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—But what will they say if we represent it in a formidable shape?—Surely they will exclaim against it as gloomy, superstitious, hateful—What a stumbling-block must this lay in their way!—What an obstacle must this be to the spread of the gospel!—Yea, what a dishonour to Jesus himself to represent his yoke so heavy, and his burthen so intolerable!—Besides the sincere enquirer after truth will be likely to be misled— He will suppose that Christianity consists rather in the performance of penances than in the exercise of holy and devout affections—Surely we should be cautious not to give occasion for such unfounded sentiments, and such fatal errors—]
2. It will discourage the weak in their pursuit of religion
[When the weak address themselves to such duties, they will be disgusted and disheartened—And perhaps from despair of attaining to religion will relinquish the pursuit of it altogether—As new wine would burst the leathern bottles that by long use and age are become too weak to resist the fermentation, and the wine as well as the bottles would perish; so will both the religion we inculcate, and the persons, on whom we impose it, be likely to perish, if, through an ill judged zeal, we neglect to suit our advice to the strength of those who receive it—Our Lord himself forbore to say many things to his disciples because they were not yet able to receive them*—And St. Paul fed the Corinthian converts with milk and not with meat, because they were not yet able to digest strong foodi,—Their conduct in these respects exemplified the subject we are considering; and must be imitated by us, if we would advance the interests of religion in the world—J
This subject may teach us
1. To judge with candour
[We are but too apt to judge of other3 by our own experience, and to condemn them as enthusiasts if they exceed, or as lukewarm if they fall short of, the standard we have raised—Even sincere persons will sometimes be found uniting with Pharisees in calumniating the children of God—But it is not our province, nor are we competent, to judge others— The disciples of John might do right in fasting often, and vet the disciples of Jesus not do wrong in forbearing to fast —There are many things belonging to the situations of individuals, of which God alone can judge—We must therefore ■eave every man to "stand or fall to his own master"—Every one should labour to approve himself to God, and allow to r''-hers the liberty of judging and acting for themselves—]
2. To prescribe with wisdom
[Not ministers only, but all Christians who are advanced
t John xvi. W. i■ i Cor. iii. 2
Vol. III. M
in religion, are called upon to give advice—This office should be performed with much caution—We should be careful " not to break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax"—As Jacob would not over-drive his flocks lest he should kill the lambs,' so should we pay an especial attention to the weak— We should imitate our good shepherd who " carries the lambs in his bosom, and gently leads them that are with young"— We must not indeed dissemble with any, or encourage them in the ways of sin'—But there may be too much severity as well as too much laxness in our injunctions and advice—We must act in spiritual things as we do in administering to the bodily wants of those who depend on us; We "feed the babes with milk, and give strong meat to those only who, by reason of age, are able to digest it"k—]
3. To press forward with diligence [Our Lord intended that his disciples should advance— Accordingly we find Paul "in fastings often"—And the Israelites, whom God would not at first lead through the land of the Philistines lest they should be discouraged at the sight of their enemies, were afterwards brought to engage in a continued scene of warfare—Thus must we be fighting the good fight of faith—We must not be always children, nor must we ever think we have yet attained; but must press forward to higher attainments and more arduous duties—If at any time we be under darkness or distress of any kind, that is a call for more particular humiliation and contrition—But, independent of any peculiar call, it will be our wisdom to live much in the exercise of secret fasting and prayer—Our trouble will be richly recompensed, and our advancement greatly promoted —Let us then watch unto prayer, and, like the great apostle, "keep our body under and bring it into subjection, lest after having advised others, we. ourselves should become castaways"i—]
'Gen. xxxiii. 13. k Heb. v. 12—14. i 1 Cor. ix. 37.
CCXLIII. THE MEANS OF SPIRITUAL DEFILEMENT.
Mark vii. 14—16. And when he had called all the people unto him, he said unto them, Hearken unto me every one of you, and understand. There is nothing' from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the mail. If any man have ears to hear let him hear.
