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apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle ;" indeed (to use the severest language possible) he called himself “ the chief of sinners.” I have made the remark by the way, lest any of you should adopt a notion, very prevalent in the world, and very gratifying to the indolence and self-satisfaction of man, i. e. that sincerity will atone for every error in doctrine, and every fault in practice. We may believe that there are cases of invincible ignorance, as it is called, where there is actually no possibility of knowing better, which God will pardon; but no such allowance is to be made, when knowledge might have been obtained. If it were not so, every man might voluntarily keep himself in a state of ignorance; he might deliberately refuse instruction, and then in behalf of his infidelity, his false doctrines, and his iniquities, claim the benefit of the plea, that he knew no better. No, God has graciously communicated the highest and most important information to the world, and it is incumbent on us to be acquainted with it, and to act according to it. We shall be judged, not only for what we have known, but also according to what we might and ought to have known.
Suppose you were to say “there is my bible, and I have the power of reading it, it is true, but I will not do so, because then I must believe, and live as the bible directs ;” would not you be deservedly judged as if you were fully instructed in all that the bible contains ? Or will you neglect the public worship of God, and fancy that you have not so much to answer for as those who regularly attend it, and hear the word of God preached, because you do not know so much as they, and have not received so much instruction or exhortation? This would be a vain deceitful comfort. An obligation lies upon you to know the truth as far as your abilities and opportunities permit, and no ignorance will be excusable, that might have been avoided; and the more easily it might have been avoided, the more culpable that ignorance is. Sincerity in error, when your error is wilful, will not be received as an apology for any sin or heresy, but where the matter is really unimportant, St Paul informs us that the conscience alone renders it lawful or unlawful; and in such cases, he who acts according to his own sincere conviction, with a desire to do what he believes to be the will of the Lord, does right; and though another may differ from him in opinion, and consequently in practice also, he is not to condemn him, but to respect his conscience, since it is the motive, i. e. regard to the will of God, that sanctifies his conduct.
rally suggested by the text, “ for none of us liveth to himself,” that we are in all things the servants of the Lord ; whether in life or death we belong to him, he has entire dominion over us, he is the supreme judge of our conduct, our whole lives should be devoted to him, and all our actions performed with a view to his approbation, that so while we live we may live in faithful obedience to him, and closely united to him, and when we die, we may willingly resign our souls into his hands, to whom we have always committed the keeping of them.
In the verse immediately following the text, St. Paul tells us that this was the very object of Christ's life, and death and resurrection, that he might have this undisputed dominion over the world, “ for to this end Christ both died, and rose and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.” And upon this ground the apostle insists on the impropriety of judging one another; for all christians live unto the Lord, and refer their conduct solely to his will. He is to be their judge, and no fellow-sinner. “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, for it is written, as I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God, let us not therefore judge one another any more."
I cannot here refrain from remarking, (and it is not impertinent to the object of my present discourse, to observe the sovereign right which our Lord bas to the entire subjection of man to his will,) how plainly Christ is in this passage called God. “ We shall all stand before the judgment seat of christ; for it is written, every tongue shall confess to God; every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
Christ then has the strongest title to our service, as our God, by the right of creation and omnipotence; as our Redeemer, by the right of gratitude and love due from us to him. Of the latter right, St. Paul thus speaks in his second Epistle to the Corinthians ;“ the love of Christ constraineth us, besause we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead, and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again.” He does not say,
“ of Christ constraineth us,” although that indeed might be supposed to furnish men with a sufficiently strong motive to obedience, when they consider that God bath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every
name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” These words alone should be sufficient to make men heartily desire to be found rather among the servants than among the enemies of this great sovereign, “who shall one day be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those that know not God." The apostle does sometimes adopt a terrific mode of persuasion, knowing that there are many who cannot be won by affection and kindness. But fear is not the great motive to bring men to Christ; his merciful revelation is called the gospel, the good tidings of salvation, not the proclamation of vengeance.
Love is the great constraining motive to christian devotion and holiness ; this is the motive on which St. Paul most delights to dwell, for this makes men happy subjects and willing servants. The consideration of Christ's power may make them fear to disobey, and bind them to a forced and reluctant slavery, but the contemplation of his mercy adds wings to their ready obedience, and stimulates them to a cheerful and active Zeal.
This lovely principle teaches the christian to