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by his folly; but after he had thus learned wisdom by sad experience, the son was not deprived of the advantage of his learning; which must have been the case, if the father had put it out of his own power to bestow any further favors. It will not, therefore, be sound reasoning to say, that the Father of our race has bestowed all the blessing which he ever has to bestow upon his children here. To allow this to be the case, would be to depreciate the parental affection, kindness, and mercy of God, below that of an earthly father. For to say that man in a finite state of existence should have the power to ruin himself in an infinite state; and that power given by a Being infinite in goodness and mercy, is shocking beyond all description. It would be like giving children an immense estate into their own hands, before they had become acquainted with its proper use and value; for they would be as likely to exchange it away for a trifle as to make a proper use of it.
Such reasoning as this, would finally place mankind in a state, where they would be beyond any obligation to love God. This would be destroying the law, in place of fulfilling it by obedience. For the very commandment to love God presupposes some obligation to obey the command. This is actually the case, in this world; for every blessing which man receives, puts him under the obligation. The duty can only be destroyed by destroying the obligation. If we suppose the time is ever to come, when any part of mankind will cease to receive any further blessings, and when they will be punished without any design to benefit them, the obligation to love God will then cease; for where there is no favor, there can be no obligation.
Perhaps it may be said, we receive no favors from enemies, and yet the command is to love them. This duty, it is true, does not arise so much from obligation,
as from the natural connection and dependence which every where exists among mankind. But the command must arise in the first place from this fact, that God's love is extended to all; for if his love to mankind was partial, we might certainly be commended for being partial, and thus imitating our Lawgiver. For it would seem sufficient that we were as perfect as our Master, without exceeding him, and thus becoming more perfect. It will not therefore do to say, that we have a commandment binding us to be impartial in the distribution of our love, when at the same time, the giver of this law is not to abide by the same rule himself. Teachers should certainly endeavor to practise what they teach, and we say it with confidence, that Christ would never give us a commandment, which he intended to violate himself.
Mankind should not be taught to love God as the means to obtain his love, for as he is immutable and unchangeable, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, if we have not his love to-day, it would be in vain to expect it to-morrow. It is true, we may be rewarded for obedience, and punished for disobedience; but love in God is the same in the latter instance as it is in the former. The parent, when compelled from duty to correct the child, does not perform the painful task out of a malicious disposition, but he is actuated from the same principle of love towards the child. And as the parent always loved the child, even before the child performed any act of obedience, or disobedience, so God's love towards mankind must have been prior to any act or knowledge of him; "we love him (saith an inspired Apostle) because he first loved us." Obedience in man should always arise, not merely from a sense of slavish fear of punishment; but love and obedience are the only returns man can make for such unmerited favors as are continually poured upon him. Let us, therefore, not
only remember the high obligations which we are under to obey, but if we are desirous to escape as much as possible the chastising rod, that ever awaits the transgressor, let us restrain every unlawful desire, curb every passion, love the Lord supremely, and our neighbor as ourselves; which will lead us to notice,
II. Love to mankind.
We find no direct command for a man to love himself, he will generally obey this duty very willingly; but the fault is too common to restrain this principle within, and keep it too much confined; yet properly directed and governed, it is one of the greatest blessings to mankind, as Pope so justly expresses it:
"Self-love, the spring of motion, acts the soul;
The lawyer, it seems, was not satisfied with being defeated so completely at the first onset, he therefore presses the question a little further, by asking, "And who is my neighbor P" Jesus answers this question by relating the following interesting narrative. "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in wine and oil, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And
on the morrow, when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again I will Which thee. repay now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among thieves ?" Here was a question for the lawyer, he saw the force of it; and although the priest and levite were nearest to the Jews, and had no dealings with the Samaritans, yet he was obliged to say, that he that showed mercy was the neighbor.
Here is a very important lesson for the world; love to God will always beget love to mankind; it will teach us who our neighbors are. It will teach us to show inercy to every son and daughter of Adam's race. It will teach us how vain it is to pretend to love God, and hate any of our race. The Apostle John reproves such in the most severe manner; says that beloved disciple, Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer; and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” The truth of this Apostle's statement here is very obvious, for as God is love, and to know him is eternal life, it argues the necessity of exercising the same principles; and not those which are as opposite as light is from darkBut are christians sensible of this important duty, to extend their love beyond those that are the nearest to them? Are they sensible how important it is to love others besides their own particular denomination? Let every one who professes the name of Christ, remember the example of the good Samaritan, who possessing the love of God, could love the distressed also.
But let us inquire, why we are to love our neighbors as we do ourselves? If God is partial, or if he knew from the beginning, that our race would be separated through the wasteless ages of eternity; one division to receive his everlasting smiles, while the other would have to
lament their existence, should we be commanded to love our enemies? to do good to them that persecute us, and pray for them that despitefully use us? Would God give us a law to practise upon, that is more perfect than himself? Would, he command us to be merciful, and yet show no mercy himself? Would Jesus give us so bright an example of the Samaritan, showing mercy and compassion to the wounded and afflicted, yet can any believe that he will violate the same principles himself, by not only permitting, but even sentencing the miserable to the everlasting shades of darkness and despair? Are we commanded to be better than our Lord? Are we commanded to be more merciful, or more compassionate? Heaven forbid it! Jesus will never violate the rules of compassion and mercy which he has given us to follow. For while he has commanded us to love our enemies, and to forgive them, he could do the same, even while in agonies upon the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
The plain reason why we are commanded to exercise so many good principles of kindness and mercy, is, because the Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. And, that we should live in love and unison here, is, because that love and unison will be more perfected hereafter, when the sin of the world shall be taken away, "and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."
In concluding this sermon, friendly hearers, let us, one and all, strive to keep the commandments of our heavenly Father, for "in keeping them there is great reward" which may God, of his infinite mercy, grant to be our portion now and forever. Amen.