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“And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren por unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."*
“ In the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” But there is frequently much perplexity likewise. And this remark applies to the various conflicting opinions which ancient and modern commentators and expositors have entertained in reference to the precise bearing of the words of my text, and the three following verses. Some have regarded them as having a retrospective, and some a prospective, application. In the former case, they contain an urgent motive to the diligent and faithful acquisition of those blessed tempers and eminent virtues which our Lord had so distinctly enumerated, and so forcibly inculcated ; in the latter, they are to be viewed as a suitable introduction to the just and necessary strictures which he was going to make on the corrupt and perverted, and, at the best, but superficial, interpretations which the Jewish rabbi had given of the moral law. Take them, however, either way, and a very important meaning is conveyed. If they are the improvement of what has been already stated, they show us how these sacred and celestial virtues are to be employed by all who possess them; and if they are intended to prepare the minds of the people for those truths which he was now immediately to deliver, they may be considered as alleging an ample and sufficient reason for the reformation which he taught. The figure, indeed, shows us that, by the cultivation of such holy tempers as are essential to the prosperity, and even the existence of
* 2 Peter i.5-8.
vital religion in the heart, the friends of Christ are to be the reformers and preservers of mankind. It is as though he had said, “Ye, my disciples, as many of you as are so in reality, and not in name only, are to be in the moral, all that salt is in the natural and artificial, world ; ye are to give a relish to that which is insipid, and to preserve from decay that which tends rapidly to corruption. But if ye, who should season and purify others, are destitute of the relish and savour of the truth yourselves, by what means is this world to be seasoned and saved? And, in that case, how utterly despicable is your character, and how terribly awful is your doom? Ye are henceforth perfectly worthless; nay, worse,-ye are injurious, good for nothing but to be cast out, and trodden under foot of men!" What a reproof to the nominal Christian ;-what a solemn admonition to the real one! The Lord help us faithfully to receive it.
Whatever particular connection these words may, therefore, have with either context, the great truth they exhibit, and the most important duty they enforce, are obvious even to the humblest capacity. It is vndeniable, that they teach us the imperative obligation which every professor of the Christian religion is under, to endeavour, by all legitimate and scriptural means, to diffuse the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the world. There can be no earthly reason assigned for limiting the application of the passage to the primitive disciples. It is of universal interest, and is intended for all the followers of the Redeemer, as much as the beatitudes themselves, or any other part of this discourse. If “ Jesus Christ be the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever,” so also is his religion, both in its principles and its fruits. It is the same in its spirit and operations in all ages, and in all nations; and if the first disciples were required to be “the salt of the earth" in their day and generation, so likewise is every one
Dames the name of Christ,” till the “ saving health,” of the gospel in the hand of the divine spirit be diffused and embraced “among all nations.” In confirmation of this remark, we need only to turn to a few passages of the New Testament, which contain an account of the great design of our moral renovation. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”*
“For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord, and whether we die we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.”+
Assist me, brethren, by your prayers, while I refer you
TO THE DEPLORABLE CONDITION OF THE MORAL WORLD WHICH THE TEXT IMPLIES—THE VALUABLE AND NECESSARY SERVICE WHICH THE FRIENDS OF CHRIST ARE APPOINTED TO RENDER IT-AND THE UTTER WORTHLESSNESS AND MISERABLE DOOM OF SUCH PROFESSORS AS ARE MORALLY DISQUALIFIED FOR ITS PERFORMANCE. “IF ANY MAN HAVE EARS TO HEAR LET HIM HEAR."
I. LET US TAKE A BRIEF SURVEY OF THE DEPLORABLE CONDITION OF THE MORAL WORLD, WHICH THE TEXT IMPLIES.
“Ye are the salt of the earth ;” and hence it is to be concluded that the earth, in reference to all religious health, is in a state of langour and disease. The metaphors which both the Lord Jesus Christ and the inspired writers often employ to set forth the high duty and responsible situation of his people, is founded in the fact of the necessity of the discharge of the work which they specify. Com
* Ephes. ii. in.
+ Rom. xiv. 7, 8.
parisons and images are, indeed, frequently adopted, not because the persons to whom they were primarily addressed were only to be reached by eastern metaphors; but because they were significant emblems of the real nature of the evil which they represent, and were calculated to convey a strong and true impression of the facts to which they refer. Thus, for example, we are often indirectly taught what we are by nature, by a declaration of what we must become by grace.
“Ye must be born again,” was the unequivocal assurance which our Lord gave to Nicodemus ; and nothing can be more obvious than the conclusion to which this figure and this requisition oblige us to come, namely—the degenerate and corrupt condition of the human heart, before it has undergone the moral change declared to be necessary to salvation.
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren :"* mode of speech,” says the amiable and judicious Dr. Doddridge, “which but too plainly intimates the dismal and appalling condition of man, before he experiences the happy translation.” And if there be such a thing as an implied truth in any portion or figure of Scripture, then this truth is implied here--that the world is in an insipid and decaying state, until the savour and blessedness of the Christian religion be diffused throughout it.
There are three ideas suggested by the representation in the text. The first is that of insipidity or tastlessness. And, truly, this is the case, where the savour of the gospel does not prevail. There you will find no moral beauty, no fragrant odour, no fruits of benevolence and mercy. The Scriptures explain the fact, and show us the cause. When “ sin entered into the world” the Holy One immediately retired from all converse with his creatures, except through the medium of sacrifices, which were intended to prefigure
1 John iii. 14.
Him who was foreordained to heal the breach, by his obedience unto death. It did not accord with the divine purity to hold fellowship with apostate sinners; and when the Almighty withdraws his smile and love, every thing valuable departs also. Thus, on the introduction of sin into paradise, the mind of the first transgressors became dark; creation became dreary, and prolific only in “ thorns and thistles,” but as it was cultured by the labour of man. True, the degenerate and vitiated palate of the sinner, deadened by repeated draughts of sin to every thing really good and elevated, may continue to derive some ignoble gratification from sensual indulgences; but to a renovated appetite everything, unaccompanied with the divine “favour which is life,” is wholly unsatisfactory, and leaves the mind unsustained and unhappy. Oh, how insipid the dear delights even of the family, the sanctuary, and the sequestered recesses of the closet, if there be no manifestations of His love, or indications of His presence, to the spiritual and regenerate heart.
The second idea, is that of folly and ignorance. The word salt is frequently used by the best writers among the ancients as the symbol of wisdom; while the word which signifies a foolish man, literally means an insipid one. Now, true religion is wisdom: “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding."* On the other hand, wickedness, in the Scriptures, is described as folly. Thus, in reference to the theft which had been committed in the camp of Israel, the Lord said, “ And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire, he and all that he hath ; because he hath transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he hath wrought folly in Israel.”+ So also we read, “ He will speak peace unto his people, and