« VorigeDoorgaan »
pharisees (the men famed for worldly virtue) took counsel how they might put him to death; the soldiers spit on him; the whole multitude joined in crying, Crucify him! crucify him! Those who passed by wagged their heads and reviled him; and the thieves, who were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
Wicked men, it is said, respect and praise virtue. Behold, virtue itself appears on earth, embodied as it were in the person of Christ. Oh! but this was a sort of virtue too pure for their taste. True, but so also is all christian virtue. It is not held in earthly estimation, neither is it of earthly growth. Christian virtue is grace: it is an emanation of the Spirit of Christ; the same in principle, the same in nature, the same in its general effects. There is a virtue indeed of worldly growth, a spurious and false virtue, in many respects the very opposite to that of Christ. It is a me. teor by which men are dazzled and led astray from the path of holiness; a poor temporizing virtue, suited to the taste of a corrupt world, and founded chiefly in that pride and love of praise which are so emphatically condemned by Christ, and which carry men to the utmost distance from him.
« But the love of praise,” it is argued, “ is natural to us and for that reason must be allowable.” Was it not then natural to Peter as well as to us? Besides, the argument proves too much; for if every thing be right which is natural to us, then there will be no room left for self-denial at all. And this is in fact the very argument which is commonly pleaded for all sorts of sin; not for pride only, but for concupiscence also; nor for the lusts of the spirit only, but for the lusts of the flesh. What wilful sinner does not plead in favour of the indulgence of his passions? “ My nature prompts me to it; I will not believe God will punish me for doing that which he has given me a natural inclination to do.” Thus, instead of admitting that their nature is evil and ought to be denied, they falsely assume that their nature must be good and ought to be obeyed: and then they cast off the principle of self-denial; follow wheresoever a corrupt nature and a corrupt world lead them; contradict the precepts, and trample, in short, on the whole religion of Christ. That men who openly reject Christ should do this, is no wonder; but how long, alas! will men calling themselves christians oppose their own sayings to those of their Lord and Master? How long will they make the corruptions of their nature, the plea for indulging these corruptions? How long will they prefer the gratification of their own selfish and sensual inclinations to the favour of God and Christ?
Taking it for granted that I have proved the love of worldly praise to be a corrupt principle, and one which as christians we, are bound to divest ourselves of, I would proceed to make a few *remarks on the subject, and I beg of the reader, whoever he may be, to apply them to himself.
Do you never find your imagination presenting you with ideas of your own respectability; with the lively picture, for instance, of some friend, or groupe of friends who praise either your talents, your person, your accomplishments, or your wit? When employed in some particular business, are you not apt to be anticipating the praise which you trust will follow, and the credit which will attach to you in consequence?
While worldly men are thus anticipating praise, the true christian has settled it with himself, that to indulge a love of praise is sinful, and therefore he denies it. Day after day he is employed in suppressing these imaginations as they arise: and in this much of the christian's daily conflict consists; for though his fancy teems with such evil thoughts, yet he denies them indulgence. In this respect he follows Christ, who did nothing to be seen of men. He feels the love of praise to be a corruption of his nature, and he therefore mourns over it until it becomes a source of his more deep humiliation before God.
“ What am I,” he will say to himself, “ a poor sinful creature, redeemed from death by that Saviour in whom alone I trust, without merit in myself, a mere supplicant to God for mercy? Is it praise then that I ought to seek? No; I must be content with pardon. How can I claim praise, as my due, for those works of which I allow the demerit before God? In such a case, how worthless and merely nominal is my faith in Christ? How hypocritical and offensive to God my prayers for mercy?”
What love of praise discovers itself also in the conversation of most worldly people? There is a flimsy veil by which they attempt to conceal it; but any man who has the least discernment may see through it, and discover the passion that is in the heart. In order to disguise it, they praise each other, and carry on a continual interchange of praises or compliments. Men of the world think this lawful, and have no idea of restraining it even though the most direct falsehoods should be uttered. But the christian denies himself herein, and does not flatter any man in hopes of being flattered in his turn, nor please his friend or his visitor by offering fuel to his vanity. Try your words, you who have been yielding all your days to your natural desire of enjoying the praise of others, and bring yourseif to the test in this matter. In
quire now, for instance, what dictated the words you uttered in the last interview with your company? When you spoke, was it not because you were willing to show your knowledge? You knew more than the person who spoke before you, and whom perhaps you hastily interrupted in order to exhibit your superiority. Even in your silence you were actuated by the love of praise, for you were fearful in that instance of showing your ignorance. You spoke of some subject which was far above the reach of your poor abilities: but you felt as if you were some important person while delivering your opinion upon it; and you decided the point with full confidence in your own wisdom, fancying your inconsiderate words to be full of weight. Again, had you or your friend any connexion exalted in power or rank, you spoke inuch of that person; for, while you were speaking of this elevated acquaintance, you felt elevated yourself. When your friend spoke, you seemed perhaps to intermit your vanity; yet in truth you were secretly taken up with what you had last said yourself, or were next going to say; and you only so far listened as might be needíul to your reputation of good breeding, and to your returning another an. swer which should still more advance your credit. Or, if you really listened, it was to gather knowledge which you might hereafter gratify your vanity by repeating. Thus you sometimes in. dulged your present vanity, sometimes provided for the future gratification of it, and sometimes you pleased yourself with thinking how skilled you are in pleasing. You also complimented your friend on all points; you seemed to take a lively interest in what concerned him; you were glad to see him when he came in; you were sorry to part with him when he went out; and yet perhaps your conscience told you that when he came in you were sorry for it, though your desire of reputation for good breeding led you into this lying compliment.
And why, let me ask you, was all this effort to please? Was it the exuberance of your kindness and benevolence which was urging you? Your vain heart, unused either to examine or deny itself, and unable to endure the sight of its own vanity, may form this excuse for all your flattering civility; but the truth is, you are under the power of the love of praise. Christian benevolence, were that your motive, would often dictate offensive but wholesome truths. Is there any thing the knowledge of which may advance your friend's immortal interests? Is he thoughtless of eternity, ignorant of God and Christ? You are silent on such points! It is your principle not to meddle! It might serve your friend to speak plainly to him, but you fear it would not please him! You are
willing to please without serving him; but to serve without pleasing him, is quite contrary to all the turn of your thoughts. And why? Because it is contrary to that love of praise which fills your corrupted heart. You are convicted thus both of the love of praise, and of a world of evil you are causing by it; for you dare not speak an unpleasant though salutary truth. You dare not do that which may make you an instrument of conveying to your friend immortal life, notwithstanding all your boasted kindness: but you can flatter and compliment him at the expense of integrity and truth, and at the expense of feeding his vanity, that your own also may be nourished.
The description which has been given will best show how a chris. tian will deny himself on the points alluded to. His words, instead of being dictated by vanity, will be always with grace, seasoned with the salt of some useful if not religious principle. He will try to please all men, indeed, but then it will be for their good to edification. He will speak the truth, though its strictness should offend; but he will speak it in love, it being love which dictates even the harshest thing he says. He has the same disposition as other men to flatter and court flattery; but he will be constantly denying it; and he will repent day by day of the flattering words which may slip from him, or of the wholesome words which, through false shame, he may have neglected to utter.
Again, as to his actions. The christian being settled in a persuasion that the love of God, and the love of man for his sake, are the only lawful motives of action, will be solicitous in every step he takes to deny himself to the love of praise, as well as to the fear of shame. He will choose for his company, not those whose acquaintance may do him honour in the eyes of the world, but those by whose help and counsel he will best advance his spiritual interests. He will choose all his employments on the same principle: and if his determination of any matter has been at all biassed by a regard to praise, he will repent of it as sinful, and watch against it in future; always keeping it in view, that the ambition of rising in the world, the common principle of worldly men, must be utterly disallowed by the christian. In short, he chooses that society, that situation, that profession and employment, not by which his pride may be gratified or his name be distinguished, but that by which he thinks he may best promote the glory of God and the good of his fellow-creatures.
AN INQUIRY INTO THE CAUSES OF PREMATURE DEATHS.
The frequency of death in infancy, childhood, and middle life, and the immense disproportion between the number who die in those periods, and of those who die in old age, have often been urged as arguments against the wisdom and goodness of the divine government. The design of this inquiry is to shew that, in the present state of the world, those supposed evils, or defects, are blessings in disguise, and a part of a wise and extensive system of goodness to the children of men.
The reasons for this opinion are :
1. Did all the people who are born, live to be seventy or eighty years of age, the population of the globe would soon so far surpass its present cultivation, that millions would perish yearly from the want of food.
2. Did all the men and women who come into the world, live to be old, how miserable would be the condition of most of them, from weakness, sickness, and pain! Unable to assist each other, and neglected or deserted by their children, or friends, they would perish from want, or perhaps putrify above ground. This view of the consequences of universal longevity is not an exaggerated one. A tribe of northern Indians, Mr. Hearnes says, always leave their parents, when they become old and helpless, to die alone with hunger. They meet death, he adds, with resignation, from an idea of its necessity, and from the recollection of their having treated their parents in the same manner. In support of the remark, under this head, let us recollect how many old people in humble life, are maintained by the public, and how few parents in genteel life, after they have exhausted their liberality upon their children, receive from them a due proportion of gratitude or respect.
3. In the present depraved state of human nature, how great would be the mass of vice in the world, if old age were universal! If avarice in an individual strikes a whole city with surprise and horror, how great would be the mass of this vice in a city that contained 30 or 40,000 old people, all equally absorbed in the love of money? Again, what would be the extent and degrees of am. bition, malice and cruelty, nurtured and cherished for 70 or 80 years in the same number of human beings? But, to do justice to to this part of our subject, let us view the effects of universal longevity upon another and greater scale. Suppose Alexander, Cæsar, Nero, Caligula, and many others of the conquerors and tyrants of the ancient world, had lived to be old men with the