).

God’s plan probably did not make Joseph very happy, but he had great joy since God must have provided the Magi’s gifts to finance their trip and time in Egypt.

CHRISTMAS TODAY

It is quite possible that the uncertainty of the world’s chaos and current circumstances that you face today may produce in your heart and mind a lack of happiness.

Nevertheless, Jesus who is our everlasting joy, assures us, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

However, let’s remember what the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid: for behold, I bring you good news of GREAT JOY which will be for all the people” (Luke 2:11).

Our prayer is that this Christmas we together with you will remember and celebrate Jesus’ birth and his many blessings to us with GREAT JOY! Have a joyous Christmas!!!

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Christmas is Still About Jesus

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1–7, AV)

A contemporaneous thought from my dear friend Evangelist Jim Wilson:

"Researchers at Time Magazine searched records in the U.S. Copyright Office for the number of times favorite Christmas songs have been recorded since 1978. The overwhelming choice as America’s favorite Christmas song is “Silent Night.” It has been recorded 733 times; the second most recorded Christmas song is “Joy to the World,” at 391 recordings. Rounding out the top five are “O Holy Night” at 374; “What Child Is This?” at 329; and “Away in a Manger” at 300.

The highest-rated secular song on the list is “White Christmas,” with 283 recordings. We may hear and fear otherwise, but according to our music (and the Bible), Christmas is still about the birth of Jesus."[1]

The Incarnation: the point upon which the universe is centered!  The Apostle Paul records the reason for my distraction: that I knew God, I did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but I became futile in my thinking, and my foolish heart was darkened (Romans 1:21 paraphrase mine).  This is the dungeon wherein Grace found me, convicted me of my sinful estate, and gave to me a new life.  Christmas is still about the birth of Jesus because His birth was also the birth of salvation to every one who believes (Romans 1:16b).  The Prince of Peace Incarnate on Earth (Jehovah Yeshua — I AM SALVATION).

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, AV)


[1] Wilson, J. L., & Russell, R. (2015). “Silent Night” Still America’s Favorite Christmas Song. In E. Ritzema (Ed.), 300 Illustrations for Preachers. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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The Acceptable Sacrifice

The Acceptable Sacrifice

or,

the excellency of a broken heart

‘THE SACRIFICES OF GOD ARE A BROKEN SPIRIT: A BROKEN AND A CONTRITE HEART, O GOD, THOU WILT NOT DESPISE.’—Psalm 51:17

This psalm is David’s penitential psalm. It may be fitly so called, because it is a psalm by which is manifest the unfeigned sorrow which he had for his horrible sin, in defiling of Bathsheba, and slaying Uriah her husband; a relation at large of which you have in the 11th and 12th of the Second of Samuel. Many workings of heart, as this psalm showeth, this poor man had, so soon as conviction did fall upon his spirit. One while he cries for mercy, then he confesses his heinous offences, then he bewails the depravity of his nature; sometimes he cries out to be washed and sanctified, and then again he is afraid that God will cast him away from his presence, and take his Holy Spirit utterly from him. And thus he goes on till he comes to the text, and there he stayeth his mind, finding in himself that heart and spirit which God did not dislike; ‘The sacrifices of God,’ says he, ‘are a broken spirit’; as if he should say, I thank God I have that. ‘A broken and a contrite heart,’ says he, ‘O God, thou wilt not despise’; as if he should say, I thank God I have that.

I. THE TEXT OPENED IN THE MANY WORKINGS OF THE HEART

The words consist of two parts. FIRST. An assertion. SECOND. A demonstration of that assertion. The assertion is this, ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.’ The demonstration is this, ‘Because a broken and a contrite heart God will not despise.’

In the assertion we have two things present themselves to our consideration. First. That a broken spirit is to God a sacrifice. Second. That it is to God, as that which answereth to, or goeth beyond, all sacrifices. ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.’

The demonstration of this is plain: for that heart God will not despise it. ‘A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.’ Whence I draw this conclusion: That a spirit rightly broken, a heart truly contrite, is to God an excellent thing. That is, a thing that goeth beyond all external duties whatever; for that is intended by this saying, The sacrifices, because it answereth to all sacrifices which we can offer to God; yea it serveth in the room of all: all our sacrifices without this are nothing; this alone is all.

There are four things that are very acceptable to God. The

First is The sacrifice of the body of Christ for our sins. Of this you read (Heb 10) for there you have it preferred to all burnt-offerings and sacrifices; it is this that pleaseth God; it is this that sanctifieth, and so setteth the people acceptable in the sight of God.

Second. Unfeigned love to God is counted better than all sacrifices, or external parts of worship. ‘And to love him the Lord thy God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices’ (Mark 12:33).

Third. To walk holily and humbly, and obediently, towards and before God, is another. Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?—‘Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice; and to hearken than the fat of rams’ (Micah 6:6–8; 1 Sam 15:22).

Fourth. And this in our text is the fourth: ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.’

But note by the way, that this broken, this broken and contrite heart, is thus excellent only to God: ‘O God,’ saith he, ‘THOU wilt not despise it.’ By which is implied, the world have not this esteem or respect for such a heart, or for one that is of a broken and a contrite spirit. No, no, a man, a woman, that is blessed with a broken heart, is so far off from getting by that esteem with the world, that they are but burdens and trouble houses wherever they are or go. Such people carry with them molestation and disquietment: they are in carnal families as David was to the king of Gath, troublers of the house (1 Sam 21).

Their sighs, their tears, their day and night groans, their cries and prayers, and solitary carriages, put all the carnal family out of order.1 Hence you have them brow-beaten by some, contemned by others, yea, and their company fled from and deserted by others. But mark the text, ‘A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise,’ but rather accept; for not to despise is with God to esteem and set a high price upon.

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Christmas Today?

Christmas Today?

More than 2000 years have passed since the first Christmas. The first Christmas took place in Bethlehem.  The town was crowded due to Caesar’s census requiring everyone to register in their birth town.  Joseph and Mary had no place to stay when they arrived, but found shelter in an obscure stable.

They were a very tired young couple when they delivered their first baby.  They must have wondered, Does anyone know?  Does anyone care?  Is this really the Messiah?

The Heavenly Host knew and came to some lowly shepherds in the middle of the night. They heralded this great news that the Savior was born.

The shepherds were terrified and shocked, but after recovering, they rushed to Bethlehem to see the baby that was God’s promised Savior.

Joseph and Mary were probably awakened from their sleep as the shepherds rushed in.  The shepherds stumbled over one another as they told about the vision the Angel and the Heavenly Host heralding the birth of a long-awaited Savior.

After the shepherds left rejoicing, Joseph and Mary were so tired they probably fell asleep.  Someone does know! Someone does care! – His Heavenly Father cares!

Christmas Today!

It is not at all like the first Christmas.  Some say that it is the fault of commercialism, but commerce only tries to satisfy the demands of the customer.  We as a people are responsible for the emphasis on material things.

Gift-giving has become a requirement to prove our love and appreciation for those to whom we give.  We often forget the gift of salvation and LIFE that Jesus came to bestow upon those who trust him.

Holiday parties, dinners and get-togethers are part of the celebration of Jesus birth.  However, little about Jesus is mentioned or considered during the season.

Church services are filled with special readings and Christmas music. Plays and pageants about the Savior’s life are reenacted. Handel’s great Messiah is heard and revered.  Lots of good activity, but few care about their relationship with Jesus himself!

Relationship With Jesus Christ!

Many Christians and their leaders talk about Jesus topically or doctrinally. They are truly saved and enjoy some of the benefits. However, they have their own ideas of what biblical spirituality is.  Jesus or God are expected to help them to do his work, but few know him intimately.

However Jesus desires to take charge of our lives, with us cooperating with him for his glory and our good!

Jesus came to be our Savior.
Jesus loves to be our life!

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9:15)

We trust that you and your loved ones will enjoy Jesus during the special Christmas season!

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Psalm 28

Psalm 28

A Psalm of David. Unto thee will I cry, O LORD my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit. Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle. Draw me not away with the wicked, and with the workers of iniquity, which speak peace to their neighbors, but mischief is in their hearts. Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavors: give them after the work of their hands; render to them their desert. Because they regard not the works of the LORD, nor the operation of his hands, he shall destroy them, and not build them up. Blessed be the LORD, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. The LORD is their strength, and he is the saving strength of his anointed. Save thy people, and bless thine inheritance: feed them also, and lift them up forever.” (Psalm 28, AV)

As in the preceding psalm, a righteous sufferer prays that he may not be confounded with the wicked whom his soul abhors, so here a like prayer is offered by the Anointed of Jehovah. He first prays in general for audience and acceptance, without which he must quickly perish, ver. 1, 2. He then asks to be distinguished from the wicked in the infliction of God’s judgments, ver. 3–5. He then gives thanks for the anticipated answer to his prayer, ver. 6–8, and implores an extension of the blessing to all God’s people at all times, ver. 9. The collocation of the psalm is clearly not fortuitous, but founded on its close resemblance to the one before it.

1. By David. Unto thee, Jehovah, will I call; my rock, be not silent from me, lest thou hold thy peace from me, and I be made like to those going down (into) the pit. My rock, the immoveable foundation of my hope and object of my trust. See above, on Ps. 18:3, 32 (2, 31), 19:15 (14). That God is such affords a sufficient reason for the importunate demands which follow. It is inconsistent with the relation he sustains to those who trust him, that he should be silent when they pray, i.e. refuse to answer. The ideas of distance and estrangement are really implied in being silent, and suggested by the pregnant construction silent from. The meaning of the last clause is correctly given, with a change of idiom, in the English version, lest, if thou be silent, &c. The passive verb does not merely mean to be like, but to be made like, assimilated, confounded. The pit, the grave, both in its narrower and wider sense. (Compare Isa. 14:15, 19.) Those going down into the pit is a common description of the dead. See Ps. 30:4 (3), 88:5 (4), and compare Ps. 22:30 (29).

2. Hear the voice of my supplications, in my crying unto thee (for help); in my lifting up my hands to thy holy oracle. In my crying, in my lifting, i.e. at the time of my so doing, when I am in the very act. The lifting up of the hands is a natural symbol of the raising of the heart or the desires to God, and is therefore often mentioned in connection with the act of prayer. Exod. 9:29, 17:11, 12, 1 Kings 8:22, 54, Lam. 2:19, 3:41, Ps. 63:5 (4).—The word translated oracle is derived from the verb to speak, and seems to mean a place of speaking or conversation, like the English parlor from the French parler. Now we learn from Exod. 25:22, Num. 7:89, that the place whence God talked with Moses was the inner apartment of the tabernacle; and from 1 Kings 6:19, that the corresponding part of the temple bore the name here used. To this, as the depository of the ark and the earthly residence of God, the ancient saints looked as we look now to Christ, in whom the idea of the Mosaic sanctuary has been realized. See above, on Ps. 5:8 (7).

3. Draw me not away with wicked (men), and with workers of iniquity, speaking peace with their neighbors, and evil (is) in their heart. This is the prayer for which he bespeaks audience and acceptance in the foregoing verse. Draw me not away, i.e. to punishment or out of life. Compare Ps. 26:9, where the parallel expression is gather me not. In both cases he prays that he may not be confounded in his death with those whose life he abhors. The last clause exhibits a particular trait in the character of the wicked men and evil doers of the other clause. This trait is hypocritical dissimulation, the presence of friendship as a mask to hatred. The simple construction with the copulative and is equivalent to our expressions, but, though, while, &c.

4. Give to them according to their act, and according to the evil of their deeds, according to the work of their hands give thou to them; return their treatment to them. Having prayed that he may not share the destruction of the wicked, he now prays that they may not escape it. But as this is merely asking God to act as a just and holy being must act, the charge of vindictive cruelty is not merely groundless, but absurd.—The evil of their deeds is a phrase borrowed from Moses (Deut. 28:20), and often repeated by Jeremiah (4:4, 21:12, 23:2, 22, 26:3, 44:22). The same prophet has combined two of the phrases here employed in Jer. 25:14, and Lam. 3:64. The word translated treatment is a participle meaning that which is done by one person to another, whether good or evil. See above, on Ps. 7:5 (4).

5. Because they will not attend to the acts of Jehovah and to the doing of his hands, he will pull them down and will not build them up. Having appealed to the divine justice for a righteous recompense of these offenders, he now shews what they have deserved and must experience, by shewing what they have done, or rather not done. The acts of Jehovah and the works of his hands are common expressions for his penal judgments. See Ps. 64:10 (9), 92:5 (4), Isa. 5:12, 28:21, 29:23.—Pull down and not build up, is an idiomatic combination of positive and negative terms to express the same idea.—Build, therefore, does not mean rebuild, but is simply the negative or opposite of pull down. The form of expression is copied repeatedly by Jeremiah (31:28, 42:10, 45:4.) See also Job 12:14.

6. Blessed (be) Jehovah, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications. What he asked in ver. 2 he has now obtained, or at least the assurance of a favorable answer, in the confident anticipation of which he begins already to bless God. The word translated supplications means, according to its etymology, prayers for grace or mercy.

7. Jehovah, my strength and my shield! In him has my heart trusted, and I have been helped, and my heart shall exult, and by my song I will thank (or praise) him. The construction of the first clause as a proposition, by supplying the substantive verb, Jehovah (is) my strength and my shield, is unnecessary, and neither so simple nor so strong as that which makes it a grateful and admiring exclamation.—My heart is twice used in this sentence to express the deep and cordial nature of the exercises which he is describing. The same heart that trusted now rejoices. As he believed with all his heart, so now he rejoices in like manner.—By my song, literally from or out of it, as the source and the occasion of his praise. Compare Ps. 22:26 (25).

8. Jehovah (is) strength to them, and a stronghold of salvation (to) his Anointed (is) He. The Psalmist having spoken hitherto not only for himself but for the people, here insensibly substitutes the third person plural for the first person singular. In the last clause he reverts to himself, but with the use of an expression which discloses his relation to the people, of which he was not only a member but the delegated head, the Anointed of Jehovah. See above, on Ps. 2:2. A stronghold. See above on Ps. 27:1.—Salvations, full salvation. See above on Ps. 18:51 (50). The personal pronoun at the end of the sentence is emphatic, and intended to concentrate the attention upon one great object.

9. Oh save thy people, and bless thy heritage, and feed them, and carry (or exalt them) even to eternity! The whole psalm closes with a prayer that the relation now subsisting between God and his people may continue forever. Thy heritage, thy peculiar people, whom thou dost preserve and treat as such from generation to generation. The idea and expression are Mosaic. See Deut. 9:29, and compare Ps. 33:12, 68:10 (9), 94:5. The image then merges into that of a shepherd and his flock, a favorite one with David and throughout the later scriptures. See above, on Ps. 23:1.—Feed them, not only in the strict sense, but in that of doing the whole duty of a shepherd. The next verb is by some translated carry them, in which sense the primitive is elsewhere used in speaking of a shepherd (Isa. 40:11), and this very form appears to have the same sense in Isa. 63:9, while in 2 Sam. 5:12 it is applied to the exaltation of David himself as a theocratic sovereign.[1]

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 123–125). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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The Greatest Thing in the World

The Greatest Thing in The World

Tho I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, &c.—1 Cor. 13.

Everyone has asked himself the great question of antiquity as of the modern world: What is the summum bonum—the supreme good? You have life before you. Once only you can live it. What is the noblest object of desire, the supreme gift to covet?

We have been accustomed to be told that the greatest thing in the religious world is faith. That great word has been the key-note for centuries of the popular religion; and we have easily learned to look upon it as the greatest thing in the world. Well, we are wrong. If we have been told that, we may miss the mark. I have taken you, in the chapter which I have just read, to Christianity at its source; and there we have seen, “The greatest of these is love.” It is not an oversight. Paul was speaking of faith just a moment before. He says, “If I have all faith, so that I can remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.” So far from forgetting, he deliberately contrasts them, “Now abideth faith, hope, love,” and without a moment’s hesitation the decision falls, “The greatest of these is love.”

And it is not prejudice. A man is apt to recommend to others his own strong point. Love was not Paul’s strong point. The observing student can detect a beautiful tenderness growing and ripening all through his character as Paul gets old; but the hand that wrote, “The greatest of these is love,” when we meet it first, is stained with blood.

Nor is this letter to the Corinthians peculiar in singling out love as the summum bonum. The masterpieces of Christianity are agreed about it. Peter says, “Above all things have fervent love among yourselves.” Above all things. And John goes further, “God is love.” And you remember the profound remark which Paul makes elsewhere, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Did you ever think what he meant by that? In those days men were working their passage to heaven by keeping the ten commandments, and the hundred and ten other commandments which they had manufactured out of them. Christ said, I will show you a more simple way. If you do one thing, you will do these hundred and ten things, without ever thinking about them. If you love, you will unconsciously fulfil the whole law. And you can readily see for yourselves how that must be so. Take any of the commandments. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” If a man love God, you will not require to tell him that. Love is the fulfilling of that law. “Take not his name in vain.” Would he ever dream of taking His name in vain if he loved Him? “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” Would he not be too glad to have one day in seven to dedicate more exclusively to the object of his affection? Love would fulfil all these laws regarding God. And so, if he loved man, you would never think of telling him to honor his father and mother. He could not do anything else. It would be preposterous to tell him not to kill. You could only insult him if you suggested that he should not steal—how could he steal from those he loved? It would be superfluous to beg him not to bear false witness against his neighbor. If he loved him it would be the last thing he would do. And you would never dream of urging him not to covet what his neighbors had. He would rather that they possest it than himself. In this way “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” It is the rule for fulfilling all rules, the new commandment for keeping all the old commandments, Christ’s one secret of the Christian life.

