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Now, I say, that for the purpose for which it was intended, the account given by St. James is full and complete. And it carries with it this peculiar advantage, that it very specially guards against an error, natural, I believe, and common in all ages of the world; which is, the making beneficence an apology for licentiousness; the thinking that doing good occasionally may excuse us from strictness in regulating our passions and desires. The text expressly cuts up this excuse, because it expressly asserts both things to be necessary to compose true religion. Where two things are necessary, one cannot excuse the want of the other. Now, what does the text teach? it teaches us what pure and undefiled religion is in its effects and in its practice: and what is it? "to visit the fatherless and widows their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." Not simply to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction; that is not all; that is not sufficient; but likewise "to keep himself unspotted from the world."
substitute a part for the whole. Substituting a | to describe the effects of religion, and not its root
not denying,) that a right faith is the source and
The second principal expression of the text, "to keep himself unspotted from the world,” signifies the being clean and clear from the licentious practices to which the world is addicted. So that pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father," consists in two things; beneficence and purity; doing good and keeping clear from sin. Not in one thing, but in two things; not in one without the other, but in both. And this, in my
opinion, is a great lesson and a most important doctrine.
I shall not, at present, consider the case of those who are anxious, and effectually so, to maintain their personal innocency without endeavouring to do good to others; because I really believe it is not a common case. I think that the religious principle which is able to make men confine their passions and desires within the bounds of virtue, is, with very few exceptions, strong enough, at the same time to prompt and put them upon active exertions.
Therefore, I would rather apply myself to that part of the case which is more common, active exertions of benevolence, accompanied with looseness of private morals. It is a very common character; but, I say, in the first place, it is an inconsistent character; it is doing and undoing; killing and curing; doing good by our charity, and mischief by our licentiousness: voluntarily relieving misery with one hand, and voluntarily producing and spreading it with the other. No real advance is made in human happiness by this contradiction; no real betterness or improvement promoted.
But then, may not the harm a man does by his personal vices be much less than the good he does by his active virtues? This is a point, in which there is large room for delusion and mistake. Positive charity and acts of humanity are often of a conspicuous nature, naturally and deservedly engaging the praises of mankind, which are followed by our own. No one does, no one ought to speak against them, or attempt to disparage them; but the effect of vice and licentiousness, not only in their immediate consequences, but in their remote and ultimate tendencies, which ought all to be included in the account; the mischief which is done by the example, as well as by the act, is seldom honestly computed by the sinner himself. But I do not dwell further upon this comparison, because I insist, that no man has a right to make it; no man has a right, whilst he is doing occasional good, and yet indulging his vices and his passions, to strike a balance, as it were, between the good and the harm. This is not Christianity; this is not pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father, let the balance lie on which side it will. For our text declares, (and our text declares no more than what the Scriptures testify from one end to the other,) that religion demands both. It demands active virtue, and it demands innocency of life. I mean it demands sincere and vigorous endeavours in the pursuit of active virtue, and endeavours equally sincere and firm in the preservation of personal innocence. It makes no calculation which is better; but it requires both. Shall it be extraordinary, that there should be men forward in active charity and in positive beneficence, who yet put little or no constraint upon their personal vices? I have said that the character is common, and I will tell you why it is common. The reason is, (and there is no other reason,) that it is usually an easier thing to perform acts of beneficence, even of expensive and troublesome beneficence, than it is to command and control our passions; to give up and discard our vices; to burst the bonds of the habits which enslave us. This is the very truth of the case; so that the matter comes precisely to this point. Men of active benevolence, but of loose morals, are men who are for performing the duties which are easy to them, and omitting those which are hard.
They may place their own character to themselves in what view they please; but this is the truth of the case, and let any one say, whether this be religion; whether this be sufficient. The truly religious man, when he has once decided a thing to be a duty, has no farther question to ask; whether it be easy to be done, or whether it be hard to be done, it is equally a duty. It then becomes a question of fortitude, of resolution, of firmness, of self-command, and self-government; but not of duty or obligation; these are already decided upon. But least of all, (and this is the inference from the text, which I wish most to press upon your attention,) least of all does he conceive the hope of reaching heaven by that sort of compromise, which would make easy, nay perhaps pleasant duties, an excuse for duties which are irksome and severe. To recur, for the last time, to the instance mentioned in our text, I can very well believe that a man of humane temper shall have pleasure in visiting, when by visiting he can succour, the fatherless and the widow in their affliction: but if he believes St. James, will find that this must be joined to and accompanied with another thing, which is neither easy nor pleasant, nay, must almost always be effected with pain and struggle, and mortification, and difficulty,—the "keeping himself unspotted from the world."
