« ZurückWeiter »
amount to apparent contradictions ; while there are others, a literal compliance with which would be impossible; or, if possible, sometimes almost extravagant, and sometimes very little important. As examples of the first may be named the frequent instances in which our final doom is described as depending upon the diligence with which we discharge our earthly duties towards our fellow-men, contrasted with the not less frequent ones in which it is represented as determined by our having or not having a right faith in Christ. Again, our Lord himself enjoins us in one place to pray and to give alms secretly, and yet, in another, to let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works. We are told that he who hateth not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and all that he hath, cannot be Christ's disciple. But we are also warned that he who provideth not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. Now, it is very much to be observed, in comparing passages like these, that they are not to be regarded in the light of difficulties to be reconciled, so much as common examples of the peculiar mode of instruction employed in Holy Scripture. When taken in connection, they serve to modify and to explain each other. Neither passage, by itself, may convey the whole, or even
the exact, truth, but they guard us against opposite errors, and, taken together, enable us to direct our faith and our practice aright. Thus, when our future destiny is described in one place as determined by our performance or omission of the social duties, - in another by the government of the tongue, - in another by the luxuries enjoyed or the privations endured in the present life, — and in another by belief and baptism alone, — by weighing and balancing all these passages together, we learn that no works of man not springing from belief in the Gospel can tend to salvation — and yet that professions of faith in Christ are but an idle mockery, if unaccompanied by active benevolence towards those whom He calls his brethren, and teaches us to call ours; that our thoughts and words, as well as our actions, will be taken into the account at the last great day; and that those who set their hearts wholly on the good things of this world, and lay up no treasure in heaven, can entertain no reasonable hope of heavenly reward. Again, it is evident that what is intended by the command to hate the objects of our fondest regard is, that the things of the greatest importance to our earthly happiness, and which have, rightly and properly have, the strongest hold on our earthly affections, must yet be accounted by us as nothing in comparison with our devotedness to Christ ; and that if by possibility any of these dearest objects should stand in the way of our obedience to Him, (a contingency which in the earliest ages of Christianity must have often happened,) we should be ready to resign it without a murmur. Indeed, Christ himself has thus explained it, when he tells us in another place, “ he that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me."
The injunctions in the Sermon on the Mount too, are, many of them, conveyed in a figurative form of expression, which common sense teaches us cannot be taken in its literal acceptation. The precepts — “ if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee,” — “if thine hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee," — evidently mean, that whatsoever offends us as Christians, that is, stands in our way, and obstructs our progress in following our blessed Master's steps, though it be precious to us as our eye or our right hand, must be renounced, for his sake, if we expect that He should own and reward us as His disciples indeed. The spirit and intention of the precept, and the disposition recommended by it, are at once forcibly inculcated, and, on reflection, easily understood. Being thus conveyed, by first startling our attention, and then calling for our careful thought, they are evidently rendered more striking, and more certain to
make a lasting impression on our memory and our heart.
So, in enforcing the duty of gentleness, and patience under provocation, the principle is illustrated by such maxims as, “ if any man smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the left also ; if any man compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain :” obviously not intending the mere literal performance of these specific acts, but the cultivation of a mild, long-suffering temper. And, universally, the duty intended to be taught is strikingly illustrated by some particular instance, instead of being merely delivered in a general principle. For the same reason, doubtless, our Saviour taught so much in parables also. On this head the reader will find more in page 81, where Christ himself expressly intimates that the spiritually-minded man, who seeks sincerely to know and do his duty, will never fail to find the knowledge requisite for his guidance in this mode of teaching, while the worldly-minded will be sure to discover in this, as in every other form of instruction that could be devised, an excuse for doing, not as he ought, but as he is inclined.
With respect to the prophecies relating to the Messiah which precede his life in this volume, they are confined to those contained in the book of Isaiah, and are given, for the most part, in the words of Bishop Lowth's version, as more literal, and therefore more minutely accurate than any other. The original intention of this part of the plan was to have filled up, as it were, our Saviour's conversation with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, when, beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. But this proved too voluminous an enumeration to come within the limits of the present desing. Perhaps the reader will be surprised to see how much a single prophet has afforded ; and a few of the scattered rays of prophecy thus collected into one point, may enable him to perceive more readily the scope and force of the whole, by the connection of the several parts.
If, either here or in the general plan of the work, the meaning of the sacred writers can be exhibited in its own sublime simplicity, freed from the intermixture of extraneous matter, and brought home to the bosom of every Christian reader as relating strictly to himself, it may tend towards a very important end ;-even the causing the Holy Scriptures to be more read and better understood, and thereby rendering their influence more powerful on men's hearts and conduct. That it may thus prove in any, even the least, degree, conducive to God's glory, and the relief of man from the tedium of trivial employments, or the pressure of petty cares, is the earnest prayer with which this little book is put forth.