« AnteriorContinuar »
for awhile from principle, we give as a matter of course, Honesty becomes automatic — the man who has cultivated honesty, at last could not cheat if he would. Self-control becomes automatic we rule over our spirit, repress illtemper, keep down bad feelings, first by an effort, afterwards as a matter of course. Temperance becomes automatic —it costs a good deal of effort and self-denial at first, but at last it takes care of itself.
Possibly these virtues really become incarnate in the bodily organization. Possibly goodness is made flesh, and becomes consolidate in the fibres of the brain. Vices, beginning in the soul, seem to become at last bodily diseases ; why may not virtues follow the same law? One purpose of the body may be thus to receive and retain the results of past effort, and spiritual acts may be anchored and accumulated by physical organization. Thus the body may be the best servant of the soul, packing away and watching like a faithful steward all its master's treasures, and in the future life the risen or spiritual body may retain them all.
If it were not for some such law of accumulation as this, the work of life would have to be begun forever anew. Formation of character would be impossible. We should be incapable of progress, our whole strength being always employed in battling with our first enemies, learning evermore anew our earliest lessons. But, by our present constitution, he who has taken one step can take another, and life may become a perpetual advance from good to better.
This is the one and sufficient reward of all virtue, the one sufficient punishment of all wrong-doing, that right actions and wrong actions gradually harden into character. The reward of the good man is, that having chosen truth and pursued it, it becomes at last a part of his own nature, a happy companion of all his life. The condemnation of
the bad man is, that when light has come into the world he has chosen darkness, and so the light within him becomes darkness.
Do not envy the bad man's triumphs and worldly successes. Every one of them is a rivet fastening him to evil, making it more difficult for him to return to good, making it impossible but for the redeeming power of God, which has become incarnate in Christ, in order to seek and save the lost.
The highest graces of all — faith, hope and love - obey the same law. By trusting in God when we hardly see him at all, we come at last to realize, as by another sense, his divine presence in all things. By praying to him when we can only say, “O, God ! if there be a God my soul if I have a soul,” we at last learn to talk with this heavenly Friend just as we would with an earthly friend. And as, on a summer's day, when we sit among the pines, though we do not see the wind, nor know whence it cometh or whither it goeth, we yet hear its silvery voice above our heads, and feel its cool breath kissing our cheek; so, though we do not know how God answers prayer, we have the sense of strength, of content, of kindly purpose, of love, joy and peace, making our whole life useful to others and satisfactory to ourselves. Faith in God, at first an effort, at last becomes automatic and instinctive.
Thus, too, faith in immortality solidifies into an instinct. As we live from and for infinite, divine, eternal realities, these become a part of our knowledge. Socrates did not convince himself of his immortality much by his arguments. But by spending a long life in intimate converse with the highest truths and noblest ends, he at last reached the point where he could not help believing in immortality. As the pure in heart see God, so the pure in heart also see immortality. Death fades away and becomes nothing ; it is an absurdity- an impossibility. “He who believes in
me,” said Jesus, “ cannot die.” He who enters into my thoughts, sympathizes with my purposes, partakes of my spirit, knows that death is nothing. Thus it is that Christ abolishes death. The true resurrection is rising with Christ to a higher life; as the apostle says, “ If ye, then, be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above.”.
The moral of all this is evident. Every man, every woman, every child has some talent, some power, some opportunity of getting good and doing good. Each day offers us some occasion of using this talent. As we use it, it gradually increases, improves, becomes native to the character. As we neglect it, it dwindles, withers and disappears. This is the stern but benign law, by which we live. This makes character real and enduring ; this makes progress possible : this turns men into angels and virtue into goodness.
This, at last, makes
“Love an unerring light,
“BE YE THEREFORE PERFECT, EVEN AS YOUR FATHER WHICH IS
IN HEAVEN IS PERFECT.”
ERFECT, in the New Testament, means entire, full
complete, all-sided. A perfect man, in the Christian sense, is not one who has no fault, no weakness, no sin; but one, rather, who lives according to a perfect idea. He is one who has a standard which is not narrow, but full and broad — a well-rounded image of goodness. He is one who does not love his friend and hate his enemy, but, like the heavenly Father, loves his friend with the love of affection, and his enemy with the love of pity. To be perfect, in this sense, is possible and practicable ; but to be perfect in the sense of sinlessness is not possible, so long as men are necessarily ignorant, and subject to evil circumstances more or less beyond their control. Now Jesus never commands anything which cannot be done. If he says, “ Be ye perfect,” it is certain that we can be perfect.
This view of the meaning of the word is confirmed by the different places in the New Testament where it occurs. One is in the account of the young man (Matthew xix. 21) who asked, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Jesus told him to keep the command
ments. He replied he had always kept them — “What lack I yet?” Then Jesus said, “If thou wilt be perfect, give all thou hast to the poor, and come and follow me.” The meaning evidently is, “ If thou wilt be complete, not lacking any element or quality of goodness, try what you can do in poverty. You have been virtuous in prosperity ; now see if you can bear adversity, hardship, trial. That will give you the sort of experience which has been wanting to you, and make your character round and full.”
So, when Paul says, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect,” he does not mean those who are sinless and absolutely holy, but those who have the intellectual and the spiritual graces in due proportion -- symmetrical Christians. The Corinthians were very intelligent, but their religion ran to the head rather than to the heart; so it made them sectarians. They were one-sided Christians. They could not bear theology ; so Paul fed them with religion, and kept theology for Christians of a larger experience.
So, too, in the thirteenth chapter of the same epistle, “perfect " is opposed to "partial.” “We know in part and teach in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away." That is, when the whole is seen, the part disappears in it.
Thus, also, in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of their becoming perfect men in knowledge and faith, and explains it to be “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” This does not mean being equal to Christ in faith and knowledge, but to have the same kind of fulness (pleroma), entireness, symmetry, that Christ had.
We are told, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that it became Jesus, the captain of our salvation, "to be made perfect through sufferings.” If to be perfect meant to be sinless, or if it meant to be infinitely good, as we mean when we