« PreviousContinue »
ON THE UNIVERSAL INFLUENCE OF CHRIS
Matt. vi. 22, 23.
The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye
be single, thy whole body shall be fuil of light: but if thine eye be evil
, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee
be darkness, how great is that durkness! THIS metaphorical declaration of our Lord may be thus explained;—The eye is the lamp or light of the whole body. From it all the other members of the body derive their light. If, then, thine eye be clear and unclouded, thy whole body will be full of light; every limb will be inoved with alacrity, precision, and certainty. But if thine eye be distempered, dim, and confused, thy whole body will be full of darkness; every motion of the body will betray the want of light: the feet will stumble, the step will be unsteady, the hands will miss their aim, the gesture will be stiff and uncertain. If, therefore, that which is the light of the body be darkened, how miserable will be the state of the body! How great will be that darkness, not of the eye only, but of those members which have no light of their own, but depend entirely on the eye!
Such is the literal explanation of the metaphor. Let us now consider its figurative or moral sense.
What, then, does our Lord intend to represent by the eye? Our Divine Instructor is reproving the practice of amassing treasures upon earth, and arguing against it from their tendency to engross the heart; for where your treasure is there will your heart be also." And the evil of having the heart thus engrossed consists in this: The heart or affections regulate and influence the whole conduct. The state of the heart is to the moral man what that of the eye is to his body. As an eye clouded by disease has no distinct perception of external objects, and is therefore unfit to guide the motions of the body, so the heart set upon the world cannot perceive eternal or spiritual objects
, and is unable to direct or guide a man in a religious and holy course of life.
There is in most persons some predominating principle, some master passion to which the rest give way and are subservient, and which controuls and characterizes the man. In one, it is ambition; in another, covetousness; in another, the love of ease, of applause, or of pleasure. But, however various the different passions of men may be, they may all, with reference to religion, be comprised under two grand classes. In one, the heart is fixed upon God; in the other, the object of affection is self, under the various modifications of ambition, covetousness, the love of pleasure or of ease. And what are all the various passions which agitate mankind, but the influence, in a direction somewhat varied, of the same selfish principle? They are the same as to their origin, the same as to their religious effects, the same as to the glory of God and the grand end of man. Now, a truly religious
person is influenced by a principle essentially different from these; and this constitutes his distinguishing char
His object is to serve God, not to gratily himself; to do what God has commanded, not to indulge bis own' wishes; to live according to God's directions, not according to the dictates of his own corrupt passions; to glorify God, not to honour and exalt himself.
I do not mean to intimate, that wherever a man's heart is fixed upon God there will be no regard to his temporal interest; that he will cease to feel human passions, and become indiferent to pleasure and dead to the desire of improving his worldly circumstances. This is neither to be expected in the present stage of human existence, nor is it required of us. It is sufficient, if the desire to please and serve God possesses a preponderating influence; if it leads a man to study the will of God with a sincere desire to accomplish it; if every thing is made habitually to give way to religion; if he refuses to make no sacrifice, which religion clearly requires, and to perform no duty which it plainly enjoins: in short, if he receives the word of God in an honest and good heart—a heart disposed to act uprightly according to the commands of that word, and to bring forth all those good fruits which it describes and demands.
It is, however, necessary to distinguish the sincerity of the principle from its strength. As the principle of life is as real in an infant at the hour of its birth, notwithstanding his weakness, as it is in the man of mature age, whose strength and vigour enable him to perform the most active services, so there is a real principle in every true Christian essentially different from that which influences other men. It may yet be very weak; it may be mixed with much imperfection, debased by gross superstition, clouded by extreme ignorance, tarnished by errors and mistakes, overpowered by the occasional violence of unruly passions; but still it has a sterling nature which is of more worth than the most brilliant qualities, the most zealous exertions,
or the most splendid actions without it. It will ultimately prevail and flourish over all opposition; it will be like a leaven which by degrees leaveneth the whole mass; it will in the end bring every thought into subjection to the will of God. It is a seed implanted in the heart by God himself. Hence it is said of the real Christian, that he cannot sin; that is, cannot continue in a course of wilful sin: becaue he is born of God, and the seed of God remaineth in him.
This principle is a sincere and prevailing desire to please and to serve God, and without it there can be no real religion. Before, a man was living only to himself, seeking his own ease, pleasure, and advantage; he might perhaps worship God in a formal, lifeless manner, and study religion in a cold and speculative way: but his heart was in the world, or engrossed by selfish motives; but now he sees the excellency of God's service, he feels his solemn obligations to his Creator and Redeemer: he perceives it to be his bounden duty to honour God as his Sovereign: and he honestly endeavours to pay a faithful and unreserved obedience to his commandments. His conscience now becomes his guide, and directs him to act according to duty rather than interest;—and under the influence of this principle, in proportion to his light and streng, h, he begins to amend what he sees amiss in himself; to renounce sin, however alluring; to struggle with corruptions, however powerful; to resist habits, however painful. In a word, he now becomes, in deed and in truth, a disciple of Christ; he honours and loves his Master; he serves him as faithfully in secret as in public, during the week as on the Sabbath day, and amidst the busy engagements of the world as in the retirement of the closet. His heart is right with God, and his delight is to do his will.
Suffer me here, my brethren, to urge upon you a serious self-examination. Do you possess this important principle, without which no real religion can subsist? What is your prevailing aim in life? By what principle are you habitually influenced? Are you living to yourself or to God? Do you truly wish to honour him? Do you seriously consider what is the will of God, that you may do it? Do you accustom yourself to set him before you? Is the desire to serve and please Him the preponderating principle of your heart? Do all other motives give way to it? Do you feel it impossible to do with complacency any thing which you
believe will be displeasing to God?" If you have offended him, do you feel a real grief and uneasiness till you have confessed your sin to God, implored his pardon, and earnestly sought his grace to strengthen you for the future? If
do indeed possess such a principle, you possess that which contains in it the essence of all true religion and virtue. Cultivate it, and it will produce fruits of true righteousness to the glory of God. But how few are there in whom religion has any such prevailing ascendancy? The world at large may indeed pay some degree of attention to it, but it is still from an imperfect or selfish motive. They dread the judgment to come. They fear the Divine indignation, and would appease it by some religious acts, and by abstinence from gross vices: but their hearts are in the world, their religion is a matter of constraint, they are alive in the business of the world, they are cold and lifeless in the performance of religious duties. The influence of religion is occasional, transitory, imperfect, painful; the influence of selfish or worldly principles is constant, uniform, powerful, pleasing. How evident is it, that, till the state of the heart is rectified, there can be no obedience to God which will be acceptable to lim, excellent in itself, or pleasant to the person who endeavours to perform it. As the heart is, so will the whole of the conduct be. "If thine eye be single, thy whole body will be full of light; but if thine eye be evil, thy whole body will be full of darkness."
IÍ. I proceeed to consider, in several particulars, the extensive influence of the state of heart described by the expression, “If thine eye be single.”