« PreviousContinue »
which St. Paul exhorts us to offer up continually. To the second head belongs the sacrifice of alms-deeds, and of all other friendly offices towards one another.
• To do good and to communicate, forget not ; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.' There are other spiritual sacrifices recommended in the New Testament, which are expressive of the love of God and of man, both in one: as the sacrifice of an · humble and contrite heart, and the presenting our bodies a living sacrifice • holy, acceptable unto God.' We cannot do greater honour to our Lord's sacrifice, than by thus copying after it in the best manner we are able; and following it, though at an infinite distance, in our own religious offerings and sacrifices, such as I have been mentioning. Let us thus be followers of God, as dear children' of God, and true disciples of Christ.
But more particularly, as often as we come to commemorate our Lord's high sacrifice at his holy table, be we mindful to make a tender of ourselves to him, as he made a tender of himself to God. While we plead the merits of that sacrifice in our offices here below, which he also pleads in his intercessions on our behalf above, let us throw in our own secondary sacrifices to it; not to heighten the value of it, which already is infinite, but to render ourselves capable of the benefits of it. As there is merit sufficient on his part, so there must be competent qualifications on ours : while Christ, by the visible signs of bread and wine, conveys to us the fruits of his natural body and blood, so ought we, by the same signs, to present to him the mystical body whereof we are a part. Therefore, while our Lord's sacrifice is represented and pleaded before God on our behalf, in the holy communion, take we care to send up our devout prayers and praises, our humble minds and contrite hearts, our alms-deeds, and our forgivenesses of all who have offended us, our holy resolutions and pious vows; and in a word, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto God. So may the sacrifice of Christ commemorated, and our own sacrifices therewith presented, be considered as one sacrifice of the head and members, in union together; and so may the united offering be received above, as an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savour;' acceptable unto him, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
THE THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT.
BLESSEDNESS OF KEEPING THE WORD. St. Luke xi. 14. Jesus was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And . it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake: and
the people wondered. 15. But some of them said, 'He casteth out devils through Beelzebub, the chief of the devils. 16. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. 17. But he, knowing iheir thoughts, said unto them, • Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. 18. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand ? because ye say, that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. 19. And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. 20. But if
I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of . God is come upon you. 21. When a strong man armed keepeth his
palace, his goods are in peace. 22. But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. 23. He that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth. 24. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man he walketh through dry places, seeking rest : and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. 25. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. 26. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits, more wicked than himself, and they enter, and dwell there, and the last state of that man is worse than the first.' 27. And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lift up her voice, and said unto him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. 28. But he said, “ Yea, rather blessed are they, that hear the word of God and keep it.
[Gospel of the Day.) That private interests and prejudices, in matters of religion, are great obstructions to men's coming to the belief of the truth, we cannot have a clearer proof, than the instance exhibited to us, in the portion of scripture, appointed for the Gospel of this day. Jesus had dispossessed a dumb spirit. Diseases of this kind were always looked upon with horror and despair, and acknowledged to exceed all the force of human remedies. So that when the people saw a recovery perfected without any tedious methods of application, only by virtue of one command. ing word,—this compelled them to admire, not only the thing, but also the person, by whom it was done.
The scribes and pharisees, who had degenerated so far into
ambition and covetousness, as now to use their authority over the people no longer for their benefit but their own, were alarmed by the reputation of our Saviour's miracles : great danger there was that the multitude should be drawn off, and join themselves to this new master, of whose commission they daily beheld so many and such convincing testimonies. Some stratagem was, therefore, necessary to check this growing pro. phet, and ruin him in the esteem of the people. To this purpose they agree with the crowd, in the confession of a supernatural and invisible power; but, at the same time, craftily warn them not to be too rash and easily imposed upon: for that Satan, who is the great deceiver of mankind, might very probably enable our Lord to cast out devils, only the more effectually to ensnare and betray the spectator. Thus they hardened themselves and their hearers, by a most obstinate and perverse calumny, by attributing, what they could not deny to be above the power of nature and art, to the concurrence of the devil; rather choosing to make it pass for the work of hell, so to countenance their own wicked infidelity and to discourage the belief of others, than to confess the spirit of God, even where his power and goodness appeared most eminently visible, and where nothing could have hindered them from seeing it, but a settled resolution not to see, and not to be persuaded.
Upon men so violently bent against the truth, there was little hope of any good to be done. But, to confute so malicious an aspersion was a right which our Saviour owed to himself, and to the divine Spirit by which he wrought. It was also an act of compassion due to those better meaning people, whose easiness might have been beguiled by that impudent cavil of their spiritual guide Upon these accounts, our Lord condescends to reason the case with them; and, by four most undeniable arguments, shows, that it was impossible any man of common sense, or even they themselves, should imagine their own objection to be true.
1. The first argument proceeds upon common experience of the known mischief which follows upon divisions : all societies, the less as well as the greater, owe their subsistence and preservation to amity and concord, and can never maintain themselves except by an united strength. Of this Satan is so sensible, that he makes it his business perpetually to sow the Vol. I
seeds of discord and discontent, animosities and jealousies, among men.
But he, who so well understands the consequence of such separated interests in other cases, and uses them with so much artifice to our ruin, cannot be supposed to be so far forsaken of all policy and common prudence, as to employ this dangerous weapon against himself. Nor can the nature of the thing be so changed, as to produce a quite contrary effect in the kingdom of darkness, from what it does in all other states; nay, as it produces, even in private families, where the difference might seem more easy to be composed or overpowered. And, therefore, since we see daily, that · every kingdom divided against itself is brought to destruction, and that a house divided against a house falleth ;' it were most absurd to suppose, that our Saviour should cast out devils through Beelzebub. Because at this rate, Satan would be divided against himself;' and the effect of this would be, that his kingdom could no longer stand.' (vv. 17, 18.]
2. The second argument more immediately concerns the persons of these objectors. It was a very common thing among the Jews, to make use of the name of the God of Abraham' in exorcisms: and though they made this the occasion of a great many superstitious practices, yet God was pleased, many times, to give success to such solemn invocations of his name; thereby distinguishing his own people, who worshipped the one true God, from the rest of the world, who still continued in ignorance and idolatry. Now, of these operations of a divine Spirit, the scribes and pharisees were very proud: because they thought a great deal of honour devolved upon their religion from hence, and consequently upon themselves, who were the very oracles and teachers of it to the people. And upon this account our Saviour mentions the spirits that were frequently dispossessed by their own disciples, to show their most unreasonable malice against himself. For they ascribed to Satan the very same operations when done by Christ, which they freely acknowledged to be the wonderful work of God, and boasted of as such, when their own proselytes and children were made the instruments of them. If, therefore, the fruit be the same in both cases, it is manifest, that the tree, producing it, must be the same too: and, if that be owned and admired for a good tree in one case, nothing but frowardness, and envy, and incorrigible obstinacy can call it a 'thorn' or a
thistle,' when the grapes and the figs gathered from it are still the same. If then I by · Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom, (says he) do your sons cast them out ? therefore, shall they be your judges. But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you.' [ver. 19, 20.)
3. Thirdly, Satan is that wolf who cometh not but to tear, and to destroy. He seizeth upon men as his prey; and is so greedy of that prey, as never to let it go again, till they be forced out of his hands. So that, whenever any wicked spirit is dispossessed, this happens not for want of employing any subtlety or strength; but from having his force overpowered, and his cunning defeated, by a Being wiser and mightier than himself. So that, wherever dumb and deaf spirits are cast out, this is an undeniable evidence of a superior, that is, of a divine power. All which our Lord hath very elegantly argued under the similitude of a man, standing upon his own defence, and guarding the wealth under his custody. When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. [ver. 21, 22.]
4. Lastly, our Saviour adds a fourth argument, containing the direct contrariety of the ends and interests of the gospel and of Satan, and the utter impossibility of ever reconciling them. Where men combine together to impose upon the world, they only choose different means, but unite together in the same design : as robbers take several roads for a blind, but meet at last in one place. But now, between Christ and Beelzebub’ there can be no such contrivance: their ends, as well as the methods that lead to them, are the most distant that can be the most destructive of one another, of any
that ever were. Here is a rooted and fixed enmity. Nay, no indifference or neutrality is possible and consistent on our part, with friendship to the other. So says the 23d verse expressly: “He that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth
To these reasons, in his own vindication, our Lord subjoins a parabolical description of the woeful estate of those impeni. tent Jews, who made no other use of the miracles and doctrine of our Saviour, than to add proportionably to their own misery