THE AGENCY OF JESUS CHRIST SINCE HIS. ASCENSION.
Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.-Hebrews xiii. 8.
THE assertion of the text might be supported by the consideration, that the mission and preaching of Christ have lost nothing of their truth and importance by the lapse of ages which has taken place since his appearance in the world. If they seem of less magnitude, reality, and concern to us at this present day, than they did to those who lived in the days in which they were carried on; it is only in the same manner as a mountain or a tower appears to be less, when seen at a distance. It is a delusion in both cases. In natural objects we have commonly strength enough of judgment to prevent our being imposed upon by these false appearances; and it is not so much a want or defect of, as it is a neglecting to exert and use our judgment, if we suffer ourselves to be deceived by them in religion. Distance of space in one case, and distance of time in the other, make no ditlerence in the real nature of the object; and it is a great weakness to allow them to make any difference in our estimate and apprehension. The death of Jesus Christ is, in truth, as interesting to us, as it was to those who stood by his cross; his resurrection from the grave is a pledge and assurance of our future resurrection, no less than it was of theirs who conversed, who eat and drank with him, after his return to life.
But there is another sense, in which it is still more materially true that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." He is personally living, and acting in the same manner; has been so all along, and will be so to the end of the world. He is the same in his person, in his power, in his office.
First, I say, that he is the same individual per- The Scripture doctrine concerning our Lord son, and is at this present time existing, living, seems to be this, that when his appointed comacting. He is gone up on high. The clouds, at mission and his sufferings were closed upon earth, his ascension, received him out of human sight. he was advanced in heaven to a still higher state But whither did he go? to sit for ever at the right than what he possessed before he came into the hand of God. This is expressly declared concern- world. This point, as well as the glory of his ing him. It is also declared of him, that death nature, both before and after his appearance in hath no more dominion over him, that he is no the flesh, is attested by Saint Paul, in the second more to return to corruption. So that, since his chapter of his Epistle to the Philippians. “Being ascension, he hath continued in heaven to live in the form of God he thought it not robbery to be and act. His human body, we are likewise given equal with God." He did not affect to be equal to believe, was changed upon his ascension, that with God, or to appear with divine honours (for is, was glorified, whereby it became fitted for such is the sense which the words in the original heaven, and fitted for immortality; no longer lia- will bear,) "but made himself of no reputation, ble to decay or age, but thenceforward remaining and took upon him the form of a servant, and was literally and strictly the same, yesterday, to-day, made in the likeness of man, and became obedient and for ever. This change in the human person unto death, even the death of the cross. Whereof Christ is in effect asserted, or rather is referred fore," i. e. for this his obedience even to the last to, as a thing already known, in that text of Saint extremity, even unto death, "God also hath highly Paul's Epistle to the Philippians, wherein we are exalted him;" or, as it is distinctly and perspicuassured, that hereafter Christ shall change ourously expressed in the original, "God also hath vile body, that it may be like his glorious body. more highly exalted him," that is, to a higher Now, the natural body of Christ, before his resur-state than what he even before possessed; insorection at least, was like the natural body of other much that he hath "given him a name which is men; was not a glorious body. At this time, above every name: that at," or, more properly, in, therefore, when Saint Paul calls it his glorious "the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of body, (for it was after his ascension that Saint things in heaven, and things in earth, and things Paul wrote these words,) it must have undergone under the earth; and that every tongue should a great change. In this exalted and glorified state confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of our Lord was seen by Saint Stephen, in the mo- God the Father;" exactly agreeable to what our ment of his martyrdom. Being full, you read, of Lord himself declared to his disciples after his the Holy Ghost, Stephen looked up steadfastly resurrection," All power is given unto me in unto heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus heaven and in earth:" Matt. xxviii. 