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MATTHEW XXIII. 15* Woe unto you. Scribes and Pharisees^ hypocrites ! for ye earn" pass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he it nuide, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yoursehoes. They who are not familiar with the universal extent of God's revelation, with that peculiar mark of its divine original, its providing against opposite dangers with equal earnestness, although not always at equal length, inasmuch as one, though not less fatal than the other, may be less common ; they may be surprised to find in the ew Testament such words as those which I have just read. It may seem strange that the Founder of a religion, which was, in one sense, to owe its whole existence to proselytism, should thus strongly condemn the zeal of making proselytes ; that he, whose disciples were to labour to convert every soul.
PR08ELYTISM. 187 and bring it into Christ's family, should speak of persons converted from one religion to another, as being made worse than their teachers; or, as it may be implied, worse than they themselves had been before. But these words of the text, this condemnation of the Scribes and Pharisees for their spirit of proselytism, contain one of the most useful of lessons, standing, as they do, along with so many others
in praise of the spirit of proselytism. We should bear in mind together the two sayings of our Lord, which so beautifully accompany one another : *' Go, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ;" and, " Woe unto you. Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites ! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.** ow, if we were to put these two passages 90 close together before some interpreters, and many readers of Scripture, they would find nothing at all remarkable in them. They would say, that Christ enjoins Christians to make proselytes to Christianity, because it is the truth ; and that he condemns the Scribes land Pharisees for making proselytes, because
1 88 PROSELYTiSM. they brought them over to a system of error. And, accordingly, they would regard the warning as having nothing to do with themselves, nor with any one who is endeavouring to spread the belief of the great truths of the gospel. . It is by this method of interpretation, this catching at names and losing the substance^ that we deprive ourselves of half the benefits of the Scripture. And it is remarkable, that it was the very system of interpretation actually adopted by those very Scribes and Pharisees whom our Lord is in the text condemning. They condemned their fathers for killing the
prophets, and supposed that the judgments denounced in their Scriptures upon the sins of their fathers, had no relation to them. For, they argued, our fathers worshipped idols, and neglected the service of God, and profaned his Sabbaths ; and then, in conclusion, they shed the blood of those holy men who warned them of their sin and danger. God, therefore, cast them out of their place by a most just sentence, even as he had threatened them. But what is their case to us ? we have turned from idols and serve only our fathers' God ; we honour his name and reverence his sanctuary, and his Sabbaths
PROSELYTISM. 1 89 we observe with most scrupulous care. Those of his saints whom our fathers disobeyed or persecuted, we sincerely honour. We know that God spake to Moses ; we hope to hear his voice ourselves through the mouth of his &ithful servant Elijah, whom he has promised to send to us again. All the prophets, from Samuel, and those that come after, we reverence their name, we believe their words : the judgments which they speak of came upon our guilty Others ; the blessings which they promise, may be looked for by us, who serve the Lord in truth and earnestness. Such was their language, and such the way in which, taking hold of names, and not thinking of the spirit and substance, they lost for themselves the use of that word of God which they daily studied. And Christ tells them, that they may well speak of those
who killed the prophets as having been their fathers, seeing that they were in heart, as well as blood, their true children. With different words in their mouths, there was the same spirit; and they who built up the tombs of the prophets, were but filling up the measure of the sins of their fathers, by whom the prophets were slain. So exactly it is with us, if we think that the
J 90 PROSELYTISM. • substance and spirit of our Lord's words is to be founds on the one hand, in the name& of baptism. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; or, on the other hand, in the names of Scribes and Pharisees. We may proselytize to truth, and they may have proselytised to error, and yet it may be a woe to us no less than to them, that ever we did proselytize ; nay, our proselytes, though made proselytes to the holiest truth, may yet become, by the very act of their conversion, in a worse state than they were before. But when I speak of the Scribes and Pha^ risees having prosel3rtized to error, I am needlessly weakening my own argument They made proselytes to truth, in the same sense in which I used the word just now, when speaking of the prosel3rtizing of Christians. For what does Christ say of them, but that sitting in Moses' seat, their instructions were to be observed, though not their actions ? These Scribes and Pharisees taught
their proselytes to believe in God, to hope for eternal life, to flee from idolatry, to believe in the Scriptures, and to keep the Law. What we call the truths of religion^ so £eu: as they were then revealed, were all taught by them. It is not correct, therefore.
