Page images
PDF
EPUB

ingratitude," he waits to be gracious.” In the expressive language of an elegant writer,* “it tells us, that true religion is nothing less than light beaming in upon our darkness—than hope cheering our despair—than mercy removing our guilt—than life driving away death-than immortality beckoning us to-the fruition of the joys of Paradise.” It needs not, therefore, awaken our surprise that the multitude should have been transported with such intelligence. It is rather a matter of astonishment that they felt it no more; and that it is heard every Sabbathday by so many thousands of our own countrymen, with such perfect and fatal indifference.

The manner of the Saviour appears also to have affected their minds: “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes." There was something so commanding, majestic, and simple, in his mode of discourse, as at once to affect the heart, and impress the understanding. He taught with all the authority of a prophet, divinely inspired, and commissioned to declare the truth. Light beamed from his lips--pure, copious, and free, as water flows from the crystal fountain. There was an independence of mind in his sentiments and thoughts, which disdained to follow the beaten path of predecessors, and that distinguished his words from the cold, speculative, and traditional orations of the Scribes. “ Ye have heard it said by them of old time,” was his general preface to his own expositions; and then, to distinguish himself from them, he added, “but I say unto you." His fidelity was most unshrinking and uncompromising. He did not occupy their time in discussions upon the inferior points—the “tithing of anise, mint, and cummin,” but on the weightier matters of moral obligation—“justice, mercy, and charity." He enforced upon their attention the discharge of essential duties—the awful concerns of eternity--the momentous truth of a judgment to come and the necessity of “exceeding the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees,” in order to salvation. Moreover, He taught these doctrines with such a combination of dignity, earnestness, and affection, as totally to preclude the cavils of his adversaries, and disarm the prejudices of his hearers. In fine, “his word was with power: the Holy Ghost also bearing witness that it was the voice of God, and not of man.” This was an “ authority” which no other teacher can produce of the truth of his doctrine. Under shepherds may pronounce the words of a benediction : “ the chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls” alone can command the blessing. I proceed to consider,

* The Hon. and Rev. G. T. Noel, M. A.

III. A FEW POINTS OF INSTRUCTION WHICH THE WHOLE CONVEYS.

The first I mention is, the true nature of personal religion. Often as this has been illustrated in the course of preceding meditations, I cannot close this series of lectures without calling your attention to the important question again. There is nothing more evident throughout the whole of this divine sermon of our Lord, than that the appearance and the reality of religion do not always go together. The former may be prominent in every action to the eye of man, and the latter wholly undiscovered, even by the eye of Omniscience. It is not from splendid exhibitions of piety that we can estimate the real existence of that heavenly principle within. On the public stage of life, men often appear in borrowed colours. From motives of interest, ambition, and vanity, they assume the semblance of feelings and virtues which never found a place in their hearts ; and they, whose public beneficence may erect the sanctuary of God, and contribute to the support of fashionable and popular institutions of Christian mercy, may yet, in private life, be arbitrary and oppressive. There the motives to disguise their native and true character cease to operate; there they are withdrawn from the potent influence of the world's gaze; and there the dominion of latent principles resumes its ascendency, like the bow which has been forcibly compressed, springs into its wonted position when the power that controlled it is removed.* This was the sin of the Pharisees, and let us guard against it with the utmost vigilance. The disposition of the heart, in every one, more or less, is to assume a character foreign to its real nature; but in these times, when a profession of religion is so much in fashion, when benevolence (and I would that it were more copious and pure) is so much the order of the day, and when, with a few exceptions, no finger of scorn points to the individual, as he passes along, on account of his faith and denomination, there is still greater danger of being mere outside professors. Let it, however, be distinctly and for ever remembered, that religion is a powerful and divine principle of the heart, which makes a man, in a measure, like the Saviour himself— kind, affectionate, sincere, holy, righteous, and benevolent. Find him wherever you may, allowing for human infirmities, which it would be too much to suppose were wholly extinct, he has the mind of Christ. The perfection of the Great Exemplar is his constant aim, and whether in solitude or society, he labours to attain it.

The second lesson teaches us to exercise Christian charity towards all mankind. Doubtless, there is much spurious candour in the world. Men of unblushing impiety are not slandered when they are called wicked; nor are the abettors and believers of errors, totally opposed to the whole genius of revelation, injured in their moral character

Naturam licet expellas furca, tamen usque recurret.-Jor.

Us."

when they are classed with such as are “ dead in trespasses and in sins.” It is not for us to determine with how much remaining ignorance and depravity it may be possible for a man at last to enter the kingdom of God, but the Scripture unequivocally declares, that “the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death."* It is a false delicacy which shrinks from the solemn publication of this awful truth. The charity, therefore, which we are to cherish, is not that which regards all sentiments and conduct alike, but that which respects fellow-christians of other churches, “who follow not with

It is matter for unfeigned regret, not that there are different armies in the ranks of Christ, but that they have been as much divided in affection as in name; hostile in disposition, without forbearance and allowance, and denying to each other, if not in profession yet in fact, what God has given to all men—the freedom of enquiry in matters that belong to their peace. It is, however, undeniable, from the sermon of the Saviour before us, that all bitterness and wrath are wholly opposed to the genius of true religion; and that the practice of piety, and the sanctification of the soul, are its essential points. A supercilious spirit is wholly at variance with the tenor of the gospel; and it would be well indeed if there were less of its desecrating influence among the avowed disciples of our com

“ Is there not one body, and one spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling ;-one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.” Are we not disciples of the same master, and members of the same spiritual family? Are we not fellow-travellers to the same

mon Lord.

* Rev, xxi. 8.

T T

happy land, “where charity never faileth ?” Why then should we embitter our passage thither, and instead of helping each other on, destroy the comforts we possess by contentions and disputes on subjects commonly frivolous and unimportant? “ Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head-as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore."

Thirdly. The impression produced by the discourse on the audience teaches us also, never to despair of the salvation of any of the human family. The hearers of our Lord on the occasion before us, were, without doubt, equally prejudiced against Him with the rest of their countrymen. There was nothing in his parentage or appearance that corresponded with their expectations of the predicted Messiah. He was born in Bethlehem, the city of his renowned ancestor; and they said, “ look and see, for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” “Is not this the carpenter's son, and are not his mother and his brethren here with us?” They expected a king who should assert their rights against Cæsar; but instead of this, He directs them to conquer their own hearts. They were full of worldly ambition, and political feeling; but He directs them to suppress these passions, and pronounces his benediction on all who should succeed in this moral enterprise. And yet, notwithstanding this prejudice against Him, this attachment to long-established and universally venerated rites, and this love and desire of secular glory and honour, He awakens their admiration, and subdues some of their hearts! Then let us, my brethren, take encouragement hence, to persevere in the arduous endeavour to do good. If He command his blessing, what heart of enmity, superstition, or sin, can resist his grace? The power of the gospel to renew the moral character of man, and change

« PreviousContinue »