Imágenes de páginas

we he hath nothing. And he alone may also say, Which of you ■hall refirove me of any fault?* He is the high and everlasting1 Priest, which hath offered himself once for all upon the altar of the cross, and with that one oblation hath made fierfect for evermore them that are sanctified.^ He is the alone Mediator between God and man, which paid our ransom to God with his own blood, and with that hath he cleansed us all from sin.\ He is the Physician, which healeth all our diseases. He is that Saviour, which saveth his people from all their sm«;§ to be short, he is that flowing and most plenteous fountain, of whose fulness all we have received. For in him alone are all the treasures of the wisdom and knowltdge of God hidden. And in him, and by him, have we from God the Father all good things, pertaining either to the body or to the soul. O, how much are we bound to this our heavenly Father for his great mercies, which he hath so plenteously declared unto us in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour! What thanks worthy and sufficient can we give to him! Let us all with one accord burst out with joyful voice, ever praising and magnifying this Lord of mercy, for his tender kindness showed unto us in his dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hitherto we have heard what we are of ourselves; very sinful, wretched, and damnable. Again, we have heard how that of ourselves, and by ourselves, we are not able either to think a good thought, or work a good deed; so that we can find in ourselves no hope of salvation, but rather whatsoever maketh unto our destruction. Again, we have heard the tender-kindness and great mercy of God the Father towards us, and how beneficial he is to ■us for Christ's sake, without our merits or deserts, even of his own mere mercy and tender goodness. Now, how these exceeding great mercies of God, set abroad in Christ Jesus for us, be obtained, and how we be delivered from the captivity of sin, death, ■ and hell, shall more at large, (with God's help,) be declared in the next sermon. In the mean season, yea, and at all times, let us learn to know ourselves, our frailty and weakness, without any boasting of our own good deeds and merits. Let us also acknowledge the exceeding mercy of God towards us, and confess, that as of ourselves cometh all evil and damnation; so likewise of him cometh all goodness and salvation, as God himself saith by the Prophet Hosea, 0 Israel, thy destruction cometh of thyself: but in me only is thy help, and comfort.\\ If we thus humbly submit ourselves in the sight of God, we may be sure that in the time of his visitation he will lift us up unto the kingdom of his dearly beloved Son Christ Jesus our Lord; to whom, with the Father, *nd the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.

[ocr errors]



"And they stoned Stephen, calling ufion God and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my sjiirit. And he kneeled down, and cried iirith a loud vdice, Lord lay not this sin to their charge; and -when he had said this, he fell asleefi." Acts vii. 59, 60.

[ocr errors]


LOW different are the sentiments expressed in these words, from that courageous zeal, and those severe reproaches, with ■which this blessed martyr had heretofore treated the false accusations of the chief priests and the synagogue? He had denounced without ceasing, anathemas and maledictions against them and their posterity; and now, behold him kneeling humbly before them, and soliciting God to forgive them! Nothing but the Gospel of Christ, and the impression of his grace, can endue the human mind with qualities so eminently conspicuous in the ways of excellence thus different from each other. While Stephen addressed the Jews in the synagogue, he considered them as enemies to the divinity of Christ, and listened only to the dictates of his zeal, which induced him to pay little respect to their obstinate rejection of the truth; but when sinking under their murdering blows, he viewed them merely in the light of personal enemies, and inspired only with sentiments of charity, expressed his own forgiveness, and solicited that of heaven. We have in this first martyr, my brethren, an illustrious instance of that truly Christian virtue, which marks the genuine disciple of Christ, and which alii who bear the name, are bound to practise under offences and in-I juries. This virtue, I say, is the distinguishing badge of tin Christian religion, and its difficulty may be calculated by the ■small number of those who practise it.

