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Christian slave is Christ's freed man; for," if the Son * make you free, then are ye free indeed:” but the ungodly master is in deplorable bondage; " for he " that committeth sin, is the servant of sin."
In this view of the subject the apostle says, “ Let
as many servants, as are under the yoke, count " their own masters worthy of all honour: that the “ name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.” For if Christian servants behaved less respectfully to their masters, than others did; the heathens would blame their religion, as teaching them to violate the duties of their station. “And they,” says he, “ that “ have believing masters, let them not despise them, “ because they are brethren; but rather do them ser“ vice, because they are faithful and beloved, parta“kers of the benefit.” No doubt the involuntary servitude of those, who have not, by atrocious crimes, forfeited their liberty, is inconsistent with the moral law of God; and if real christianity should become universal, slavery must be finally abolished. But the apostles were not legislators or civil magistrates: as ministers of religion, they taught men how to act in their several situations as matters then stood: and when the rulers embraced the gospel, it was proper they too should be taught their duty, and instructed to apply a legal and regular remedy to the evil. But it would have exceedingly increased the opposition made to the gospel, if the preachers of it had attempted, by their own influence to subvert the existing system in' this respect; or even required Christian masters indis: criminately to liberate their slaves. Whereas, if they were taught to use them as bretlifcn, the ends of ho
manity would be effectually answered, as to the individuals concerned, and the example would have the most salutary tendency.
Having stated this matter, the apostle next shewed the sources and consequences of the contrary doctrine; exhorted Timothy to withdraw from vain disputers, who “supposed that gain was godliness:" and then subjoined the words of the text, “but godliness “ with contentment is great gain;" for, says he, “ We brought nothing into the world, and it is cer“ tain, that we can carry nothing out. And having “ food and raiment, let us be therewith content.” In considering the subject we may,
I. Notice the connexion between godliness and contentment.
II. Shew in what respects godliness with contentment is great gain.
III. Deduce some practical instructions. I. We notice the connexion between godliness and contentment, as it is evidently implied in the text.
The word godliness frequently occurs in the writings of the apostles, and must therefore be understood according to the tenour of their doctrine. We must not consider it merely, as a proper regulation of our affections and conduct towards God, according to the first table of the moral law; but as implying especially the dispositions and demeanour, suited to a sinner under a dispensation of mercy, and invited to reconciliation with his offended God, through the Mediator of the new covenant.
When this has been duly attended to, it will evidently appear, that deep humility and unfeigned re
pentance constitute an essential part of evangelical godliness; for unless we habitually possess this frame of mind, we cannot sincerely make those confessions and supplications, or present those sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, which are peculiar to Christianity. Now every reflecting man must perceive, that deep humility, accompanied with cheering hope, exceedingly tends to produce contentment. A vast proportion of the impatience and fretfulness of mankind results from a false estimate of their own merits and consequence. This induces them to consider their trials great, their comforts few and trivial, the least affront intolerable; and every kind and degree of respect inadequate, except unqualified adulation and submission. But such views of Jehovah and the adoring seraphim, as filled Isaiah with self-abasement; or such apprehensions of the divine majesty, as caused Job to“ abhor himself, and repent in dust and ashes,” would give them very different views in these respects. Did they enter into the feelings of the apostle, when he called himself the “ chief of sinners,” and “less than “ the least of all saints;” were they ready to own with the centurion, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou " shouldst come under my roof;” or with John Baptist, “ I am not worthy to loose his shoe-latchet;" a total revolution would take place in all their sentiments and sensations about outward comforts and trials, and the usage they meet with from those around them. The sharpest affliction would then appear light and momentary, compared with their deserts; the meanest provision would be received with lively gratitude; while with the patriarch they confessed, “ we are not worthy of the least of all thy mercies:" the most unfavourable situation or disagreeable employment would be considered as better, than they have a right to expect: and in the greatest injuries or affronts, they would submit to the justice of God, who may correct or punish by whatever instruments he pleases.
Humble thoughts of themselves reconcile men to obscure stations, mean circumstances, and common occupations, as most suited to them: and when they are evidently called to more publick services, they enter on them with reluctance and diffidence; except as lively faith renders them superior to their fears, and a sense of duty engages them to proceed. Such men are ready to stoop, and in honour to prefer others; they do not complain of being buried in situations, where they are undervalued or neglected. They “ think soberly of themselves, and as they ought to “think;' and this secures them from manifold disappointments and vexations, to which other men are exposed. “That will break a proud man's heart, which ' will scarcely break a humble man's sleep:' and it is certain that many of the troubles of life affect our peace almost in exact proportion to the degree of our pride or humility. The common opinion therefore, that self-abasement produces melancholy, and that a favourable opinion of ourselves tends to cheerfulness, is an egregious mistake. The former may indeed de. press
the spirits when connected with misapprehension, ignorance, and unbelief; and the latter may produce a flow of agreeable sensations, when nothing occurs to ruffle the mind. Such a state, however, is so seldom to be expected in this changing world, and
amidst the mortifications to which self-sufficiency exposes men; that the cheerfulness depending on it must be extremely precarious; while patience, meekness, hope in God, and humble gratitude evidently conduce to an uniform composure and serenity; the direct contrast to disappointed pride and ambition, rankling resentment, sickening envy, and rebellious murmurs.
Even godly sorrow for sin, when accompanied with a humble hope of mercy, produces a tender pleasure, a melting sweetness, a serious joy, a heart-felt satisfaction, which far exceed the utmost refinements of sinful indulgence. Repentance itself, which men postpone under the notion that it is the bane of com- . fort, is the source of the purest and most permanent rejoicing; and the true Christian must consider those seasons, in which, melted into contrition for his sins, he sowed the seed of his future harvest with penitent tears, as but little removed from the happiest hours of his life.
Faith likewise, which in its varied exercises constitutes a most important part of evangelical godliness, is intimately connected with contentment.--As “the evidence of things not seen,” it sets before us the holy heart-searching God, and causes us to speak and act as in his immediate presence. This powerfully tends to calm our tumultuous passions, to awe our souls into adoring submission, and to encourage confidence and humble expectation. Faith descries an invisible world, and places us on the verge of eternity, as about to launch into that boundless ocean.
With this prospect before us, the concerns of time shrink into insignificancy: and all that disparity of rank or fortune,