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are painted with all those gorgeous colours by which she seems to prepare herself for the return of her absent king the sun ! But how soon do those hues and those jewels of the early morning pass away! Long before the sun has attained his meridian height, the sky has become cloudless; and the parched land seems in vain to thirst for the refreshing dew, and the kindly shower.
Thus beautiful is early piety! Thus engaging and full of promise are the fresh feelings of youth; before the withering chill of the world has passed upon them. . How easily is the heart then touched with tenderness or pity; how the eye glistens at the tale of sorrow; how the cheek shows that the sense of shame may be awakened by the gentlest admonition ! But before some few short years are passed, the character, in too many instances, is fatally changed. A reckless and irreverent hardihood has taken the place of that ingenuous modesty which we used to love; and the sophistry or ridicule of the world has led to the suppression of the more pure and gentle feelings. A false shame has too often ensnared the soul in vices which it abhors; or has made it shrink habitually from avowing, or acting on, the principles which it secretly knows to be true.
When men praise you, my child, for any token of religious principle in youth, think of the early dew, and the morning cloud ; and pray earnestly to God that any goodness which they discern in you may be real and abiding; and that it may be deepened and confirmed every day you live. Remember that mere profession is like the dew that is soon dried but true principle is like a well of water, springing up perpetually. The wicked are said to be a clouds without water.” Be it your endeavour that a blessed and kindly influence may ever distil from you on all around you; and that you may practise that pure and undefiled religion, of which the Apostle has told us 5 that it is this; “ To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
4 Jude 12.
XIX. THE RACE.
“ Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud
of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith ; who for the joy that was set before hini endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. xii. 1, 2.–See also 1 Cor. ix. 24-27. Phil. iii. 13, 14. 2 Tim.
iv. 7, 8. It was the practice in ancient Greece to celebrate, with great solemnity, certain games, which were chiefly trials of bodily strength or skill, and were attended by a vast assemblage of people of all ranks. The prize that was contended for was a crown or chaplet of leaves, with which the victor was crowned; while his name was proclaimed by heralds in the presence of the whole assembly; and there were judges appointed to decide on the merits of the candidates; and to see that the several contests were conducted according to the laws that were laid down.
The foot-race was one of the principal of these games; and St. Paul has in many places alluded to it, in illustration of the Christian life. He means us to understand, that a Christian's life should be a continual strife or contest for victory over our manifold corrupt and deceitful lusts; and he encourages us to maintain the conflict by the thought that we are contending for a glorious prize, in the presence of a great crowd of witnesses. The crown for which we contend (he reminds us) is not a chaplet of fading leaves, but a crown of righteousness, and glory. “Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible.”
5 James i, 27.
The witnesses of our manful efforts are the great company of those cited by the Apostle, who have before us gained this mastery over sin, the world, and the devil, and have now by faith and patience attained the promises. We should also always remind ourselves, that we contend for the prize of our high calling in the presence of God, and of His holy angels.
We are to remember, then, that a man who was about to contend in a foot-race, would first lay aside every weight that might be about his person, and would disencumber himself of every needless garment. Thus we are to prepare ourselves for our course by laying aside every weight: and this is explained by what is added, “the sin that doth so easily beset us.” The prophet Habakkuk says, “ Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! .... and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay !" He who does not take pains to devest himself of covetousness, and sensuality, and pride, and other too easily besetting sins, is as one who should lade himself with thick clay when about to start upon a race.
We are to remember, too, that when once they have started on their course, the candidates do not suffer themselves to relax in their efforts, until they have reached the end. They do not linger on the way, nor stop to look back with satisfaction on the progress which they have made ; but they think only of what yet remains to be done, and they keep the eye steadily fixed upon the mark or goal. If they find themselves disposed to give way, they remember the prize which is such an object of desire, and press forward with renewed spirit.
Thus it will not do for us to relax our efforts to obtain the mastery over our own lusts and passions. They will gain upon us if we give them the least advantage. Nor must we reflect with self-righteous satisfaction on the progress which we have made in virtue ; but rather remind ourselves how far we yet fall short not only of the perfect example of our blessed Saviour, but even of the attainments of His faithful servants. Thus St. Paul says, “ Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” We must run the race with faith and patience. If we find ourselves faint and weary, we must think of the shame of giving over or coming short; we must look up to the crown of glory which “ the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give” to those who finish their course with joy and faithfulness; we must remember how He Himself, “ for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
6 Hab. ii. 6.
We see how miserably they err, who live in ease and security, and think that they shall get to heaven without any pains to purify their hearts, or to “endure hardness." It should be our continual endeavour to acquire the habits of watchfulness, temperance, diligence in duty, and self-mastery; and we should often say to ourselves, If men were willing to make such efforts for the sake of a fading wreath, how greatly shall we be condemned, if we shrink from exertion and self-denial, when a crown of glory is the prize set before us !
XX.—THE FAITHFUL STEWARD.
“And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom
his lord shall make ruler over his houshold, to give them their portion of meat in due season ? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.” Luke xii. 42–44.--See also Ps. cxxiii. 2. Matt. xxv. 14-30. Luke xix. 12—27. John xiii. 13. Eph. vi. 6. 9.
“ A son honoureth his father (says God by his prophet Malachi), and a servant his master: if then I be
7 Mal. i. 6.
a father, where is Mine honour ? and if I be a master, where is My fear?” In this place, as in many others, God compares Himself to a master, in order to remind us that we are placed on earth not to do our own will, but the will of Him who placed us here; and that we have nothing which is properly our own; but that whatever we seem to have is entrusted to us by Another, who has left us in charge for a season, and will call us to account when He shall return. In the parables of “the pounds” and “ the talents,” the same idea is very plainly brought before us. The ministers of the Gospel are indeed, in an especial manner, compared to stewards whom a heavenly Master has set over His household to provide for it, and to govern and instruct it in His absences. But every Christian has received a stewardship from God, of which he will have to give account at the great day of reckoning. And we are taught, that the sentence by which the Judge will declare his approval of the righteous, will be addressed to them as good and faithful servants.
There is nothing against which our hearts naturally rise more stubbornly than the idea of being subject to another's will, and of having nothing that is our own. The wicked are represented by the Psalmist as saying, “ With our tongue will we prevail ; our lips are our own : who is lord over us 1 şi Whereas it is said of true Christians?, that they bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. They know that they are not their own, but are bought with a price; and it is therefore their great purpose to glorify God in their body, and in their spirit, which are His 3.
Now, as we cannot serve God without renouncing the service of sin, and our feeble will is too apt to shrink from the effort which is required to break its bondage to that old taskmaster, it very commonly
appens, that we think to unite the services of God and mammon, of Christ and sin. We know too much
8 1 Cor. iv. 1, 2.
2 2 Cor. x. 5.
9 Luke xvi. 2.
1 Ps. xii. 4. 3 1 Cor. vi. 20.