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men are apt to imagine, that those things only which are miraculous, do immediately evidence the power of God; yet, in reality, the things which we call natural, do perfectly evidence the same power. Only, what the power of God does constantly and regularly, we are too apt to forget proceeds from that power; and we ascribe it to nature, which is nothing at all but a mere empty word. For as if from the constant and regular continuance of the day-light, men should cease to observe that there is such a thing as the sun in the heavens, from whence that light proceeds; so it is equally absurd to imagine, that the effects of nature (as we call them) could regularly go on, without the being and providence of God, who is indeed the alone cause of those effects. No man, enquiring after the architect of a most perfect building, would take it for a satisfactory answer, to be told that it was natural for the fabric to be built in that form. Yet the case is exactly the same, when men contentedly exclude the consideration of God, merely by styling his workmanship the effects of nature.
5thly, As acceptable prayers must be put up with steady faith toward God, so must they also with charity and forgiveness toward men. For he that is cruel and unmerciful toward a man like himself, how should he expect forgiveness at the hands of God! Our Lord has interwoven the necessity of this qualification into the very expression of our daily prayer. And by that most affecting parable of the servant, who being forgiven ten thousand talents, refused to forgive his fellow-servant one hundred pence; he has taught us upon what conditions we may expect, that our heavenly Father will forgive us.
Lastly, Prayers must be offered up with pure hands, and with a clean heart; that is to say, God will be worshipped by those only, who sincerely desire to obey him. The prayers and sacrifices, and all the external devotions that a wicked man is capable of performing, are but so many mockeries and provocations of God. He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.' [Prov. xxviii. 9.] And this ends in the same observation, wherewith I began upon this subject; and which is indeed the first and the last truth, in the right understanding of religion, viz. that the worship or sacrifice most acceptable to God, is the obedience of a virtuous and religious life.
[DR. S. CLARKE.]
THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY.
OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD.
Rom. xii. 21.- -Be not overcome of evil; but overcome evil with good. [Text taken from the Epistle for the Day.]
In this world, we all know that we must reckon upon a mixture of goods and evils. Some of the evils are owing to the appointment of providence in this state of trial; many of them are the fruits of our own guilt and misconduct. The goods and the evils of our state are so blended, as often to render the whole of human life a struggle between them. We have to contend both with the evils of fortune, and with the evils of our own depravity; and it is only he who can in some measure overcome both, that is to be esteemed the wise, the virtuous, and the happy man. At the same time, amidst the evils of different kinds which assault us, there is a principle of good derived from heaven, by which we may hope to acquire strength, and through divine assistance be enabled to overcome the evils of our state. This is the subject of the exhortation in the text, Be not overcome of evil; but overcome evil with good. Taken in its most extensive sense, as respecting the different kinds of evil, which we have to overcome, the exhortation may be understood to comprise the three following particulars. In the first place, Be not overcome by the injuries you meet with in the world, so as to pursue revenge. Secondly, be not overcome by the disasters of the world, so as to sink into despair. Thirdly, be not overcome by the evil examples of the world, so as to follow them into sin. But in all those cases, overcome evil with good.' Overcome injuries, by forgiveness. Overcome disasters by fortitude. Overcome evil examples, by firmness of principle.
I. Be not overcome by the injuries you meet with in the world, so as to pursue revenge. It appears from the context, that this was the primary object, which the Apostle had in his view in this exhortation. He refers to the injuries which the primitive Christians were constantly suffering from their persecutors. Instead of being so much overcome by these as to be intent on
revenge, his exhortation in the verses preceding the text, is 'Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.' But it is not in times only of persecution and general distress, that this exhortation is needful. We must, in every state of society, reckon upon meeting with unreasonable men, and encountering their bad usage. This is one of the evils inseparable from our present state. No station is so high, no worth so distinguished, no innocence so inoffensive, as to secure us entirely against it. Sometimes the violence of enemies, sometimes the ingratitude of friends, will ruffle our spirits. Where we think that we have merited praise, we shall be in hazard of meeting reproach. Envy will rise unprovoked; and calumny, from its secret place, will dart its envenomed shafts against the most deserving. Such is the consequence of the present depravity of our nature, and of the disordered state in which human affairs lie.
Now, when thus situated, how are we to act for overcoming the evils we have already endured, or are in hazard of still further enduring from others? To provide for safety and defence is unquestionably allowable and wise. But are we also to lay plans for future revenge? Were this the course to be followed, what would the consequence be, but to render the life of man a state of constant hostility, where provocations and resentments, injuries and retaliations, would succeed one another without end; till the world became like a den of wild beasts, perpetually attacking and devouring one another? No, says the Apostle, overcome evil with good.' Disarm and overcome your enemies, by forgiveness and generosity. This is the principle of good, which you are to oppose to their evil. Teach them thereby, if not to love, at least to honour and respect you. While you take proper precautions for present safety, provide for the future, not by studied plans of revenge, but by fortitude of mind, by prudent behaviour, and superior virtue. Herein Herein you show no unmanly tameness or cowardice. Religion means not to suppress the proper feelings of honour, nor the sense which every man ought to have, of dignity of character, and the rights which belong to him. These may
be supported to the full, without a mean thirst for revenge, and a fierce desire of returning evil for evil.
By the magnanimity of forgiveness, you gain an important victory in overcoming, not perhaps your enemy, but your own wrathful and violent passions. Whereas he, who in such conjunctures, knows no other method of proceeding, but that of gratifying resentment, is, in truth, the person who is overcome. For he has put it in the power of his enemy to overthrow his repose, and to gall and embitter his mind. By forgiving and despising injuries, you assume a superiority over your adversary, which he will be obliged to feel. Whereas, if you allow his provocations to blow you up into fierce revenge, you have given him the advantage. You confess yourself hurt and sore. His evil has overcome your good. He has fixed a dart within you, which in vain you endeavour to pull out; and by the attempts you make, you only exasperate and inflame the sore. Seldom is there any punishment which revenge can inflict, more severe than is suffered by him who inflicts it. The bitterness of spirit, the boiling of fierce passions, joined with all the black ideas which the cruel plans of revenge excite, produce more acute sensations of torment, than any that are occasioned by bodily pain. When bad men have behaved injuriously towards us, let us leave them to themselves, and they will be sufficiently punished by their own vices. Their wickedness is no reason why we should render ourselves unhappy, or afford them the gratification of having it in their power to deprive us of peace. I shall only add further on this head, that a passion for revenge has been always held to be the characteristic of a little and mean mind. Never was any man distinguished as a hero, or recorded in the annals of history as a great man, to whom this quality of generous forgiveness of evil did not conspicuously belong. We know how eminently it shone in the character of Him, whom we justly venerate as the model of all perfection; whose dying breath was employed in praying for those, who were shedding his blood.
II. Be not overcome by the misfortunes of life, so as to sink into despair. When the sky begins to lour around thee; when thy gay prospects begin to disappear, thy friends to fail, or thy fortune to decline; or when, as years advance, the chief comforts on which thy heart was set, and on which thou hadst conceived thy happiness to depend, are unexpectedly cut
off; say not then within thyself, The evil time has now overtaken me; the gates of hope are all shut; the days are come wherein I shall have no pleasure; enjoyment is fled; nothing remains for me now, but to close my days in melancholy, to despair, and to die.' This is to be overcome of evil' indeed. He who thus allows himself to sink under the misfortunes of life, dishonours the character of a Christian: for it is impossible that he who allows himself to be so entirely overcome by the evils of the world, can entertain just notions of God, and of his government of the world. He hath cast aside all reliance on providence, and set at nought all the promises of the gospel.
These, therefore, are the occasions when it particularly behoves us to call to mind all those principles, which should assist us so to possess our minds in patience, as to overcome evil with good. Recall, my brethren, all the former experience you have had of the goodness of the Almighty, and the ground which this affords for trust and hope in him now. Recall to remembrance all the promises he has made to good men, as the words of him who changes not ;' who 'is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent.' Recollect the general tenour of that providence, whose course it has ever been, since the creation of the world, so to chequer the life of men with unforeseen vicissitudes, as often to make unexpected goods succeed evils; nay, to make them spring from evils. Recollect, that whatever fortune may rob you of, it cannot take away what is most valuable, the peace of a good conscience, the pleasing sense of having acted honourably and done your duty, and the cheering prospect of a happy conclusion to all the trials of life in a better world. Consider, that, as long as virtue remains, there are always, even in the most unfavourable situations, some comforts still left open, did we not overlook them. For it is seldom or never, that all good things forsake a man at once, and all evils overtake him together. If he is bereaved of some friends whom he tenderly loved; there are others yet remaining, to whom he may look for comfort. If, by infirmity, or old age, he be excluded from the enjoyments of active life, the gratifications which leisure and repose afford, are still left to him. If his fortune be shattered, and poverty threaten to beset him, yet, even in very straitened circumstances, many of the simple and best pleasures of nature,