Page images
PDF
EPUB

beside himself, and transported beyond the | either the frowns or the smiles of the world; bounds of sober reason, he thought it a suffi- his studies and endeavours will certainly be cient apology to say, “The love of Christ influenced by low and selfish views: interest, constrains us” (2 Cor. v. 14;) we are content or a desire of applause, may stimulate him to to be fools for his sake, to be despised, so he shine as a scholar, a critic, or a philosopher; may be honoured, to be nothing in ourselves, but till the love of Christ rules in his heart, that he may be all in all: he had such a he will neither have inclination nor power sense of the glorious, invaluable excellence to exert himself for the glory of God, or the of the person of Christ, of his adorable con- good of souls. descension in taking the nature and curse II. The inseparable effect, and one of the of sinners upon himself, and his complete surest evidences of love to Christ, is a love suitableness and sufficiency, as the wisdom, to his people. Of this likewise our apostle righteousness, sanctification, and redemption exhibits an instructive and affecting example; of his people, that he often seems at a loss the warmth and cordiality of his love to those for words answerable to the emotions of his who loved his Lord and Master, appear in heart; and when he has exhausted the powers every page of his writings; he so rejoiced in of language, and astonished his readers with their prosperity, that, to hear of it at any his inimitable energy, he intimates a convic- time, made him in a manner forget his own tion of his inability to do justice to a subject, sorrows,* when encompassed with troubles the height, and depth, and length, and breadth on every side; and though in many instances, of which are too great for our feeble capaci- he did not meet that grateful return he had ties to grasp. But besides these general reason to expect, yet he could not be disviews, he was particularly affected with the couraged; but when he had occasion to exexceeding abundant love and grace of Christ postulate with some upon this account, he to himself, when he reflected on the circum- adds, I will still gladly spend and be spent for stances in which the Lord had found him, you, though the more I love you, the less I and the great things he had done for him. am loved, 2 Cor. xii. 5. Of such a generous That he who had before been a persecutor, temper as this, the world, would they observe a blasphemer, and injurious, should be for it, must acknowledge (as the magician in given, accepted as a child of God, intrusted Egypt,) this is the finger of God; for nothing with the ministry of the gospel, and ap- but his grace can produce a conduct so conpointed to everlasting salvation, was indeed rary to the natural inclination of man, as to an instance of wonderful grace. So it ap- persevere and increase in kindness and affecpeared to himself; and at the thought of it he tion to those who persevere in requiting it often seems to forget his present subject, and with coldness and ingratitude. His epistles breaks forth into inimitable digressions to the to the Thessalonians abound in such exprespraise of him who had loved him, and given sions and strains of tenderness as would doubthimself for him. Happily convinced of the less be generally admired (especially by those tendency and efficacy of this principle in who can read them in the original,) were they himself, he proposes it to others, instead of a not overlooked, through the unhappy disrethousand arguments, whenever he would in- gard which too many show to that best of culcate the most unreserved obedience to the books in which they are contained. When whole will of God, or stir up believers to a he is appealing to themselves concerning the holy diligence adorning the doctrine of sincerity of his conduct, and how far he had their God and Saviour in all things; and his been from abusing his authority, he says,

We exhortations to the conscientious discharge were gentle among you, even as a nurse of the various duties of relative life are gene- (or mother) cherisheth her children; who, rally enforced by this grand motive. In a by her tender and assiduous offices, supplies word, at all times, and in all places, the ha- their inability to take care of themselves, bitual and favourite subject that employed 1 Thess. ï. 7, 8. It would be well if all who his thoughts, his tongue, and his pen, was the have aimed to derive a plenitude of power love of Christ.

from the example of the apostle, were equally Supported and animated by this love, he desirous to imitate him in the use of it. He exerted himself to the utmost in promoting then adds, So, being affectionately desirous of the knowledge of him whom he loved, and you, we were willing to have imparted unto bearing testimony to his power and grace: you, not the gospel of God only, but also our nothing could dishearten, or terrify, or bribe own souls, because ye were dear unto us. him from his duty; and this must, and will, be universally the leading principle of a tinely intimates his tenderness and affection. He was

* 2 Cor. vii. 7, 13; see likewise Phil. ii. 28, which faithful minister. Should a man possess the oppressed with sorrow upon sorrow; yet he felt more tongue of men and angels, the finest genius, for the Philippians than for himself. He mourned over and the most admired accomplishmenis, if he Epaphroditus, when sick for t'eir sakes; and sent him is not constrained, and directed by the love of as the most effectual means to lessen his own burden, Christ, he will either do nothing, or nothing by sympathizing in t'at jcy is friends would have in

the interview, though he could not directly partake will to the purpose: he will be unable to support them.

No comment can do justice to the spirit of tion is essential to a minister of the gospel; this sentiment, or to the force of the expres- and the apostle assures us, that all imagine sion in the Greek. In another passage, which able qualifications are of no avail without it; is rendered in our version, • We being taken though we could possess the powers of a profrom you,' the original term* has an emphasis phet, or an angel, or the zeal of a martyr, if which no single word in our language can we are destitute of this love, we are, in the answer; it imports such a state of separation sight of God, but as sounding brass,t or a as is made between a parent and a child by tinkling cymbal. the death of either, when the child is left a III. St. Paul's inflexible attachment to the helpless and exposed orphan, or the parent is great doctrines of the gospel is another part bereaved of the staff and comfort of his age; of his character which deserves our attention: it beautifully intimates the endearing affec- he knew their worth, experienced their power tion which subsisted between the apostle and in his own soul, and saw, that though they the persons he was writing to; and demon- were unacceptable to the wisdom of the strates the greatest tenderness, simplicity, world, they bore the impress of the manifold and condescension. But his regard went be- wisdom of God. He takes notice that, in yond words, and was evidenced by the whole those early days, there were many who cor course of his actions. Nor was it confined to rupted the word of God. The word properly those who had enjoyed the benefits of his signifies to adulterate, to imitate the practice personal ministry: his heart was charged with of dishonest vintners, who mix and sophistithe care and welfare of all the churches; and cate their liquors, so that, though the colour those who had not seen his face in the flesh, is preserved and the taste perhaps nearly had an unceasing share in his solicitude and counterfeited, the quality and properties are prayers (Col. ii. 1:) nay, so strong was his quite altered and depraved. But he says, We love to the churches, that it balanced his ha- are not as they: he preached the gospel in its bitual desire to be with Christ; he could not purity and simplicity, the sincere genuine determine which was most eligible, to suffer milks of the word, neither weakened by with the members upon earth (so that he water, nor disguised by any artful sweetenmight be serviceable to them,) or to reigning to render it more palatable: he added with the Head in heaven, Phil. i. 23, 24. In nothing of his own, nor employed any art or the passage referred to, we see the happy gloss to palliate the truth, that it might be centripetal and centrifugal forces which car- more acceptable to men of carnal minds; as ried him on through the circle of duty, he he was not ashamed of it, neither was he constantly tended and gravitated to his centre afraid lest it should fall without success to of rest: but successive opportunities of use the ground, if not supported and assisted by fulness and service drew him off, and made inventions of his own; he knew whose word him willing to wait yet longer.

it was, and therefore cheerfully ventured the In this part of his character we are not to issue with him who alone could procure it a consider him exclusively as an apostle. All welcome reception; and as he disdained the who have truly known the gospel to be the thought of deviating a tittle himself from the power of God unto salvation, are partakers plain and full declaration of the truth, neither of the same spirit, according to the measure could he bear, no not for an hour, with those of their faith. That person is unworthy the who presumed to do so, Gal. ii. 5. I doubt not name of a christian, who does not feel a con- but the warmth of his zeal, in this respecto cern and affection for his brethren who are in has disgusted many in the present day, the world. It must be allowed, that preju- wherein a seeming candour and forbearance dices and misapprehensions too often prevent is pleaded for and extended to almost every the Lord's people from knowing each other; sentiment, except the truths in which St. but, so far as they believe a person to be a Paul gloried. There is little doubt but many, child of God through faith, they cannot but if they had the courage and honesty to speak love him. This is the immutable criterion out, would add St. Paul himself to the list of which our Lord himself has given, whereby those whom they despise as uneharitable and his real disciples are to be known and ac- hot-brained bigots; for who has offended more knowledged, John xiii. 35. He has not than he against the rules of that indifference directed us to judge by their discourses, their to error, which is at present miscalled charity. knowledge, or even their zeal, but by the The Galatians, in a short time after he left evidence they give of mutual love; and we them, had ventured to admit some alteration may as easily conceive of a sun without light, or a cause without an effect, as of a person

Sounding brass without meaning, and without life. duly affected with a sense of the glory of such are the most specious gifts and perforinances, if God, and the love of Christ, and not propor- the useful to others, as the sound of a hell gives notice. tionably filled with a spirit of love to all who and brings people together, but the possessor himself i. are like minded. But especially this disposi- a lifeless instrument; he designs no good, and will ro

