« PreviousContinue »
and which comes only by thinking and by prayer. This is the knowledge of ourselves. For to use the comparison which I used just before : suppose we know the nature of various medicines,--that this is good as a stimulant, that as an alterative; such an one in cases of fever, another in paralytic affections, and so on; yet still we should gain little by our knowledge, unless we knew whether our own case was one of fever or of paralysis, whether our state required to be stimulated or to be lowered. If the symptoms deceive us, and we form a wrong judgment here, our knowledge of the uses of the medicines avails us nothing; they become our poison, and we die. But in these matters we do not trust our own judgment; we go to those who have a knowledge of bodily disorders, and ask them to prescribe for us. In the disorders of the body we have this resource, but it is not so with the disorders of the soul. There we must, generally speaking, judge for ourselves, and at our own peril. The symptoms of disorder here are often such as our own hearts alone are conscious of; and we shrink from laying open our hearts to any eye but His who made them. Nay, even if we would, it is not always that we can do it without mischief; it is not always that we can do it at all. We cannot always do it without mischief; for to recall thoughts which passed through our minds almost without consciousness, is little better than to dwell
upon our dreams. It is a morbid habit to be searching as it were into the very minutest operations of our minds, to be examining every particular process within us, how much did we assent to such and such a thought, how really did we form such and such a wish? in what exact portions did kindness, or the love of God, or selfishness, mix together to form the motives of such and such an action? And not only is it morbid to be doing this so constantly and carefully as would be required, if we would open our whole heart to the eye of another, but I scarcely believe it to be possible. I doubt whether in making such a confession aloud to any human ear, any memory would be so exact, any impartiality so rigid, as to describe us exactly as we were. A slight exaggeration or a slight omission would alter the true effect of the whole picture ; and the counsel which we should receive, might in consequence lead us into error.
It is as I said before, we must gain a true knowledge of ourselves by thinking and prayer. Feeling that we have to do with Him to whom all hearts are open, we know that He can well supply whatever our own memory fails to recall; that His infallible discernment can analyze our most complex motives, where we should but grow dizzy by the intenseness of the inquiry. Praying to Him to remove from us the veil of self-love, yet to save us also from the restlessness
of nervous self-suspicion, and judging of ourselves in accordance with that prayer, not hastily or insincerely, yet not over minutely, we shall see assuredly where our faults and dangers lie, and then if we have that outward knowledge of the Scriptures of which I spoke before, we shall have all that is needed to enable us to apply for their remedies with a certainty of not applying in vain.
But this outward knowledge itself may seem more than persons in general can attain to. In its perfection no doubt it is, and more indeed than any one can attain to, for the materials do not exist out of which it could be gained. Like perfection in other things, it is more than we can expect to arrive at; but although this knowledge of the Scriptures cannot be gained perfectly, yet it can be gained up to a great degree; and every step that we advance, we find that it abundantly repays us.
Now the words of the text afford an instance of what I mean; and it was this passage indeed, occurring in the lesson for this evening's service, which turned my attention to-day to this subject. The words are characteristic of the Epistles to the Corinthians, which amongst all St. Paul's writings are particularly valuable to persons
of certain turn of mind, and for this very reason are not so applicable to persons of a different description. We know that Corinth was a large city, with a great deal of communication with other countries,
and an active state of knowledge existing within itself. The Corinthians were likely to be struck with the beauty of the Gospel morality, to admire its large and liberal views, embracing as it did all nations and ranks of men without distinction, and laying no stress upon outward ceremonies, such as they had seen the Jews so fondly attached to. But their habits and characters would lead them to take this view of Christianity alone, and to run wild upon it ; whereas its other features, its humility, its intense charity, and its self-denial, they were very little inclined to value. Thus they readily understood that there could be nothing wrong in itself in eating any particular kind of food ; that meats offered to an idol could not really differ from meats of any other sort.
But the charity and self-denial which should accompany enlightened views, they had not learnt to practise. They had no thought of denying themselves for the benefit of persons less enlightened; being risen above superstition, they did not feel as they should have done for those who were superstitious; nor consider that if they could not enlighten them, they should at least be careful how they tempted them; that although ignorance was a bad thing, and a scrupulous and superstitious conscience was a great misfortune, yet that it was far worse to act against conscience, however superstitious, than to obey it; and that if a man could not be persuaded
to see no harm in eating meats offered to idols, it was doing him a great unkindness to tempt him to eat them by the force of example, and thus in fact to lead him to do what to him was wrong. Again, whilst entering readily into what they heard of the liberty and glorious prospects of the Christian, they wanted the humility and soberness which should save them from running into the evils of fanaticism. The gifts of the Spirit, which they had received, were to be displayed without the cold restraints of order or usefulness; women having become heirs of the promises no less than men, why should they still retain in their public assemblies that old fashion of dress which directed them not to appear abroad unveiled, as if they were intruding beyond their own proper element ? Again, the Lord's Supper was a Christian festival, a commemoration of their high privileges ; let it then be celebrated with nothing but joy: the earth was the Lord's, and He had given the use of it to His redeemed children; they need not then fear to enjoy His gifts. Further still, there were not wanting some of those impatient aspirings of the intellect, which were the worst part of the old philosophy. To be immortal was a glorious prospect; but to rise again with a body,—not to be allowed to consider their outward body as the prison which kept in the pure spirit, and so to cast off upon it, away from their proper selves,