صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

trait, than to paint the original. The history | did not know the doctrine of a future state? of our own age confirms the past age; the his- St. Paul affirms quite the contrary. What is tory of our own tyrants, substantiates all that meant by their "not being made perfect withis said of the Jewish tyrants: and the constancy out us?" Is it as some of the primitive faof our modern Maccabees, is a sure test of thers, and as some of our modern divines have what is said concerning the constancy of the thought, that the Old Testament saints were ancient Maccabees. What has been the seed not received into heaven till the ascension of of the reformed church? It is the blood of the Jesus Christ? This is contrary to other pasreformers, and of the first reformed. What sages of our Scriptures. But "they received was the rise of this republic? It was the light not the promise," that is to say, with the same of fagots kindled to consume it. Inhabitants clearness as Christians. "They without us of these provinces, what were your ancestors? were not made perfect;" the perfect knowledge Confessors and martyrs. And you, my dear of immortality and life being the peculiar prefellow-countrymen, whence are you come? rogative of the Christian church. Whatever "Out of great tribulation." What are you? be the sense of those words of St. Paul, we "Brands plucked from the burning." Fathers, will show, that this doctrine of immortality and who have seen their children die for religion; life is no longer covered with a veil, as it was children who have seen their fathers die for re- previously to the introduction of the gospel; ligion. O that God may forbear hearkening but it is demonstrated by a multitude of arguto the voice of so much blood, which cries to ments which sound reason, though less imHeaven for vengeance on those who shed it! proved than that of the ancients, enables us to May God, in placing the crown of righteous- adduce for conviction; and they are placed in ness on the heads of those who suffered, pardon evidence by Jesus Christ. Let us introduce those who caused their death! May we be, at this Jesus to you; let us cause you to hear this least, permitted to recount the history of our Jesus animating you by doctrine and example brethren, who have conquered in the fight; to in the course; "Him that overcometh," says encourage those who have yet to combat, but he, "will I grant to sit down with me on who so disgracefully draw back. Ah! genera- my throne, even as I also overcame, and am tion of confessors and martyrs, would you de- set down with my Father on his throne," grade the nobility of your descent? Your fa- Rev. iii. 21. thers have confessed their religion amid the severest tortures: and would you deny in these happy provinces, enlightened by the truth? Have they sacrificed their lives for religion, and will you refuse to sacrifice a portion of your riches? Ah, my brethren, "Seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us."

V. The last article,-happily adapted to silence those who avail themselves of the distinguished virtues of those saints for not accepting them as models; or, to conclude in a manner more correspondent to our ministry, an article well calculated to support us in the race God has set before all his saints-is, that between us and those who have finished it with joy, there is a similarity of assistance. By nature they were like us, incapable of running the race; and by the assistance of grace we become capable of running like them. Let us not imagine that we honour the deity by making a certain sort of absurd complaints concerning our weakness; let us not ascribe to him what proceeds solely from our corruption: it is incompatible with his perfections to expose a frail creature to the force of temptation, and exhort him to conquer it without affording the aid requisite to obtain the victory. Be not discouraged, Christian champion, at the inequality God has made in the proportion of aids afford

to them, and to thee; be not discouraged on seeing thyself led by the plain paths of nature, while nature was inverted for them; while they walked in the depth of the sea; while they "threw down the walls of Jericho by the sound of rams'-horns, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of the fire, escaped the edge of the sword, waxing valiant in fight, and turning to fight the armies of the aliens." We might perform all those prodigies, and not obtain salvation. Yes, we might put to flight the armies of the aliens, display invincible valour in the warfare, escape the edge of the sword, quench the violence of the fire, stop the mouths of lions, overturn walls, force a passage through the sea, and yet be numbered with those to whom Christ will say, "I know you not." And dost thou fear, Christian combatant, dost thou fear to attain salvation without those miraculous aids? The requisite assistance

