« PreviousContinue »
to the seductive power of the world and of the senses, we caution them to exercise a vigilance which every one who inherits the common evils of our nature requires to use. To guard against temptation, as it comes to us in the alluring and deceitful forms which the world and the flesh supply, is a great duty which all owe to themselves, to their neighbour, and to the Lord. These alluring and deceitful forms are " the strange children whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” From these the young should pray to be delivered and preserved. And as every sincere prayer must be accompanied by corresponding action, it is their duty and their interest to shun them, lest they be deceived by them into compliance with their vanity and falsehood.
I have not thought it necessary to enter into the subject of inward temptation ; but it is not to be understood that these are altogether unknown to the young Christian. Every outward inducement to sin must be attended with something of inward trial, if there is an inward inclination to commit it, and some inward principle to produce an opposing conviction and affection. In the spiritual sense, the strange children are the vain and false thoughts and desires of our own hearts, as our sons and daughters are the genuine affections and thoughts of our renewed nature, so far as it has been renewed. And it is the duty of the young to pray to be delivered from these, since it is only when these are cast out that the good and true can become established within them. It is only as we are rid and delivered from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood, that our sons can be as plants grown up in their youth, and that our daughters can be as corner stones polished after the similitude of a palace.
4. If the young appear to labour under any disadvantages arising from the strength of their passions and from inexperience, there are, no doubt, other favourable circumstances which entirely counterbalance them. If the passions of the young are strong, their affections are generally warm and their sentiments noble and generous. There is also an ingenuousness which we commonly find in youth, which is not so often discernible in those of more advanced age. I speak, of course, of all these as natural attributes; and only wish to show that the young do not labour under any greater disadvantages than their elders, as beings capable of becoming religious in the true sense, by regulating their minds and lives by its pure principles and holy precepts. If any forsake the paths of religion, it is not because they have not the power, but because they want the will, to walk in them. They are more liable than [Enl. Series.—No. 107, vol. ix.]
the more anvanced in life to be betrayed into acts of indiscretion, for the warm affectious and generous sentiments of our nature may lead to excess, as the propensities lead to criminal indulgence; but these become tests of state and trials of principle. The young should no doubt guard against excess, and much more against sin; but they should make even acts of indiscretion opportunities of self-examination and means of improvement.
Although the young labour under the disadvantage of inexperience, they may have this to a considerable extent supplied by the experience of others. It is a general, if not a universal, opinion among those who have reached or passed the period of middle life, that if their life could be lived over again, they would be able to avoid many evils and errors into which they had fallen, and do much good which they had failed to accomplish. If this conviction ever induces any to wish that they might become young again, they have not acquired much wisdom by their experience; but if it is intended only as a reflection, which may be used for the benefit of life for the future, it is not to be considered improper or unprofitable. No one can look back upon the time that is passed without seeing much done which would have been better undone, and much left undone that might have been easily accomplished. But time past cannot be recalled. This wisdom which has been acquired by experience may be useful to others beside ourselves. The experience of the elder, may be useful to the younger, members of the human family. We cannot live our life over again ourselves ; but we can live it over again in others who are passing through those very years and states which we have passed through. And although the youthful cannot have in themselves the experimental wisdom which belongs to a period and to a state of life which they have not yet attained, they can, to some extent, anticipate those future years and states, and listen to those who have acquired wisdom by experience, who are able to direct them, and who have every wish to direct them right. There are many things, indeed, which nothing but experience can teach ; but it is dutiful, as well as reasonable, in the younger to be warned and advised by their elders, and especially by parents, who so ardently desire their welfare. By the mutual and reciprocal influence of the old and the young upon each other the states of both are tempered and improved ; and in nothing, perhaps, are the young and inexperienced able to derive benefit from the influence and counsel of their seniors, more than in being guarded, and thus armed, against temptation.
There is one important advantage which the young possess over those of riper years, that their minds are more flexible and impressible; they. are more easily and more readily brought into compliance with the principles of religion, and are more capable of receiving impressions in favour of them. It is true that they may also be more capable of being bent in the wrong as well as in the right direction, and of more readily receiving bad as well as good impressions; but we are not to overlook the wisdom and goodness of a Divine provision because it may be abused and perverted. Their greater susceptibility should certainly make the young more careful as to the origin and nature of the impressions they receive; but it should remind them of the duty and benefit of becoming early and earnestly impressed with such principles only as are calculated to be the guides and the supports of their future years. No principles but those of religion can do this. Religion has the promise of this life as well as of that which is to come. If it do not secure all that the natural mind may desire of worldly wealth and power, it will far more than give compensation in the satisfaction of mind which it will afford. The world cannot satisfy any of our natural desires fully, because it never can supply all that they demand; but religion can satisfy them all, because it has the power of limiting them to what is easily attainable ; and even when what is aimed at cannot be attained, it has the power, when the world has not, of producing resignation and contentment. Religion is, therefore, our best friend, both in prosperity and adversity, and in all periods as well as in all conditions of life. That is our best friend which leads us to the greatest good, and provides us with the greatest happiness; and the good and the happiness of religion are, unlike those of the world, both present and prospective. It may be the guide and delight of youth as much as it may be the support and comfort of old age. Let religion, then, be the object of your choice, and it will prove itself “more precious than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” Moreover, by the truths of religion are the Lord's children warned, and in keeping of them there is great reward.
