« ZurückWeiter »
them to speak in this way of themselves, and to feel that they are spared from year to year, not because of their fruitfulness, but because the Saviour intercedes for them. Accordingly, no Christian dares to apply the words to himself, when he sings the grace
" That makes a wretched thorn like me,
Bloom like the myrtle and the rose."
Now there is certainly much humility, and more propriety, in all this. It would be very unbecoming, even in the meekest, to say, I am like the lily or the violet; or in the strongest to say, I am like the cedar or the palm ; or in the holiest to say, I am like the rose or the myrtle. For, were this really true of a Christian, it would be improper for him to say it, if not also to think it, however much others may say or think it of him. Accordingly, wherever it is most true, it is least believed by its possessors. They neither compliment themselves upon the beauty of their holiness, nor accept the compliments which others pay to their piety.
This, of course, is all right, and just as it should be. But now, what shall we say or think of the complimentary and congratulatory language of the word of God, when speaking of or to the righteous ? It is not flattery, nor form, nor pretence. It is, indeed, highly figurative, in many instances ; but it is not always so. It is often as plain in some of its compliments, as it is splendid in others. There is no figure, when Paul says to the Hebrews, “Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods ;” nor when he says to the Thessalonians, “Ye were examples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.” There is no figure when Peter says to his converts, “Ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth, and rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory in Him whom having not seen ye love and believe.” There is no figure when John says to his old friend Gaius, “ Thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren and to strangers ;" nor when he says to his young friends, “ Ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” There is no figure when Christ says to the church of Thyatira, “ I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.” This is not highHown language ; but it is high compliment, or strong praise ; and must have been deserved before Christ or his apostles would have given it.
I thus state frankly the facts of the case, just as they lie on the surface of revelation; but I must confess with equal frankness, that I have often wondered, although silently, to find such, or indeed any, compliments paid to the righteous by God, or the Lamb, or even by the prophets and apostles. It is easy to explain the heaviest censures and sentences of the Bible against the wicked. Both the law and the Gospel alike require that sins and short-comings should be reproved and denounced. It is not, however, quite obvious at first sight, why a law, which requires perfect obedience, can praise imperfect men; nor how a Gospel, which excludes all human merit, can promise Divine rewards, and proclaim Divine eulogiums on “patient continuance in well-doing.” This, to say the least, is very remarkable ; for the Gospel excludes good works as well as bad from the ground of our justification, and teaches us to say, after having done our all and our best, that we are “unprofitable servants." And yet, although the Saviour taught this lesson, he has also told us, that he will say, even from the judgment-seat, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” to every well-doing subject of his kingdom. In like manner, whilst he ascribes all the merit, as well as the glory, of salvation to his own sacrifice, he promises to reward all sacrifices of life or property made for his suke, or in his service. Even a feast to “poor neighbours," or a cup of cold water to a disciple, shall in nowise lose its reward, at his hands. In this respect, as in all others, he is the express image of the Father-of whom Paul says to the Hebrews who ministered to the poor saints, “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed toward his name.' Heb. vi. 10.
There is, I am aware, no contradiction in all this ; nor is there any difficulty in seeing how works may be excluded from justification, and yet rewarded as well as required in sanctification. Indeed, as the fruits of the Spirit, and as the practical results of faith and love, they are not unworthy of the Divine approbation, so far as they promote the Divine glory. But the question is, How ought the righteous to apply unto themselves, either the praise or the promises which are given by Scripture to the righteous? Is it right that they should think of themselves, just as God speaks of them ?
Now we have seen that we should blame the best, if they were to call themselves lilies, roses, cedars, or myrtles. We expect them to compare themselves to weak or barren plants, if they employ any comparisons at all in describing themselves. And, accordingly, the best never disappoint our expectations in this matter. And they are no more than right in not speaking of themselves, as either strong or fruitful. Yea, they are only right-in not allowing themselves to think themselves good enough, or strong enough. It does not follow, however, that they should think nothing about what is good in their character, or strong in their principles. Paul evidently thought often and highly of his “good conscience,” and of his “good fight,” and of his good name, and of his good motives. He kept to the very letter of his own maxim, not to think more highly than he ought to think of himself; but he kept also to the spirit of this maxim, and thought as
N. S. VOL. IX.
highly of his character as it deserved. Accordingly, he never calls himself a barren fig-tree, nor a withered branch of the true Vine. He never calls his good works “ filthy rags,” nor his great services trifles. There is vo whining, nor cant, nor sweeping self-condemnation, nor overdone humility about him. What is good about him, he calls good, without pride or shame; and what is bad he calls bad, without exaggeration or palliation. He speaks as highly of the law of his mind, as he does meanly of the law in bis members. He respects both his spirit and his will, even whilst “wretched” on account of his weak and wayward fiesh. It was also in reference to the mighty task of being the chief apostle of the GENTILES, that he called or thought himself “less than the least of all saints.” Accordingly, in reference to ordaining apostolic duty, he did not think himself “a whit behind the
very chiefest of the apostles.”—2 Cor. xi. 5. In like manner, it was of his works as a righteousness in law, that he said he counted them all but dross. He counted them “the fruits of the Spirit,” and the proofs of faith, and the marks of sonship and meetness for heaven, as obedience to the Gospel. As a justifying righteousness, he despised even his best works; but as a sanctifying righteousness, he valued highly whatever was good in his character, and praised highly and openly whatever was good in the character of other believers. He even boasted of, and gloried in, Christians who distinguished themselves in works of faith and labours of love. So also does Christ himselt. Ile speaks well and highly of the churches which did well, and he will say to the righteous, from the judgment-seat, "I was hungry, and ye gave me meat ; thirsty, and ye gave me drink; naked, and ye clothed me ; sick and in prison, and ye visited me."