Let us endeavour to trace to their source the principles which! create this difficulty, and then to refute them. The law enjoin-l ing the forgiveness of injuries is violated, for the most para either through ignorance or weakness, either because we art| unacquainted with its extent, or shrink from its difficulties It is therefore necessary to explain, in the first place, the tr sense and latitude of this precept, and then to offer such considerations as may facilitate its practice to those who have regardi it as a task above the powers of man. Nothing is more cei than that human passions are ever creating such disturbances the world, that it is almost impossible to live without enemies, be exempted from injury. These are often created by our vicej sometimes by our virtues. The greater part of men are unjust an capricious, subject to jealousy and over-delicate sensibilities; an u'uJy difficult is it to live with them, wheji pursuing either th

't• ... '. '"' ,-.-

same, or different objects, without experiencing from their passions, contention, insults, hatred, and revenge. Now religion knows no other means of maintaining the union and harmony of society, than by obliging men to terminate their quarrels, and extinguish their animosities by forgiveness of injuries. You have been, we will suppose, cruelly, unprovokedly, and unjustly offended. In this case, religion enjoins forgiveness and reconciliation. This is the law, the precept of Christ, and the rule of the Gospel; and perhaps, my brethren, a little attention will convinceyou, that it is a law of more extent than you have hitherto imagined. I will set down its several obligations, as detailed in the New Testament. The first of these obligations is to forgive: "Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven*." The second is, to forgive from our hearts: " So likewise shall my heavenly Father do unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother^.''' The third obligation is, to pardon without delay: " Let not the: tun go down upon your ivrath\." The fourth is, to pardon all without exception: " But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you§." The next obligation is, to make the first advances towards a reconciliation: " Leave thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift\\." And the sixth and last obligation is, " t*\ pray for them, that despitefully use you and persecute you^j."

Now to take up the consideration of these several obligations in the order in which they have been mentioned, let us first consider this forgiveness itself. "Forgive," says our Lord, " and ye shall he forgiven." Forgive; that is, refrain from eveiy species of revenge; for this, we know, does not consist exclusively in personal violence, homicide, or murder. There is a sullen and hidden vengeance, as well as that which courts the notice of the world. It may be moderate, or cruel: it may consist in actions or in words, in pointed raillery or malicious defamation: it may be indulged in reporting whatever can excite revenge in others: it may lurk under an air of inattention, coldness, indifference, and listlessness. When once any passion has seized upon the heart, it becomes, as, it were, the very soul of a man's actions. It possesses the malicious secret of attaching guilt to his very manner of acting or speaking; to the very manner of his refusing or granting a favour. Now the law of God prohibits all these different modifica,tions of revenge; for " vengeance belongeth unto me, saith the Lord**." It is not enough, therefore, to be on certain terms with an enemy, on whom we could inflict the extremes of vengeance:, it is not enough that we impress a light stain upon his character, when it is in our power to destroy it; that we only attack him with obloquy, when we might overwhelm him with calumny; that we answer him in the language of petulance and raillery, when we Could wound his soul with mortal anguish; that we are content t© —__^.^——.—. .— i .

•L.ukevi.37. f Matt, xviii.35. * Eph. iv. 26. § Matt. v. 44
U Matt. T. 24. 1 Ibid. 44, ** Heb. x. 38.


humble, mortify, and debase him, when able to crush him under our feet; for the law of God forbids revenge of every kind, and of every degree; as well that which is confined within the limits of malignity, as that which terminates in the excesses of fury. Nay, the very desire of revenge is forbidden by the law of God, for we are commanded " to forgive every one his brother from our hearts"

Many Christians revenge not themselves on an enemy, who sull would wish to do so. Considerations of a prudential nature restrain them from open violence and insult; but the heart being more free than the hand, it is suffered to indulge itself in the unbridled transports of anger and aversion. Who can enumerate all the horrours which are cherished there, when the foul demon of vengeance once gains admittance into it? what criminal desires are instantly excited? Perhaps the very death of an enemy, accompanied with every circumstance of aggravated cruelty, becomes the object of its wishes; or, at any rate, such a portion of infamy, humiliation, and calamity, as may render him contemptible or wretched. Now, although these sentiments be confined entirely to the heart, yet are they manifest transgressions of this law. Human laws, and human observation, merely regard the outward conduct; but God exacts the sacrifice of our hearts and affections, so that if forgiveness be not found there, we evidently stand guilty of the sin of revenge; and this forgiveness must be applied to injuries of every kind, however grievous and atrocious they may be.

