« ÎnapoiContinuă »
HIS EARLY PIETY.
THE great apostle of the gentiles bore no resemblance to those, who reject the service of God, till they are rendered incapable of gratifying their unruly passions. He was mindful of his Creator from his early youth, and as an observer of religious rites outstripped the most exact, and rigid professors of his time : so that the regularity of his conduct, the fervour of his devotion, and the vivacity of his zeal, attracted the attention of his superiors in every place. Observe the manner in which he himself speaks on this subject, before the tribunal of Festus: "My manner of life, from my youth, which was at the first among my own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews, which knew me from the beginning, (if they would testify) that after the straitest sect of our religion I lived a pharisee." Having occasion afterwards to mention the same circumstances, in his epistle to the Galatians, he writes thus: "Ye have heard of my conversation in time past, how I profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers." And to what an extraordinary pitch of excellence he had carried his mor
ality, may be inferred from the following short but solemn declaration, which was made in the presence of persons, who were very well competent to have convicted him of falsehood, had there been found the least blemish in his outward conduct: "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God, unto this day." Such was the early piety of St. Paul; and such was the righteousness, in which he trusted, when through zeal for the church and state, of which he was a member, he persecuted christians as disturbers of the public peace.
As we have seen the beautiful side of this apostle's early character, let us now consider his defects. As a member of the Jewish church, he was inspired with zeal, but that zeal was rigid and severe as a member of society his manners were probably courteous, but on some occasions his behaviour was tyranical and inhuman: in a word, he possessed the whole of religion, except those essential parts of it, humility and charity. Supercilious and impatient, he would bear no contradiction. Presuming upon his own sufficiency, he gave himself no time to compare his errors with truth: and hence, covering his cruelty with the specious name of zeal, he breathed out" threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord." He himself, speaking of this part of his character, makes the following humiliating confession. "I was a blasphemer, and a persecutor and injurious. I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities."
Nevertheless, this rigid pharisee, who carried his devotion, to bigotry, and his zeal to fury, had an up
right heart in the sight of God. "I obtained mercy," says he after his conversion, "because I did it ignorantly in unbelief," imagining, that when I persecuted the disciples of Jesus, I was opposing a torrent of the most dangerous errors.
Piety is that knowledge of God and the various relations he stands in to man, which leads us to adore, to love, and to obey him, in public and in private. This great virtue is the first trait in the moral character of St. Paul; and it is absolutely necessary to the christian character in general, since it is that parent of all virtues, to which God has given the promise of the present life, and of that, which is to But it is more particularly necessary to those, who consecrate themselves to the holy ministry; since being obliged by their office, to exhibit before their flock an example of piety, if they themselves are destitute of godliness, they must necessarily act without any conformity to the sacred character, they have dared to assume.
If Quintilian, the heathen, has laid it down as a general principle, that it is impossible to become a good orator, without being a good man; surely no one will deny, that piety should be considered as the first qualification essential to a christian speaker. Mons. Roques, in his Evangelical Pastor, observes, that "The minister by his situation, is a man re"tired from the world, devoted to God, and called "to evangelical holiness." "He is," continues he, "according to St. Paul, a man of God i. e. a person ❝entirely consecrated to God; a man of superior “excellence ; a man, in some sense, divine and to "answer, in any degree, the import of this appella❝tion, it is necessary, that his piety should be illus“trious, solid, and universal." Without doubt this pious author had collected these beautiful ideas from the writings of St. Paul, who thus addresses Titus upon the same subject: "A minister must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not
given to filthy lucre: but a lover of hospitality, lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate: holding fast the faithful word, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and to convince, the gainsayers. He must use sound speech, that cannot be condemned in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity; that he, who is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of him."
A pastor without piety disgraces the holy profession, which he has made choice of, most probably from the same temporal motives, which influence others to embrace the study of the law, or the profession of arms. If those, who were called to serve tables, were to be men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, it is evident, that the same dispositions and graces should be possessed, in a more eminent degree, by those, who are called to minister in holy things. "When thou art converted," said Christ to Peter, "strengthen thy brethren."
No sight can be more absurd, than that of an impenitent infidel engaged in calling sinners to repentance and faith. Even the men of the world look down with contempt upon a minister of this description, whose conduct perpetually contradicts his discourses, and who, while he is pressing upon others the necessity of holiness, indulges himself in the pleasures of habitual sin. Such a preacher, far from being instrumental in effecting true conversions among his people, will generally lead his hearers into the same hypocrisy, which distinguishes his own character: since that, which was said in ancient times, holds equally true in the present day, "Like people, like priest." Lukewarm pastors make careless christians; and the worldly preacher leads his worldly hearers as necessarily into carnal security, as a blind guide conducts the blind into the ditch. And to this unhappy source may be traced the degenerate manners of the present age, the reproach
under which our holy religion labours, and the encreasing triumphs of infidelity.
"The natural man, saith St. Paul, receiveth not the things of the spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." Now, if a minister, who is destitute of scriptural piety, is counted unable to comprehend the doctrines of the Gospel, how much less is he able to publish and explain them? And if those, who live according to the vain customs of the world, have not the righteousness of the pharisees, with what propriety can they be called, I will not say, true ministers, but even pious deists?
Though every candidate for the sacred ministry may not be in circumstances to declare, with St. Paul," I have lived in all good conscience before God unto this day :" yet all who aspire to that important office, should at least, be able to say with sincerity; "Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence, toward God and toward man." Such were the morals and the conduct of a Socrates and an Epictetus and worshippers like these," coming from the east and from the west," shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, "while the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness."
HIS CHRISTIAN PIETY.
IT has been made sufficiently plain, under the preceding article, that St. Paul was possessed of a good degree of piety from his very infancy. Having been brought up in the fear of God by his father, who is supposed to have been a zealous pharisee, he was afterwards instructed at the feet of