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spiritual kingdom of God, or true religion in the hearts of men, consists, Rom. xiv. 17. Christ saw fit to make it the subject of one of his beatitudes, Matt. v. 9. "Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God." They who would make it their business to promote the peace and welfare of mankind, and to settle those about them in general quiet and love, as far as it is in their power; such men, resembling God in those attributes of his in which he so much glories, his goodness and love, shall be owned and received by him as eminently his children. The calm and composed soul, that is breathing love and peace, is in the best preparation to receive divine influences and favours; and, accordingly, they are peculiarly promised in such a frame, 2 Cor. xiii. 11. "Live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you."
3. By the lively expressions of such a temper in the example of Christ. He was, on the one hand, a pattern for observing the proper limitations to be attended to in all pursuits after peace; he ever preferred truth and duty to it, an obedience to his Father to the pleasing of men; and so must we. But, on the other hand, as far as it was consistent with his higher engagements, he ever shewed a strong disposition to peace. Instead of offering injury to any, he made it his business to do good to all. He acted correspondent to the ancient prophecy of him, that he "should not strive nor cry, neither should any man hear his voice in the streets," Matt. xii. 19. He sued his work without noise and contention, without tumult and disturbance. And he discountenanced the beginnings of a strife among his followers, Luke xii. 24, 25. Rather than "he would offend" the civil government, he paid tribute, though it were not due from him, as he declares, Matt. xvii. 27. And rather than he would offend the Jewish priests, when he had miraculously cured a leper, he ordered him to go to the priest, and carry him the gift prescribed by the law for the priests, when they were concerned in the cure of a leprosy, Matt. viii. 4. Our Master came both preaching peace, and exemplyfying our proper behaviour in order to it.
4. By the account it gives us of the heavenly world, as a state of perfect love and harmony, where there are no jarring notes and affections. When a good man dies, he "enters into peace," Isa. lvii. 2. Here possibly he had frequent occasion
to lament the unsuccessfulness of his endeavours to obtain peace, and to mourn over the many bleeding wounds of the church of Christ. But this is one circumstance which makes heaven a delightful prospect, that he shall meet with an equal disposition to peace in all the other inhabitants; that the unity of the Christian church will be then completed; and that all his own distempers, which make him not so peaceable now as he should be, shall be fully cured. Now, surely this prospect should excite our zeal to grow in such a temper now, as an eminent meetness for that world, and a similitude of temper to what prevails in it.
By way of reflection, then,
1. This may be sufficient to vindicate Christianity from the reproaches which have been cast upon it, for the divisions and animosities that have abounded among Christians. The precepts, the pattern, the principles of Christianity, all lead another way, they directly lead to peaceableness. If it be asked, then, "Whence come wars and fightings?" this question must be answered now, as it was by the apostle James in the primitive times, Jam. iv. 1. "Come they not hence, of lusts that war in your members ?" Pride, and ambition, and passion, too often prevail and reign among many that wear the Christian name: and there are too strong remains of these and other disorderly affections in the best.
2. This may be a proper subject of trial and self-examination. If we make no conscience of this duty of peaceableness, we have not yet entered into the spirit of true Christianity. And it will be one way to discern at least, whether vital religion is advancing or declining in us, by examining whether we are of a more peaceable or a more turbulent temper than we were formerly.
3. Let us all, as we are exhorted in the text, cultivate and exercise a peaceable and healing disposition. This is the likeliest way to dispose others to be at peace with us. The reason of the thing, the promise of God, and the ordinary course of experience, shew this: and every man desires that others may be at peace with him, even such as contribute least toward it themselves. This will, at least, be an effectual means to secure peace in our own breast, under other people's undeserved unkindness and ill usage, if they have nothing against us except in the matters of our God. It will greatly
credit our profession, and capacitate for the more extensive usefulness; and it will be one thing to soften a death-bed.
Therefore, pray for the spirit of grace, to make it a settled habitual principle with you. Often meditate on the blessings which ensue from peace to soul and body. Cultivate the grace of humility, the want of which lies at the bottom of most contentions. Watch against every thing which you find by experience to have a tendency to sour your spirits. whatever difficulty you may find in ruling your own spirits for this purpose, or in bearing with the peevishness of others, remember, that this, and all the other parts of your warfare, will soon be over; and the prize you have in view, to be recognised hereafter as the children of God, will abundantly over-balance all your difficulties.
A MERCIFUL TEMPER.
COL. III. 12. [first clause.]
Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies.
HAVE chosen more than once already, and in the course of my design, to make this verse my subject, for some branches of the Christian temper mentioned in it, because it recommends the several particulars which it enumerates in the most advantageous light, as "parts of the new man," wherein vital Christianity consists, or as Christian graces which those who profess Christianity are especially obliged to cultivate. As such, we are called to put on bowels of mercies, or a disposition to shew mercy to the proper objects of it. And here, as on several other heads, I shall,
I. Explain the disposition required. And,
II. Shew the peculiar engagements that lie upon Christians to it.
I. The nature of the disposition required, expressed by bowels of mercies.
It may be thus described in general:-It is a disposition of mind, whereby we are inclined tenderly to sympathise with others in their evils or dangers, and are ready to help and relieve them as far as it is in our powert
The peculiar occasion for this grace is given by the misery of other people, either present distresses they are labouring un
der, or some evils to which we may discern them to be exposed. As there would have been no room for divine mercy, if misery had not made its entrance among creatures, either in actual feeling or in title; so without this there could be no place for the mercy of one man to another.
And, as in other graces, so in this, we are principally to consider the temper of the mind. We are called to put on bowels of mercy; a tender sympathising spirit, apt to have a quick sense of other people's calamities and dangers, and to be nearly touched with them, and from that inward charitable frame to do them all proper good offices. Actions which earry the greatest appearance of compassion and mercy, if in truth they proceed not from such a temper of soul, will not meet with divine acceptance. And the apostle intimates, that there may be such actions without a right principle, when he tells us, 1 Cor. xiii. 3. Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." This is one of the strongest evidences whereby one man can proceed in his judgment of another, that he is of a merciful disposition, when he is content to give all he hath to relieve another man's necessity; and yet the apostle intimates, that such a diffusion of visible charity may proceed from an ill spring; as suppose from ostentation, from a hope to compound with God by this means for other sins, from something beside a genuine sympathy with our neighbour. If this should be the case, the most pompous acts of beneficence would profit us nothing at the bar of Christ.
On the other hand, men may be esteemed by God really to possess the bowels of mercy which Christianity requires, though they are not in a capacity to give any bright proofs of it to men by sensible instances. A poor man may have the grace of a merciful disposition as truly as the richest, if he really sympathises with his neighbour, and would do more if he had it in his power. For "if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not," 2 Cor. viii. 12. The temper of the mind, then, is first to be regarded.
But if there be such a disposition, it will not fail to express itself in merciful actions, in proportion to capacity and opportunity. The man who can allow himself to act a barbarous and cruel part, or who ordinarily declines to act as bowels of mercy