Now, Paul had learned that; and in this noble eulogy he has given us the most wonderful and original account extant of the summum bonum. We may divide it into three parts. In the beginning of the short chapter, we have love contrasted; in the heart of it, we have love analyzed; toward the end, we have love defended as the supreme gift.

Paul begins contrasting love with other things that men in those days thought much of. I shall not attempt to go over those things in detail. Their inferiority is already obvious.

He contrasts it with eloquence. And what a noble gift it is, the power of playing upon the souls and wills of men, and rousing them to lofty purposes and holy deeds. Paul says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” And we all know why. “We have all felt the brazenness of words without emotion, the hollowness, the unaccountable unpersuasiveness, of eloquence behind which lies no love.

He contrasts it with prophecy. He contrasts it with mysteries. He contrasts it with faith. He contrasts it with charity. Why is love greater than faith? Because the end is greater than the means. And why is it greater than charity? Because the whole is greater than the part. Love is greater than faith, because the end is greater than the means. What is the use of having faith? It is to connect the soul with God. And what is the object of connecting man with God? That he may become like God. But God is love. Hence faith, the means, is in order to love, the end. Love, therefore, obviously is greater than faith. It is greater than charity, again, because the whole is greater than a part. Charity is only a little bit of love, one of the innumerable avenues of love, and there may even be, and there is, a great deal of charity without love. It is a very easy thing to toss a copper to a beggar on the street; it is generally an easier thing than not to do it. Yet love is just as often in the withholding. We purchase relief from the sympathetic feelings roused by the spectacle of misery, at the copper’s cost. It is too cheap—too cheap for us, and often too dear for the beggar. If we really loved him we would either do more for him, or less.

Then Paul contrasts it with sacrifice and martyrdom. And I beg the little band of would-be missionaries—and I have the honor to call some of you by this name for the first time—to remember that tho you give your bodies to be burned, and have not love, it profits nothing—nothing! You can take nothing greater to the heathen world than the impress and reflection of the love of God upon your own character. That is the universal language. It will take you years to speak in Chinese, or in the dialects of India. From the day you land, that language of love, understood by all, will be pouring forth its unconscious eloquence. It is the man who is the missionary, it is not his words. His character is his message. In the heart of Africa, among the great lakes, I have come across black men and women who remembered the only white man they ever saw before—David Livingstone; and as you cross his footsteps in that dark continent, men’s faces light up as they speak of the kind doctor who passed there years ago. They could not understand him; but they felt the love that beat in his heart. Take into your new sphere of labor, where you also mean to lay down your life, that simple charm, and your life-work must succeed. You can take nothing greater, you need take nothing less. It is not worth while going if you take anything less. You may take every accomplishment; you may be braced for every sacrifice; but if you give your body to be burned, and have not love, it will profit you and the cause of Christ nothing.

After contrasting love with these things, Paul, in three verses, very short, gives us an amazing analysis of what this supreme thing is. I ask you to look at it. It is a compound thing, he tells us. It is like light. As you have seen a man of science take a beam of light and pass it through a crystal prism, as you have seen it come out on the other side of the prism broken up into its component colors—red, and blue, and yellow, and violet, and orange, and all the colors of the rainbow—so Paul passes this thing, love, through the magnificent prism of his inspired intellect, and it comes out on the other side broken up into its elements. And in these few words we have what one might call the spectrum of love, the analysis of love. Will you observe what its elements are? Will you notice that they have common names; that they are virtues which we hear about every day, that they are things which can be practiced by every man in every place in life; and how, by a multitude of small things and ordinary virtues, the supreme thing, the summum bonum, is made up?

The spectrum of love has nine ingredients:

Patience—“Love suffereth long.”

Kindness—“And is kind.”

Generosity—“Love envieth not.”

Humility—“Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”

Courtesy—“Doth not behave itself unseemly.”

Unselfishness—“Seeketh not her own.”

Good temper—“Is not easily provoked.”

Guilelessness—“Thinketh no evil.”

Sincerity—“Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.”

Patience, kindness, generosity, humility, courtesy, unselfishness, good temper, guilelessness, sincerity—these make up the supreme gift, the stature of the perfect man. You will observe that all are in relation to men, in relation to life, in relation to the known to-day and the near to-morrow, and not to the unknown eternity. We hear much of love to God; Christ spoke much of love to man. We make a great deal of peace with heaven; Christ made much of peace on earth. Religion is not a strange or added thing, but the inspiration of the secular life, the breathing of an eternal spirit through this temporal world. The supreme thing, in short, is not a thing at all, but the giving of a further finish to the multitudinous words and acts which make up the sum of every common day.

There is no time to do more than to make a passing note upon each of these ingredients. Love is patience. This is the normal attitude of love; love passive, love waiting to begin; not in a hurry; calm; ready to do its work when the summons comes, but meantime wearing the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. Love suffers long; beareth all things; believeth all things; hopeth all things. For love understands, and therefore waits.

Kindness. Love active. Have you ever noticed how much of Christ’s life was spent in doing kind things—in merely doing kind things? Run over it with that in view, and you will find that He spent a great proportion of His time simply in making people happy, in doing good turns to people. There is only one thing greater than happiness in the world, and that is holiness; and it is not in our keeping; but what God has put in our power is the happiness of those about us, and that is largely to be secured by our being kind to them.

“The greatest thing,” says someone, “a man can do for his Heavenly Father is to be kind to some of his other children.” I wonder why it is that we are not all kinder than we are? How much the world needs it. How easily it is done. How instantaneously it acts. How infallibly it is remembered. How superabundantly it pays itself back—for there is no debtor in the world so honorable, so superbly honorable, as love. “Love never faileth.” Love is success, love is happiness, love is life. “Love,” I say, with Browning, “is energy of life.”

For life, with all it yields of joy or wo

And hope and fear,

Is just our chance o’ the prize of learning love—

How love might be, hath been indeed, and is.

Where love is, God is. He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God. God is love. Therefore love. Without distinction, without calculation, without procrastination, love. Lavish it upon the poor, where it is very easy; especially upon the rich, who often need it most; most of all upon our equals, where it is very difficult, and for whom perhaps we each do least of all. There is a difference between trying to please and giving pleasure. Give pleasure. Lose no chance of giving pleasure. For that is the ceaseless and anonymous triumph of a truly loving spirit. “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Generosity. “Love envieth not.” This is love in competition with others. Whenever you attempt a good work you will find other men doing the same kind of work, and probably doing it better. Envy them not. Envy is a feeling of ill-will to those who are in the same line as ourselves, a spirit of covetousness and detraction. How little Christian work even is a protection against unchristian feeling! That most despicable of all the unworthy moods which cloud a Christian’s soul assuredly waits for us on the threshold of every work, unless we are fortified with this grace of magnanimity. Only one thing truly needs the Christian envy, the large, rich, generous soul which “envieth not.”

And then, after having learned all that, you have to learn this further thing, humility—to put a seal upon your lips and forget what you have done. After you have been kind, after love has stolen forth into the world and done its beautiful work, go back into the shade again and say nothing about it. Love hides even from itself. Love waives even self-satisfaction. “Love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.”

The fifth ingredient is a somewhat strange one to find in this summum bonum: Courtesy. This is love in society, love in relation to etiquette. “Love doth not behave itself unseemly.” Politeness has been defined as love in trifles. Courtesy is said to be love in little things. And the one secret of politeness is to love. Love cannot behave itself unseemly. You can put the most untutored persons into the highest society, and if they have a reservoir of love in their hearts, they will not behave themselves unseemly. They simply cannot do it. Carlyle said of Robert Burns that there was no truer gentleman in Europe than the plowman-poet. It was because he loved everything—the mouse, the daisy, and all the things, great and small, that God had made. So with this simple passport he could mingle with any society, and enter courts and palaces from his little cottage on the banks of the Ayr. You know the meaning of the word “gentleman.” It means a gentle man—a man who does things gently with love. And that is the whole art and mystery of it. The gentle man cannot in the nature of things do an ungentle and ungentlemanly thing. The ungentle soul, the inconsiderate, unsympathetic nature cannot do anything else. “Love doth not behave itself unseemly.”

Unselfishness. “Love seeketh not her own.” Observe: Seeketh not even that which is her own. In Britain the Englishman is devoted, and rightly, to his rights. But there come times when a man may exercise even the higher right of giving up his rights. Yet Paul does not summon us to give up our rights. Love strikes much deeper. It would have us not seek them at all, ignore them, eliminate the personal element altogether from our calculations. It is not hard to give up our rights. They are often external. The difficult thing is to give up ourselves. The more difficult thing still is not to seek things for ourselves at all. After we have sought them, bought them, won them, deserved them, we have taken the cream off them for ourselves already. Little cross then perhaps to give them up. But not to seek them, to look every man not on his own things, but on the things of others—id opus est. “Seekest thou great things for thyself?” said the prophet; “seek them not.” Why? Because there is no greatness in things. Things cannot be great. The only greatness is unselfish love. Even self-denial in itself is nothing, is almost a mistake. Only a great purpose or a mightier love can justify the waste. It is more difficult, I have said, not to seek our own at all, than, having sought it, to give it up. I must take that back. It is only true of a partly selfish heart. Nothing is a hardship to love, and nothing is hard. I believe that Christ’s yoke is easy. Christ’s “yoke” is just His way of taking life. And I believe it is an easier way than any other. I believe it is a happier way than any other. The most obvious lesson in Christ’s teaching is that there is no happiness in having and getting anything, but only in giving. I repeat, there is no happiness in having or in getting, but only in giving. And half the world is on the wrong scent in the pursuit of happiness. They think it consists in having and getting, and in being served by others. It consists in giving and serving others. He that would be great among you, said Christ, let him serve. He that would be happy, let him remember that there is but one way—it is more blessed, it is more happy, to give than to receive.

The next ingredient is a very remarkable one: good temper. “Love is not easily provoked.” Nothing could be more striking than to find this here. We are inclined to look upon bad temper as a very harmless weakness. We speak of it as a mere infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, not a thing to take into very serious account in estimating a man’s character. And yet here, right in the heart of this analysis of love, it finds a place; and the Bible again and again returns to condemn it as one of the most destructive elements in human nature.

The peculiarity of ill temper is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character. You know men who are all but perfect, and women who would be entirely perfect, but for an easily ruffled, quick-tempered, or “touchy” disposition. This compatibility of ill temper with high moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems of ethics. The truth is, there are two great classes of sins—sins of the body, and sins of the disposition. The Prodigal Son may be taken as a type of the first, the Elder Brother of the second. Now society has no doubt whatever as to which of these is the worse. Its brands fall without a challenge, upon the Prodigal. But are we right? We have no balance to weigh one another’s sins, and coarser and finer are but human words; but faults in the higher nature may be less venial than those in the lower, and to the eye of Him who is love, a sin against love may seem a hundred times more base. No form of vice, not worldliness, not greed of gold, not drunkenness itself, does more to unchristianize society than evil temper. For embittering life, for breaking up communities, for destroying the most sacred relationships, for devastating homes, for withering up men and women, for taking the bloom off childhood, in short, for sheer gratuitous misery-producing power, this influence stands alone. Look at the Elder Brother, moral, hard-working, patient, dutiful—let him get all credit for his virtues—look at this man, this baby, sulking outside his own father’s door. “He was angry,” we read, “and would not go in.” Look at the effect upon the father, upon the servants, upon the happiness of the guests. Judge of the effect upon the Prodigal—and how many prodigals are kept out of the kingdom of God by the unlovely character of those who profess to be inside? Analyze, as a study in temper, the thunder-cloud itself as it gathers upon the Elder Brother’s brow. What is it made of? Jealousy, anger, pride, uncharity, cruelty, self-righteousness, touchiness, doggedness, sullenness—these are the ingredients of this dark and loveless soul. In varying proportions, also, these are the ingredients of all ill temper. Judge if such sins of the disposition are not worse to live in, and for others to live with, than sins of the body. Did Christ indeed not answer the question Himself when He said, “I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of heaven before you.” There is really no place in heaven for a disposition like this. A man with such a mood could only make heaven miserable for all the people in it. Except, therefore, such a man be born again, he cannot, he simply cannot, enter the kingdom of heaven. For it is perfectly certain—and you will not misunderstand me—that to enter heaven a man must take it with him.

You will see then why temper is significant. It is not in what it is alone, but in what it reveals. This is why I take the liberty now of speaking of it with such unusual plainness. It is a test for love, a symptom, a revelation of an unloving nature at bottom. It is the intermittent fever which bespeaks unintermittent disease within; the occasional bubble escaping to the surface which betrays some rottenness underneath; a sample of the most hidden products of the soul dropped involuntarily when off one’s guard; in a word, the lightning form of a hundred hideous and unchristian sins. For a want of patience, a want of kindness, a want of generosity, a want of courtesy, a want of unselfishness, are all instantaneously symbolized in one flash of temper.

Hence it is not enough to deal with the temper. We must go to the source, and change the inmost nature, and the angry humors will die away of themselves. Souls are made sweet not by taking the acid fluids out, but by putting something in—a great love, a new spirit, the spirit of Christ. Christ, the spirit of Christ, interpenetrating ours, sweetens, purifies, transforms all. This only can eradicate what is wrong, work a chemical change, renovate and regenerate, and rehabilitate the inner man. Will-power does not change men. Time does not change men. Christ does. Therefore, “Let that mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Some of us have not much time to lose. Remember, once more, that this is a matter of life or death. I cannot help speaking urgently, for myself, for yourselves. “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones, which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” That is to say, it is the deliberate verdict of the Lord Jesus that it is better not to live than not to love. It is better not to live than not to love.

Guilelessness and sincerity may be dismissed almost without a word. Guilelessness is the grace for suspicious people. And the possession of it is the great secret of personal influence. You will find, if you think for a moment, that the people who influence you are people who believe in you. In an atmosphere of suspicion men shrivel up; but in that other atmosphere they expand, and find encouragement and educative fellowship. It is a wonderful thing that here and there in this hard, uncharitable world there should still be left a few rare souls who think no evil. This is the great unworldliness. Love “thinketh no evil,” imputes no bad motive, sees the bright side, puts the best construction on every action. What a delightful state of mind to live in! What stimulus and benediction even to meet with it for a day! To be trusted is to be saved. And if we try to influence or elevate others, we shall soon see that success is in proportion to their belief of our belief in them. For the respect of another is the first restoration of the self-respect a man has lost; our ideal of what he is becomes to him the hope and pattern of what he may become.

“Love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.” I have called this sincerity from the words rendered in the Authorized Version by “rejoiceth in the truth.” And, certainly, were this the real translation, nothing could be more just. For he who loves will love truth not less than men. He will rejoice in the truth—rejoice not in what he has been taught to believe; not in this Church’s doctrine or in that; not in this ism or in that ism; but “in the truth.” He will accept only what is real; he will strive to get at facts; he will search for truth with an humble and unbiased mind, and cherish whatever he finds at any sacrifice. But the more literal translation of the Revised Version calls for just such a sacrifice for truth’s sake here. For what Paul really meant is, as we there read, “Rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth,” a quality which probably no one English word—and certainly not sincerity—adequately defines. It includes, perhaps more strictly, the self-restraint which refuses to make capital out of others’ faults; the charity which delights not in exposing the weakness of others, but “covereth all things”; the sincerity of purpose which endeavors to see things as they are, and rejoices to find them better than suspicion feared or calumny denounced.

So much for the analysis of love. Now the business of our lives is to have these things in our characters. That is the supreme work to which we need to address ourselves in this world to learn love. Is life not full of opportunities for learning love? Every man and woman every day has a thousand of them. The world is not a playground; it is a schoolroom. Life is not a holiday, but an education. And the one eternal lesson for us all is how better we can love. What makes a man a good cricketer? Practice. What makes a man a good artist, a good sculptor, a good musician? Practice. What makes a man a good linguist, a good stenographer? Practice. What makes a man a good man. Practice. Nothing else. There is nothing capricious about religion. We do not get the soul in different ways, under different laws, from those in which we get the body and the mind. If a man does not exercise his arm he develops no biceps muscle; and if he does not exercise his soul, he acquires no muscle in his soul, no strength of character, no vigor of moral fiber nor beauty of spiritual growth. Love is not a thing of enthusiastic emotion. It is a rich, strong, manly, vigorous expression of the whole round Christian character—the Christlike nature in its fullest development. And the constituents of this great character are only to be built up by ceaseless practice.

What was Christ doing in the carpenter’s shop? Practicing. Tho perfect, we read that He learned obedience, and grew in wisdom and in favor with God. Do not quarrel, therefore, with your lot in life. Do not complain of its never-ceasing cares, its petty environment, the vexations you have to stand, the small and sordid souls you have to live and work with. Above all, do not resent temptation; do not be perplexed because it seems to thicken round you more and more, and ceases neither for effort nor for agony nor prayer. That is your practice. That is the practice which God appoints you; and it is having its work in making you patient, and humble, and generous, and unselfish, and kind, and courteous. Do not grudge the hand that is molding the still too shapeless image within you. It is growing more beautiful, tho you see it not, and every touch of temptation may add to its perfection. Therefore keep in the midst of life. Do not isolate yourself. Be among men, and among things, and among troubles, and difficulties, and obstacles. You remember Goethe’s words: Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille, Doch ein Character in dem Strom der Welt. “Talent develops itself in solitude; character in the stream of life.” Talent develops itself in solitude—the talent of prayer, of faith, of meditation, of seeing the unseen; character grows in the stream of the world’s life. That chiefly is where men are to learn love.

