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and, in the case of Christianity, in opposition to the very tenor of the religion itself, which presupposes, and addresses itself to, a fallen condition of human nature, and, at most therefore, can only be held responsible for a very partial and limited success.
Still, however, we can hardly di. vest ourselves of that wrongful prejudice by which we confound the natural efficacy of our religion with its positive and visible effects. We still expect from it more than We actually see, and are scandalized when we hud that it is not that unmixed delight which its divine nature bespeaks it. Men perversely imagine that it has disappointed them of its fair promise, whereas they have themselves only frustrated the happy consummation of it. On beholding the scene of confusion and misery which the world presents, notwithstanding the benign influence of Christianity now for so many ages exerted for its reformation—on reflecting on that moral chaos which still reigns throughout it, although the quickening Spirit of God has moved upon its face, and carried light into its darkness—we are sometimes tempted to forget ourselves, and almost to join in the expression of disappointment uttered by the two disciples On their way to Enimaus—"We trusted that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel"—altogether overlooking the rude and untractable and stubborn materials on which the Divine Word has to operate, and which must unavoidably impede and mar its gracious effects.
It was to obviate this prejudice that our Lord, who knew the secret springs of the human heart, so pointedly forewarned his disciples, in the words of the text—" Think not that 1 am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against
her mother-in-law. Arid a man's foes shall be they of his own household." And so also in the parallel passage of St. Luke, he says, that he is come to send fire on earth: aptly illustrating by the analogous expressions of fire and a sword, the grievous personal afflictions which would be consequent on the preach* ing of the Gospel of peace and gentleness; as if he had said, "I am come, indeed, to bring peace on earth—my coming is to mankind the kindest gift which God could have vouchsafed them—but the folly and malignity of those to whom I am come will pervert that blessing, so that I shall not indeed send peace to them, but a sword—the bitter animosity which they will unhappily feel to the reception of my doctrine; will become hatred against its teachers and professors—to such a degree, that even the closest ties of kindred will afford no protection against the malice of persecution. Destruction and unhappiness are in the ways of men, and therefore will they not know the way of peace, though that way is through me made plain before their face."
Be it our endeavour to tarn this gracious warning to our advantage, that we may contemplate the state of religion in the world with proper feelings, and prepare ourselves to meet the peculiar exigencies of the condition in which we are placed with regard to it.
In the first place, we shall profit by it in our own hearts, if it rightly instil into us the conviction, that, from the nature of the case, religion' cannot be entirely in this world a way of pleasantness and peace. Our Lord has told us that he came not to send peace on earth, but a sword, and so must even the best among men experience it according to his word. There is that within them, even in such as are regenerated by the word of truth, which will not readily conform itself to the guidance of the Spirit—the law of the members they hud to be contradictory to the written law of God —and their life is a perpetual struggle of contrary principles within themselves contending for the mastery. What they would, that they do not; and what they would not, that they do. The pride of the flesh and the lust of the eye still assert their hereditary dominion over them, with a diminished power indeed, but far from being altogether subdued and crushed. The tyrant that was too strong for them has been curtailed of his too ample prerogative, but within his limited sphere of action he is still himself.
Hence it is that the religion of Christ is to them, in its actual effect, a sword—it has to clear its way through an obstructing mass of corrupt dispositions, to penetrate that body of death which invests the soul—to establish the throne of grace in the heart, by daily and incessant conquest over a powerful enemy—an enemy within ourselves, already in preoccupation of the ground on which the battle is to be fought, and firmly intrenched within the citadel. Hence the religion of the true Christian is a sword, which can never be sheathed; for the peace which he would make with his enemy is no peace—his adversary is only repulsed, not finally vanquished, and only waits the opportunity to rise again in. arms, and renew the assault.
