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whether our idolatry be open and carnal, or secret and spiritual: and though he does not authorize man to proceed against us, he will take the matter into his own hand, and inflict upon us the punishment we deserve. It is in reference to this that St. Paul utters that severe denunciation against all who decline from their love to Christ; "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maran-atha;" that is, His departure from Christ deserves the heaviest judgments; and though we are not now at liberty to inflict them, God surely and quickly will.
O that all who have waxed cold in their affections towards God, would lay this to heart! If God be not seated on the throne of our hearts and sweetly ruling and reigning there, the creature is: and whether the idol be pleasure, or riches, or honour, or any thing else, however excellent or however base, we are idolaters; and shall be made to feel, that "it is an evil and bitter thing to forsake the Lord;" yea, that “it were better never to have known him, than, after knowing him, to depart from him."]
2. The danger of being accessary to any one's departure from him
[There are a variety of ways in which we may be instrumental in turning others from God. What if we scoff at religion, and deride the practice of it as folly or enthusiasm; do we not, in fact, say to those around us, "Come, let us serve other gods?" What if we exert our influence and authority to deter people from attending where the word is preached with fidelity and power, or from associating with the despised followers of Jesus; are we not yet more decidedly guilty of hostility to God? for when we only scoff at religion, we leave people an alternative; but when we set ourselves to intimidate men from following after God, we are no longer seducers, but persecutors. But, supposing we do not take so decided a part against God, yet, if all our fears are against excess in religion, and none against a defect in it, if all the advice we give is to shun the cross and avoid the shame of a religious profession, and none at all to "endure the cross and despise the shame," whom is it that we serve? Can we with propriety be called the friends and servants of our God? No: Find us in all the sacred records one single servant of his that ever shewed such dispositions as these. I forget: we can find one: we remember Peter's kind solicitude for his Master, and his affectionate expression of it too; "Master, spare thyself:" but we remember also the answer of Jesus to him; "Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men." Let me then warn friends and relatives of every description how they use their
influence; lest, whilst they think that they are shewing kindness to man, they be found in reality fighting against God. Let me remind them, that, whether they succeed or not, their guilt is the same; they have made the proposal, and for that proposal they shall die: and would to God that the being stoned to death were the worst punishment they shall endure! but, alas! it were infinitely "better that a millstone were put about their neck, and that they were cast into the midst of the sea, than that they should offend one of God's little ones:" it were better, I say; because they would lose only the bodily life but in turning any one from God, they forfeit their own souls, and expose themselves to everlasting misery in hell. If friends would see what use they should make of their influence, the prophet will tell them; they should endeavour to draw one another nearer unto God; and should themselves endeavour to lead the way.]
3. The need we have of firmness and steadfastness in religion—
[No one can tell what temptations he may have to encounter, or from what quarter they shall spring, or how specious and powerful they may be. Perhaps the children whom we have fondled with delight, or the wife of our bosom, or the friend that is as our own soul, may be our tempters to decline from God, or the occasions of our yielding to temptation. Perhaps the suggestion may be so specious, that it shall appear to have come from a prophet of the Lord, and to have been confirmed by a sign from heaven. But our principles of religion should be so fixed, as to be incapable of being moved even by an angel from heaven; and our practice of it should be so determined, that no considerations whatsoever should be able to make us swerve for one moment from the path of duty. The fate of the man of God who listened to the lying prophet, should teach us this. Our rule is clear, and we should follow it without turning either to the right hand or the left.
But it will be asked, How shall I obtain this steadfastness? I answer, Compare the God whom you serve, with all the gods that are his rivals and competitors. This is the consideration by which God himself enforces that which might otherwise have appeared a sanguinary edict: he grounds the severity of his displeasure on the greatness of the mercies he had bestowed upon them. But what were those mercies in comparison of the blessings he has conferred on you? Think from what a bondage you are redeemed; think by what means that redemption has been accomplished for you; think what an inheritance e Gal. i. 8,9.
c Zech. viii. 21. d
is purchased for you; and then say whether any thing in this world can have such a claim to your regards as the Lord Jesus Christ has. Only get your hearts impressed with a sense of his love, and the vanities of time and sense will be to you no more than the dirt under your feet. Only commit yourselves to Christ, "and be strong in the grace that is in him,” and you will find, that "neither angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus:" for "he is able to keep you from falling," and "will preserve you blameless unto his heavenly kingdom." Whatever then your temptations be, or from whatever quarter they may spring, I say to every one of you, "Hold fast that thou hast, and let no man take thy crown."]
i Rev. iii. 11.
THE DUTY OF CHARITY ENforced.
Deut. xv. 7-11. If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren, within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: but thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand: and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.
THE existence of various ranks and orders among men is the necessary consequence of civilization. Ă perfect equality among them is impossible in the nature of things: nor, if it were made to exist, could it continue for any time. An inequality of condition is even far more conducive to the general good, not only in that it tends to keep up a due subordination of the lower to the higher classes, but that it binds all the classes of men together by the ties of mutual
usefulness and dependence. Even in the state that was formed by God himself, it was ordained that such a diversity of ranks should subsist. Still, however, it never was the divine intention that some should be left destitute of all the comforts of life, while others rioted in opulence and prodigality. To prevent this he commanded his people to forgive the poor their debts at the year of release, and required all who should enjoy a comparative state of affluence, to relieve the poor and indigent.
In discoursing on the words before us, we shall consider,
I. The duty enjoined
God commanded his people to exercise liberality to the poor
[He had appointed every seventh year to be a year of release. By this means the poor could not be oppressed for any length of time. But this very law might also tend to the disadvantage of the poor. To prevent any such evil consequence, God ordered that his people should be equally favourable to the poor notwithstanding the year of release. He enjoined the rich to lend to the poor, even under a moral certainty of losing their debt. Yea, they were to perform this duty in a bountiful and willing manner.]
His injunctions to them are, as far as it respects the spirit of them, equally binding upon us
[God requires us to "do good and lend, hoping for nothing again." And certainly this is our duty. The relation which the poor bear to us necessarily involves in it this obligation. The Scriptures at large, as well as the immediate expressions in the text, inculcate this duty in the strongest terms1.
a "The poor shall never cease out of the land," ver. 11.
b He assigns as his reason for this ordinance, "to the end that be no poor among you," ver. 3, 4.
c ver. 1, 2.
See the translation in
d Luke vi. 35.
They are four times in the text called "our brethren." The force of this idea is admirably expressed, Job xxxi. 15-19. and it is further confirmed by the words of our Lord, Matt. xxv. 40.
"Thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thine hand· shalt surely lend-surely give-I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide," &c. See this enjoined on all generally, Luke
The manner also of performing this duty is as strongly enjoined as the duty itself. We must act bountifully towards the poor, proportioning our alms to our own ability, and, as far as possible, to their necessities. We must also administer relief cheerfully. Grudging and niggardly thoughts are apt to arise in our minds: but they proceed from a "wicked heart;" and must be guarded against with all possible circumspection". Our alms are then only acceptable to God, when they are offered with a willing mind'.]
To call forth a just sense of our duty, let us consider,
II. The arguments with which it is enforced
Waving all other arguments that might be adduced, we shall confine our attention to those specified in the text. There are two considerations urged as inducements to the performance of this duty:
1. The danger of neglecting it
[Men are apt to think themselves sole proprietors of what they have; but, in fact, they are only God's stewards. The poor have, from God's command, a claim upon us; and when their distresses are not relieved, he will hear their complaints. He expressly warns us that, "when they cry to him, it shall be sin to us.' Our guilt contracted by want of liberality, shall surely be visited upon our own heads; it shall bring upon us the execration of our fellow-creatures, a dereliction from our God', yea, an everlasting dismission from his presence and glory m -Who that reflects a moment on these consequences, will not "beware" of indulging a disposition that must infallibly entail them upon him?]
2. The reward of practising it—
[Heaven cannot be purchased by almsgiving: and to think it could, would be a most fatal delusion. Nevertheless God has annexed a blessing to the performance of this duty; "For this
xi. 41.; on all individually, 1 Cor. xvi. 2.; and in the most solemn manner, 1 Tim. vi. 17. Charge," &c.
"Thou shalt open thine hand wide - lend him sufficient for his need." See true bountifulness defined, 2 Cor. viii. 12.; exemplified, 2 Cor. viii. 2.; encouraged, 2 Cor. ix. 6.
h "Beware, &c.—and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother— thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest," &c. See similar directions, Rom. xii. 8. 1 Tim. vi. 18. "Ready to distribute; willing to communicate."
i 2 Cor. ix. 7.
1 Prov. xxi. 13.
k Prov. xxviii. 27.
m Matt. xxv. 41-43. "For."