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ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth: but when his understanding was enlightened, he saw himself to have been a persecutor, a blasphemer, and injurious.
When Abraham went to offer up his beloved Isaac, it was an eminent instance of faith. He acted on this trying occasion from a good motive; in simple compliance with a divine command, though an apparent frustration of a divine promise. Yet he believed God, and cheerfully obeyed his will.
This childlike reliance on the truth and faithfulness of Jehovah, was honoured by a rich promise of abundant blessings. But when the Israelites, on the contrary, caused their children to pass through the fire to Moloch, it was an awful instance of human depravity. Their conduct sprang from a bad motive, being in direct violation of a divine prohibition, and was therefore quickly followed by heavy judgments upon the nation.
The command to Abraham was designed by the Almighty to be a trial of his faith ; a test of his obedience; a proof of his love. But more especially to be a signal representation of his own unspeakable love, in not withholding his Son-his well-beloved Son from us, when he gave him to be a sacrifice for sin, on one of those very mountains of Moriah.
Now can any one for a moment suppose that these two actions shall receive the same recompense of reward? We shudder whilst we contemplate the unnatural infatuation of the idolatrous Israelites.
We feel humbled whilst we meditate on the astonishing exercise of faith, obedience, and self-denial which was exhibited in the case of Abraham.
Their motives were as widely distant as the east is from the west ; as distant as holy faith is from rebellious unbelief.
Some actions are criminal in their very nature,
whilst others may be good or bad according to the motive from whence they spring.
The hypocrites, whom Jesus condemns in his sermon on the mount, gave alms, and prayed, and fasted. But when they distributed their charities, they sounded a trumpet before them: when they prayed,
they stood in the synagogues and in the corners . of the streets; when they fasted, they disfigured
their faces: thus making their religious performances as public as possible.
And why did they take such pains to be seen? Our Lord tells us : « that they might have glory of men." They obtained that which was the governing motive of their actions, and consequently they had their reward.
Our blessed Saviour exhorts his people to the performance of the same duties, but from a far different motive. Secresy in alms-giving-retirement in devotion—and unostentatiousness in fasting, are opposed to pharisaical publicity.
Duties, thus performed from a principle of faith and love, and directed simply to the glory of God, will be approved of by him who seeth in secret, and who will graciously reward them openly.
We hear of a man extolled for his charity and benevolence to the poor. His name appears in the list of benefactors to almost every laudable institution ; but if to be extolled be the secret motive of his actions, this man has his reward.
Another is very regular in his attendance on public ordinances. His seat is never vacant. He talks much about doctrines, and seeks the society of religious characters. Hence he obtains the appellation of pious. If to be so esteemed be the moving spring of his conduct, verily he has his reward.
All this is equitable. Those who act from no
higher motive than human approbation, on receiving such commendation have their coveted reward.
They may speak with the tongues of men and of angels; they may understand all mysteries and all knowledge; they may bestow all their goods to feed the poor ;-yea, in a season of fiery persecution they may even give their bodies to be burned : and yet, if faith working by love be not their principle of action, all these splendid gifts and costly sacrifices will profit them nothing.
In the day of judgment, they will be found no better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal; whilst the widow's mite, and the cup of cold water given to the least of the brethren of Jesus, out of love to his name, shall in no wise lose its reward.
How important then is self-examination. How necessary to ascertain the motive of our actions, lest self-seeking, vain glory, and the desire of human applause, should render them odious in the sight of God.
O! that I may never forget this Gospel truth : that no work is accounted good in the judgment of heaven, but what springs from faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, till I am united to Christ by faith, and justified through his righteousness, all my boasted moral virtues, are nothing but “ splendid sins.”,
Brought to this touchstone, how many actions, highly esteemed and far-famed amongst men, will be rejected as " reprobate silver" by that holy Being, who searcheth the heart and trieth the reins.
For want of due consideration in time, many thousands, it is to be feared, will reap the fruit of their criminal indifference through an awful eternity.
From this view of the subject, I learn that where there is a will to serve God, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.
The holy purpose will be recognized, even when circumstances prevent the performance. Nathan, when informed of David's purpose to build a house for the God of Israel, said: “ go and do all that is in thine heart; for the Lord is with thee.”
David, though not permitted to erect the temple, received the most gracious assurances of the divine approbation : which Solomon took special notice of, in his beautiful prayer at its dedication :
“ The Lord said to David my father, forasmuch as it was in thine heart to build an house for my name; thou didst well in that it was in thine heart : notwithstanding thou shalt not build the house, but thy son which shall come forth out of thy loins, he shall build the house for my name.”
Let no one then despise the day of small things, since the inward ardent desire to promote the cause of Christ in the earth, may be accomplished through the “good hand of our God upon us,” by our children, and our children's children.
Blessed Lord ! be pleased to give me the precious grace of simplicity and godly sincerity. May all my desires be to thee, and to the glory of thy name. Reign in my heart the Lord of every motion there. Purify my motives. Elevate my purposes. Preserve me from seeking the applause of men. Guard me from the poisonous influence of flattery and self-love. Clothe me with humility; and whatever I do in word or deed, may I do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Assist thy servant, Lord, to pray,
Illuminate my mind ;
Where sinners comfort find.
In mercy, Lord, thine ear incline,
To ev'ry fervent pray’r;
My soul for beav'n prepare.
Reveal thy great salvation, Lord,
Dispel each rising doubt ;
" Thy sins are blotted out.”
To my redeeming God;
In Zion's blest abode.
XXXVIII. ON CHRISTIAN CONVERSATION.
The spirit in which Christian converse should be conducted, is delineated with peculiar accuracy in the word of God.
How delightful would be the society of professing Christians, if the humble, loving, gracious, improving spirit, so much enforced in the holy Scriptures, filled every circle.
How needful then at all times is the prayer of David : “ Set a watch, O! Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.”
The true believer is a new creature. He is surrounded by a holy atmosphere, in which the trifler cannot live. As his motives are elevated, so his conversation is pure. The giddy and the vain avoid his society, not because he is repulsive in manner, but because his views and feelings are so spiritual and heavenly.
He is ridiculed as “the saint,” and taxed with pride and self-conceit. But his heart is known unto God, with whom he holds sweet converse in the midst of a naughty world.
Such is the Christian. His character is little understood by the thoughtless multitude, whose time is occupied and whose affections are absorbed in the trifles of a day; but ere long he shall shine, as the gun, in the kingdom of his Father.