How? Now how? To make it easier, I have named a few of the elements of love. But these are only elements. Love itself can never be defined. Light is a something more than the sum of its ingredients—a glowing, dazzling, tremulous ether. And love is something more than all its elements—a palpitating, quivering, sensitive, living thing. By synthesis of all the colors, men can make whiteness, they cannot make light. By synthesis of all the virtues, men can make virtue, they cannot make love. How then are we to have this transcendent living whole conveyed into our souls? We brace our wills to secure it. We try to copy those who have it. We lay down rules about it. We watch. We pray. But these things alone will not bring love into our nature. Love is an effect. And only as we fulfill the right condition can we have the effect produced. Shall I tell you what the cause is?

If you turn to the Revised Version of the First Epistle of John you will find these words: “We love because he first loved us.” “We love,” not “We love him.” That is the way the old version has it, and it is quite wrong. “We love—because he first loved us.” Look at that word “because.” It is the cause of which I have spoken. “Because he first loved us,” the effect follows that we love, we love Him, we love all men. We cannot help it. Because He loved us, we love, we love everybody. Our heart is slowly changed. Contemplate the love of Christ, and you will love. Stand before that mirror, reflect Christ’s character, and you will be changed into the same image from tenderness to tenderness. There is no other way. You cannot love to order. You can only look at the lovely object, and fall in love with it, and grow into likeness to it. And so look at this perfect character, this perfect life. Look at the great sacrifice as He laid down Himself, all through life, and upon the cross of Calvary; and you must love Him. And loving Him, you must become like Him. Love begets love. It is a process of induction. Put a piece of iron in the presence of an electrified body, and that piece of iron for a time becomes electrified. It is changed into a temporary magnet in the mere presence of a permanent magnet, and as long as you leave the two side by side they are both magnets alike. Remain side by side with Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, and you too will become a permanent magnet, a permanently attractive force; and like Him you will draw all men unto you; like Him you will be drawn unto all men. That is the inevitable effect of love. Any man who fulfils that cause must have that effect produced in him. Try to give up the idea that religion comes to us by chance, or by mystery, or by caprice. It comes to us by natural law, or by spiritual law, for all law is divine. Edward Irving went to see a dying boy once, and when he entered the room he just put his hand on the sufferer’s head, and said, “My boy, God loves you,” and went away. And the boy started from his bed, and called out to the people in the house, “God loves me! God loves me!” It changed that boy. The sense that God loved him overpowered him, melted him down, and began the creating of a new heart in him. And that is how the love of God melts down the unlovely heart in man, and begets in him the new creature, who is patient and humble and gentle and unselfish. And there is no other way to get it. There is no mystery about it. We love others, we love everybody, we love our enemies, because He first loved us.

Now I have a closing sentence or two to add about Paul’s reason for singling out love as the supreme possession. It is a very remarkable reason. In a single word it is this: it lasts. “Love,” urges Paul, “never faileth.” Then he begins one of his marvelous lists of the great things of the day, and exposes them one by one. He runs over the things that men thought were going to last, and shows that they are all fleeting, temporary, passing away.

“Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail.” It was the mother’s ambition for her boy in those days that he should become a prophet. For hundreds of years God had never spoken by means of any prophet, and at that time the prophet was greater than the king. Men waited wistfully for another messenger to come, and hung upon his lips when he appeared as upon the very voice of God. Paul says, “Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail.” This book is full of prophecies. One by one they have “failed”; that is, having been fulfilled their work is finished; they have nothing more to do now in the world except to feed a devout man’s faith.

Then Paul talks about tongues. That was another thing that was greatly coveted. “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease.” As we all know, many, many centuries have passed since tongues have been known in this world. They have ceased. Take it in any sense you like. Take it, for illustration merely, as languages in general—a sense which was not in Paul’s mind at all, and which tho it cannot give us the specific lesson will point the general truth. Consider the words in which these chapters were written—Greek. It has gone. Take the Latin—the other great tongue of those days. It ceased long ago. Look at the Indian language. It is ceasing. The language of Wales, of Ireland, of the Scottish Highlands is dying before our eyes. The most popular book in the English tongue at the present time, except the Bible, is one of Dickens’ works, his “Pickwick Papers.” It is largely written in the language of London street-life, and experts assure us that in fifty years it will be unintelligible to the average English reader.

Then Paul goes further, and with even greater boldness adds, “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” The wisdom of the ancients, where is it? It is wholly gone. A schoolboy to-day knows more than Sir Isaac Newton knew. His knowledge has vanished away. You put yesterday’s newspaper in the fire. Its knowledge has vanished away. You buy the old editions of the great encyclopedias for a few cents. Their knowledge has vanished away. Look how the coach has been superseded by the use of steam. Look how electricity has superseded that, and swept a hundred almost new inventions into oblivion. One of the greatest living authorities, Sir William Thompson, said the other day, “The steam-engine is passing away.” “Whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.” At every workshop you will see, in the back yard, a heap of old iron, a few wheels, a few levers, a few cranks, broken and eaten with rust. Twenty years ago that was the pride of the city. Men flocked in from the country to see the great invention; now it is superseded, its day is done. And all the boasted science and philosophy of this day will soon be old. But yesterday, in the University of Edinburgh, the greatest figure in the faculty was Sir James Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform. The other day his successor and nephew, Professor Simpson, was asked by the librarian of the university to go to the library and pick out the books on his subject that were no longer needed. And his reply to the librarian was this: “Take every text-book that is more than ten years old, and put it down in the cellar.” Sir James Simpson was a great authority only a few years ago; men came from all parts of the earth to consult him; and almost the whole teaching of that time is consigned by the science of to-day to oblivion. And in every branch of science it is the same. “Now we know in part. We see through a glass darkly.”

Can you tell me anything that is going to last? Many things Paul did not condescend to name. He did not mention money, fortune, fame; but he picked out the great things of his time, the things the best men thought had something in them, and brushed them peremptorily aside. Paul had no charge against these things in themselves. All he said about them was that they would not last. They were great things, but not supreme things. There were things beyond them. What we are stretches past what we do, beyond what we possess. Many things that men denounce as sins are not sins; but they are temporary. And that is a favorite argument of the New Testament. John says of the world, not that it is wrong, but simply that it “passeth away.” There is a great deal in the world that is delightful and beautiful; there is a great deal in it that is great and engrossing; but it will not last. All that is in the world, the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, are but for a little while. Love not the world therefore. Nothing that it contains is worth the life and consecration of an immortal soul. The immortal soul must give itself to something that is immortal. And the immortal things are: “Now abideth faith, hope, love, but the greatest of these is love.”

Some think the time may come when two of these three things will also pass away—faith into sight, hope into fruition. Paul does not say so. We know but little now about the conditions of the life that is to come. But what is certain is that love must last. God, the eternal God, is love. Covet therefore that everlasting gift, that one thing which it is certain is going to stand, that one coinage which will be current in the universe when all the other coinages of all the nations of the world shall be useless and unhonored. You will give yourselves to many things, give yourselves first to love. Hold things in their proportion. Hold things in their proportion. Let at least the first great object of our lives be to achieve the character defended in these words, the character—and it is the character of Christ—which is built round love.

I have said this thing is eternal. Did you ever notice how continually John associates love and faith with eternal life? I was not told when I was a boy that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should have everlasting life.” What I was told, I remember, was, that God so loved the world that, if I trusted in Him, I was to have a thing called peace, or I was to have rest, or I was to have joy, or I was to have safety. But I had to find out for myself that whosoever trusteth in Him—that is, whosoever loveth Him, for trust is only the avenue to love—hath everlasting life. The gospel offers a man life. Never offer men a thimbleful of gospel. Do not offer them merely joy, or merely peace, or merely rest, or merely safety; tell them how Christ came to give men a more abundant life than they have, a life abundant in love, and therefore abundant in salvation for themselves, and large in enterprise for the alleviation and redemption of the world. Then only can the gospel take hold of the whole of a man, body, soul, and spirit, and give to each part of his nature its exercise and reward. Many of the current gospels are addressed only to a part of man’s nature. They offer peace, not life; faith, not love; justification, not regeneration. And men slip back again from such religion because it has never really held them. Their nature was not all in it. It offered no deeper and gladder life-current than the life that was lived before. Surely it stands to reason that only a fuller love can compete with the love of the world.

To love abundantly is to live abundantly, and to love forever is to live forever. Hence, eternal life is inextricably bound up with love. We want to live forever for the same reason that we want to live to-morrow. Why do we want to live to-morrow? It is because there is some one who loves you, and whom you want to see to-morrow, and be with, and love back. There is no other reason why we should live on than that we love and are beloved. It is when a man has no one to love him that he commits suicide. So long as he has friends, those who love him and whom he loves, he will live; because to live is to love. Be it but the love of a dog, it will keep him in life; but let that go and he has no contact with life, no reason to live. He dies by his own hand. Eternal life is to know God, and God is love. This is Christ’s own definition. Ponder it. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Love must be eternal. It is what God is. On the last analysis, then, love is life. Love never faileth, and life never faileth, so long as there is love. That is the philosophy of what Paul is showing us; the reason why in the nature of things love should be the supreme thing—because it is going to last; because in the nature of things it is an eternal life. It is a thing that we are living now, not that we get when we die; that we shall have a poor chance of getting when we die unless we are living now. No worse fate can befall a man in this world than to live and grow old all alone, unloving and unloved. To be lost is to live in an unregenerate condition, loveless and unloved; and to be saved is to love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth already in God; for God is love.

Now I have all but finished. How many of you will join me in reading this chapter once a week for the next three months? A man did that once and it changed his whole life. You might begin by reading it every day, especially the verses which describe the perfect character. “Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself.” Get these ingredients into your life. Then everything that you do is eternal. It is worth doing. It is worth giving time to. No man can become a saint in his sleep; and to fulfil the condition required demands a certain amount of prayer and meditation and time, just as improvement in any direction, bodily or mental, requires preparation and care. Address yourselves to that one thing; at any cost have this transcendent character exchanged for yours. You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments that stand out, the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love. As memory scans the past, above and beyond all the transitory pleasures of life, there leap forward those supreme hours when you have been enabled to do unnoticed kindnesses to those around about you, things too trifling to speak about, but which you feel have entered into your eternal life. I have seen almost all the beautiful things God has made; I have enjoyed almost every pleasure that He has planned for man; and yet as I look back I see standing out above all the life that has gone four or five short experiences when the love of God reflected itself in some poor imitation, some small act of love of mine, and these seem to be the things which alone of all one’s life abide. Everything else in all our lives is transitory. Every other good is visionary. But the acts of love which no man knows about, or can ever know about, they never fail.

In the Book of Matthew, where the judgment day is depicted for us in the imagery of One seated upon a throne and dividing the sheep from the goats, the test of a man then is not, “How have I believed?” but “How have I loved?” The test of religion, the final test of religion, is not religiousness, but love. I say the final test of religion at that great day is not religiousness, but love; not what I have done, not what I have believed; not what I have achieved, but how I have discharged the common charities of life. Sins of commission in that awful indictment are not even referred to. By what we have not done, by sins of omission, we are judged. It could not be otherwise. For the withholding of love is the negation of the spirit of Christ, the proof that we never knew Him, that for us He lived in vain. It means that He suggested nothing in all our thoughts, that He inspired nothing in all our lives, that we were not once near enough to Him to be seized with the spell of His compassion for the world. It means that

I lived for myself, I thought for myself,

For myself, and none beside—

Just as if Jesus had never lived,

As if He had never died.

It is the Son of Man before whom the nations of the world shall be gathered. It is in the presence of humanity that we shall be charged. And the spectacle itself, the mere sight of it, will silently judge each one. Those will be there whom we have met and helped; or there, the unpitied multitude whom we neglected or despised. No other witness need be summoned. No other charge than lovelessness shall be preferred. Be not deceived. The words which all of us shall one day hear sound not of theology but of life, not of churches and saints but of the hungry and the poor, not of creeds and doctrines but of shelter and clothing, not of Bibles and prayer-books but of cups of cold water in the name of Christ. Thank God the Christianity of to-day is coming nearer the world’s need. Live to help that on. Thank God men know better, by a hairbreadth, what religion is, what God is, who Christ is, where Christ is. Who is Christ? He who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick. And where is Christ? Where?—Whoso shall receive a little child in My name receiveth Me. And who are Christ’s? Every one that loveth is born of God.[1]

 

 

[1] Drummond, H. (1908). The Greatest Thing in The World. In G. Kleiser (Ed.), The World’s Great Sermons: Drummond to Jowett (Vol. 10, pp. 3–35). New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls. (Public Domain)

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Psalm 27

Psalm 27

A sufferer, surrounded by enemies intent on his destruction, and deprived of human help, implores divine assistance and expresses his assured hope of obtaining it. The expression of confidence occurs at the beginning and the end, the description of the danger and the prayer for deliverance in the body of the psalm. If God be for him, and admit him to his household, he is satisfied and safe, ver. 1–6. With this persuasion he implores that God will interpose for his deliverance from present danger, ver. 7–12. If he did not believe that God would grant his request he must despair; but as he does believe it, he encourages himself to wait for it, ver. 13, 14. There is no apparent reference to any particular historical occasion, but an obvious intention to provide a vehicle of pious sentiment for all God’s people under the form of trial here described.

1. By David. Jehovah (is) my light and my salvation; of whom shall I be afraid? Jehovah (is) the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be in dread? As darkness is a common figure for distress, and light for relief from it, the same idea is here twice expressed, first in a figurative form as light, and then more literally as salvation. These terms are applied to God, by a natural and common figure of speech, as the source or dispenser of light and salvation. Compare Micah 7:8. The interrogations imply negation of the strongest kind. The form of expression is imitated in Rom. 8:31–35.—The noun מָעזוֹ is sometimes used as an abstract, strength; but its proper meaning, as its very form denotes, is local. The stronghold or fortress of my life, that which makes my life as safe as walls and fortifications. The variation of the verbs in the two clauses is merely rhetorical, without any change in the idea.

2. In the drawing near against me of evil-doers, to devour my flesh, (in the drawing near of) my adversaries and my enemies to me, (it is) they (that) have stumbled and fallen. Even in the most imminent dangers which have hitherto befallen me, the divine protection has enabled me to see those who sought to overwhelm me overwhelmed themselves. Evil-doers, not only against me, but in general. It was not because they were his enemies merely, but because they were the enemies of God, that he so easily subdued them.—To eat my flesh, a figure borrowed from the habits of wild beasts. Compare Job 19:22, Ps. 14:4, 35:1.—To me is to be construed not with enemies, but with the verb, as in Job 33:22. See below, on Ps. 55:19. The pronoun expressed in the last clause is emphatic, “They themselves, not I, as they expected, fell.”

3. If there encamp against me an encampment, my heart shall not fear; if there arise against me war, (even) in this (case) I (am) confident. With the sentiment of this verse compare Ps. 3:7 (6). The primary meaning of the noun in the first clause is retained in the translation for the sake of its assonance with the verb, which is lost in the common version, although marked in the original. By encampment, however, must be understood the men encamped, the host, the army.—In this, even in this extremity. Compare Lev. 26:27, Job 1:22. The common version, in this will I be confident, although ambiguous, appears to mean, “I will confide in this, i.e. in the fact that Jehovah is my light and my salvation.” This construction is grammatical, and yields a good sense, but the other is more pointed and emphatic, and the absolute use of בּוֹטֵחַ in the sense of safe, secure, is justified by Judges 18:27, Jer. 12:5, Prov. 11:15.

4. One (thing) have I asked from Jehovah, (and) that will I (still) seek, that I may dwell in the house of Jehovah, to gaze at the beauty of Jehovah, and to inquire in his temple. To dwell in the house of the Lord is not merely to frequent his sanctuary as a place of worship, but to be a member of his household, and as such in intimate communion with him. See above, on Ps. 15:1, 23:6.—Beauty, loveliness, desirableness, all that makes God an object of affection and desire to the believer. See below, on Ps. 90:17. Some take the last verb in the secondary sense of meditating; but the proper one of inquiring is entirely appropriate.—Temple, properly palace, the earthly residence of the great King, and therefore equally appropriate to the temple and the tabernacle. See above, on Ps. 5:8 (7).

5. For he will hide me in his covert in the day of evil; he will secrete me in the secrecy of his tent; on a rock he will set me high. This verse assigns his reason for wishing to be still a member of Jehovah’s household, namely, because there he is sure of effectual protection.—The word translated covert means a booth or shelter made of leaves and branches, such as the Jews used at the feast of tabernacles (Lev. 23:42). It is here used as a figure for secure protection in the day of evil, i.e. of suffering or danger.—Secrete and secrecy are used in the translation to represent the cognate verb and noun in Hebrew.—By his tent, as appears from the preceding verse, we are to understand the tabernacle, not considered merely as a place of public worship, but as Jehovah’s earthly residence, his mansion. In the last clause the idea of protection is conveyed by an entirely different figure, that of a person placed upon a high rock beyond the reach of danger. See above, on Ps. 9:14 (13), 18:49 (48).

