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THE IMPORTANCE OF KNOWING WHAT
LUKE IX. 55.
But he turned and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
HE design of Christianity is to rectify the inward temper of our souls, and so to produce a change in our conversations. All the doctrines of it are revealed with this practical view; as well as the precepts, the promises and the threatenings, which directly carry that aspect. Though we should have the clearest notions of truth, and should seem to be most fully persuaded of the divine original and authority of the gospel; yet, if our faith be a mere speculation in the head, without making us partakers of a divine nature, it will neither be honourable to God, nor advantageous to ourselves. It is therefore a matter of the last consequence to us all, to discover, whether we are formed to the Christian temper, or, whether the dispositions of our souls be of a contrary character. I have chosen this admonition of Christ to his disciples, as a foundation for shewing you the importance of this inquiry, What spirit we are of.
Our blessed Lord delivers this reproof upon a particular occasion. As he was going up to the passover at Jerusalem, he sent some of his disciples before him, who went and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him, ver. 52. to provide some refreshments for him and his followers. But these Samaritans did not receive him, because his face was, as though he would go up to Jerusalem, ver. 53. There was an inveterate hatred between the Jews and Samaritans, ever since the Samaritans had set up a temple of their own at mount Gerizzim, and had forsaken the temple and true worship
of God at Jerusalem; insomuch that they would scarcely have any dealings one with another, John iv. 9. For this reason they would have nothing to do with Christ; they would not shew him or his followers, even common civility, when they found that they were going up to the temple at Jerusalem. Two of Christ's disciples, James and John, highly resenting this usage, say, "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, as Elias did?" ver. 54. Here was an appearance of warm affection to their Master, of a mighty zeal for the true religion, and a seeming regard to a great and good precedent, that of Elijah. He had, by the special appointment of God, forbid some of king Ahaziah's servants to make application to Baalzebub, an idol of the Philistines, on behalf of their master, when he sent them for that purpose. Ahaziah thereupon ordered out a number of soldiers to apprehend the prophet: but when they came, Elijah said to the captain of the company, "If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty," 2 Kings i. 10. And it did so.
The disciples here ask Christ, whether they should not call for the like vengeance from heaven against the Samaritans. We have his answer in the text. "He turned and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of This reproof might be designed, either for their not considering the difference between their case and that of Elijah, whose pattern they pretended to copy after; or for not attending to the different spirit and genius of the dispensation of the Messiah from that of the Old Testament; or, lastly, for their ignorance of the true frame of their own spirits.
1. Their case was different from that of Elijah, though they pretended to write after his copy; and this they should have considered. His case was special, and not to be drawn into a common precedent. Before Elijah called for fire from heaven on those who came to seize him, he had, in a public contest between him and the prophets of Baal, called for fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice, which was offered to the true God, and his God, with whom Baal was set up for a competitor; and fire was sent down accordingly. But after God had wrought that miracle, in vindication of his own honour against Baal, and of the character of Elijah as a true prophet; these people assaulted him for a message he delivered in the name
of God, and would carry him by force to Samaria, where Jezebel was ready to put him to death. The prophet therefore, no doubt, under the influence of the same prophetic spirit as before, called for fire from heaven upon the messengers who made this presumptuous attempt. The whole transaction was extraordinary, for extraordinary ends, and under an extraordinary divine influence. The disciples would now pretend to imitate this as a pattern, which was never designed for such; nor had they any warrant to expect, that God would answer their call in this matter; and therefore it was presumption in them to attempt the extraordinary things which Elijah did.
Things done by an extraordinary spirit, are not to be drawn into precedents in ordinary cases. How many ridiculous, and even pernicious things have enthusiasts been led' into on many occasions, on pretence of imitating the actions of extraordinary men? which would have been effectually prevented, if they had attended to this one rule; that we should not attempt to follow the actions of the greatest or best of men recorded in scripture, farther than it appears, either from plain directions of scripture, or from the nature of the case, that they can and should be imitated.
2. The spirit and genius of the dispensation of the Messiah was very different from that of the Old Testament; and the disciples were to be blamed, that they considered not the better spirit which now became them. As the legal dispensation is called the spirit of bondage, and that of the gospel, the spirit of adoption, Rom. viii. 15. because in the one God dealt with his church more like servants, and in the other more like sons: so here, when the disciples would have the Samaritans consumed by fire from heaven, as those were upon the application of the ancient prophet; they should have considered, that this was not suitable to the milder dispensation of the gospel. A spirit of rigour and severity was more apparent in the whole Mosaical economy, in the precepts, in the threatenings of temporal evils, during that period of the church, and so in the methods used to punish an indignity offered to a prophet of the Lord. But Christ came to introduce a more spiritual and a milder dispensation, wherein the main severities are reserved to be executed in another world, upon those who shall be found finally incorrigible. He came into the world breathing grace and truth his doctrine proclaimed God's good will towards
men; his miracles were miracles of beneficence: and in his example he was meek and lowly. Instead of teaching his disciples such a temper towards enemies, he had already taught them the most exalted charity, to love their enemies, to bless them that cursed them, to do good to them that hated them, and to pray for them which should despitefully use them and persecute them, Matt. v. 44. It became his followers rather to be of this evangelical spirit, a forbearing, forgiving, gentle spirit, than to imitate the rigour of Elias. This sense is countenanced by the words which immediately follow: For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives; but to save them, ver. 56. So that we learn from hence,
That a fiery, wrathful spirit, even against men most erroneous in matters of religion, is very opposite to the spirit and genius of the gospel. Christ, after this, prayed for those who not only refused him, but crucified him; and after his resurrection, ordered his apostles to begin at Jerusalem, in making the tenders of his gospel, Luke xxiv. 47. Nor would he have his religion propagated, or his most obstinate enemies suppressed by any methods of external violence. "The servant of the Lord must not. strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient: In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance unto the acknowledgement of the truth," 2 Tim. ii. 24, 25. This is the spirit prescribed by the gospel to those who would serve the interests of Christ and his truth: those, who use other methods, know not what spirit they are of.
3. They seem to have been ignorant of the true frame and temper of their own spirits, when they made this motion. They would say, like Jehu, Come see our zeal for the Lord; our love to our master, our concern for his honour, our indignation at those who treat him so unworthily. But Christ, who saw what was in man, probably discerned, that there was too much of private revenge and resentment firing them upon this occasion, or at least a defect of charity: and this he might justly blame in them, that they did not more carefully attend to the motions of their own spirits, and so were not sensible what spirit they were of.
This last is the view of the words, in which I propose to consider them, as introductory to several other practical discourses and accordingly I observe from them,
That it is a very faulty thing in any, and especially in those, who profess to be the disciples of Christ, not to know what spirit they are of.
Upon which observation, I would first consider the matter to be known and then secondly, the necessity and importance of this part of knowledge.
I. The matter to be known is a little more particularly to be inquired into. What spirit we are of. I will not absolutely confine myself to that particular inquiry about our spirits, the want of which Christ, as has been observed, had occasion to blame in his disciples; but shall take in that, and some other things too, which the words are apt enough to express, and which it will be no small disadvantage to us in our best interests to be unacquainted with. We are much concerned to know these three things;
What spirit we are eminently of by natural temper.
What principles and ends govern us in particular motions of our spirits and actions of life. And,
What is the prevailing and predominant disposition of our souls, whether the Christian temper, or that which is opposite
1. What spirit we are eminently of by natural temper. Nothing is more obvious than the vast difference of tempers among mankind: and that not only arising from difference of education and of external impressions; which, without doubt, make no small change in the dispositions of men: nor yet owing merely to long habits and customs of vice on the one hand, or the peculiar grace of God, and to eminent holy diligence on the other; which certainly make the greatest distinctions between man and man; but also a difference founded in natural constitution. We may see this in childhood, before the mind is moulded by instruction, or example, or a course of practice; and on the contrary, it is hardly ever extinguished in riper years. Besides the general corruption of nature, apparent in some instance or other in all; some from the very first dawnings of reason discover more than others, either a sour and rugged disposition, or a hastiness of temper, or some such disagreeable biass; which grows up with them to men. And though this may be considerably abated by a good education, and especially is much rectified by the grace of God in good men ; yet, where it is