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ST. JAMES i. 21. Receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. IT is recorded by St. John, in his Gospel, that many of the disciples finding the doctrines of our blessed Lord quite irreconcileable with their carnal views, were revolted with their novelty, and " went back, and walked no more with him," upon which, " Jesus said to the twelve, will ye also go away ? Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go ? Thou hast the words of eternal life. Such will be the case in every age of the world, when the same unhappy temper of mind shall prevail. There are too many among us who, because they are perplexed with some trifling difficulty, or offended by some apparent harshness, go back and walk no more with Christ. But from whom do they fly ? from him that hath the words of eternal life. To whom do they go ? Bb
370 SERMO XXX. to that worst of all guides, and that most com fortless of all resources, a proud and an impa tient heart.
" But/ says the Apostle, " receive with meek ness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls." Meekness is a disposition of mind peculiarly favourable to the acceptance, and the growth of the Gospel ; and without it the en grafted word will too surely wither and decay. It is a disposition which pervades the whole man, and while it enlarges the understanding, it softens the heart, " casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into capti vity every thought to the obedience of Christ." . It was in meekness that Christ our King came unto us, it was by the meekness of Christ that the Apostle so earnestly adjures and be seeches his converts ; can we wonder then that the same disposition which most adorns the Mas ter, should be best adapted to the disciple? or is it extraordinary, that they who possess it not, should turn back and walk no more with him, who " was meek and lowly in heart ?" Let us consider then this temper of mind, as it affects our acceptance of the Gospel. First, with respect to the understanding. Of those who call themselves Christians, but few, comparatively, have advanced in religious
SERMO XXX. 371 knowledge beyond the rudiments which they were taught in their childhood, and even of this slender portion too much has often been oblite rated by indifference and neglect. In a state of mind, unhappily so common, a man will take up the Scriptures, he will find many things obscure, many strange, and many in direct opposition to
his preconceived prejudices and notions. He throws them aside, perplexed and confused, per haps impatient and disgusted. What is the cause of this? where lies the fault? Is the darkness in the book of God, or in the under standing of man ? What should we think of the same mode of proceeding in any other case? Take any art or science whatsoever, and enquire what temper of mind a reasonable man, if he hopes to master it, must bring to the task? Must he not begin with its lowest elements? Must he not expect to find a thousand points, which, with all his attention, he cannot compre hend ? Must he not at first take many things for granted, both in principle and practice ? Must he not expect to gain a perfect knowledge of his art by a slow, cautious, and laborious process ? Must he not bring an understanding humble, teachable, and submissive ? ay, more, must he not expect to find many of his previous notions on the subject erroneous, and unfounded ? Must sb 2
372 SERMO XXX. he not submit to retrace many a step, and recant many an opinion ? If any one in preparing himself for a profes sion, upon which his whole future provision depended, was to begin with cavils and objec tions, doubts and difficulties, what should we think of that man s understanding and sense ? Yet such is the disposition which too many in dulge, when entering upon that profession, upon which their provision not only for this life, but for eternity itself, depends. What then is this meekness with which the engrafted word is to
be received ? It is the same temper precisely, which is essential to our success in any other de partment of knowledge. When we enter upon the study of the Gospel, let us enter upon it with the same docility, the same desire, the same sense of our own ignorance, with which we should enter upon any other study. In the words of the Apostle, " be swift to hear, slow to speak." We shall find many things which at first we can not understand, but this affords no rational cause for fretfulness and impatience ; God has so or dained it in this, as in every other branch of knowledge. Enough in the Gospel is clear to carry the poorest and the meanest to heaven ; but if we would enter more deeply into the counsels of God, we must enter with meekness,
SERMO XXX. 373 with patience, and with reverence. If our un derstanding is thus disciplined and subdued, we shall find our difficulties gradually vanish ; the light which is from above will increase upon us, and day by day we shall " grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord." In every species of knowledge, but especially in that of himself, " God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." Both in the word, and works of God, pride and ignorance go hand in hand. Christ himself has taught us, that " God hideth these things from the wise and prudent," the wise and prudent in their own conceit, " and revealeth them unto babes :" and again, " whosoever shall not receive the king dom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein." He then who is sensible of the reli gious darkness and ignorance by which he is
