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PRINCIPLE AND PRACTICE THE CRITERION OF DECISION AT THE
REV. J. R. BARBER, A.M.
“Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my
brethren, ye have done it unto me.”—MATTHEW, xxv. 40.
The grand and distinguishing characteristic of Christianity is love. This is the criterion which the adorable author of it has given of the reality of the profession of his followers-the genuine principle of it, is an emanation of a glorious attribute of the Deity himself; for God Is Love : and as he has manifested his love in the works of Creation and Providence, but above all in the Redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, so will the true Christian manifest his love, and shew forth his discipleship, by acts of mercy and compassion, both to the bodies and souls of men. For as a highly favoured apostle, writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says expressly, “ Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” And St. Paul writing to the Church at Thessalonica, says, “ Ye are taught of God to love one another.” And if we examine the conduct of the first disciples, we shall find that their profession of this divine principle did not end in empty words: they did not say “Be ye warmed and be ye filled," and notwithstanding give them not of those things which be needful for the body. No! they loved not in word only, but in deed and in truth.
The first propagators of our most holy faith, were poor fishermen. They were despised, persecuted, and imprisoned, as their divine Master had been before them; but they had been taught the truth as it is in Jesus ; and so powerful was the demonstration of the Spirit which accompanied the first discourse on record in the Christian church on the day of Pentecost, that three thousand made a public confession of their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah predicted to their fathers: and influenced by the divine love which was abundantly shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, they gave the strongest proof they could give of the truth of that confession, of the reality of their conviction, by disposing of their goods and possessions, to supply the wants of their poorer brethren. And we shall find by following up the history, that some of them were persons of distinction, the landed proprietors, of the country : “For as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet, and distribution was made unto every man, according as he had need." Now though we are not called upon in the present state of society to act
• On behalf of the Lambeth Pension Society.
precisely in the same manner (for we find that it continued in the primitive church only when necessity required, during the cruel persecutions which raged so furiously), yet we are called upon to act on the same general principle, by providing for the temporal, yes, and for the spiritual wants of our poorer brethren.
“For whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?"
My brethren beloved, we are honoured by the name of Christians : let us ask ourselves individually what it is to be a Christian. Let us ask ourselves the important question, “ Am I a Christian ?" To be a Christian is to be Christ's. To be a Christian, is to be his purchased property—bought with a price, even his most precious blood; for “ he his ownself bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being dead to sins should live unto righteousness;" wherefore ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price ; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. And in words which cannot be misunderstood, we are informed, that " if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his.” Por as under the Mosaical dispensation, he was not a Jew who was one outwardly only, neither was that circumcision which was outward in the flesh only; but he was a Jew who was one inwardly, whose circumcision was that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter only; whose praise is not of men, but of God : so under the Christian dispensation, he is not a Christian who is one outwardly only, neither is that baptism which is outward in the flesh only; but he is a Christian who is one inwardly, and baptism is that of the heart also, in the spirit; as St. Peter so clearly testifies, where having spoken of the universal deluge he says, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth now save us; not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good eonscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." And St. Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, in which he so clearly unfolds the spirituality of the Mosaic ritual, shows how the heart is sprinkled from an evil conscience, “ even by the blood of Christ, who, through the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God, to purge our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God."
To be a Christian then, is to have the Spirit of Christ to have the mind of Christ. As he was ever active in ministering to the spiritual and temporal wants of mankind, so should we, if we would lay claim to his name, abound in every good work. “ For even hereunto were ye called," says the same apostle, “ because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps; who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again, but committed himself to Him tbat judgeth righteously."
The principle, then, from which every action of the Christian should flow, is love ; the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost; the love of Christ which constraineth the genuine disciple; love to Christ, in whom dwell all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, for his unexampled love to us : for we love him because he first loved us, and gave himself for us."
Do we then lay claim to the Christian name? Does Christ dwell in us by his Holy Spirit ? Let us examine whether we are bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit; whether we are in deed and in truth the followers of those who were first dignified with the name of Christians.
How did this spirit of Christian love operate in them? How did they shew forth the Spirit that was in them? After the miraculous conversion of Saul of Tarsus (who, from the manner in which his name is mentioned in connexion with the martyrdom of St. Stephen, as consenting to his death, appears to have been a person, not only of great zeal for the observance of the Mosaic ritual, but also a person of considerable importance at Jerusalem, invested with magisterial, if not with judicial, authority; and not satisfied with exercising that authority in the metropolis of Judea, but “ breathing out threatenings and slaughter" against the disciples of the Lord), he set out on a circuit, an exterminating excursion to Damascus: but he was arrested in his mad career by that Lord whom he had so violently persecuted in persecuting his followers. The churches had rest throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria, and were edified; and then, it appears, the necessity of having one common stock having ceased, the plan itself was abandoned, but not the principle upon which it had been established : for we are informed by the sacred historian, in the eleventh chapter of the Acts, of one of those very individuals, who, on the commencement of the persecution at Jerusalem, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet : “ Barnabas, a Levite of the country of Cyprus, departed from Jerusalem to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the Church and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch."
