« IndietroContinua »
this act, he exposed himself to the world's reproach and scorn; but the opinion of men had little influence with him, when it contravened the will of God. Moses, when a candidate for the highest honors of the court of Egypt, “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season ; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” Nehemiah, when urged by his friends to seek safety, in an hour of peril, by deserting the post of duty and concealing himself in the courts of the temple, with heroic decision of purpose and real magnanimity of soul, replied: “ Should such a man as I flee? and who is there that being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.” When the apostles, after having been prohibited by the high-priest and elders to preach Christ to the people, persisted in their work, they justified themselves by appealing to the authority under which they acted. “We ought,” said they, “ to obey God rather than man.” Upon this principle, Paul, the Reformers, our Puritan forefathers, and “the noble army of the martyrs,” acted. They cheerfully sacrificed the honors, the pleasures, the possessions and friendships of the world, in order to serve God and secure an inheritance in His kingdom. They looked beyond “ the things which are seen and temporal, to those that are unseen and eternal."
And who exhibit most true dignity and greatness ? those who act in accordance with the maxims, the spirit, and the ethics of the world, or those who make the Word of God the rule of duty ? —those who forego eternal joys for momentary gratifications, or those who sacrifice the latter when they conflict with the claims of the former ?-those who live to themselves, or those who make it their governing aim, though at the sacrifice of what they hold most dear on earth, to glorify and enjoy God? No candid person can be at a loss for an answer to these inquiries.
III. The Christian spirit exhibits its moral grandeur and magnanimity under the infliction of unprovoked injuries. Under malevolent treatment, the spirit of the world is bitter and vindictive. Its subjects, even when restrained by education, conscience, public opinion, or the supremacy of law from avenging their wrongs, they awaken implacable hatred toward the authors of them. Were opportunities afforded and restraints to be removed, their causeless injuries would be visited by speedy and terrible retribution. Not unfrequently they have been. Examples are not wanting of individuals, suffering under real or imaginary injuries, who have watched for years for an opportunity to avenge them. When it occurred, they seized it as the tiger pounces on his prey,
and left the victims of their hate lifeless or convulsed with their final agony.
Such are not the fruits of the Christian spirit. These consist in
the cheerful forgiveness of injuries, and deeds of kindness toward their authors, prompted by holy and benevolent affections. The glorious Founder of our religion, not only forbids us to render evil for evil, but requires us to overcome evil with good, and to exercise toward enemies a meek and forgiving spirit. “Recompense t) no man evil for evil. Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath. Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you.” These are the laws of His blessed Kingdom. Such importance does He attach to these and similar commands, that He has made obedience to them the condition of obtaining forgiveness of our heavenly Father. “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Nay, in the prayer which He taught His disciples, we find this emphatic petition, “ Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” He requires us when we pray for forgiveness from God, to give a solemn bond, the penalty of violating which, is eternal condemnation, that we will forgive others as we pray to be forgiven. Such morality,-morality so utterly at variance with the maxims, spirit, and usages of the world—may well claim a celestial origin.
Examples of such a spirit are not wanting. The persecuted apostle of the Gentiles could in truth say for himself and his suffer-, ing brethren, “Being reviled we bless; being persecuted we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat." From the records of ecclesiastical history we learn that the Jews became so incensed at the apostle James because he preached that Jesus was the Messiah, that they put him to a violent death; and that while suffering its agonies, he earnestly prayed that they might be forgiven. Stephen, when dying under a shower of stones, which his enemies poured upon him, kneeled down and cried with a loud voice, Lord lay not this sin to their charge.” Examples of this sort were not confined to the apostolic age. The dark and suffering periods of persecution abounded with them. And, much as the lack of the spirit of Christian forgiveness in the professed disciples of the Lord Jesus is to be deplored, we believe it has, in centuries gone by, existed, and that it now exists among them to a far greater extent than the children of disobedience are willing to admit. One example I cannot forbear to notice.
David Brainerd, after asking forgiveness from one of whom he had spoken disrespectfully, adds, “ God has made me willing to do anything that I can do consistent with truth, for the sake of peace, and that it might not be a stumbling-block to others. For this reason, I can cheerfully forego and give up what I verily believe, after the most mature and impartial search, is my right in some instances. God has given me the disposition, that if a man has done me an hundred injuries, and I, (though ever so much
provoked to it,) have done him only one, I feel disposed and heartily willing humbly to confess my fault to him, and on my knees to ask forgiveness of him, though at the same time he should justify himself in all the injuries he has done me, and should only make use of my humble confession to blacken my character the more, and represent me as the only person guilty; yea, though he should as it were insult me, and say, he knew all this before, and that I was making work for repentance. we have a more illustrious example of a forgiving spirit than is furnished by the lives of Paul, or Stephen, or James, or Brainerd. When the incarnate Son of God was expiring upon the cross in unutterable agony, amidst the taunts and insults of His murderers, He prayed, “ Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." Compared with the meek, forgiving spirit of the gospel, that of the irascible and vindictive spirit of the world is abject meanness. The difference between them was well expressed by one, whose friend when smarting under an injury, inquired whether he did not think it would be manly to avenge it. He replied, " I think it would be man-like to avenge, and God-like to forgive it. There is real magnanimity of soul, a moral grandeur in acts of Christian forgiveness,—which make the avenging of injuries and the chivalrous deeds of the world's heroes and conquerors, appear degrading and even contemptible.
