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Indulgence in Religious Privileges,
“ These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you,
feeding themselves without fear.”—JUDE 12.
THE false brethren, spoken of by St. Jude in this
passage, were stained with such heinous guilt, both in life and doctrine, that it may seem to promise little profit to us to take any part of it as a text. Their sin has passed with the early age, and let it pass from our thoughts. So it may be said, and in one sense both rightly and truly said; for it is true that the enormities which once were, are not now, and it is right surely to turn away from evil and hide it, when it is a thing past, not present. And yet, without recurring to those instances of fearful depravity and corruption, which insinuated themselves even into the Apostolic Church, according to the prophecy that the kingdom of heaven is like a net which gathers of every kind, good and bad, I think we may gain a lesson in matters which concern ourselves from the words in question, which have occurred
in the Service, and are not unsuitable to this season of
The first thought which the text suggests to us, when it speaks of religious feasting, obviously relates to the temper of mind in which we are accustomed to come to the most Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The feasts indeed spoken of by St. Jude were of a different kind; they were an institution which soon came to an and, in consequence of the abuses to which they led; but still Holy Communion is especially “a feast of charity,* and the fault which the Apostle imputes to certain apostate Christians of his day, may, in its degree (though God grant but in a very slight degree !), adhere to us. He says, that they were “spots in the feast,” a disfigurement, and a disgrace, because they “ feasted with” their brethren "without fear." They did in no sense recognize and realize that Holy Presence, before whom even St. John fell down as dead, till He laid His hand on him and said, "Fear not." He says to all His servants “ Fear not,” when they fear; but till then, He says on the contrary, very emphatically, “ Fear.” For instance, “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling 8.' “ Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear.”
" Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
We must come to God with fear. Yet we are told to come boldly unto the throne of grace." Are not
· May 1.
Rev. i. 17. Heb. xii. 28. Phil. ii. 12, 13. [8. D.]
Ps. ü. 11.
these precepts incompatible with each other? No, surely, not in themselves, but we are very likely to find them incompatible, when we attempt them. We are very likely to find it difficult to fulfil two opposite duties, which are nevertheless both possible, and which are duties, because they are so opposite, because they are so difficult; for no one can suppose that
matters are our duty, but difficult matters. We are very. likely from our Lord's great condescension, from His gracious invitations, so free, so repeated, so unwearied, to forget His Majesty, and to become familiar with Him; and
feast without fear.” And it stands to reason, the more frequently we accept His invitation, and seek Him in His sacred ordinance, the greater is our danger of this irreverence, unless we be on our guard.
Now in saying this, my brethren, I am not addressing myself to those of us who are in the practice of availing themselves in this church of our Lord's invitation to seek His Presence once a week. I have no reason for saying, I humbly trust I may with truth deny, that they are wanting in “reverence and godly fear;" though, of course, all of us, any one of us, might have far deeper and more solemn thoughts than we have at present, and it is to be hoped) shall have, as year after year passes away; and though we, as others, are in danger of irreverence, unless we are on our guard. But I am not speaking of ourselves; I am thinking of the Church generally; I am thinking of the age. There is at this moment a growing perception of the beauty of religion, a growing reverence for, and insight into the privileges of the Gospel. Persuns begin to understand
far more than they did, that Christianity is not a mere law, a Jewish yoke, but a new law, a service of freedom, a rule of spirit and truth, which wins us as well as commands, and influences us while it threatens. Hitherto, it has seemed as if all sense of the privileges and pleasures of religion were possessed by those who had but erroneous views of doctrine, and who, however well-intentioned and respectable in themselves, came more or less of an heretical stock; while men of more correct and more orthodox views seemed to be of a cold and forbidding school-nay, the less fervent, the less spiritual for their very exactness : but all this is gone by. A more primitive, Catholic, devout, ardent spirit, is abroad among the holders of orthodox truth. The piercing, and thrilling, and kindling, and enrapturing glories of the kingdom of Christ are felt in their degree by many. Men are beginning to understand that influence, which in the beginning made the philosopher leave his school, and the soldier beat his spear into a pruning-hook.
They are beginning to understand that the Gospel is “not a mere scheme or doctrine, but a reality and a life; not a subject for books only, for private use, for individuals, but for public profession, for combined action, for outward manifestation. Hence there is an increasing cultivation of all that is external, from a feeling that external religion is the great development and triumph of the inward principle. For instance, much curiosity is directed towards the science of ecclesiastical architecture, and much appreciation shown of architectural proprieties. Attention, too, is paid to the internal arrangement and embellishment of sacred buildings. Devo
tional books also of an imaginative cast, religious music, painting, poetry, and the like are in request. Churches are more frequently attended on week-days, and continual service is felt to be a privilege, not a task. And two services are felt to be short of that measure of devotion which the religious mind desires to pay to its God and Saviour.
Now no one can suspect me of meaning to imply that such signs of the times are not in themselves hopeful ones. They are so; but, O my brethren, be jealous of these things, excellent as they are in themselves, lest they be not accompanied with godly fear. I grieve to say,
that the spirit of penitence does not keep pace with the spirit of joy. With all this outward promise of piety, we are suspicious of that which alone is its inward soul and life; we are very jealous indeed of personal strictness and austerity. We are alarmed at any call to national or personal humiliation and amendment; we like to be told of the excellence of our institutions, we do not like to hear of their defects; we like to abandon ourselves to the satisfactions of religion, we do not like to hear of its severities. We do not like to hear of our past sins, and the necessity of undoing them; and thus, however gay our blossoms may be in this our spring, we have a fault within which will show itself ere our fruits are gathered in the autumn. « The sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth.” We are cherishing a shallow religion, a hollow religion, which will not profit us in the day of trouble. We are taking words for things;