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the land which they made a show of giving up: and St. Peter urged it against them.
“ Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?” A most awful warning to every one, not to affect greater sanctity or self-denial than he attempts; but a proof withal, that those great surrenders which Scripture speaks of, are not incumbent on all Christians. They could not be voluntary if they were duties; they could not be meritorious if they were not voluntary. But though they are not duties to all, they may be duties to you; and though they are voluntary, you may have a call to them. It may be
your duty to follow after merit. And whether it is you cannot learn, till first you have fairly surrendered your mind to the contemplation of that Christianity which Scripture delineates. After all, it may prove to be your duty to remain as others, and you may serve Him best and most acceptably in a secular life. But you cannot tell till you inquire; enough do we hear of private judgment in matters of doctrine; alas ! that we will not exercise it where it is to a certain extent allowable and religious; in points, not public and ecclesiastical and eternal and independent of ourselves, but personal, -in the choice of life, in matters of duty!
Wisdom and Innocence.
* Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves; be ye there
fore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”—MATT. X. 16.
How prompt, how frightful, how resistless, how decisive, would be the attack of a troop of wolves on a few straggling sheep which fell in with them! and how lively, then, is the image which our Lord uses to express the treatment which His followers were to receive from the world! He Himself was the great Exemplar of all such sufferings. When He was in the hands of His enemies, surrounded by a mad multitude, gazed on by relentless enemies, jeered at, struck, hurried along, tormented by rude soldiers, and at length nailed to the cross, what was He emphatically but a sheep among wolves? “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth.” And what He foretold of His followers, that the Psalmist had declared of them at an earlier time, and His Apostle
applies it to them on its fulfilment. “ As it is written," says St. Paul, “For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter'." Such was the Church of Christ in its beginnings, and such has it been in every age in proportion to its purity. The purer it has been, the more defenceless; whenever it has been pure, it has, in one way or another, been defenceless. The less worldly it has been, and the more it has cultivated its proper gifts, and the less it has relied upon sword and bow, chariots and horses, and arm of man, the more it has been exposed to ill-usage; the more it has invited oppression, the more it has irritated the proud and powerful. This, I say, is exemplified in every age. Seasons of peace, indeed, have been vouchsafed to it from the first, and in the most fearful times; but not an age of peace. A reign of temporal peace it can hardly enjoy, except under the reign of corruption, and in an age of faithless
Peace and rest are future. Now, then, what is it natural to suppose will be the conduct of those who are helpless and persecuted, as the Holy Spouse of Christ ? Pain and hardship and disrepute are pleasant to no man: and though they are to be gloried in when they are undergone, yet they will rather, if possible, be shunned or averted. Such avoidance is sanctioned, nay, commanded, by our Lord. When trials are inevitable, we must cheerfully bear them; but when they can be avoided without sin, we ought to prevent them. But how were Christians to prevent them when they might not fight? I answer,
i Rom. viii. 36.
they were allowed the arms, that is, the arts, of the defenceless. Even the inferior animals will teach us how wonderfully the Creator has compensated to the weak their want of strength, by giving them other qualities which may avail in their struggle with the strong. They have the gift of fleetness; or they have a certain make and colour; or certain habits of living; or some natural cunning, which enables them either to elude or even to destroy their enemies. Brute force is countervailed by fight, brute passion by prudence and artifice. Instances of a similar kind occur in our
Those nations which are destitute of material force, have recourse to the arts of the unwarlike; they are fraudulent and crafty; they dissemble, negotiate, procrastinate, evading what they cannot resist, and wearing out what they cannot crush. Thus is it with a captive, effeminate race, under the rule of the strong and haughty. So is it with slaves; so is it with ill-used and oppressed children; who learn to be cowardly and deceitful towards their tyrants. So is it with the subjects of a despot, who encounter his axe or bowstring with the secret influence of intrigue and conspiracy, the dagger and the poisoned cup. They exercise the unalienable right of self-defence by such methods as they best may; only, since human nature is unscrupulous, guilt or innocence is all the same to them, if it works their purpose.
Now, our Lord and Saviour did not forbid us the exercise of that instinct of self-defence which is born with us. He did not forbid us to defend ourselves, but He forbad certain modes of defence. All sinful means,
of course, He forbad, as is plain without mentioning. But, besides these, He forbad us what is not sinful, but allowable by nature, though not in that more excellent and perfect way which He taught He forbad us to defend ourselves by force, to return blow for blow. “ Ye have heard,” He says, “ that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth ; but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain." Thus the servants of Christ are forbidden to defend themselves by violence; but they are not forbidden other means ; direct means are not allowed them, but others are even commanded. For instance, foresight ; “ beware of men':” avoidance, “when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another:" prudence and skill, as in the text, “ be ye wise as serpents.
Here we are reminded of the awful history with which the sacred volume opens. In the beginning, “the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” First, observe then, our Lord in the text sanctions that very reference which I have been making to the instincts and powers of the inferior animals, and puts them forth as our example. As we are to learn industry from the ant, and reliance on Him from the ravens, so the dove is our pattern of innocence, and the serpent our pattern of wisdom. But, moreover, considering that the serpent was chosen by
1 Matt. x. 17.