« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
HEBREWS xii. 14.
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the LORD.
HE great end and design of our holy religion,
view of us to
GOD, was to reconcile us to each other ;-by teaching us to subdue all those unfriendly dispo sitions in our nature, which unfit us for happiness, and the social enjoyment of the many blessings which God has enabled us to partake of in this world, miserable as it is, in many respects. Could christianity persuade the professors of it into this temper, and engage us, as its doctrine requires, to go on and exalt our natures, and, after the subduction of the most unfriendly of our passions,to plant, in the room of them, all those (more natural to the soul) humane and benevolent inclinations, which, in imitation of the perfections of God, should dispose us to extend our love and goodness to our fellow creatures, according to the extent of our abilities,-in like manner as the goodness of GOD extends itself over all the works of the creation :- -Could this be accomplished, the world would be worth living in ;—and might be considered by us as a foretaste of what we should enter upon hereafter.
But such a system, you will say, is merely visionary ;-and, considering man as a creature so beset with selfishness, and other fretful passions that propensity prompts him to,-though it is to be wished, it is not to be expected. But our religion enjoins us to approach as near this fair pattern as we can; and, if it be possible, as much as lieth in us, to live peaceably with all men ;where the term, if possible,-I own, implies it
may not only be difficult, but sometimes impossible.- -Thus the words of the text,- Follow peace, may by some be thought to imply,-that this desirable blessing may sometimes fly from us : -But still we are required to follow it, and not cease the pursuit, till we have used all warrantable methods to regain and settle it :-Because,adds the apostle, without this frame of mind, no man shall see the LORD. For heaven is the region, as well as the recompence, of peace and benevolence; and such as do not desire and promote it here, are not qualified to enjoy it hereafter.
For this cause, in scripture language,-peace is always spoke of as the great comprehensive blessing, which included in it all manner of happiness; and, to wish peace to any house or person, was, in one word, to wish them all that was good and desirable.- -Because happiness. consists in the inward complacency and satisfaction of the mind; and he who has such a disposition of soul, as to acquiesce and rest contented with all the events of providence, can want nothing this world can give him,-Agreeable to this,that short, but most comprehensive hymn, sung by angels at our SAVIOUR's birth, declaratory of the joy and happy ends of his incarnation,-after glory, in the first, to GOD,-the next note which sounded, was, peace upon earth, and good will to men. -It was a public wish of happiness to mankind, and implied a solemn charge to pursue the means that would ever lead to it.- -And, in truth, the good tidings of the gospel are nothing else but a grand message and embassy of peace, to let us know, that our peace is made in heaven.
The prophet Isaiah styles our SAVIOUR the Prince of Peace, long before he came into the world; and, to answer the title, he made choice to enter into it at a time when all nations were at peace with each other; which was in the days.of
Augustus,- -when the temple of Janus was shut, and all the alarms of war were hushed and silenced throughout the world. At his birth, the host of heaven descended, and proclaimed peace on earth, as the best state and temper the world could be in to receive and welcome the author of it. His future conversation and doctrine, here upon earth, was every way agreeable with his peaceable entrance upon it ;-the whole course of his life being but one great example of meekness, peace and patience. At his death, it was the only legacy he bequeathed to his followers: -My peace I give unto you. How far this has taken place, or been actually enjoyed,-is not my intention to enlarge upon, any farther than just to observe how precious a bequest it was, from the many miseries and calamities which have, and ever will, ensue from the want of it. If we look into the larger circle of the world ;-what desolations, dissolutions of government, and invasions of property,-what rapine, plunder, and profanation of the most sacred rights of mankind, are the certain unhappy effects of it ;-fields dyed in blood, the cries of orphans and widows, bereft of their best help, too fully instruct us.— Look into private life;and behold how good and pleasant a thing it is to live together in unity; it is like the precious ointment poured upon the head of Aaron, that run down to his skirts ; -importing, that this balm of life is felt and enjoyed, not only by governors of kingdoms, but is derived down to the lowest rank of life, and tasted in the most private recesses;-all, from the king to the peasant, are refreshed with its blessings, without which, we can find no comfort in any thing this world can give.— -It is this blessing gives every one to sit quietly under his vine, and reap the fruits of his labor and industry, in one word--which bespeaks who is the
bestower of it. It is that only which keeps up the harmony and order of the world, and preserves every thing in it from ruin and confusion.
There is one saying of our SAVIOUR'S, recorded by St. Matthew, which, at first sight, seems to carry some opposition to this doctrine ;-I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword.- -But this reaches no farther than the bare words, not entering so deep as to affect the sense, or imply any contradiction :-Intimating only,that the preaching of the gospel, will prove, in the event, through sundry unhappy causes, such as prejudices, the corruption of mens hearts, a passion for idolatry and superstition,-the occasion of much variance and division even amongst nearest relations ;-yea, and oft times of bodily death, and many calamities and persecutions, which actually ensued upon the first preachers and followers of it. Or the words may be understood, as a beautiful description of the inward contests and opposition which christianity would occasion in the heart of man,- from its oppositions to the violent passions of our nature, -which would engage us in a perpetual warfare. This was not only a sword, -a division betwixt nearest kindred ;-but it was dividing a man against himself; setting up an opposition to an interest long established,-strong by nature, -more so by uncontroled custom.This is verified, every hour, in the struggles for mastery betwixt the principles of the world, the flesh, and the devil ;-which set up so strong a confederacy, that there is need of all the helps which reason and christianity can offer to bring them down.
But this contention is not that against which such exhortations in the gospel are levelled ;-for the scripture must be interpreted by scripture, and be made consistent with itself.- -And we find, the distinguishing mark and doctrine, by
which all men were to know who were Christ's disciples, was that benevolent frame of mind towards all our fellow creatures, which, by itself, is a sufficient security for the particular social duty here recommended:-So far from meditations of war- -for love thinketh no evil to his neighbor ;- -so far from doing any, it harbors not the least thought of it; but, on the contrary, rejoices with them that rejoice, and weeps with them that weep.
This debt christianity has highly exalted; tho' it is a debt that we were sensible of before, and acknowledged to be owed to human nature,which, as we all partake of,—so ought we to pay it in a suitable respect. For, as men, we are allied together in the natural bond of brotherhood, and are members one of another. -We have the same Father in heaven, who made us, and takes care of us all. Our earthly extraction too, is nearer alike, than the pride of the world cares to be reminded of :-For Adam was the father of us all, and Eve the mother of all living.The prince and the beggar sprung from the same stocks, as wide asunder as the branches are.— So that, in this view, the most upstart family may vie antiquity, and compare families with the greatest monarchs.-We are all formed too, of the same mould, and must equally return to the same dust.. -So that, love our neighbor, and live quietly with him, is to live at peace with ourselves. He is but self-multiplied, and enlarged into another form; and to be unkind or cruel to him, is but, as Solomon observes of the unmerciful, to be cruel to our own flesh.As a farther motive and engagement to this peaceable commerce with each other,GOD has placed us all In one another's power by turns,—in a condition of mutual need and dependance.There is no man se liberally stocked with earthly bles