1 K17*ATUSUTES, 2 Cor ji. 17. • Aunq*veroorThis 1 Thess. ii. 17.

$ 410 *12, 1 Pet. ij. 9

ceive no reward.

in the doctrine they had received from him; from their instructions, nor can they behold it was chiefly in one point: they had been with indifference the specious attempts of persuaded into an undue regard for the law others to mislead the unwary; they know of Moses. This, some may think, was little what censures they must expect upon this more than a circumstantial: that it could not account. It is sufficient for them that they have any great or direct influence upon their can appeal to the searcher of hearts, that moral practice; and that they might be very though, as the servants of Christ, they dare good men, and good christians, though, in not aiın to please men by speaking smooth this one thing, they could not see exactly things, yet they act from principles of bewith their teacher's eyes. But how different nevolence and love, and would rejoice in the was the apostle's judgment! If the Galatians salvation of their greatest opposers. The had returned to the practice of idolatry, or world perhaps would judge more favourably broken out into the most scandalous im- of them if they knew all; if they were witmoralities, he could hardly have expressed nesses to the prayers and tears which they his surprise and grief in stronger terms; he pour out for them in secret, and the emotions changes his usual manner of address, and of mind they feel when they are constrained speaks to them as a senseless people (Gal. iii. to declare the more awful parts of their mes. 1,) under the power of some unaccountable sage; but as ministers, and in their public fascination; he tells them, that, by admitting work, they cannot avoid pointing out the such an addition (Gal. i. 6—9) small and danger of those who venture their souls and inconsiderable as they might think it, they eternal hopes upon any other doctrine than had, in effect, received another gospel, which that which St. Paul preached. was, however, so enervated and despoiled of IV. But though St. Paul was so tenacious efficacy, that it was, more properly speaking, of the great foundation-truths of the gospel, become no gospel at all, utterly_unworthy and would not admit or connive at any docthe least pretence to the name. Further, he trine that interfered with them, he exercised, denounces an anathema (the highest curse) upon all occasions, a great tenderness to upon any person who should dare to preach weak consciences, in matters that were not any such pretended gospel, even though, if essential to the faith, and when the scruples such a thing were possible, it should be him- were owing rather to a want of clear light self, or an angel from heaven; and this de- than to obstinacy. This was evident in his nunciation he immediately repeats, lest it conduct with regard to the great controversy should be thought that he spoke rather from that soon took place between the Jewish and warmth of temper than from a just sense of Gentile converts, about the distinction of the importance of the case. What would meats, and drinks, and other rituals enjoined some of iny readers think of a man who by the law of Moses; the obligation (Rom. should, at this time, express himself in terms xiv.) of which, many who had been educated like these? But let it be remembered, that in the practice of those observances, did not our apostle, who was so ready with an ana- immediately see was superseded by the gosthema upon this occasion, and who, in an- pel of Christ: He knew and asserted his own other place (1 Cor. xvi. 22,) passes the same liberty; yet, in condescension to the weaksevere judgment upon any man who does not ness of others, he often abridged himself of love the Lord Jesus Christ, was far from it, and declared that, rather than grieve or speaking thus from emotions of anger and cause offence to a weak brother, he would ill-will; the disposition of his own mind, the eat no meat while the world stood. His practender concern with which he viewed the tice herein will probably be of general apworst of sinners may be judged of from his plication, mutatis mutandis, so long as the willingness to be made an anathema himself present state of human infirmity subsists. A (Rom. ix. 3,) after the manner of Christ, if, defect in knowledge, the prejudices of educaby all he could suffer, he might be a means tion and custom, the remains of a legal spirit, of saving the Jews, who were his worst ene- the influence of great names, and other causes mies, and from whom he had constantly re- of a like nature, will probably always opeceived the most unjust and cruel treatment; rate, so far as to keep up lesser differences in but, when the cause of the gospel and the judgment and practice amongst those who honour of Christ were in question, he could agree in the great and fundamental truths. not, he durst not, consult with the feelings The enemy gains too much advantage from of flesh and blood: but as the minister and these things, not to improve such differences messenger of the Lord, he solemnly declared into divisions. Self is too prevalent in the what must, and will be, the awful conse- best men, and the tendency of self is, to exact quence of neglecting or corrupting the word submission, to hurry to extremes, to exagof life.

