Page images
PDF
EPUB

8. But beside these more general attributes which belong to the morality of the New Testament, there are certain tests of exceeding delicacy which serve to mark the discrimination of its Author—the profoundness of His wisdom, and never more than when exemplified in cases of actual occurrence. The first specimen of this which offers itself to our recollection, is the occasion, when an expensive ointment was poured on the head of the Saviour, and Judas remonstrated because of that being wasted, which might have been sold and its price given to the poor. If there be one characteristic of the Gospel more prominent than another, it is the tenderness of its care and consideration for the poor_not in the form however of a headlong affection, but subject, as every other affection ought to be under a system not of moral feeling alone but of moral tuition, to the qualifications of wisdom and principle. Our Saviour vindicates the application that was made of the precious ointment; and thus lets us know that there are other impulses beside compassion for the poor, which, in their right place and on fitting occasions, should in their turn be obeyed. And an expression of reverence and respect for a divine messenger was one of these occasions. There are certain short-sighted philanthropists who would set up the plea of humanity to the poor in opposition to every cause; and who, under the guise perhaps the reality of a sympathetic regard for them, would lay an arrest on other good works, not only of more urgent principle and necessity at the time, but ten-fold more beneficial in point of effect. It is thus that the expenses, even the most needful expenses of Christianity have been looked to with an evil eye; and not only would the decency, still more the dignity, of its temple services be grudged for the reason alleged by him who betrayed its author—but, on the same ground too, have we heard both the cost of religious education for our families at home, and the cost of a missionary apparatus for the people abroad, made alike the subjects of a most virulent declamation. And there are other expenses beside those which subserve the well-being of the soul, that relief for the wants of the body ought not to supersede—the expense of justice the expense of government the expense even of upholding in becoming state and splendour the offices of magistracy—all which, as connected with right sentiment as well as the real interests of human society, would seem to be warranted by this example of our Saviour_even in the face of that exclusive preference for the poor which some would allege in argument for doing them away. Little have they reflected on the ruinous effect, on the fatal certainty, wherewith it would extend and sorely aggravate the poverty of our land—were the whole wealth of the country turned into one undiverted and undivided stream towards the object of relieving it. And it marks we have often thought, not only a sound discrimination on the part of our first christian teachers, but their wisdom, the reach and comprehensiveness of their wisdom in the foresight of consequences that, while every positive sanction is given by them to the virtue of liberality, they have not left it

unassociated with the prudence and the principle by which all its exercises ought to be guarded. The refusal of the twelve apostles to continue their services in the distribution of the common fund for the poor, and that because of the better services by which they were occupied, evince, not their disinterestedness alone, but their enlightened judgment, in that they thought it a far higher walk of benevolence to instruct the poor than to relieve them. In striking and remarkable contrast with this is the conduct of Paul-who, while his brethren in the ministry refused to join in the work of distribution, because of its encroachment on the peculiar business of their Apostleship, he made large encroachment thereupon, by mixing with the labours of an Apostle the labours of a tent-maker, and so working with his own hands rather than that he should be burdensome. And this he did, we are told, that he might be an example to others, in being able to say that with his own hands he had ministered to his own necessities. There are some who appear to look on alms-giving as the highest exercise of charity ; but here we are most impressively told, that a higher charity still is to teach the people to be independent of almsgiving. The same lesson is reiterated by Paul in his correspondence with the churches. "If any refuse to work neither should he eat.” “If any provide not for his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel." Nothing can be more obvious than his contempt for money, or rather, his contempt for the sordid affection of covetousness—when he urges on every possessor of wealth its best and most rightful application, whether at one time for the relief of the poor saints, or at another for the expenses of the ministry of the Gospel. But there is withal so much of manly sense, and so little of weak sentimentalism

-such an equal and impartial dealing with all ranks, charging the rich that they should be ready to distribute and willing to communicate, charging the poor to be industrious and contented and if possible independent of charity—such a care lest his infant society should suffer from the contaminations of that hypocrisy which would “make a gain of godliness”—such a preference for that system of helping the poor, which teaches them, by their own exertions and economy and good conduct, to help themselves—in a word, along with the tenderness, the undoubted feeling which prompted his benevolence, such a power and predominance of wholesome judgment in all his ministrations of it—as bespeaks, not only the enlightened moralist, but the enlightened political economist also. In the directions given by him, for the management of the pauperism of these days, there is the profoundest insight, both into motives and consequences—insomuch, that, from the epistles which he has left behind him, we might draw a system of rules and principles, which, though the product of so early and rude an age, might not only serve for the guidance of particular churches, but is of best possible adaptation to the general and complicated society of modern times. This adaptation is of itself an argument for the wisdom of Christianity; and it amounts to a miracle, when

we connect it with the first teachers of Christianity, and think of a wisdom so singular so original, in the mind, whether of the tent-maker of Tarsus or of the fishermen of Galilee.

9. But in these days there occurred questions of still greater perplexity, in the solution of which Paul discovers a sagacity and a soundness of principle still more marvellous. We would instance his deliverance on marriage, * which he permits as an indulgence, but prescribes not as a duty—a sentence in which many of our household moralists, and many even of those economists who devise for the well-being not of a family but of a kingdom at large, would not altogether sympathize. We would instance also his sound decision on the question of slavery,t-unlike, we do think, to the headlong the precipitate zeal of many modern philanthropists, when he enjoins on the children of a hapless servitude, both respect for their masters, and an acquiescence in their state, but a preference withal for a state of enlargement, which, when it may be had, he tells them to “ use it rather.” But on no occasion does he evince a wisdom that looks more like the wisdom of inspiration, than in his treatment of certain peculiar questions which arose from the admission of the Gentiles into the Church of Christ, and their consequent union with the Jews in one and the same society. There is nothing to be more admired in Paul than the skill, even the dexterity, wherewith he unravels the casuistry of these questions—not of broad and obvious principle,

[ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »