« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
contain all the right principles and rudiments of that delightful sentiment; and these being once fairly laid before the world, every man was left (as it was fit he should be) to make the ap plication of them himself, at his own discretion, to the purposes of friendly union, according as inclination led, or opportunity invited him. There can want nothing more than the concurrence of two congenial minds to kindle these sparks of friendship into a flame, much purer and brighter, and more permanent, than ever glowed within the breast of a heathen.
Whoever, therefore, cultivates the duties prescribed by the Gospel, will be, of all others, the best qualified for a virtuous friendship. But what is of far more consequence to the world in general, he will also be the best qualified to live happily without it. Friendship is a blessing, which, like many others in this world, falls to the lot of few. It depends so much on constitution, on accident, on a concurrence of circumstances which so rarely meet, and which no one can command, that by far the greater part of mankind pass through the world,-and pass through it very comfortably too,-without ever having the good fortune to find that person, whom they can with strict propriety call a friend. Had, then, the Gospel given ever so many precepts or directions on the subject of friendship, to a few refined philosophic minds, they might perhaps have been of some use. But it was not for these only, it was for the multitude also, for the people at large, that the Gospel was designed. And to these it must be no small satisfaction to find, that a connection which they often want the inclination, and oftener still the power, to form, is not enjoined, is not recommended, is not even mentioned, in the Gospel, and that they may go to heaven extremely well without it. A faithful friend is, indeed, as the son of Sirach no less justly than elegantly expresses it, the medicine of life.' [Eccles. xi. 16.] And happy they are, who find it. But to those who do not, or by any fatal accident are deprived of it, Christianity has other medicines, other consolations in store. It has pleasures to bestow, which will amply countervail those of the sincerest and firmest friendship. It gives that peace of mind, which nothing in this world, not even friendship itself, can give. It secures to us the favour of that Being, who is able to be our friend indeed. Our earthly friends may deceive, may desert us, may be separated from us, may be converted
into our bitterest enemies. But our heavenly Friend has declared (and he is one that may be trusted) that if we adhere faithfully to him, he will never leave us nor forsake us.' [Heb. xiii. 5.] It is, in short, in every man's power to be, if he pleases, though not precisely in the same sense that St. John was, yet, in a very important sense, the friend of Christ.' We have our Saviour's own word for it. Ye are my friends,' says he to his disciples, if ye do whatsoever I command you.' Nay, he has assured us, that he will consider every real Christian as united to him by still closer ties. This assurance is given us in one of those noble strains of divine eloquence which are so common in the sacred writings. Our Lord being told that his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him, he gives a turn to this little incident, perfectly new, and inexpressibly tender and affectionate. Who is my mother?' says he, and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand towards his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.'
THE INNOCENTS' DAY.
REWARD OF MARTYRS.
O Almighty God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and makest infants to glorify thee by their deaths, mortify and kill all vices in us, that by the innocency of our lives, and constancy of our faith, even unto death, we may glorify thy holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.-Amen.
REV. xiv. 1-5.-1. I looked, and lo a Lamb stood on the Mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. 2. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder, and I heard the voice of harpers, harping with their harps, 3. And they sung, as it were, a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts and the elders; and no man could learn that song, but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.
4. These are they which are not defiled with women, for they are virgins: these are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth: these were redeemed from among men, being the first-fruits unto God, and unto the Lamb. 5. And in their mouth was found no guile; for they are without fault before the throne of God.
[Text taken from the Epistle for the Day.]
ST. JOHN, in the preceding chapter, describes a vision, representing a very severe persecution of the Christian church, such as endeavoured, by all manner of hardships, to draw men over to idolatry; and here he proceeds to set before us the happy condition of those, who continued steadfast in their principles. Without entering into any particular enquiry, to what distinct events this portion of Scripture more especially refers, it shall be my care to improve it, by considering, in general, the case of those, who live and die in the undaunted confession of the truth. And that shall be done under two heads: the one consisting of the virtues and qualifications, for which these Saints and Martyrs are said to be conspicuous; the other, of the circumstances of that blissful state, into which they are received as a reward for those virtues.
