Page images

any other way of salvation from the beginning of the world, but this way of faith. All the Saints of God who found acceptance with him, depended upon his word and promise for such things as they could not see; and either forsook the pleasures of the world, or contradicted its errors, and endured its reproaches, for his sake. We may plead the business of life, and the cares of life; but they had their business and their cares as well as we; yet they loved God, and made it their first care to be saved. The race we are to run may have its difficulties: indeed, if it is a race, it cannot be without them: but we are encompassed with a cloud of witnesses*, all testifying that this RACE may be run, and the prize obtained; because they did actually perform it, and are entitled to the crown of victory. What hinders us from doing the same; but that we are retarded by some weight, which we are not careful to divest ourselves of and lay aside? We do not strive against that sin, whatever it may be, which most easily besets us, and is never to be subdued but by faith and prayer, and self-denial; faith in better things than this world can bestow; and prayer for that grace which may assist us in doing what our strength will never accomplish.

Great is the influence which the example of God's faithful servants will have upon our minds, if we meditate upon it. They were men of like passions with ourselves, and were not without their weaknesses: Sin put on the same deceitful appearance to them as to us: and they had the scorn of an overbearing world to resist, as we have now. Their example, while it instructs, will animate and encourage us. But greater than all is the example of our blessed Saviour himself: therefore we are directed to look * Chap. xii. 1.

- unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God*. What are the troubles we are accustomed to, compared with the agonies of the cross? What is the contempt of silly empty people, who call themselves the world, compared with the disgrace of hanging naked as a malefactor before a multitude, who mocked at the punishment as a proof that he who suffered it was an impostor? Nothing was ever so full of apparent disgrace, as the character of Jesus Christ at his passion. How distressing and almost distracting is it, to be innocent, and yet seem to be guilty? This is a piercing trial to an honest mind. To affect to be great when we are mean, and powerful when we are weak, exposes us to the scorn of every enemy; and this the enemies of Christ laid to his charge, and gratified themselves with every malicious expression that could add to the apparent infamy of his sufferings. Yet all this shame he patiently endured, for the joy that was set before him. This we are to consider under all our trials. God does not lay upon us any grief or chastening, for its own sake; but to correct our minds, and give us a title to that joy, which shall be the reward of patient suffering. Thus we shall not be weary and faint in our minds. I grant it is a severe trial to mortal man, to deserve good and receive evil: but to this we are all called, as the followers of a crucified Saviour. The Son of God was made perfect through sufferings; and if God is our father, we must expect that he will chasten us; if he does not, then are we bastards and not sons †. Bastards are often forsaken by their parents, and left to grow up without correction: consequently to be Chap. xii. 2. + Chap. xii. 8.

brought by the tendency of their unreformed nature to misery and destruction: but no Christian would wish for such a privilege: he judges it far better to suffer in hope, than to be at his ease, as one whom God hath neglected.

From the description given of the Church as a spiritual society, the Christian is to learn the dignity of his own character, and to conduct himself in a manner suitable to his station. He seems outwardly like other men; but inwardly he has an honourable place in the kingdom of spirits: he is in the company of angels, saints, and martyrs; he is under the dominion of God as his king and lawgiver; he is a student of wisdom in the school that has sent out so many sons unto glory; he is within the covenant that is sealed by the blood of Christ for his purification and redemption; his name is registered in heaven, as an heir of immortality: he knows that while the mighty empires of the earth are changing and passing away into oblivion, the kingdom of which he is a member shall never be moved*. The earth shall be shaken, and the heavens shall melt away; but his inheritance is secure. The same God who is a consuming fire to an impenitent world, will be to him a Protector and a Saviour, if he serves him acceptably, in this short time of his probation, with reverence and godly fear.

The last chapter of the Epistle consists wholly of exhortations relating to the great duties of charity, purity, submission, and a detachment from the world.

All parties of men are bound together by a common interest; which, though in some cases even wicked and absurd, and little better than a conspiracy, will * Chap. xii. 28.

have its effect in disposing them to espouse the cause, and prefer the company and conversation of one another. Now as there is no common interest so important as that of Christians, it ought to produce such a friendship as is superior to every other relation or connexion. Remember them that are in bonds, says the Apostle, as bound with them; that is, as considering that they are members of the body of Christ, and that one member cannot suffer without affecting the rest. The same rule is applicable to every other condition of life; as if it had been said; remember them that are poor, as partaking of their poverty; remember them that are sick, as being sick with them: for thence we shall feel the same obligation to relieve them as to relieve ourselves; and much greater comfort, because it is more blessed to give than to receive.

Purity of life is another virtue essential to the Christian character. We are to consider ourselves as brought into that heavenly society, wherein are angels, saints, and martyrs: then, how shocking will it be to reflect, that an impure Christian is impure in the company of Angels; drunk, and like a beast, in the company of Angels; covetous, ambitious, selfinterested, and deceitful, in the company of Angels. Hence you will understand how a wicked Christian is worse than a wicked Heathen, and will have a more severe account to give; because he adds affront and insult to his wickedness; so that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for him.

From the consideration that true religion has always had the same object from the beginning of the world, namely, that of bringing men to God by the way of faith and patience; and that Jesus Christ is the same

yesterday, to day, and for ever; yesterday, under the Law; to day, under the Gospel; and for ever, in the kingdom of Glory: we should learn to be stedfast in this ancient plan, and look with a suspicious eye upon all pretended reformations and improvements of modern Christians, who are inventing new modes of faith, and would shew us what they call a more excellent way. Vanity is always fond of novelty: you see it every day in the common change of fashions: and therefore vain men are carried about with every wind of doctrine, propagated by those who are ignorant of the antiquity of that religion, by which all believers have been and are now to be saved. If men did but study the scripture on a right principle, without a spirit of party, and enquired duly into primitive Christianity, they would be ashamed of the little mean differences and distinctions which divide their hearts, and break them into sects; filling them with a Pharisaical pride against one another; as if the end of the commandment were not charity, but hatred, contempt, and ill-will.

To prevent this, the Apostle instructs the Hebrews to obey them that have the rule over them, their lawful Pastors and Teachers, whom Christ hath appointed to keep them in the way of peace; and whose studies and labours must qualify them to inform and direct the ignorant better than they can direct themselves. An abuse of the principles of the reformation, which can never be sufficiently lamented, has at length made every man his own teacher, and established a spirit of self-exaltation and opposition, than which no temper is more hateful to God, because none is so destructive of piety and peace. Christians should leave that to the sons of the earth, who are disputing for power, places and pre-eminence; with whom gain is godli

« PreviousContinue »