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sense of his duty. A remarkable instance of such an interposition occurs in the life of David. He, being incensed against Nabal for the contemptuous manner in which he had treated his messengers, and for his ungrateful refusal to administer to his necessities k, had determined to avenge
him and all that belonged to him. But God put it into the heart of Abigail to go to meet him, and by mild representations to pacify his wrath'. Thus were the greatest impieties prevented through the intervention of this prudent female m. And in this way God often directs the ways of his people, either sending a friend perhaps, or a minister, to suggest such considerations as shall influence their minds: or by some particular occurrence
raising, as it were, a hedge, or building a wall,” to keep them in the path of duty”. It may be, that the occurrence may occasion much grief at the time: but God knows how to accomplish his own purposes, and will constrain us all in due time to acknowledge that " he doeth all things well."] We will add a few words, 1. To direct your exertions
[Do not imagine that confidence in God is to supersede your own personal exertions. You are to labour, as much as if every thing depended on yourselves; and then to trust in God, as if nothing had been done by you. You must also expressly commit your concerns to God in fervent and continual prayer. The Psalmist particularly combines this with confidence in God: “Trust in God at all times, ye people ; pour out your hearts before him.” The confidence that is unaccompanied with prayer and diligence is mere presumption. We have a beautiful pattern in Jacob, when he was about to meet his brother Esau. He disposed every thing in a way most suited to pacify his brother's anger, or, in the event of not succeeding in that attempt, to secure that part of his family who were most dear to him: but, whilst he acted thus, he committed himself wholly to the Lord, and looked for success from him alone P. Thus let there be no want of prudence or of diligence on your part; and then you may be assured that God will not suffer you to be disappointed of your hope.] 2. To regulate your expectations
[Though God promises to direct your paths, he will not so direct you as to keep you from every degree of error. The apostles themselves, though in what they declared to be the will of God they were inspired to utter nothing but what was true, were not infallible in their own personal conduct. Peter k 1 Sam. xxv. 411.
11 Sam. xxv. 18—31. m 1 Sam. xxv. 32-34.
n Hos. ii, 6, 7. o Ps. Ixii. 8.
p Gen. xxxü. 9—32.
greatly erred on one occasion, in his conduct towards the Gentiles; as Paul also did in reviling God's high priest. You must not therefore conceive that you are certainly and altogether right, because you have prayed to God for direction: God may have many wise and gracious purposes to answer by leaving you still under some measure of darkness and ignorance : if it be only to humble you still more, and to shew you the blindness of your minds and the deceitfulness of your hearts, it is a good and gracious end, for which you will in the issue see reason to be thankful. Be modest then, and diffident in your conclusions: and instead of assuming infallibility to yourselves, be always ready to suspect that your way is still far from perfect; and to the latest hour of your lives be praying to God to lead you in a right path, and to fulfil to you that gracious promise, " The meek he will guide in judgment; the meek he will teach his way.")
THE REWARD OF CHARITY. Prov. iii. 9, 10. Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with
the first-fruits of all thine increase : so sħall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.
TO instruct men how to ensure success in their agricultural pursuits or commercial speculations, is no part of a minister's office. Were we able substantially to benefit mankind in those particulars, there would be no want of hearers, nor any complaint that we laboured too zealously in our vocation : on the contrary, the more successful we were in effecting our wishes, the more gratefully should we be acknowledged as public benefactors. Shall I then, for once, exceed, as it were, the commission given me, and attempt to teach you how to thrive in this world ? Yes; suffer me for once to usurp this office; and to assure the most unlearned person amongst you, that by acting on the principles which I will set before him this day, he shall be as sure to prosper in his business, as if he were ever so conversant with the arts of trade. I mean not indeed to say, that a person going out of his own proper line shall be enabled to prosecute that line to advantage; but that, whilst proceeding prudently in his proper vocation, he shall succeed more certainly, and to a greater extent, than on other principles he can expect to do. And I say this the more confidently, because the directions which I shall give are not the results of fallible reasonings or of uncertain conjectures, but the plain unequivocal declarations of Heaven: “Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the first-fruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.”
In these words we see, 1. Our dutyWe must “honour the Lord with our substance".
