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In has been before remarked, that "we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ;" and let this reflection sink deep into every heart. Men voluntarily break the laws of their country, but dire compulsion takes place, when they are convicted and executed for their crimes. The young man, rejoicing in his vigour and flow of spirits, may give a loose to his passions; but let him remember, that "for all these things God will bring him into judgment."-You may now forget God, but he will not forget you, or any of your works. You may affront his justice, and despise his mercy: but he will shortly say, "It is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will have no mercy on them." Isaiah xxvii. 11. Now is the day of the Lord's patience, but the day of wrath and perdition of ungodly men approacheth: now he invites you to draw near to his throne of grace: shortly he will summon you to his awful tribunal. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." "Strive to enter in at the strait gate, for many-shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door;" it will be for ever in vain for those that stand without, to cry, "Lord, Lord, open to us." Now the Saviour pleads with you, in accents of tenderest love; " how long ye simple ones will ye love simplicity, and scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn ye at my reproof, I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you." But ere long, he will frown on the impenitent and unbelieving, and say, "Because I called and ye refused, I stretched out my hands and no man regarded; therefore shall ye eat the fruit of your own ways, and be filled with your own devices."-"Oh that men were wise, that they understood these things, that they would consider their latter end." Prov. i. 19-31. Deut. xxxii. 29.
But will any of you, with this solemn season of discovery and decision before your eyes, deliberately put the event of it upon the goodness of your hearts and lives? Is there not in your very soul an involuntary shrinking from so strict and awful a scrutiny? Do you not feel a disposition to say, "enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord?" "If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquity, O Lord, who may stand." As you value your immortal souls, do not now insist on any plea, which you feel to be inadmissible in the great day of righteous retribution. Stand not on any distinction between your case and that of your fellow-sinners. Seek above all things an interest in the atonement and righteousness of Christ; and count all but loss that you may win him, and be found in him. Disregard the scorn and reproach of an unbelieving world; anticipating that day, when every eye shall see the despised Redeemer, and his favour be universally allowed of more value than ten thousand worlds." Let every one," however," that nameth the name of Christ, depart from all iniquity." "If we say that we have faith, and have not works, will faith save us," in the day when the Lord shall render unto every man "according to his deeds?" Alas! a dead faith, a presumptuous hope, and an unsound profession, will only increase the anguish and shame of final condemnation.
Even if we be true believers, negligence and loose walking will cloud our evidence, and weaken our warranted confidence: while the greatest possible encouragement is given to all genuine good works, by that very system which excludes boasting, and allows none of our services the least share in our justification before God. "Not a cup of cold water given to a disciple, from love to Christ, shall lose its reward." He will accept every kindness to those whom we look upon as his brethren, even as if we had done it to him in person and while we forgive injuries, love enemies, deny ourselves, endure hardships, or bear any cross, from love to his name, and desire to adorn and recommend his gospel ; he notices our poor services, and will applaud and reward them before men and angels.-Nay, if he observe that we
form plans and make attempts to promote his cause, and be serviceable to his people; even though he see good to disappoint our endeavours; he will kindly accept the zealous intention, and openly say, “ Thou didst well that it was in thine heart." “ Let us not therefore be weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not :” and “ may we all find mercy of the Lord in that day of retribution,” and have an abundant entrance into his kingdom of everlasting glory and felicity.
The desire of gain, in one form or another, is universal: for though no one can seek the true riches for himself, without disinterested love to God and his neighbour : yet love to himself, and thirst after happiness, cannot be extinguished: being essential to our nature as God originally constituted it, and not superinduced by the entrance of sin. If, however, the apostle's compendious maxim were generally believed, how many vain projects would be superseded ? What fatigues, dangers, anxieties, envies, contentions, frauds, oppressions, wars, murders, and mischiefs, might be prevented!
The context is worthy of our peculiar attention. The servants in those days were generally slaves; and it frequently happened that Christians were the property of Pagans. Such a condition is commonly thought very wretched, and slaves have seldom escaped cruel usage: yet the apostle else
“ Art thou called, being a servant ? care not for it.”—The Christian slave is Christ's freed man; for, " if the Son make you free, then are you free indeed :" but the ungodly master is in deplorable bondage ; “ for he that committeth sin, is the servant of sin.”
In this view of the subject the apostle says, “ Let as many servants, as are under the yoke, count their own masters worthy of all honour: that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.” For if Christian servants behaved less respectfully to their masters than others did, the heathens would blame their religion, as teaching them to violate the duties of their station. “And they,” says he “ that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren ; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit.” No doubt the involuntary servitude of those, who have not, by atrocious crimes forfeited their liberty, is inconsistent with the moral law; and if real Christianity should become universal, slavery must be finally abolished. But the apostles were not legislators or civil magistrates : as ministers of religion, they taught men how to act in their several situations as matters then stood : and when rulers embraced the gospel, it was proper they too should be taught their duty, and instructed to apply a legal and regular remedy to the evil. But it would have exceedingly increased the opposition made to the gospel, if the preachers of it had attempted, by their own influence, to subvert the existing system in this respect; or even required Christian masters indiscriminately to liberate their slaves.—Whereas, if they were taught to use them as brethren, the ends of humanity would be effectually answered, as to the individuals concerned, and the example would have the most salutary tendency.
