« PreviousContinue »
should be constantly pressing onward in the course of obedience, and sanctification, and fervent zeal. Nothing else will avail in the season of trial. An inexperienced person might stand by an architect, who was clearing away the loose or sandy earth where a house was to be built, and was perhaps laying down arches or driving in piles, at a great expense of time and trouble; he might see this, and ask why so much labour should be employed on what was to be buried under ground, and to make no part of the building. The answer is, were we to build without a foundation, or not to make that foundation deep and strong, the house might endure for a while; but when the wintry storms arise, and the swelling stream beats vehemently against it, that is, at the very season when you most need a safe and comfortable shelter, you would be forced to leave it, and go elsewhere for security.
So it is with regard to the state of the heart before God. While we are employed in the active concerns of life, and engaged in the daily business which occupies our minds, a slight stay is enough for a man; he sees himself better than others; he sees others worse than himself; he performs some religious duties; he does not often fall into gross sins; so he lulls his conscience, and contents himself with a general hope that there is no need of more thought or more fear: he trusts that he is within the Christian covenant, and that God will receive him into his kingdom. But the storm comes at some time or other; the
tempest of affliction, or of sickness, or of approaching death. This is the trial of religion, for it is against this trial that religion is to prepare us. And then the man who has made no more than a nominal profession of faith in Christ, and has never laboured to adorn his Saviour's doctrine by a pure and holy conversation, by resisting the sin of his heart, by " abounding in the work of the Lord;" he feels that this is no time for deceiving his own soul, as he may have done hitherto, by vain words. He feels that a merely outward profession was not the faith intended by the command, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me;" that it was not merely outward profession which Paul was making, when he "brought under his body, and kept it in subjection;" that outward profession is not the faith required by St. James, who insists that we "show our faith by our works;" that it is not outward profession which will be recompensed by the blessed words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." Those who had prophesied in the name of Christ, and cast out devils, and done many wonderful works, had made more outward profession than he can have to show. Yet they are rejected; depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Now, therefore, is the time for laying a foundation which will stand good at the last. We must not be satisfied, unless, when we look into ourselves and examine our lives, we have "the testimony of our conscience," that it
has been our purpose, our prayer, our labour, to be "neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ:" but to add to our faith virtue, and knowledge, and temperance, and patience, and brotherly kindness, and charity.*
Observe, however, that there is nothing in this to contradict the general language of the gospel; nothing to imply that a man's own righteousness is to be the ground of his confidence. This would indeed be to build our house
upon the sand. "By grace we are saved; not of works, lest any man should boast." But the truth here declared, is another truth, no less to be insisted on, that the practice of a Christian must be as peculiar as his faith; that the faith in which he professes to live, must shine in his actions, must speak in his words, must breathe in his spirit and temper. Then, though the floods may come, and the winds blow, and the stream beat against your house, it shall not be shaken; for it is founded upon a rock. For though your earthly habitation is dissolved," you have a habitation secured for you in the heavens, whose builder and maker is God; where no storms shall rage, no tempests ever threaten; but all shall be a perpetual calm and sunshine, in the presence of God and of the Lamb.
28. "And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at His doctrine : 29. "For He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes."
See 2 Pet. i. 5, 8.
Eph. ii. 9.
THE DISCIPLES EXCUSED FROM FASTING.
MATT. ix. 14—17.
14. "Then came to Him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?"
Ir appeared strange to men who had been accustomed to attach great value to austerities and outward observances in religion, that nothing of this kind should be practised by our Lord's disciples. The Pharisee's boast was, "I fast twice in the week." And "John came neither eating nor drinking." He had "his raiment of camel's hair, and his meat of locusts and wild honey." Why do thy disciples fast not?
For this there were three reasons. related to Himself.
15. "And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them; and then shall they fast."
Fasting was attended with mourning, and was a sign of mourning. When David "besought God for his child, he fasted and lay all night upon the earth." When anger from the Lord, "great and very terrible," was denounced against the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the exhortation of the prophet was, "Therefore now, saith the 1 12 Sam. xii. 16.
Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning."2
But at the present season it would be unsuitable for the disciples of Christ to fast or mourn. The time would come when it would be very needful. There was no fear lest they should not be called to sufficient sorrow and self-denial, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them: and then shall they fast in those days.
How striking is the prophecy contained in these words! My disciples have a comfort and encouragement now, which they shall not long enjoy. The time is coming, when in the world. they shall have only "tribulation," and when such shall be their trials and their difficulties, that they will be "in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness."
This sentence, which had an especial application to the apostles, bears a general meaning which may be carried much farther. Scripture often represents the Son of God as a bridegroom to His spouse the Church. And there are seasons with the Church, when His favour seems more abundantly bestowed: when the Lord gives the word, and great is the company of those who declare the glad tidings of salvation: and when His Spirit accompanies the truth as it is spoken, conveys it to many hearts, turns many to righte
* Joel ii. 12. Ephes. v. 23-32. Rev. xxi. 9; xxii. 1, 7.