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THE WAY TO THE KINGDOM.
“ The kingdom of God is at hand : repent ye, and believe
the Gospel.” Mark i. 15.
TAESE words 'naturally lead us to consider, first, The Nature of true Religion, here termed by our Lord, “The Kingdom of God;” which, saith he, “is at hand: ” and, secondly, The Way thereto, which he points out in those words, “ Repent ye, and believe the Gospel.”
1. 1. We are, first, to consider the Nature of true Religion, here termed by our Lord, " The Kingdom of God.” The same expression the great Apostle uses in his Epistle to the Romans, where he likewise explains bis Lord's words, saying, “ The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. xiv. 17.)
2. “The Kingdom of God,” or true Religion, “is not meat and drink.” It is well known, that not only the unconverted Jews, but great numbers of those who had received the Faith of Christ, were, notwithstanding," zealous of the law," (Acts xxi. 20,) even the Ceremonial Law of Moses. Whatsoever therefore they found written therein, either concerning meat and drink offerings, or the distinction between clean and unclean neats, they not only observed themselves, but vehemently pressed the same, even on those " among the Gentiles (or Heathens) who were turned to God ; ” yea, to such a degree, that some of them taught, wheresoever they came among them, “ Except ye be circumcised, and keep the · Law, (the whole Ritual Law,) ye cannot be saved.” (Acts xv. 1, 24.)
3. In opposition to these, the Apostle declares, both here and in many other places, that true Religion does not consist in meat and drink, or in any Ritual Observances; nor, indeed, in any outward thing whatever; in any thing exterior to the heart; the whole substance thereof lying in “ righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
4. Not in any outward thing"; such as forms or cere, monies, even of the most excellent kind. Supposing these to
be ever so drcent and siguilicant, crer no expressive of inward things : supposing them ever so helpful, not only to the vulgar, whose thought reaches little tariler thau their sight; bul even to men of understanding, men of stronger capacities, as doubiless they may sometimes be: vca, supposing them, as in ile case of the Jerr's, to be appointed by God himself; yet cren during the period of time, wherein that appointment remains in force, true Religion does not principally consist therein; nay; strictly speaking, not all. How much more must this hold concerning such Rites and Forms as are only of human appointment! The Religion of Christ rises infinitely higher, ind lies innensely deeper, than all these. These are good in iheir place; jusi so far as they are in fact subservient to truc Rcligion. And it rere superstition to object against them, while they are applied only as occasional helps to human weakness. But let po man carry them farther. Let no man dream that they have any intrinsic worth; or that rcligion cannot subsist without them. This were to make them an abomination to the Lord.
5. The nature of religion is so far from cousisting in these, in Forms of worship, or lites and Ceremonies, that it does not properly consist in any outwarıl actions, of what kind socver. It is true, a man cannot bave any Religion who is guilty of vicious, immoral actions; or who does to others, what he would not they should do unto him, if he were in the same circumstances. And it is also truc, that he can have no real Religion, who « knows to do good, and docth it not.” Yet may a man both abstain from outward cvil, and do good, and still have no religion. Sca, tilo persons may do the same outward work; suppose, feeding the hungry, or clothing the maked; and, in the mean time, one of these may be truly religious, and the other have no religion at all: for the one may act from the love of God, and the other from the love of praise. So manifest it is, that although true religion naturally leads to crery good word and work, yet the real nature thereof lies decper still, crou in “ the hidden man of the heart.”
6. I say of the Heart. For neither docs Religion consist in Orthodoxy, or light Opinions; which, although they are not properly outward things, are pot in the heart, but the understanding. A man may be orthodos in crery point; he may not only espouse right opinions, but zealously defend them against all opposers; he may thinki justly concerning the
incarnation of our Lord, concerning the ever-blessed Trinity, and every other doctrine, contained in the Oracles of God; he may assent to all the three Creeds,-that called the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian; and yet it is possible he may hare no Religion at all, no more than a Jew, Turk, or Pagan. He may be almost as orthodox,-as the Devil; (though indeed, not altogether; for every man errs in something; whereas we cannot well conceive him to hold any erroneous opinion ;) and may, all the while, be as great a stranger as he to the religion of the heart.
7. This alone is Religion, truly so called : this alone is in the sight of God of great price. The Apostlc sums it all up in three particulars, “ Righteousness, and Peace, and Joy in the Holy Ghost.' And, first, Righteousness. We cannot be at a loss concerning this, if we remember the words of our Lord, describing the two grand branches thereof, on which “hang all the Law and the Prophets:” “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength. This is the First and great Commandment," (Mark xii. 30,) the first and great branch of Christian Righteousness. Thou shalt delight thyself in the Lord thy God; thou shalt seck and find all happiness in him. He shall be “thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward,” in time, and in eternity. All thy bones shall say, “ Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon carth that I desire beside thee!” Thou shalt hear, and fulfil his word, who saith, “My son, give me thy heart.” And, having given him thy heart, thy inmost soul, to reign there without a rival, thou mayest well cry out, in the fulness of thy heart, “ I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my strong rock, and my defence; my Saviour, my God, and my might, in whom I will trust; my buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.”