Having stated this matter, the apostle next showed the sources and consequences of the contrary doctrine ; exhorted Timothy to withdraw from vain disputers, who “ supposed that gain is godliness :” and then subjoined the words of the text, “but godliness with contentment is great gain;" for, says he, “ we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.”
In considering the subject, we may,
I. We notice the connection between godliness and contentment, as it is evidently implied in the text.
The word godliness frequently occurs in the writings of the apostles, and must therefore be understood according to the tenor of their doctrine. We must not consider it merely as a proper regulation of our affections and conduct towards God, according to the first table of the moral law; but as implying especially the dispositions and demeanour, suited to a sinner under a dispensation of mercy, and invited to reconciliation with his offended God, through the Mediator of the new covenant.
When this has been duly attended to, it will evidently appear that deep hu. mility and unfeigned repentance constitute an essential part of evangelical godliness: for unless we habitually possess this frame of mind, we cannot sincerely make those confessions and supplications, or present those sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, which are peculiar to Christianity. Now every reflecting man must perceive, that deep humility, accompanied with cheering hope, exceedingly tends to produce contentment. A vast proportion of the impatience and fretfulness of mankind, results from a false estimate of their own merits and consequence. This induces them to consider their trials great, their comforts trifling, the least affront intolerable; and every kind and degree of respect inadequate, except unqualified adulation and submission. But such views of Jehovah and the adoring seraphim, as filled Isaiah with self-abasement; or such apprehensions of the divine majesty, as caused Job to “ abhor himself, and repent in dust and ashes," would give them very different views on these subjects. Did they enter into the feelings of the apostle, when he called himself the “ chief of sinners,” and “ less than the least of all saints;" were they ready to own with the centurion, “ Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof;" or with John Baptist, “ I am not worthy to loose his shoe-latchet;" a total revolution would take place in all their sentiments and sensations about outward comforts and trials, and the usage they meet with from those around them. The sharpest affliction would then appear light and momentary, compared with their deserts: the meanest provision would be received with lively gratitude ; while with the patriarch they confessed, “ we are not worthy of the least of all thy mercies:” the most unfavourable situation or disagreeable employment would be deemed better than they have a right to expect: and in the greatest injuries or affronts, they would submit to the justice of God, who may correct or punish by whatever instruments he pleases.
Humble thoughts of themselves reconcile men to obscure stations, mean circumstances, and common occupations, as most suited to them: and when they are evidently called to more public services, they enter on them with reluctance and diffidence ; except as the lively exercise of faith renders them superior to their apprehensions, and a sense of duty engages them to proceed. Such men are ready to stoop, and in honour to prefer others; they do not complain
of being buried in situations, where they are undervalued or neglected. They “ think soberly of themselves, and as they ought to think;" and this secures them from manifold disappointments and vexa
tions, to which other men are exposed. “ That will break a proud man's heart, which will scarcely break an humble man's sleep ;" and it is certain that many of the troubles of life affect our peace almost in exact proportion to the degree of our pride or humility. The common opinion therefore, that self-abasement produces melancholy, and that a favourable opinion of ourselves tends to cheerfulness, is an egregious mistake. The former may indeed depress the spirits, when connected with misapprehension, ignorance, and unbelief; and the latter may produce a flow of agreeable sensations, when nothing occurs to ruffle the mind. Such a state, however, is so seldom to be expected in this changing world, and amidst the mortifications to which self-sufficiency exposes men; that the cheerfulness depending on it must be extremely precarious; while patience, meekness, hope in God, and humble gratitude, evidently conduce to an uniform composure and serenity; the direct contrast to disappointed pride and ambition, rankling resentment, sickening envy, and rebellious murmurs.
Even godly sorrow for sin, when accompanied with an humble hope of mercy, produces a tender pleasure, a melting sweetness, a serious joy, a heart-felt satisfaction, which far'exceed the utmost refinements of sinful indulgence. Repentance itself, which men postpone under the notion that it is the bane of comfort, is the source of the purest and most permanent rejoicing; and the true Christian must consider those seasons, in which, melted into contrition for his sins, he sowed the seed of his future harvest with penitent tears, as but little removed from the happiest hours of his life.
