« PreviousContinue »
neglecting their duty who take no hand in it. We cannot be in a state of salvation ourselves, if we are wholly without zeal for the salvation of others.
But now, supposing that you allow the truth of this in theory, yet, practically, you may ask, how does it apply to us? The path of duty here, must necessarily be difficult to find and to keep: how can we be zealous without violence and without folly ? Would that there might be the zeal in the first place; for it would be, according to all human probability, far easier to direct it than to create it. It is a most true proverb, “Where there is a will there is a way.” Nor can it be needful to say much to those among you whose regular duty and business it is to put down and prevent evil: where power and authority are given for a particular purpose, there surely cannot be so much difficulty in fulfilling it, there cannot be in this case any thing like stepping out of your own line, even in the narrowest interpretation of the term. So far, then, the zeal may seem all that is wanted; the opportunity, the power, the knowledge how to act, may appear to follow naturally. But yet, no doubt, there are difficulties in this case, as in the case of others; it may not be always clear how you ought to act, nor easy to act, when the path is clear. And how is the path to be made clear or easy? It does not appear possible to give minute rules that shall always make it either the one or the other; but one thing may be said, that here, more than in most places, the standing aloof from evil, the never encouraging it by deed, by word, or by laughter, would do more than it would do elsewhere towards actually discouraging it; because nowhere are fashion and numbers more apt to be followed than here. And again, zeal may always be shown judiciously, and very effectually, in giving countenance and support to all who show marks of goodness, more especially if they are exposed to any annoyance, either on this very account, or because they are wanting in some popular or amiable qualities. Kindness to such is real zeal ; it is like the giving the cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, which shall in no wise lose its reward. For the rest, as I said before, no minute rules can be given to say how far you should go, and where you should not interfere; but remember that the desire to do something must be right, and must be necessary; and that of all the dangers which can beset you, none, I suppose,
is less to be dreaded than that you should run into excesses from an over desire to forward the cause of Christ and of God.
Thus, although I feel entirely that no such guide could be furnished beforehand, as should make the path of duty always plain ; yet some points may be made out which may serve in no inconsiderable degree as landmarks. First, and above all, we should consider the strong approbation bestowed by God upon the conduct of Phinehas. We see zeal against sin displayed in the strongest possible manner-in a manner which indeed it would be great sin now to imitate,-but yet praised most highly. Observe, however, that it is zeal against sin, zeal against a clear breach of God's commandments, which is thus commended : it is not zeal against opinions, or in behalf of forms. But zeal against sin, and for goodness, is beyond all doubt so strongly enforced in its principle, that we cannot be living as God's people should live, if we are wholly without it. This is the great point; and next, if we have the zeal, we have some rules also for its exercise. First, that those who have authority given them, are certainly bound to act up to their authority in the discouragement of sin. In this there is no choice left to them ; want of zeal in such cases is a clear neglect of duty, or rather, I should say, it is a neglect of our Christian duty, under circumstances where the duty is plain, and the neglect without excuse. Secondly, the very least that Christian zeal can do in every one, is to take care not to encourage evil. We often do encourage it by laughing at it. Such laughter may often be accompanied in our own minds with something almost amounting to contempt: we would on no account do ourselves the thing which we laugh at in others. This is true; but yet the laughter does encourage; because, though laughter may be sometimes allied to contempt, it is never allied to disgust; no man laughs at that which pains him. To laugh at sin, then, shows certainly that it does not give us pain ; that we do not regard it as Christians should do; that is, as the most sad, and serious, and shocking thing in the world; the last thing in the world to be laughed at. Thirdly, Christian zeal must encourage every spark of real goodness and principle ; must forgive for its sake many awkwardnesses, many weaknesses; for it is the one pearl of great price which may well ennoble a rough or a mean setting. Let us but see something of a desire to serve God in earnest, and is not the character where this desire exists ennobled far beyond every other? It may not have agreeableness, it may not have cleverness, it may not have vigour; it may and must have many faults clinging about it: for where is he who is free from fault ? But it is God's mark, and the seed of life eternal; and they who are God's cannot but love it; and they who love it not, may therefore well fear that they are not and will not be God's.
Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be,
blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
The first question which it would be wise to ask concerning the two chapters which have been fixed on for the lessons from the Old Testament for this day's service, is this—"What is the benefit that we can or should gain from them?” This, indeed, is the question which we should ask ourselves with regard to every lesson read in the church, as a part of our public service; although in many cases it would be answered as soon almost and as easily as it could be asked. For instance, take the second lesson for this morning's service, (Mark ix.,)or almost any other chapter of the Gospels, and it is manifest that as the life of Christ is our great example, and as in the words of Christ were contained all the