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specific precepts; and for the rest, they point out the great and essential principles of propriety, by which they expect us always to be governed.
These principles are modesty and benevolence ; which are indeed the basis of all true politeness. These two qualities, though they may not ensure a graceful or accomplished manner, are sufficient to guard the minds that are properly imbued with them from whatever is rude and offensive. A truly kind and modest person seldom offends against refined politeness in social life; nor does a truly humble and benevolent member of the church offend against the propriety which ought to characterise the intercourse of that society.
These laws, pertaining to the religious and social intercourse of Christians, are partly written in the text. Likewise ye younger submit yourselves to the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another; and be clothed with humility. Others, scattered through the Scriptures, are such as follow. Be courteous. Be kindly affectionate one to another, with brotherly love ; in honor preferring one another. Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. These, with other similar precepts, taken together, form an admirable social code.
Let us give our attention, now, to the particular precepts which are contained in our text. Some care is necessary to ascertain the meaning of the language. Likewise ye younger submit yourselves to the elder. The terms elder and younger are relative. Primarily they refer to comparative ages. They are also used in the Scriptures in reference to place and station. Those who occupy official stations in the church, as teachers and rulers, are called seniors, or elders; while those who are the subjects of their teaching or oversight, are called juniors.
It being the order of nature that the older should teach and guide the younger, the terms naturally come to be applied to those who stand in such relations to each other, without regard to age. I suppose the apostle has respect to both these senses. Let the taught be subject to their teachers, the governed to their guides and overseers; and let the younger in years be subject to those that are more advanced in life. Yea all of you be subject one to another. ect one to another. Ye younger be
be subject to the elder. But what is the submission or subjection he intends ? He means a proper deference to others, according to the relations between us and them. Members of the church should show a proper respect to their pastors—a proper and becoming deference to their office, their authority, and their teaching. The younger members should show a becoming respect to those older than themselves in years and piety—a becoming deference to their wisdom and experience, and to all those claims which are naturally conceded to superior age. To one another the members should show the respect which is due to fellow members—each showing modesty and kindness towards the persons, opinions, feelings, and rights of the others. In a word, there
should be nothing of arrogance, conceit, disrespect, or self-will in the intercourse of Christians; but every one should exhibit the amiable demeanor of one who properly appreciates and respects the relations of parties.
Omitting other relations which are concerned in the text, I will discuss only those of the members towards each other, and those of the younger towards the older.
I. We will consider the demeanor which is expected in the members towards each other. Yea, all of you be subject one to another.
By being subject one to another, it is meant, as I have remarked, that they should mutually and properly respect each other's feelings, judgments, and rights. It is not meant that no one should have an opinion of his own; nor that he should not express it. This is not desirable. Nor does the apostle mean to forbid that special respect shall be paid to peculiar worth. If a member be a person of more than ordinary intelligence and piety, he is of course to be respected and esteemed accordingly. There is nothing of a levelling character in our text, nor is there in the gospel. Quite the contrary. The gospel does indeed place all men, in some respects, on a level; but it also acknowledges comparative moral worth, and commands respect to be paid wherever it is due, whether in the church or out;-tribute to whom tribute; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
It were preposterous to say that a Hale, or an Evarts, or a Wilberforce, should have no more respect or influence in the church than the weakest member in it. And yet this is what too many, professing religion, are willing enough to claim. Is it not a fact that some make it a ground of preference for joining one church rather than another, that in that communion they are all upon a level ; and no one is expected to esteem any other more wise, or competent, or pious than himself? They seem to regard the church of Christ as a sort of platform, which places all persons and all things upon an equal footing—where ignorance and knowledge, youth and age, office and private station, and male and female, shall have a common currency, and receive a like consideration !
But our text, while it inculcates entire modesty and respect on the part of all, and supposes even the highest worth to be slow to assert its claims, (as indeed it will, contemplates no such state of things as I have described. Let every one have, and freely express, the sentiments he honestly entertains, and assert his rights, if necessary; but at the same time, let him show always a becoming deference, and charity, and good will, towards the sentiments and wishes of his brethren, and especially towards the church as a body.
It will not be necessary that I should be more particular as to the apostle's meaning. But let us now consider what arguments there are for such a demeanor as he requires.
And first, such deportment is amiable and proper in itself. It is in keeping with the spirit of the gospel, the leading traits of which are humility, gentleness, and love. And it goes far to recommend religion to the world; while a different demeanor goes far, and very far, to discredit religion. Where should we expect to find the finest exhibition of the true courtesies of life, if not among those whose hearts and minds are supposed to be imbued with the lovely spirit of the gospel ? Must we go to the vain and fashionable world to find better manners than are cultivated in the church? And shall Chesterfield be a more successful teacher on this subject than Jesus and his apostles? You will not understand me, by this allusion, as asking for the church the embellishments of fashionable life: I only plead for the substance and reality of that genuine urbanity of which the world affects the forms.
II. That the members shall be subject one to another, as the apostle directs, is essential to the harmony of the church. We all have human feelings; we have human infirmities and passions, and are liable to many errors; and it requires much mutual respect, concession, and forbearance, to live agreeably in any human society. Where these virtues are wanting, in the church, the family, or elsewhere, there will be more or less unpleasant feeling. If one or more members set up for superior wisdom, and insist, however honestly, on having things their own way, showing no deference to the judgment, or the wishes, or the piety of others, disgust and discord are likely to ensue. Or even if a majority, acting upon the theory that the majority shall always govern, shows no respect to the feelings, or judgment of the minority, the harmony of the church is endangered, if not sacrificed.
The majority ought indeed to determine questions; and the minority, however large, ought cheerfully to submit; but, at the same time, the minority, however small, has its right to be heard and treated with respect. And there are cases where the major party ought, as a matter of courtesy and good feeling, (I do not say of right,) to give way to the minority.
It may be better to sacrifice a measure, even of some importance in the view of the majority, than to sacrifice good feeling, --however unreasonable it may be in the minority to require it. And where con science is not invaded, and among honest people, it almost always is unreasonable in a minority to expect it. Let the few yield to the many; this is the only principle upon which communities can act. But let all parties act in the spirit of our text. How many bitter animosities, and disgraceful schisms would be saved by such a spirit pervading all concerned !
III. Conformity to this precept is essential to the wholesome action of the church. Cases may occur, in which the few are wiser than the many; or even a single individual may be right, and all the rest in error. But I do not believe that this is generally, or frequently the
fact-especially after consultation. The presumption always is, that the collected wisdom of the many is better than the opinion of the few. And there is Scripture for this belief. In the multitude of counsellors there is safety. And this proverb of the wise man is confirmed by much experience.
It has very generally been seen that where the few have had their way, the many following against their judgment, the issue has been evil. The proper way is, for each one to give, with modesty, his own views and reasons, and hear respectfully the views of others; and then acquiesce in the judgment of the majority. If he cannot yield his convictions in the matter, he can, at least, refrain from wounded pride and active opposition. This is amiable and modest, and it certainly is reasonable. For if it be hard for one to conform himself to the judgment of the many, it is still harder that the many should submit themselves to one.
IV. I will only add on this head, and as a fourth argument for conformity to this precept, that it is promotive of the best virtues in individual members. It is an admirable means of self-discipline. Brought as we are, in the church, into an intimate, and responsible, and active, fellowship with a variety of persons, of different ages, capacities, tempers, and degrees of information, we have occasion for the constant exercise of charity, respect, patience, condescension, and especially, humility, the loveliest of all the virtues; dispositions which are not native in us, and which require exercise to keep them in existence, and much exercise to bring them to perfection.
There is too much reason to confess that pride, self-sufficiency, and a spirit of dictation, and uncharitableness, sometimes, in individual cases, grow more rapidly in the church than in almost any other society. In the humble and familiar brotherhood of Christians, if any be disposed to be officious, opinionative, and intolerant, proud, heady, highminded, and such as Diotrephes, who loved to have the pre-eminence, they have an opportunity to do so. But this is the fault of the individuals, and of human nature, and not of the institution. No society is so fitted as the church, if its laws be conformed to, for the cultivation of the opposites of these unamiable dispositions; in proof of which such precepts as my text, and many bright examples may be adduced.
And it should be observed here, that the Apostle in giving us this precept signifies to us that humility is essential to its performance. Be subject one to another, and be clothed with humilitij. Be humble, that you may be subject. Paul signifies the same. Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves.' And James speaks in a similar manner, “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge,' &c. iii. 13. Our Savior also taught the same virtue of humility by a significant action, washing the disciples' feet. We must cultivate humility and meekness then as a prerequisite to the fulfilment of this pre
cept. And what does observation teach us on this subject? If we look through the church, in all ages, what are the manifestations with regard to this virtue, which those make who are least subject to their brethren? It is not the most humble and self-distrusting, nor the most wise, nor the most consistent, that find the most difficulty to act harmoniously and pleasantly with their fellow members. Zeal they may have, and honesty, and efficiency; but they are wanting in humility.
And in this connection let us turn our thoughts for a moment to that impressive consideration in which the Apostle en forces what he says, and which forms a part of our text. Be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility, he says; for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. What a check should such a thought as this be to pride; and to all such behavior as has its source in pride! And when we find ourselves disposed to differ with our brethren, and especially with the majority of them, and are strenuous to have our own views prevail, our own schemes adopted, our own wills or wishes gratified, let us inquire with ourselves how far our conduct proceeds from this unlovely and too often unperceived disposition, pride. How many are there who know not what spirit they are of,—who, while they flatter themselves that they are doing God service, and receiving his approbation, are really hateful in his sight!
But I must turn now to a brief consideration of that other relation of which the text speaks—that of the younger towards the elder. My design was to make this my principal topic; but I have not allowed myself the necessary time. This however is not perhaps to be regretted, as the same arguments which have been used in reference to the mutual deportment of brethren generally, are easily transferable to this branch of our subject. And they apply here in superior force. If mutual respect and deference be amiable and proper among equals, it is still more becoming in the younger to show respect and deference to the older. And if in that particular, the church ought to be an example to the world, much more ought it to be in this. Where should the children and youth of the community be pointed to examples of respect paid to the wisdom and gravity of years, if not in Christian families and in the church?
And again, as it regards the wholesome action of the church, it is very important that the younger should submit themselves to the elder. I am the more concerned to make this remark, and to give some prominence to it, because I apprehend that the fashion of the times requires it. It is not the practice of the present age as it once was, especially in the early days of New-England, for the young to show a marked respect to their seniors. That precept of nature and the Scriptures,
Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man,' is gone, there is cause to fear, or fast going, into disuse. The fact in regard to families, and in regard to the community generally, is commonly spoken of and acknowledged. The same impropriety exists in religious societies. Our religious arrangements are made with a special, and sometimes almost exclusive reference to the views