« AnteriorContinua »
dinary sermons to christians in general, or others who may attend on his ministrations. The Concio AD CLERUM, addresses the ministers of the Gospel themselves, in their official character; and its object is to enlighten, direct, command, and control, ministerial conscience itself, by the word of inspiration.
This audience, therefore, will not think it strange, that I should take a range of thought different from that, which they are accustomed to witness in the pulpit; the ministers of the gospel who are here, expect me to pursue such a course; and the Presbytery has made it my duty, by appointing me to my present office. At the same time, I hope, that I shall neither be so injudicious, nor so unfortunate, as to say any thing entirely detached from the interests, or any thing above the comprehenion, of the simplest christian who hears me. For such is the nature of that sacred bond, which unites the church and her officers into one body, of which Christ is the head; such is the nature of that spiritual vitality, which necessitates each member to participate, and sympathise, in all the good, and in all the evil, of the other members; that every subject involving the duties, difficulties, sorrows and consolations, of the church's ministry, must, by inevitable necessity, affect the church herself in all her members down to the very lowest.
In meditating on a subject suitable to this occasion, (if indeed that can be called meditation which cost me but a single thought) it seemed to me that we live in an age strongly marked with a peculiar character of its own; it is the age of Revolution: for certainly, we who are in the meridian of life, or at farthest not much beyond it, have never witnessed any thing,
since our first exercise of moral observation, but one sweeping tornado, and whirlwind, of religious and political convulsion and revolution; interrupted, and scarcely interrupted, by a few short pauses of awful stillness, the dreadful note of fresh preparation. That the church of God is in a progressive and a rapidly advancing state of revolution; that those things which fifty years ago were thought to be fixed on immoveable foundations, are at present afloat on the wave of public opinion, is visible to even the most vacant observer. And let us not cherish too fondly the illusion, that those things which we now think stable, will long be able to resist that invisible agency, which is at present overturning whatever our fathers thought fixed and secure. The ground trembles beneath our feet; and the oldest of us may live to behold revolutions, which the youngest of us has not the enthusiasm to conjecture.
I thought it therefore proper, my brethren, to call your attention on the present occasion, to the agitated state of the church of God. It is in the midst of this agitation, that God has cast your lot; it is in this convulsed church, that Jesus Christ has placed you; it is amidst this disorder and uproar of all the elements of moral society, that you are commissioned to preach the gospel, and to rule well the churches over which the Holy Ghost has made you
It is in such a state of things, that you are to fight the good fight, to keep the faith, to finish your course, and to win the crown, which Je, sus Christ, the righteous Judge, will confer on all his faithful servants. The passage of scripture which I have taken for my text, will furnish a good foun
dation for the structure of practical duties, which I mean to attempt erecting. Let us, therefore, examine a little into its meaning, and moral bearings.
The Pharisees, with the Sadducees, we are told, came to our Lord, professedly seeking evidence of his being the promised Messiah. The union of these parties is, at first sight, somewhat strange; as they were alienated from each other by all the rancour and bitterness of religious sectarians, who are rivals for popular esteem and influence.
The Pharisees were extravagant religionists: such zealots for the law, that they tythed the very potherbs in their gardens. The divine law was far too narrow for their exalted piety; they added to it the traditions of the elders, which, however, had the common effect of all pretended improvements of revealed religion, that of rendering the divine law of none effect.
Austere in their mode of living, they fasted, or at least pretended to fast, some of them twice a week; they made long prayers in public, and even gave alms when they had a sufficient number of spectators to praise their charity. They affected a dismal countenance, a demure behavior, and a sour unsocial demeanour, which constitute the true garb of hypocrisy; but, all the while, they were totally regardless of truth, mercy, and justice, those weightier matters of the law.
The Sadducees were atheists, gay and dissolute. They had, probably without any expense of thought at all, achieved the grand discovery, which has cost modern philosophers so much profound disquisition; namely, that there is neither angel, nor spirit, nor resurrection, nor future state for man. Having thus
reduced their creed to one short negative article, they reduced their moral law to one short precept, enforced by a single motive; namely this, "let us eat and drink for to-morrow we die.” That death is eternal sleep, is a doctrine which the present age has not done the honour of discovering.
These two sects were in the nature of things ene• mies to each other; and their hostility was carried beyond all bounds, because it was unchecked by any moral principle. Yet we find them joining themselves together, and making common cause against the Son of God, whose pure and heavenly doctrine had excited the resentment of all parties. And indeed we may remark generally, that as the children of God are bound together by the principle of love, which moves them to delight in each other's society, and prompts them to co-operate in doing good; so, on the contrary, the children of Satan, are joined together by the principle of hatred to some object of their common aversion; and they co-operate, not because they love one another, but because they wish to augment and multiply the resources of their wrath against a common foe. We cannot mistake the nature, end, and object of this temporary union between these Pharisees and Sadducees. They obviously intended to make themselves the representatives of their respective sects, and by consequence, the representatives of the whole Jewish nation: their first object was to impress the public mind with the opinion, that Jesus had not as yet exhibited evidence of his being the promised Messiah; and their next object was to take the investigation of that question into their own hands, with a firm determination never to be satisfied with any evi
dence. In desiring that Jesus should show them a sign from heaven, more is couched that at first meets the ear.
It obviously conveys an insinuation that all the preaching, and all the miracles, of our Lord, must pass for nothing in determining the question of his Messiahship. The request also conveys the idea that they were honest inquirers after truth, which they consciously wished to discover, and to follow. In fine, their desire, when examined in all its circumstances, amounts to a demand for satisfaction; they seem to say no less, than that they are the heads of the two great sects into which their nation was divided; that they are competent judges of the characteristics of Messiah, and deeply interested in the subject; that they have come forward, waving their party disputes, in order to determine a question, unsuitable for vulgar consideration; they, therefore, prescribe the nature and kind of the evidence with which they will be satisfied, and virtually refuse to admit any other. They demand that he shall show them a sign from heaven.
This prostration of all candour and fair dealing provoked our Lord's indignation, and he replies to them in the words of my text: “When it is evening, ye say, it will be fair weather, for the sky is red; and in the morning, it will be foul weather to day, for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites! ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” By observation they had learned the connexion between causes and effects in the natural world; so that they could predict the weather, by looking at the colour of the clouds of heaven. If they had been equally industrious in searching the Scriptures, and observing the extraordinary events of their