Obrazy na stronie

priety the mercy of God is looked back to as drawing, by a persuasive violence, to the perfection of Christian morals, which the apostle is bastening to disclose. This is not the case, when we interpret every part of the composition with a reference to the object kept in view throughout the whole of it. In particular, there then appears admirable pertinency in the introduction to the practical part of the epistle.

We have here one of the passages of Scripture, so full of sense and of persuasion, that, for the due efficacy of both, no more seems necessary than the bringing of the different members of the sentence fairly into view. The whole, however, may be the better analyzed, by its being considered as containing,

I. A pathetic introduction ;
II. A persuasive motive;
III. A comprehensive duty; and,
IV. An ample commendation of it.

I. First, there is a pathetic introduction—that of entreaty: "I beseech you, brethren."

The precepts of the Gospel are not more accommodated to moral order, than is the manner in wbich they are proposed to the nature of the being to be swayed by them. It is a property of the human character, that while our fears may be made the instruments of restraining from crimes, it is only by the sense of the excellency of duty, with the hope of its rewards, that we can be animated to the practice of it. The truth of this is conspicuous in the relations of mankind among one another. In civil society, although the magistracy is to be a "terror to evil doers;" and, in respect to persons of that description, “the sword is not borne in vain;" yet it is not the fear of this, but it is the love of social order ---it is conviction of its benign influence-it is the sense of an honorable interest in the public weal, which must inspire and cherish the virtues tending to the defence and to the ornament of the state. So, in domestic life, although “judgments are prepared for scorners, and stripes for the backs of fools;" yet it is not by these, but it is by the mild majesty of sage instruction-it is by the sweet yoice of affectionate persuasion-it is by the animating encouragement of amiable example, that there must be an incitement to the conduct in the contemplation of Divine wisdom, when, personifying the parent, it makes the affectionate claim to filial duty-—“my Son, give me thine heart.”

The morality of the Gospel, harmonizing with nature and with providence, although it gives assurance of "tribulation and anguish to every soul of man that doeth evil,” with other declarations to the same effect; yet never makes these the sanctions of the lessons which form the Christian character. No, it is in one place _"as though God did beseech you by us," and "we pray you in Christ's stead;" it is in another_“I beseech you, by the meekness and gentleness of CHRIST;" it is in another__"I, the prisoner of the LORD, beseech you;" and it is in the text_“I beseech you, brethren." It is by these, and by the like entreaties, that we are animated to the perfection of Christian virtue. In stating the import of this introductory clause of the passage; it is impliedly, and may therefore explicitly be acknowledged, that in its rich contents there is nothing interesting to those, whose minds, to be awed only by an apprehension of the judgments of God, are not open to the persuasions of his love; so that if there be any in this assembly, who have no sensibility accommodated to the beauty of holiness, or who contemplate, as the principal privilege of duty over sin, mere rescue from a state of torment; or who have no higher rule of conduct, than what they persuade themselves to come up to the strict letter of the commands of God, without much regard to the holy spirit which they breathe; in respect to such, the text may be considered as making a call which cannot apply; as proposing sanctions which cannot move; as delineating a duty which cannot please; and as displaying commendations of it, which cannot allure.

II. Those of the opposite character may consistently go on to the second particular—the persuasive motive which the passage brings before us—“I beseech you, by the mercies of God.”

The instance of Divine mercy particularly in view, is that which had been the subject of the epistle—the dispensation of love in the redemption : a dispensation, which had been intimated before the giving of the law; bad been the end of the law itself; and had been, at last, made manifest by the Gospel: a dispensation, by which

[ocr errors]

the Gentile converts had been brought within the Church of CHRIST, agreeably to the foreknowledge and the predestination of GOD,--terms which, as used in this epistle, have a reference to that point only; and by which the Jews, although cast off for a while, should be brought in again, and so all Israel, that is, the nation as such, should be saved, or be of the family and flock of CHRIST. It is this dispensation, of which the apostle, just before the text, exclaims—"Oh the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things; to whom be glory for ever, Amen.”

There has been this reference to the reasoning of the apostle ; in order to show, that the instance of Divine benevolence, especially within his view, is that of its disclosing of an atonement for sin, not to be known but by revelation; and its opening of a prospect of immortality, no otherwise to be claimed than as of grace. This is the ground of the inference of the apostle—“I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God." He may therefore be considered as speaking thus-If there be any value in the gift of Gospel grace; if it be the mean of the highest cultivation of the faculty, which maketh “us wiser than the beasts of the earth, and teacheth us more than the fowls of Heaven;" if the pardon of God, as proclaimed in Scripture, have been assured to you by its promises, and sealed to you by its sacraments; if its precepts have been your counsellors in dangers, and your monitors against temptations; if its consolations have been your encouragement in sickness, or in poverty, or in the loss of friends, or in any of the calamities of life; and if its bright prospects have borne up your minds with "an hope full of immortality;" I beseech you by these, and by all kindred motives, to have your ears and your hearts open to the instructive lesson that is to be laid before you. But although this is the mercy, especially within the view of the apostle; the spirit of his affecting motive extends to all the blessings which we receive from an indulgent Providence; and which may well, in allusion to a particular branch of divine benevolence, be called the mercies of God; since, considering our imperfections and our unworthiness, they are in a degree the result of that bounty, which "does good to the unthankful and the evil.”

[ocr errors]

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 by 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

« PoprzedniaDalej »