IV. I have said that there is, between us and those illustrious saints, proposed as models by the Holy Spirit, a similarity of motives. It implies a contradiction, to suppose that they had more powerful motives to animate them in their course, than those we have proposed to you. Yes, it implies a contradiction, that the Abrahams, quitting their country, the land of their nativity, and wandering they knew not where, in obedience to the divine call:-it implies a contradiction, that the Moseses preferred "affliction with the people of God, to the pleasures of sin, which are but for a season:"-it implies a contradiction, that this multitude of martyrs,ed some of whom were tormented, others were stoned, others were sawn asunder, others were killed by the sword:-it implies a contradiction, that those illustrious saints have beheld, at the close of their course, a more valuable prize than that extended to you. This prize is a blissful immortality. Here the whole advantage is on your side. This prize is placed more distinctly in your sight, than it was in the view of those illustrious characters. This, I really think, was St. Paul's view at the close of the chapter, in which he enumerates the saints, whose virtues have formed the leading subject of this discourse. "These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise; God having provided some better things for us, that they, without us, should not be made perfect." What is implied in their "not having received the promise?" Does it mean that they

for thy salvation is promised. "The fountain is open to the whole house of David," Zech. xiii. 1. "Seek, and ye shall find; ask, and you shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened. If you, being evil, know how to give good things unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven, give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him? If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not."

O! if we knew the value of wisdom! If we knew what miracles of virtue can be wrought by a soul actuated by the Holy Spirit! If we know how to avail ourselves of this promise! Let us, my dear brethren, avail ourselves of it. Let us ask of God those aids, not to flatter our indolence and vice, but to strengthen us in all our conflicts. Let us say, "Lord, teach my hands to war, and my fingers to fight," Ps. cxliv. Seeing so many enemies combine to detach us from his favour, let us thus invite him to our aid. "Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered, let them also that hate him, flee before him." Let us pour into his bosom all those anxieties, which enfeeble the mind. Then he will reply, "My grace is sufficient for thee, my strength shall be made perfect in thy weakness." Then shall all the enemies of our salvation fly, and be confounded before us. Then shall all the difficulties, which discourage us by the way, disappear. Then shall we exclaim in the midst of conflicts, "Blessed be God, who always causeth us to triumph in Christ." Amen. To him be honour and glory for ever. Amen.

HEBREWS xii. 1.

Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.

of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us."

We shall now illustrate the expressions in our text by a few remarks.

The first is, that they are figurative. St. Paul represents our Christian vocation by the idea of those races, so ancient and celebrated among the heathen: and pursuing the same thought, he represents the precautions used by athletics to obtain the prize, as those which we must use in order to be crowned. The weights of flowing robes, such as were once, and such

SERMON LXXXIII.

PART II.

ON THE EXAMPLE OF THE SAINTS. as are still worn by oriental nations, would very mach encumber those who ran in the course. Just so, inordinate cares, I would say, cares concerning temporal things, and criminal purposes, exceedingly encumber those who enter on the course of salvation. I not only allude to criminal purposes (for who can be so ignorant of religion as to deny it,) but also to excessive cares. St. Paul, in my opinion, had this double view. He requires us not only to lay sin aside, but every weight; that is, all those secular affairs unconnected with our profession. In St. Paul's view, these affairs are to the Christian, what the flowing robes would have been to the athletics of whom we spake. How instructive is this idea! How admirably calculated, if seriously considered, to rectify our notions of morality! I do not wish to make the Christian to become an anchoret. I do not wish to degrade those useful men, whom God seems to have formed to be the soul of society; and of whom we may say in the political world, as St. Paul has said in the ecclesiastical, "I am debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians," Rom. i. 14. "Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches," 2 Cor. xi. 28.

