« AnteriorContinua »
sible, whenever a difference actually arises. The implacable are reckoned among the greatest sinners, Rom. i. 31.
If we have given offence by any hasty or imprudent action, a love to peace will push us on to set matters right; to explain our conduct, if it hath been mistaken; or cheerfully to acknowledge our fault, if we have done amiss. So Christ teaches us, Matt. v. 23, 24. "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."
On the other hand, if we have received a small injury, we should be easily satisfied with our neighbour's acknowledg Christ, knowing the proneness of men to be too obstinate in their resentments, prefaces a command to the contrary with a solemn caution, Luke xvii. 3, 4. "Take heed to yourselves;" watch your own spirits, that you may the more easily comply with what I am about to say: and that is, "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt forgive him."
Or, though a person who has offended us should not, according to his duty, make the first overture for reconciliation; yet, if there be any hope of succeeding by our taking the first steps, surely we should not stand upon forms to obtain so great a blessing as peace.
Yea, we should be willing to sacrifice little things, and to recede from our strict rights in some cases, rather than per petuate a quarrel. This I take to be one part of our Saviour's meaning in Matthew v. 39-41. "Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain:" Not that our Saviour requires us patiently to put up with every injury done us. In some cases, that would be a prejudice to the community, an encouragement to injurious men, and a wrong to our families. But, I apprehend that, two things were especially in our Lord's intention. One is, that in the beginning of Christia nity, when there were none but heathen and Jewish judges, he would have his disciples, for the credit of Christianity, not
to appear litigious by appealing to their courts upon slight casions. And the other is, that for smaller injuries, either in their reputation, such as smiting on the cheek, which was mark of contempt; or in their property, as the taking away of a coat; or in their liberty, as compelling them to go a mile out of their way; they should rather pass them over for the sake of peace, if they could have reasonable hopes that such soft treatment would make a good impression on them. Certainly those who are resolved to give up nothing of their strict rights for the sake of peace, are not hearty lovers of it, Abraham's example in respect of Lot was truly commendable, when no great damage could ensue upon his yelding to him. When their herdsmen differed, Abraham, instead of saying,
I have as much right, as you to this country, or I have a superior right, as I am the elder, and your uncle,' chooses to say, Gen. xiii. 8, 9. "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee; for we be brethren. Is not the whole land before thee? If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou wilt depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left." Prudence, indeed, must direct how far this may safely be done in particular cases; but a strong love to peace will certainly dispose to submit to some inconveniences to obtain it.
2. We should endeavour to cultivate a more peculiar peace and harmony with all our fellow Christians as such. Over and above that which we are directed to maintain, as far as in us lies, with all men in common, the gospel prescribes something special in this matter, with reference to the visible subjects of Christ's kingdom, and members of his body, Mark ix. 50. "Have peace one with another." Rom. xiv. 19. "Let us follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another." 1 Cor. xiv. 33. "God is the author, not of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints," Eph. iv. 3. "Keeping the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." 1 Thess. v. 13. "Be at "Be of one peace among yourselves." 2 Cor. xiii. 11. mind, live in peace."
Such passages as these are plainly designed, not only to enjoin Christians to live peaceably together, in the same sense as they are obliged to do so with all men, in the common offices of life; though for certain that is included, and with
peculiar bonds to do so, as we are fellow Christians; but also to have a peaceable spirit toward one another, especially in matters of religion.
: It must be owned, indeed, with grief and shame, that in fact there have never been greater, more outrageous, more lasting and inveterate 'dissensions in the world, than among those called Christians, and upon the score of their religious differences. Much blood hath been spilled in these quarrels. And where contests have not been carried to that length, yet nothing is more apparent, than that the most inflexible animosities and distances, from age to age, have been among those who have in common worn the Christian name. With respect to this event of things, though not the tendency of his doctrine, Christ foretold, that "he was not come to send peace upon earth, but a sword," Matt. x. 34. that is, the various lusts and irregular inclinations of men would so abuse his doctrine, that it would too often be made the occasion of violent contentions. But as to the proper design and natural tendency of his coming, the angels proclaimed at his appearance in flesh, that it was to send "peace upon earth, Luke ii. 14. And so the precepts delivered by himself, and his apostles plainly declare.