No man can weigh all this praise, without perceiving that some use should be made of it, by those on whom it is bestowed. But still, the question is, What use? Now, again, the first answer must be, The praise must not be used for self-righteous, self-complacent, or selfconfident purposes. No Christian must compliment himself, nor boast, nor count himself perfect, nor reckon himself a tree of righteousness which can neither fall nor fade. He must, however, reckon himself “a good tree,” if he be a Christian. He is not a Christian, if he is “a bad tree." And he is not a good tree, if he bring forth “ bad fruit." A good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit, nor an evil tree bring forth good fruit. Whoever, therefore, is bringing forth good fruit, ought not to think himself a bad tree. It is both his duty and his interest to think himself a youd tree, of God's right-hand planting. This is the true way to grow beiter, and thus more fruitful.
We ought to speak sense, and sense “according to the oracles of God,” on this subject. No real Christian is at liberty to call himself a bad tree or a barren tree. He may, and ought to lament that he is neither so good nor so fruitful as he ought to be ; but he has no right
to give ill names to good things, even if he intend only to show humility or modesty. Humility must not sacrifice truth nor sense, in order to preserve even itself. Humility, indeed, cannot be preserved by exaggeration. We are accustomed to hear make sweeping charges against their own hearts and holiness; and thus are hardly sensible of the impropriety of the custom. But what should we think of an honest man speaking of himself as a rogue ? or of a virtuous man speaking of bimself as a profligate? No man of real character would sport thus with his own reputation. Or if any man did so in mere levity, we should feel that he was very likely to become what he said. So it is in religion. He perils his own character, who accustoms himself to speak disparagingly of his piety, if he has any real piety. True, persons are not believed, nor do they believe themselves, when they run down their own piety, by extravagant confessions and complaints. But, how does this mend the matter? Is it Christian-like to say what we neither believe, nor wish to be believed? Where is godly sincerity or common sense, if we say that of ourselves which we would allow no one to say of us, and which we would not say were any one likely to believe it? Let us be honest! If a man be a barren tree, or bring not forth good fruit,- let him look to it! Calling himself so, will not save him from that threatening, “Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit shall be bewn down and cast into the fire." If a man be a fruitless branch, let him look to it! Calling himself a withered branch, will not pass as an excuse nor an apology for barrenness. “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, my Father taketh away,” says Christ. A really barren professor, if he believed this, would do something else than talk. The dread of the felling axe, and the consuming fire, would set him to cultivate the fruits of holiness which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory of God.
There are also other expressions current, which, if true of any professed believer, ought to make him tremble whenever he utters or thinks of them. If all his works be what he calls them, “ filthy rags,” it is high time for him to wash them and make them white in the blood of the Lamb! Calling them filthy, is not cleansing them. In like manner, if it be true of an avowed follower of Christ, that “from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, there is nothing but wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores, which have neither been bound up, nor mollified with ointment,” it is quite certain that that man has not employed Christ as his physician, nor the Holy Spirit as his sanctifier, nor the balm of Gilead as his medicine.
Here again, I am aware, persons say more than they mean. But, why do so? What purpose is answered by going, in words, beyond the facts of the case? True, the words are scriptural. What then? there are other scriptural words which no man of character applies to himself. There are charges and confessions of nameless vice in Scrip
ture; would it be humility to speak of ourselves in the words of them? If not, where is the humility of saying anything more than we really mean? Indeed, there is pride in it ; for if I give myself bad names, without at all fearing that I shall be believed, or taken at my word, I am proud to think that my character is a security against all mistake. But there is something worse than pride in such self-abuse. For as it passes current for humility, and modesty, and lowliness, and is never believed to the letter, in the case of any man who has any. thing like a character—there is no small danger of resting in just enough of character, to prevent such confessions from being believed. In fact, when a man finds that he can keep his name and place in a church by saying humiliating things of himself, he is in great danger of ceasing to improve his piety. It is cheaper to talk than to act; to cry
« barren” than to bear fruit. But we must come more closely to the point on this subject. It is disgraceful to go on talking of being barren fig-trees, or empty vines, from year to year. For if we really are fruitless—the axe and the fire are not far off. And if we do bear any good fruit, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and ought not be spoken nor thought of disparagingly. It is as wrong to call good evil, as to call evil good. The work of grace in the heart is good work” even at the beginning of it; and, therefore, it is not true that there is nothing but evil in the heart of a real Christian. It is only too true that in his “flesh dwelleth no good thing;” but it is not true that there is no good thing towards God and duty in him.
I am not at all anxious to substitute for the current phrases of our times, the oriental phrases of antiquity. But I do think that it would improve our piety, to aim at some likeness to the beautiful things which God compares the righteous unto-instead of comparing ourselves to the ugly and useless things which he compares hypocrites, apostates, and rebels to. Besides, however an humble man may shrink from such figures of himself, as the rose, the lily, the myrtle, and the cedar-be is mean-spirited, and not lowly-minded, who can succumb to the use of mock or mawkish phrases, which imply that he is worse than he really is, or dares to be, or would be if he durst. There will not be much solemn or influential humility, whilst this slang passes for humility. He will be the truly humble man who, after trying how much he can resemble God's emblem of the righteous—in fruit, flower, and fragrance-casts himself at the feet of the Master of the vineyard, crying in secret, “My leanness! my leanness!” Any one can say this, as an apology for unfruitfulness; but no one can say it in the spirit of Jeremiah, who is content to be an "empty vine” from year to year. Phrases, however penitential or self-condemnatory, are not fruit !
Besides, it is not wise to speak only of weakness or barrenness. Perpetual familiarity with the words tends to reconcile the mind to