WE proceed this day, my brethren, to show you the way which leads to the end proposed in our two preceding discourses. The words we have now read for the third time, placed three things before your view,-distinguished duties, excellent models,-and wise precautions. The distinguished duties are illustrated in the perseverance we pressed in our first discourse. The excellent models are the saints of the highest order, and, in particular, the "cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded." Of these, St. Paul has made an enumeration and eulogium in the chapter preceding that from which our text is read; and whose virtues we have traced in our last discourse. But, by what means may we attain an end so noble? By what means may we discharge duties so distinguished, and form ourselves on models so excellent? This shall be the inquiry in our present discourse. It is by "laying aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.- -Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud

Enter, my brethren, on the consideration of this subject with that sacred diffidence, with which frail creatures should be actuated on contemplating the difficulties with which our course is strewed; but enter with all the magnanimity with which an idea of the powerful and promised aids should inspire the mind of a Christian. Be impressed with this thought, and we conjure you to keep it constantly in view during this discourse: that there is no way of running the race like those illustrious characters adduced as models, but by endeavouring to equal them in holiness; and that there is no way of equalling them in holiness, but by adopting the precautions of which they availed themselves to attain perfection. Happy those of you, my brethren, infinitely more happy than the tongue of mortals can express, happy those whom this consideration shall save from that wretched state of indolence into which the greatest part of men are plunged, and whom it shall excite to that vigilance and energy of life, which is the great design of Christianity, and the grand characteristic of a christian! Amen.

On the other hand, we often deceive ourselves with regard to what is called in the world-business! Take an example of a man born with all the uprightness of mind compatible with the loss of primitive innocence. While left to the reflection of his own mind in early

life, he followed the dictates of reason, and the sentiments of virtue. His mind, undisturbed with the anxieties inseparable from the management of a large fortune, applied almost wholly to the study of truth, and the practice of virtue. But some officious friends, a proud and avaricious family, the roots of vanity, and love of exterior grandeur, scarcely ever eradicated, have induced him to push his fortune, and distinguish himself in the world. He aspires to civil employment. The solicitations to which he must descend, the intrigues he must manage, the friends with whom he must temporize to obtain it, have suspended his first habits of life. He accomplishes the object of his wishes. The office with which he is invested, requires application. Distraction becomes an indispensable duty. The corruption of his heart, but slightly extinguished, rekindles by so much dissipation. After having been some time without the study of truths, once his favourite concern, he becomes habituated not to think of them at all. He loses his recollection of them. He becomes exhausted in the professional duties he has acquired with so much solicitude. He must have a temporary recess from business. The study of truth, and the practice of virtue, should now be resumed. But he must have a little recreation, a little company, a little wine. Meanwhile age approaches, and death is far advanced. But, when is he to enter on the work of salvation? Happy he, my brethren, who seeks no relations in life, than those to which he is called by duty! Happy he, who in retirement, and if you please, in the obscurity of mediocrity, far from grandeur and from courts, makes salvation if not his sole, at least his principal concern. Excessive cares, as much as criminal pursuits, are weights which retard exceedingly the Christian in his course. "Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." This is St. Paul's idea in the words of my text: and it is the first remark requisite for its illustration.

The second devolves on the peculiar situation in which the Hebrews were placed, to whom the advice is given. These Hebrews, like ourselves, were Christians. They were called, as we are called, to run the race of virtue, without which no man can obtain the prize promised by the gospel. In this view, they required the same instructions which are requisite with regard to ourselves.

But the Christians, to whom this epistle was addressed, lived, as was observed in our first discourse, in an age of persecution. They were daily on the eve of martyrdom. It was for this that the apostle prepares them throughout the whole of this epistle. To this he especially disposes them in the words which immediately follow those I have discussed. "Consider diligently," says he, adducing the author and finisher of our faith, who so nobly ran the career of martyrdom; “Consider diligently him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be weary and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin," Heb. xii. 3, 4. What does he mean by their not having yet resisted unto blood? Here is still a reference

to the games of the heathen: not indeed to the sports of the course, as in the words of my text, but to the cest, in which the wrestlers sometimes received a mortal blow. And this idea necessarily includes that of martyrdom. But, O! how evasive is the flesh, when placed in those critical circumstances! What excuses will it not make rather than acquiesce in the proposition! Must I die for religion? Must I be stretched on the rack? Must I be hung in chains on a gibbet? Must I mount a pile of fagots? St. Paul has therefore doubled the idea in my text. He was desirous to strengthen the Hebrews with a twofold class of arguments: viz. those required against the temptations common to all Christians; and those peculiar to the afflictive circumstances in which they were placed by Providence. It was proper to press this double idea. This is our second remark for the illustration of our text.

