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design of the Sabbath, and from his own authority as the Lord of it. And when his enemies, upon one of his eminent miracles, went so far as to ascribe them to a confederacy with the devil, instead of "rendering railing for railing," he only confutes their vile cavil with the greatest strength and force of reasoning, and annexes to it a necessary warning against their persisting in their obstinancy, Matt. xii. 24, &c. When some of his hearers were so enraged as to attempt to stone him; yet he reasons with them with the utmost calmness and composure: "Many good works have I shewed from my Father; for which of these works do ye stone me?" John x. 31, 32. Could any thing be at once more gentle and convictive? He treated even Judas himself, notwithstanding all the aggravating circumstances of his crime, with unusual softness of speech; as one evangelist represents it, "Friend, wherefore art thou come ?" Matt. xxvi. 50.; or, according to another, "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" Luke xxii. 48.; which is no more than an appeal to his own conscience. These instances shew us, that meekness, and returns gentle in the manner of them, but strong in the matter, and to the purpose, are ordinarily the best ways of dealing with ill-minded adversaries.
So he be
At other times we find Christ perfectly silent, when he could have no hope of doing good by speaking. haved when the two false witnesses appeared against him, Mat. xxvi. 62, 63. His adversaries were resolved and fixed in their determinations against him; and he could have no prospect of bringing them to a better mind by debating the matter with them, and then he chose to say nothing. Though "oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth, he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth," Isa. liii. 7.
And upon the greatest provocations he was most remote from a revengeful temper. As he would not countenance his disciples, but reproved them for pretending to call for fire from heaven against the Samaritans, upon their ill usage of him and his followers; so he maintained a good will to his outrageous enemies: "Father," says he, on the cross, "forgive them, for they know not what they do," Luke xxiii. 34. "Forgive them," that is what I wish for them; "they know not what they do," that is the best apology I can make for them.
Herein he teaches us meekness and gentleness under the worst usage.
By way of reflection, then,
1. Be persuaded "to seek meekness," Zeph. ii. 3. Propose it to yourselves as a matter of necessity, that meekness should ordinarily have dominion over passion; and carry the conquest as far as you can.
To this end, it will be of great moment that a careful guard be kept upon our hearts, and that the beginnings of anger there be observed. It will be much easier to extinguish it in the first sparks, than when it has flamed out. Fixing it as a law to ourselves, that we will make a short pause upon the first rise of a resentment, would stifle most passions in the birth.
All prudent precaution should be taken, in reference to the ordinary sources and occasions of passion. And I may venture to say, that lowering our inordinate esteem of two things, of ourselves, and of this world and its affairs, would go a great way in removing the fuel of passion. For external occasions, as far as we can foresee them likely to provoke, we should carefully avoid coming in the way of them, farther than necessary duty obliges; if we cannot avoid the occasion, we have reason to double our guard when we are aware of this danger.
To think often of our own frailty and liableness to offend, how many indiscretions and weaknesses, at least, others have to bear with in us, would be an habitual preservative against hastiness with them. It would cherish in us "the spirit of meekness," to "consider ourselves, lest we also be tempted," Gal. vi. 1.
The indecencies and ill effects of passion should be often called to remembrance. Every man is sensible, when he sees another in a transport, that he is in a fit of madness. Now, we should see our own face in that glass. What mischiefs has passion produced in the world! I may rather say, what has it not produced? How much sin does it occasion in others as well as in the transported man himself? What shame and sorrow have our own past sallies cost us in our cooler hours. These things should be laid up as guards against new temptations.
But, along with all, let us often seek meekness of God by Let us pray for the Spirit, one of whose fruits
prayer. it is.
2. See that your meekness be, indeed, a Christian grace. Some, by a turn of natural temper, find it easier to restrain passion than others; and certainly they have reason to be thankful to God for that advantage in their constitution; and the extravagancies of passion would be the more criminal in them upon that account. But as far as it is mere good nature, and not performed out of a sense of duty to God, it is not a Christian grace. To make it so, it must be animated by Christian principles, and exercised by the direction of the Christian rule.
