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SERMON XXIV.

MATTHEW v. 16.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may

see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

WERE we to rest the perfection of our blessed Saviour's character as a public Teacher upon the evidence of any one of his discourses in particular, his Sermon on the Mount might be selected as affording, perhaps, the most remarkable proof of his divine pretensions. Distinguished as it is for extraordinary simplicity and clearness, in developing those principles of human conduct which were thenceforth to be considered as binding upon all who would embrace His religion ; it at the same time discovers such an insight into human nature, and such an elevation of sentiment, as never yet were attained by mere philosophical instructors. Whether we view it with reference to active or to contemplative life; whether we apply it to men's interests in this present world, or to those which await

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VOL. II.

them in a future state ; it points to eachwith the effect which authority only, authority unimpeachable and infallible, could produce. In this respect, it may well be said to be commensurate with those other “ demonstrations “ of the Spirit and of power “,” by which his heavenly mission was more directly verified.

Our Lord had, indeed, already obtained among the people a reputation of no ordinary kind. Not only had his forerunner proclaimed him to be the Saviour of the world, but the fame of his wonderful works had begun to raise expectations of his being the great Deliverer foretold by the Prophets. Those very expectations, however, while they served to awaken the attention of his hearers, laid him so much the more open to rigid scrutiny. They exposed him, on all sides, to such animadversions as must speedily have silenced his pretensions, had he failed in any instance to sustain the character he assumed. It is no inconsiderable proof, therefore, of his just claims to that high character, that he was able to abide this ordeal ; that in no instance did he administer to the corrupt affections or erroneous prejudices of his followers; but with uncompromising firmness, yet at the same time with the utmost mildness and for

a 1 Cor. ii. 4.

bearance, discountenanced and opposed those sentiments which he knew to be most prevalent among them, and which were most in unison with the notions they had formed of the purpose

of his mission. This is strikingly instanced in the several beatitudes, as they are called, with which he opens

his discourse. Instead of encouraging the pursuit of worldly honour, wealth, or dominion; instead of holding out inducements of ease, luxury, and temporal grandeur ; instead of promising earthly conquests and the subjugation of rival and hostile powers;what are the expectations offered, what the qualities declared to be indispensable for admission into His kingdom ?--humility, selfdenial, meekness, forbearance, purity, patience under tribulation and adversity. The only superiority to which he bids them aspire, is that of setting an example edifying to the rest of mankind. The only splendour with which he would have them invested, is the lustre of those unostentatious qualities which might gradually win men to the truth, and lead to the adoption of that religion from which they proceeded. Nor were they to content themselves with the scanty measure of excellence which hitherto their religious instructors had meted out to them ; but “ex

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cept their righteousness exceeded that of “ the Scribes and Pharisees, they would in “ no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” -What impostor would have thus begun his career? What enthusiast would have submitted his pretensions to a test like this? What worldly projector, ambitious of power or of fame, would have risked his popularity by such unwelcome admonitions ?

But it may be asked, how will these representations consist with the injunction, “ Let

your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your 6 Father which is in heaven?”—The

poor

in spirit, they that mourn, the meek, they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the

pure

in heart, the peacemakers, the reviled and persecuted ;—are these the characters to attract the admiration of the multitude ; or will mankind in general be inclined, from such effects of a religion, to adopt it as their own? Who would expect the teacher of doctrines like these, to exhort his followers to set themselves

up

for patterns to the rest of mankind, in the persuasion that any who were conversant with the world would partake of their views and sentiments ? It requires no great extent of observation

b Matth. v. 20.

or research to obviate these supposed inconsistencies, and to vindicate the wisdom, no less than the purity, the sanctity, and the benevolence, of the heavenly Instructor from whom these precepts issued.

What, let us ask, are the most fruitful sources of evil and misery throughout the human race? What so fruitful, or so frequent, as the qualities most opposite to those which our Lord here sets forth as essential to the religion he promulgated ? Consider the effects of pride, of a mind swollen with uninterrupted prosperity, of uncontrolled resentment, of inordinate love of the world, of oppression, of sensuality, of a turbulent spirit, of a fear of incurring worldly censure, of irresolution and want of firmness in upholding righteousness and truth. How extensively do these spread their influence, and how fearfully do they operate in poisoning every enjoyment of social life! True it is, that some of these odious dispositions are far from being direct obstacles to men's personal advancement in the world, and that some of them may even be attended with incidental benefit to others, as well as to themselves. The aggrandizement of an individual may he brought about by that recklessness of evil consequences which pushes forward to its object, without fear either of

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