The third turns on the progress the Hebrews had already made in the Christian religion. The nature of this progress determines farther the very character of the advice required, and the precise meaning of those expressions, "Laying aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us." We never give to a man who has already made a proficiency in an art or science, the instructions we would give to a pupil. We never warn a mariner, who has traversed the seas for many years, not to strike against a rock which lifts its summit to the clouds, and is perceived by all who have eyes. We never caution a soldier, blanched in the service, not to be surprised by manœuvres of an enemy, which might deceive those who are entering on the first campaign. There were men among the Hebrews to whom the apostle wrote, who, according to his own remark, had need to be taught again "the principles of the doctrine of Christ:" that is, the first elements of Christianity. We find many among the catechumens, who, according to an expression he uses, had need of milk, and were unable to digest strong meat, Heb. v. 12. But we ought not to conceive the same idea of all the Hebrews. The progress many of them had made in religion, superseded, with regard to them, the instructions we might give to those entering on the course. I cannot think, that those Hebrews, who in former days had been enlightened;-those Hebrews, who had "endured a great fight of afflictions;"those Hebrews, who, according to the force of the Greek term, used in the tenth chapter of this epistle, "had been exposed on the theatre of the world, by affliction and by becoming a gazing-stock;-those Hebrews, "who had taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods," Heb. xi. 33, 34;-I cannot think that they had need of precautions against the gross temptations, by which Satan seduces those who have only an external acquaintance with Christianity. The principal design of the apostle, in the words of my text, is, to fortify them against those subtle snares, and plausible pretences, which sometimes induced Christians to relapse, who seemed the most established. These are

*The Cestus was a severe mode of fighting, in which ball of lead sewed in leather. See Virgil's Eneiads the pugilists were armed either with a cudgel, or with a Book v.

the kind of snares, these are the kind of sophisms, the apostle apparently had in view, when he speaks of "weights, and the sin that doth so easily beset us."

Thanks be to God, my dear brethren, that though we are right, on the one hand, in saying that some among you, "have need to be taught again the first principles of the doctrine of Christ; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat," Heb. v. 12; thanks be to God, that you afford us, on the other hand, the consolation granted to our apostle, of seeing among you cultivated minds, geniuses conversant with the sublime mysteries of Christianity, and with the severest maxims of morality. Hence I should deem it an injustice to your discernment and knowledge, if, in the instructions I may give to-day, whether for the period of persecution, or for the ordinary conduct of life, I should enlarge on those truths which properly belong to young converts. What? in a church cherished by God in so dear a manner: what! in a church which enjoys a ministry like yours, is it necessary to affirm, that people are unworthy of the Christian name, when, during the period of persecution, they anticipate, if I may so speak, every wish of the persecutors, when they carry in their bosoms, formularies which abjure their religion; when they attend all the services of superstition; when they enjoy, in consequence of their apostacy, not only their own property, but the property of those "who have gone with Jesus Christ without the camp, bearing his reproach?" What! in a church like this, would it be requisite to preach, that men are unworthy of the Christian name, who, in the time of ecclesiastical repose, deliberately live in habits of fornication and adultery; who, in the face of heaven and earth, entice their neighbour's wife, who wallow in wickedness, who are ever disposed either to give or to receive "the wages of unrighteousness?" Oh! my very dear brethren, these are not plausible pretences; these are not subtle snares; they are the sensible sophisms, the broad snares which deceive those only who are resolved to be deceived. There are, however, subtle snares, which deceive the most established Christians. To these the apostle has immediate reference when he exhorts us to "lay aside every weight, and the sin that does so easily beset us." On this shall turn chiefly the explication we shall give of the terms. What are those peculiar kinds of temptations? What are the precautions we must take to resist them? These are the two leading subjects of this discourse; to these subjects I will venture to solicit the continuation of the attention with which you have designed to favour me.

I. Let us begin with the temptations, to which we are exposed in the time of ecclesiastical tribulation.

It was a society to which kings were to be the nursing-fathers, and queens the nursing-mothers. It is a society, whose prosperity should have no end, which should realize this prediction: "Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment; but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished," Isa. li. 6. It is a society, whose prosperity made the prophets exclaim, "Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God," Isa. lii. 9, 10. To say all in one word, it is a society built upon the rock, and of which Jesus Christ has said, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," Matt. xvi. 18. What is the conformity between these promises and the event! or if you please, what likeness is there between the portrait and the original! Does not hell prevail against the church, when her enemies exile her pastors, scatter her flock, suppress her worship, and burn her sanctuaries? Do all nations see the salvation of God, the arm of the Lord made bare, to effectuate distinguished events in behalf of this society; when they are given up to the fury of their tyrants; when Pilate and Herod are confederated to destroy them; when they obtain over them daily new victories? Do the waste places of Jerusalem sing, when the ways of Zion mourn, "when her priests sigh," and when "her virgins are afflicted?" Does her salvation remain for ever, when the church has scarcely breathed in one place, before she is agitated in another; when she has scarcely survived one calamity, before she is overtaken with another; when the beast causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, bond and free, to receive his mark in their hand, or in their forehead? Rev. xiii. 16. Are kings nursing-fathers to the church, and queens nursing-mothers, when they snatch the children from her breasts; when they populate the deserts with fugitives; and cause the dead bodies of her witnesses to lie in the streets of the great city, which is called Sodom and Egypt? Rev. xi. 8.

|

It is against this first device of Satan, St. Paul would fortify the Hebrews in the words of my text. Hear his admonitions and instructions; have you forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children; my son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him? For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he, whom the Father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons," Heb. xii. 5-8. I have no need to arm you with any other against the sentiments of unbelief, with which some of you are assailed on viewing the calamities of the church. Ecclesiastical persecutions are paternal chastisements, which God inflicts upon her members. I would ask our brethren, who complain of the length of

1. The devil would sometimes inspire us with sentiments of unbelief respecting the truth of the promises God has given the church. It seems a difficult task, to reconcile the magnifi-shield cence of those promises with the deluge of calamities which have inundated it in periods of persecution. What is this church, according to the prophets? It is a society, which was to be completely irradiated with the glory of God.

the persecution, and are ever saying, Alas! what, always in exile, always in the galleys? I would ask them, as they seem astonished, and are bold enough to complain of their duration, whether they have profited by these afflictions God, in chastising the church, is desirous of correcting the abuse you have made of prosperity. Have you profited by this chastisement? Have you learned to make a right use of prosperity? God, in chastising the church, is desirous to correct the indifference you have entertained for public worship. Have you profited by this chastisement? Have you learned to sacrifice your dearest interests to attend his worship? And if you have made those sacrifices, have you learned to worship with affections correspondent to the sacrifices you have made for him? God, in chastising the church, is desirous to correct the strong attachment you have conceived for this world. Have you profited by this chastisement? Called to choose between riches and salvation, have you ever preferred the salvation of your souls, to exterior happiness?

snare with which he assails the church in tribulation, he endeavours, I say, to destroy by distrust. "I am weak," says a man who discourages himself by temptations of this nature; "I am weak: I shall not have constancy to sustain the miseries inseparably attendant on those who devote themselves to voluntary exile, by going into places where the truth is professed; nor fortitude to endure the tortures inflicted on those who avow it in places where it is persecuted. I am weak; I have not courage to lead a languishing life in unknown nations, to beg my bread with my children, and to hear my poverty sometimes reproached by those to whom the cause for which I suffer ought to render it venerable. I am weak: I shall never have constancy to endure the stink of dungeons, the weight of the oar, and all the terrific apparatus of martyrdom."