8. And the Second Commandment is like unto this; the → second great branch of Christian Righteousness is closely and inseparably connected therewith ; even “ Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Thou shalt love,- Thou shalt embrace with the most tender good will, the most earnest and cordial affection, the most inflamed desires of preventing or removing all evil, and of procuring for him every possible good,- Thy neighbour ;-that is, not only thy friend, thy kinsman, or thy acquaintance: not only the virtuous, the friendly, him that loves thec, that prevents or returns thy kindness; but every
child of man, crcry human creature, every soul which God hath made; not excepting him whom thou never hast scen in the flesh, whom thou kinowest pot, either by face or name; not excepting him whom thou knowest to be evil and unthankful, him that still despitefully uses and persccutes thee: bim thou shalt love as thyself; with the same invariable thirst after his happiness in crery kind; the same wil'caried care to screen him from whatever might grieve or hurt, either his soul or body.
9. Now is not this love " the fulfilling of the law?” The som of all Christian rightcousuess?'— Of all inward rightcousness; for it necessarily implics“ bowels of mercy, lubleness of mind,'' (sceing "Jove is not pulled up,'') “gentleuess, meckBess, longsuffering :” (for love “is not provoked ;” but “ believeth, hopeth, endureth all things :') And of all outward righteousness; for "love worketh vo cril to his neighbour," cither by word or dece. It cannot willingly citler hurt or gricre any oue. And it is zealous of good works. Every lover of mankiud, as he hath opportunity, “doeth good wto all men," being (irithout partiality, and without hypocrisy) “ full of mercy, and good fruits.
10. But trne religion, or a heart right toward God and man, implies Happiness, as well as holiness. For it is not only Righteousness, but also “ Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost." What peace? The Peace of God, which God only can give, and the world cannot take aray; the peace which “ passeth all understanding,” all (barely) rational conception; being a supernatural sensation, a divine taste of " the powers of the world to come;” such as the natural man knowetli not, how wise socrer in the things of this world, nor, indeed, can he know it, in his present statc, “because it is spiritually discerned.” It is a peace that banishes all doubt, all painful
certainty; the Spirit of God bearing witness with the spirit of a Christian, that he is a child of God. And it banishes fear, all such fear as hath torment; the fear of the wrath of God; the fear of hell; the fear of the Devil; and, in particular, the fear of death : he that hath the peace of God, desiring, if it were the will of God, “ to depart, and to be with Christ.”
11. With this peace of God, wherever it is fixed in the soul, there is also“ Joy in the Holy Ghost ; ” Joy wrought in the heart by the Holy Ghost, by the crer-blessed Spirit of God. He it is that worketh in us that calm, humble rejoicing in God, through Christ Jesus, " by whom we have now received the
atonement,” xatanlayny, the reconciliation with God; and that enables us boldly to confirm the truth of the royal Psalmist's declaration, “Blessed is the man,” (or rather happy,) un "qwx, “whose uprighteousness is forgiven, and whose sin is covered.” He it is that inspires the Christian soul with that even, solid joy, which arises from the testimony of the Spirit that he is a child of God; and that gives him to “ rejoice with joy unspeakable, in hope of the glory of God;” hope both of the glorious image of God, which is in part, and shall be fully " revealed in him ;” and of that crown of glory which fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for him.
12. This holiness and happiness, joined in one, are sometimes styled, in the inspired Writings,“the Kingdom of God,” (as by our Lordin the text,) and sometimes, "the Kingdom of Heaven." It is termed “the Kingdom of God,” because it is the immediate fruit of God's reigning in the soul. So soon as ever he takes unto himself his mighty power, and sets up his throne in our hearts, they are instantly filled with this righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” It is called “the kingdom of heaven," hecause it is (in a degree) heaven opened in the soul. For whosoever they are that experience this, they can aver before angels and men,
“Everlasting life is won:
· Glory is on earth begun:” According to the constant tenor of Scripture, which every where bears record, God “hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son” (reigning in his heart) “hath life,” (even life everlasting.) (1 John v. 11, 12.) For “ this is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” (John xvii.3.) And they, to whom this is given, may confidently address God, though they were in the midst of a fiery furnace,
" Thec,-Lord, safe shielded by thy power,
Thee, Son of God, JEHOVAH, we adore ;
For where thy presence is display'd, is heaven.” 13. And this kingdom of God, or of heaven, is at Hand. As these words were originally spoken, they implied, that the time was then fulfilled, God being “ made manifest in the flesh,” when he would set up his kingdom among men, and reign in the hearts of his people. And is not the time now