I. 1. The first of these virtues and qualifications is, that 'they were not defiled with women, for they are virgins.' Nothing is more usual in the Old Testament than to reproach the revolt of God's people to idolatry, in the terms of committing adultery and fornication against him;' and the like. St. Paul, in the New Testament, expressing his fear lest the Corinthians should have been seduced by false teachers, uses an allusion exactly the same: I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy; for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear lest, by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. Accordingly we find the Church called the 'Spouse, and our Lord, the Bridegroom,' and the spiritual unity between these two represented by marriage.' All which metaphors plainly proceed upon his unalienable right to our worship and our affection; and tend to prove, that the estranging the one or the other from him is an act of the highest injustice-a vio_ lation of the most solemn, most sacred tie, in the world. agreement with this manner of speaking, so reasonable in itself, so familiar to both Testaments, we may very well understand those persons to be intended here, who had withstood all
solicitations to apostasy, and had refused doing honour to idols, by sacrifice, or incense, or other external mark of adoration; while not only their heathen persecutors, but their false complying brethren, the heretics of those times, indulged themselves in the vilest sensuality. In opposition to those abominations, St. John expresses the immovable perseverance of these faithful, by terms of the strictest chastity. And thus we have a rational construction of those words applied to uncleanness and fornication, in a figurative and spiritual sense, These are they, which were not defiled with women, for they are virgins.'
This use, however, we certainly ought to make of the Holy Spirit's chusing to speak after this manner; that when people of vicious lives expose themselves to hardships for the sake of their religious opinions, they minister just cause of suspicion that this is rather the effect of prejudice or education, of humour or interest, than of conscience and religion. "Tis sure no man ought to give up what his conscience tells him is a point of doctrine: but is it not as sure that he ought not to indulge any thing forbidden, in point of practice? Nay, is not this latter obligation so much stronger, as the matters of prac tice are less liable to dispute than most points of doctrine? Conscience is an uniform rule, extending to every part of our duty; and religion commands doing, as well as suffering. So that there is but one way of bringing true honour to this cause; and therefore, if we would die martyrs, we must live
I. 2. The second character of these faithful is, that they follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth;' which, though we might extend to a general imitation of Christ, yet since the 'following him' is a phrase so often joined with taking up the cross;' and since the persons here spoken of are such as did, in this sense, follow him, it seems most reasonable to apply the words to their cheerful endurance of all the trials, to which the providence of God thought fit to call them. And thus they are distinguished from those forward men, who, like the seed in stony ground, put forth apace, and promise mighty matters by the hasty efforts of their eager zeal, but when the 'heat of tribulation ariseth, wither away.' Whosoever doth not bear the cross of Christ, and come after him, cannot be his disciple.' The reason is, because from the instant of devoting
ourselves to his service, we cease to be at our own disposal any longer. Not that this act of ours conveys a new right, but it acknowledges and makes that our choice, which, by creation and redemption, was doubly vested in him before: and to say after this, so far we will go in our obedience and no farther; to quit our post when even in the hottest of the battle; to be anxious for our possessions, or our dependencies, or even our persons, when called into the field; all this (St. Paul tells Timothy) is contrary to our character. Thou, therefore, (says he) endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth, entangleth himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." Not to follow' where the Lamb' leads, is, in effect, to doubt whether any instance of our love ought to be thought too much for him, who hath given such costly proofs of his love to us; whether we shall be content to do what, if we depend upon him, he will render us able to do, in order to being afterwards as happy with him as it is possible for men to be, who yet, without him, can never be happy at all.
Let me add only upon this particular, that when men are thus called upon, and obey that call heartily, it is necessary they remember that a Lamb is the leader they profess to follow. One called so, not only because a most precious sacrifice, a true passover; but because, as a lamb before his shearers is dumb, so he was led to the slaughter, and opened not his mouth. Courage indeed in suffering for a good cause is well; but if courage be not tempered with meekness, if our resentments burn in our breasts, and boil over in projects of revenge, opprobrious language, or any sort of indecent bitterness, neither we nor our cause are like to gain by it. Therefore, among other methods proposed by St. Peter, for establishing the credit of Christianity among its adversaries, he seems to be principally concerned for the manner of their suffering. He propounds Christ as a pattern in this respect, especially of doing well ;' and even when they suffered for that, taking it patiently, for 'hereunto', says he, were ye called; for Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps; who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously,' &c. [1 Pet. ii. 20, 21, 22, 23.]