« PoprzedniaDalej »
As patriots too, you have a deep interest in securing the proper observance of the Sabbath. It must be admitted on all hands, that we owe more to our religion, than we do to our soil, our climate, our policy, or our courage. We are too apt to glory in our resources, in the immensity of our territory, in the freedom of our civil institutions, and in our multiplying millions. But is there no example of a nation's breaking down merely by its own weight! It was this that brought proud imperial Rome to the dust, after she had long been known as the mistress of the world. The hour too of Israel's pride was the hour of her downfall, the period from which her glory became dim, and she fled before her enemies. Nor can any thing save the land in which we live, but the Sabbath. How eloquently then should every patriot plead for this heaven-born institution! He should always identify the proper observance of the Sabbath with the high interests of his beloved country, and seek her prosperity mainly through this sacred channel.
But philanthropists also are deeply concerned to promote the sanctity of the Sabbath. You wish well to man, and would rejoice to see some kind hand wiping away the tears from the face of this sad and gloomy world. All that can be done, however, is to heal some of the bitter waters. And this you will best accomplish by bringing the influence of the Sabbath to restrain the vices of men, to elevate their character, to inspire them with right sentiments, and to mingle mercies in every cup. Begin then by taking a gauge of the misery which comes upon the community by a profanation of this day. Turn aside a little to some abode of crime and wretchedness, and ask its inmates what it was that first brought a cloud over their prospects. Visit our prisons and penitentiaries, and inquire of their inhabitants how it was that they came to violate the laws of God and man. Then go and do your duty. Encourage the spirit of the gospel. Honor the men who fear God. On all occasions, and in all companies, be the firm and decided advocates of the Sabbath.
Finally, if these things are so, all the friends of morality and good order should make an effort to correct public sentiment in regard to the Sabbath. As for legislation, either from the States, or general government, in favor of this day, it is not, in the present condition of things, to be expected. It would be well indeed if the whole weight of governmental influence were not against the Lord's day. But our statute books might be filled with enactments for the better observance of the Sabbath, and they would serve no good purpose whatever, unless energy was imparted to these enactments by the correct moral sense of the community. What then can be done? Appeals to our rulers would probably avail nothing. We must begin by humbling ourselves before God as individuals, and families, and congregations, for our own, and the nation's sin of Sabbath breaking. This step sincerely taken, may propitiate heaven on our behalf. But having thus carried the cause to God, we must go forth, through evil report and good report, and give to the Sabbath all the aid of a correct example, and all the influence of earnest decision. There is, it is hoped, a redeeming spirit in the land, if good men can only be aroused from their slumbers. The enemies of the Sabbath, and of all its salutary appendages, are, it is true, carrying matters with a high hand, and in every part of the land are perverting the bounties of God's providence into occasions for provoking his displeasure. But the land-marks of Christian morality are not yet swept away, and men of virtue may make a stand. Now is the time for a vigorous effort. If the Sabbath ever becomes a by-word and a reproach in the land of our fathers' sepulchres, what is to become of liberty? and especially what is to become of the Church of the living God? Must the ark be removed from the hill of Zion, and look for a resting place in the isles of the sea, or on the shore of some heathen country? Let us indulge in no unfounded dreams of security. The Most High can easily cast us down from our proud eminence, and cause us to perish by the blast of the breath of his nostrils. His decree has gone forth, it will be executed-The nation and kingdom that will not serve me shall perish.
DISASTROUS EFFECTS OF LITTLE SINS IN CHRISTIANS.
Ecclesiastes x, 1. Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wis
dom and honor.
THE love of reputation is natural to men. God has implanted this love in the human heart to subserve a benevolent purpose in the present scene of our being. And the individual who has so far perverted this part of his original constitution, as to feel no regard for the good opinion of the wise and the vir tuous, is prepared to become the pest of the community, and the perpetrator of the foulest deeds of darkness. To the native desire of the individual for the esteem of others, may be referred much of that courtesy and common kindness which diffuse their blessings over the various circles of society. But no man, in this country especially, is born to the inheritance of a good name. He must merit it by his real or supposed virtues, before it will be awarded to him. And it is not a rare or solitary act of goodness, however imposing, that will secure to the individual that "good name, which is better than precious ointment." As it is with care and caution that the apothecary compounds and prepares his precious perfume, so a fair reputation can only be obtained by combining in their just proportions, and exhibiting in their fulness and harmony, those elements of character that meet the approbation of the better part of society. But while such is the difficulty and delicacy of establishing a character for wisdom and honor, it may be easily lost, utterly lost, without destroying all or any of its great and prominent qualities. "Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a bad savor"-yet these flies bear but an exceeding small proportion to the whole substance of the ointment in which they are lodged. Character, like perfume, then, may be destroyed without a destruction of all its principal component parts. Let but a little folly attach to him who is in reputation for wisdom and honor, and it may utterly ruin his influence. This is the truth exhibited for our contem. plation in the text.
The object of the remarks that follow shall be-first, TO NOTICE SOME
EXEMPLIFICATIONS OF THE TRUTH, THAT COMPARATIVELY TRIFLING DEFECTS DESTROY THE REPUTATION AND INFLUENCE OF A PROFESSING CHRISTIAN-and secondly, TO INQUIRE INTO THE REASONS OF THIS.
I. First, then, we are to notice some exemplifications of the truth, that comparatively trifling defects destroy the reputation and influence of a professing Christian.
Every professor of religion is at first, by his very profession, in reputation for wisdom and honor. He is supposed to have taken a wise step, to have assumed a lofty stand. He has claimed connection, intimate alliance with
VOL. 9. No. 9.
the Source of all honor and moral excellence. Must he then be guilty of some flagrant violation of the divine law, before he can lose his character and influence?-No; a little folly will destroy them both. He may not break the Sabbath, nor swear profanely, nor steal, nor be chargeable with falsehood, nor with gross and palpable injustice, nor with habitual neglect of the social and secret worship of God. He may not be impure or intempe rate, a railer or false accuser, an unruly or insubordinate member of the church. He may neither be quarrelsome nor insolent with his neighbors;
and yet he may have that in his character which will as effectually destroy
his influence as though he were guilty of much greater enormities. Let him be reckless and imprudent in the minor points of Christian conduct. Let him heedlessly or wilfully postpone the claims of justice, even in little matters. Let him have a little of self-confidence, and a meddlesome forwardnesssome share of self-will and unyielding pertinacity of opinion-some irascibility of temper that cannot brook contradiction, or bear to be overborne by the opinions of a majority of his peers, without throwing him off his balance and causing him to speak unadvisedly with his lips;-any one of these may be amply sufficient to destroy his influence, though that charity that hopeth all things and believeth all things, may both hope and believe still that he is a Christian. Or take a professor of religion, otherwise irreproachable, but who has the unhappy habit of giving the highest coloring to his representations, of using great exaggeration, of making loose and somewhat distorted statements, of taking a little poetic license in the narration of facts; and though no court, ecclesiastical or civil, could convict that man of palpable lying, yet there is a fly in the ointment, and the savor is offensive. The man's Christian character and influence is a perfect nullity. Take another, in other respects unblameable, but who is known in his business transactions to go just as far as the letter of the law will permit in getting the best of a bargain— who evinces a peculiar shrewdness, not to say cunning, in calculating the bearings on his own interest of certain unsuspected legal phrases in a contract -who can satisfy his own conscience, and attempt to justify to others, the advantage he has thus gained by saying that it is perfectly legal that the other contracting party acted voluntarily and with his eyes open. Now, though such a one can neither be convicted by a church session nor a civil court, of illegal bargaining or dishonesty, yet his reputation as a professing Christian, and his influence in the church of God, are somewhat worse than a cipher! Again: suppose an individual, who is not chargeable with any approximation to overreaching in his dealings with others, and whose reputation is respectable in the eyes of men generally, except that it is known that he loves exceedingly to retain what he has honestly acquired, irrespective of any demands of God or man on his substance: let it be known that he always receives applications for contributions with a mal-grace: that, when the object presented for his liberality is one of unquestioned propriety and benevolence, he admit it, but fill his mouth with objections: that he will resort to apologies and excuses, the weight of which it is to be suspected he does not himself feel: let it be known that to all questions of this kind he has a set of negative answers-answers which show that he clings inordinately to his gold -that he loves it in itself, instead of as the means of doing good to a dying world; that he is somewhat, at least, inclined to avarice and covetousness; and though this be not regarded as a disciplinable offence by the church(and I do not see why it should not be, for the New Testament declares it to be IDOLATRY ;) yet what is that professor's character worth in the estimation of an enlightened Christian community? Worth just as much as his treasures will be to him, when God takes away his soul. And even where there is not such an approach to downright covetousness-where there is no such approximation to that "love of money, which is the root of all evil"-no such idolatrous attachment to riches, yet it is possible for the individual to be guilty
of a littleness of soul-a parsimonious meanness and management in pecuniary affairs, that will as certainly undermine and destroy the character and influence of a professing Christian, as avarice and covetousness in their grossest forms.
Let us now contemplate a professing Christian, free from all these defects of which we have spoken, but prone to a certain unbecoming levity of spirit. Such a one may not attend theatres, operas, balls, or dancing and dashing parties. He may frequent no haunts of dissipation and mirth-nay, he may not be habitually found in the society of the trifling and the thoughtless. But there may be a certain effort at dress and fashionable appearance, a certain love of attracting attention and winning admiration, a prevailing desire to be witty, a love of showing off a little, an unrepressed gayety and levity of spirit, a disposition to trifling and puerile conduct in the absence of customary restraint, moments of frothy conversation and vain jestings, and some leanings occasionally to very thoughtless companionship. Now, though the individual to whom these things attach, never proceeds to such lengths as might at all make him liable to the formal discipline of the church, yet what effect have they on his reputation and influence as a professor of religion? It is true, they leave him in his place, untouched by discipline as a member of the church, but the fragrance of his good name they have not only destroyed, but caused that name to send up an odour highly offensive to all that is grave, dignified, and consistent in piety.
Or suppose an individual to be at a great remove from all that is gay and trifling, suppose him to be serious and punctual in all external observances, sufficiently grave in all his intercourse with the world, possessing a moral character of no positive faultiness, somewhat zealous and enterprising in benevolent efforts; yet let him be inclined to a murmuring, restless, dissatisfied spirit, rather disposed to censoriousness, mostly or always differing in opinion respecting the most simple matters from the majority around him, greatly alive to the defects and blemishes of others, complaining that every thing the church and the world seems to be going wrong, and disposed to innovation and change, provided it be of his own dictation. Now in all this he may do nothing really worthy of disciplinary stripes. He may not in the judg ment of the candid bring his own personal piety into doubt, and yet his salutary influence as a Christian is as utterly destroyed as though he had been guilty of some heinous offence: there are at least enough of "dead flies" in the ointment to destroy its fragrance, if not to cause it to send forth a positively bad odour.
We may now examine the effect of a little folly in one who is in reputation for wisdom and honor as a father or head of a family. Such a one, in order to lose his character and influence, need not be destitute of natural affection, he need not be a stern and arbitrary tyrant in the domestic circle, imposing the iron yoke of his despotism on the weak and unoffending necks of his wife and children, and inflicting brutal violence on those whom God and nature require him to protect and cherish. Nor on the other hand, need he neglect all discipline and yield up the reins, and leave his children to run without restraint in the course which their ardent and wayward desires may dictate. He may not allow them to spurn his authority in the graver matters of their duty, to break over the restraints of an external morality, and violate the Sabbath, or profane the name of God, or steal, or utter falsehood, or frequent places of gaming, and drunkenness, and lewdness, and riot. He may not permit them to offer a direct disobedience to any of his positive and prominent requirements as a father, and yet there may be a little folly attaching to him in this relation which will destroy his own influence and ruin his children, as inevitably as more glaring delinquencies. Let him fail to exercise a vigilant inspection over the forming habits of his children; let him yield his authority, contrary to his own conviction of right, to the persuasive im
portunity of his child; let him connive at the child's ingenuity to avoid collision with his known will in a given case, and yet to carry its own point; let him sometimes accept a partial and reluctant obedience; nay, let him even hold the reins of his parental government with an unsteady hand, and what will be the effect on his reputation as a Christian father, and what the influence on his children? The evidence of his folly, however small it may appear to himself, will come before the public as soon as its effects have ripened into maturity in the character of his children. Whatever may be his other excellencies, the world will not respect him as a judicious Christian father. His little folly is sufficient effectually to destroy the fragrance of that good name, which attaches to the exalted character of a discreet, consistent, Christian father. And it will equally destroy his influence on his own children. Having learned that they may, in some instances, succeed in avoiding a cordial and unqualified obedience to his reasonable requisitions-that they may carry their point by management and persuasion-their reverence for his parental authority is gradually weakened, the strong ties of filial respect and fear become loosened, the charm that bound them in implicit obedience to a father's will and wishes is at length dissolved, and the progress to insubordination, recklessness of all restraint, and to ultimate ruin, is neither slow nor uncertain. The destruction of character and hopes amongst the children of professing parents, is never effected by great and crying parental delinquency. A "little folly" in those who are in reputation for wisdom and honor as Christian parents, hath done this! "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!"
Once more: the truth of our text is strikingly exemplified in the case of some ministers of the gospel. The more delicate the perfume, the more easily destroyed by a small ingredient of an offensive kind. So the higher and more sacred the reputation for wisdom and honor, the more easily ruined by a little folly. To lose his character and influence, it is not necessary for the minister to be infected with gross heresy, or to be guilty of gross immorality; he needs not be chargeable with indiscretions as palpable as those that mar the character of ordinary Christians. Nay, he may preach the truth eloquently and fervently; he may have a general honesty and uprightness of intention; some degree of sincere desire to do good. He may be laborious in his official duties; an example of liberality to the poor, and to all objects of benevo lence; industrious and careful in his studies; attentive in his visitations to the sick, and to his flock generally but let him be known as a man of somewhat rash and imprudent temperament, or as possessing a hauteur and illjudged independence, wounding to the feelings of others; or let him be prone to occasional levity, excessive fondness for anecdote, and an unrestrained indulgence of his sense of the ludicrous; or let him be known as a little inclined to be insidious and managing; a little disposed to the compromising and turning of a merely secular policy; somewhat desirous of the praise of men, or at least a little too sensitive respecting his own popularity: any one of these, however small, if persisted in till it become habitual, will undermine and ultimately blast his reputation, and blot out his name from the records of a respectable and useful ministry. How many men of talents are at this day wasting and waning under defects entirely too trifling to be made the objects of an ecclesiastical process, or even to bring their personal piety into doubt. Dead flies are, however, in the ointment, and its original purity and fragrance only serve to enhance their offensive odour. The very transparency of the consecrated vessel that contains them, serves to magnify those impertinent intruders in the eyes of the spectator, and prepares him to receive the greater offence from their ill savour. It may well make the serious mind to tremble, and the sensitive heart to sink in anguish, to think how a little folly may utterly destroy the character and influence of him who is in reputation for wisdom and honor as a minister of Jesus Christ.