18. You standing on the right hand of God. At that seem- will observe in this passage of Saint Paul, not ingly dreadful moment, even when the martyr only the magnificent terms in which Christ's exwas surrounded by a band of assassins, with altation is described, viz. " that every knee should stones ready in their hands to stone him to death, thenceforward bow in his name, and that every the spectacle, nevertheless, filled his soul with tongue should confess him to be the Lord;" but rapture. He cried out in ecstasy, "Behold I see you will observe also, the comprehension and exthe heavens opened, and the Son of Man stand-tent of his dominion, "of things in heaven, of ing on the right hand of God." The same glori- things on earth, of things under the earth." And ous vision was vouchsafed to Saint Paul at his that we are specifically comprised under this auconversion; and to Saint John, at the delivery of thority and this agency, either of the two followthe revelations. This change of our Lord's body ing texts may be brought as a sufficient proof: was a change, we have reason to believe, of nature "Where two or three are gathered together, there and substance, so as to be thenceforward incapa- am I in the midst of you;" Matt. xviii. 20; which ble of decay or dissolution. It might be suscepti- words of our Lord imply a knowledge of, an obble of any external form, which the particular pur-servation of, an attention to, and an interference with, what passes amongst his disciples upon earth. Or take his final words to his followers, as recorded by Saint Matthew: "Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world," and they carry the same implication. And, lastly, that, in the most awful scene and event of our existence, the day of judgment, we shall not only become the objects, but the immediate objects of Christ's
of his appearance should require. So when appeared to Stephen and Paul, or to any of his saints, it was necessary he should assume the form which he had born in the flesh, that he might be known to them. But it is not necessary to suppose that he was confined to that form. The contrary rather appears in the revelation of Saint John, in which, after once showing himself to the apostle, our Lord was afterwards represent-power and agency, is set forth in two clear and ed to his eyes under different forms, All, how-positive texts: " The hour is coming, and now is, ever, that is of importance to us to know, all that when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of belongs to our present subject to observe, is, that God," John v. 25, not the voice of God, but the Christ's glorified person was incapable of dying voice of the Son of God. And then, pursuing the any more; that it continues at this day; that it description of what will afterwards take place, our hath all along continued the same real, identical Lord adds, in the next verse but one, "that the being, as that which went up into heaven in the Father hath given him authority to execute judgsight of his apostles; the same essential nature, ment also, because he is the Son of Man:" which the same glorified substance, the same proper is in perfect conformity with what Saint Paul anperson. nounced to the Athenians, as a great and new doctrine, namely, "that God hath appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in right
But, secondly, He is the same also in power.
as an object of vision, always, I think, means a lumi-eousness by that man whom he hath ordained,
nous appearance, bright and refulgent, beyond the splendour of any natural object whatever,
* See Sherlock's Serm. on Phil. ii. 9.
whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead."
the very persons who asserted that God would put all things under him, themselves, as we have seen, acknowledged that it was not yet done. In the mean time, from the whole of their declarations and of this discussion, we collect, that Jesus
Having shown that the power of Jesus Christ is a subsisting power at this time, the next question is, as to its duration. Now so far as it respects mankind in this present world, we are as-Christ ascended into the heavens, is, at this day, sured that it shall continue until the end of the a great efficient Being in the universe, invested world. The same texts which have been adduced by his Father with a high authority, which he prove this point, as well as that for which they exercises, and will continue to exercise until the were quoted; and they are confirmed by Saint end of the world. Paul's declaration, 1 Cor. xv. 24,-" Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father:" therefore he shall retain and exercise it until then. But far-sion into heaven, are those of a mediator and inther, this power is not only perpetual, but pro- tercessor. Of the mediation of our Lord, the gressive; advancing and proceeding by different Scripture speaks in this wise: "There is one steps and degrees, until it shall become supreme God, and one mediator between God and men, and complete, and shall prevail against every the man Christ Jesus:" 1 Tim. ii. 5. It was enemy and every opposition. That our Lord's after our Lord's ascension that this was spoken dominion will not only remain unto the end of the of him; and it is plain from the form and turn of world, but that its effects in the world will be the expression, that his mediatorial character and greatly enlarged and increased, is signified very ex-office was meant to be represented as a perpetual pressly in the second chapter of the Epistle to the character and office, because it is described in Hebrews. The apostle in this passage applies to conjunction with the existence of God and men, our Lord a quotation from the Psalms: "Thou so long as men exist; "there is one mediator be hast put all things in subjection under his feet;"tween God and men, the man Jesus Christ."