If this be the true state of the case, ought we not to suspect our danger when we find ourselves too much at ease, and to think that all cannot be right with us, when all proceeds too well? Christ has warned us that our religion must expose us to tribulation in the world—that we must not calculate on its proving a source of peace to us; and experience adds its testimony to the Scripture truth. Let us not then deceive ourselves, where the truth is so openly declared to us—let us not lay a flattering unction to our soids, and proclaim peace to ourselves, where there is in fact no ground for
peace. Can there be any peace for us, so long as we are in the flesh, and there remains any sin within us to war against the soul? Can we presume that all is safe, because we feel no immediate assaults of temptation? Rather, on the contrary, let us be assured that groat present tranquillity is an omen of future disquiet—a stillness which forebodes an impending storm. "Woe unto you," says our Saviour, "when all men shall speak well of you!" (Luke vi. 26.) That is, woe unto you, when your compliance with an evil world is such as to obtain indiscriminate approbation from the bad as well as the good; for it implies that we do not scrupulously adhere to the rigid law of our faith, and timidly avoid singularity of devotion to the one only good cause. Such is the uncompromising nature of our holy religion, that it is impossible that it should suit the tastes of all men; neither therefore can its professors, if they be fully imbued with its holy doctrines. When, therefore, we find ourselves in too high favour with the world, let us pause to examine ourselves, whether we have not erred from the simplicity of evangelical doctrine, and sacrificed some portion of its dues to the opinion of men. Internally, indeed, the more possessed we are with the spirit of true religion, the greater joy and consolation we roust feel in it; and the greater, consequently, must be the perception of its natural efficacy. But, on the contrary, in proportion as we are more actuated by religion, must be the frequency and violence of opposition from the circumstances of an untoward world, and the less consequently its actual external effect. A lukewarm profession of religion may be maintained in ease and supiueness —an energetic faith calls for labour and pains.
In the next place, the assurance which our Lord has given us, that his doctrine will be as a sword on earth, ought to fortify our minds against all vain dejection and disappointment, when we do not perceive that unmixed peace and comfort which naturally follow in the train of holiness and piety. He has already intimated to us, that the obstacles from the world to the success of the truth are so great, that his word cannot have free course, but must, if we may so express it, fight its way onward. Shall any one then complain that his endeavours after Christian holiness are not requited witli their full reward in such a condition of the world? Shall he wonder, that while he is yet a member of the Church militant, he obtains not that rest which can only belong justly to the Church triumphant? It may for a moment, indeed, grieve the sincere Christian, when he sees the ungodly in such prosperity, (Ps. lxxiii. 3.) while he is comparatively depressed and kept back from enjoyment—but it will only be for a moment—for he will immediately have recourse to the sanctuary of God, as the Psalmist says, to explain the difficulty which was otherwise too hard for him—he will recal to mind what his religion teaches him, that outward good is no criterion of the favour of heaven —and that bis slight affliction, endured for the sake of righteousness, "worketh for him a far more exceeding and glorious reward." Looking to this bright recompense, he will rejoice rather that "all the day long be has been punished, and chastened every morning." He will behold, in his privation and disappointments, the sword, which the world places in the hand of religion to smite him, and he will cheerfully submit to be wounded in the flesh, that he may live in the spirit.
Again, to have been apprized beforehand of the actual .effect which should follow the preaching of the Gospel, may serve as an auxiliary antidote against the sin of infidelity and apostacy. We live in an age when the spirit of dissension walks fearlessly abroad, and with
more than wonted presumption lays its dismembering hand on every consecrated thing—when prostituted talent descends from its own elevation to be the purveyor of all that is disgusting and offensive, to satiate the low appetite of the vulgar, and to turn the taste of mankind from the pure nourishment of spiritual instruction. It is not now, as for. merly, when sceptical ingenuity assailed religion with laboured arguments and insinuations, which were accessible only to the learned few. The infidelity of the present day is of a more open and profligate stamp. It shews its front in the public ways, and mingles in the conversation of the people. Once it was only a contagious malady derived from the touch of a distempered philosophy, —now, unhappily, it infects the very air which we breathe. Need we, then, any more striking proof than that which the present times afford, of our Lord's assertion of the hostility which bis religion would raise up against itself in the world ?— Hitherto argumentative attacks have been chiefly made on religion, and have as invariably failed, because they assailed its strong holds—but now the attacks are made on those vulnerable points which it presents in the passions of its professors, and they too fatally succeed. So far, however, should the wide spread of infidelity in modem times be from causing dismay of heart to the sincere believer, that he should behold in it the sure fulfilment of his prophecy, who said, •« He came not to send peace on earth, but a sword;" and derive an argument for the strengthening of his own faith. It should, at the same time, convince him of the purity and perfection of that religion, which can only be endangered by the increased corruption of the world—which only recoils from mankind when they become too polluted for its reception. If the infidelity of the present day is more alarming in its character, and more difficult to be repressed, U is only because iniquity niort abounds—because the passions of men are now warped to antichristian principles, and the original impediment which exists in the flesh to the progress of the word, sufficiently great without any aggravation, is increased ten-fold.'
But further, let this obstruction to the vital efficacy of Christianity, which our Lord has foretold, and which we so evidently discern in the world, stimulate our own exertions, to obviate the strong counteraction from without to the success of religion, and to reinforce its strength. The very aggravation of the present case imperatively demands increased! exertion on our parts to meet the growing evil. The sword which is now going through the earth, the fire which is already kindled, cry aloud to us to gird ourselves for battle—to take to ourselves "the shield of faith, wherewith we shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked; and the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Shall we slumber on our post while the war-cry of our enemy is sounding a bold defiance in our cars? Shall we look on with indifference, while the incendiary is scattering around our temples the firebrand of desolation?