The three objects which generally stand highest in human estimation, are property, reputation, and life. Has your property, then, been injured by an enemy? If such injury be unimportant, pass it by without notice; if he take thy coat, let him have thy cloak Has your honour been insulted? if the insult be trifling, rather run the risk of its being repeated, by turning the other cheek to the smiter, than listen without reflection to the suggestions of vengeance. Is an attempt made upon your life? even then, let no emotions of revenge interfere with its preservation. But what! you will say, are we then to suffer ourselves to be plundered, insulted, and destroyed with impunity? My brethren, no construction of this precept can be supposed to authorize such a conclusion. The learned St. Augustin, commenting upon these maxims of the Gospel, attributes to them a twofold force and tendency—to regulate our outward behaviour under injuries, and to subdue and chasten the inward sentiments of our hearts. With respect to the former, the Gospel advises us rather to put up with slight affronts and injuries, than seek redress by vexatious retaliation: but with respect to the latter, on no account does the Gospel allow a spirit vindictive and resentful. No obligation, therefore, exists, says this father, of complying literally with the metaphorical language of the Scripture, which tells us to relinquish still more of our property to him who has already plundered us of a part, or to invite a second blow from him who has smitten us on the cheek; much Te§s can it be supposed that we are commanded to submit to the violence of an assassin. Any prohibitions of this kind would contravene the great laws of nature, which Christ came not to abrogate but to spiritualize and to exalt, by giving them a direction, and animating them with motives calculated to remove the influence of passion, and to ground their execution on the basis of reason. In a word, while human laws are instituted in society to check and punish the destructive ravages of the vindictive passions, religion strikes at the very root of the evil, by prohibiting that rancorous disposition, that propensity to vengeance so natural to human nature, and so fertile in crimes most fatal to our race. This Gospel law is unqualified and immutable, and no circumstance whatever can dispense with its obligations. The most provoking and oppressive grievances may be redressed from a spirit of private justice^ and publick advantage, but never from a spirit of resentment and vengeance. If you ask when this obligation of forgiveness exists, the answer is—immediately, upon the spot, at the very moment the offence is committed. The heart of a Christian must not harbour for an instant such an inmate as revenge. "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." What then are we to think of those obstinate and inveterate hatreds, on which the sun not only has gone down in the evening, but has, moreover, accomplished his annual revolution? But some one may say, were you only acquainted with the enemy whom I detest; his dark and malicious disposition exceeds all belief. He is a monster of ingratitude and perfidy, who, in order to injure me, bids defiance to all the laws of confidence and friendship; an obscure insect, whom I drew from the dust, now striving to rise upon the ruins of my character; a serpent whom I have nourished in my bosom, ever watching to sting me to the heart. Admitting that the distorted pencil of prejudice and passion has not contributed to overcharge this picture, still must we have recourse to the Gospel, where we shall not find that the divine Lawgiver permits revenge in one case, and forbids it in another; that he overlooks it with respect to those who owe us every thing, and punishes it when exercised on those who owe us nothing: but he says, without exception, " Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you." But you will say, perhaps, how often is this forgiveness to be repeated? My brethren, as often as an offence is committed. Every fresh injury imposes on you a fresh obligation; and if your enemy should never cease to be unjust, yet must not you ever cease to be charitable. "Is it enough," says Peter to our Saviour, " to pardon my enemy as much as seven times?" No, said he, it must,be done seventy times seven; that isto say, you must exercise forgiveness an indefinite number of times; or, in other words) as often as you are offended.

It will be said, will not my indulgence harden the heart of my adversary? will not fresh injuries be the conseqtrence of my ready forgiveness? I trust, my brethren, that this is seldom the case; fof vengeance creates vengeance; like the polypus it reproduces itself, and your anger inflames tfiat of your adversary. Were h«

Vol, Lr-No, II. 2 N

« AnteriorContinuar »