6. And now shall my head be high above my enemies around me, and I will sacrifice in his tabernacle sacrifices of joyful noise; I will sing and make music to Jehovah. And now may either be a formula of logical resumption, as in Ps. 2:10, 39:8 (7), or be taken in its strict sense, as denoting that he not only hopes for future safety, but is ready in the meantime, even now, to thank him publicly for his protection as already realized. The first clause merely amplifies the last of the preceding verse. The next adds the promise of a thank-offering at the tabernacle, which implies an assured hope of deliverance and prosperity. By a joyful noise some understand the blowing of trumpets which accompanied certain offerings (Num. 10:10, 29:1); but as this is never mentioned in connection with private sacrifices, it seems more advisable to rest in the general sense of the expression.

7. Hear, O Jehovah! (with) my voice I will call, and do thou have mercy on me and answer me. The Psalmist here descends from the tone of confident assurance to that of strong desire, prompted by a sense of urgent need.—With my voice, not merely with my mind, but audibly, aloud. See above, on Ps. 3:5 (4).

8. To thee hath said my heartSeek ye my facethy face, Jehovah, will I seek. The general meaning of this verse is obvious enough, although its syntax is exceedingly obscure. The best solution is to take “seek ye my face” as a citation of God’s own words. “My heart has said to thee—(whenever thou hast said) Seek ye my face,—thy face,” &c. Or, “my heart has said to thee—(in answer to thy words) Seek ye my face—thy face,” &c.—My heart hath said, i.e. I have said with or from the heart. See above, on Ps. 11:1. There may be an allusion to Deut. 4:29, from which the expression seek God (2 Sam. 12:16, 2 Chron. 20:4), and seek his face (Ps. 24:6, 105:4) seems to be derived. The idea is that of seeking admission to his presence for the purpose of asking a favor. See above, on Ps. 24:6.

9. Hide not thy face from me, put not away in wrath thy servant; my help thou hast been; forsake me not, and leave me not, (O) God of my salvation! The first petition is that God will not withhold from him the manifestation of his love or favor. See above, on Ps. 4:7 (6).—Put not away, or thrust aside, as one unworthy to be noticed.—Thy servant, and as such entitled to thy kind regard.—My help, i.e. the source and author of my help, my helper. Thou hast been; the past tense is here essential: what thou hast been, continue to be still.—God of my salvation, my Savior God, or God my Savior; see above, on Ps 18:47 (46).

10. For my father and my mother have left me, and Jehovah will take me in. Parents are here put for the nearest friends, whose loss or desertion is frequently complained of in the Psalms as one of the most painful signs of desolation. See Ps. 31:12 (11), 38:12 (11), 69:9 (8), 88:9 (8), and compare Job 19:13. The first clause may also be translated, when my father and my mother have left me, then the Lord will take me in.—The last expression is applied to the compassionate reception of strangers or wanderers into one’s house. See Josh. 20:4, Judges 19:15, and compare Mat. 25:35, 43. The case described is an ideal one, and may be thus expressed in paraphrase: “The kindness of the nearest earthly friends may cease by death or desertion (for the verb to leave may comprehend both); but the Lord’s compassions cannot fail.”

11. Guide me, Jehovah, (in) thy way, and lead me in a straight (or level) path, because of my adversaries. The way in which he here desires to be led, is not the way of duty but of providence, which he calls a straight or smooth path, as distinguished from the rough or crooked ways of adversity. See above, on Ps. 25:4, 26:12.—Because of my enemies, that they may have no occasion to exult or triumph. Of the many Hebrew words applied to enemies, the one here used is supposed by some to signify malignant watchers for the errors or calamities of others. The one used in the next verse means oppressors or causers of distress.—With this clause compare Ps. 26:12.

12. Give me not up to the will of my enemies; for risen up against me are witnesses of falsehood, and a breather forth of cruelty. The word translated will properly means soul, and is here used for the ruling wish or heart’s desire, as in Ps. 35:25. The second clause assigns the ground or reason of this prayer. As if he had said, I have reason to ask this, for there have risen up, &c.—One breathing violence or cruelty, a strong but natural expression for a person, all whose thoughts and feelings are engrossed by a favorite purpose or employment, so that he cannot live or breathe without it. Compare the description of Saul’s persecuting zeal in Acts 9:1, and the Latin phrases, spirare minas, anhelare scelus.

13. Unless I believed (or fully expected) to look upon the goodness of Jehovah in the land of life. This is an instance of the figure called aposiopesis, in which the conclusion of the sentence is suppressed, either from excitement and hurried feeling, or because of some unwillingness to utter what is necessary to complete it. Thus in this case the apodosis would probably have been, I would despair, or I must have perished. (Compare Ps. 119:92.) Of the other cases usually cited, that in Gen. 31:42 especially resembles this, because the sentence opens with a similar conditional expression.—To look upon, not merely to behold, but to gaze at with delight. See above on Ps. 22:18 (17).—The land of life, as opposed to that of darkness and the shadow of death (Job 10:21), seems to be a more correct translation than the common one, land of the living.

14. Wait thou for Jehovah; be firm, and may he strengthen thy heart; and wait thou for Jehovah! Instead of finishing the inauspicious sentence which he had begun, he interrupts himself with an earnest exhortation to await the fulfilment of God’s promises, to hope in him. See above, on Ps. 25:3.—The optative and causative senses of the third verb (יַֽאֲמֵץ) are both determined by its form, which equally forbids the versions, let thy heart be strong, and he will strengthen it.—The repetition, wait for the Lord, and wait for the Lord, implies that this is all he has to enjoin upon himself or others, and is more impressive, in its native simplicity, than the correct but periphrastic version of the last clause in the English Bible, wait, I say, upon the Lord.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 120–123). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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Psalm 26

Psalm 26

An appeal to God’s justice and omniscience, ver. 1–3, enforced by a disavowal of all sympathy and communion with the wicked, ver. 4–6, and a profession of devotion to God’s service, ver. 7, 8, with an earnest prayer to be delivered from the death of those whose life he abhors, ver. 9, 10, and an expression of strong confidence that God will hear his prayer, ver. 11, 12. There is a certain similarity of form between this psalm and the foregoing, which, together with their collocation in the Psalter, makes it not improbable that they were designed to constitute a pair or double psalm.

1. By David. Judge me, Jehovah, for I in my integrity have walked, and in Jehovah I have trusted; I shall not swerve (or slip). The correctness of the title is confirmed by the resemblance of the psalm itself to several, the authorship of which is undisputed, more especially Ps. 15. 17. 18. 24.—Judge me, do me justice, vindicate or clear me. See above, on Ps. 17:1, 2.—In my integrity of purpose and of principle. To this is added its inseparable adjunct, trust in God.—Walked, lived, pursued a certain course of conduct. See above, on Ps. 1:1. The last clause is by some explained as the expression of a wish, let me not be moved. But there is no reason for departing from the strict sense of the future, as expressing a confident anticipation. Swerve, as in Ps. 18:37 (36), 37:31.

2. Try me, Jehovah, and prove me; assay my reins and my heart. The first verb is supposed by etymologists to signify originally trial by touch, the second by smell, and the third by fire. In usage, however, the second is constantly applied to moral trial or temptation, while the other two are frequently applied to the testing of metals by the touchstone or the furnace. This is indeed the predominant usage of the third verb, which may therefore be represented by the technical metallurgic term, assay. See above, on Ps. 17:3, where two of the same verbs occur.—Reins and heart are joined, as seats of the affections. See above, on Ps. 7:10 (9).—The prayer of this verse is an appeal to God’s omniscience for the psalmist’s integrity of purpose, which agrees much better with the context than the explanation of צרופה as a participle, and of the last clause as an affirmation, purified (or purged) are my reins and my heart.

3. For thy mercy (is) before my eyes, and I have walked in thy truth. This verse assigns a reason for his confident persuasion that he shall not slide, to wit, because God’s mercy is before his eyes, literally, in front of them, i.e. constantly in view, as an object of memory and ground of hope. He is also encouraged by his previous experience of God’s truth or faithfulness. See above, on Ps. 25:5. The verb translated walked is an intensive form of that used in ver. 1 above, and ver. 11 below. It means properly to walk about or to and fro, and expresses more distinctly than the primitive verb, the idea of continuous habitual action. “My constant experience of thy mercy and thy faithfulness assure me that I shall not fall away hereafter.”

4. I have not sat with men of falsehood, and with hidden (men) I will not go. He is further encouraged to believe that he will be sustained because he has not hitherto espoused the cause of those who hate God.—Men of falsehood, liars or deceivers, which appears to suit the context better than the wider sense of vain men, i.e. destitute of all moral goodness, good for nothing, worthless. See above, on Ps. 5:7 (6), 24:4. The same class of persons are described in the last clause as masked, disguised, or hypocritical.—Sat, not merely in their company, but in their councils, taking part in their unlawful machinations. The change of tense is anything rather than unmeaning. “I have not sat with them in time past, and I will not go with them in time to come.” The form of expression is borrowed from Gen. 49:6.

6. I will wash in innocence my hands, and will compass thy altar, O Jehovah! To the negative professions of the two preceding verses he now adds a positive declaration of his purpose. Not content with abstaining from all share in the counsels of the wicked, he is fully resolved to adhere to the service of the Lord. He will cleanse himself from all that would unfit him for that service, and then cleave to the sanctuary where God dwells. The expression in the first clause seems to be copied from Gen. 20:5, and the symbol or emblem from Deut. 21:6. (Compare Mat. 27:24.) Whether compassing the altar be explained to mean going round it in procession, or embracing it, the idea expressed is still that of close adherence and devoted attachment.

7. To make known with a voice of thanksgiving, and to recount all thy wondrous works. The object of the acts described in the preceding verse was to promote God’s glory. To make known, literally to cause to hear or to be heard. The clause admits of several constructions. 1. To publish thanksgivings with the voice. 2. To publish with a thankful voice, without expressing what. 3. To publish and recount all thy wondrous works with a voice of thanksgiving. The last is on the whole entitled to the preference.—The last word in the verse is a passive participle, meaning wonderfully made or done. The plural feminine is used indefinitely like the neuter in Greek and Latin, to mean things done wonderfully, which is also the idea of the common version, wondrous works.

8. Jehovah, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place of the dwelling of thy glory. This verse expresses more directly and literally the idea of ver. 6 above, and shews that his compassing the altar was intended to denote his love for the earthly residence of God, the altar being there put for the whole sanctuary, which is here distinctly mentioned. The habitation of thy house might be understood to mean a residence in it; but the usage of the first noun and the parallelism shew that it rather means the place where thy house dwells, perhaps in allusion to the migratory movements of the ark and its appendages before the time of David. So too in the last clause, Hebrew usage would admit of the translation, thy glorious dwelling-place, as in Ps. 20:7 (6); but the use of כָּבוֹד, in the Pentateuch, to signify the visible presence of Jehovah (Exod. 24:16, 40:34, 35), seems decisive in favor of explaining it the place where thy glory dwells, i.e. where the glorious God is pleased to manifest his presence.

9. Take not away my soul with sinners, and with men of blood my life. The primary meaning of the first verb is to gather, as a harvest or as fruit, a figure not unfrequently applied in various languages to death, here described as the taking away of the life or soul. This verse and the next contain a prayer that he may die as he has lived; that since he has had no community of interest or feeling with ungodly men in life, he may not be united with them in his death.—Men of blood, literally bloods, i.e. murderers, either in the strict sense or by metonymy for sinners of the worst class. See above, on Ps. 5:7 (6). Another idiomatic plural in this sentence is the word lives at the end, which is used as an abstract simply equivalent to life in English.

10. In whose hands is crime, and their right hand is filled with a bribe. The first clause exhibits the peculiar construction of the relative in Hebrew with the personal pronoun expressed, of which it is the substitute in other languages. Who (or as to whom)—in their hands (is) crime. This last word (זִמָּה) is a very strong one, used in the Law to denote specifically acts of gross impurity, but signifying really any wicked act or purpose The common version, mischief, is too weak. The last word in the verse denotes especially a judicial bribe (Ps. 15:5), and may be intended to suggest that the whole description has reference to unrighteous rulers, or to wicked men in public office.

11. And I in my integrity will walk; redeem me and be merciful to me. The use of the conjunction and emphatic pronoun is the same as in Ps. 2:6 above. Our idiom would require an adversative conjunction, but I, in opposition to the sinners just described, but as for me, I will still walk as I have done in sincerity and simplicity of purpose. The obvious contrast of the tenses here and in ver. 1, may serve to shew how seldom they are used promiscuously or confounded.—That the Psalmist’s perfection or integrity was neither absolute nor inherent, is clear from the petition of the last clause. He expects still to be perfect, not because he is without sin, but because he hopes to be redeemed from its dominion through the mercy of Jehovah.

12. My foot stands in an even place; in the assemblies will I bless Jehovah. As a state of danger and distress might be compared to a precipitous and rugged path, so one of ease and safety is denoted by a smooth or level path. My foot (now) stands, or has (at last) stood, found a resting-place, implying previous wanderings and hardships.—The assemblies primarily meant are no doubt the stated congregations at the sanctuary. The determination to praise God implies a strong assurance that the occasion for so doing will be granted. See above, on Ps. 5:8 (7). The whole verse indeed is an expression of confident belief that God will hear and answer the foregoing prayers, and thus, as in many other psalms, we are brought back at the conclusion to the starting-point. Compare the last clause of ver. 1.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 117–120). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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Psalm 25

Psalm 25

The first of the alphabetical psalms, in which the verses begin with the different Hebrew letters in their order, an arrangement peculiar to those psalms, in which a single theme or idea is repeated under various forms, and, as it were, in a series of aphorisms. Now and then, in order to complete the expression of the thought, the series of the letters is neglected, either by repeating or omitting one. In this psalm, for example, two successive verses begin with א, and two with ר, while ו and ק are left out. The first verse, however, does not properly belong to the alphabetical series, but constitutes one sentence with the short verse at the end, which is added after the completion of the alphabet. The theme which runs through this psalm is deliverance from enemies, occasionally blended with a prayer for the divine forgiveness.

1. By David. Unto thee, Jehovah, my soul will I lift up, or as some explain it, bring or carry. All agree, however, that the essential idea is that of confident desire. See above, on Ps. 24:4, and compare Ps. 86:4, 143:8, below, where the phrase occurs again. The sentiment expressed is that of settled confidence in God, to the exclusion of all other helpers.

2. My God, in thee have I trusted, let me not be ashamed; let not my enemies triumph over me, or more exactly, with respect to me. As the future verb of the preceding verse implies a fixed determination to confide in God hereafter, so the preterite in this verse indicates that such trust has been exercised already. The present is included under both forms.—Ashamed, disappointed, defeated in my plans and expectations. See above, on Ps. 22:6 (5).—The last clause shews that suffering from enemies was in the Psalmist’s mind throughout.

3. Likewise all (those) waiting for thee shall not be ashamed, ashamed shall be the traitors without cause. He does not ask for any special dispensation in his own behalf, but merely for a fair participation in God’s customary mode of dealing with the whole class of which he is a member, here described as those waiting for God, i.e. hoping in him, awaiting the fulfilment of his promises. The modern English sense of waiting on is too restricted, though the phrase once exactly corresponded to the Hebrew.—The position of the verbs, at the end and the beginning of successive clauses, gives a peculiar turn to the sentence, which is lost in some translations.—Without cause qualifies the word immediately preceding, and describes the enemy not only as perfidious, but as acting so gratuitously, and without provocation. See above, on Ps. 7:5 (4), and below, on Ps. 35:19, 38:20 (19), 69:5 (4).

4. Thy ways, Jehovah, make me know; thy paths teach me. As the ways of God, throughout this psalm, are the same as in Deut. 32:4, namely his dispensations towards his people, the way in which he orders their condition and disposes of their lot, the teaching prayed for must be that of experience. “Let me know in my own case what it is to be guided and protected and provided for by God himself.” This meaning suits the context better than that of moral guidance, which however is implied, if not expressed.

5. Make me walk in thy truth and teach me, for thou (art) the God of my salvation; for thee have I waited all the day. The obvious meaning of this verse, interpreted according to New Testament and modern usage, would be that of a prayer for divine instruction in religious truth or doctrine. But the usage of the Psalms, and the preceding context, are in favor of explaining truth to mean the veracity of God, or the faithful performance of his promises. See Ps. 30:10 (9), 71:22, 91:4. The teaching asked is then experimental teaching, or the actual experience of God’s faithfulness.—The God of my salvation, or my Savior God. See above, on Ps. 18:47 (46).—I have waited. This is no new or untried exercise of faith, to be attempted for the first time, but one with which I have been long familiar.—All the day, continually, always.

6. Remember thy mercies, O Jehovah, and thy favors, for from eternity are they. The prayer for future favors is here founded upon those experienced already.—Of old is an inadequate translation of מֵעוֹלָם, and even in the stronger form, ever of old, less exact and expressive than the literal translation from eternity, to which there is the less objection here, as the words relate not merely to God’s acts but to his attributes.

7. The sins of my youth and my transgressions (O) remember not; according to thy mercy remember thou me, for the sake of thy goodness, O Jehovah! Among the mercies which he craves, the most important is the pardon of his sins, not only in itself considered, but as that without which all the others must be worthless. The sins of his youth are mentioned as the earliest in date, and probably as those committed with the least restraint, at an age when reflection is subordinate to passion. Compare Job 13:26, 2 Tim. 2:22. Besides the obvious reference to the youthful sins of individuals, there may be also an allusion to the national iniquities of Israel, committed in the period of their childhood as a people, namely, that of their sojourn in the wilderness. See below, on ver. 22, and compare Deut. 9:7.

8. Good and upright (is) Jehovah; therefore will he guide sinners in the way. Not only the goodness, but the rectitude of the divine nature requires the exercise of covenanted mercy. The second epithet is borrowed from Deut. 32:4.—The way meant in the last clause is the way of safety or salvation. What is meant may be either that God guides sinners into it by converting them, or that he guides those sinners in it who are still his people, as the same person claims to be both righteous and a sinner in Ps. 41:5, 13, (4, 12). Hence perhaps he uses the indefinite term sinners, not the distinctive phrase the sinners, or the more emphatic epithet, the wicked.

9. He will guide humble (sinners) in justice, and teach humble (sinners) his way. The common version of ענוים, meek, is too restricted and descriptive of mere temper. The Hebrew word is the nearest equivalent to humble in its strong religious sense. The omission of the article may be explained as a poetic license, and the word translated the humble, so as to include the whole class. But the intimate connection between this verse and the one before it, makes it more natural to take ענוים as a description of the sinners mentioned in ver. 8, who are then of course to be regarded as penitent believing sinners, i.e. as true converts. In justice, i.e. in the exercise of justice, as before explained. The way and the teaching are the same as in the foregoing context, namely, those of Providence.

10. All the paths of Jehovah (are) mercy and truth to the keepers of his covenant and his testimonies. The paths of Jehovah are the paths in which he walks himself, in other words, the ways in which he deals with his creatures.—Truth, veracity, fidelity. See above, on ver. 5. A similar combination occurs, John 1:14. The last clause shews that the preceding promises are limited to those who are in covenant with God.—Keepers, observers, those obeying.—His covenant, the commands to which his promise is annexed. The same are called his testimonies against sin and in behalf of holiness. See above, on Ps. 19:8 (7).

11. For the sake of thy name (wilt thou do this), and wilt pardon my iniquity because it is great. The form of the verb (וְסָלַחְתַּ) is one that is commonly preceded by a future, which may here be readily supplied, so as to make the first clause refer to the preceding promises. For thy name’s sake, for the honor of thy nature and thy attributes, as heretofore revealed in act. See above on Ps. 23:3. The emphatic pronoun at the end (רֵב־הוּא) may possibly refer to the remoter antecedent, as in Ps. 22:18 (17). The sense will then be, “and forgive my iniquity because that name is great.” (Compare Mal. 1:11.) There is nothing ungrammatical, however, in the usual construction, which also agrees better with the usage of the adjective (רַב), as denoting rather quantity than elevation, and with the parallel phrase, much transgression (פֶּשַׁע רַב), in Ps. 19:14 (13).

12. Who (is) the man fearing Jehovah? He will guide him in the way he shall choose. In the first clause the form of the original is highly idiomatic; who (is) this, the man, a fearer of Jehovah? See above, on Ps. 24:8.—The ellipsis of the relative in the last clause is common to both idioms.—He guides him, and will guide him. There is not only an affirmation, but a promise. The way, as in the foregoing context, is the providential way in which God directs the course of a man’s life. His choosing it implies not only sovereign authority, but a gracious regard to the interests of his servant.

13. His soul in good shall lodge, and his seed shall possess the land. The parallelism between soul and seed seems to shew that by his soul we are to understand himself, for which the Hebrew has no appropriate expression. The promise, then, includes both himself and his posterity. To lodge, to be at home, to dwell at ease, and by implication, to abide or continue undisturbed. In good, not goodness, but good fortune or prosperity. The verb, translated shall possess, denotes specifically to inherit, or possess as an inheritance, i.e. from generation to generation, in perpetual succession. The land, to wit, the land of Canaan; and as this was the standing promise of the law, uttered even in the Decalogue (Exod. 20:12), it became a formula for all the blessings implicitly embraced in the promise of Canaan to the ancient Israel, and is so used even by our Lord himself, (Mat. 5:5.)

14. The friendship of Jehovah is to (those) fearing him, and his covenant to make them know. The word translated friendship means originally a company of persons sitting together, Ps. 111:1; then familiar conversation, Ps. 55:15 (14); then confidential intercourse, intimacy, friendship, Prov. 3:32; then a confidence or secret, Prov. 11:13. The last sense is commonly preferred in the English version, even when one of the others would be more appropriate, as in this case, where the sense of intimacy, friendship, seems required by the context. The last clause is ambiguous, and may either mean, his covenant is designed to be known by them, or his covenant is designed to make them know, i.e. his way; or in general, to give them knowledge. To make them know his covenant is a forced construction, and forbidden by the collocation of the Hebrew words. The meaning of the whole verse seems to be, that Jehovah condescends to hold familiar intercourse with those who fear him, and enters into covenant relation with them, for the purpose of making them know all that they need know for his service or their own advantage.

15. My eyes (are) always towards Jehovah; for he will bring out from the net my feet. The first clause expresses settled trust and constant expectation. The figure of a net is a favorite one for dangers arising from the craft and spite of enemies. See above, on Ps. 9:16 (15), 10:9.

16. Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me, for lonely and distressed (am) I. The prayer to turn implies that his face was before averted, a common figure in the Psalms for the suspension or withholding of God’s favor. See above, on Ps. 4:7 (6).—The word translated lonely is the same that occurs above, Ps. 22:21 (20).

17. The troubles of my heart have they enlarged; from my distresses do thou bring me out. The plural of the first clause is indefinite, equivalent to a passive construction in English, are enlarged. (Compare the common version of Luke 12:20.) It does not refer even to his enemies specifically, but to all others, as distinguished from his lonely self, and from his sole deliverer.

18. See my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. So long as God leaves him to endure, he is conceived of as not seeing his condition. The prayer that he will see includes the prayer that he will save. The renewed prayer for forgiveness in the last clause seems again to recall to mind the intimate connection between suffering and sin.

19. See my enemies, for they are many, and (with) hatred of violence have hated me. The agency of wicked foes in causing his distresses, which had been referred to in ver. 2, 15, 17, is here again brought into view. The word translated violence is very strong, including the ideas of injustice and cruelty. See above, on Ps. 11:6 (5), 18:49 (48).—The past tense represents the enmity as something of long standing.

20. (O) keep my soul and deliver me; let me not be ashamed, for I have trusted in thee. To keep is here to keep in safety, to preserve.—Ashamed, confounded, disappointed. See above, on ver. 2. The word translated trusted is not that employed in ver. 2, but the one which occurs in Ps. 2:12, and which originally means to seek a refuge or a hiding-place. See above, on Ps. 11:2 (1).

21. Integrity and rectitude shall preserve me, because I have waited for thee. The first word means completeness or perfection (integritas), i.e. freedom from essential defect. See above, on Ps. 18:21, 24 (20, 23). Here, however, it may signify the perfect rectitude of God, which will not suffer him to cast off or forsake those who wait for him, i.e. trustfully expect the fulfilment of his promises.

22. Redeem, O God, Israel out of all his troubles! As the psalm was designed, from the first, to be a vehicle of pious feeling and desire for the whole church, it is here wound up with a petition shewing this extent of purpose. The Psalmist prays no longer for himself, but for all Israel. The peculiar name, Jehovah, which had hitherto been used exclusively, is here exchanged for the generic name of God, perhaps in opposition to the human adversaries of the Psalmist, and his total destitution of all human help. This verse forms no part of the alphabetical series, but begins with the same letter as ver. 16. Like the first verse, it consists of a single clause, as if the two together were designed to constitute one sentence.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 113–117). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 7

Chapter VII

Practical Hints to Various Descriptions of Persons

Difference between nominal and real Christians, of the first importance

THUS have we endeavored to trace the chief defects of the religious system of the bulk of professed Christians in this country. We have pointed out their low idea of the importance of Christianity in general; their inadequate conceptions of all its leading doctrines, and the effect hereby naturally produced in relaxing the strictness of its practical system: more than all, we have remarked their grand fundamental misconception of its genius and essential nature. Let not therefore the difference between them and true believers be considered as a trifling difference; as a question of forms or opinions. The question is of the very substance of Religion; the difference is of the most serious and momentous amount. We must speak out: Their Christianity is not Christianity. It wants the radical principle. It is mainly defective in all the grand constituents. Let them no longer, then, be deceived by names in a matter of infinite importance; but, with humble prayer to the Source of all wisdom, that he would enlighten their understandings, and clear their hearts from prejudice, let them seriously examine, by the Scripture standard, their real belief and allowed practice; and they will become sensible of the shallowness of their scanty system.

Helps in self-examination—Frequent sources of self-deception, pointed out

If, through the blessing of Providence on anything which has been here written, any should feel themselves disposed to this important duty of self-inquiry, let me previously warn them to be well aware of our natural proneness to think too favorably of ourselves. Selfishness is one of the principal fruits of the corruption of human nature; and it is obvious that selfishness disposes us to overrate our good qualities, and to overlook or extenuate our defects. The corruption of human nature therefore being admitted, it follows undeniably, that in all our reckonings, if we would form a just estimate of our character, we must make an allowance for the effects of selfishness. It is also another effect of the corruption of human nature, to cloud our moral sight, and blunt our moral sensibility. Something must therefore be allowed for this effect likewise. Doubtless, the perfect purity of the Supreme Being makes him see in us stains, far more in number and deeper in dye, than we ourselves can discover. Nor should another awful consideration be forgotten: When we look into ourselves, those sins only, into which we have lately fallen, are commonly apt to excite any lively impression. Many individual acts of vice, or a continued course of vicious or dissipated conduct, which, when recent, may have smitten us with deep remorse, after a few months or years leave but very faint traces in our recollection; at least, those acts alone continue to strike us strongly, which were of very extraordinary magnitude. But the strong impressions which they at first excited, not the faded images which they subsequently present to us, furnish the juster measure of their guilt: and to the pure eyes of God, this guilt must always have appeared far greater than to us. Now to the Supreme Being, we must believe that there is no past or future: as whatever will be, so whatever has been, is retained by him in present and unvarying contemplation, continuing always to appear just the same as at the first moment of its existence. Well may it then humble us in the sight of that Being “who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,” to remember, that, unless through true repentance and lively faith we have obtained an interest in the satisfaction of Christ, we appear before him at this moment clothed with the sins of our whole lives, in all their original depth of coloring, and with all the aggravations which we no longer particularly remember; but which, in general, we perhaps may recollect to have once filled us with shame and confusion of face. The writer is the rather desirous of enforcing this reflection, because he can truly declare that he has found no consideration so efficacious in producing in his own mind the deepest self-abasement.

In treating of the sources of the erroneous estimates which we form of our religious and moral character, it may not perhaps be without its uses to take this occasion of pointing out some other common springs of self-deception. Many persons, as was formerly hinted, are misled by the favorable opinions entertained of them by others: many also, it is to be feared, mistake a hot zeal for orthodoxy, for a cordial acceptance of the great truths of the Gospel: and almost all of us, at one time or other, are more or less misled, by confounding the suggestions of the understanding with the impulses of the will, the assent which our judgment gives to religious and moral truths, with a hearty belief and approbation of them.

Outgrowing, or merely changing our vices, mistaken for forsaking of all sin

There is another frequent source of self-deception, which is productive of so much mischief in life, that, though it may appear to lead to some degree of repetition, it would be highly improper to omit the mention of it in this place. That we may be the better understood, it may be proper to premise, that certain particular vices, and likewise certain particular good and amiable qualities, seem naturally to belong to certain particular periods, and conditions of life. Now, if we would reason fairly in estimating our moral character, we ought to examine ourselves with reference to that particular “sin which does most easily beset us,” not to some other sin to which we are not nearly so much liable. In like manner, on the other hand, we ought not to account it matter of much self-complacency, if we find in ourselves that good and amiable quality which naturally belongs to our period or condition; but rather look for some less ambiguous sign of a real internal principle of virtue. But we are very apt to reverse these rules of judging: we are apt, on the one hand, both in ourselves and in others, to excuse “the besetting sin,” and take credit for being exempt from others, to which we are less liable; and, on the other hand, to value ourselves extremely on our possession of the good or amiable quality which naturally belongs to us, and to require no more satisfactory evidence of the sufficiency at least of our moral character. The bad effects of this partiality are aggravated by the practice, to which we are sadly prone, of being contented, when we take a hasty view of ourselves, with negative evidences of our state; thinking it very well if we are not shocked by some great actual transgression, instead of looking for the positive marks of a true Christian, as laid down in the holy Scripture.

But the source of self-deception, which it is more particularly our present object to point out, is, a disposition to consider the relinquishment of any particular vice as an actual victory over the vice itself; when, in fact, we only forsake it on quitting the period or condition of life to which that vice belongs, and probably substitute for it the vice of the new period or condition on which we are entering. We thus mistake our merely outgrowing our vices, or relinquishing them from some change in our worldly circumstances, for a thorough, or at least for a sufficient, reformation.

But this topic deserves to be viewed a little more closely. Young people may, without much offence, be inconsiderate and dissipated; the youth of one sex may indulge occasionally in licentious excesses; those of the other may be supremely given up to vanity and pleasure: yet, provided that they are sweet tempered, and open, and not disobedient to their parents or other superiors, the former are deemed good-hearted young men, the latter innocent young women. Those who love them best have no solicitude about their spiritual interests: and it would be deemed strangely strict in themselves, or in others, to doubt of their becoming more religious as they advance in life; and still more to speak of them as being actually under the divine displeasure; or, if their lives should be in danger, to entertain any apprehensions concerning their future destiny.

They grow older, and marry. The same licentiousness, which was formerly considered in young men as a venial frailty, is now no longer regarded in the husband and the father as compatible with the character of a decently religious man. The language is of this sort; “they have sown their wild oats, they must now reform, and be regular.” Nor perhaps is the same manifest predominance of vanity and dissipation deemed innocent in the matron; but if they are kind respectively in their conjugal and parental relations, and are tolerably regular and decent, they pass for mighty good sort of people: and it would be altogether unnecessary scrupulosity in them to doubt of their coming up to the requisitions of the divine law, as far as in the present state of the world can be expected from human frailty. Their hearts, however, are perhaps no more than before supremely set on the great work of their salvation, but are chiefly bent on increasing their fortunes, or raising their families. Meanwhile they congratulate themselves on their having renounced vices, which they are no longer strongly tempted to commit, and the renunciation of which forms no just criterion of the religious principle, since the commission of them would prejudice their characters, and perhaps injure their prospects in life.

Old age has at length made its advances. Now, if ever, we might expect that it would be deemed high time to make eternal things the main object of attention. No such thing! There is still an appropriate good quality, the presence of which calms the disquietude, and satisfies the requisitions both of themselves and of those around them. It is now required of them that they should be good natured and cheerful, indulgent to the frailties and follies of the young; remembering, that when young themselves, they gave into the same practices. How opposite this to that dread of sin, which is the sure characteristic of the true Christian; which causes him to look back upon the vices of his own youthful days with shame and sorrow; and which, instead of conceding to young people to be wild and thoughtless, as a privilege belonging to their age and circumstances, prompts him to warn them against what had proved to himself matter of such bitter reflection! Thus, throughout the whole of life, some means or other are devised for stifling the voice of conscience. “We cry peace, while there is no peace;” and both to ourselves and others that complacency is furnished, which ought only to proceed from a consciousness of being reconciled to God, and a humble hope of our possessing his favor.

Uncharitableness, and true Charity

I know that these sentiments will be termed uncharitable; but I must not be deterred by such an imputation. It is time to have done with that senseless cant of charity, which insults the understanding, and trifles with the feelings, of those who are really concerned for the happiness of their fellow-creatures. What matter of keen remorse and of bitter self-reproaches are they storing up for their future torment, who are themselves the miserable dupes of such misguided charity, or who, being charged with the office of watching over the eternal interests of their children or relations, suffer themselves to be lulled asleep by such shallow reasonings, or be led into a dereliction of their important duty by a fear of bringing on themselves a momentary pain! Charity, indeed, is partial to the object of her regard; and where actions are of a doubtful quality, this partiality disposes her to refer them to a good, rather than to a bad motive. She is apt also somewhat to exaggerate merits, and to see amiable qualities in a light more favorable than that which strictly belongs to them. But true charity is wakeful, fervent, full of solicitude, full of good offices, not so easily satisfied, not so ready to believe that everything is going on well as a matter of course; but jealous of mischief, apt to suspect danger, and prompt to extend relief. These are the symptoms by which genuine regard will manifest itself in a wife or a mother, in a case of the bodily health of the object of her affections. And where there is any real concern for the spiritual interests of others, it is characterized by the same infallible marks. That wretched quality by which the sacred name of charity is now so generally and so falsely usurped, is no other than indifference; which, against the plainest evidence, or at least where there is strong ground of apprehension, is easily contented to believe that all goes well, because it has no anxieties to allay, no fears to repress. It undergoes no alternation of passions; it is not at one time flushed with hope, nor at another chilled by disappointment.

Women naturally more disposed to Religion than men

To a considerate and feeling mind, there is something deeply afflicting, in seeing the engaging cheerfulness and cloudless gaiety incident to youth, welcomed as a sufficient indication of internal purity by the delighted parents; who, knowing the deceitfulness of these flattering appearances, should eagerly avail themselves of this period, when once wasted never to be regained, of good humored acquiescence and dutiful docility: a period when the soft and ductile temper of the mind renders it more easily susceptible of the impressions we desire; and when, therefore, habits should be formed, which may assist our natural weakness to resist the temptations to which we shall be exposed in the commerce of maturer life. This is more especially affecting in the female sex, because that sex seems, by the very constitution of its nature, to be more favorably disposed than ours to the feelings and offices of Religion; being thus fitted by the bounty of Providence, the better to execute the important task which devolves on it, of the education of our earliest youth. Doubtless, this more favorable disposition to Religion in the female sex was graciously designed also to make women doubly valuable in the wedded state: and it seems to afford to the married man the means of rendering an active share in the business of life more compatible than it would otherwise be, with the liveliest devotional feelings; that when the husband should return to his family, worn and harassed by worldly cares or professional labors, the wife, habitually preserving a warmer and more unimpaired spirit of devotion, than is perhaps consistent with being immersed in the bustle of life, might revive his languid piety; and that the religious impressions of both might derive new force and tenderness from the animating sympathies of conjugal affection. Can a more pleasing image be presented to a considerate mind, than that of a couple, happy in each other and in the pledges of their mutual love, uniting in an act of grateful adoration to the Author of all their mercies; recommending each other, and the objects of their common care, to the divine protection; and repressing the solicitude of conjugal and parental tenderness by a confiding hope, that, through all the changes of this uncertain life, the Disposer of all things will assuredly cause all to work together for the good of them that love and put their trust in him; and that, after this uncertain state shall have passed away, they shall be admitted to a joint participation of never-ending happiness? It is surely no mean or ignoble office which we would allot to the female sex, when we would thus commit to them the charge of maintaining in lively exercise whatever emotions most dignify and adorn human nature; when we would make them as it were the medium of our intercourse with the heavenly world, the faithful repositories of religious principle, for the benefit both of the present and of the rising generation. Must it not then excite our grief and indignation, when we behold mothers, forgetful at once of their own peculiar duties, and of the high office which Providence designed their daughters to fulfil, exciting, instead of moderating in them, the natural sanguineness and inconsiderateness of youth; hurrying them night after night to the resorts of dissipation; thus teaching them to despise the common comforts of the family circle; and, instead of striving to raise their views, and to direct their affections to their true object, acting as if with the express design studiously to extinguish every spark of a devotional spirit, and to kindle in its stead an excessive love of pleasure, and, perhaps, a principle of extravagant vanity, and ardent emulation?

Innocent young people—term much abused

Innocent young women! Good-hearted young men! Wherein does this goodness of heart and this innocence appear? Remember, that we are fallen creatures, born in sin, and naturally depraved. Christianity recognizes no innocence or goodness of heart, but in the remission of sin, and in the effects of the operation of divine grace. Do we find in these young persons the characters, which the holy Scriptures lay down as the only satisfactory evidences of a safe state? Do we not, on the other hand, discover the specified marks of a state of alienation from God? Can the blindest partiality persuade itself that they are loving, or striving “to love God with all their hearts, and minds, and souls, and strength?” Are they “seeking first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness?” Are they “working out their salvation with fear and trembling?” Are they “clothed with humility?” Are they not, on the contrary, supremely given up to self-indulgence? Are they not at least “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God?” Are the offices of Religion their solace, or their task? Do they not come to these sacred services with reluctance, continue in them by constraint, and quit them with gladness? And to how many of these persons may not the prophet’s language be applied; “the harp and the viol, the tabret and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands?” Are not the youth of one sex often actually committing, and still more often wishing for the opportunity to commit, those sins, of which the Scripture says expressly, “that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God?” Are not the youth of the other sex principally intent on the gratification of vanity; and looking for their chief happiness to the resorts of gaiety and fashion, and to all the multiplied pleasures, which public places, or the still higher gratifications of more refined circles, can supply?

And then, when the first ebullitions of youthful warmth are over, what is their boasted reformation? They may be decent, sober, useful, respectable, as members of the community, or amiable in the relations of domestic life. But is this the change of which the Scripture speaks? Hear the expressions which it uses, and judge for yourselves—“Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”—“The old man—is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;” an expression but too descriptive of the vain delirium of youthful dissipation, and of the false dreams of pleasure which it inspires; but “the new man” is awakened from this fallacious estimate of happiness; “he is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.”—“He is created after God in righteousness and true holiness.” The persons of whom we are speaking are no longer indeed so thoughtless, and wild, and dissipated, as formerly; so negligent in their attention to objects of real value; so eager in the pursuit of pleasure; so prone to yield to the impulse of appetite. But this is no more than the change of which a writer of no very strict cast speaks, as naturally belonging to their riper age;

Conversis studiis, ætas, animusque virilis

Quærit opes, & amicitias: inservit honori:

Commisisse cavet, quod mox mutare laboret.

Hor.

This is a point of infinite importance: let it not be thought tedious to spend even yet a few more moments in the discussion of it. Put the question to another issue, and try it upon this principle, that life is a state of probation; (a principle true indeed in a certain sense, though not exactly in that which is sometimes assigned to it;) and you will still be led to no very different conclusion. Probation implies resisting, in obedience to the dictates of Religion, appetites which we are naturally prompted to gratify. Young people are not tempted to be churlish, interested, covetous; but to be inconsiderate and dissipated, “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” People again in middle age are not so strongly tempted to be thoughtless, and idle, and licentious. From excesses of this sort they are sufficiently withheld, particularly when happily settled in domestic life, by a regard to their characters, by the restraints of family connections, and by a sense of what is due to the decencies of the married State. Their probation is of another sort; they are tempted to be supremely engrossed by worldly cares, by family interests, by professional objects, by the pursuit of wealth or of ambition. Thus occupied, they are tempted to “mind earthly rather than heavenly things;” to forget “the one thing needful;” to “set their affections” on temporal rather than on eternal concerns; and to take up with “a form of godliness,” instead of seeking to experience the power thereof: the foundations of this nominal Religion being laid in the forgetfulness, if not in the ignorance, of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity. These are the ready-made Christians formerly spoken of, who consider Christianity as a geographical term, properly applicable to all those who have been born and educated in a country wherein Christianity is professed; not as indicating a renewed nature, or as expressive of a peculiar character, with its appropriate desires and aversions, and hopes, and fears, and joys, and sorrows. To people of this description, the solemn admonition of Christ is addressed; “I know thy works; that thou hast a name, that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die; for I have not found thy works perfect before God.”

Hints to such as, having been hitherto careless, wish to become true Christians

If there be any one who is inclined to listen to this solemn warning, who is awakened from his dream of false security, and is disposed to be not only almost but altogether a Christian—O! let him not stifle or dissipate these beginnings of seriousness, but sedulously cherish them as the “workings of the Divine Spirit,” which would draw him from the “broad” and crowded “road of destruction, into the narrow” and thinly peopled path “that leadeth to life.” Let him retire from the multitude—Let him enter into his closet, and on his bended knees implore, for Christ’s sake and in reliance on his mediation, that God would. “take away from him the heart of stone, and give him a heart of flesh;” that the Father of light would open his eyes to his true condition, and clear his heart from the clouds of prejudice, and dissipate the deceitful medium of self-love. Then let him carefully examine his past life, and his present course of conduct; comparing himself with God’s word; and considering how any one might reasonably have been expected to conduct himself, to whom the Holy Scriptures had been always open, and who had been used to acknowledge them to be the revelation of the will of his Creator, and Governor, and Supreme Benefactor: let him there peruse the awful denunciations against impenitent sinners: let him labor to become more and more deeply impressed with a sense of his own radical blindness and corruption: above all, let him steadily contemplate, in all its relations, that stupendous truth, the incarnation and crucifixion of the only-begotten Son of God, and the message of mercy proclaimed from the cross to repenting sinners,—“Be ye reconciled unto God.”—“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

When he fairly estimates the guilt of sin by the costly satisfaction which was required to atone for it, and the worth of his soul by the price which was paid for its redemption, and contrasts both of these with his own sottish inconsiderateness; when he reflects on the amazing love and pity of Christ, and on the cold and formal acknowledgements with which he has hitherto returned this infinite obligation, making light of the precious blood of the Son of God, and trifling with the gracious invitations of his Redeemer; surely, if he be not lost to sensibility, there will rise within him mixed emotions of guilt, and fear, and shame, and remorse, and sorrow, which will nearly overwhelm his soul; and he will smite upon his breast, and cry out in the language of the publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” But, blessed be God, such an one needs not despair—it is to persons in this very situation, and with these very feelings, that the offers of the Gospel are held forth, and its promises assured; “to the weary and heavy laden” under the burthen of their sins; to them who thirst for the water of life; to them who feel themselves “tied and bound by the chain of their sins;” who abhor their captivity, and long earnestly for deliverance. Happy, happy souls! whom the grace of God has visited, “has brought out of darkness into his marvelous light,” and “from the power of Satan unto God.” Cast yourselves then on his undeserved mercy: he is full of love, and will not spurn you from his footstool: surrender yourselves into his hands; and solemnly resolve, through his Grace, to dedicate henceforth all your faculties and powers to his service.

It is your’s now “to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” relying on the fidelity of him who has promised to “work in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Ever look to him for help; your only safety consists in a deep and permanent sense of your own weakness, and in a firm reliance on his strength. If you “give all diligence,” his power is armed for your protection, his truth is pledged for your security. You are enlisted under the banners of Christ—Fear not, though the world, and the flesh, and the devil, are set in array against you.—“Faithful is he that hath promised;”—“be ye also faithful unto death, and he “will give you a crown of life.”—“He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” In such a world as this, in such a state of society as ours, especially if in the higher walks of life, you must be prepared to meet with many difficulties:—arm yourselves, therefore, in the first place, with a determined resolution not to rate human estimation beyond its true value; not to dread the charge of particularity, when it shall be necessary to incur it; but let it be your constant endeavor to retain before your mental eye, that bright assemblage of invisible spectators, who are the witnesses of your daily conduct, and “to seek that honor which cometh from God.” You cannot advance a single step, till you are in some good measure possessed of this comparative indifference to the favor of men. We have before explained ourselves too clearly to render it necessary to declare, that no one should needlessly affect singularity: but to aim at objects that are incompatible with each other, or, in other words, to seek to please God and the world, where their commands are really at variance, is the way to be neither respectable, nor good, nor happy. Continue to be ever aware of your own radical corruption and habitual weakness. Indeed, if your eyes be really opened, and your heart truly softened; if you “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” rising in your ideas of true holiness, and proving the genuineness of your hope by desiring “to purify yourself even as God is pure;” you will become daily more and more sensible of your own defects, and wants, and weaknesses; and more and more impressed by a sense of the mercy and long-suffering of that gracious Savior, “who forgiveth all your sins, and healeth all your infirmities.”

Humility enforced

This is the solution of what, to a man of the world, might seem a strange paradox; that in proportion as the Christian grows in grace, he grows also in humility. Humility is indeed the vital principle of Christianity; that principle by which from first to last she lives and thrives; and in proportion to the growth or decline of which, she must decay or flourish. This first disposes the sinner in deep self-abasement to accept the offers of the Gospel: this, during his whole progress, is the very ground and basis of his feelings and conduct, in relation to God, his fellow-creatures, and himself: and, when at length he shall be translated into the realms of glory, this principle shall still subsist in undiminished force: He shall “fall down, and cast his crown before the Lamb; and ascribe blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, to him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever.” The practical benefits of this habitual lowliness of spirit are too numerous, and at the same time too obvious, to require enumeration. It will lead you to dread the beginnings, and fly from the occasions, of sin; as that man would shun some infectious distemper, who should know that he was predisposed to take the contagion. It will prevent a thousand difficulties, and decide a thousand questions concerning worldly compliances; by which those persons are apt to be embarrassed, who are not duly sensible of their own exceeding frailty, whose views of the Christian character are not sufficiently elevated, and who are not enough possessed with a continual fear of “grieving the Holy Spirit of God,” and of thus provoking him to withdraw his gracious influence. But if you are really such as we have been describing, you need not be urged to set the standard of practice high, and to strive after universal holiness. It is the desire of your hearts to act in all things with a single eye to the favor of God; and thus the most ordinary actions of life will be raised into offices of Religion. This is the purifying, the transmuting principle, which realizes the fabled touch, which changes all to gold. But to this desire of pleasing God, it is essential that we should be continually solicitous to discover the path of duty; that we should not indolently wait for such occasions of glorifying God, as are forced upon us, but pray earnestly to God for a spirit of wisdom and understanding, that we may be acute in discerning opportunities of serving him, judicious in selecting, and wise in improving them. It is essential also that you guard against the distraction of worldly cares; and cultivate heavenly-mindedness, and a spirit of continual prayer; and that you watch incessantly over the workings of your own deceitful heart. To this I must add, that you must be active also, and useful. Let not your precious time be wasted “in shapeless idleness;” an admonition which, in our days, is rendered but too necessary by the relaxed habits of persons even of real piety: but wisely husband and improve this fleeting treasure. Never be satisfied with your present attainments; but, “forgetting the things which are behind,” labor still to “press forward” with undiminished energy, and to run the race that is set before you without weariness or intermission.

Love enforced

Above all, measure your progress by your improvement in love to God and man. “God is Love.” This is the sacred principle, which forced, warms and enlightens the heavenly world, that blessed seat of God’s visible presence. There it shines with unclouded radiance. Some scattered beams of it are graciously transmitted to us on earth, or we had been benighted and lost in darkness and misery; but a larger portion of it is infused into the hearts of the servants of God, who thus “are renewed in the divine likeness,” and even here exhibit some faint traces of the image of their heavenly Father. It is the principle of love which disposes them to yield themselves up without reserve to the service of him, “who bought them with the price of his own blood.”

Base nature of the religion of the bulk of nominal Christians

Servile, and base, and mercenary, is the notion of Christian practice among the bulk of nominal Christians. They give no more than they dare not withhold; they abstain from nothing but what they must not practice. When you state to them the doubtful quality of any action, and the consequent obligation to desist from it, they reply to you in the very spirit of Shylock, “they cannot find it in the bond.” In short, they know Christianity only as a system of restraints. She is despoiled of every liberal and generous principle: she is rendered almost unfit for the social intercourses of life, and is only suited to the gloomy walls of a cloister, in which they would confine her. But true Christians consider themselves not as satisfying some rigorous creditor, but as discharging a debt of gratitude. Theirs accordingly is not the stinted return of a constrained obedience, but the large and liberal measure of a voluntary service. This principle, therefore, prevents a thousand practical embarrassments, by which they are continually harassed, who act from a less generous motive; and who require it to be clearly ascertained to them, that any gratification or worldly compliance, which may be in question, is beyond the allowed boundary line of Christian practice.* This principle regulates the true Christian’s choice of companions and friends, where he is at liberty to make an option; this fills him with the desire of promoting the temporal welfare of all around him, and still more with pity and love, and anxious solicitude for their spiritual happiness. Indifference indeed in this respect is one of the surest signs of a low or declining state in Religion. This animating principle it is, which in the true Christian’s happier hour inspirits his devotions, and causes him to delight in the worship of God; which fills him with consolation, and peace, and gladness, and sometimes even enables him “to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

But this world is not his resting place: here, to the very last, he must be a pilgrim and a stranger; a soldier, whose warfare ends only with life, ever struggling and combating with the powers of darkness, and with the temptations of the world around him, and the still more dangerous hostilities of internal depravity. The perpetual vicissitudes of this uncertain state, the peculiar trials and difficulties with which the life of a Christian is checkered, and still more, the painful and humiliating remembrance of his own infirmities, teach him to look forward, almost with outstretched neck, to that promised day, when he shall be completely delivered from the bondage of corruption, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. In the anticipation of that blessed period, and comparing this churlish and turbulent world, (where competition, and envy, and anger, and revenge, so vex and agitate the sons of men,) with that blissful region where Love shall reign without disturbance, and where all, knit together in bonds of indissoluble friendship, shall unite in one harmonious song of praise to the Author of their common happiness; the true Christian triumphs over the fear of death; he longs to realize these cheering images, and to obtain admission into that blessed company.—With far more justice than it was originally used, he may adopt the beautiful exclamation—“O præclarum illum diem, cum ad illud divinum animorum concilium cœtumque proficiscar, atque ex hac turba et colluvione discedam!”

Falsehood of the objection, that we make Religion a gloomy service

What has been now remarked, concerning the habitual feelings of the real believer, may suggest a reply to an objection common in the mouths of nominal Christians, that we would deny men the innocent amusements and gratifications of life; thus causing our Religion to wear a gloomy, forbidding aspect, instead of her true and natural face of cheerfulness and joy. This is a charge of so serious a nature, that although it lead into a digression, it may not be improper to take some notice of it.

In the first place, Religion prohibits no amusement or gratification which is really innocent. The question, however, of its innocence, must not be tried by the loose maxims of worldly morality, but by the spirit of the injunctions of the word of God; and by the indulgence being conformable or not conformable to the genius of Christianity, and to the tempers and dispositions of mind enjoined on it professors. There can be no dispute concerning the true end of recreations. They are intended to refresh our exhausted bodily or mental powers, and to restore us, with renewed vigor, to the more serious occupations of life. Whatever therefore fatigues either body or mind, instead of refreshing them, is not fitted to answer the designed purpose. Whatever consumes more time, or money, or thought, than it is expedient (I might say necessary) to allot to mere amusement, can hardly be approved by any one, who considers these talents as precious deposits, for the expenditure of which he will have to give account. Whatever directly or indirectly must be likely to injure the welfare of a fellow-creature, can scarcely be a suitable recreation for a Christian, who is “to love his neighbor as himself;” or a very consistent diversion for any one, the business of whose life is to diffuse happiness.

