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"Charity rejoiceth in the truth," 1 Cor. xiii, 6. These two amiable companions are closely united together, and mutually sustain each other. It is possible, however, when an error has the suffrages of many persons, respectable on account of their wisdom, their age, their rank, their labours, or their piety, that a sincere Christian may be tempted to sacrifice truth to authority, or rather to a mistaken charity. But the enlightened pastor, putting on the resolution of St. Paul, will never suffer himself to be imposed upon by the appearance of either persons or things; and though he should see himself standing alone on the side of evangelical truths, he will not fear, even singly, to act as their modest and zealous defender.
In these circumstances a lukewarm minister loses all his courage. Behold his general plea for the pusillanimity of his conduct—"I am alone, and what success can I expect in so difficult an undertaking? The partisans of this error are persons whom I both love and honour. Some of them have shown me great kindness, and others have sufficient credit to prejudice the world against me. Moreover, it would be looked upon as presumption in me, who am weaker than a reed, to oppose myself to a torrent, which bears down the strongest pillars of the Church." Such is the manner in which he apologizes for the timidity of his conduct in those situations, where his love of truth is publicly called to the test: not considering, that to reason thus is to forget at once the omnipotence of God, the force of truth, and the unspeakable worth of those souls which error may poison and destroy.
On the contrary, the faithful minister, who, on all occasions, rejoices in the truth, "conferring not with flesh and blood," courageously refuses to bear the yoke of any error that must evidently be accompanied with evil consequences. In the most trying situations of this nature he imitates the conduct of the great apostle, who, when he saw a shameful error making its way in the Church, placed himself in the gap, and gave way to the emotions of his honest zeal, as related in the following passage: "False brethren came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage. To whom we gave place by subjection, no not for an hour; that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you. And when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him, insomuch that Barnabas also," under the specious pretence of not offending his neighbour, "was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" Gal. ii, 4, 14.
This reasonable reprimand is, perhaps, one of the greatest proofe
which St. Paul ever gave of the uprightness of his intention, and the steadiness of his resolution.
Ye men of integrity! ye, who have proved how much it costs to defend the rights of truth, when they stand opposed to that deference which condescending love obliges us to show in a thousand instances to respectable authority; you alone are able to make a proper judgment of the holy violence which was exercised by St. Paul upon this occasion. But whatever they may be called to endure in so honourable a cause, happy are those Christians, and doubly happy those pastors who have so great a love for truth, and so true a love for their brethren, that they are ready at all times, with this faithful apostle, to sacrifice to the interests of the Gospel every inferior consideration, every servile fear, and every worldly hope. *bt» --rfr t'.-:•'„.-- '. .'•-•- v •
Turin'- is no kind of calumny which the incredulous have not advanced, in order to render Christianity either odious or contemptible. According to the notions of these men, to adopt the maxims of evangelical patience argues a want of sensibility; and to regulate our conduct according to the dictates of Christian prudence, is to act the hypocrite. What we have to say, in this place, will chiefly respect the latter charge.
It has been asserted, by modern infidels, that the gentleness and forbearance which the Gospel requires of its professors, must necessarily make them the dupes of designing men, and lead them unreluctantly into the snares of their persecutors. But to draw this inference from some few passages of Scripture, understood in too literal a sense, is to set truth at variance with itself, merely for the purpose of charging Christians with all the evil, which, it is presumed, they might have avoided by prudence, or have overcome by resolution. The example of our Lord, and that of St. Paul, might have rectified the ideas of cavillers upon this point. When Christ exhorted his disciples to be "harmless as doves," he admonished them at the same time to be "wise as serpents:" and of this harmless wisdom he himself gave a striking example, when he was interrogated by the Jews respecting the lawfulness of paying tribute unto Cesar. Well acquainted with the different sentiments of that people with regard to the Roman yoke, without directly combatting the prejudices of any party, he returned a satisfactory answer to all parties, by an inference drawn from "the image and superscription" borne upon their current coin,—" Render therefore unto Cesar the things that are Cesar's, and unto God the things that are God's," Matt- xxii, 21.
The sincere Christian, and the faithful minister, have frequently occasion for this happy prudence, as well as St. Paul, who, more than once, employed it with success. The Jews, irritated against this apostle, sought occasion to destroy him, on account of the zeal with which he published the Gospel among the Gentiles. Hoping to soften the prejudices they entertained against his conduct, he recounted to them how Jesus, being raised from the dead and appearing to him in an extraordinary manner, had expressly sent him to the Gentiles, Acts xxii, 21, when the Jews, more irritated than before, would have torn him in pieces, had he not been rescued out of their hands by the Roman garrison. By this means Paul was preserved for a more peaceful hearing. And on the morrow, when he stood before the Jewish council, perceiving that the assembly was composed partly of Sadducees, who say there is "no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit;" and partly of Pharisees, who believe equally in the existence of spirits and the resurrection of the body; he immediately availed himself of this circumstance, and cried out, "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question," Acts xxiii, 6. As though he had said, The great cause of the violent persecution that is now raised against me is, that I preach "Jesus and the resurrection." Our fathers, indeed, were not absolutely assured of a life to come; but the important doctrine of the resurrection, and of the judgment that shall follow, is now demonstrated; since God has given an incontestable proof of it, in raising up his son Jesus from the dead. And I myself have been an eye witness of his resurrection, to whom he has appeared two several times; once as I journeyed to Damascus, and afterward as I prayed in the temple. But when I mentioned this second appearance of a risen Saviour, my incredulous accusers began vehemently to cry out, "Away with such a fellow from the earth." By this just exposition of the fact, and by his prudent selection of "the resurrection of Christ" from among the other great doctrines of Christianity, St. Paul happily caused a division to take place among his judges. And the event answered his expectation: for "the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part, arose, saying, We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit," that is, a man risen from the dead, "or an angel, hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God," Acts xxiii, 9. There is still another instance of the wisdom of the serpent reconciling itself with the innocence of the dove, in the conduct of this apostle, when marking the disposition of his Athenian judges, he took advantage of their taste for novelty by announcing to them "The unknown God," to whom they had already erected an altar, Acts xvii.
