« PreviousContinue »
the Christian, this employment should be especially inviting, since to study the character of believers in all the varieties of their capacity, their culture, and their external circumstances, is to see, on a broad scale, the manner in which the glorious gospel of the blessed God is performing its office. It is to see with what readiness and efficiency it can adjust itself to human nature in every stage of its acquirement or intelligence, and in every condition of life, until, through the infinite condescension and long-suffering from which it has descended to us, it purifies unto itself a peculiar people-a people meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. Intelligent men, without the motives of religion, have often affirmed that there is much to be learnt, even by the wisest, from the humblest, or the most degraded individuals of the human family: and certainly there is not a Christian from whose religious history some useful lessons might not be deduced, if we could only so far conquer our pride as to believe thus much, and to act accordingly.
These observations have been suggested by the nature of the subject now to be considered. It is one which is not directly applicable to the many; and yet one to which the many, for the reasons named, and some others, should give their best consideration.
We use the word Retirement here, in a sense which must be explained and remembered. It is employed to denote just the opposite of the state we have contemplated in the preceding chapter;
and as referring, therefore, to that class of whose circumstances relieve them from the necessity of pursuing any worldly calling, and who are, moreover, disposed to avail themselves of this advantage by avoiding such pursuits. With regard to all such parties, we have to observe that they are subject to peculiar obligations, and exposed to peculiar dangers.
I. TIME IS A TALENT; and the man who has most of it at command must have the largest account to render. Where the means of grace are equal, the offender who continues longest in a state of impenitence incurs the most awful responsibility. And as the successive intervals of time add thus to the guilt of those who still harden their hearts, so the more those intervals may have been at the disposal of such persons, the more inexcusable will they be found. Jehovah said of one, I gave her space to repent, and she repented not. The Lord is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Hence the solemn appeal in the second chapter of the epistle to the Romans:— Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth to repentance? But after thy hardness, and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. The last step in this perilous course is described by Solomon,
Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
Now time, which carries this accountableness along with it in the case of the unconverted, lays the same responsibility on the Christian. If he possess more leisure, then should he possess more knowledge, more devotion, and be more useful.
It may be justly expected from the unoccupied, that they should give much attention to the means by which PERSONAL RELIGION may be promoted. The means which chiefly conduce to this end are private prayer, the reading of the word of God, the study of its great message to mankind; and the application of that message to the soul, as the means of renovation, hope, and blessedness. We have seen, in a former chapter, that these are duties which may not be innocently neglected in the case of the most occupied; and they must, in consequence, devolve with peculiar weight on those who are exempt from the pressure and distraction of other claims. The professor of this class, who is not a punctual observer of the various exercises which belong to private devotion, must be regarded as wholly a stranger to Christianity, or as a Christian in such a state of declension as should lead to instant humiliation and alarm. For to what can such negligence, in the case of such a man, be attributed, except to the signal power of remaining depravity? There are men who, in ordinary affairs, possess better means of improvement than others,
and, at the same time, fail to excel them; and we know the conclusions that are generally formed from such occurrences. Contempt is the award of Nor is religion an exception to this What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it, said Jehovah; wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
What we say of personal religion, will apply also to FAMILY RELIGION. As a parent, the Christian is required to train up his children in the way in which they should go; and, as a master, to bless his household, by his example, his counsels, and his prayers. Now a much occupied professor will surely fail as to these obligations, unless he be a man of some system and firmness. If the common affairs of a house have not the marks of regularity upon them, you may in general conclude that its piety has not. Correctness and order, where they are habitual, extend themselves, more or less, to every thing. From the want of such a habit, domestic duties are often superseded by others of a more general nature; and the effect is too often seen in the undisciplined and irreligious character both of the children and dependants of some really devout men. But if such neglects are not to be justified, even in the case of the most occupied, what must the guilt of them be when they occur where there has been ample time that might have been so appropriated? Surely, to such a professor, and concerning those whose souls are in a measure
entrusted to him, God would seem to say, They shall perish in their sins, but their blood will I require at thy hand.
We observe, further, that the obligation to seek the PROSPERITY OF THE CHURCH, which devolves on every believer, must fall with peculiar force on those who have time at their bidding. The men to whom Jesus will assign the kingdom of heaven in the last day, are described as persons who were accustomed to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, and to visit the sick and imprisoned of his flock. And what is more, the manner in which the Redeemer speaks, indicates that such practices are common to all his true disciples, even to those who in the sweat of their face have to eat bread. What shall be said, then, of the Christianity of that man who, with property and leisure, is careless of such employment, or content with doing no more than the straitened or the occupied are doing? Mark the words of the apostle on this subject,As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men, but especially to those who are of the household of faith. Here believers are made to have the first claim on our sympathy; and our benevolence toward them, and toward all men, is to keep pace with the means, or the time, that may be placed at our disposal. To the church, however, we owe something more than the duties of humanity. In spiritual things, as in other things, we are to be, according to our opportunities, the benefactors of each other; exhorting each other daily, and being