Page images
PDF
EPUB

age, multitudes in different ranks, whose hearts were animated by the purest love of God and mankind, forming an aggregate of many millions of agents, and embracing an almost inconceivable mass of moral power, it is impossible not to perceive clearly, and to feel deeply, that the sum of good produced is comparatively very small. From the active and zealous exertions of such a mighty multitude of Christian minds, continued through the course of so many ages, it might have been expected, even when all due allowances have been made for opposing circumstances, that, at this late period of the world, there should not have been a region of the earth unvisited with the light of divine truth, nor an individual bearing the name of man, unfurnished with the means of religious and moral improvement. Yet, how different is the actual state of human affairs ! It is but a small part of the peopled globe which is even called Christian ; and what a prodigious majority of the inhabitants of every such country are altogether unworthy of the name !

Of an effect at once so melancholy and unexpected, it may be worth while, shortly, to inquire into the

No consequence of such magnitude, when resulting from the operations of numerous and unconnected agents, is ever produced by a single cause. It were quite unseasonable to enter at large into an investigation of all the circumstances which have directly or indirectly contributed to this final result; but I may be permitted to remark, that perhaps no single circumstance has contributed more to the production of the effect referred to, than a deficiency in decision of character in the greater part of those who wished to do good, with that variation of pursuit, and want of perseverance, which are its necessary consequences.

No man, who knows any thing about human nature, could expect, however mueh he might desire it,

cause.

that all good men in all ages should exactly agree, both as to the end to be pursued, and the means of pursuing it; that one soul should, as it were, animate the whole body of the faithful, so that the unfinished schemes of usefulness of one age should be taken up and prosecuted, and perfected by the succeeding generations, and all the talents and influence of all good men, in all countries, and in all ages, should be steadily and systematically directed to the grand ends of the divine honour and human happiness. But it does not seem so unreasonable an expectation, that, as every Christian must be employed in doing good, (for otherwise he is no Christian,) every Christian should steadily prosecute his own plan of doing good ;-that, having once formed a considerate judgment as to the most probable method of his advancing the great end of his being, he should persevere in following it out to all its practicable beneficial results. Instead of this, however, the well-meaning, and perhaps zealous Christian, engages in the prosecution of a worthy object, and adopts a plan of conduct, without thinking much about their suitableness to his peculiar talents and circumstances, and without weighing their probable advantages and disadvantages; and, after proceeding so far towards the attainment of his object, and the completion of his plan, disgusted by the defects he has discovered in the latter, and discouraged by the difficulties which he sees in the way of the former, he relinquishes his attempt altogether, and sets about endeavouring to do good in some other more inviting form. It too often happens, however, that the same unsuccessful experiment is repeated, a plan is soon formed, and almost as soon abandoned,

- the precious season for doing good is hastening to an end, and the time and talents which, if but wisely and steadily employed,: might have produced a very

considerable effect, are lost and wasted in varying schemes, and abortive endeavours.

There have been a very few experiments made, of how much good one individual, wisely choosing his sphere of action, and scrupulously confining himself to it, may do with a moderate portion of talent and inAuence, and within the compass of an ordinary lifetime ;--and the results have been such as to convince every thinking mind, that, had but one half of the good and great men, who have lived, acted on this principle,—there would not have been one land unacquainted with the name of the Saviour, and there would have been a diminution, in an almost inconceivable degree, of the physical and moral evils of mankind. Who, does not feel the truth of this remark flash on the mind with the force of intuition, when I mention the names of HOWARD and of Carey ! The life of the first of these servants of God, and friends of mankind, was comparatively short, and we can scarcely expect that that of the second will be long ; yet each of them has probably done more substantial benefit to the world than some thousands of ordinary good men.

The most perfect illustration of this decision of character which has ever been given, is to be found in the behaviour of the greatest benefactor the world ever has seen, or ever will see - our Lord Jesus Christ. An unvarying determination to do the work Infinite Wisdom had assigned him, marked all his conduct. He knew what was to be done,ếhe knew how he was to do it, and he set himself with undivided zeal and exertion to its performance. The whole of his intellectual and active energies were bent to this one object. There was no waste of thought, of feeling, or of action. It is this that enables us to account for the seemingly strange fact, that all the incidents recorded in the gospel histories, formed, as the Evangelist John expressly states, but a specimen of that prodigious mass of thinking and feeling, exertion and suffering, which was crowded into the short

space of three years and a half. He “pressed towards the mark,” regardless of surrounding objects, except as they interfered with his progress,

and determined at all events to gain the prize. "My meat is to do the will of my Father who is in heaven, and to finish his work.” No where, perhaps, do we meet with this sentiment more powerfully expressed than in the words of our text: “ I have a baptism to be baptized with ; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished !"

The text contains in it a very instructive view of THE SUFFERINGS OF Christ as foreseen by him, and shadowed forth under the figure of a baptism,--and of

SENTIMENTS AND FEELINGS IN REFERENCE TO THESE SUFFERINGS. Reflection on these two important topics will furnish pleasing and suitable employment to our minds, in the immediate prospect of commemorating the sufferings of the Saviour in the holy ordinance of the supper.

HIS

1. The text leads us to consider our Lord's sufferings as the object of his foreknowledge, and as a baptism with which he was to be baptized. Let us attend to these aspects of this interesting subject in succes sion.

1st, The text represents Christ's sufferings as foreseen by him; “I have a baptism to be baptized with." That whatever happened to our Lord was previously known to him, is not only repeatedly asserted in the gospel histories, but is obvious from the very face of the sacred narrative. No expression of surprise ever escaped from his lips amid the unparalleled vicissitudes which he experienced. All the fluctuations of his cire

cumstances were foreseen. No event came on him unprepared. “In the whole of his conduct we see the perfect consistency of a mind, before whose prophetic eye all futurity lay open ; and when the events of this futurity came round, he met them, not as chances which were unforeseen, but as certainties which were provided for. The consistency of his views is supported through all the variations of his history, and it stands finely contrasted in the record of the evangelists, with the misconceptions, the surprises, the disappointments of his followers *.”

It is not, however, so much on our Lord's foreknowledge in general, as on his foreknowledge of his sufferings, that the text fixes our attention : “ I have baptism to be baptized with.” He speaks of them, not as what might, but as what would happen,--not as probable merely, but as certain. This foresight of his sufferings, when viewed in connection with the event, may be considered as a proof of his divine mission, as an exaggeration of the severity of his sufferings, and as an illustration of the greatness of his love.

In this foresight of our Lord's sufferings, when view, ed in connection with the event, we have a satisfactory confirmation of the divinity of his mission. The certain knowledge of future events, depending on the action of free agents, is possessed only by God, or by those to whom he is pleased to reveal it. The possession of this knowledge is a proof that the possessor is, in some point of view, the object of the divine appro.. bation. It is a divine credential, like the power of working miracles, which indeed is perhaps but a modification of prophecy; and he who proves that he possesses it, has a right to be believed, when he says that he is a messenger from God.

* Chalmers; Edin. Encycl. art. CHRISTIANITY, 61.

« PreviousContinue »