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they could not understand, or, if they did, could never bring their hearts to it; witness that rule of their great Tully: "It is the first office of justice (saith he,) to hurt no men, except first provoked by an injury." The addition of that exception spoiled his excellent rule.
But christianity teaches, and some christians have attained it, to receive evil, and return good: "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat." 1 Cor. 4: 12, 13. This is that meekness wrought in us by the wisdom from above. James, 3:17. This commends a man to the consciences of others, who, with Saul, must acknowledge, when they see themselves so outdone, "Thou art more righteous than I," 1 Sam. 24: 16, 17; who must say, had we been so much injured, and had such opportunities to revenge, we should never have passed them by, as these men did. This impresses and stamps the very image of God upon the creature, and makes us like our heavenly Father, who doeth good to his enemies, and sends showers of outward blessings upon them that pour out floods of wickedness daily to provoke him. Matt. 5: 44, 45. In a word, this christian temper gives a man the true possession and enjoyment of himself. So that our breasts shall be as the pacific sea, smooth and pleasant, when others are as the raging sea, foaming and casting up mire and dirt.
INFERENCE 1. The Christian religion is the greatest friend to the peace and tranquillity of states and kingdoms. Nothing is more opposite to the true christian spirit, than implacable fierceness, strife, revenge, tumult, and uproar. It teaches men to do good, and receive evil; to receive evil, and return good. "The wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated; full of mercy and good fruits; without partiality, and without hypocrisy; and the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make
peace." James, 3: 17, 18. The church is a dove for meekness. Cant. 6:9. When the world grows full of strife, christians then grow weary of the world: and sigh out the psalmist's request, "O that I had wings like a dove! then would I fly away and be at rest."
The rule by which we are to walk, is, "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay it, saith the Lord." Rom. 12: 18, 19. It is not religion, but our lusts, that make the world so unquiet. James, 4: 1, 2. Not godliness, but wickedness, that makes men bite and devour one another. One of the first effects of the Gospel, is to civilize those places where it comes, and settle order and peace among men. Happy would it be if religion did more obtain in all nations. It is the greatest friend to their tranquillity and prosperity.
2. How dangerous a thing is it to abuse and wrong meek and forgiving christians! Their readiness to forgive often invites injury, and encourages vile spirits to insult and trample upon them: but if men would seriously consider it, there is nothing should more deter and affright them from such practices than the spirit of forgiveness. You may abuse and wrong them, and they must not avenge themselves, nor repay evil for evil: true, but because they do not, the Lord will; even the Lord to whom they commit the matter; and he will do it to purpose, except ye repent.
"Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord." James, 5:7. Will ye stand to that issue? had you rather indeed have to do with God than with men? When the Jews put Christ to death, "he committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously." 1 Pet. 2:22, 23. And did they gain any thing by that? did not the Lord severely avenge the blood of Christ on
them and their children? yea, do not they and their children groan under the doleful effects of it to this day! If God undertakes (as he always doth) the cause of his abused, meek, and peaceable people, he will be sure to avenge it sevenfold more than they could.
3. Let us all imitate our pattern, the Lord Jesus Christ, and labor for meek, forgiving spirits. I shall only propose two inducements to it; the honor of Christ, and your own place; two things dear indeed to a christian. His glory is more than your life, and all that you enjoy in this world. Oh do not expose it to the scorn and derision of his enemies. Let them not say, How is Christ a lamb, when his followers are lions? how is the church a dove, when its members tear and devour like birds of prey? Consult also the quiet of your own spirits. What is life worth, without the comfort of life? What can you have in all that you do possess in the world, as long as you have not the possession of your own souls? If your spirits be full of tumult and revenge, the Spirit of Christ will grow a stranger to you: that Dove delights in clean and quiet breasts. Oh then imitate Lord in this your also! grace
SECOND EXCELLENT WORD OF CHRIST UPON THE CROSS. "BEHOLD THY MOTHER!"
"Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother John, 19:27.
In this second memorable and instructive word of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, he has left us an excellent pattern for the discharge of our relative duties. It may be well said, the Gospel makes the best husbands
and wives, the best parents and children, the best masters and servants: it furnishes the most excellent precepts, and proposes the best patterns. Here we have the pattern of Jesus Christ presented to all children for their imitation, teaching them how to acquit themselves towards their parents, according to the laws of nature and grace. Christ was not only subject and obedient to his parents whilst he lived, but manifested his tender care even whilst he hung in the torments of death upon the cross. "Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mo ther!"
The words contain an affectionate recommendation of his distressed mother to the care of a dear disciple, a bosom friend.
The design and end was to manifest his tender respect and care for his mother, who was now in a most distressed, comfortless state. For now was Simeon's prophecy, Luke, 2: 35, fulfilled in the trouble and anguish that filled her soul. Her soul was "pierced" for him, both as she was his mother, and as she was a mystical member of him, her Head, her Lord: and therefore he commends her to John, the beloved disciple, saying, "Behold thy mother!" that is, let her be to thee as thine own mother. Let thy love to me be now manifested in thy tender care for her.
The manner of his recommending her was very affectionate and moving, "Behold thy mother!" As if he had said, I am now dying, leaving all human society and relations, and entering into a new state, where neither the duties of natural relations are exercised, nor their comforts enjoyed. It is a state of dominion over angels and men, not of subjection and obedience; this I now leave to thee. Upon thee do I devolve both the honor and duty of being in my stead and room to her, as to all dear and tender care over her. It was also a mutual recommendation: to his mother he said, "Wo
man, behold thy son!" not mother, but woman, intimating not only the change of state and conditions with him, but also the request he was making for her to the disciple with whom she was to live, as a mother with
The time when his care for his mother so eminently manifested itself, was when his departure was at hand, and he could no longer be a comfort to her, by his bodily presence; yea, his love and care manifested themselves when he was full of anguish both in his soul and body. Hence,
Christ's tender care of his mother, even in the time of his greatest distress, is an excellent pattern for children to the end of the world.
"There are three great foundations, or bonds of relation, on which all family government depends:" those of husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants. The Lord has planted in the souls of men affections suitable to these relations; and to his people he has given grace to regulate those affections, appointed duties to exercise those graces, and seasons to discharge those duties. So that, as in the motion of a wheel every spoke takes its turn, and bears its stress; in like manner, in the whole round of a christian's conversation, every affection, grace, and duty, at one season or other, comes to be exercised.
But yet grace has not so far prevailed in the sanctification of any man's affections, that there will be no excesses or defects in their exercise towards our relations; yea, in this eminent saints have been eminently defective. But the pattern set before us here is a perfect pattern. As the church finds him the best of husbands, so to his parents he was the best of sons; and being the best and most perfect, he is therefore the rule and measure of all others. Christ knew how the corruptions we draw from our parents are returned in