« הקודםהמשך »
not receive you, and hear your words; but the disjanctive particle nor shows that they are here spoken of as different things. The 11th verse, compared with this 14th, will determine what is meant in this place by receiving a prophet : Into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence :' ver. 11. In the 14th it follows, Whosoever shall not receive,' &c. that is, to “abide' with them; which abode implies, not only house-room, but a supply of such other necessaries as their circumstances required : for it was to answer the want of gold and silver, and such other things as they were expressly forbidden to provide for themselves.
The second reason may be collected from the last verse of the text: * And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto
he shall in no wise lose his reward.'. It is manifest that our Saviour here speaks of giving a 'cup of cold water only,' as the lowest degree of that virtue which he was then recommending ; for to show how acceptable an offering it would be to God to receive a prophet in the name of a prophet, he adds, that even a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple should not lose its reward. To receive a prophet, therefore, and to give a cup of cold water to a disciple, are acts of the same kind, though differing in degree; and consequently to receive a prophet in this place, is not an act of faith or obedience, but of charity and beneficence.
To receive a prophet in the name of a prophet,' is to receive him because he is a prophet; on account of his character and office, and near relation which he bears to Christ. To be kind to our friends and relations, and to administer relief to the extreme necessities and sufferings of our fellow-creatures, is, in some degree, to comply with the cravings of nature in ourselves, and to provide for our own ease and enjoyment: for the pity and compassion which miserable objects raise in us, are attended with a pain and uneasiness to ourselves, no otherwise to be allayed but by relieving the misery that caused them. But when we relieve the members of Christ, because of the relation they bear to him, we act then in the spirit of true Christian charity, and show ourselves to be lively parts of his
body; "rejoicing with them that do rejoice,' and suffering with those who suffer.
The excellency of Christian charity is derived from this dignity of its object. In morality we can rise no higher than to consider men as men, as partakers of the same common nature with ourselves; and the natural sense we have of misery is the foundation of our tenderness and compassion towards others. In this case the regard we have for others is derived from ourselves; and our love and compassion bear a proportion to the relation that is between us and them: our children share as largely in our affections as they do in our blood : next to them our relations and friends have the preference: and in all cases the love of ourselves is the fountain from which our love to others is derived. But Christian charity flows from another spring : here all the affections terminate in Christ; and we know no other relation but that which is derived from him, who is 'head over the whole family.' And as the love of Christ is the source of Christian charity, so is it the measure of it too; and the rule by which we must adjust our love and charity to others : he is our nearest relation who is nearest related to Christ, and is therefore the most immediate object of our love and charity. He that receiveth you,' says our blessed Lord to his Apostles, 'receiveth me; and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me.' Then follow immediately the words which I have now read to you for the subject of this discourse.
In treating on which, I beg leave to observe to you,
First, the several degrees of charity mentioned in them; and wherein the excellency of one above the other consists.
Secondly, how truly Christian and excellent in its kind that charity is, which is the end and design of this annual solemnity.
I. If we begin our account at the verse immediately preceding the text, we shall find four degrees of charity enumerated, and distinguished from each other by the several and distinct promises made to them. The first is, that of receiving an Apostle: "He that receiveth you, receiveth me.' The second, that of receiving a prophet : He that receiveth a prophet, in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet's reward.' The third, that of receiving a righteous man: * He that receiveth a righteous man, in the name of a righteous man, shall receive a righteous man's reward.' The fourth, that of relieving the meanest of Christ's disciples: Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.'
Charity is distinguished into these different kinds and degrees, by the dignity of the persons who are the objects of it. For since receiving a prophet shall intitle us to a prophet's reward; and receiving a righteous man to a righteous man's , reward ; it is plain that receiving a prophet as far exceeds the charity of receiving a righteous man, as a prophet is more excellent than he.
To receive a prophet because he is our friend or relation, is but a common degree of kindness ; the honor must be paid him because he is a prophet; it must be done in the name of a prophet : so that the motive and principle on which we act must be taken into the account; and our good deeds will receive their true and proper value, from the views and regards with which they are done.
