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xiv. 22—24.) “One sinner destroyeth much good." Decision for God is an effective means of influencing others, and of promoting their salvation ; but he who neglects the dictates of truth and conscience, and sins against the light, does all that man can do to encourage sin, and ruin souls.
Beware of indecision; it is a soul-enslaving, soul-destroying evil. “Prepare thine heart to seek the Lord.” Seek Him with full purpose of heart.
S. A. BROWNING.
SUBJECT :- Moral Scholarship.
“Not that I speak in respect of want : for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”—Philip. iv. 11.
Analysis of Homily the Four Hundred and Twenty-ninth.
These words suggests three general truths :-
TUDES DURING LIFE.
I. THAT CHRISTIANS GENERALLY ARE SUBJECT TO VICISSIIt was so with the apostle ;
-whatsoever state,” &c. Life is a chequered scene.
In our progress we are constantly passing from one state to another ; we do not continue a day in exactly the same condition. We change in mind, body, and circumstances. We are not conscious of this, because the transitions are generally so imperceptible.
The apostle refers here, however, to outward circumstances; and how very changeable are these! To-day we may be enjoying the blessings of friendship, we may be surrounded with a large circle of those whom we love and those who love us ; to-morrow we may stand broken-hearted and disconsolate over their corpse.
Our life is here a scene of vicissitude, we are perpetually alternating from friendship to bereavement, from pleasure to pain, from prosperity to adversity, from health to sickness, from the sunshine to the storm.
We should not forget that these vicissitudes are not accidents—these changes are not chances ; but they make up one great organized system of discipline for us as fallen creatures. They are adapted to teach us our absolute inability to guide our own affairs ; that the way of man is not in himself ; to teach us our entire dependence upon that God in whose hand our times are, and with whom are all our ways; to teach us that this is not our rest ; that here we are like mariners heaving about on the restless sea, urged on by the breeze of circumstances to the great haven of Eternity.
SPIRIT OF CONTENTMENT.
II. THAT UNDER
A Christian, who has passed through the various vicissitudes of life, and whose faith like the tree in the storm has gained strength in every blast, whose hopes have brightened while the clouds of life were lowering, and whose experience is enlightened, rich, and mellow, is one of the noblest sights on earth. To talk with such a man is an unmistakeable privilege ; to hear him relate how he acquired one truth after another, how gradually he reached his present point, and how delightful the state of mind he then possessed, would be one of the richest treats we could have.
We have such a man before us, and he gives us his experience--" I have learnt." Some
persons are discontented in every state-discontented with their business, their homes, their servants, their Church - God himself cannot please them. They are not pleased with themselves. What is contentment ? (1) It is not insensibility. There are some persons lauded for their contentment who ought to be pitied, or rather condemned, for their obduracy. They have no feelings; outward circumstances make but little impression upon them. This was not the contentment of Paul ;- he was full of tender feeling. Insensibility, though at one time lauded by certain philosophers as a virtue, is in reality a crime. It is the production of sinnot of God. (2) It is not indifference to the condition of others. At the time that the apostle used these words he was confined in a dungeon, situated not far from the palace of the greatest tyrant that ever wore the form of man. There in chains and
darkness, surrounded on every hand by heart-rending tokens of barbarous sufferings, that had been inflicted on many who had paced that damp floor over which he dragged his heavy chains; expecting every day, it may be, to be dragged forth to amuse the merciless crowd of spectators in the Amphitheatre. In the midst of all these personal sufferings he still felt a deep interest in others. He did not, as some, turn his own soul intently on his own sufferings,—but thought of others; and he exclaimed, "yea, if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all." (3) It is not a satisfied complacency either with our own moral condition or that of the world. The apostle did not count himself to have attained, &c. And his view of the world too was most distressing. As he stood upon “Mar's Hill” his spirit
“stirred within him.” He had his moral distractions and distresses; he was in a strait between two; he oscillated in mind between two worlds; like a vessel riding at anchor, he rolled from side to side by force of wind and wave.