And the way of peace among Christians seems to be as plainly declared in the gospel, if we are but in a disposition to attend to it, as the way to peace between man and man in
Not by pretending to bring all Christians to a perfect uniformity of sentiments or practices, in matters of religion. That was not in the apostolical days themselves; nor can be hoped for, till we come to heaven.
Nor by arbitrary forms of agreement devised by men, and prescribed by some to others. There was more of the unity of the Spirit preserved in the bond of peace during the primitive times, before ever such methods were invented, than since the Christian world has abounded with them. And if they had been thought necessary, certainly he who was faithful in all God's house would, either in person, or by his apostles, have recommended them to the use of the church.
But we are directed to look upon all as our fellow Christians, "who call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours," 1 Cor. i. 2. who profess "one body, one Spirit, one hope of their calling, one Lord, one faith, one
baptism, one God and Father of all," Eph. iv. 4-6. Nor can it be thought that every difference of sentiment about every one of these particulars, nullifies men's Christianity. One would think, that now, when the cannon of scripture is completed, we should be ready to own all them for our fellow Christians, who own the same sacred books as we do, for the only and the perfect rule of Christian faith and practice. Though they and we should differ in understanding many particulars contained in that rule; yet, if we judge them" weak in the faith," we are directed to "receive them, but not to doubtful disputations," Rom. xv. 1.
What peace would it soon produce in the Christian world, if hereupon such plain gospel-rules as these were observed among the several contending parties of Christians! "With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, to forbear one another in love," Eph. iv. 2. "Not to judge our brother, or set at nought our brother," Rom. xiv. 10. "but to judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall in his brother's way," ver. 13. How happily would the face of the Christian church be altered, if all the members of it, on all hands, would make it a law to themselves, charitably to think others as sincere in their searches after truth, as we profess to be in ours, though they cannot see with our eyes. To avoid censuring others for differing from us, as we should complain of their censuring us where we think we are in the right; to remember, that they have a right to judge for themselves, as well as we; and that we are no more infallible than they and, hereupon, to treat one another with brotherly love, notwithstanding our different persuasions.
These things, accompanied with a care to manage disputes in religion, when they fall out with temper and moderation, to give a reason of our hope and persuasion with meekness and fear; and with the readiness to allow others to give a reason of their persuasions, without taking offence at it, as we expect the like ourselves these things, I say, would go farthest to heal the breaches of the church; and, I doubt, they will hardly be healed in this world by any other way.
IV. We are yet to consider the importance of a peaceable spirit in Christianity.
It has been already shewn to be frequently and strongly in
culcated by way of precept; and, therefore, should be diligently attended to by all that call Christ Lord: for "for why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" And it is many other ways recommended in the gospel: as,
1. By shewing us the great evil of an unpeaceable spirit. It is the fruit of carnality, or of an undue ascendant which some fleshly motive or other hath over us, I Cor. iii. 3. "Ye are yet carnal; for, whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal?" And, therefore, "variance, emulations, wrath, strife," are reckoned up "the works of the flesh," Gal. v. 20. And as a turbulent quarrelsome spirit hath a bad source, so it produces very ill effects, James iii. 16. "Where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work." When a quarrel is begun, however innocent at first on one side, yet it scarce ever happens, in the progress of contention, but there come to be faults on both sides: evil surmises, undue animosities, mutual reflections, indecent sallies of passion, it may be usefulness on all hands obstructed, and scandals multiplied, and the name of God and their holy vocation blasphemed, when quarrels rise to a height among those who pretend to religion. Who can reckon up the many sins, and the many occasions of dishonour to God, which have their rise sometimes from a single and a small quarrel? And how few, when they reflect upon their own frames and actions, can remember a contest they have been engaged in, wherein they could altogether acquit themselves from blame through the whole procedure? Besides the sins of others, which they may have seen upon such occasions, have they not found their own spirits disturbed, their frames disordered in religious exercises, and that too often they have spoken unadvisedly with their lips? So justly does Solomon give that excellent representation, Prov. xvii. 14. “The be ginning of strife is as when one letteth out water." take away the dams that keep in an impetuous torrent, you cannot foresee all the mischiefs it may produce: so it is when a quarrel is begun.. "Therefore," if possible, as it follows, "leave off contention, before it be meddled with."
2. By representing a peaceable disposition in a very advantageous light. It is one of " the fruits of the blessed Spirit," where he is pleased to take up his gracious residence, Gal. v. 22. It is mentioned as one principal thing wherein the