IT is by no means uncommon to see an excessive attachment to human institutions in those who have verv little regard for the laws of God—Persons of this description are ever eager to censure a trifling deviation from some foolish custom, while they allow themselves in a constant violation of the most important duties— They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel—Such were the Pharisees of old—They hud condemned our Lord's disciples for not complying with their traditions—Our Lord therefore first exposed their hypocrisy, and«thcn vindicated his followers by a very apposite parable—
In illustration of the parable we shall endeavour to shew I. What it is which defiles the soul
Our Lord observes that "whatsoever entereth into a man cannot defile him"—Not but that a man is defiled by drunkenness and excess—But it is the disposition which is indulged and not the mere act of eating or drinking that constitutes that defilement—As the heart is the seat of spiritual defilement, so that alone which proceeds from it, or resides in it, can render him unclean in tlie sight of God—The things therefore which defile a man are
Evil words [These proceed out of the abundance of the heart—And alas! what " filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness" do they betray!—What a want of reverence for the Deity is discovered by profane words—Well does God say that " He will not hold those guiltless" who utter them—Angry and passionate expressions manifest a murderous rancour in the heart"—And justly subject those who use them, to the-punishment of hellfire6—Lying is held in abhorrence even by those who are most addicted to the practice of it—Nor can persons who give way to it have any portion in the kingdom of heaven«—Who would augur well of that heart, which gives vent to slander and calumny?—Or who does not approve the sentence of excision, which David had decreed against those who should be notoriously addicted to such habits?d—Pleasing as flattery is to our vain minds, every one is disgusted with it except when it bears the semblance of truth—Nor will God fail to punish those who so basely prostitute the powers of speech'—Even an idle word is odious in the sight of God—And a strict account of it shall be rendered in the day of judgment'—]
Evil dispositions [There is not any thing more sordid and grovelling than a worldly and covetous disposition—The object of its desire is always stigmatized by the name of "filthy lucre"—As for envy, it is justly represented as rottenness in the bones&—It even operates as a disorder to reduce our bodily frame, at the same time that it wastes and destroys the soul—Censoriousness is nearly allied to this; and no less indicates a narrow, selfish, and base mind—What stronger symptom of internal depravity can there be than a peevish, discontented, murmuring spirit?— Even Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of those who should indulge such a temper, that God would execute his judgments upon themb—Levity is less hateful indeed; but it argues an unmindfulness of the divine presence, and a state of soul very unbecoming those who are on the brink and precipice of eternity—Nor is sloth by any means a small indication of a corrupt heart—It enervates all our powers, and unfits us for the service either of God or man—In what light our Lord regards this disposition we clearly see by that address of his, "Thou wicked and slothful servant;" "Cast j7e the unprofitable servant into outer darkness!"]
Evil thoughts [The very "thoughts of our hearts are all naked and open before God"—And he regards them as infallible marks of the state of our souls—Those thoughts indeed which are rejected instantly with indignation, do not leave any stain up-, on the soul—But those which are in the least degree harboured and indulged, most assuredly defile us—We are told that "the very thought of foolishness is sin"'—And Simon Magus was exhorted to "pray that the thought of his heart might be forgiven him"k—Indeed it is but a small part of the wickedness of the heart that discovers itself by words and actions— All sin is first conceived in the imagination; and much lies buried there for want of an opportunity to break forth—Who can number the proud, the impure, the uncharitable, the revengeful, the unbelieving, and the "vain thoughts that often lodge in the soul?"—Or who can estimate the guilt which we contract by means of them?—It is worthy of remark, that these are the very things whereby our Lord himself says that the heart is defiledi—And these are the things which, when brought to maturity, fill the world with adulteries, murders and all manner of abominationsm—]
The very peculiar mariner in which this truth is delivered by our Lord leads us to shew
II. The importance of understanding and knowing this
Our Lord " called all the people unto him;" he addressed them not only collectively, but, as it were, individually, "every one"—He repeated his exhortation, " Hearken and understand"—And lastly, he confirmed it with a very emphatical admonition, "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear"—Now the reason of all this solemnity will appear, if we consider, that on the clear knowledge of this truth depends our knowledge of every tiling that is important in religion—Without it we cannot know
1. The extent of our own depravity
[While we think that our defilement arises principally from outward actions, we shall entertain a good opinion of ourselves—If we have been kept from flagrant transgressions, we shall be, like Paul in his unconverted state, " alive without the law"—But if the spirituality of the commandment, and our deviations from the line of duty, be made to appear to us, we like him shall " die," that is, we shall see ourselves dead in tresspasses and sins"—Knowing the depravity of our own hearts, we shall be willing to humble ourselves before God as undone sinners—We shall cry like Job, Behold I am vile; I repent, and abhor myself in dust and ashes—Now till we be thus brought to loathe ourselves, we have no genuine repentance—We must therefore learn wherein spiritual defilement consists, if ever we would have the guilt of it removed from our souls—For, except we repent, we must perish—]
2. The impossibility of cleansing ourselves
[The lopping off a few branches of sin is no more than what an unregenerate person may do—While therefore he supposes that all his defilement consists in those, he will be depending on his own strength—But our disorder is far beyond any remedy of our own prescription-" The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint"—" Every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts has been only evil continually"—Wc must, therefore, become entire new creatures—" Old things must pass away, and all things must become new"—And is such a change within the power of unassisted man to effect?— Let any one strive to put away every evil disposition, and to suppress with indignation every rising thought of sin—Let him plant the contrary dispositions in his heart, and cherish with delight the thoughts that are of a contrary tendency—He
n Rom. vii. 9.