Page images

which they bear "through sanctification of the Spirit and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." 1 Pet. ii. 1, 2.

"How forcible are right words!" But right actions are far more forcible. The most powerful eloquence is that of a good life. "Our eyes," says a certain writer, "are quicker than our ears. Example, therefore, goes further than precept; and facts operate more powerfully on our minds than sentences." "If we are to do God's work in the world," says an eminent living preacher, "it must be mainly by our being good, honest, just, and righteous men; and I say character, character, character, after all, is the great weapon which Christian people have to wield."

Mr. Disraeli, on the occasion of the death of the late Richard Cobden, whose moral character, combined with his excellent talents, commanded the highest respect of his ablest political opponents, gave expression to a great truth when he said, "There are some members of parliament who, though they are no longer with us, are still in a sense members of this House; who are independent of dissolution and of the caprice of constituencies: their example will often be appealed to, and their sentiments and expressions will form part of our discussions and debates." The same thought is more briefly and strikingly expressed by a New Testament writer, in a higher application, of Abel: "He, being dead, yet speaketh.'

[ocr errors]

There is an honourable immortality belonging to genuine goodness. Of the consistent bible-man it is said, "His righteousness endureth for ever." The happy influence of right Christian conduct is incalculable, illimitable; like a wave on some vast lake, ever renewing itself, and rolling to the farthest shore. The exemplary Christian lives, not for his own generation only, but for all time. His good words are echoed by those who come after him. His prayers mingle with the incense which continually ascends before the throne of the Eternal. If departed saints are not intercessors, their intercessions, while on earth, in the name of the One Mediator, are never forgotten before God; and their good works, although not supererogatory, contribute to the great moral lever which is destined to raise fallen humanity to holiness and heaven.

We are so constituted that the most gifted and orthodox preacher can do but little if any good if he be under the necessity of prefacing his discourses as a certain clergyman is said to have done: "Do as I say, and not as I do." How different was the Great Teacher from those who in his day sat in Moses' seat! They said and did not; but he illustrated and enforced all his moral instructions by his example. Even infidels have admired and acknowledged the transcendent excellence of his character. "Full of grace and truth;" the incarnation of righteousness, purity, and goodness, he was perfectly competent to teach by all that he did, as well as by all that he said. See Matt. ii. 29; Phil. ii. 3-6.

The success of the Apostles in the work of Christ was very much owing to their holy, just, affectionate, disinterested, and patient behaviour. The world had never seen the like before; while their converts were thus impressively taught "how to walk and please God." Paul could say, and did say, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Those things which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do! and the God of peace shall be with you." On the same principle he says to his son in the gospel (1 Tim. iv. 12), "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." From these words we may infer that ministers ought to exemplify the holy and beneficent religion which they preach; and that if they do so behave themselves, although some might be so unreasonable and wicked as to hate and persecute them, no one could despise them. There is a principle in human nature which, however it may be overborne or contradicted by depravity, secretly renders homage to genuine goodness; hence the following apostolic exhortations: "Do all things without murmurings and disputings, that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life." Phil. ii. 14-16. 66 'Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles; that whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.... "For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." . . . . "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives, while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear." 1 Pet. ii. 12-15, iii. 1, 2. These passages seem to be a reiteration and an amplification of the oft quoted words of our Lord (Matt. v. 12): "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

The church of God is designed to be a centre of moral influence and attraction. "Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy brightness, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side." Isa. lx. 1-4. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; in those days it shall come to pass that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We

will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you." Zech. viii. 23. Without question, these and other such like prophetic Scriptures are yet to receive their full accomplishment. But, certainly, they were strikingly, though but partially, fulfilled in the primitive Christian church. After the account of the thousands that were converted on the day of Pentecost, who " continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers," it is recorded : "Great fear came upon every soul." Their observers were struck, not only with wonder, but with awe: they were awakened to serious thoughts about the new religion. In the following verses the sacred historian, speaking of their joyful devotion and abounding charity, says, "they had favour with all the people": their conduct excited general admiration and esteem. "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." That lovely practical exemplification of christian doctrine drew men and women from day to day to hear the things concerning the Lord Jesus, many of whom believed, and were added to the happy community. So that the apostles might have said to them, as Paul did at a subsequent period say to the Corinthians, " Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men." With the same view he addresses the Thessalonians (1, vi. 6-8), after giving thanks to God for their "work of faith and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ:" "And ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad.”