PR08ELYTISM. 191 to say that they made prosel3rte8 to error iq the common sense of the word; their's was not like the proselytism of the Sadducees> who would indeed have made converts to error^ by teaching men to deny the great truth of the resurrection of the dead. But the Scribes and Pharisees taught the truth ; and^ therefore^ the censure which falls upon their proselytism, majr, with the same force, apply to ours. Some who have followed me thus for, may, perhaps, think that there is little in all this that concerns them ; that nothing can less need to be mentioned in this congregation than the danger of religious proselytism. And this is very true ; and yet the objection would arise out of that same sort of literal interpretation which I have been just condemning. For the substance of our Lord's warning does not relate to the particular matter in which proselytes are attempted to be made, but to the manner and spirit of making them. He is not speaking of the dangers of religious proselytism in particular, but of all proselytism, although his example happens to be taken from religious proselytism. And, therefore, if we were a congregation of the most worldly-minded
192 PROSELYTISM. persons conceivable, still we should no les^ need the warning of the text For the evil complained of is, that men, in preaching or insisting upon truth, do it not so much for the sake of truth as of themselves, their own triumph and their own glory. That thus, even while recommending what is really true, they mix up with it much besides that is not true, which still theylfi^lcht^ with no less earnest^ ness. That as they proselytize with unworthy motives, so those who join them do it firom unworthy motives also ; that in both the love of party gets the better of the love of truth ; and the attachment of the person proselytized is much more to the men whom he has joined, taken in the mass, — to their honour and to their interest, with which he has mixed up his own, — than to that portion of truth, be it less or more, which, as one amongst many peculiarities of their own body, they accidentally, rather than with sincere affection, continue to propagate. Taken, then, in its very essence, the warning of the text is against binding others, or allowing ourselves to be bound, by other ties than those which God has sanctioned, or in a "greater degree than he has sanctioned. For while we should render to all their dues, yet
PROSELYTISM. 193 we should be careful to know what is due^ and not to give more. Our relations claim our love ; our parents and our country claim not only love, but duty, the service of our bodies in siiffering, if need be, even to the death. But the service of our bodies in doing, the surrender of hand, heart, and mind, to work, to love, and to reverence, — the pledging ourselves heart and soul to the cause, so that its friends are our friends, and its enemies our enemies ; this is due neither to parents, nor to country, nor to any human party, nor sect, nor society, nor cause ; it is neither due to them, nor can it be given them without great sin ; for we are Christ's, and Christ's only, and Christ is God's. This, followed up into its details, and where is the department of human Hfe to which it would not apply? Where is there not a blind and a selfish reverence paid to the ties which our own hands have made, either on a great scale or on a small, — an undue zeal for something which is not Christ's but our own ; and, what is yet worse, a greater regard to these earthly ties, than for that great and only tie which should fully control us, the communion of the Holy Spirit of God. This is a general evil, which might be dwelt on in one VOL. ui. o
194 PROSELYTISM. or other of its particular forms, according to the circumstances of particular congregations. In its form of religious, or national, or political party spirit, Vie have little to do with it here ; but in another form, and one suited to our circumstances, it exists here as much as any where. Ties are attempted to be thrown over every one who comes amongst us, if, indeed, they have not been thrown over him earlier ; binding him, by a supposed chain of honour, to the particular society into which he is entered ; so that their honour and their interest, according to their own notions of both, are to become his law : he must resent supposed insults offered them ; and if they do evil, he is bound, if not actually to join in it, yet to conceal it, and in no way to endeavour to put it down. It is this sympathy with the members of our own particular society, without always distinctly keeping it in subjection to our stronger sympathy for God's law, which is the cause of so much eviL It is what we see sometimes exhibited amongst the poorer classes with respect to the law of the land; whatever crime may be committed by one of their own class, they shrink from having any hand in bringing him to justice, because their notion
PROSELYTISM. 195 is, that it is betra3ring one of themselves. We see exactly that here is the mischief of the spirit condemned in the text A man who has committed a great crime is yet considered
as one of themselves, not as one whom they are to love for Christ's sake, and as a member of a society in which he is one, but as one of themselves according to an evil and unhallowed union which he abhors, an union which leads men to each other because they are alike in worldly condition, and teaches them to regard this as a greater bond than the love of goodness and the hatred of wickedness. I have given the instance in the name of the poorer classes screening each other from the law of the land ; but you know that it is exactly the same feeling which makes boys combine together to screen one another from the laws which affect them, and to help one another sometimes in breaking them. It is astonishing how much mischief is done by a deceitful word. ''We must not desert our companions ;" that is the sort of expression which characterises the proselytism in which the proselyte is made two-fold more the child of hell than his converters. Companions in what, or for what purpose ? Accident has thrown us together in the same place, it is o2
1 96 PROSELYTISM. trae ; we eat, sleep^ and live under the same roof, or within the same town. But this is but a poor reason for union of heart or feelings although it is great reason for showing kindness and civility. If we think of what is more than a mere accident ; if we look upon each other as companions in a better sense, that' is^ as having a common work and
a common interest, then it becomes us to consider well what this work is^ and what this interest. Is it to help one another in evil or in good ? Is it to assist one another in maintaining the liberty to do what is base or wicked, to live in idleness, to get in debt, to be thoughtless, extravagant, or sensual? If this is the work for which we are companions, then, indeed, it is a companionship which the language of the text will best describe. They who are led into it, and they who lead them, become the children of hell together. But surely we are companions in a better sense than this, and with a companionship wherein Christ himself may be one. There is before you a common work and a common interest, in which you may be fellow-workers with Christ, and fellow-reapers ; sharers of his laboui-, and sharers of his glory. There is a
PROSELYTISM. 197 common work to which you are all leagued^ that the society to which you belong should be in reality what it is in name^ a school of Christian education ; there is a common interest, that all evil should be put away from among you, inasmuch as it hinders you each and all in following Christ steadily. This is a true companionship, a Christian communion^ in which there is ample room for the exercise of all, and far more than all, the good points which can ever exist in those evil communions, for good nature, for mutual kindness, for preferring each the other and the welfare of the whole to his own ; but which
admits of nothing narrow-minded, nothing contentious, nothing which is a breach of our true and heavenly communion, nothing which leads us to excuse, to endure, to become accomplices with evil. For in this true companionship, whatever is against Christ is also against our union ; we are no less false to one another than to him, if we do not endeavour to put it down. And to bring over any to such a companionship is no less than to fulfil Christ's command, while we effectually avoid incurring the danger of his warning. It is conversion, not proselytism ; and as in the spirit of human proselytism both are accursed
tt^tfaer, he that proselytizes and he who is proselytized : so, in this true conversion to the companionship of Christ, he who is converted has saved his soul, and he who has converted him, shall shine as the stars for ever and ever.
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