« PreviousContinue »
and sinks weeping into entreaty and expostulation that they would reconcile themselves to God; for he was an ambassador for Christ, and he had no right to address them otherwise than as though Christ were persuading them by him. He would have thrown away his hope of success, if he had suffered the impulses of the carnal heart to rise up and mingle themselves with the divine motives which urged him to represent the love and tenderness of Christ.
The same lowly, affectionate disposition characterizes all the Apostles. Before the Holy Ghost was given, and they through the cross and ascension of their Lord had been disabused of the Jewish folly, that Messiah's kingdom was to be of this world, the disciples had been prone to revenge and war. Untaught by his merciful miracles, and his innocent, weaponless life, his patient forgiveness of wrong, and his unwearied zeal in doing good, they had desired to see his wonderful power in the destruction of his enemies. Even the two sons of Zebedee, the martyr James, and the beloved one of the twelve, were anxious to call down fire from heaven upon some churlish bigots of Samaritans. Though but a little while before, they had not faith enough in his saving power to cure a child of fits, they had then presumption enough to ask for his lightnings, that they might burn up a village; and Peter—the rock on whose confession of Christ the whole Church, Jew and Gentile, is built-only a little hour before he denied his Lord like a coward, was fierce enough to fight the whole of the High Priest's posse. Yet, after the Pentecost, when the
true power of Christianity had come upon them in the spirit of Christ, all was changed. Barring a few outbreaks of the old man, as if to show that even Apostles this side of heaven are not perfectly sanctified, they are like lambs, following the Lamb of God. We know little of James, but may not doubt that he met the sword of Herod, as his Master died on the cross, praying for his murderers. Even Paul's tenderness scarcely equals that which melts us to tears in Peter's Epistles ; and John, on the verge of heaven, stretches forth his aged hands to bid us love one another like little children, because,
“ he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” That indignation, and wrath, and even bloodshed are natural, we may not deny. The babe upon its mother's bosom will strike with its little fist, and the crawling worm turn up its sting when trodden upon. Nor is it surprising, that when we see and feel wrong against ourselves or our fellows, and the base opposition of men to the truth and moralities of the gospel, we, who have so much sinful flesh about us, should so give place to the devil as to forget that we are to overcome evil only with good. But it is the grace of Christianity to change our carnal hearts, out of whose “ lusts, warring against the soul, come wars and fightings,” and the holy Sermon on the Mount teaches how opposite is the nature which the Gospel gives. So from both evangelical history and precept we learn, that we know not of what manner of spirit we are, when we are not seeking to save men's lives as well as their souls; and that, precisely as we share in the Pentecostal gift of the Holy Ghost, will our souls be purged from all impatient, vindictive, and rancorous disposition, because the Holy Ghost is the spirit of Christ.
In fact, the mercifulness of the Gospel in spirit, and speech, and act; is another chief characteristic, distinguishing it from any other form of religion, and giving to it a glory superior to all other dispensations of God himself. The rebel angels met only with justice, and all the fires of hell have never i subdued one of them to contrition; but when their Lord and ours would bring back rebel man, he sets forth his forgiveness, “ that he may be feared,” and by his “ goodness leadeth us to repentance.” The law of the Ten Precepts, a republication of the original law for man, was proclaimed with thunderings, and lightnings, and earthquakes, denouncing inevitable destruction on all the guilty; but the Gospel of the promised seed had been preached to the father of believers, four hundred and thirty years before that awful scene; and when that law so came, it came not alone, but ordained in the hands of a mediator with the Gospel of the Sacrifices — Moses, the Law-giver and the High Priest, the Intercessor, uniting, as the one great type of Him in whom we trust, and on whose cross, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Our Lord's miracles of healing were more than signs of his mercy to the soul, for they show his method of recommending the Gospel to men by kindness and long-suffering; and, as the Father had sent him, so sent he forth his Apostles, authority to preach and power to heal in Christ's name being joined together. It was this meekness under persecution, this devotion to the best good of their fellow-men, this forgiveness amidst the tortures of cruel death, which made the confessors and martyrs of the primitive ages so honored in spreading the triumphs of the cross ; and it was when a corrupt and worldly church, abandoned of God, because abandoning the spirit of Christ, so lost the true features of Christianity, that, like Cain, it sought to strike down with the bloody hand those whose lowly sacrifice God accepted. But the revival of the doctrine of justification by faith, through its exhibitions of Christ on the cross, brought down again on Christianity, despite of the infirmities that disfigured not a few of the reformers, the spirit of toleration“ which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy;" and the fruit of peace was again“ sown in peace of them that make peace.” There are those who will tell us, that the violence of Luther and others among his collaborators was necessary in the peculiar circumstances of his work ; but there is no Scripture for saying that “ the wrath of man worketh the righteousness of God.” That God used the remarkable and bold energy of Luther, as he did that of Peter, for his cause, we may freely admit, without also admitting that Luther would have been less blest, had he been more like Peter after the Pentecost than he was like Peter when he smote off Malchus' ear. As in the case of evangelical preaching, so in this of the evangelical spirit, the history of the Church, and eminently that of Missions, shows that it is the gentle and benign character of Christians, apart from worldly force, and especially from a harsh, or austere, or polemical policy, which overcomes the hearts of men, and will yet transform all the cruelties of the world into the kindness of Christ.
The doctrine of Christ and him crucified, the Gospel of him who came into the world to save sinners, is infallibly followed by benevolent, charitable, forbearing, long-suffering, humble examples of its transforming power ; because no man, brought by the Holy Ghost to see how great a sinner he is and how much he has been forgiven, will dare to take his fellow-sinner by the throat; but, continually compelled by the providence of Him who causes “his sun to shine on the evil and the good, and his rain to descend on the just and the unjust,” he will remember that he cannot teach the doctrine of the cross except in the spirit of the Crucified. As it is slavish fear which marks superstition, because true religion has its spring in love ; so fierceness and bitterness and severity mark the fanatic, because true Christianity is the religion of mercy. The Apostles excel us in eloquence, and miraculous power, and the gift of tongues, as many may excel us in riches for almsgiving; but there is one thing in which we may emulate them, without which they would have not succeeded, and with which we must succeed,—the yet“ more excellent way” of “charity that never faileth.”
Oh for a more thorough conviction of our own sinfulness to pervade our churches, and more faith in the Gospel as the only method of saving sinners! Then shall we be ready to devote all our energies to the salvation of the world, and God be ready to crown us with quick success.