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acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service."* But there are certain duties to be discharged, even before we make this required dedication. If we have done our brother any wrong, either unintentionally, or by design, we are to adjust the injury before we can reasonably hope to be accepted.
The duty here specified is, perhaps, one of the most difficult which the Christian religion requires. In the case of personal disputes, both parties consider themselves equally right, and equally aggrieved. The first thing, therefore, necessary for us, is an impartial spirit. Solomon remarks—" He that is first in his own cause seemeth just: but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him out.”+ Self-love blindeth our eyes, and conceals our own defects, so that we are hard to believe that we are in the wrong. But this opinion must be corrected, and we must be ready to conceive that we are as likely, perhaps more likely, to err than our brother, if we would faithfully discharge this duty. And there is a second thing we should do-we should be willing to acknowledge our mistake, and seek forgiveness for it. To human nature this is a severe trial. There seems scarcely one sentence which the mouth of man is more reluctant to utter than-"I was mistaken." Many would consider such a confession, however true, an act of meanness and cowardice; but the Scripture pronounces it justice to man, and obedience to God. Let me illustrate the sentiment by an anecdote recorded in ancient history. Aristippus, a heathen, and Æschines, who had been his friend, were at variance; at length Aristippus went, of his own accord, to Eschines, and thus saluted him," Shall we not be reconciled till we become a table talk to all the country?" Eschines replied, "I would gladly be at peace with you." "Remember, therefore,"
• Rom. xii. 1.
+ Prov. xviii. 17.
said Aristippus, "that I, the elder, have first sought unto you." "Thou art, indeed,” rejoined the other, "not only the elder, but the better man, for I began the quarrel, and thou the reconciliation." This was noble, and may put some implacable professors of Christianity to the blush, who can never suppose themselves on the wrong side. But why should men be so unwilling to a business of this nature? Doth not the Lord God Almighty beseech sinners to be reconciled unto him? And doth he not invite us to return? Suppose thy brother is the aggressor, is that a reason why there should be no attempt to adjust the unhappy disagreement? Peter was the first to offend and deny his Lord; but the "Lord turned and looked on Peter;" and one of the earliest messages delivered to his brethren, after his resurrection by the angels, was,"Go your way, tell his disciples and Peter, that he goeth before you into Galilee."* And has he not "left us an example that we should follow his steps."+ Go then, Christians, and do likewise.
There is, however, one other important thing, necessary to this work :-It is the difficult duty, not only of acknowledging our error, but of making all proper reparation of the injury we have done. The Levitical law required restitution; and, according to the spirit of this text, all reasonable satisfaction should be given to the offended brother. The moral law is peremptory on this point. "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, If a soul sin, and commit a trespass against the Lord, and lie unto his neighbour in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or hath deceived his neighbour; or hath found that which was lost, and lieth concerning it, and sweareth falsely: in any of all these that a man doeth, sinning therein: then it
shall be, because he hath sinned and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found. Or all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering.' No sooner had the power of divine grace touched the heart of Zaccheus, than he immediately resolved to act on this principle: "And Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor: and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him four fold." The spirit of this law is likewise enforced under the gospel. Let us hear St. Paul on the point: "Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." These are the sublime morals of the New Testament; and where the grace of God is received in truth, they will be produced in the life. Now it seems probable that our Saviour, by deducing the exhortation in the text from the foregoing explication of murder, had particular reference to the three species of injury there specified. And we may, therefore, suppose Him to say, Has thy brother aught against thee for angry feelings, reproachful epithets, or villifying accusations? Hast thou wronged him by causeless anger, or by calling him raca, or thou fool? go, then, and acknowledge thy fault, and make all the amends in thy power for thy aggression. Heal, by thy contrition, the wound thou hast made in his peace; and repair, by thy tongue and thy substance, the breach thou hast made
Lev. vi. 1-5.
Luke xix. 8.
Rom. xii. 20, 21.
in his character and possessions. Then come and offer thy gift, and it will be received." My brethren, let us never presume on the divine favour while we live in the wilful neglect of the duties of justice and mercy to our fellowcreatures; or imagine that God requires us to defraud others, in order to contribute to his cause. Such conduct must be most offensive to Him, who declares, "I hate robbery for a burnt offering.”*
Thirdly. There are certain alms-deeds condemned by the doctrine in the text. I can only mention two or three. The common notion of making atonement for misbegotten wealth, and an ungenerous disposition, by some charitable bequest, is one of these. The frequent practice of seeking reconciliation with an offended individual, brother, or friend, on the bed of death, when the hostile feeling can be shown no longer, is another. And the occasional and capricious donation to the cause of religion, or to the poor and needy, as the ground of future reward, is a third. But on these obvious follies I will not enlarge. The error is most palpable and gross. Satisfaction must be made in our life-time; now, without delay, even before we present homage to God. Prayer is the lifting up holy hands, without wrath or doubting."+ Dreadful is the decision of Jehovah against all such services: Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord. Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye
Isaiah lxi. 8. + 1 Tim. ii. 8.
make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood."* A stronger feeling of abhorence human language cannot express.
And, last of all, I remark, that these reflections show us the necessity of a close and frequent inspection of our own hearts. Is it not a possible case, that we may be going the round of our accustomed duties, unconscious of their being rejected, through our neglect of the great work prescribed to us in this passage? "Let a man examine himself, and so let him come" to the altar of his God. Call to remembrance former times of sin and folly, and be humbled under the recollection. And, above all, be deeply concerned to obtain forgiveness of the Lord. However harmonious the terms on which you live with men, yet, remember, you are sinners still against the Most High, and that your salvation is not secured by human friendship and justice. Merit you have none; satisfaction to the broken law of God you cannot make; and you must, therefore, come to him through the "gift" which has been offered on the cross. Come, then, my brethren, and address Him in the language of the royal penitent, and be assured, He will not reject your supplication. “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions." With the sacrifice of such "a broken heart," he is well pleased. Amen.
Isaiah i. 10, 11, 13, 15.