But does a Christian never relax? Let us not so wrong and vilify the bounty of Providence, as to allow for a moment that the sources of innocent amusement are so rare, that men must be driven, almost by constraint, to such as are of a doubtful quality. On the contrary, such has been the Creator’s goodness, that almost every one of our physical and intellectual, and moral faculties (and the same may be said of the whole creation which we see around us) is not only calculated to answer the proper end of its being, by its subserviency to some purpose of solid usefulness, but to be the instrument of administering pleasure.

… Not content

With every food of life to nourish man,

Thou mak’st all nature beauty to his eye

And music to his ear.…

Our Maker also, in his kindness, has so constructed us, that even mere vicissitude is grateful and refreshing—a consideration which should prompt us often to seek, from a prudent variation of useful pursuits, that recreation, for which we are apt to resort to what is altogether unproductive and unfruitful.

Yet rich and multiplied are the springs of innocent relaxation. The Christian relaxes in the temperate use of all the gifts of Providence. Imagination, and taste, and genius, and the beauties of creation, and the works of art, lie open to him. He relaxes in the feast of reason, in the intercourses of society, in the sweets of friendship, in the endearments of love, in the exercise of hope, of confidence, of joy, of gratitude, of universal good-will, of all the benevolent and generous affections; which, by the gracious appointment of our Creator, while they disinterestedly intend only happiness to others, are most surely productive of peace and joy to ourselves. O! little do they know of the true measure of man’s enjoyment, who can compare these delightful complacencies with the frivolous pleasures of dissipation, or the coarse gratifications of sensuality. It is no wonder, however, that the nominal Christian should reluctantly give up, one by one, the pleasures of the world; and look back upon them, when relinquished, with eyes of wistfulness and regret: because he knows not the sweetness of the delights with which true Christianity repays those trifling sacrifices; and is wholly unacquainted with the nature of that pleasantness which is to be found in the ways of Religion.

It is indeed true, that when any one, who has long been going on in the gross and unrestrained practice of vice, is checked in his career, and enters at first on a religious course, he has much to undergo. Fear, guilt, remorse, shame, and various other passions, struggle and conflict within him. His appetites are clamorous for their accustomed gratification; and inveterate habits are scarcely to be denied. He is weighed down by a load of guilt, and almost overwhelmed by the sense of his unworthiness. But all this ought in fairness to be charged to the account of his past sins, and not to that of his present repentance. It rarely happens, however, that this state of suffering continues very long. When the mental gloom is the blackest, a ray of heavenly light occasionally breaks in, and suggests the hope of better days. Even in this life it is found an universal truth, that “They that sow in tears,” provided they be really tears of penitence and contrition, “shall reap in joy.” “The broken and contrite heart God never did, nor ever will, despise.”

Neither, when we maintain, that the ways of Religion are ways of pleasantness, do we mean to deny that the Christian’s internal state is, through the whole of his life, a state of discipline and warfare. Several of the causes which contribute to render it such, have been already pointed out, together with the workings of his mind in relation to them: but if he has solicitudes and griefs peculiar to himself, he has “joys also with which a stranger intermeddles not.”

“Drink deep,” however, “or taste not,” is a direction full as applicable to Religion, if we would find it a source of pleasure, as it is to knowledge. A little Religion is,” it must be confessed, apt to make men gloomy, as a little knowledge is to render them vain: hence the unjust imputation often brought upon Religion by those, whose degree of Religion is just sufficient, by condemning their course of conduct, to render them uneasy; enough merely to impair the sweetness of the pleasures of sin, and not enough to compensate for the relinquishment of them by its own peculiar comforts. Thus these men bring up, as it were, an ill report of that land of promise, which, in truth, abounds with whatever in our journey through life, can best refresh and strengthen us.

We have enumerated some sources of pleasure which men of the world may understand, and must acknowledge to belong to the true Christian; but there are others, and those of a still higher class, to which they must confess themselves strangers. To say nothing of a qualified, I dare not say an entire, exemption from those distracting passions and corroding cares, by which they must naturally be harassed, whose treasure is within the reach of mortal accidents; the Christian has a humble quiet-giving hope of being reconciled to God, and of enjoying his favor; he has a solid peace of mind, (which the world can neither give nor take away,) resulting from a firm confidence in the infinite wisdom and goodness of God, and in the unceasing care and kindness of a gracious Savior; and he has persuasion of the truth of the divine assurance, that all things shall work together for his good.

When the pulse indeed beats high, and we are flushed with youth, and health, and vigor; when all goes on prosperously, and success seems almost to anticipate our wishes; then we feel not the want of the consolations of Religion: but when fortune frowns, or friends forsake us; when sorrow, or sickness, or old age, comes upon us, then it is, that the superiority of the pleasures of Religion is established over those of dissipation and vanity, which are ever apt to fly from us when we are most in want of their aid. There is scarcely a more melancholy sight to a considerate mind, than that of an old man, who is a stranger to those only true sources of satisfaction. How affecting, and at the same time how disgusting, is it, to see such an one awkwardly catching at the pleasures of his younger years, which are now beyond his reach; or feebly attempting to retain them, while they mock his endeavors and elude his grasp! To such an one, gloomily indeed does the evening of life set in! All is sour and cheerless. He can neither look backward with complacency, nor forward with hope: while the aged Christian, relying on the assured mercy of his Redeemer, can calmly reflect, that his dismission is at hand, and that his redemption draweth nigh: while his strength declines, and his faculties decay, he can quietly repose himself on the fidelity of God: and at the very entrance of the valley of the shadow of death, he can lift up an eye, dim perhaps, and feeble, yet occasionally sparkling with hope, and confidently looking forward to the near possession of his heavenly inheritance, even “to those joys which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive.”

Never were there times which inculcated more forcibly, than those in which we live, the wisdom of seeking a happiness beyond the reach of human vicissitudes. What striking lessons have we had of the precarious tenure of all sublunary possessions! Wealth, and power, and prosperity, how peculiarly transitory and uncertain! But Religion dispenses her choicest cordials in the seasons of exigence, in poverty, in exile, in sickness, and in death. The essential superiority of that support which is derived from Religion is less felt, at least it is less apparent, when the Christian is in full possession of riches, and splendour, and rank, and all the gifts of nature and fortune. But when all these are swept away by the rude hand of time, or the rough blast of adversity, the true Christian stands, like the glory of the forest, erect and vigorous; stripped indeed of his summer foliage, but more than ever discovering to the observing eye the solid strength of his substantial texture;

Pondere fixa suo est, nudosque per aëra ramos

Attollens, trunco non frondibus efficit umbram.

sect. ii

Advice to some who profess their full Assent to the fundamental Doctrines of the Gospel

IN a former chapter, we largely insisted on what may be termed the fundamental practical error of the bulk of professed Christians in our days; their either overlooking or misconceiving the peculiar method, which the Gospel has provided for the renovation of our corrupted nature, and for the attainment of every Christian grace.

But there are mistakes on the right hand and on the left; and our general proneness, when we are flying from one extreme to run into an opposite error, renders it necessary to superadd another admonition. The generally prevailing error of the present day, indeed, is that fundamental one which has been already pointed out. But while we attend, in the first place, to that, and, on the warrant both of Scripture and experience, prescribe hearty repentance and lively faith, as the only foundation of all true holiness; we must at the same time guard against a practical mistake of another kind. They who, with penitent hearts, have humbled themselves before the cross of Christ; and who, pleading his merits as their only ground of pardon and acceptance with God, have resolved henceforth, through the help of his Spirit, to bring forth the fruits of righteousness, are sometimes apt to conduct themselves as if they considered their work as now done; or at least, as if this were the whole they had to do, as often as, by falling afresh into sin, another act of repentance and faith may seem to have become necessary. There are not a few in our relaxed age, who thus satisfy themselves with what may be termed general Christianity; who feel general penitence and humiliation from a sense of their sinfulness in general, and general desires of universal holiness; but who neglect that vigilant and jealous care, with which they should labor to extirpate every particular corruption, by studying its nature, its root, its ramifications, and thus becoming acquainted with its secret movements, with the means whereby it gains strength, and with the most effectual methods of resisting it. In like manner, they are far from striving with persevering alacrity, for the acquisition and improvement of every Christian grace. Nor is it unusual for ministers, who preach the truths of the Gospel with fidelity, ability, and success, to be themselves also liable to the charge of dwelling altogether in their instructions on this general Religion: instead of tracing and laying open all the secret motions of inward corruption, and instructing their hearers how best to conduct themselves in every distinct part of the Christian warfare; how best to strive against each particular vice, and to cultivate each grace of the Christian character. Hence it is, that in too many persons, concerning the sincerity of whose general professions of Religion we should be sorry to entertain a doubt, we yet see little progress made in the regulation of their tempers, in the improvement of their time, in the reform of their plan of life, or in ability to resist the temptation to which they are particularly exposed. They will confess themselves, in general terms, to be “miserable sinners:” this is a tenet of their creed, and they feel even proud ill avowing it. They will occasionally also lament particular failings: but this confession is sometimes obviously made, in order to draw forth a compliment for the very opposite virtue: and where this is not the case, it is often not difficult to detect, under this false guise of contrition, a secret self-complacency, arising from the manifestations which they have afforded of their acuteness or candor in discovering the infirmity in question, or of their frankness or humility in acknowledging it. This will scarcely seem an illiberal suspicion to anyone, who either watches the workings of his own heart, or who observes that the faults confessed in these instances are very seldom those, with which the person is most clearly and strongly chargeable.

We must plainly warn these men, and the consideration is seriously pressed on their instructors also, that they are in danger of deceiving themselves. Let them beware lest they be nominal Christians of another sort. These persons require to be reminded, that there is no short compendious method of holiness; but that it must be the business of their whole lives to grow in grace, and, continually adding one virtue to another, as far as possible, “to go on towards perfection.” “He only that doeth righteousness is righteous.” Unless “they bring forth the fruits of the Spirit,” they can have no sufficient evidence that they have received that “Spirit of Christ,” “without which they are none of his.” But where, on the whole, our unwillingness to pass an unfavorable judgment may lead us to indulge a hope, that “the root of the matter is found in them;” yet we must at least declare to them, that instead of adorning the doctrine of Christ, they disparage and discredit it. The world sees not their secret humiliation, nor the exercises of their closets; but it is acute in discerning practical weaknesses; and if it observe that they have the same eagerness in the pursuit of wealth or ambition, the same vain taste for ostentation and display, the same ungoverned tempers, which are found in the generality of mankind; it will treat with contempt their pretenses to superior sanctity and indifference to worldly things, and will be hardened in its prejudices against the only mode, which God has provided for Our escaping the wrath to come, and obtaining eternal happiness.

Let him, then, who would be indeed a Christian, watch over his ways and over his heart with unceasing circumspection. Let him endeavor to learn, both from men and books, particularly from the lives of eminent Christians, (a) what methods have been actually found most effectual for the conquest of every particular vice, and for improvement in every branch of holiness. Thus whilst he studies his own character, and observes the most secret workings of his own mind, and of our common nature; the knowledge which he will acquire of the human heart in general, and especially of his own, will be of the highest utility, in enabling him to avoid or to guard against the occasions of evil: and it will also tend, above all things, to the growth of humility, and to the maintenance of that sobriety of spirit and tenderness of conscience, which are eminently characteristic of the true Christian. It is by this unceasing diligence, as the Apostle declares, that the servants of Christ must make their calling sure: and it is by this only that their labor will ultimately succeed: for “so an entrance shall be ministered unto them abundantly, into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

sect. iii

Brief Observations addressed to Sceptics and Unitarians

THERE is another class of men, an increasing class, it is to be feared, in this country, that of absolute unbelievers, with which this little Work has properly no concern: but may the writer, sincerely pitying their melancholy state, be permitted to ask them one plain question? If Christianity be not in their estimation true, yet is there not at least a presumption in its favor, sufficient to entitle it to a serious examination; from its having been embraced, (and that not blindly and implicitly, but upon full inquiry and deep consideration,) by Bacon, and Milton, and Locke, and Newton, and much the greater part of those, who, by the reach of their understandings, or the extent of their knowledge, and by the freedom too of their minds, and their daring to combat existing prejudices, have called forth the respect and admiration of mankind? It might be deemed scarcely fair to insist on Churchmen, though some of them are among the greatest names this country has ever known. Can the sceptic in general say with truth, that he has either prosecuted an examination into the evidences of Revelation at all, or at least with a seriousness and diligence in any degree proportioned to the importance of the subject? The fact is, and it is a fact which redounds to the honor of Christianity, that infidelity is not the result of sober inquiry and deliberate preference. It is rather the slow production of a careless and irreligious life, operating together with prejudices and erroneous conceptions concerning the nature of the leading doctrines and fundamental tenets of Christianity.

Progress of Infidelity

Take the case of young men of condition, bred up by what we have termed nominal Christians. When children, they are carried to church, and thence they become acquainted with such parts of Scripture as are contained in our Public Service. If their parents preserve still more of the customs of better times, they are taught their catechism, and furnished with a little farther religious knowledge. After a while, they go from under the eyes of their parents; they enter into the world, and move forward in the path of life, whatever it may be, which has been assigned to them. They yield to the temptations which assail them, and become, more or less, dissipated and licentious. At least they neglect to look into their Bible; they do not enlarge the sphere of their religious acquisitions; they do not even endeavor, by reflection and study, to mature their knowledge, or to turn into rational conviction the opinions, which in their childhood they had taken upon trust.

They travel perhaps into foreign countries; a proceeding which naturally tends to weaken their nursery prejudice in favor of the Religion in which they were bred, and, by removing them from all means of public worship, to relax their practical habits of Religion. They return home, and commonly are either hurried round in the vortex of dissipation, or engage with the ardor of youthful minds in some public or professional pursuit. If they read or hear anything about Christianity, it is commonly only about those tenets which are subjects of controversy; and what reaches their ears from their occasional attendance at church, though it may sometimes impress them with an idea of the purity of Christian morality, contains much, which, coming thus detached, perplexes and offends them, and suggests various doubts and startling objections, which a farther acquaintance with the Scripture would remove. Thus knowing Christianity chiefly by the difficulties it contains; and sometimes tempted by the ambition of showing themselves superior to vulgar prejudice, or prompted by the natural pride of the human heart, to cast off their subjection to dogmas imposed on them; disgusted too, perhaps, by the immoral lives of some professed Christians, by the weaknesses and absurdities of others, and by what they observe to be the implicit belief of numbers, whom they see and know to be equally ignorant with themselves; they are filled with doubts and suspicions, which, to a greater or less extent, spring up within them. These doubts enter into the mind at first almost imperceptibly: they exist only as vague, indistinct surmises, and by no means take the precise shape or substance of a formed opinion. At first, probably, they even offend and startle by their intrusion: but by degrees the unpleasant sensations which they once excited, wear off; and the mind grows more familiar with them. A confused sense (for such it is, rather than a formed idea) of its being desirable that their doubts should prove well founded, and of the comfort and enlargement which would be afforded by that proof, lends them much secret aid. The impression becomes deeper; not in consequence of being reinforced by fresh arguments, but merely by dint of having longer rested in the mind; and as they increase in force, they creep on and extend themselves. At length they diffuse themselves over the whole of Religion, and possess the mind in undisturbed occupancy.

It is by no means meant that this is universally the process. But, speaking generally, this might be termed, perhaps not unjustly, the natural history of skepticism. It approves itself to the experience of those who have with any care watched the progress of infidelity in persons around them; and it is confirmed by the written lives of some of the most eminent unbelievers. It is curious to read their own accounts of themselves, the rather as they accord so exactly with the result of our own observation.—We find that they once perhaps gave a sort of implicit hereditary assent to the truth of Christianity, and were what, by a mischievous perversion of language, the world denominates believers. How were they then awakened from their sleep of ignorance? At what moment did the light of truth beam in upon them, and dissipate the darkness in which they had been involved? The period of their infidelity is marked by no such determinate boundary. Reason, and thought, and inquiry, had little or nothing to do with it. Having for many years lived careless and irreligious lives, and associated with companions equally careless and irreligious; not by force of study and reflection, but rather by the lapse of time, they at length attained to their infidel maturity. It is worthy of remark, that where any are reclaimed from infidelity, it is generally by a process much more rational than that which has been here described. Something awakens them to reflection. They examine, they consider, and at length yield their assent to Christianity on what they deem sufficient grounds.

From the account here given, it appears plainly that infidelity is generally the offspring of prejudice, and that its success is chiefly to be ascribed to the depravity of the moral character. This fact is confirmed by the undeniable truth, that in societies, which consist of individuals, infidelity is the natural fruit, not so much of a studious and disputatious, as of a dissipated and vicious age. It diffuses itself in proportion as the general morals decline; and it is embraced with less apprehension, when every infidel is kept in spirits, by seeing many around him who are sharing fortunes with himself.

To any fair mind this consideration alone might be offered, as suggesting a strong argument against infidelity, and in favor of Revelation. And the friends of Christianity might justly retort the charge, which their opponents often urge with no little affectation of superior wisdom; that we implicitly surrender ourselves to the influence of prejudice, instead of examining dispassionately the ground of our faith, and yielding our assent only according to the degree of evidence.