[All that we have is the Lord's. "Our very bodies and souls are his ;” and much more the property which he has committed to our care. With the whole of that he is to be honoured; and in the disposal of it, respect must be had to his will, his interests, his glory. We are to consider every thing that we possess, not as given to us, but merely as confided to us, to be improved for him; and we must so employ the whole, as to meet his approbation in the day that we shall give up our account, and to be acknowledged by him as good and faithful stewards. ]
We must honour him, also, “ with the first-fruits of all our increase"
[The first-fruits under the Law were claimed by God as his, and they were to be presented to him as his peculiar property: “Thou shalt take of the first of all the fruit of the earth, which thou shalt bring, of the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt put it in a basket, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose to place his name therea.” Besides these, was the tithe of all their increase to be offered to him every third year: “At the end of three years thou shalt bring all the tithe of thine increase the same year, and shalt lay it up within thy gates. And the Levite, because he hath no part nor inheritance with thee, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, which are within thy gates, shall come, and shall eat and be satisfied; that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hand, which thou doestb.” Under the Gospel, the letter of this law is abolished; but the spirit of it yet remains in force : for the express command of God to us is, “ On the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store as God has prospered him.” We are not to wait for the gathering in of our harvest; and then give a portion to the Lord after our own interests are
a Deut. xxvi. 2. b Deut. xiv. 28, 29. c 1 Cor. xvi. 2.
secured: but rather to honour the Lord first, as the real proprietor of all; and then, trusting him for a supply of our own wants, to employ for ourselves what he shall graciously bestow upon us.]
This duty will not appear hard, if we consider what God has spoken for, II. Our encouragement
It should seem as if the giving of our substance were the way to diminish it; and the devoting of our first-fruits to him, the way to endanger our own provision through the year: but God has declared the very reverse, and has pledged himself that he will amply make up to us all that we part with for his sake.
This, under the Law, he did, visibly, according to the letter
(Under that dispensation, a present and visible retribution marked, for the most part, the approbation or displeasure of God. When the people delayed to build his temple, he chastised them with famine, and referred to that visitation as a judgment inflicted on them for their sin: “Ye looked for much, and, lo! it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why? saith the Lord of Hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man to his own house. Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit d.” And when they were stirred up to begin the work, he not only assured them of his blessing on their temporal concerns, but bade them note down the day that the foundation of his temple was laid, and see whether their blessings were not augmented from that very hour: “Consider now, from this day and upward, from the four-and-twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, consider it: from this day will I bless you." He bids them even to prove him in relation to this matter, and to see whether his bounty would not keep pace with their piety: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house: and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it"."]
Under the Gospel, also, he will do it, but invisibly, and according to the spirit
(We are not taught to look so much to temporal rewards, as to those which are spiritual and eternal: though still we are
d Hagg. i. 9, 10. Hagg. ii. 18, 19. i Mal. üi. 10.
told that “godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come8;" and that, if we“ seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all needful things shall be added unto ush.” A temporal recompence for our liberality we may not obtain: but a spiritual reward is sure. For thus said the Lord: “ If thou deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that are cast out to thy house; if, when thou seest the naked, thou cover him, and hide not thyself from thine own flesh; then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall
go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward. If thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noon-day: and the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not'.” An eternal recompence will also most assuredly await us: for our blessed Lord has expressly told us, that if, instead of lavishing our money in feasting the rich, we delight to expend it on the poor, “ we shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the justk.” He has commanded us on this account to “make friends to ourselves of the mammon of unrighteousness,” in the full expectation that at our death “ we shall be received into everlasting habitations!" And St. Paul speaks to the same effect, when he says, “ Charge them that are rich in this world, that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate, laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal lifem."
But, after all, we must not altogether put out of our consideration even a present reward in the precise sense spoken of in our text: for it is beyond a doubt, that God does engage to supply the necessities of those who honour him with their substancen: and we can appeal to many, and ask, whether they have not seen, in relation to their temporal concerns, many gracious interpositions of God in their behalf? But, independent of these, who does not know that liberality is the parent of economy, and economy of wealth? A man desirous of honouring God with his substance, is delivered at once from all those vices and follies which ruin the estates of thousands. Besides, who that delights in doing good has not found incomparably greater delight in self-denial for the benefit of others, than the utmost latitude of self-indulgence could ever have afforded him? Granting, then, that no addition is actually
8 1 Tim. iv. 8. h Matt. vi. 33. k Luke xiv. 12–14. 1 Luke xvi. 9. n Phil. iv. 18, 19.
i Isai. lviii, 7-11. m 1 Tim. vi. 17-19.