« PoprzedniaDalej »
With this reference then, the apostle may be heard addressing us again, as follows-1 beseech you, brethren, by that watchful providence of God, which guards you against seen and unseen dangers; which furnishes you with whatever comforts you possess, of family, of friendship, and of character or success in life; and which supplies every good thing, contributing to your sustenance or to your enjoyment; by these, and by all other, its merciful dispensations; which, unless thus sanctified to their true use, will be abused to the dishonoring of the good Being from whom they come, to the corrupting of your bodies, which should be sustained by them, and to the ruin of your immortal souls; by all these, and
whatever solid good can be derived from them, I beseech you to attend to the duty that is to follow.
III. This duty is the third particular. It is very comprehensive, and is thus expressed—“that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice."
The leading circumstance, is, a reference to a species of offering made to God, in virtue of his own appointment; and not, without great guilt, to be profaned to any other use. Accordingly, the apostle, intending to describe the entire sanctification accommodated to the Christian calling, makes an allusion to this expressive rite. The sacrifice mentioned, is that of the body; intended, in this place, of the whole man: the putting of a part for the whole being no uncommon mode of speech, and peculiarly proper here, because of the expression-present* your bodies a sacrifice. The original verb is appropriated to the act of sacrificing; which, being a material transaction, renders the figure the more complete by an especial mention of the body. It is also to be “a living sacrifice;" to distinguish it from the sacrifices of the law, which exacted the death of the victim; agreeably to the saying of the apostle--" almost all things are by the law purged with blood.” But the Christian ritual calls for a living sacrifice; and, except in the case of martyrdom, never requires the death or any less injury of the mortal part of us. That case being out of the question; there is not a precept of Scripture, but what is adapted to the health and
the comfort of our bodies, no less than to the peace and the innocency of our souls. No, Religion, it is not thou ; but it is licentiousness, thy wanton rival, who is continually offering up dying victims; not on the altar of God, but on that of the foe of God and man, who "goes about seeking whom he may devour."
It is a favorite idea of the New Testament, to represent Christian duty under the figure of a sacrifice: the reason of which cannot be fully seen, without a reference to the design and the completion of that mysterious kind of rite.
Without adverting to the sacrifices in the earliest ages of the world, and to speak of the Jewish sacrifices only; we find in them a lively delineation of the Divine person, who, in reference to these awful and instructive types, thus described himself as to fulfil them—"lo, I come to do thy will, O God." The New Testament, harmonizing with these prefigurations of the Old, declares their completion in "the one offering made by Jesus CHRIST, once for all;" and by this oblation, boundless as its merits, and ever living as to its efficacy, he is said to have “perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” But if this be so, what further place is there for oblation or sacrifice, under the Gospel ? The answer is, that, strictly speaking, there is none; and yet, that in a spiritual sense, there is the commemorative sacrifice in the Eucharist, of the symbols of the body and blood of CHRIST;" this, not in the way supposed by the Romanists, as repeating the one great sacrifice of Christ; but only as showing it forth, according to his command. That in this point of view, it partakes of the nature of the subject commemorated, appears from the parallel run between the ordinance, and the legal and the Heathen sacrifice, in the tenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians. ' Beside, the inspired writers consider the doctrine laid down as so leading a truth of Scripture, that they delight in describing the several branches of duty as being also sacrifices; and even our persons as being such; to be made acceptable through the merits of the great sacrifice of all. Thus Christians are called by St. Peter, "a Priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Christ.” We are admonished by St. Paul—"to do good, and to communicate forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well
pleased;" in another place, to "offer to him the sacrifice of praise, which is the fruits of our lips, giving thanks to his name;" and here in the text, more significantly than in any of the others, to "present ourselves to him, as living sacrifices.”
The propriety of the figure will still more appear, if we consider the nature of the legal sacrifices; which were either eucharistical, as acknowledging the dominion of God over his creatures; or expiatory, as representing the true atonement to be made for sin. The representing of ourselves as living sacrifices, beautifully answers to the former; in the acknowledgment which it implies, that we are God's by creation and by redemption; and in shewing our readiness to "glorify him in our bodies and in our spirits, which are his." As to the latter, although the offering of ourselves can no more effect it, than that of “thousands of rams, and ten thousands of rivers of oil;" yet it involves the application made of the merits of a more noble offering. At the same time, there is this expressive circumstance; that whereas, in the types which went before, the offals of “the beasts slain, were burnt without the camp;" so the rejection and the destruction of those worse offals, our corrupt passions, is essential to the Christian sacrifice in the spiritual worship under the Gospel.
It is then with great significancy, that Christian purity and duty are denoted by the metaphor of a sacrifice; which strongly describes the sanctifying of the whole man to the purposes for which his Creator designed, and to which religion calls him. Conformably to this act of spiritual sacrifice; the powers of our understandings are to be exercised on such objects as are implied in that Collect of our Church, in which we pray, that “by the inspiration of Almighty God, we may think those things which are good, and by his merciful guiding, we may perform the same.” Our wills and our affections are to be in harmony with that other petition, in which we implore the Divine Being, that “we may love the things which he commandeth, and define that which he doth promise." And in regard to our appetites, those lower properties of our nature, and necessary entailments on it in this mortal state, we may describe its ascendency over them, by referring still to our Liturgy; where it prompts the prayer, that “our flesh being sub
dued to the spirit, we may ever obey the Divine motions, in righteousness and true holiness."
Such is the Christian sacrifice: and here it is fit that we should severally ask ourselves, whether we have made, or are ready to make, this oblation of soul and body; of heart and action; of temporal existence and eternal. There is no subject, to which there will more pertinently apply the spirit of the address of Elijah to the Israelites, where he tells them—“ if the LORD be God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.” It is no uncommon complaint against Religion, that she raises a painful struggle between the sense of duty and opposing inclination. The advocate of Religion may join with the complainant, in confessing the misery of such a state. But there will be this difference between them ; that while her rival, for the remedy of them, would seduce to "the living without God in the world ;" and the knowing of no law but appetite, and no object but gratification independently on duty; she, blessed instructress, admonishes us not to silence conscience, but to rise up to its demands-nor to aim at the impracticable work of serving God and Mammon; but to present ourselves to the former, a living sacrifice. As an incentive to this, there remains the last particular, which is the commendation given of the duty; as a “sacrifice holy, acceptable to God, and our reasonable service.”
It is an holy sacrifice; being strictly so called, with a view to sacrifices under the law, which were holy in a relative sense merely, or with a reference to the religious uses to which they were appropriated; whereas the graces involved in the Christian sacrifice, are a real holiness, or rectitude of heart. Being thus distinguished from the sacrifices of old, it is still further distant from every offering of ourselves, or of our devotions, not consecrated to God, by a renovation of the spirit. It is, as an holy, so an acceptable sacrifice; being thus also distinguished from the offerings of the law; which, of themselves and independent on suitable dispositions, are declared tQ be of no avail. But here is an offering, the acceptance of which rests on the truth of the promises of God; being secured by the merits of that once dying but now living victim, who made an offering operating to the acceptance of ours, in
the great act by which he offered up Himself. As the Christian sacrifice differs in this respect from the Jewish, much more does it differ from every species of devotion, not attended by the sacrifice of sinful passion. To this, there applies with especial efficacy, the warning—“bring no more oblations;" such incense is an abomination unto me,” and “who hath required this at your hands, to tread my courts."
Further, it is a service paid to him to whom it is not only supremely due, but of whom it may be affirmed, that “his service is perfect freedom; being suited to the powers, and the source of whatever contributes to the true happiness of man; and unlike to that of sin, which is an usurpation dishonorable to him, and binding all the powers of his soul in a captivity to sense.
And it is “a reasonable service.” It is still said in the way of comparison with the Levitical sacrifices, which were of senseless animals; whereas this is of a reasonable nature. It may also be called a reasonable service, in respect to the fitness of the duties which it exacts. These are no other than submission and piety to God, justice and charity to men, and the temperate government of ourselves : which are the perfection of reason, must have the approbation of mankind, at all times, and in all places; and are indeed a copy of that eternal reason, which is the law of the moral universe.
Such is the commendation given by the apostle of the duty to which he calls us : a duty which thus appears to be of high import; and to require the mortification of opposing passions. Yet, lest there should be discouragement on that account; let it be remarked, that the duty, if it were carried to the height, would be no more than the contributing of our part, to the immense tribute of praise which all nature should be incessantly sending up to her almighty Sovereign. Of the material works of the creation, it is expressively said in Scripture—“they continue this day according to thine ordinance; for all things serve thee.” Yes, they continue from day to day, and from age to age, under the mechanical laws to which they were subjected at the creation; proclaiming the Divine hand of their great contriver. But His accountable creatures, are subjected to a moral law. Theirs is a reasonable