In this lies the difference between the Christian and the moral virtue : the same object appears not in the same light to both. Nature melts at the sight of misery, and by a secret sympathy feels what it sees; and relieves itself by administering comfort and support to the afflicted : but grace looks on the sufferings of Christ in all his members; and gives that assistance to the miserable for his sake, which nature gives only for its own.
For this reason we find Christ charging himself with all the kindnesses and acts of mercy shown to his brethren and disciples. •I was an hungered,' says he, “and ye gave' ME meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave ME drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto ME.' This regard to Christ is the very life and soul of Christian charity ; and that only which can intitle our good works to reward at the last day: for our good works themselves have neither merit nor righteousness, but as they begin and end in Christ : the love of Christ is the fountain of Christian charity; and Christ in his members is the object of it.
This being the nature of Christian charity, it is plain that one kind will differ from another in perfection, as it more nearly approaches the person of Christ, who is the object, and as it more strongly partakes of the principle, which is the love of Christ. And by this rule of proportion, our Saviour has placed the several degrees of charity mentioned in the text; as will appear by considering the characters and relations of the per, sons who are the immediate objects.
The persons mentioned are four sorts: Apostles ; prophets ; the righteous; and the little ones. They are ranked according to the dignity of their characters, which arises from the relation they bear to Christ, who is head over all. And under one or other of these denominations may every Christian be found : so that we have here, in truth, a perfect scheme of Christian charity, and a rule to direct us in the choice of proper objects.
The Apostles, on the death of our Saviour, succeeded to the government and direction of the church : they were commis, sioned to feed and to rule the flock in his stead and in his
Under them were placed teachers and pastors of different orders, who are comprehended under the general name of prophets.
These offices have been perpetuated in the church by a constant succession of men duly called to them; and the present governors and pastors of it stand in the same degree of nearness and relation to Christ that the Apostles and Prophets did who went before them in the same work of the ministry; and we must so account of them, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God:' 1 Cor. iv. 1.
The two next characters belong to the flock of Christ; who are not distinguished from each other by any difference in character or office, but only by their different attainments in faith; the righteous are the strong' in faith : the little ones are the 'weak.' The righteous are those who, as the Apostle to the Ephesians expresses it, are come unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.' The little ones are those he calls children ;' unsettled in the faith, and liable to be tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine :' Epb. iv. 13. 14.
The learned Grotius reckons here but three degrees, (for he
leaves out the Apostles, who yet are plainly mentioned in the 40th verse) and of them he says, that they are tres discipulorum . Christi gradus. The righteous he makes to be a middle kind of Christian, between the little ones and the perfect; and by prophets he understands only perfect Christians, without regard to any peculiar office or character in the church belonging to them. But this is agreeable neither to the language of Scripture, nor to our Saviour's design in this place; the dikaci, the "righteous,' are always spoken of as perfect Christians : those who are to shine forth in the kingdom like the sun, are surely no mean or middle kind of Christians; but they are called the righteous.' So in the 25th of St. Matthew, those who at the last day shall be intitled to eternal life, are the ! righteous.' In the 12th of the Hebrews, the Apostle tells them they are come to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven; and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,' kal πνεύμασι δικαίων τετελειωμένων. Are the δίκαιοι, “righteous,' here spoken of as middle Christians, where their distinguishing character is, that they are made perfect ?'
Nor is the word “ propheť ever used where Christians in general are spoken of; but it always denotes a peculiar character and office : 'He gave,' says St. Paul to the Ephesians, * some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers. Where the offices are thus distinctly enumerated, prophet denotes a distinct order in the ministry; but when it is used generally, it denotes the pastors and teachers of the church, without regard to their distinct orders : and in the text prophets follow after apostles, in the same manner that little ones follow after the righteous : for as little ones include all degrees of Christians under the righteous, so prophets include all degrees of pastors under apostles.
Besides, our Saviour's design in this place was evidently to lay a foundation for the support of the Christian ministry; he forbids them to provide for themselves for this reason, because they were workmen worthy of their hire, and ought to be provided for by others: and to encourage men cheerfully to discharge this duty to them, he adds, ' He that receiveth you, receiveth me.' And when this was his design and intention,