Faith likewise, which in its varied exercises constitutes a most important part of evangelical godliness is intimately connected with contentment.-As as the evidence of things not seen,” it sets before us the holy, heart-searehing God, and causes us to speak and act as in his immediate presence. This powerfully tends to calm our tumultuous passions, to awe our souls into adoring submission, and to encourage confidence and humble expectation. Faith descries an invisible world, and places us on the verge of eternity, as about to launch into that boundless ocean. With this prospect before us, the concerns of time shrink into insignificancy: and all that disparity of rank or fortune, which subsist among dying men, and about which their contests, cares, and discontents are principally excited, appear like a fleeting dream, a pageant passing over the stage. Our trials also are perceived to be transient and unimportant; we feel it to be a weakness and folly greatly to disquiet ourselves about such trifles : and discover that our wisdom consists in being careful to discharge our duty, while on our pilgrimage. So that, if “we looked more to the things which are not seen,” and less to “ the things which are seen;" we should certainly become more satisfied with our lot, and less anxious about our temporal provision.
Faith beholds especially the unseen Saviour; and crediting the sure testimony of God, contemplates him in all the scenes of his life and death. And whether we look to the stable and manger at Bethlehem; the cottage and carpenter's shop at Nazareth ; or the well in Samaria, where Jesus, wearied with his journey, sat down at noon and craved a drink of water: whether we follow him to the desert, where he was an hungred while tempted by the devil; to the field, where, with up-lifted hands and eyes, he gave thanks for the barley bread and small fishes; or to the meals which he and his disciples may be supposed to have made on the broken fragments of that humble feast: or whether we meditate on his general poverty, who had not where to lay his head ; his scanty maintenance, at one time earned with the sweat of his brow, at another received as the alms of his followers; every object may teach us, “in whatever state we are, therewith to be content." If we turn our thoughts to the contradiction, contempt, and insult, the injustice and cruelty, to which he voluntarily submitted : the patience, meekness, serenity, and love which he manifested, or the glorious event of his sufferings and death: we may, in every one of these reflections, as it were, hear him say, " is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Was ever sorrow like unto my sorrow?" Nor can we select one scene, which does not most powerfully inculcate resignation, contentment, and thankfulness; whatever our circumstances and difficulties may be. For who fares harder, or is more injuriously treated than the Holy One of God, the spotless sacrifice for our numberless transgressions ?
Faith receives also the instruction of Scripture, concerning the necessity, nature, and glory of the Redeemer's undertaking and obedience unto death upon the cross : and this suggests further motives to humble submission, admiring gratitude, and cheerful acquiescence in the will of God. The worth of our immortal souls, the evil and desert of sin, our ruined condition as sinners, and the unavailing nature of all earthly possessions or distinctions, with various other interesting subjects, are most emphatically enforced by Emmanuel's cross. Thus, while induced to use every means of securing our salvation ; we cannot but grow more indifferent to subordinate interests, and better satisfied with a low and afflicted condition. In this school St Paul learned contentment amidst his multiplied sufferings: yet were we placed in his situation we should have far better reasons for our dissatisfaction than we have been hitherto able to allege.
Neither must we forget, that the believer feels himself to be an habitual pensioner on the Lord's mercy and bounty. He owns that he has no resources in himself: he can neither earn nor buy any thing; but indeed owes an immense debt of which he cannot pay the smallest part. He sues continually for pardon, through the sacrifice of the divine Redeemer who bare the wrath he merited, that his salvation might consist with the honour of the law and government of God: and he is a constant suppliant at the mercy-seat of his offended sovereign, expecting invaluable blessings from his royal bounty. He lives by faith ; Christ is “ made of God to him wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.” From his fulness his wants are continually supplied ; and he experiences, that his prayers are answered, his strength renewed, his hope encouraged, and his heart comforted, by waiting upon the Lord. And shall a criminal thus favoured be dissatisfied ? If he yield to murmurs or impatience under the common troubles of life, his inconsistency can only be equalled by his glaring ingratitude.
“ Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” When thus reconciled, we are admitted into a covenant of friendship; “ and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and the Son." In proportion to the degree of our faith, we enjoy peace of conscience, and the privilege of bringing all our cares, fears, sorrows, wants, and temptations to him by humble prayer; “ casting all our care on him who careth for us.” We become interested in all “ the exceeding great and precious promises” of the gospel, and that oath by which the new covenant is confirmed ; " that we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us." We are assured, that “ all things work together for good to them that love God, who are the called according to his purpose ; and these considerations must powerfully tend to produce inward tranquillity, and that peace of God which passeth all understanding.
At the same time the godly man, in the exercise of faith, sees and acknowledges the hand of God in all the events of life. While we employ our thoughts on men or second causes, we become fretful and peevish: but when we view trials and injuries as the appointment of God, and realize his wisdom, righteousness, and truth, our hearts are rendered quiet and submissive. “ It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.” “ The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away ; blessed be the name of the Lord.” “ The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" Such are the effects of regarding our abode, provision, employment, and even our crosses and sorrows, as appointed by our reconciled Father; and welcoming them as salutary medicines, or necessary, though painful operations, intended for our highest advantage. Nor is this exercise of faith ever wholly separated from the happy experience, that our confidence is warranted, and our expectations answered: