« PreviousContinue »
can have no false perception of any thing, nor can he place an improper estimate on any of the actions of men. With men frequently that which is of little worth is highly esteemed, while things of infinite importance are set at naught; but with God actions are weighed.
Weighing is a process by which the intrinsic or relative value of articles is ascertained or determined, and always supposes a standard of value; a conformity or non-conformity to which determines the value of the article weighed. Hence the term is figuratively introduced in the text, as intimating the exact manner in which God will examine and judge of the actions of men. Every thing has its appropriate measure or law. The proper measure of the actions of intelligent beings is law; and of moral actions is moral law. And by this standard the God of knowledge will weigh the actions of men; not, however, abstractly, but in connection with their motives, their circumstances, the intention of the agent, and their results.
First. Actions will be weighed in connection with their motives. The motive is that particular consideration which, being presented to the mind, determines it to act. It is, therefore, a circumstance which gives primary character to action, and fixes its reputation with God, before it is matter of cognizance with man. An act may be good in itself, when viewed apart from its motives; whereas, if properly considered, it has all the elements of a heinous wickedness, and is justly deserving of the deepest hell.
It is good to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to perform the various duties of religion; but if the motive from which these actions flow be unsound, it changes their entire character as matter of acceptable service to God. The impurity of the fountain poisons the stream, and that which it was hoped would be ground of commendation and reward becomes the cause of a harsher censure and a deeper condemnation.
As this is an age of much apparent liberality of feeling and action-an age in which all the passions and predilections of the human mind are marshalled and brought into the field for the accomplishment of great and benevolent objects-it may not be amiss, in order to avoid a future disappointment in our reward, to bear in mind that actions are weighed in connection with their motives.
The motive determines both the nature and time of the reward. Men who perform their works for God, who have a regard to the recompense of well-doing, will receive that recompense hereafter. But they who do their works to be seen of men, to please themselves, to gratify their pride, their prejudice, or their party," verily, I say unto you, that they have their reward," so far as it may be regarded as matter of benevolence or public good. But, so far as it was an act of hypocrisy and self-seeking, their retribution is yet with the Almighty.
There is a class of men whose liberality is only the dictate of sheer good nature. What they do is done under the power of constitutional impulse, without any special regard to moral principle or obligation to God. They give as readily to build a synagogue for Satan as a temple for Jehovah, and are as ready to hold stock in the theatre as a seat in the church of Christ.
Another class there is who mostly give, but always do it grudgingly. They desire the reputation, but they abhor the expense of being liberal; and always, when called upon to aid in any benevolent enterprise, experience a most painful struggle between inclination and character. They desire to be reputed generous and liberal; but the cost is a burden too intolerable to be borne-and is not borne, if they can manage to save their reputation and
We see another class, whose contributions are always regulated by a steady regard to praise. They never give, unless it be under such circumstances as will exhibit them to advantage before the world! A poor man who needs a morsel of bread, or a garment to protect him against the piercing cold, is hastily shaken off, as a rude and insolent leech, from their benevolence; while the agent of some public institution, whose reports will be duly made known to the world, receives, perhaps, in the same day or hour, a thousandfold more than would have made the poor man's heart sing for joy, and filled his lean and gloomy home, at least, with transient comfort.
There is yet another class of character who always give, both with promptitude and cheerfulness, not because they are interested in the object, or pleased with the applicant, but because they regard it as matter of duty to God; believing it better to give, even to a hundred unworthy applicants, than to withhold from one truly deserving. They always give according to the ability with which God has blessed them. Here it certainly is by no means difficult to conjecture whose actions, when weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, will answer the demands of the law, and who will then be seen to have spent their strength for naught, and their labor
Secondly. Actions will be weighed in connection with their circumstances. These are
Circumstances of time and place.—The time and place of an act is always a consideration of moment. The sons of Eli rendered themselves specially offensive in the sight of God, by the perpetration of their wickedness at the door of the tabernacle, and in the time of the sacrifices. It evinced a state of the greatest abandonment to vice and recklessness thus to rush into the presence of the Most High, and to change the temple of his holiness into a theatre of folly and crime.
If we may readily conceive it possible, on the one hand, for a person to be placed in circumstances in which it would be almost impossible to avoid sin, of which the history of Joseph furnishes an instance; so, on the other, we can specify situations in life in which it would require a very great want of correct principle to run into wickedness. The sons of Eli, above alluded to, are a case in point.
Now, if it be an aggravation of treason and rebellion to attempt the life of a monarch on his throne, and in the midst of his ministers, surely it is a circumstance highly aggravating to sin against God in his holy temple, and in the time of his worship; to blaspheme his fearful name at the foot of his altar; and venture thus into the very light of heaven with the dispositions and the intentions of fiends.
That it does
There are also circumstances of grace and mercy. please Almighty God frequently to pour out of his Holy Spirit, in an unusual manner, on the church and on the world, is certain; and it is not less certain that these seasons afford special advantages to men for moral and spiritual improvement, and, of course, impose corresponding obligations.
Again: there are circumstances of wrath and judgment. When the Almighty rises up out of his holy place, and shakes terribly the earth, and the sinners in Zion are afraid, and fearfulness surpriseth the hypocrite, then, saith the prophet, "when thy judgments are abroad in the earth, the inhabitants will learn righteousness."
Now "the Lord is a God of knowledge," his understanding is infinite, "and by him actions are weighed;" weighed in connection with their circumstances. There is the worldling who interrupts a serious discourse of our Lord Jesus with this request, "Lord, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me." He ought to have said, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" "How shall I escape the wrath to come?" But, with the Son of God before him for his instructer, his mind was engrossed with the things of this life he was willing that Christ should adjust his temporal difficulties, but cared not that he should enlighten his soul-as many now value their ministers the more as they are clever, jovial, business men, than as they are men of piety and fidelity in their office.
Behold Judas, who, while his Lord was discoursing on the subject of his approaching passion, praying with and for his disciples, with holiest fervor and sympathy-there he sat, settling in his mind the price of his Master, and resolving to sell him for thirty pieces of silver!-like some in our own times, who, while they sit under the word of life, meditate the ruin of those that preach it to them. Reader, art thou the man?
There was Ananias, who, in a time of great religious excitement in the church, resolved to be liberal, but afterward, yielding to his natural love of the world, he refused to redeem his promise, lied to conceal his dishonesty, was smitten of God, and died.
In all these cases, it will be seen that the circumstances give character to the action; and in judging of the one, the other must be taken into the account.
Thirdly. Actions will be weighed in connection with their design, or the intention of the agent.
Men not unfrequently intend more evil than they are actually able to accomplish; they also fall short of the good they previously designed. In both instances they are judged of according to the actual results; but God fixes the reputation of the deed by reference to the intention; and therefore the widow's mite was more acceptable to him than the abundance of the more ostentatious contributors; for if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that which a man hath.
The Lord said to David, "Thou didst well, that it was in thy heart to build me a house," although the work was reserved for another person. Thus it was well for Whitefield to intend, or project the building of an orphan house in Georgia. It was well for Dr. Coke to intend his East India missions; for although these holy men were not permitted to realize all their fond expectations, their
views were obviously in accordance with the counsels of the Most High; and, in the providence of God, they pointed to fields of labor that others were to occupy; and certainly in that day when actions are weighed, the benevolence of the intention will add mightily to the reputation of their deeds.
And then the unlawful cravings of avarice will also be scrutinized as theft and robbery-the dark, cruel musings of malice will be punished as murder-and the evil glances of licentious love will be turned into hell as adultery! For he that said, " Thou shalt not steal," also said, "Thou shalt not covet ;" and the authority that said, "Thou shalt not kill," has also declared, that "he that bateth his brother is a murderer." See Matt. v, 26, 27. But once more, Fourthly. Actions are to be weighed in connection with their results.
Men most generally, when they perform an act, especially if it be of doubtful tendency, fix to themselves certain limits within which its consequences are to be confined. But all such restrictive regulations, imposed on our own deeds, are perfectly the work of the imagination. While the thought is yet in the heart, and the word remains on the tongue, they may be easily suppressed; and, although in themselves displeasing to God, they exert no deleterious influence over the affairs of others. But when that thought becomes imbodied in words, or that desire of the heart starts into the existence of a palpable deed, it is then immortal; it becomes an active principle in society-a circulating medium of good or evil-and aids or injures multitudes of whom its author will never hear, until actions are weighed in connection with their results. To place this in a clearer light, accompany me in the following remarks:
That miserable child of avarice and perdition, the devotee of cards and dice, whose only prayer and purpose under heaven is to dupe and defraud his fellow men, does not, perhaps, design all the withering consequences that attend his heartless trade. He did not design to drive a father to distraction, to break the heart of a tender female, a wife, a mother-to reduce a family of innocent and help. less children to beggary and ruin. No; he did not intend, nor did he care to prevent it. Urged on by the cruel lust of gain, he resolved to make every thing bend to his own purposes; he closed his own eyes upon consequences, and left others to grapple with them as they might be able. But is he therefore excusable, either before the world, or the Judge of all the earth? Certainly not. The incendiary who casts a fire-brand, not caring where it falls, to the destruction of your property, and asks, Am I not in sport? Or the assassin, who discharges his fire-arms into the busy throng of industrious men, to the loss of limb or life, is not more truly guilty than he.
The libertine who, by many a base and unmanly art, by perjuring his conscience and selling his soul, at last succeeded in destroying the object of his criminal affection, did not intend all the gloomy results that ensued ;--the ruined mother-the murdered child-the deathless infamy on earth-the ceaseless torture in hell. No; he did not intend them, nor did he care to prevent them. He would not, and therefore perhaps he did not see, all the consequences. But is his perverseness to be his apology; and because
he ruined your child with his eyes shut, closed for the purpose, is he therefore not a murderer?
The slanderer, who secretly set an evil suspicion in motion, smiled as it formed into rumor, and exulted as it gained credence in the neighborhood or the church, fancied to himself at first certain limits within which its effects would be confined. But an ordinary degree of attention would have seen these limits yielding as the air, and boundless as the horizon of human existence. And was he not capable of that reflection; and was he not under obligation to exercise it, in all cases, and more especially in those which concern the welfare and happiness of others? Most unquestionably he was; and he is therefore justly chargeable with the first, and also with the final result-the consequences which he might so easily have foreseen and prevented, and which, in refusing to prevent, he has constituted his own.
The unfeeling child of plenty, who turned from his door the hand of supplicating indigence, to shiver and perish in the winter cold, did not intend to be guilty of a brother's blood; but such was the effect-the natural, legitimate, and speedy effect. And who will answer for it at the bar of God when actions are weighed? Not merely the morsel of bread refused, but also the consequences of the refusal, will be weighed by Him who even now asks, “Cain, where is thy brother?" In vain you reply," Am I my brother's keeper?" The voice of his blood crieth unto God from the ground.
The minister of the sanctuary, who, to serve himself, his friend, or his party, suppressed truth, or made the pulpit the instrument of his prejudice, his passions, or his pride, may read his doom in Ezek. xxxiii. Miserable man, who, occupying a position sufficiently elevated to see and show the way to life eternal, becomes a stumblingblock to deathless souls, who, either through his levity or his pride, his time-serving, carelessness, or crimes, are involved in shame and everlasting contempt.
But time would fail to follow out this branch of our subject into all its natural and important bearings. Our actions will be weighed in connection with their results-immediate, more remote, and final results. Nor is this unreasonable. The individual who fires a city may be regarded as continuing his agency while the devastating flame is unsubdued; and he who poisons a fountain is guilty of destroying the thirsty pilgrim who drinks of its stream. And so he who exhibits impure prints or books in his windows or elsewhere, or vends them from his counter, or issues them from his press, or creates them with his pen, or in any way brings them before the world, is, and ought to be, held accountable for their effects. Not unfrequently he sets a wave of thought and feeling in motion, which rolls on, swelling and spreading in its course, through a long succession of ages, casting up mire and dirt, the elements of moral contamination, disease, and death, to countless millions! Here are effects wider than the population of any one country or generation, and deathless as the mind. And is it not true, awfully true, of the prime mover of these effects, even while in his grave, that "he, being dead, yet speaketh."
Thus we see in what sense God will weigh the actions of men, in an even balance, held by an impartial hand, and seen in the light of