« AnteriorContinuar »
Fifthly, To all these must be added constant and fervent prayer to God, to guide him aright.
Prayer is the best single mode of self-examination. At the same time, nothing else will secure to us the guidance of our Maker. He who would prosper in the great duty which has been discussed, must ask faithfully and fervently for the immediate blessing of God upon all his endeavours; for without this blessing, they will be in vain. It is not enough that we ask once, or twice, or thrice. We must ask continually. We must importune. We must wrestle. We must pray always, and never faint.
Such are the views which I have formed concerning this most interesting subject. When it is remembered that the covenant, into which we enter when we make a profession of religion, is in the Scriptures frequently styled an oath ; that it has all the obligation of an oath ; that the subject is the most important, and the transaction the most solemn of all those with which we are concerned on this side of the
grave. persuaded that my audience will confess the high import of the duty itself, and realize the indispensable necessity of performing it whenever it is professedly performed, in a faithful and evangelical manner.
THE DANGER OF OPPOSING RELIGION.
ACTS V. 38, 39.
“ And now I say unto you, refrain from these men, and let them
alone ; for if this counsel, or this work, be of men it will come to nought. But if it be of God ye cannot overthrow it, lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."
The story, of which these words are a part, is summarily the following :
After the remarkable deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, and apparently through the solemnity and alarm diffused by these awful events throughout the multitudes who were informed of it, many converts were added to the Lord by the miracles and preaching of the apostles. Nor was the impression confined *to the city of Jerusalem. A great number of persons from the neighbouring cities brought their diseased friends and neighbours to the apostles. All these, together with such as were afflicted in the same manner in Jerusalem itself, were healed. The agitation became general, and soon reached the Sanhedrim. The high priest, accordingly, summoning this body together, composed chiefly of the licentious, opulent, and voluptuous sect of the Sadducees, laid violent hands upon the apostles, and put them into the common prison, where the vilest malefactors were confined. The angel of the Lord, however, opened the prison doors by night, and, bringing them out, directed them to go into the temple, and preach the Gospel to the people of Jerusalem. They went and preached accordingly.
The next morning the high priest called together the great council of the Jews, and sent the proper officers to bring the apostles before them. The officers went to the prison, but, not finding the apostles, returned to the high priest, and told him, that they had found the prison shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the door; but that, when they had opened the door, they found no man within. This story alarmed the council, and agitated their minds with a variety of doubts and fears concerning the event.
While they were in this situation, a person came and told them, that the apostles were in the temple preaching to the people. Immediately they sent the officers again, and brought them, but without any violence, for fear of those who had assembled to hear them.
When the Apostles came before the council, the high priest imperiously asked them, “ Did we not straitly command you
ye should not teach in this name? and behold, ye have “ filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this “ man's blood upon us.
To this charge Peter and his companions firmly replied, “ We ought to obey God rather than
The God of our fathers hath raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with “ his right hand to be a prince, and a Saviour, for to give re
pentance to Israel and remission of sins. And we are his “ witnesses of these things, and so is also the Holy Ghost, "whom God hath given to them that obey him."
By this information, St. Luke informs us, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay their prisoners. But Gamaliel, a Pharisee, a doctor of the law, the instructor of St. Paul, and had in reputation among all the people, having commanded the Apostles to be sent out of the council-chamber for a short time, addressed to his companions a series of observations which persuaded them to dismiss their prisoners. They accordingly recalled them; and having ordered them to
be beaten in their presence, and charged them to preach no more in the name of Christ, they let them go.
The text is the conclusion of Gamaliel's address to the Sanhedrim, and is plainly the substance of the whole ; the observations preceding it being little more than an introduction and an illustration of the sentence which it contains, and of the arguments by which that sentence is here enforced.
The Apostles were vigorously employed in preaching the Gospel, and in converting mankind to the religion of the cross. To this work the Sanhedrim, with an obstinate spirit of unbelief, and with the malevolence always generated in the hearts of unbelievers when seriously engaged in resisting Christianity, strenuously opposed themselves. They hated the Redeemer ; they hated the Gospel which he taught; they hated the religion which the Gospel unfolded, and which it is the great means of spreading among mankind. So violent was their hatred, that they ordered the Apostles, for preaching this religion, to be beaten with rods before them in the senate chamber, forgetting their character, and shamelessly violating decency, as well as justice. Nor was this all. From the story of St. Luke it is evident that they were on the point of imbruing their hands in the blood of these excellent men, as, a little time before, they had actually imbrued them in the blood of the Redeemer. At the same time the Apostles had done nothing to provoke their resentment, nor interfered in any of their concerns ; nor could the high priest and his companions charge them with a single violation of any law, either Jewish or Roman.
The unreasonableness of this conduct is palpable; and it has accordingly been reprobated by men of sobriety in every christian age and country, as being flagrantly opposed to every principle, both of righteousness and humanity. We are not, however, to suppose that it is at all uncommon. Christ foretold, antecedently to his crucifixion, that such sufferings from their fellow men were to constitute an important part of their allotments in the present world. 56 In the world,” said he, ye
shall have tribulation." And again, “ If the world hate “ you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye
were of the world, the world would love his own, but because
ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the “ world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word " that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord. “ If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if
they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.” What the Saviour thus taught to the Apostles, as their own destination, they taught their converts universally as theirs. " that will live godly,” says St. Paul, “ shall suffer persecu« tion."
In accordance with these declarations, both Christians and Christianity have been resisted by wicked men from the beginning, and the resistance has been dictated by the same hostility with that which was exhibited by the Sanhedrim at the time when the text was uttered. Often has this spirit broken out into the most violent outrage. In the ten persecutions of the church, carried on by the heathen emperors of Rome, and in those which were subsequently inflicted upon the Waldenses, the Hussites, and the Protestants by the Papal empire, pride, malice, and cruelty satiated their violence in all the modes of creating anguish and agony, which ingenuity could devise, or the arm of power execute ; and the blood of the unhappy sufferers cried to heaven for vengeance in accents which were heard and answered. The heathen Roman empire was deluged with slaughter and misery, and the Papal dominion has been overturned by judgments still more terrible, slaughter more extensive, and sufferings more multiplied and more intense.
Under the influence of Protestantism, toleration has been better understood and firmly established. The rack, the wheel, and the gibbet, have ceased to be instruments of conversion, and the spirits of good men no longer rise to heaven from the stake and the cross. Piety is neither immured in a dungeon nor driven into exile. The Christian
The Christian may offer up the incense of his family, and the minister that of his congregation without trembling at the approach of a sheriff, or anticipating the horrors of a prison.
The hand has now delivered over this office to the tongue, and slander, ridicule, and derision have in the work of perse