[ocr errors]

It is, we think, highly probable, that the conduct of the first christian martyr the meekness and love with which his zeal and courage were blended-contributed in no small degree to the conversion of the " young man at whose feet the murderous zealots. "laid down their clothes." And the history of the church or churches for the first two or three centuries clearly shows, that notwithstanding the many unjust reproaches that were cast upon the followers of Christ, their holy and benevolent lives and joyful patience in suffering "for His name " had much to do with the early triumphs of the gospel. Their conduct supplied the most striking corroboration of the truth as it is in Jesus-a palpable demonstration that it actually did what philosophy had in vain attempted to do; making men sober and righteous as it made them godly; giving them the dominion over their passions, by subjecting them to the easy yoke of Christ; disposing them to trample on the debasing pleasures of the world, as it supplied them with purer pleasures, and taught them to seek those things which are above;" and uniting them in a bond of happy brotherhood, as it brought them into fellowship with "the Father and with his son Jesus Christ." Far more impressive and convincing than the

signs and wonders which attended the preaching of the truth were its grand moral results. When those who had been addicted to the grossest forms of sensuality were seen to renounce the world, "with all its pomps and vanities, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh;" and those who had been living on the industry of others, labouring to "provide things honest in the sight of all men;" and those who had been insubordinate and mischievous, leading "quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty ;" and those, in the higher walks of life, who had despised and oppressed the poor, condescending to men of low estate, and doing good to all men; and those, in short, who had sought their own things only, cheerfully denying themselves for the good of others; yea, in many instances, taking joyfully the spoiling of their goods and the loss of their liberty and of their lives for righteousness' sake; when spectacles like these were witnessed, no wonder that multitudes were convinced of the truth of the Gospel and altogether persuaded to be Christians. People may be coerced into the profession of a new religion, or drawn by eloquence and secular motives; but moral transformations, such as have just been indicated, so far above the highest achievements of legislation, philosophy, and moral suasion, clearly showed "the finger of God."

Truth exemplified-expressed in action-becomes in a sense embodied, and is beheld "moving among men like an angel of mercy." When those who profess to be united to Christ are observed to "walk even as He walked," they give evidence, not only of their sincerity, but also of the reality and excellence of Christianity. This practical manifestation of christian principle-principle overcoming every form of selfishness and every method of temptation; principle, comparable to fine gold, "gold tried in the fire" principle, dearer than life, stronger than death-this is the most calculated to convince the sceptic, and win the indifferent, and encou rage the fearful in heart. It is reported of a worldly and sceptical nobleman, who paid the amiable Fenelon a visit, that he returned home some days sooner than he had intended, lest he should have been compelled to become a christian: such was the influence of the good archbishop's conduct in his own house. Many grown-up people as well as children are fond of pictorial exhibitions, and will look at them when they will not read or hear what requires some mental effort. They refuse to come to hear the gospel or to search the Scriptures till some of these walking sermons, those "living epistles," attract them. How important, then, that those epistles be correct, complete, legible! that those moral pictures be true to the lovely original faithful representations of Him to whose image we are predestined to be conformed. The practical exhibition of the truth is essential to its propagation in the world. If all who bear the name of Christ were no longer to reflect his image, it would be like


[ocr errors]

taking the leaven out of the meal, or, by some chemical process, counterworking it. If the Word of the Lord is to be glorified in a higher degree, and to a much wider extent, a higher type of holiness must be everywhere witnessed-corresponding with our increase in knowledge, and our enlarged means of gospel diffusion. While we get farther from superstition, we should hold with a firmer grasp "the truth which is after godliness;" "contend” more earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints." If, while professing to have been "born from above," we "walk as men; are as eager after money, as solicitous about appearances in the eyes of the world; as careful to be in the fashion, and as fond of pleasure, in some or other of its many forms, as those who fear not God, what must our observers think of us and our religion? For they have not usually the candour, if they have the ability, to distinguish between our conduct and the religion of which we make a profession. "Woe to the world because of offences!" What is said of "one sinner" in the Scriptures, is true in a stronger sense of a sinner in the high places which Christians are called to occupy-" he destroyeth much good." The influence of inconsistent professors is doubly powerful for evil, from the natural enmity of men's hearts to vital, evangelical religion. The great objection which the wisdom of the world has always raised against the gospel has been, that it gives encouragement to sin, which is as false as that gratitude to God is not one of the most powerful motives to obedience. And how is this ignorant prejudice strengthened by the conduct of those who profess to trust in Christ, and have not 66 put on Christ"? who have learned to talk about "the finished work of Christ," as if he became incarnate and died on the cross just to deliver them from hell, and not to redeem them from all iniquity and purify them unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. And, perhaps, the above objection has been rendered still more plausible by those who make religion to consist in comfortable frames and feelings, instead of hearty practical conformity to the will of God. The preaching of the truth can never be extensively successful while it is contradicted, rather than corroborated and recommended, by so many of its professed friends. There is, no doubt, a great want of candour and discrimination in connection with the charge so frequently preferred against christian professors-that they are not more truthful, honest, charitable, humble, peaceable, courteous; in a word, not more unselfish than others. But it behoves "every one that nameth the name of Christ" to inquire of himself seriously and impartially, with the Bible open before him, whether he has given no occasion for any such charge. And how great is the guilt of being accessory to men's continuing in unbelief, and dying without the hope of the gospel!

W. D.

« PreviousContinue »