You say, I am weak! say rather I am wicked, and pronounce upon yourselves beforehand the sentence which the gospel has pronounced against persons of this description. You are weak! But is it not to the weak that are made (provided their intentions are really sincere) the promises of those strong consolations, which enable them to say, "When I am weak, then I am strong," 2 Čor. vii. 10. You are weak! But is it not said to the weak, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it? 1 Cor. x. 13. You are weak! But is it not the weak to whom God has realized the truth of his magnificent promises? I will not refer you to those marvellous ages, when men, women, and children, sus tained the most terrific tortures with a courage more than human. I will not adduce here the example of those saints, enumerated in the chapter, preceding my text; of saints who were stoned, who were killed with the sword, who were tortured, who were fettered, and who displayed more constancy in suffering, than their persecutors and hangmen, in the inflic tion of torments. But go to those myriads of exiles, who have inundated England, Germany, and these provinces, all of whom are protestant nations; those myriads of exiles, "who have gone to Jesus Christ without the camp, bearing his reproach;" destitute of every earthly comfort, but delighted to have gotten their souls for a prey; were not they by nature weak as you? And, with the assistance of grace, may not you become strong as they? But those fathers, but those mothers, who have torn themselves away from their children, and the separation of whom from creatures so dear, seemed as tearing away their own flesh, were they not by nature weak as you? But those Abrahams, who taking their children by the hand, went in some sort, to sacrifice them to hunger and thirst, to cold and rain; and who replied to the piercing complaints of those innocent victims, "The Lord will provide, my children; in the mountain of the Lord it shall be seen," Gen. xxii. 14. But those fathers, those mothers, were they not naturally weak as you? And with the help of God, may not you become as strong as they? You are weak! But those slaves who have now been thirty years on board the galleys; those Rois, those

2. In the time of tribulation, the devil strongly prompts us to presumption. Here the commands of Jesus Christ are explicit, "When they persecute you in one city, flee to another," Matt. x. 23. The decision of wisdom is extremely positive; "they who love the danger, shall perish by it," Matt. xxiv. 2. Experience is a convincing test. St. Peter, who presumed to go into the court of Caiaphas, under a pretence of following Jesus, denied him there. Is not this what we have represented a thousand and a thousand times, to those of our unhappy brethren, whom this part of our discourse particularly respects? We have proved, that we must either leave the places in which the truth is persecuted, or calmly submit to martyrdom. We have made it appear that no man can assure himself of constancy to suffer martyrdom, unsupported by the extraordinary aids of the Holy Spirit. We have demonstrated that it is presumption to promise themselves those aids, while they neglect the means offered by Providence to avoid the danger. They do violence to reason. They resist demonstration. They presume on their own strength. They rely wholly on supernatural power. They promise themselves a chimerical conquest. Hence those frequent abnegations. Hence those awful falls. Hence those scandalous apostacies. I have therefore done wrong in placing the temptations of presumption among those subtle snares, those plausible pretences, which impose on the most established Christians. I am mistaken; they are the broadest snares, and grossest sophisms of the enemy of our salvation; and he is weak indeed, who suffers himself to be surprised. What! have you proved your weakness a hundred and a hundred times, and do you still talk of power? What! have you at this day scarcely resolution to sacrifice a part of your property for religion, and do you presume that you can sacrifice your life? What! have you not fortitude to follow Jesus Christ into peaceful countries, and do you presume to hope that you can follow him to the cross?

3. Those, whom Satan cannot destroy by presumption, he endeavours, and it is a third

« السابقةمتابعة »