It is difficult to give a positive, clear and full definition of this "contentment.” It is a state of mind in which there is an unmurmuring acquiesence in all the arrangements of Heaven; a state of mind springing from a cheerful, filial, trust in God, and a generous benevolence for the world.
III. THAT THIS SPIRIT OF CONTENTMENT IS THE RESULT OF LEARNING. It is not inherent, but attained ; not miraculously imparted but personally acquired. There is no attainment equal to this. To have a large acquaintance with physical, moral, and historical facts with an insight into their philosophy; to be instructed in the principle of the languages in which mankind have given utterance to their thoughts and emotions; these are important attainments; but the man that can hold his spirit in sublime tranquility amid all the commotions of time is the man of true attainment.
But how can this be attained ? How did the apostle learn it? There are few questions of more practical importance than this.
First: By estimating himself to be immortal in essence and imperfect in character. If a man regard himself as exclusively belonging to earth; if he consider that this is the only sphere of existence; that when he leaves this scene he is no more; it is impossible for him to be contented under the present mode of administration. Or, if believing in his immortality, he should consider himself perfect, he could not in that case be contented. He would be perpetually blaming God for inflicting suffering upon an innocent being, which would do violence to all His instinctive notions of justice.
But the apostle regarded himself as a candidate for eternity —this life as but the cradle of his being; and he viewed himself as an imperfect character. He felt that the sufferings he endured, though great, were not to be compared with what he deserved ; and as he was an heir of immortality, not worthy to be compared with "the glory that should be revealed in Him." Let a man feel this and he will be contented.
Secondly : By a comprehensive view of God's government and its relation to eternity. Paul did not judge of Providence by isolated events ;-he formed a view of the whole system. And he said that “all things,” &c. He saw all events working; all events working in harmony; all events working in harmony for good to the good.
As all events in the natural world are subservient to its natural good-so in the moral. The farmer is taught, by the constancy with which the earth rewards his daily toil, to trust the precious grain to its care during the inclement weather; for he knows that sunny days will come, and render the frost and snow and rain means to promote its growth. The mariner on the trackless wave has learnt to confide in the magnetic needle, and in the midst of the storm to be content that he shall reach the desired haven. The illiterate man sees a strange body carreering through the heavens, and he fully prognosticates a great national calamity, if not the conflagration of the globe; but the astronomer who has taken a view of the whole system is content; for he knows that it comes up from the vastness of immensity to the point
of his vision, at the very moment of time that he had foretold.
Let us take a wide view of Providence as working for our good—for our eternal good, and we shall be content. Nor let us overlook the grand designs of Providence with us. They are not to make us rich ; not to raise us to seats of authority and power ; they are not to make us wealthy, but holy; not great men on earth, but shining seraphs in Heaven.
Whatever events happen, however painful and distressing, if they correct our errors, uproot our wrong principles, weaken our attachments to the world, and tend to increase our devotedness to God, they should awaken our gratitude
Thirdly: By a settled conviction that the most distressing events can do no real injury to the Christian. This Paul felt. He was poor in body but rich in soul;-he possessed all thingsa prisoner, yet he lived in light and revelled in liberty.
Let me fall into the greatest distress-deprive me of my home, and rob me of my temporal hopes; What then have I ? I have still a world of beauty around to gaze upon, study, and admire ; I have friends to sympathize with me; I have the rich Gospel; the throne of grace; a peaceful conscience; a Divine Comforter; hopes, of Heaven that will lift me above the blackest cloud. Outward providence can do but little harm; it can only destroy my worthless tabernacle, and " I know that when this earthly house,” &c.
Fourthly : By a moral identification with Christ. "I am crucified with him.” " Whether I live.” “ The life which I live in the flesh,” &c.
He lived with Christ-He was familiar with his distress; it stood before His mind in all its magnitude, and his own dwindled away as unworthy of a thought. He reflected upon the glory of Christ and all the grandeur of earth disappeared, as stars in the light of day. “God forbid that I should glory,” &c. Let us by faith live thus with Christ, and whatever be our sufferings, we may surely feel that, we shall be glorified together.”