IV. The magnanimity of the Christian spirit is shown by the support and consolation which it gives in seasons of sorrow and pain, and the victory which it achieves over the king of terrors. It enabled those ancient worthies, of whom such honorable mention is made in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, patiently to suffer “ cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment,” and armed their souls with holy fortitude when “stoned, sawn asunder, tempted and slain with the sword.” Job, sustained by this spirit, as he sat down amidst the ruins of all his earthly comforts, with celestial composure and peace, said, “ The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord.” Fortified by this spirit, David, when his life was unrighteously sought by his enemies, triumphantly exclaimed, “ 'The Lord is my light and my salvation ; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid ? Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me upon a rock.” Under the sustaining power of this spirit Paul, even when his bosom was pervaded with a sense of his own weakness, exultingly said, “ I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me.” It enabled him and his suffering brethren amidst want, weariness, scorn, enmity, and persecution, “to glory in tribulation," and in the language of assured faith to say
“Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Thousands of the possessors of this spirit, when bending in the agony of grief, over dying friends and kindred, and over their graves when dead, have sweetly acquiesced in the will of God. The feeling of their hearts has been, “ Not our will, but thine be done.” And signal have been the victories which it has gained over the cruel spoiler, death. The sweet Psalmist of Israel said, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” In anticipation of his departure from the world, Asaph thus expressed his soul-sustained confidence in God: “My Hesh and my heart faileth ; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.". Paul panting to enjoy the Saviour's presence in heaven, said, “I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ.” In the prospect of his speedy removal to eternity, he was enabled to say, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith : Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day.” This victory over death was not the exclusive privilege and achievement of saints, endowed with the gift of inspiration. Since that was withdrawn, thousands have died in the triumphs of faith in Jesus. And they have embraced all ages and every grade of intellect and variety of native temper and education. It would be delightful to contemplate the victory of many of them over the king of terrors, but our limits allow us to notice only a few.
Nathan W. Dickerman, an uncommonly lovely and interesting child, died in the eighth year of his age. During his long and painful sickness, he enjoyed great peace in believing in Jesus. To him, death had no terrors. Shortly before he died, he sent this message to an absent friend. “Tell him I'm very happy-my Saviour is precious—and if we dont meet on earth again, I hope we shall meet in heaven.'
Catharine Brown, whose conversion was one of the early fruits of missionary labor among the Cherokee Indians, died young. When it became evident that her final hour on earth was near, she said, “I feel perfectly resigned to the will of God. I know He will do right with His children. I thank God that I am entirely in His hands. I feel willing to live or die, as He thinks best. My only wish is that He may be glorified.”
The widow of the late Rev. Dr. Blatchford, of Lansingburgh, who through a long life was an ornament to her sex, and an honor to humanity and evangelical religion, in the early part of her last sickness, suffered some disquietude of mind, under a sense of her own unworthiness. But the Sun of Righteousness soon dispelled the gloom. “Now,” said she, “I enjoy not merely a glimpse, but a full blaze of the divine glory as revealed to me through Christ. I dared to hope and pray only for peace, that I might be delivered from darkness, but 0, it is the fulness of joy, the fulness of joy. And can it be that I am so blessed ? It's wonderful! it's wonderful ! matchless condescension ! infinite grace ! !” In the sermon delivered at her funeral, her pastor remarked, “At one time she seemed in a perfect transport of joy in view of her departure. All present were filled with awe, and thought her just about to burst the chains of earth and soar away to the mansions of peace, as she raised her dying hands, and with heaven beaming in her countenance exclaimed, I'm mounting, O I'm mounting! 0 I desire to see the whole world filled with the glory of God."
The Rev. John Janeway, an accomplished scholar, died in England at the age of twenty-four. During the greater part of his sickness, he seemed to enjoy the bliss of heaven. Shortly before he expired, he said, “Let no Christian ever be afraid of dying. Death is sweet to me. Praise is now my work, and I shall be engaged in that sweet employment for ever. I shall in a few hours be in eternity, singing the song of Moses and of the Lamb."
The late Dr. Payson, when convulsed with agony, said: “While my body is thus tortured, the soul is perfectly happy and peaceful. My soul is filled with joy unspeakable." Multitudes of Christians have died in a similar manner. Infidelity and irreligion never obtained such a victory over death. Nothing but the Christian spirit ever did. And what spectacle on earth can be more sublime than that of a feeble mortal vanquishing the king of terrors, by the might of Him“ who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel?”
V. We have a further proof of the magnanimity of the Christian spirit, in the benevolence and grandeur of its purposes, and in the labors and sufferings to which it prompts in the execution of them. It leads one to yearn over a world lying in wickedness, and to employ the means which God has ordained to enlighten and save it. ' Under its constraining power, the apostles went forth and proclaimed in the ears of all to whom they could gain access, the glad tidings of salvation through Immanuel's blood. To this noble work they devoted all their strength and energy, in the face of scorn, enmity, persecution, and all the appalling apparatus of martyrdom. But this age of blessed zeal and triumph was followed by a night of fearful darkness and corruption of more than a thousand years' duration. But the morning-star of the Reformation heralded the dawn of a bright and blessed day, whose beams of hope and promise it is our exalted privilege to behold. Far removed as the Church is from the elevation of Christian attainment which she ought to have reached, it cannot be denied that