gerate trifles into points of great consequence, Every faithful minister of the gospel is and to render us averse to the healing expossessed of a degree of the same attention pedients of peace. From these sources, dis. to the purity of the truth and faith once de cords and evils innumerable have been mullivered to the saints; they must not deviate | tiplied and perpetuated among the various

denominations under which the Lord's people they seem not to deserve a place even among have been ranged, which have greatly hin- the circumstantials of a religion which is of dered the welfare and progress of the common divine institution. All the laboured argucause, and exposed each contending party to ments, whether for or against the colour of a the scorn of their real enemies. But were garment, the shape of a building, and a multhe spirit and conduct of our apostle more titude of other things equally insignificant, adopted, many debates would entirely cease; seem to have occasioned a needless loss of and in those things where a difference of time and temper, chiefly by a mistake of the judgment would still subsist, the exercise of question on both sides. patience, gentleness, and mutual forbearance, 2. Essentials in christianity are those things would perhaps afford fairer occasion for the without which no man can be a christian in display of the christian character, than if we the sight of God, and by the decision of his were all exactly of a mind; then the strong word; and, on the other hand, those things would bear the infirmities of the weak, the only are essential which whoever possesses, is one would not censure, nor the other despise; by scripture-declaration, in a state of favour nor would those whose minds have been en- with God through Christ. These might be larged by a variety of experience and observa. branched out into inany particulars; but they tion, think it at all strange, much less would are fully and surely comprised in two, Faith they be angry, if others who have not had the and Holiness. These are essential to the being same advantages cannot immediately enter of a Christian, are only to be found in a chrisinto all their sentiments. St. Paul, in know- tian, are infallible tokens that the possessor ledge, abilities, and usefulness, was eminently is accepted in the Beloved, and whoever dies superior to all those among whom he chiefly without them must assuredly perish : These conversed, and, as an apostle, he had a are essentials, because they are absolutely stronger right than any man since the apos- necessary; for it is written, “ He that betle's day could have to exact an implicit lieveth not shall be damned” (Mark xvi. 16,) deference and submission; but he had drunk and "Without holiness no man shall see the deeply of the spirit of his Master, and we are Lord” (Heb. xii. 14 :) and they are essential concerned to follow him, as he followed likewise, because they demonstrate an interChrist, in the exercise of tenderness to the est in the promise of everlasting life. Thus weakest of the flock.

our Lord declares, “ He that heareth my It is not my present business to define what words, and believeth on him that sent me, are properly essentials in the christian reli- hath everlasting life, and shall not come into gion, and to separate them clearly from the condemnation, but is passed from death unto less important points, which, for that reason, life” (John v. 24;) and the apostle, writing and in contradistinction to the other, are to the believing Romans, tells them, “Now, called circumstantials. This would lead me being made free from sin, and become the too far, though perhaps it would not be so servants of God, you have your fruit unto difficult as a person might at first expect, holiness, and the end everlasting life,” Rom. who should be told of all that has been writ. vi. 22. These then are the essentials of reten (with little satisfaction) upon the subject. ligion: and though they are produced by the I foresee a future period in our history, when same power of the Holy Spirit, and derived a disquisition of this kind will be almost ne- from a knowledge of the same truths, and cessary; and if I am spared to reach so far, therefore cannot be separated, they may I shall probably embrace the occasion. In properly be distinguished for the conviction the mean time I would just hint an observa- of those who pretend to one without the tion or two upon this head, which the intelli- other. The most specious appearances of gent reader (if he thinks them just) may ap- holiness, which are not accompanied with ply as he sees proper.

faith in Christ, may be safely rejected as 1. Circumstantials and essentials in reli- counterfeits. On the other hand, a profession gion (if we speak with propriety) are derived of faith which is not evidenced by the fruits from the same source, and resolved into the of holiness, by gracious tempers, and a tenor same authority. To consider the commands of life becoming the gospel, is dead, delusory, of God as essentials, and the inventions and and destructive. traditions of men superadded thereto as cir. If the question is removed another step, cumstantials, would be a very improper, and and it should be asked, Which, or how many, indeed a very false division of the subject. of the doctrines of scripture are necessary to Nothing but what is prescribed by the word produce the faith and holiness supposed reof God, or may be fairly deduced from it, is quisite ? it may suffice to say, That, in the worthy the name even of circumstantial in nature of things, no person can be expected true religion. Human appointments, if not to believe in Christ, till convinced of his repugnant to scripture and the light of con- need of him, and of his ability, as a Saviour, science, may be submitted to for the sake of fully to answer his expectations: and as a peace, or when the general purpose of edifi- supreme love to God, and a hatred of all sin, cation cannot be attained without them; but are évidently included in the idea of holiness,