In our own days, when it is but too clear that infidelity increases, it is not in consequence of the reasonings of the infidel writers having been much studied, but from the progress of luxury, and the decay of morals: and, so far as this increase may be traced at all to the works of skeptical writers, it has been produced, not by argument and discussion, but by sarcasms and points of wit, which have operated on weak minds, or on nominal Christians, by bringing gradually into contempt opinions, which, in their case, had only rested on the basis of blind respect and the prejudices of education. It may therefore be laid down as an axiom, that infidelity is in general a disease of the heart more than of the understanding. If Revelation were assailed only by reason and argument, it would have little to fear. The literary opposers of Christianity, from Herbert to Hume, have been seldom read. They made some stir in their day: during their span of existence they were noisy and noxious; but, like the locusts of the east, which for a while obscure the air, and destroy the verdure, they were soon swept away and forgotten. Their very names would be scarcely found, if Leland had not preserved them from oblivion.

Unitarians

The account which has been given of the secret but grand source of infidelity, may perhaps justly be extended to those also who deny the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel.

In the course which we lately traced from nominal orthodoxy to absolute infidelity, Unitarianism (a) is, indeed, a sort of half-way house, if the expression may be pardoned; a stage on the journey, where sometimes a person indeed finally stops, but where, not unfrequently, he only pauses for a while, and then pursues his progress.

The Unitarian teachers by no means profess to absolve their followers from the unbending strictness of Christian morality. They prescribe the predominant love of God, and an habitual spirit of devotion: but it is an unquestionable fact, a fact which they themselves almost admit, that this class of Religionists is not in general distinguished for superior purity of life; and still less for that spirituality of mind, which the word of God prescribes to us as one of the surest tests of our experiencing the vital power of Christianity. On the contrary, in point of fact, Unitarianism seems to be resorted to, not merely by those who are disgusted with the peculiar doctrines of Christianity, but by those also who are seeking a refuge from the strictness of her practical precepts; and who, more particularly, would escape from the obligation which she imposes on her adherents, rather to incur the, dreaded charge of singularity, than fall in with the declining manners of a dissipated age.

Advantage possessed by Deists and Unitarians, in contending with their Opponents

Unitarianism, where it may be supposed to proceed from the understanding rather than from the heart, is not unfrequently produced by a confused idea of the difficulties, or, as they are termed, the impossibilities, which orthodox Christianity is supposed to involve. It is not our intention to enter into the controversy: (a) but it may not be improper to make one remark, as a guard to persons in whose way the arguments of the Unitarians may be likely to fall; namely, that one great advantage possessed by Deists, and perhaps in a still greater degree by Unitarians, in their warfare with the Christian system, results from the very circumstance of their being the assailants. They urge what they state to be powerful arguments against the truth of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, and then call upon men to abandon them, as posts no longer tenable. But they, who are disposed to yield to this assault, should call to mind, that it has pleased God so to establish the constitution of all things, that perplexing difficulties and plausible objections may be adduced against the most established truths; such, for instance, as the being of a God, and many others both physical and moral. In all cases therefore it becomes us, not on a partial view to reject any proposition, because it is attended with difficulties; but to compare the difficulties which it involves, with those which attend the alternative proposition which must be embraced on its rejection. We should put to the proof the alternative proposition in its turn, and see whether it be not still less tenable than that which we are summoned to abandon. In short, we should examine circumspectly on all sides; and abide by that opinion which, on carefully balancing all considerations, appears fairly entitled to our preference. Experience, however, will have convinced the attentive observer of those around him, that it has been for want of adverting to this just and obvious principle, that the Unitarians in particular have gained most of their proselytes from the Church, so far as argument has contributed to their success. If the Unitarians, or even the Deists, were considered in their turn as masters of the field, and were in their turn attacked, both by arguments tending to disprove their system directly, and to disprove it indirectly (by showing the high probability of the truth of Christianity, and of its leading and peculiar doctrines,) it is most likely that they would soon be found wholly unable to keep their ground. In short, reasoning fairly, there is no medium between absolute Pyrrhonism and true Christianity: and if we reject the latter on account of its difficulties, we shall be still more loudly called upon to reject every other system which has been offered to the acceptance of mankind. This consideration might perhaps with advantage be more attended to than it has been, by those who take upon them to vindicate the truth of our holy Religion: as many, who from inconsideration, or any other cause, are disposed to give up the great fundamentals of Christianity, would be startled by the idea, that, on the same principle on which they did this, they must give up the hope of finding any rest for the sole of their foot on any ground of Religion, and not stop short of unqualified Atheism.

Half-Unbelievers

Besides the class of those who professedly reject Revelation, there is another, and that also, it is to be feared, an increasing one, which may be called the class of Half-Unbelievers, who are to be found in various degrees of approximation to a state of absolute infidelity. The system (if it deserve the name,) of these men is grossly irrational. Hearing many who assert, and many who deny, the truth of Christianity, and not reflecting seriously enough to consider that it must be either true or false, they take up a strange sort of middle opinion of its qualified truth. They conceive that there must be something in it, though by no means to the extent to which it is pushed by orthodox Christians. They grant the reality of future punishment, and even that they themselves, if grossly immoral, cannot altogether expect to escape it: yet, “they trust it will not go so hard with them as the churchmen state:” and, though disbelieving almost every material doctrine which Christianity contains, they by no means conceive themselves to be inlisted under the banners of infidelity, or to have much cause for apprehension respecting the final issue of their doubts.

But let these men be reminded, that there is no middle way. If they can be prevailed on to look into their Bible, and do not make up their minds absolutely to reject its authority, they must admit, that there is no ground whatever for this vain hope, which they suffer themselves to indulge, of escaping but with a slight measure of punishment. Nor let them think their guilt inconsiderable. Is it not grossly criminal to trifle with the long-suffering of God, to despise alike his invitations and his threatenings, and the offer of his Spirit, and the precious blood of the Redeemer? Sure we are that this is the Scripture estimate of their conduct: “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” “It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment,” than for them, who voluntarily shut their eyes against that full light, which the bounty of Heaven has poured out upon them. These half-unbelievers are even more reprehensible than downright sceptics, for remaining in this state of careless uncertainty, without endeavoring to ascertain the truth or falsehood of Revelation. The probability which they admit, that it may be true, imposes on them an additional and an undeniable obligation to inquiry. But both to them and to decided sceptics it must be plainly declared, that they are in these days less excusable than ever, for not looking into the grounds and proofs on which the truth of Christianity is established: for never before were these proofs so plainly, and at so easy a rate, offered to the consideration of mankind. Through the bounty of Providence, the widely spreading poison of infidelity has in our days been opposed by more numerous and more powerful antidotes. One of these has been already pointed out: and it should be matter of farther gratitude to every real Christian, that in the very place on which modern infidelity had displayed the standard of victory, a warrior in the service of Religion, a man of the most acute discernment and profound research, has been raised up by Providence to quell their triumph. (a) He was soon taken from us; but happily for him and or ourselves, not till he had announced, that, like the Magi of old, he had seen the star of Christ in the East, and had fallen down and worshipped him. Another should be mentioned with honor, who is pursuing the track which that great man had pointed out. (b) Henceforth let all objectors against Christianity, on the ground of its being disproved by the oriental records, be put to silence. The strength of their cause consisted in their ignorance, and in our own, of oriental learning. They availed themselves for a while of our being in a state of darkness; but the light of day has at length broken in upon us, and exposed to deserved contempt their superficial speculations.

The infatuation of these unbelievers would be less striking, if they were able altogether to decline Christianity; and were at liberty to relinquish their pretensions to its rewards, on condition of being exempted from its punishments. But that is not the case; they must stand the risk of the encounter and their eternal happiness or misery is suspended upon the issue. (a) What must be the emotions of these men, on first opening their eyes in the world of spirits, and being convinced, too late, of the awful reality of their impending ruin? May the mercy and the power of God awaken them from their desperate slumber, while life is yet spared, and there is yet space for repentance!

sect. iv

Advice suggested by the state of the times to true Christians

TO those who really deserve the appellation of true Christians, much has been said incidentally in the course of the present Work. It has been maintained (and the proposition will not be disputed by any sound or experienced politician,) that they are always most important members of the community. But we may boldly assert, that there never was a period, wherein, more justly than in the present, this could be affirmed of them; whether the situation of our own country in all its circumstances, be considered, or the general state of society, in Europe. Let them on their part seriously weigh the important station which they fill, and the various duties which it now peculiarly enforces on them. If we consult the most intelligent accounts of foreign countries which have been recently published, and compare them with the reports of former travelers, we must be convinced, that Religion and the standard of morals are everywhere declining, abroad even more rapidly than in our own country. But still, the progress of irreligion, and the decay of morals at home, are such as to alarm every considerate mind, and to forebode the worst of consequences, unless some remedy can be applied to the growing evil. We can depend only upon true Christians for effecting, in any degree, this important service. Their system is that of our national church: in proportion therefore as their system prevails, or as it increases in respect and estimation, from the manifest good conduct of its followers, in that very proportion the church is strengthened in the foundations, on which alone it can be supported, the esteem and attachment of its members and of the nation at large. Zeal is required in the cause of Religion; and they only can feel it. The charge of singularity must be incurred; and they only will dare to encounter it. Uniformity of conduct, and perseverance in exertion, will be requisite; but among no others can we look for those qualities.

Let true Christians, then, with becoming earnestness, strive in all things to recommend their profession, and to put to silence the vain scoffs of ignorant objectors. Let them boldly assert the cause of Christ in an age when so many who bear the name of Christians are ashamed of Him: and let them consider as devolved on Them the important duty of serving, it may be of saving, their country, not by busy interference in politics (in which it cannot but be confessed there is much uncertainty;) but rather by that sure and radical benefit of restoring the influence of Religion, and of raising the standard of morality.

Let them be active, useful, generous towards others; manifestly moderate and self-denying in themselves. Let them be ashamed of idleness, as they would be of the most acknowledged sin. When Providence blesses them with affluence, let them withdraw from the competition of vanity; and, without sordidness or absurdity, show by their modest demeanor, and by their retiring from display, that, without affecting singularity, they are not slaves to fashion; that they consider it as their duty to set an example of moderation and sobriety, and to reserve for nobler and more disinterested purposes, that money, which others selfishly waste in parade, and dress, and equipage. Let them evince, in short, a manifest moderation in all temporal things; as becomes those whose affections are set on higher objects than any which this world affords, and those who possess within their own bosoms a fund of satisfaction and comfort, which the world seeks in vanity and dissipation. Let them cultivate a catholic spirit of universal good-will, and of amicable fellowship towards all those, of whatever sect or denomination, who, differing from them in non-essentials, agree with them in the grand fundamentals of Religion. Let them countenance men of real piety wherever they are found; and encourage in others every attempt to repress the progress of vice, and to revive and diffuse the influence of Religion and Virtue. Let their earnest prayers be constantly offered, that such endeavors may be successful, and that the abused long-suffering of God may still continue to us the invaluable privilege of vital Christianity.

Let them pray continually for their country in this season of national difficulty. We bear upon us but too plainly the marks of a declining empire. Who can say but that the Governor of the universe, who declares himself to be a God who hears the prayers of his servants, may, in answer to their intercessions, for a while avert our ruin, and continue to us the fullness of those temporal blessings, which in such abundant measure we have hitherto enjoyed. (a) Men of the world, indeed, however they may admit the operation of natural causes, and may therefore confess the effects of Religion and Morality in promoting the well-being of the community; may yet, according to their humor, with a smile of complacent pity, or a sneer of supercilious contempt, read of the service which real Christians may render to their country, by conciliating the favor, and calling down the blessing of Providence. It may appear in their eyes an instance of the same superstitious weakness, as that which prompts the terrified inhabitant of Sicily to bring forth the image of his tutelar saint, in order to stop the destructive ravages of Ætna. We are however sure, if we believe the Scripture, that God will be disposed to favor the nation to which his servants belong; and that, in fact, such as They have often been the unknown and unhonored instruments of drawing down on their country the blessings of safety and prosperity.

But it would be an instance in myself of that very false shame which I have condemned in others, if I were not boldly to avow my firm persuasion, that to the decline of Religion and Morality our National difficulties must both directly and indirectly be chiefly ascribed; and that my only solid hopes for the well-being of my country depend, not so much on her fleets and armies, not so much on the wisdom of her rulers, or the spirit of her people, as on the persuasion, that she still contains many, who love and obey the Gospel of Christ; that their intercessions may yet prevail; that for the sake of these, Heaven may still look upon us with an eye of favor.

Let the prayers of the Christian reader be also offered up for the success of this feeble endeavor in the service of true Religion. God can give effect to the weakest effort; and the writer will feel himself most highly honored, if, by anything which he has written, a single fellow-creature should be awakened from a false security; or a single Christian, who deserves the name, be animated to more extensive usefulness. He may seem to have assumed to himself a task which he was ill-qualified to execute. He fears he may be reproached with arrogance and presumption, for taking upon him the office of a teacher. Yet, as he formerly suggested, it cannot be denied, that it belongs to his public situation to investigate the state of the National Religion and Morals; and that it is the part of a real patriot to endeavor to retard their decline, and promote their revival. But if the office in which he has been engaged, were less intimately connected with the duties of his particular station, the candid and the liberal mind would not be indisposed to pardon him. Let him be allowed to offer in his excuse, a desire, not only to discharge a duty to his country, but to acquit himself of what he deems a solemn and indispensable obligation to his acquaintance and friends. Let him allege the unaffected solicitude which he feels for the welfare of his fellow-creatures. Let him urge the fond wish he gladly would encourage, that while in so large a part of Europe a false philosophy has been preferred before the lessons of Revelation; while Infidelity has lifted up her head without shame, and walked abroad boldly and in the face of day; while the practical consequences are such as might be expected, and licentiousness and vice prevail without restraint; here at least there might be a sanctuary, a land of Religion and Piety, where the blessings of Christianity might still be enjoyed; where the name of the Redeemer might still be honored; where mankind might be able to see what is, in truth, the Religion of Jesus, and what are its blessed effects; and whence, if the mercy of God should so ordain it, the means of religious instruction and consolation might be again extended to surrounding countries and to the world at large.[1]

 

 

* “Neither will I offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord my God,” (says David) “of that which doth cost me nothing.” 2 Sam. 24:24.

“They” (the Apostles) “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus.” Acts 5:41. See also 1 Thess. 1:6, Heb. 10:34, James 1:2, 1 Peter 4:13, 14.

Such are the marks exhibited in Scripture of a true love to God: and though our regard for our common Lord is not put to the same severe test, as that of the Apostles and first Christians was; yet, if the same principle existed in us also, it would surely dispose us to act in the spirit of that conduct; and prompt us rather to be willing to exceed in self-denials and labors for Christ’s sake, than to be so forward as we are to complain, whenever we are called upon to perform or to abstain from anything, though in an instance ever so little contrary to our inclinations.

a It may not be amiss to mention a few useful publications of this sort. Walton’s Lives, particularly the last edition by Mr. Zouch; Gilpin’s Lives; the Lives of Bishop Bedel and Bishop Bull; of Archbishop Usher; Fell’s Life of Hammond; Archdeacon Hamilton’s Life of Mr. Bonnel, Accomptant General of Ireland, recommended by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishops of Meath, Derry, Limerick, Clogher, and Downe; some extracts, from Burnet, of the Life of the incomparable Leighton, prefixed to a volume of the latter’s Sermons; Passages of the Life of Lord Rochester, by Burnet; the Life of Sir Matthew Hale; of the excellent Doddridge, by Orton; of Henry, father and son; of Mather; of Halyburton; Hanson’s and Whitehead’s Life of Wesley; Life of Baxter, by himself; the Life of the Rev. Thomas Scott, lately published by his son; the Lives of the Rev. David Brown of Calcutta; of the Rev. Dr. Buchanan and Henry Martyn; of Col. Gardiner, of Governor Melville; &c. &c. &c.

a The author is aware that he may perhaps be censured for conceding this term to the class of persons now in question, since orthodox Christians equally contend for the unity of the Divine Nature; and it perhaps may hardly be a sufficient excuse, that, it not being his object particularly to refute the errors of Unitarianism, he uses the term in its popular sense, rather than give needless offence. He thus guards, however, against any false construction being drawn from his use of it.

a The author of this treatise has, since its completion, perused a work, entitled, Calvinism and Socinianism compared, by A. Fuller, &c.: and, without reference to the peculiarities of Calvinism, he is happy to embrace this opportunity of confessing the high obligation which, in common with all the friends of true Religion, he owes to the author of that highly valuable publication, for his masterly defense of the doctrines of Christianity, and his acute refutation of the opposite errors.

a It is almost superfluous to state, that Sir William Jones is here meant, who, from the testimony borne to his extraordinary talents by Sir John Shore (now Lord Teignmouth) in his first address to the Asiatic Society of Calcutta, appears to have been a man of most extraordinary genius and astonishing erudition.

b Mr. Maurice.

a This argument is pressed with uncommon force in Pascal’s Thoughts on Religion; a work highly valuable, though not in every part to be approved, abounding in particular with those deep views of Religion, which the name of its author prepares us to expect.

a Vide some exquisitely beautiful lines in the last book of Cowper’s Task, wherein this sentiment is introduced.

[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 266–308). London: T. Cadell. (Public Domain)


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