— and then draws from it a strict inference; "for in that he put all things in subjection under him, he left nothing that he did not put under him." And then he remarks, as a fact, "but now we see not yet all things put under him." That complete entire subjection, which is here promised, hath not yet taken place. The promise must, therefore, refer to a still future order of things. This Concerning his intercession, not that which he doctrine of the progressive increase, and final com- occasionally exercised upon earth, when he praypleteness of our Lord's kingdom, is also virtually ed, as he did most fervently for his disciples, but laid down in the passage from the Corinthians that which he now at this present time exercises, already cited: "He must reign till he hath put all we have the following text, explicit, satisfactory, enemies under his feet." For that this subjuga- and full: "But this man, because he continueth tion of his several enemies will be successive, one ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood:" by priestafter another, is strongly intimated by the expres-hood is here meant the office of praying for others. sion, "the last enemy that shall be destroyed is "Wherefore he is able to save them to the utterdeath.". most that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for us." No words can more plainly declare than these words do the perpetuity of our Lord's agency; that it did not cease with his presence upon earth, but continues. "He continueth ever; he ever liveth; he hath an unchangeable priesthood." Surely this justifies what our text saith of him; that he is "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever;" and that not in a figurative or metaphorical sense, but literally, effectually, and really. Moreover, in this same passage, not only the constancy and perpetuity, but the power and efficacy of our Lord's in
Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name:" "At that day ye shall ask in my name:" John xvi. 24, 26. These words form part of our Lord's memorable conversation with his select disciples, not many hours before his death; and clearly intimate the mediatorial office which he was to discharge after his ascension.
Now, to apprehend the probability of these things coming to pass, or rather to remove any opinion of their improbability, we ought constantly to bear in our mind this momentous truth, that in the hands of the Deity time is nothing; that he has eternity to act in. The Christian dispensation, nay, the world itself, may be in its infancy. A more perfect display of the power of Christ, and of his religion, may be in reserve; and the ages which it may endure, after the obstacles and impediments to its reception are removed, may be, beyond comparison, longer than those which we have seen, in which it has been strug-tercession are asserted: "He is able to save them gling with great difficulties, most especially with to the uttermost, that come unto God by him." ignorance and prejudice. We ought not to be They must come unto God; they must come by moved any more than the apostles were moved, him; and then he is able to save them completely. with the reflection which was cast upon their mission, that since the "fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were." We ought to return the answer which one of them returned, that what we call tardiness in the Deity, is not so; that our so thinking it arises from not allowing for the different importance, nay, probably, for the different apprehension of time, in the divine mind and in ours; that with him a thousand years are as one day; words which confound and astonish human understanding, yet strictly and metaphysically true. Again: We should remember that the apostles,
These three heads of observation, namely, upon his person, his power, and his office, comprise the relation in which our Lord Jesus Christ stands to us, whilst we remain in this mortal life. There is another consideration of great solemnity and interest, namely, the relation which we shall bear to him in our future state. Now the economy which appears to be destined for the human creation, I mean, for that part of it which shall be received to future happiness, is, that they shall live in a state of local society with one another, and under Jesus Christ as their head; experiencing a sensible connexion amongst themselves, as well as
Thirdly, he is the same in his office. The principal offices assigned by the Scriptures to our Lord in his glorified state, that is, since his ascen
the operation of his authority, as their Lord and Governor. I think it likely that our Saviour had the state of things in view, when, in his final discourse with his apostles, he tells them: "I go to prepare a place for you: And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also:" John xiv. 2, 3. And again, in the same discourse, and referring to the same economy, "Father," says he, "I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me:" for that this was spoken, not merely of the twelve, who were then sitting with Jesus, and to whom his discourse was addressed, but of his disciples in future ages of the world, is fairly collected from his words, (John xvii. 20.) "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word." Since the prayer here stated was part of the discourse, it is reasonable to infer that the discourse, in its object, extended as far as the prayer, which we have seen to include believers, as well of succeeding ages as of that then present.
