« PreviousContinue »
to engross to thyself either to retain as useless or to use, to hoard and wrap up, or to lavish out; according as thy humour leads thee. No! All is given as to a steward, wisely and faithfully to lay up and lay out, not only the outward estate and common gifts of mind, but even saving grace, which seems most appropriated for thy private good, yet is not wholly for that. Even thy graces are for the good of thy brethren ?”
The great motive, however, urged by the Apostle for manifesting Christian love is, “that in all things God may be glorified through Christ Jesus.” In the Christian economy“ all things are of God," and all things are " by Christ Jesus.” The Christian Church is the new creation; the work of the word and Spirit of God, as was the first creation. Every true member of it is created anew in Christ Jesus ; and still more emphatically than of the holy nation, which was its type, may it be said, “ This people has he formed for himself.” They ought then to show forth his praise. When Christians manifest their love to one another in the way enjoined in the text, both the individual improvement of the members and the general spiritual prosperity of the church as a body, are promoted. Holiness and happiness are diffused. The wisdom, the power, the holiness, and the benignity of God, in the glorious economy
of which the spiritual society, "the church,” is an important element, are illustriously displayed. His authority is visibly acknowledged, his object is visibly gained, when Christians live together in holy love. On the other hand, when Christian love is not maintained and manifested, God is dishonoured. A false view is given respecting his character; and his holy name is blasphemed among the unbelievers, through the unworthy conduct of those calling themselves his people. The taunt is a bitter one, when Christians act a part unworthy their character, . See how these Christians bite and devour one another. These are the lights of the world. These are the salt of the earth. This is Christianity, and these are Christians.'
A regard to the glory of God, especially as manifested through the mediation of Christ, is the master principle of every true Christian ; and it is his prevailing desire that whether he eat, or drink, or whatsoever he do, he may do all to the glory of God. No motive, then, can be conceived better adapted than this to induce Christians carefully to cultivate, habitually to manifest brotherly love; without this God cannot be glorified, nay, he must be dishonoured by them; and just in the degree in which they attend to these duties, do they answer the design of their high and holy vocation ; the “showing forth the praises of him who hath called them from darkness to life ;” the being “to the praise of the glory of him who hath made them accepted in the beloved,” whose they are, whom they are bound to serve; of whom, and “through whom, and to whom are all things.”
The Apostle concludes his exhortation and enforcement of the maintenance and manifestation of brotherly love, by a solemn doxology : “ To whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever.” If we look merely at the words, it may be doubted whether this ascription of Divine honours has a reference to God the Father, or to Jesus Christ. There can be no doubt, that there are similar ascriptions of Divine honours to our Lord Jesus in other parts of the New Testament; and that, as He and the Father are one, it is most meet " that all should honour the Son as they honour the Father.” At the same time, though Jesus Christ be the nearest antecedent, God the Father is the subject of the preceding statement; and an ascription of Divine praise and dominion to Him seems most naturally to rise out of that statement. It is as if the Apostle had said—Seek, by the maintenance and manifestation of brotherly love, to glorify God; for he is worthy of all glory. Praise and dominion are his proper due.
“It is,” says Leighton, “most reasonable, his due as God the Author of all, not only of all supervenient good, but even of being itself; seeing that all is from him, that all be for him. “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever.' As it is most just, so it is most sweet to aim at this, that God be glorified. It is the alone worthy design that fills the heart with heavenliness, and with a heavenly calmness; and sets it above the clouds and storms of those passions that disquiet low, self-seeking minds. He is a miserable unsettled wretch who cleaves to himself and forgets God; is perplexed about his credit, and gain, and base ends, which are often broke; and which when he attains, yet they and he must perish together. When his estate, or designs, or any comforts fail, how can he look to him whom he looked so little at before? May not the Lord say, 'Go to the gods whom thou hast served, and let them deliver and comfort thee?' Seek comfort from thyself, as thou didst all for thyself. But he that hath resigned himself, and is all for God, may confidently say, "The Lord is my portion. This is the Christian's aim, to have nothing in himself, nor in any thing but in this tenure; all for the glory of my God, my estate, family, abilities, my whole self, all I have and am. And as the love of God grows in the heart this purpose grows; the higher the flame rises the purer it is; the eye is daily more upon it; it is oftener in the mind in all actions than before. In common things, the very works of our callings, our very refreshments, to eat, and drink, and sleep, are all for this end, and with a particular aim at it as much as may be. Even the thought of it is often renewed throughout the day, and at times generally applied to all our ways and employments. It is that elixir which turns all into gold; thy ordinary works into sacrifices, "with which God is well-pleased.""
The introduction of this doxology in the midst of his exhortation is a beautiful exemplification of the Apostle's piety. We have not a few instances of the same kind in the epistolary writings of his " beloved brother Paul.” It were a pleasing proof that we had obtained like precious faith with the Apostles, and been baptized into the Spirit, which was shed forth on them so abundantly, were there in our hearts a fountain of affectionate esteem, grateful admiration, adoring awe of the Divine holiness, benignity, and majesty, always ready to gush forth in a stream of praise ; “ a well of living water, springing up to eternal life.” It were indeed, as the devout Archbishop says, “a high and blessed condition to be in all estates in some willing readiness to bear a part in this song, to acknowledge the greatness and goodness of our God, and to wish him glory in all. What are the angels doing? This is their business, without interruption, without weariness, without end. And, seeing we hope to partake with them, we should even now, though in a lower key, and not so tunably neither, yet as we may, begin it; and upon all occasions our hearts should often be following in this sweet note or offering, "To Him be glory and dominion for ever.'”
NOTE A. “ The care of providing for the support and maintenance of strangers, of the poor, the sick, the old, of widows and orphans, and of those in prison on account of their faith, devolved on the whole church. This was one of the main purposes for which the collection of voluntary contributions, in the assemblies convened for public worship, was instituted; and the charity of individuals, moreover, led them to emulate each other in the same good work. In particular, it was considered as belonging to the office of the Christian matron to provide for the poor, for the brethren languishing in prison, and to show hospitality to strangers. The hindrance occasioned to this kind of Christian activity, is reckoned by Tertullian among the disadvantages of a mixed marriage. •What heathen,' says he, will suffer his wife to go about from one street to another, to the houses of strangers, to the meanest hovels indeed, for the purpose of visiting the brethren? What heathen will allow her to steal away into the dungeon to kiss the chain of the martyr ? If a brother arrive from abroad, what reception will he meet in the house of the stranger? If an alms is to be bestowed, storehouse and cellar are shut fast. On the other hand, he counts it among the felicities of a marriage contracted between Christians, that the wife is at liberty to visit the sick and relieve the needy, and is never straitened or perplexed in the bestowment of her charities. Nor did the active brotherly love of each community confine itself to what transpired in its own immediate circle, but extended itself also to the wants of the Christian communities in distant lands. On urgent occasions of this kind, the bishops made arrangements for special collections. They appointed fasts; so that what was saved, even by the poorest of the flock, from their daily food, might help to supply the common wants.”—TERTULL. ad uxorem, ii. 1, 8; de jejunio, c. xii.—NEANDER. Gen. Ilist. vol. i. p. 347, 8.