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AN ATTRACTIVE PIETY,
BACCALAUREATE SERMON, JUNE 26, 1881.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. — PHILIPPIANS 4:8.
T was the privilege of the great apostle to address
one church wholly in the spirit of grateful and confiding love. In every other instance he was compelled to mingle his exhortations with warning and rebuke. But the piety of the Philippians seems to have kept clear of all reproach. Not a word of censure drops from his pen, but unqualified praise. No opposition here had resisted his authority. No heresy had disturbed the peace.
No scandal had brought sorrow and shame. The ardent zeal that loved the teaching loved the teacher too; and the consistent piety that fulfilled the weightier matters of the law had overflowed in thoughtful attentions to the man of God himself. On three several occasions they had sent to the harassed apostle the means of temporal relief.
The apostle was moved. Their blameless conduct gladdened him; their Christian courtesy unlocked the fountains of his heart, and he pours out the fullness of his affection. “I have you in my heart,” he says; and once he calls them in a breath, "My brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, ... my dearly beloved.” In the words of the text we thus seem to hear the voice of the affectionate teacher giving the last finish to his favorite disciples. We have not here an exhortation merely to a complete, but to a lovely and a winning, piety. It is no set enumeration of separate Christian graces. You can hardly draw the line between the traits he describes, or sharply discriminate between the terms he employs. His expressions and the qualities they include do not meet like the hard edges of some iron armor, but they overlap like the plumage of some bright and graceful bird. religion, he would say, go forth into all that is sincere and true, noble, upright, unsullied, winning, and reputable, into everything that is truly virtuous and truly praiseworthy. The sentiment involved is that
Very much, no doubt, is here included : fidelity, sincerity, and honorableness; elevation and refinement of feeling; attention to the proprieties and decencies of life; magnanimity and delicacy of sentiment; thoughtful kindness and considerateness; and all those nameless graces, the outgrowth of a good and genial spirit, which surely win respect and good will, and influence for good. These things have been severed from religion by various classes of religionists: by some, from native rudeness unsubdued; by others from low and narrow views of the regenerate man; by some who would substitute mere amiableness for spiritual piety; by others who in the recoil have fallen into the other extreme, and would almost make piety exclude amiability. They are not to be severed.
For though in God's sight outward amiableness without inward piety is morally nothing; so also in his sight is a religion that has no loveliness either a miserable caricature or a mutilated trunk. The author of true religion has indicated his view of the case in various ways :
I. In the constitutional instincts and spontaneous judgments of men. Our native sense of fitness and symmetry imperatively demands that the noblest emotion of which our nature is capable, disinterested love, flow forth in winning forms, and that the highest type of manhood should be the fairest thing in a world where God made all things fair and “good.” We have our sensibilities too. Regeneration and growing sanctification make us no less, but all the more, sensitive to the engaging influence of an attractive deportment. The Saviour was pleased with that externally unexceptionable young man.
And how instinctive our judgment that above all things else the pearl of great price should shine out from a casket of purest crystal ! Never does meanness seem so contemptible and so revolting as in one who calls himself a follower of Christ. The whole world sees the incongruity and cries out “Shame!" It shocks us like a foul word from a fair mouth, like the white robe of beauty trailing in the mire.
II. Again, we learn the mind of God on this matter from the important bearing which he has assigned to such qualities upon the happiness of men. And the will of God is that Christian men should make their fellows happy. So closely has he interwoven us in our relations here that a thousand minor influences may make or mar each other's joy. A grain of sand in the nice mechanism of a watch will spoil its movement. A drop of oil is a very little thing, but it may save much friction. Just so in our lives; the main wheels may be in motion, the radical virtues of the Christian may all be there, yet the presence or the absence of the nameless decencies and graces not definitely recorded in the decalogue may be that drop of oil, that grain of sand. These things may seem to bear no comparison to the weightier matters of the law, or even to form no essential part of Christian character, yet is the range of their influence none the less. We are creatures affected by just such things. A little mote in the eye, a little thorn in the flesh, a little bitter always in the cup —these are the things that make life dark and thorny and bitter. Efforts even to promote men's happiness may be baffled by defects in the mode. Some repulsive trait, long cultivated and now unconscious, thrusts in its ill-omened visage in a critical moment with fatal effect. Some disregard of nice propriety, some obtuseness of sensibility, some want of true delicacy or magnanimity, some lack of deep sympathy, some rough repellent way contradicts and counteracts. It is the voice of Jacob, but the hands of Esau. Attention or inattention to such things as these on the part of those
united in a common destiny for life often has decided the character of that destiny; it has made or marred the comfort of a family or a neighborhood. There was food for thought in the irreverent speech of the little lad who did not wish to go to heaven because that was to be the home of his crusty grandsire. And in truth if all that bear the name of Christian, and with some reason too, were to be taken thither with all the questionable traits of which they make so little account, it would hardly be the blissful heaven of God. When Christ was on earth the little ones whom their mothers brought did not shrink from his arms, nor did their mothers recoil from his sacred presence. And since it is the will of him who "pleased not himself” that we too should minister to each other's happiness, true piety should never forget to follow here in the footsteps of its Lord and Master.
III. We gather the will of God still further from the important influence which he has assigned to these qualities upon men's moral welfare. They come to reinforce the gospel by showing religion in its genuine attractiveness. Piety may be, and alas! too often is, misrepresented in the lives of its followers. The natural hostility of the heart to its claims thus finds a fortress which God never built for it, behind which to entrench itself. How many a man has almost lost faith in religion - or at least has so said -- from the shortcomings of religious men! And though the responsibility of him who shuts his eyes to the clear light of God's Word and looks only on the defects of so-called