Nor let us be deterred from doing our utmost to promote the cause of religion, by the thought, that, in spite of all our exertions, things may still take their course, and that infidelity and dissension may still continue to interrupt the real efficacy of religion, as they have hitherto done, and to render it a sword among men. For we are not to expect that such a blissful order of things wilt ever be seen on earth, as that in which no resistance would be made to the success of religion. The condition itself of the world is such, as was before remarked, as to preclude altogether such an expectation. Still much may be done to diminish the weight of counterba
lancing evil. For instance, by our personal example, what advantage may not accrue to the cause of religion? While the life of one man presents at least an approximation to that way of peace, which is the proper natural effect of religion—I say an approximation, because there cannot be any perfect specimen,—when even one example thus speaks to the world, the multitude of exceptions which present religion to our view only as a sword on earth —as the cause of discord and quarrels — are comparatively nugatory and insignificant. For were the consolations of religion unreal, it Could not bestow peace in any degree in any one instance—but, though all concurred in rejecting that peace which it offered them, and actually made it no peace to themselves, still this is no presumption against its capability of bestowing real happiness—for the case may be, as it is, a perversion of the true effect arising from causes foreign to the religion itself.
Especially is it incumbent on as to take care that we add not, on the contrary, by an evil example, any confirmation of that perverted view of our religion which the world at large exhibits. Sufficient is the evil which reigns abroad in the world. The spirit of irreligion already marshals in its ranks a host numerically formidable to the faithful remnant which is left under the bauner of Christ. Already has desertion sufficiently thinned our lines, and we remain only a small band in the midst of our enemies. Each true believer, in such a case, should act as if the whole burthen were laid on himself. He should practically apply to himself the words of Elijah, "I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord, but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men." (1 Kings xviii. 22.) And he should accordingly feel, that any dereliction of duty, on his part, would materially involve the interests of religion. It is not now the time for each individual to stand aloof to say, I leave it to the ministers of the Gospel to fight the battles of the Lord. Whoever thou art, that namest the name of Christ, it is thine to depart from iniquity— to come forth from the pollution of an evil world—to present thyself before God and man as the champion of the Lord, pure and blameless, giving no occasion to the enemy to blaspheme that holy name by which thou art called.
Finally, let that view of the disadvantageous condition in which religion is now circumstanced, elevate our thoughts to that time, and that happy region, where, through the merits of our Redeemer, these obstacles shall be altogether removed, and its natural and actual effect shall be found to coincide—when the sword of discord shall be for ever sheathed, and the fire of persecution for ever quenched. If, indeed, amidst the evident confusion which prevails in this world, we are able to discern sufficient intimations of the true character and tendency of our religion to diffuse joy and peace, we have the strongest ground for believing, that when present obstacles are removed, that fulness of joy unspeakable, and that peace which passeth all understanding, which the Scriptures declare to us, shall then follow it as its inseparable accompaniments—that then the persecuted and afflicted for righteousness sake shall rejoice, and the righteous shine forth as the stars for ever.
In the mean time, while we look forward only by faith and hope to this happy period, we cannot sufficiently admire and praise the won
derful wisdom and goodness of God, who thus bringeth good out of evil, making the clouds and storms of this world the harbingers of the glorious day-spring from on high. He has given, we find, even the best of us, now, but faint perception of that blessedness which belongs to the pure profession of the faith. Though godliness hath, by his word, the promise of the life which now is, as well as of that which is to come— vet, from the circumstances in which he has placed his servants, in the midst of a perverse and sinful generation, the enjoyment which they now obtain must fall infinitely short of any solid real happiness. Yet that very faintness of the present enjoyment attached to religion becomes the passport to that transcendant bliss which shall be hereafter. It has taught them to wean their affections from the things of this world —to spiritualize their nature—to aspire to those more perfect joys which God hath in store for them that love Him. As a portion of the Canaanites we find were left in the land which was given to the chil. dren of Israel, to be " as thorns in their sides," and to preserve the people in allegiance to their God— so has our Lord ordained that our religion should be asa sword, to preserve us stedfastly in the faith, and to remind us of that God who heapeth his blessings upon us, and crowneth us with loving kinduesses and tender mercies,—lest we should repose with satisfaction on present things, and forget that more divine recompense, which our Saviour shall hereafter bestow on all such as look for and love his appearing.