There is another class of expressions, which, since they professedly refer to circumstances that are to take place in this new state, and not before, will, it is likely, be rendered quite intelligible by our experience in that state; but must necessarily convey their imperfect information until they be so explained. Of this kind are many of the passages of Scripture which we have already noticed, as referring to the changes which will be wrought in our mortal nature; and the agency of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the intervention of his power in producing those changes, and the nearer similitude which our changed natures and the bodies with which we shall then be clothed, will bear to his. We'read, "that he shall change our vile body, that it may be like his glorious body." A momentous assurance, no doubt; yet, in its particular signification, waiting to be cleared up by our experience of the event. So likewise are some other particular expressions relating to the same event; such as being "unclothed; clothed upon; the dead in Christ rising first; meeting the Lord in the air; they that are alive not preventing those that are asleep," and the like. These are all most interesting intimations, yet to a certain degree obscure. They answer the purpose of ministering to our hopes, and comfort, and admonition, which they do without conveying any clear ideas; and this, and not the satisfaction of our curiosity, may be the grand purpose for the sake of which intimations of these things were given at all. But then, in so far as they describe a change in the order of nature, of which change we are to be the objects, it seems to follow, that we shall be furnished with experience which will discover to us the full sense of this language. The same remark may be repeated concerning the first and second death, which are expressly spoken of in the Revelations, and as I think alluded to and supposed in other passages of Scripture in which they are not named.
Now concerning this future dispensation, supposing it to consist, as here represented, of accepted spirits, participating of happiness in a state of sensible society with one another, and with Jesus Christ himself at their head, one train of reflection naturally arises; namely, first, that it is highly probable there should be many expressions of Scripture which have relation to it; secondly, that such expressions must, by their nature, appear to us, at present, under a considerable degree of obscurity, which we may be apt to call a defect; thirdly, that the credit due to such expressions must depend upon their authority as portions of the written word of God, and not upon the probability, much less upon the clearness of what they contain; so that our comprehension of what they mean must stop at very general notions; and our belief in them rest in the deference to which they are entitled, as Scripture declarations. Of this kind are many, if not all, of those expressions which speak so strongly of the value, and benefit, and efficacy of the death of Christ, of its sacrificial, expiatory, and atoning nature. We may be assured, that these expressions mean something real, refer to something real, though it be something which is to take place in that future dispensation of which we have been speaking. It is reasonable to expect, that, when we come to experience what that state is, the same experience will open to us the distinct propriety of these expressions, their truth, and the substantial truth which they contain; and likewise show us, that however strong and exalted the terms are which we see made use of, they are not stronger nor higher than the subject called for. But for the present we must be, what I own it is difficult to be, content to take up with very general notions, humbly hoping, that a disposition to receive and acquiesce in what appears to us to be revealed, be it more or be it less, will be regarded as the duty which belongs to our subsisting condition, and the measure of information with which it is favoured; and will stand in the place of what, from our deep interest in the matter, we are sometimes tempted to desire, but which, nevertheless, might be unfit for us, a knowledge which not only was, but which we perceived to be, fully adequate to the subject.
The lesson, inculcated by the observation here pointed out, is this, that, in the difficulties which we meet with in interpreting Scripture, instead of being too uneasy under them, by reason of the obscurity of certain passages, or the degree of darkness which hangs over certain subjects, we ought first to take to ourselves this safe and consoling rule, namely, to make up for the deficiency of our knowledge by the sincerity of our practice; in other words, to act up to what we do know, or, at least, earnestly strive so to do. So far as a man holds fast to this rule, he has a strong ground of comfort under every degree of ignorance, or even of error. And it is a rule applicable to the rich and to the poor, to the educated and to the uneducated, to every state and station of life, and to all the differences which arise from different opportunities acquiring knowledge. Different obligations may result from different means of obtaining information; but this rule comprises all differences.
The next reflection is, that in meeting with difficulties, nay, very great difficulties, we meet with nothing strange, nothing but what in truth might reasonably have been expected beforehand. It was to be expected, that a revelation, which was to have its completion in another state of existence, would contain many expressions which referred to that state; and which, on account of such reference, would be made clear and perfectly intelligible only to those who had experience of