« ZurückWeiter »
they are perfectly acquainted with the scripture, they are as destitute of true knowledge as the most benighted heathens.
But admitting that we were perfectly acquainted with the scripture, and needed no instruction in the mysteries of the gospel, (which I fear, however, is not the case with any of us,) still we ought to attend to the word of God from inclination; for a true christian will never be weary with hearing it, how oft soever it be repeated. There is need, moreover, that we should be frequently reminded of the things we have learned; lest, forgetting them, our hearts should wax cold in love, and we become negligent of good works. Although our Saviour was perfect in all things, yet we see that he continued preaching and praying until the last hour of his earthly mission. St. Paul likewise, the chief of the apostles, although instructed while a Pharisee in all things relative to the law, and afterwards inspired by the Holy Ghost, still continued to preach and exhort, travelling through many countries and kingdoms. How much more then ought we, who are blind and ignorant, to read the word of God, and attend to the preaching of the gospel. •
This service which God hath enjoined upon us, is not laborious, but easy. It requireth nothing but our time and attention : and if it can afford a person pleasure to sit during whole days and evenings at an ale-house or tavern, engaged in revelry and mirth with lewd and wicked companions, it should give him little pain to sit, during a few hours, in the house of God; for he would not only spend his time more profitably to himself, but would also render an acceptable service to his Maker.
If this duty seem burthensome, how should we endure to go from temple to temple, and from altar to altar, to attend to rites and ceremonies, as we did among the papists? Or how should we sustain those laborious services, such as carrying stones from quarries, and going armed on pilgrimages, which those blind bigots imposed upon us 1 These services were performed willingly, when we were deluded by false doctrine. So doth the devil blind <he eyes of men; he then prompted them to action in the execution of his own work, and he now inclineth them to be slothful and weary with hearing the word of God; so that forgetting its value, they may grow negligent in the practice of its precepts.
But let us endeavour to delight in hearing the word of God, remembering that in so doing we render him an acceptable service. Let us listen to it with prayerful attention, that the grace of God may accompany his word, and the seed may not be sown in vain. Whenever the word is rightly preached, and attentively heard, it never fails to bring forth fruit. We may indeed perceive no immediate effects from it, but in process of time, the fruit will most certainly appear. But it would consume too much time to rehearse all the benefits which proceed from hearing the word of God ; indeed, it were a task far beyond our capacity.
Thus much we have said by way of preface to the discourse; or rather as an exhortation to stir up your minds to more diligent attention: and certainly, there is much need of such an exhortation in every sermon; for it is greatly to be feared, that many who appear to hear, pay very little attention to what is said, and never reflect upon it afterwards. What we have thus far said, is also in some degree pertinent to the text; for Paul, in this place, reproveth those curious spirits, who, endeavouring to become masters of the word of God by their own wisdom, do at length falsely persuade themselves that they perfectly understand it; and that they need no farther instruction.
It is from this cause that numerous congrega
tions disappear, and churches become desolate: for these vain babblers, imagining that they are perfect, and well instructed in all things, give themselves to trifling and vain jangling. They are continually endeavouring to bring forward some new thing, which the curious multitude may be desirous to hear, while they totally neglect to teach the doctrine of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and never so much as attempt to impress upon their hearers the importance of a christian life. They do indeed sometimes tell us that we must do good works, that we must serve God, &c. but they are totally ignorant of the meaning of these words. If they be asked, how are good works to be done 1 how is God to be served 1 they will point out this particular work to be done now, a,nd at another time, that they will direct us to offer so much sacrifice at this altar; to go into this or that monastery; run to this saint; here erect a chapel to the honour of such a saint: in another place, found a mass, light tapers, buy indulgences, &c.
These idle talkers use such a confused multiplicity of words, that they confound, instead of instructing their hearers; while they advance nothing calculated to render any one better; and were any. thing good contained in their discourses, it would be lost from the tedious prolixity of their harangues. Of such teachers, we have seen enough in the papacy, among our preachers of dreams.
St. Paul, in the beginning of his epistle to his disciple Timothy, thought proper to admonish him, that such teachers should arise; "giving heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions rather than godly edifying, which is in faith:" after which, he introduceth the words of our text: "JVoic, the end of the commandment is charity, out oj a pure heart, and, of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned." These words contain the sum of that doctrine which we should teach. Here we have the duties of a christian life briefly and comprehensively set before us; and we cannot imprint these words too strongly upon our memories. If we desire not to deviate from the law, but to attain to the ultimate end thereof, we must endeavour to have charity, proceeding out of a pure heart, from a good conscience, and faith unfeigned. If our charity be of this sort, then is it right; otherwise we mistake the meaning of the whole law.
Now these words are profound, and contain much matter in them; therefore, we shall endeavour to expound them in part, that they may be the better understood, and that we may become acquainted with Paul's manner of speaking. First, we may observe that the apostle signifieth that charity comprehendeth the sum of the whole law. But we are not here to understand by charity, simply the bestowing of alms upon the needy, but that universal good will which embraceth all mankind; which speaketh evil of none; which condemneth no one; which judgeth the motives of none, but putteth the most favourable construction upon the actions of others—in short, it signifieth that love to all our fellow beings, which the grace of God implanteth in our hearts; for in the scripture, the words charity and love are frequently synonymous, and the one is often substituted for the other.
Now those jangling divines, do indeed talk much of charity and love; they make great pretensions to Godliness, and boast much of their deeds of benevolence. But their love is only the love of hereticks, wicked men, and ungracious wretches: it is extended only to themselves, and to those of the same sort with them; while at the same time, they hate and persecute all good christians, and would willingly accuse them of the most vicious acts. This certainly does not deserve the name of love ; for if I choose a few individuals, whom I favour and embrace, because they also favour me, I act from selfish and impure motives. But that true love which floweth from a pure heart, hath no respect of persons : it is poured forth to all mankind indiscriminately, whether they be friends or enemies; even as doth our heavenly Father, who maketh his sun to shine upon the evil and upon the good, and sendeth rain upon the just and upon the unjust.
But some may say, such a one who is my enemy, is also an enemy to God; for he doth many things that are more displeasing to God, than they are injurious to me; must I love him who is a transgressor, and an evil person 1 I answer, we are all transgressors, and do many things displeasing to God; but because my neighbour is evil, it is no reason that my love should be extinguished toward him. If he be.evil, he will in the end receive punishment according to his deeds: but I must not suffer his wickedness to overcome me. It is my duty to pray for him, and I may rebuke and admonish him through love, that he may repent and escape punishment. But I must not be an enemy to him, nor do him evil in any manner; for no profit would redound to me thereby; I should certainly be made no better, but should make him worse.
It cannot, indeed, be denied, that a good man is more worthy of love than a bad one. It is also to be expected that good men will delight in the company of other good men, more than in that of evil men. But pure christian love is not derived from the merit of the object. This is the source from which the world draweth its love; as a young man falleth in love with a maid, because of her comeliess and beauty; a covetous man delighteth in ches, because they will add to his consideration and joportance in the world ; and an ambitious man esteemeth preferment, because of the honour he shall *"^|ive, and the power he will possess thereby: all