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done by him ; but we see not the motives, tempers and ends which govern him. After all that we hear him say, or see him do, we can form only a charitable opinion of his real character.
4. The scripture gives us many instances of the uncertainty of human judgment in the matter under consideration. I shall mention only two; one to shew that christians of distinguished character have had great confidence in a very bad man; the other to shew, that such christians have had great diffidence of a very good man.
Judas, who was one of Christ's twelve disciples, was in high estimation among his brethren. He was sent forth with them to preach the kingdom of God and to work miracles. By his fair appearance and agreeable behaviour, he obtained a great share in their confidence. They made him their steward and almoner. When a woman poured ointment on Christ's head, Judas complained, “Why was this waste? The ointment might better have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Such was his address, that he raised against the woman a spirit of indignation in his brethren. When Christ warned his disciples that one of them would betray him ; they asked each one for himself, “ Lord is it I?" Not one of them suspected Judas. Yet this Judas was a dissembler, a thief, a traitor, a son of perdition, and he is gone to his place.
Let us consider the other instance.
Paul was, for some time, a violent persecutor of the church of Christ. On the road from Jerusalem to Damascus, whither he was going with a bloody commission, he was by divine power, wonderfully, changed in his temper and views, and completely brought over to the faith of the gospel. Soon be commenced a zealous preacher of the faith, which he once destroyed. Having preached for a time in Damascus, he returned to Jerusalem, and assayed to
join himself to the disciples, who were there. But they could not " fellowship” him.“ They were all afraid of him. They believed not that he was a disciple.” Then Barnabas took him, and brought him to the Apostles, and declared to them, how he had seen Christ in the way, and had boldy preached in Christ's name ; and on this testimony he was received by the Apostles, and consequently by all the disciples.
Now if all the immediate disciples of Jesus could be deceived by the hypocrisy of Judas; and if none of the first believers in Jerusalem could discern the sincerity of Paul, what arrogance must it be in us to assume the bold pretension of ascertaining by intuition or sympathy the existence of grace in other men's hearts? Wise is the caution given in the text, “Judge nothing before the time."
Our subject will suggest to us some useful remarks.
1. The spirit and temper of the primitive disci. ples afford a substantial evidence of the truth of our religion.
They were not credulous, but cautious--not hasty in their judgment, but deliberate in their en. quiries. They would not receive such a man as Paul without good testimony in his favour. They were careful not to be imposed upon by false teachers. They tried them who said, They were Apostles, and rejected them whom they sound liars. They would not hear a preacher, before they had competent evidence of his authority to preach. Nor wouid they receive an epistle as coming from an Apostle, till they had proof of its genuineness. Hence Paul to all his epistles subjoined a signature which could not be counterfeited. By their caution the gospel comes to us with an evidence, which can. not be gainsayed.
2. Worthy of our imitation is the prudence of the early christians in regard to those, whom they received as teachers of religion.
In admitting members into the church, they were liberal and candid. They required no long course of probation, nor particular detail of religious experiences, but only a professed belief of, and sub. jection to the gospel of Christ. Such as became members of the church, were immediately subject to her discipline, and this, though tender and kind, was vigilant and strict.
But in receiving publick teachers, they acted with great caution. They required, not only a present personal profession, but a testimony from others of previous good conduct. Paul's account of himself could not satisfy the disciples at Jerusalem. He must go to the Apostles, to the known ministers of Christ, and from them obtain approbation. And they would not admit him to their ministerial fellowship, till they had obtained in his favour a testimony from Barnabas, who was one of their brethren, and who had personal knowledge of Paul's conversion and subsequent conduct.
The primitive christians exercised a much strict. er caution in admitting men to officiate in the ministry, than in admitting private members to commune in the church. They considered every one as having a right to enjoy christian privileges, unless the church could prove his disqualification. But they considered no man as having a right to exercise the office of a teacher in the church, unless he could exhibit positive proof of liis qualification. Here the burden of proof lay on the candidate.
But there are some now, who would invert this order. Before one is admitted into the church, they think there ought to be a course of trial, and positive, unequivocal proof of inward grace. But these same persons will run to hear a man prcach, who is
an utter stranger to them, in whose favour they have no testimony, and of whom they know not whether he has inward grace, or even external morality. This is departing from the order of the gospel. “ Christ's sheep follow not strangers, for they know not the voice of strangers.”
3. The sentiment entertained by some, that there is in true christians a kind of sympathy or fellowship, by which they infallibly know one another, appears to be irrational and unscriptural.
They cannot infallibly know one another by any means; and what knowledge they have arises, not from a secret intercourse of spirits, but from visible works. If christians possessed this in ward discernment, how came the disciples at Jerusalem to be afraid of Paul ? What need was there that Paul should recommend Phebe to the Romans, or Timo. thy to the Corinthians, or Tychicus to the Ephe. sians, or Onesimus to the Colossians ? What need was there that Barnabas should recommend Paul, or that John should recommend Demetrius, or that Peter should recominend Sylvanus ?
True christians, no doubt, have fellowship with one another. They have fellowship, as they are joint partakers of the same spiritual things; have a common interest in the same rich blessings ; possess the same holy tempers ; are sanctified by the same divine spirit; believe the same sacred gospel; are subject to the same supreme Lord; are heirs of the same heavenly inheritance. And they also have fellowship, as there is a mutual love subsisting between them, and a mutual agreeableness in their tempers and manners, so that they esteem cach other's character, and delight in cach other's company. But, then, that love which one christian has for another is not a blind, enthusiastic passion ; it is a rational affection arising from a previous opinion
of him as a christian. In order to our loving another, as a christian, it is not necessary, that we should know him to be such ; it is sufficient, that he appears to us in that character.
Love to the brethren is the same thing, as a love of truth and holiness. “ We love the brethren for the truth's sake." “ And hereby we know, that we love the children of God, when we love God and kecp his commandments.” “We know, that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.” Our loving the brethren is an evidence, not that they, but that we have passed from death to life.
A christian may exercise true christian love toward hypocrites, while they appear to him as christians; and may not have fellowship with real christians, if he mistakes their character. The dis. ciples had fellowship with Judas, while he followed Christ and preached in his name. They had nofellowship with Paul, while they were afraid of bim, and believed not that he was a disciple.
If a mutual agreeableness between two persons were an evidence, that both were real christians, two amorous lovers, or two vicious companions might thus prove, that they were both real christians. It is not our loving another, but our loving that virtue, which appears in another, that may be called love to the brethren as such, and that proves our having passed from death to life.
4. It is dangerous hastily to pronounce men in a converted state. This is judging before the time. As we cannot know others infallibly, so neither can we form a probable judgment of them speedily.
There may be transient convictions, and temporary reformations, without a radical change of heart. The permanence of its fruits is the best evidence of the reality of the change. “They who continue ia