GOD'S IMPARTIAL GOODNESS TO MEN AN ARGUMENT
FOR THEIR IMPARTIAL GOODNESS TO EACH OTHER.
The perfection of the Divine character as displayed in creation, and as revealed in the Word, is one of the very highest and noblest truths that man can possess and employ for his own improvement. It furnishes a pattern to which we can continually look, and which we can admire with growing ardour, and imitate with increasing advantage. We know, indeed, that God is infinite, and that we, as finite beings, can never be more than faint images of Him as the perfection of wisdom and goodness. But this consideration has nothing of discouragement in it; it is rather calculated to cheer and incite us. Knowing that we never can be absolutely perfect, so do we know that we are not required to aim at anything like being absolute perfection ; but that our nature necessitates what our happiness requires, that we should “ go on unto perfection," seeing through eternity more in the Lord to adore and to imitate.
The Divine character comprehends all perfections infinitely. It is useful, however, to single out some one perfection of the character of God on which to fix our attention, for the practical purpose of applying our knowledge of Him to ourselves, that we may see where and what to imitate. In the Lord's Sermon on the Mount, He singles out the impartiality of the Divine love, as a means of enforcing, by the highest possible example, the Christian duty of loving all men universally, and of loving all around us individually, whether they are friends or enemies, whether they are good or evil. As the God of nature, He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Although this is a natural truth, it teaches us more than a natural lesson.
There are two different aspects in which the Divine Being may be regarded as the Ruler of the present world. He governs the world physically, and He governs it morally. His physical government, also, has a moral as well as a natural purpose, since this world exists for the sake of another, and the temporal life of man for the sake of another that is eternal. It may be assumed, therefore, that the Lord's physical government of the world has a view to the final cause of creation, which is the spiritual and eternal happiness of man. In the physical government of the world, we may therefore see the moral character of the Deity displayed as well as imaged. In causing His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, we may see the principle on which the Almighty acts towards His creatures; for as we may look through nature up to the God of nature, we may look through God's natural up to His moral and spiritual government. Our Lord speaks, therefore, of the physical government as including a moral principle and teaching a moral lesson. In dispensing the natural blessings of sunshine and rain to the good and evil without distinction, the distinction of men into good and evil is not forgotton. The perfection of the Divine character is displayed in the Lord regarding that distinction, and yet in showing His love and beneficence as much as if He did not regard it. There would be no Divine principle involved, no moral lesson conveyed, if God took no cognizance of the different and opposite characters of those to whom He dispensed His favours. It is only because He taketh knowledge of the states of His creatures, that the Divine character is to be admired for its impartial goodness. Not only is the Lord liberal to the grateful and the good, but He is kind even to the unthankful and to the evil. To all He giveth liberally, and upbraideth not. “His tender mercies are over all His works,"—and all men are the work of God considered as the creatures of his hand ; brought into existence by His creative power, they are all alike the objects of His conservative care and of His loving-kindness. The great blessings of temporal life are supplied to all without distinction, so far as the Divine Being is concerned. The sun that gladdens us, the showers that refresh us, the air that invigorates us, the earth that supports us, all are given unto the sons of men without regard to the distinction of evil and good, of just and unjust.
What does this teach us? It is useful to call such reflections as these up before our mind, that we may catch something of the spirit of love and kindness towards our fellow-creatures which it is calculated to inspire, and to keep or drive away those gloomy and severe thoughts respecting the character and dealing of the Most High which the natural state of our minds makes us ready to entertain. Do we not hear among Christians more about the severity of the Divine judgments than the tenderness of the Divine mercy? Are Christians as much disposed to see the Lord's mercy in the daily rising of His sun, as to see His judgments in the rare occurrence of an earthquake or the destructive ravages of a tempest? It is right to view the hand of God in all the events of history and of life ; but it is due to the Divine character and government to distinguish between those which come by the immediate agency of man, and those which are produced by the free operation of the laws of nature; and then, to take even the most simple view of the subject, we shall find reason to conclude that the Divine mercy a thousand times outweighs the Divine severity. In the physical as in the moral government of the world, there is abundant reason to mark the proportion expressed in the declaration, that He visits the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him, while He shows mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Him and do His commandments. As the blessings, so do the calamities, that arise out of the free activity of the laws of nature fall upon the evil and upon the good; but still the amount of physical good far transcends that of physical evil; and in both the Divine Being shows Himself free from vindictiveness, and uninfluenced by anger or severity; for that which men call judgment is but the correction of mercy.
But we may read more than a moral lesson,—we may discern a purely spiritual truth, in the blessings of sunshine and rain. There is a sun