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us that the moment which severs flesh and spirit, though it be the death of the body, is a new birth to the soul, which, according to the faithfulness of its upward aspirations and endeavours, will rise to a higher and more glorious state of being in the more immediately revealed presence of our heavenly Father. So that we who still remain, inhabitants of this lower world, may not claim to be children of the Most High in so sublime a sense as they who have gone before and have been admitted into the kingdom of heaven. This life is the infancy of the soul, in which, marvellous as are its powers and sublime its aspirations, it is prepared and trained for that more glorious state of being which has been revealed to us as our final inheritance, where they who have parted in sorrow shall meet again with joy, “where God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain : for the former things shall have passed away."
Thanks be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Resurrection and the Life, that He has filled us with this glorious hope! May He grant us the comfort and consolation, the strength and support and guidance of His holy spirit, that we may walk worthy of our vocation as children of God and heirs of eternal life! Amen.
* Revelation xxi. 4.
THE TWO-FOLD DUTY OF OBEYING AND
ROMANS xiv. 12, 13 : "So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not
therefore judge one another any more.” “WHATSOEVER is not of faith,” says the apostle, in the last verse of the chapter from which my text is taken, “is sin.” In other words, “Whatsoever we do in opposition to the dictates of conscience, or with a serious doubt whether we ought to do it, is sinful." Sin is the wilful transgression of a known law of God, or, what is the same thing, of an acknowledged duty. He who knoweth what is wrong and doeth it, or he who knoweth what is right and doeth it not, to him it is sin
But there are cases, it may be said, in which the path of duty is not clearly marked outy-in which the lawfulness of an action seems doubtful to us,—in which we think that we might, but are not sure that we should, be wrong in following the dictates of inclination : how are we to act in such cases ? The first thing we have to do is to inquire, whether we can innocently abstain from acting, till our doubts are solved. If so, our duty is clear. That which it may be wrong to do, but which it is certainly not wrong to leave undone, it is obviously our duty not to do. Where indulgence may be sinful, but abstinence is clearly innocent, it is without question a duty to abstain. Self-denial in all such cases is virtue, self-indulgence, sin.
Many lose sight of this truth, and indulge in questionable pleasures, merely because inclination prompts, and they do not see clearly that they are criminal. “Prove that they are criminal,” say they, “and we will indulge in them no longer; but till this is proved, we are not willing to relinquish them. That we have our doubts of their innocence and harmlessness we admit; but till those doubts are confirmed, we do not feel that it is our duty, any more than it is our inclination, to abstain.” Surely, I would reply, if you admit that indulgence may be criminal, but that abstinence certainly is not so, you do in fact admit that abstinence is your duty. "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." If we doubt of the lawfulness of an action, but have no doubt of the lawfulness of abstaining from it, our course is clear ;-it is our duty to abstain from it, till our doubt of its lawfulness is removed.
Sin always implies an error of the will,—a wilful departure from that line of conduct which the conscience approves,a commission of what is seen to be wrong, an omission of what is seen to be right, or, where the right and the wrong are not distinctly evident, a hasty preference of the dictates of inclination to the patient investigation of proof. The practical rule is briefly this,—what you believe to be right do ;what you believe to be wrong refuse to do ;—that of which you doubt whether it is right or wrong, refrain from doing till your doubts are removed. But there are cases, it may be said, in which suspense
is impossible,-in which we must either act, or refuse to act, on the decision of the moment --in which the present time for action is the only time. In cases of this kind we must needs be guided by the preponderance of evidence; we must do that which seems to us at the moment-according to the best judgment that, with divine aid duly sought, our minds can form in the emergence,-wisest and best. This surely is the very most that can be required of us. In the right or wrong exercise of the will,—in the voluntary preference of that line of conduct which the conscience approves on the one hand, or condemns on the other, all virtue, all vice consists. Be ours then the earnest, heartfelt prayer
“What conscience dictates to be done,
Or wars me not to do,
That more than heaven pursue.” But “what does the poet mean ?" you will perhaps inquire : “is not obedience to the dictates of conscience the sure road to heaven, and disobedience to them the road, as sure, to hell ? Why then should we pursue the former more than heaven, or shun the latter more than hell ?” The poet, if I understand him aright, intends to intimate, and surely there is truth in the doctrine, that when our virtue shall have attained that highest point towards which it should be always struggling upwards, we shall think more of the duty than of the reward, -of the transgression than of the punishment: his doctrine is, that the perfectly virtuous man would do the right, and shun the wrong, even on the impossible supposition, that heaven and hell could change places, and the former promise her rewards to the sinner, and the latter threaten her punishments to the righteous.
Yes, my friends, that virtue is of the very highest quality which feels that it is self-rewarded, and that in receding from its high position it would be self-punished. Nor, even in this infancy of our moral and spiritual nature, is such virtue altogether unattainable. I trust we have, each one of us, sometimes felt, that there are acts of baseness of which no prospect of results, however desirable, could tempt us to be guilty, acts of virtue which contain within themselves, in their obvious and deeply-felt excellence, the sufficient motive for their performance, and which we should feel a satisfaction and sweetness in performing, though no added future joy-yea, even though positive suffering and sorrow--were
the anticipated consequence.
But if this is the case sometimes, even in this early dawn of our spiritual day, how much more surely will it be so as the sun of our virtue rises to its meridian! Surely the time will at length arrive, when duty and happiness will become identical in our estimation,—when virtue will be to us its own reward, vice its own punishment, —when we shall pursue the former as itself a heaven, and shun the latter as itself a hell! To be governed by the dictates of conscience then is virtue, and in due time will be happiness.
But conscience, I shall be reminded, is sometimes ill-informed, and leads us wrongly. “I verily thought with myself," says St. Paul, “that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth, which thing I also did in Jerusalem.” Nor is the case of St. Paul by any means a singular
Good men have often done the thing that they ought not to have done, with a clear and strong conviction that they ought to do it. Like Paul, for instance, how many truly pious zealots have in former ages of the Church persecuted, even to death, those whom they deemed the enemies of God, and have sincerely believed that, in doing so, they did God good service! And even in these days of brighter light, when the sinfulness of such persecution is clearly seen, and when the dungeon, the scaffold, and the stake, and every kind and degree of bodily coercion, for opinion's sake, are not merely relinquished, but universally denounced, as gratuitous and wanton cruelty, what multitudes are there who still continue to persecute with the opprobrious tongue, the unkind and unsocial manner, and the withdrawal of the good offices of Christian love, those whom they deem to be in error; and who think themselves fully, not to say divinely, authorized to denounce all such as wilful perverters of God's truth, merely because their views of that truth happen to differ from their own!
Truly, there are not a few even in the present day,--members of almost every-might I not say every 2-Christian sect,