This Christian prudence, equally distant from the duplicity of hypocrites and the stupidity of idiots, merits a place among the traits which characterize this great apostle, not only because it is worthy of our imitation, but also because it has been indirectly represented, by a modern Celsus, as mere cunning and artifice. The author here alluded to, who deserves rather to be called a great poet than a faithful painter, having disfigured this trait of St. Paul's character with a pencil dipped in the gall of prejudice, we gladly take this occasion of setting forth the injustice of his imputations, so illiberally cast both upon Christianity itself, and the most eminent of its defenders. This witty philosopher, who has said so many good things against the spirit of persecution, never perceived that he himself was actuated by an intolerant spirit: so true it is, that the most sagacious are liable to be blinded by passion or prejudice. The same spirit of persecution which excited the Athenians to discountenance the justice of Aristides as a dangerous singularity, and to punish the piety of Socrates as a species of atheism, led the author of the Philosophical Dictionary to represent the prudence of St. Paul as the duplicity of a hypocrite.
Had this severe judge occupied the seat of Ananias, he might, perhaps, with an affected liberality, have overlooked the peculiarities of the apostles' creed; but, in the end, his innate detestation of piety would have assisted him, according to the general custom of persecutors, to feign some just cause for treating him with the utmost rigour. And this he has done in our day as far as his circumstances would permit; since, not being able to disgrace him by the hand of a public executioner, he has studied to do it with his pen, by ravishing from him, not only his reputation for extraordinary piety, but even his claim to common honesty.
Persecutor! whoever thou art, be content that thy predecessors have taken away the lives of the righteous, and spare them, what they prefer infinitely before life itself, "the testimony of a good conscience."
TRAIT XXV. V
'HU tenderness toward others, and his severity toward himsdf.
Thofgh perfectly insensible to the warm emotions of brotherly love, the worldly pastor frequently repeats, in his public discourses, those affectionate expressions which flow so cordially from the lips of faithful ministers, "My dear brethren in Christ!" These expressions from the pulpit are almost unavoidable upon some occasions; but, in general, they are to be regarded in no other light than the civil addresses of a haughty person, who concludes his epistles by assuring his correspondents that he considers it an honour to subscribe himself their obedient servant. But while the worldly minister affects a degree of benevolence which he cannot feel, the good pastor, out of the abundance of a heart overflowing with Christian charity, addresses his brethren with the utmost affection and regard, not only without any danger of feigning what he has not experienced, but even without a possibility of expressing the ardour of his brotherly love. His exhortations to the faithful, like those of St. Paul, are seasoned with an unction of grace, and accompanied with a flow of tenderness which frequently give them an astonishing effect upon his brethren, and which always evince the interest he takes in the concerns of the Church. "Rebuke not an elder," says St. Paul, "but entreat him as a father, and the younger men as brethren: the elder women as mothers, the younger as sisters, with all purity," 1 Tim. v, 1. Such was the exhortation of this apostle to a young minister, nor was his example unsuitable to his counsel. "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God. Dearly beloved, be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good," Rom. xii, 1, 19, 21. "I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you," 1 Cor. iv, 14. "I, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you, that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,"Eph. iv, 1. "If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, being of one accord. My beloved, work out your own salvation with
fear and trembling," Phil, ii, 1, 2, 12. "We beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as you have received of us how ye ought to walk, and to please God, so ye would abound more and more," 1 Thess. iv, 1. "Though I might be much bold in Christ, to enjoin thee that which is convenient, yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds; who in time past was unto thee unprofitable, but now profitable unto thee and me, whom I have sent again. Thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels. Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord; refresh my bowels in the Lord," Philemon ver. 8, 12, 20. Such was the tenderness and affection with which St. Paul was accustomed to address his believing brethren. But the language of this apostle was very different when he spoke of himself, and of that body of sin which constrained him to cry out, "O wretched man that I am!"
It is the character of too many persons to be severe toward the failings of others, while they show the utmost lenity toward themselves, with respect both to their infirmities and their vices. Always ready to place the faults of their neighbours in an odious light, and their own in the most favourable point of view, they seem to be made up of nothing but partiality and self love; while the true minister reserves his greatest indulgence for others, and exercises the greatest severity toward himself. "All things are lawful for me," writes St. Paul, "but I will not be brought under the power of any," 1 Cor. vi, 12. "Know ye not that they which run in a race, run all, but one receiveth the prize? And every one that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things: now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away," 1 Cor. ix, 24-27.
One reflection naturally finishes this trait of the character of St. Paul. If this spiritual man, if this great apostle thought himself obliged to use such strenuous efforts, that he might not be rejected before God at the last, in how great danger are those careless pastors and Christians, who, far from accustoming themselves to holy acts of self denial, satisfy their natural desires without any apprehension, and treat those as enthusiasts who begin to imitate St. Paul, by regarding their baptismal vow, and renouncing their sensual appetites.
His love never degenerated into cowardice, but reproved and consoled, as occasion required.
THE charity of the true minister bears no resemblance to that phantom of a virtue, that mean complaisance, that unmanly pliancy, that unchristian cowardice, or that affected generosity, which the ministers of this day delight to honour with the name of charity. According to these insufficient judges, to be charitable is only to give some trifling