Page images
PDF
EPUB

judged and punished, the fittest and kindeft enquiry that our judge can make, is, Whát đeed's of charity we have to alledge in extenuation of dur punishment ?

6. The secret manner, in which acts of mercy often are, and ought to be performed, requires this public manifeftation of them at the great day of account. There are, I think, but three duties, in the performance of which God hath, after a peculiar manner, reconimended secrecy to ús; alms, fasting and prayer. The two latter of these (as far as we are obliged to secrecy in the discharge of them)relate chiefly to ourselves and to our own concerns : but the first regards our neighbour a. lone, and cannot therefore be done altogether without a witness. However, as far as the nature of this duty will admit of privacy, our Saviour hath 'enjoined it, and in terms of a particular fignificancy and force. For he knew that good and bountiful minds were sometimes inclined to often. tation, and ready to cover it with a pretence of inciting others by their example; and therefore checks this vanity in these remarkable words : “ Take heed,” says he, “ that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them. That thou dost not found a trumpet before thee, as the hy: pocrites do, that they may have glory of men: Verily I' fay unto you, they have their reward. But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth,” Matt. vi. 1, 2, 3. And that we might be encouraged punctually to observe this precept, by a reward proportion ed to the nature of the duty, therefeore he adds ; And thy father, which feeth in fecret, soall' himseif

reward

wally

reward thee openly : Mati. vi. 4. that is, in the fight of angels and men, at the great day of retri. bution. For that this is his meaning, may appear from a parallel place in St. Luke, where the rea ward promised to charity, is thus expressed; And thou shalt recompensed ut the resurrection of the juft; Luke xiv. i 4. at that time, when God shall judge the secrets of men by Christ Jefus ; Rom. ii. 16. Shall openly punish their secret lins, and o. penly own and reward their secret virtues; their acts of charity especially, which, as they were, in obedience to his command, performed privately, so they shall now, according to his promise, be rewarded openly. A reward, every way congrud'us and fitting! For it gives God and good men the glory, that would otherwise be loft, of many retired graces and virtues; which deserve so much the rather to be published, because they declined obfervation! It reproaches and fills with confum Sion those un merciful and wicked men, who looked upon all such concealed instances of goodness, as unprofitable folly, as the cast ng of our bread up on the waters, which, they did not think, would thus be found after many days, Eccl. xi. 1. It proclaims the triumphs of humanity and goodneis in å proper audience, even before the whole race of mankind, then afsembled. The objects of mercy themselves will be present, and will, with plea. fure, discover the blefred hands that relieved therry ñor shall their testimony be wanting, when the Judge of the world doth, as it were, point and áppeal to them in the throng, as evidences of the equity of that fentence he is then about to prom nounce : Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the VOL. II.

leaf

least of these my brethren, ye have done it unte me.

And this furnishes us with yet one more reasoa, why our Saviour lays such a particular stress on acts of mercy ; because he looks upon every one of them as a personal kindness done to himself ; ye have done it unto me! How this is to be understood, and upon what account our Lord is pleafed to express himself on this occasion with so wondrous a degree of condescension, is what I, upon my second general head, proposed to thew..

II. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. To me! that is, at my instance, and for my fake; to my brethren, as such, on account of their relation to me ; and what is thus done in obedience to my commands, and with a peculiar regard to my person, I esteem a personal kindness, and will acknowledge and reward it accordingly: For, as he elsewhere speaks, Whofoever foall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a difciple, [or, as belonging to Chrift] verily I say unto you, he foall in no wife: lose his reward, Mark ix. 41.

It is certain, that those good men, who take such pleasure in relieving the miserable, fos Christ's fake, would not have been less forward to minister unto Christ himself, if they had been bleffed with an opportunity of doing it. Now, what they were thus ready to have done, our Saviour reckons as done, and places to their account. For if there be firft a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to

that

that a man hath not, 2 Cor. viii. 12. And this is the ground of that favourable decision of his, in behalf of the poor widow, who, while many, that were rich caft much into the treasury, threw in two mites-Verily (said he) Soe hatb cift in more than they all! Mark xii. 42, 43. i. e. if she had as much as they all had, she would have cast in more than they all did ; and God respects, not the gift, but the bountiful mind and intention of the giver; calling (in this sense also) the things that are not, as if they were Rom. iv. 17.

But there is yet a more strict and proper sense, in which the words of our Lord may be understood. He hath taken our nature upon him, and united it to himself; and is, therefore, on the account of this union and alliance, some way interested in the joys and griefs of those who thare the same nature with him. For, according to the reasoning of the divine writer to the Hebrews, both he that fan&tifieth, and they who are fan&tified, are all of one [i. e. are all partakers of the same flesh and blood; as he afterwards explains himself;] for which cause he is not afbamed to call them brethren. Heb. ii. 11.

We are indeed his brethren, as we are men : but we are still more so, as we are Christians; that is, as members of that mystical body, of which Christ Jesus is the Head. Now (as St. Paul argues concerning this mystical body) “ whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoyce with it ;" 1 Cor. xii. 26. The Head especially, which is the principle of life, and motion, and sense to the rest ; and “from which all the

0 2

body

[ocr errors]

body by joints and bands having nourishment miniftred, and being knit together, increaseth with the increase of God." They are still the fame apostle's words; who is every where full of this union and fyınpathy between Christ and his members ; having received very strong impresi, ons of it at the time of his converlian, when he heard that voice from heayen, « Saul, Saul, Why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord ? And the Lord said, I ana Jcfus whom thou persecutest.” In like mannep as Jesus is perfecuted, when any of his poor members fuiter, he is relieved also when they are relieved Inafinuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my hrithren, ye hive done it unto me.

Indeed, our Saviour is represented every where in scripture as the special patron of the poor and the afflicted, and as laying their interests to heart las it were) more nearly thin those of any ocher of his niembers. The reason of which is not obscurely intimated to us.

Our Saviour's huiniliation consisted not merely in taking human nature upon him, but human nature clothed with all the lowest and meanett circumstances of it. He led a life of great poverty. Thame, and truble ; " not having where to lay his head," or wherewithal to supply his own wants without the benevolence of others, or a miracle: "He was defpiled and rejected of men, a nian of forrows, and acquainted with grief," I liii. . So that the set o the world “hid as it 'vere, th ir faces from him.” Now, in the epistle to the Feb..ws we are told, that, by thus tukilig on bimthi joid of Abraham, he becamac a murcitul

and

« PreviousContinue »