Those who, by their natural tempers, have a stronger proneness than others to be warm and eager, or to be peevish and morose, should yet remember, that this will not release them from obligation to the grace and duty of meekness. If it be more difficult for them to govern their passions, and behave as becomes the gospel; yet this is absolutely necessary by the Christian institution; and there is no help for it, but they must take the more pains with their own hearts, watch more their own spirits, and be the more earnest in prayer to God. They are not incurable by the heavenly Physician; and they will have one advantage, upon a conquest, above those of milder natural tempers, that it will be more evident that their meekness is really from religion.
3. Let us not lay much stress upon an excuse commonly made for other faults, that they were done in a passion. When such evil consequences might be foreseen, at least as possible, they should rather have fortified us against the admission of passion, than passion be made use of afterwards as a plea for them. A true Christian will rather consider those evil effects of his passion as aggravations of the sin fulness of it, and therefore be more watchful for the future, and diligent to grow in meekness: which will be a growing preparation for the heavenly world, where neither pride nor passion have any place, but all is calm and serene, peaceful and happy.
ROм. XII. 18.
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
HE several expressions and exercises of a peaceable disposition, belong to other graces and virtues, or naturally flow from them; yet, as they are all directed to this special end, the promoting of peace, we may consider them as making, in a sort, a particular excellence, or branch, of the Christian temper. I have chosen this passage of the apostle to represent and recommend a peaceable spirit, because it is especially expressive and emphatical.
And there will be occasion,
I. To shew the general import of the exhortation.
II. What is implied in the qualifications added: If it be possible, as much as lieth in
III. The extent prescribed for our aim and endeavour in this matter: With all men. Under which the particular duties incumbent upon us for this purpose, will naturally fall to be considered. And,
IV. The importance of a peaceable spirit in Christianity.
I. The general import of the exhortation to live peaceably, may be reduced to two particulars.
1. That we should have a hearty love and value for peace, as far as it may be obtained. Considered as a Christian
grace, it must begin in the temper. Heathen morality taught no more to be necessary than the performance of commendable actions; or, when their moralists directed to look deeper, to an inward disposition and principle, it was principally as that might forward and facilitate the outward practice. But in Christianity, the principle and temper have the main stress. laid upon them, in order to acceptance with God; that "whatever we do, we do it to the Lord, and not to men." So the peaceableness of the spirit is of main account with God. To bear a hostile mind to our neighbour, is highly offensive to God, though it should not break out into act. And in order to his acceptance, this inward disposition to peace must arise from religious principles. It must not be the mere result of a more quiet and easy natural temper, but flow from a regard to God's authority, enjoining it as a necessary duty by the voice of nature and scripture, and from a sincere love to men thereupon.
2. That we studiously direct our conduct so as may be most likely to reach this end: or "follow peace with all
," Heb. xii. 14. That we gladly embrace all becoming methods for cultivating amity, and as carefully avoid every thing which tends to break the peace. It is a vain thing to pretend we are lovers of peace, if it plainly appear in our conduct that we are litigious and provoking, pettish and exceptious, ever stiff and unyielding in our demands, or, in other respects, take the ways which make or keep open, or inflame differences.
II. I proceed to shew, what is implied in the qualifications added: If it be possible, as much as lieth in you.
1. It is evidently intimated, that it is not always possible, or in our power, to reach the desirable end of peace. Those who conscientiously and in earnest "seek peace and pursue it," according to the exhortation, Psal. xxxvi. 14. yet sometimes find, that it flies from them as fast as they pursue it.
Sometimes this falls out in common life, through the perverse humours and unreasonable obstinacy of those with whom we have to do. There are people in this world so captious, as to take exception and offence without any foundation, who catch at the most innocent occasions to work up their