it supposes a disposition of mind, which every ; to no other ends than the glory of God and man's experience proves to be beyond the the good of men. No man had probably so power of fallen nature; and therefore a com- great an influence over his hearers, or could petent knowledge and cordial acceptance of have a juster claim, from the nature and what the scriptures teach concerning the na- number of his services, to a suitable provision ture and desert of sin, the person and media- for himself; but he could say with truth, We tory acts of Christ, the causes, ends, and seek not yours, but you. To cut off all oceffects of his mediation, together with the casions of misapprehension on this head, he pecessity of that change of heart which is usually submitted to work with his own expressed by a being born again, appear to hands, rather than be chargeable to his be essentially necessary to that faith and friends.* It is true, he does not propose himholiness which are described in the gospel. self to us a pattern in this respect; for he tells

3. The circumstantials of religion include us (1 Cor. ix. 14,) that the labourer is worall those particulars of revelation, which a thy of his hire; and that the Lord had ordainperson possessed of the above-mentioned es- ed, that those who preach the gospel should sentials may as yet be unacquainted with, or live by the gospel; and when he saw it exunable to judge of with certainty. A care-pedient, he did not refuse to be himself asful application to the scriptures, a diligent sisted by others. He showed, by accepting waiting upon God in prayer, and an improve- such assistance from some, that he underment of the means of grace, will (by the di- stood his liberty, and did not act from a spirit vine blessing, which is promised to those who of pride or singularity when he declined it; seek in this manner) increase our light, com- and, by his more general practice, he eviprehension, and certainty, with regard to denced that he was superior to all selfish these points, which though not essentially and mercenary motives, and, upon the whole, necessiry to the being of a Christian, are ex- he was content to appear and live as a poor ceedingly conducive to his well-being, to his man; and though he had learned, in the growth and establishment in the truth. school of Christ, how to abound as well as to

This subject may be perhaps illustrated suffer want, the latter seems to have been from the animal frame, in which what we call more frequently his lot (Phil. iv. 12:) he the vital parts may be considered as essential saw too many false teachers, who, under the to life, because there can be no life without | sanction of a sacred character, made merthem. We may easily conceive, that a man chandize of souls; and he not only severally may live without an arm or leg, or several censured them, but, by this self-denial, which members and organs, which, though highly they were unable to imilate, he manifested valuable for use and comfort, are not neces- the vanity of their pretences in setting themsarily connected with life; but if we conceive selves forth as the apostles of Christ. This othiin as deprived of his head, heart, or lungs, seems to have been the chief design in it, we can no longer consider him as living; yet and the reason of his repeating, with so much it is desirable to have a body not only ani- earnestness, his determination to take nothing mated, but organized. So likewise in reli- from the Corinthians, who were too much ingion, those who are truly partakers of it will clined to listen to some of these teachers, to not too curiously inquire, how much know- his disadvantage. But whatever parade they ledge, or what degree of practice is barely might make of gifts or zeal, or however they consistent with a possibility of life, but they might presume to equal themselves to him will earnestly desire to be acquainted with in other respects, he knew they would not the whole will of God, and that every part of attempt to share with him in the glory of it may have a suitable influence upon their preaching the gospel freely, which was diapractice: But, in the mean time, a consola- metrically inconsistent with their whole detion is provided, in the promises of God, made sign. The circumstances with us are so far to those who have received the seeds of faith different, that, in proposing St. Paul as a and true holiness, against the fears, doubts, pattern of disinterestedness, we do not lay a and involuntary mistakes, which, from re- stress upon his preaching the gospel without turining ignorance, they are yet subject to : expense to his hearers; yet, in his noble conHe will supply what is wanting, pardon what tempi of worldly andvantages, and making is amiss, and lead them on from strength to every thing stoop to the great ends of his strength; they are to walk by the light al- mission, he stands as a precedent to all chrisready afforded, to wait on him for an in- tian ministers in succeeding times. In those crease, to be diffident of themselves, and gentle to others, and things which as yet without charge. - A12=2V** snow, that I may set it

* 1 Cor. ix. 18. That I may make the gospel of Christ they know not, God will, in his due time, before you gratis, or a free gospel. The messengers of reveal to them. But to return from this good news are usually gratitind with a reward ; but the digression :

apostle, though he brought the most welcome and in

portant tidings that ever rejoiced the hearts of men, V. Every part of St. Paul's history and would not encumber or disgrace the news by receiving writings demonstrates a disinterested spirit, anything for it. The truth is, he took as much pleaand that his uncommon labours were directed it, and found his reward in ins employmeni. Vol. II.

M

« PreviousContinue »