And now, the same divine principle of Christian love, springing from that genuine and living faith which had induced Barnabas to dispose of his property on the first persecution at Jerusalem, manifested itself in the Christians of Antioch. For “ in those days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch : and there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great dearth throughout all the world, which came to pass in the days of Claudius Cæsar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judea, which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul." An example, brethren, worthy of imitation by all who desire to be honoured by the name by which they were first called. Their benevolent conduct sprang from love, that divine principle implanted in them by God himself, and flowing from faith in Him who loved them and gave himself for them; a principle of love to all, but especially to them of the household of faith.
Among those who are, or should be the more immediate objects of that divine principle of love from which all our benevolence should flow, the aged and infirm, the sick and afflicted poor of our own neighbourhood, have a peculiar claim. Their characters and their wants are well known to us : we are, therefore, better able to adapt our relief to their necessities : and we have the pleasure and happiness of beholding the fruit of our labour of love. And what benevolent mind does not rejoice and exult at the opportunity of doing good? How heart-stirring and soul-cheering the reflection of having administered the balm of consolation to distress! What genuine disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ does not rejoice in being permitted to tread in the footsteps of his divize Master ?
And though, as regards our merits, after we have done all, we must acknowledge, with deep abasement and humility, that we are unprofitable servants : yet, whatsoever we do unto a disciple of Christ in the name of a disciple, he considers as done unto himself: if the principle from which our benevolence springs be the right principle, the principle which I have been endeavouring to explain to you, then, and then only, will our benevolence be pleasing in his sight.
As we should not substitute the sign for the thing signified, so we should not confound the effect with the cause. The term “ charity” is of very vague signification now, and generally excites but the idea of the act of alms-giving. Not so the charity which St. Paul so beautifully and feelingly describes in I Cor. xiii. The term 'Ayaan used by him and rendered “ charity" denotes not the act, but the principle from which the action flows-love, even that love shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost. “ For though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not arc.on--charity or love, it profiteth me nothing." The venerable Reformers of our truly Apostolic church were clear upon this subject; and hence in the twelfth Article of our Church—and, my brethren, I delight to appeal to that form of sound words, for I verily believe that if the doctrines contained in those Articles were more constantly proclaimed and better understood, there would be much less separation from our Church, more conformity, more love, more communion of saints)—the twelfth Article of our Church says,
" Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith: insomuch, that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known, as a tree discerned by the fruit." And if we build upon the right foundation (and other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, even Christ Jesus our Lord), if I say, we lay the right foundation, there never can be any danger in raising a superstructure of good works thereon: and hence in the grand, the sublime, the awful scenery, which is presented to our view in the beautiful parable by which the last great day is depicted, and from which our text is taken, though those who are honoured with the regard of the Judge, not only make no account, but are not even conscious of having done any thing for him, so entirely are they absorbed in the contemplation of his glory and their own unworthiness, yet he, in welcoming them to that kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world, enumerates a long list of kindnesses shewn to him by them. “ Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Were the Son of man to leave the bright realms of bliss, where, seated at the right hand of his heavenly Father's throne, he is sustaining his great mediatorial character by making intercession for us, were he t appear in all his glory, and in this state take up his abode with us, all would no doubt be anxious to serve him, all would no doubt testify their zeal for him. But were he to appear in a state of humiliation, were he to stand in need of our services, how should we stand affected towards him? Our profession now is great, but what would be our conduct were he thus to appear? This, my brethren, is a question more easily answered than at first sight might appear. It would be to him precisely what it is to his poor, his afflicted, his distressed disciples. This he himself assures us, for when the Son of man, seated on his throne of glory, surrounded by all his holy angels, and assembled worlds gathered before him, shall present to his redeemed that incorruptible crown which fadeth not away, enumerating the acts of kindness he has experienced from them, in reply to their expressions of unconsciousness of having ministered to him, the King shall answer and say, “ Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye
have done it unto me." But, my brethren, he has appeared in deep humility. He did leave his throne of glory; he did become a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; he did appear in a state of the deepest poverty : for the foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests; but the Son of Man had not where to lay his head. And how was he then received ? How was he then attended? “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew him not. He came to his own, and his own received him not; but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” He did condescend to assume our nature, and we esteemed him “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted." He did take up his abode with us, and “endured the contradiction of sinners against himself.' But the cause ?
Say, ye blest seraphic legions,
What thus brought your Maker down?
Why forsake his heavenly throne ?
Tell the cause, 'Good-will to man.'»
Never again will he appear in humility; never again will he become a servant of servants; never again will his visage be so “ marred more than any man and his form more than the sons of men.” The grand object of his first aavent has been effected. You cannot minister to him personally, but you are not without abundant opportunities of testifying your love to Him, of proving how you would act towards Him were he to visit us in great humility ; for the poor shall never cease from thy land : and the poor and the contrite he graciously condescends to consider as his brethren; and whatsoever is done to them as done to himself.
This was the case with Saul of Tarsus in his unconverted state. Jesus had ascended up on high : there Stephen beheld him in glory when Saul was “consenting to his death;" against Jesus he could prevail nothing: his day of suffering was past : but of the church he made "great havock," " entering into every house, and haling men and women, committed them to prison.' And what was the accusation brought against him when arrested on his way to Damascus on the same errand of death? “ Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou