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Thus humility, or poverty of spirit, which is set forth by Christ as the first beatitude, leads us, by prayer, to all the benedictions of the Gospel, and to that lively gratitude which gives birth to thanksgiving and joy. Lovely humility! penetrate the hearts of all Christians, animate every pastor, give peace to the Church, and happiness to the universe.
TRAIT XII. The ingenuous manner in which he acknowledged and repaired his errors.
It is difficult for a proud man to confess himself in an error: but they who are possessed of humility and love can make such an acknowledgment with cheerfulness. When St. Paul was called upon to justify his conduct before the tribunal of the Jews, the same spirit of resentment which animated his persecutors suddenly seized upon the more passionate of his judges, when the high priest, still more exasperated than the rest, commanded them who stood near Paul "to smite him on the mouth." It was in that moment of surprise and indignation that the apostle, unacquainted with the author of so indecent a proceeding, and not imagining that the president of an august assembly could so far forget his own dignity as to act with so reprehensible an impetuosity, gave this sharp reply to so unjust an order: "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall; for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?" Immediately those who stood by, reproaching him with his apparent disrespectful carriage, inquired with the utmost indignation, "Re vilest thou God's high priest?" Here the apostle, far from justifying his own conduct in resenting the severity of a judge who had degraded himself by an act of the most flagrant injustice, immediately acknowledged his error: and lest the example he had given should encourage any person to withhold the respect due to a magistrate, still more respectable by his office than blamable by his rigorous proceedings, he endeavoured to make instant reparation for his involuntary offence, by citing a penitent passage from the law, answering with all meekness: "I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people," Acts vxiii, 2, 5.
There is another instance of the indiscretion and candour of this apostle. Paul and Barnabas going forth to publish the Gospel, took for their companion John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas. The young evangelist, however, staggered by the dangers which those apostles were constantly obliged to encounter, forsook them at Pamphilia in the midst of their painful labours. But afterward, repenting of his former irresolution, he offered to accompany them in another journey. Barnabas, who had charity enough to hope all things of his nephew, wished to afford him a second trial: while Paul, whose prudence taught him to fear every thing from a young man who had already given an indisputable proof of his inconstancy, refused his consent. At length the two apostles, unable to decide the matter to their mutual satisfaction, took the resolution of separating one from another. Paul went to preach the Gospel in Syria with Silas; while Barnabas, accompanied by his nephew, proceeded to proclaim Christ in the isle of Cyprus. Thus the separation of true Christians, without producing any schism in the Church, frequently tends to the propagation of the Gospel.
Time alone could determine whether Barnabas was deceived by an abundance of charity, or St. Paul through an excess of prudence. The event turned the balance in favour of the judgment of Barnabas; the conduct of John Mark on this second mission was irreproachable. From that time, St. Paul, with his usual candour, forgetting the former instability of Mark, placed the utmost confidence in him, received him with joy as the companion of his labours, revoked the order he had formerly given respecting him, and recommended him to the Churches as a faithful minister. Thus much may be inferred from the following passage in his epistle to the Colossians: "Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, touching whom ye received commandments; if he come unto you, receive him," Col. iv, 10.
Thus the sincere followers of Christ are ever anxious to repair their involuntary faults: faults which we, as well as the apostles, are always exposed to the commission of, and which should constrain us to say, with St. Paul, "Now we know" things and persons "in part." This imperfection in our knowledge will sometimes produce errors in our judgment, and those errors may probably influence our conduct. But, if in these failings there be no mixture of malice ; if we sin through ignorance, and in the integrity of our hearts, God imputes not to us those errors; provided that we are always prepared, like St. Paul, to confess and repair them. To err is the lot of humanity: obstinacy in error is the character of a demon: but humbly to acknowledge, and anxiously to repair an error, is to exhibit a virtue more rare and valuable than innocence itself, when accompanied with any degree of conceit and pride.
They who give the portraits of legendary saints generally paint them without a single failing. But they who wish faithfully to imitate the sacred authors, are obliged to employ shades as well as lights, even in their most celebrated pieces. If this part of the portrait of St. Paul should not appear brilliant, it will serve, at least, to manifest the reality of the original, the liberality of the apostle, and the fidelity of the painter.
While the spirit of the world is confessedly a spirit of particular interest, pride, and division, the spirit of true religion is manifested, among its sincere professors, as a spirit of concord, humility, and brotherly love. The true minister, animated in an especial manner by this Divine spirit, losing sight of his own reputation and honour, is unweariedly engaged in seeking the glory of God, and the edification of his neighbour. Perfectly satisfied with the lowest place, and distinguished as much by condescension to his brethren, as by respect to his superiors, he is ever on his guard against that spirit of party which is continually seeking to disturb the union of the Church, whether it be by too great a fondness for particular customs, by an obstinate zeal for any system of doctrines, or by too passionate an attachment to some eminent teacher.
Without persecuting those who are led by so dangerous a spirit, the
good pastor employs every effort to reunite them under the great Head of the Church. Arguing against the folly of those who are ready to separate themselves from the company of their brethren, he takes up the language of St. Paul, and says, "O foolish Christians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" Gal. iii, 1, 3. "Ye have," indeed, "been called unto liberty: only use not liberty as an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, among which are these, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, and heresies: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, faith, meekness, temperance. If we live in the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another," Gal. v, 13, 26. "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Endeavour, therefore, to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," Eph. iv, 3, 6.
When the people seek to honour a true minister by placing him at the head of any party in the Church, he refuses the proffered dignity with an humble and holy indignation. His soul is constantly penetrated with those sentiments, under the influence of which the Apostle Paul thus nobly expressed himself: "I seek not my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved," 1 Cor. x, 33. "I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind. For it hath been declared unto me that there are contentions among you: and that every one of you saith, I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos, and I of Cephas, and I of Christ. But is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" 1 Cor. i, 10, 13. "Who is Paul, but a minister by whom ye believed? Therefore, let no man glory in men, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas," 1 Cor. iii, 5, 21, 22; but rather in "our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named," Eph. iii, 14, 15.
By such exhortations it is, and by maintaining at the same time a conduct conformable to the nature of such exhortations, that every faithful minister endeavours to engage Christians of all denominations to walk together " in love, as Christ also walked," Eph. v, 2. "Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord," v, 10, " and submitting one to another in the fear of God," v, 21, till the arrival of that promised period, when the whole company of the faithful shall be of one heart and of one mind.
But after all these exertions for the extirpation of a sectarian spirit from the Church, they who content themselves with the exterior of Christianity, as the Pharisees were contented with the ceremonies of the Mosaic worship, will, sooner or later, accuse every evangelieal pastor of attempting to form a particular sect. When modern Pharisees observe the strict union which reigns among true believers, a union which every faithful minister labours to establish among his people, as well by example as by precept; when they behold penitent sinners deeply sensible of their guilt, and frequently assembling together for the purpose of imploring the blessings of" wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption," they immediately take the alarm, and cry out, "These men do exceedingly trouble our city, teaching customs which are not lawful for us to receive," and maintaining such a conduct as is most inconvenient for us to follow, Acts xvi, 20, 21.
Happy are those cities in which the minister of Christ is able to discover a Nicodemus, a Gamaliel, or some worshippers possessed of as much candour as the Jews of Rome, who desired to hear what the persecuted Paul had to offer in behalf of that newly-risen sect, which was "every where spoken against," Acts xxvii, 22. Till this amiable candour shall universally prevail among the nominal members of the Church, true Christianity, even in the centre of Christendom, will always find perverse contradiction, and sometimes cruel persecution.
Tne minister of the present day labours chiefly with a view to his own advantage and honour. He endeavours to please that he may be admired of men. "He loves the chief seats in synagogues," public greetings, and honourable titles, Matt, xxiii, 6, 7, thus tacitly challenging, by his unreasonable pretensions to the respect and homage of men, a part of that glory which is due to God alone.
A totally different character is maintained by the true minister. His discourses, his actions, his look, his deportment, all agree to say, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and for thy truth's sake," Psalm cxv, 1. If the arm of the Omnipotent enables him to perform any extraordinary work, which the multitude do not immediately refer to the "Author of every good and perfect gift," he cries out with St. Peter, " Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness" we had performed what appears to excite your astonishment?"The God of our fathers hath," upon this occasion, "glorified his Son Jesus; and the faith, which is by him," hath effected this extraordinary work in the presence of you all, Acts iii, 12, 13, 16. On all occasions he can say with the great apostle, "Do I seek to please men? If I yet pleased men," unless lor their edification, "I should not be the servant of Christ," Gal. i, 10. "With me it is a very small thing, that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment," 1 Cor. iv, 3. "But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God, who trieth our hearts. Neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know; nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others," 1 Thess. ii, 4, 6. By such a conduct he distinguishes himself as a faithful ambassador of the blessed Jesus, who expressed himself in the following lowly terms to those who had reproached him with a spirit of self-exaltation: "I do
■othing of myself, but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. I seek not my own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. If I honour myself, my honour is nothing. It is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say that he is your God," John viii, 28, 50, 54.
There may be peculiar cases in which a ministering servant of God may be allowed to call upon Christians for a public testimony of their approbation; and when this is refused, he is justified in modestly calling their attention to every past proof of his integrity and zeal. Thus St. Paul, as a proper mean of maintaining his authority among the Corinthians, who had manifested an unjust partiality toward teachers of a very inferior order, entered into a long detail of those revelations and labours, which gave him a more than ordinary claim to the respect of every Church. But whenever he commended himself, he did it with the utmost reluctance, as one constrained by the peculiarity of his circumstances to act in immediate contrariety to his real disposition. Hence, whenever he recounts the particular favours with which God had honoured him, he speaks in the third person, as of another man: "Of such a one will I glory; yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities," 2 Cor. xii, 5. "For we dare not make ourselves of the number of those who commend themselves, measuring themselves by themselves," without any reference to the excellent graces and endowments of others. "But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth," 2 Cor. x, 12,18. Nothing affords greater satisfaction to false apostles than commendation and praise; while the true minister shrinks with horror from those very honours which they assume all the forms of Proteus to obtain. When the multitude, led by their admiration of a faithful preacher, follow him with unsuitable expressions of applause, he meets them with unfeigned indignation, arrests their impious plaudits, and rejects their idolatrous adulations, crying out with St. Paul, "Sirs! why do ye these things? we also are men of like passions with you; and preach unto you, that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God," Acts xiv, 13, 15. We are neither the way, the truth, nor the life: but we point to you that way which the truth has discovered, and through which eternal life may be obtained, entreating you to walk therein with all simplicity and meekness. And remember, that instead of affecting in our discourses that vain wisdom, which the world so passionately admires, we faithfully proclaim Christ: and, to humble us the more before God and man, "we preach Christ crucified," 1 Cor. i, 23.
By this humble carriage the ministering disciples of Christ are principally known. By this they copy the amiable example of John the Baptist, who cheerfully humbled himself that Christ might be exalted, crying out in the language of that self-renouncing teacher, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world! There standeth one among you whom ye know not, whose shoes' latchet we are not worthy to unloose. We baptize with water; but he baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." Beware then of entertaining too high an idea of our ministry; and remember, that " He must increase" in your estimation, "but we must decrease," John i, 26, 33; iii, 30.
After beholding John the Baptist, who was accounted greater than any of the prophets, abasing himself in the presence of Christ; and