enveloped, must become as a little child before his understanding can be enlightened, and his knowledge enlarged. Like a little child he must be content to begin with the first rudiments of Christian doctrine; like a little child he must repose confidence and faith in his heavenly teacher ; and the same meekness and simplicity, which is the charm and ornament of the tender mind, must become the leading character and feature of his own. Thus, and thus only, will the word of life, engrafted upon a low and hum-
374 SERMO XXX. ble stock, grow and flourish ; and thus, in this his spiritual resurrection from darkness and ig norance, what was " sown in weakness, shall be raised in power/ But this meek and humble disposition must exist not only in the understanding, but in the heart. More men reject or despise the Gospel, from moral, than from intellectual pride. It is not to the slow and gradual stage by which reli gious knowledge is to be gained, that men alto gether object ; but it is to the discoveries, which in every such stage, open upon them. When every step we advance in the Gospel, we find something in direct opposition to our darling habits, dispositions, and affections ; our pride is wounded, our hearts are offended, we close the book of life, and walk no more with Christ. Then it is that we raise difficulties, and multiply objections against the engrafted word, " which is able to save our souls." And why ? because our pride and our prejudices do not approve of the manner, and the means by which that hea venly word proposes to save them. Men, instead
of receiving with meekness the admonitions of Christ, are ever ready to excuse, or justify their own obstinacy in rejecting them. The wealthy and the avaricious shall open the Gospel ? what does he read ? " it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for
SERMO XXX. 375 a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God ;" he closes the book, and in sullen desperation exclaims, "who then can be saved?" he pro nounces in haste and in pride, the word of life to be impracticable, and by that impracticability he both justifies and continues his sin. But pe tulance and obstinacy will prove but poor ex cuses at the judgment-seat of God. Had such a man been prepared in meekness, and humility, to listen and to learn, he would have found that " with God all things are possible," that none of his commands are harsh or impractica ble. He would have learned that generosity, kindness, charity, and benevolence, are highly possible and highly practicable graces and vir tues. He would have learned that such kind and Christian dispositions, so far from saddening or impairing the present life, are the sources of the most exalted gratification. But why was he ignorant of this ? Because he saw that his pomp, and his avarice, must be sacrificed; rather, therefore, than submit to such a privation, he proudly repudiates the engrafted word, and that Saviour who is both able and willing to save his soul, but at a price which he will not consent to pay. As with avarice, so with pleasure, with sen
suality, and with any other sin " that doth so
376 SERMO XXX. easily beset us." To receive the engrafted word with due effect, we must receive it with meek ness. We must lay " apart all filthiness and su perfluity of naughtiness,," (that is, the proud and presumptuous feeling which so often attends the consciousness of sin,) we must feel a humble sense of our errors and infirmities, and a hearty desire both to detect and amend them. Let a man come to the Gospel in a frame of mind thus chastened and subdued, and he will find at once, reformation and rest to his soul. To the meek and the lowly in spirit, the yoke of Christ " is easy, and his burden is light/ We know from whom the words of eternal life came down ; from him, " the Father of light, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." With what humility should all that descends from such a source be received, and cherished. Christ is the great physician of the soul : " he speaketh the word only, and his servants are healed." Under such a physician we have little reason to feel either pride or im patience. In every disorder of the body such a temper of mind can only retard or prevent the cure ; and can we think that in the deeper seated diseases of the soul, a less degree of pa tience and confidence is necessary to effect a cure ? Severe indeed sometimes is the treatment,
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and bitter the medicine his word prescribes, but we know the skill and the power of the hand by which it is administered. With meekness then of understanding and heart, let us receive " the engrafted word, which is able to save our souls." This is the temper, and the only temper of mind in which the Holy Scriptures can be read with advantage, or stu died with effect. It is a temper of mind which, tfiough it will grow and increase with the study of them, must, notwithstanding, be previously provided and prepared. It is the stock upon which the word is to be engrafted ; and if the stock be dry and cankered, the engrafted branch, holy and heavenly as it may be, will never flourish. And how can this preparation be better made than by humble and anxious prayer that the spi rit of meekness and humility may descend upon us ? and that so the word, being grafted upon a disciplined understanding and a patient heart, may bring forth fruit unto life eternal. Then, in the words of the prophet, " the meek shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One of Israel."
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