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says he, “ I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant to all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak : I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the Gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you."
Time permits not at present to proceed on the consideration of the other particular circumstances attending this sacred Lecture of the great Teacher ; such as the time when it was delivered—the Sabbath-day; the uniformity and constancy of the practice, as his custom was; the attitude and exercise, he stood up for to read; the subject, a prediction concerning himself from the book of the prophet Esaias ; his commentary upon it, this day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears; and finally, the effect produced on his audience, the eyes of all them that were in the Synagogue were fastened on him; and all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. These particulars, therefore, will constitute the subject of our next exercise of this kind. We conclude the present with a few practical reflections. 1. Meditate on the venerability of the sabbath, the day of sacred rest.
It is the ordinance of God himself, who is represented in Scripture, not only as the Author of the institution, but as setting the example of its devout observ
“On the seventh day God ended his work which he had made ; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made." He made it a season of solemn contemplation : “God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was very good.” He pronounced a benediction upon it, and set it apart to holy purposes : “ And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." It is one of the natural measurements of time, though modern infidelity has made an attempt to efface it. It wears a benevolent and merciful aspect toward man and beast. It is intimately and indissolubly connected with religion. . The violation of the sabbath was considered, under the Mosaic dispensation, as a flagrant contempt of the divine authority, and subjected the offender to the punishment of death. To the regular and spiritual observance of it, on the other hand, were annexed many and gracious promises. I quote only the following: “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day: and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable ; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father : for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." The substitution of the first, in place of the seventh day of the week, under the evangelical dispensation, binds more closely, not relaxes the obligation; and the honour which God has been pleased to put upon it is a sufficient recommendation, independent of the authority of human laws. As, on the contrary, the character of the persons who live in the open and habitual neglect or profanation of it, is the reverse of a recommendation to every man of sense, decency and virtue. But,
2. Take care not to sink the spirit in the letter of the ordinance. It is a day of rest, but idleness and rest are very different things. The mental composure and repose of the man infinitely transcend the listless inaction of the brute. The body of the man indeed rests from the painful toil of the week,
and his mind from its perplexing cares. But this is perfectly consistent with vigorous bodily exertion, and with intenseness of mental application. The feet, the hands, the eye, the tongue, may all be actively employed in rendering unto God a "reasonable service." The superiour powers of the soul may be in an ascending motion, up to “ the Father of lights;" and in a progressive motion, toward the “rest which remaineth to the people of God." The lips of the wise and good may be devoted to the diffusion of useful knowledge, and the ear of the willing and obedient may drink in the doctrines of truth, and the obligations of duty. This mutual interchange of kind offices will produce an interchange of kind affections. Good-will among men will be preserved and promoted. The bands of Nature will be strengthened by those of religion. To worship in one temple will become a bond of union among brethren, and will extinguish the coal of animosity; and thus "godliness will be found profitable unto all things,” and will exert a happy influence over "the life which now is,” while it embraces “the promise of that which is to come.”
3. Conformity in things of inferiour or of no moment, is a duty which we owe both to ourselves and to others; to ourselves, because it is the mask of a gracious and condescending character ; to others, because every man has a title to deference and respect, in matters where another man's conscience is not concerned. Sourness and incompliance are no part of the Spirit of Christ. Nevertheless, many who bear that name discover a tenaciousness of trifles, a bigotry of self-opinion, inconsistent not only with the Christian temper, but with good sense and good manners. This moroseness of disposition levels all distinctions, and affixes the same idea of criminality to an enormous offence and adherence to a harmless form of ceremony. With a man of this description, “ He that killeth an ox, is as if he slew a man : he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol." Difference of opinion among men is part of the plan of a wise Providence. It affords exercise to human faculties; it expands field for the display of mutual forbearance; it is a striking manifestation of the variety of the works of God. He who will yield no point, however insignificant, has no reason to expect that his punctilio should be regarded. Were the whole world of this ungainly, untractable, uncomplying nature, society would present a perpetual and universal strife of contradictory feelings, humours and interests. The rule of the Gospel is in this case, as in every other, absolute : “ All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them : for
his is the law and the prophets.” Indeed the great Prophet carries the spirit of his religion much farther : “I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twaib. Give to him that asketh thee ; and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away."
4. Watch and seize every promising opportunity of doing good ; and such occur every day that we live. Have we not the poor always with us? Might not the crumbs which fall from that table be given to feed many starving mouths? Do we not live in contact with ignorance and vice, with misery and disease? And is it in our power to grant no relief, not so much as “a cup of cold water ?" It is truly humbling to reflect how means and occasions of being useful to the bodies and to the souls of men, and of promoting our own highest interests, have been carelessly neglected, or deliberately abused. Judgement to come, however, sets the matter in a very serious light : “ I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no
• Let not your
drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not." Verily, I say unto you, in as much as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."
But this direction too must be accompanied with a caution. good be evil spoken of.” “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." There is an officiousness of perhaps wellmeaning goodness, which sometimes disdains to weigh the circumstances of times, places and persons; which will introduce certain topics out of, as well as in season, to the grief of the more prudently serious, the disgust of ihe luke. warm, and the mirth of the profane. " A word spoken in due season, how good is it !” “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. As an ear-ring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.” Finally,
5. Bring forth "things new and old,” from the inexhaustible stores of Scripture. From this sacred repository our blessed Lord derived arguments to silence and confound the adversary, and a subject of instruction for the men of Nazareth. From the same precious treasury, from those “ wells of salvation,” the faithful of every age have drawn the waters of consolation, to support and refresh them under every pressure of distress, to counteract the bitterness of death, and to enjoy a foretaste of the "pure river of water of life, proceeding out of the throne of God, and of the Lamb." ~ Jesus answered and said," to the woman of Samaria, at Jacob's well, " Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life;" and "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Therefore, "search the Scriptures ;” as Christ hath commanded, " for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” Ye “hare Moses and the Prophets ;" ye have Christ and his Apostles ; hear them. If men reject their testimony, "neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up : and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath-day, and stood up for 10 read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias : and when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; he hall sent me 10 heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberry them that are bruised; to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, this day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.
We read, in the history of the patriarchal ages, of an illustrious personage who exercised at once the functions of a priest and of a sovereign ; Melchizedec, “ King of Salem, and priest of the Most High God." He, whom this venerable person thus early represented to the world, united to these two characters, a third, less splendid indeed, but not less important, that of a teacher and instructer of mankind; and thus He became all that a guilty, enslaved, ignorant world stood in need of. In the blessed Jesus, 0 wretched man, thou beholdest the great High Priest of thy profession, who hath, by one offering, one victim, one blood, procured the remission of all thy offences; the Prince of the kings of the earth, who has broken asunder the bands of thy yoke, and asserted thee into the “ glorious liberty of the sons of God ;" and the great, the unerring Teacher sent from God, who spake as never man spake, whose lessons make men wise unto salvation.
As the Sovereign and Lord of Nature we have seen him exercising dominion over the powers of the worlds visible and invisible, putting Satan to flight by a word, receiving the homage and ministrations of angels. As an High Priest, " after the order of Melchizedec,” we shall in the progress of this history behold him offering himself, once for all, “a sacrifice of a sweet sinelling savour unto God.” We are this evening to sit at his feet, and to listen to him in his humbler and more familiar character of the meek, patient, and condescending instructer of the weak, the ignorant, and the prejudiced. And, O may the gracious words which proceed from his mouth not only excite our wonder, but penetrate and melt our hearts, kindle our repentings together, and put all that remains of our existence under the dominion of love.
His first labours of affection were bestowed upon his kindred and acquaintance, they were consecrated to the improvement of the companions and friends of early life. He had hitherto taught them by example, he now teaches them out of the written word. Had he been covetous of fame or of honour, Vol. vii.
he would surely have chosen another theatre on which to display his superiour powers, for he well knew that no prophet is accepted in his own country. He well knew that eminent excellency excites envy, that envy produces malignity, and that malice prompts to evil speaking. But regard to his own interest and case is lost in compassion to others, and the love of reputation with men reverently bends to zeal for the glory of God. Every circumstance of the scene before us is interesting and instructive.
We have in the preceding Lecture adverted to those of place, it was "in Galilee at Nazareth where He had been brought up,” and “in the synagogue." Attend now to the season, it was on the sabbath-day. As to the pure all places, so all times are pure, yet to man, weak and imperfect as he is, distinction of- both time and place is important and necessary. Shew me a man who is habitually and uniformly that in the world, which decency obliges him to appear to be in the house of God, and I shall not presume to condemn him, though he frequent not the temple; although such an one is of all others the least likely to desert it.' Shew ine the man whose every day is a day of order, of piety, of mercy, and of good works, and such an one shall, for me, spend the seventh day in what manner be will; though such an one is of all others the most likely to put respect on the ordinance of God. Who of all those, who are born of a woman, stood least in need of the influence and assistance of sacred edifices and seasons ? Ile whose conversation was continually in heaven, whose “meat and drink it was to do the will of his heavenly Father, who never lost sight, for a moment, of the great end of his mission. And who was so regular in his attendance on the exercises of religious worship; who was so exact in the observance of every institution that was stamped with marks of divine authority ? The sabbath is an ordinance of mercy, designed by Him who "
"preserveth man and beast,” to be an interruption of painful toil, a restorer of exhausted nature, a season of repose ; but in perfect consistency with this, it is a season of mental exertion of beneficence; of devout coniemplation, of virtuous, 1 social intercourse. But the observance of the sabbath had, when our Saviour came into the world ; degenerated into a narrow and grovelling superstition, which separated from it every idea of mercy and good-will to men, and the spirit was sunk in the letter. It therefore became this great Teacher, to restore the institution to its primitive design and use, and to guard mankind equally against the extremes of superstition, on the one hand, and of profanity on the other: and this he does with a wisdom, a delicacy, and a dignity peculiar to himself. Who can think slightly of what he treated with respect? Who dares to violate what he observed as "the holy of the Lord and honourable ?" And who again can think he is doing honour to God by expressing indifference, unkindness, and want of sympathy to men ? He who attended the synagogue, who read and expounded the Scriptures on the sabbath; on the sabbath also restored the withered hand, defended his disciples from the charge of profanation, displayed the character of the sovereign Lord of the sabbath, as preferring mercy to sacrifice, and as having instituted “the sabbath for man, and not man for the sabbath."
Observe farther, the Evangelist takes care to inform us that Christ's attendance on the services of the synagogue and the sabbath was not merely accidental or occasional, but habitual and stated : as his custom was. What we do according to no fixed rule, we do feebly and confusedly. What we do seldom, we do with reluctance and dislike; and from dislike ihe natural transition is in total omission. On the contrary, what is subjected to rule is done accurately and efficiently; what we do habitually, we do with ease and delight; for custom, says the proverb, and with much truth, is a second nature. The Saviour of the world, accordingly, vouchsafed to become an example here