« PreviousContinue »
the present world-Guard, with strictest watchfulness, against that conceited temper, which pays no deference to others; and, instead of thus pertinaciously upholding your own opinions, and exalting your own wisdom, look with respect and self-diffidence upon those with whom you mingle in the intercourse of life. The exhortation of St. Paul, as thus explained, corresponds exactly with another which is found in his Epistle to the Romans; "in honor preferring one another;"* and also with that addressed by him to the believers of Ephesus; "with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love."t
I do not know, my brethren, that there is any one quality more conspicuous in the real Christian, than this disposition to think lightly of himself, and to view with esteem and reverence the attainments of his fellow-men. There is a simplicity in such a man, which accompanies him wherever he proceeds; and which no power of intellect, and no extent of human learning, can destroy or diminish. The reason of this remarkable fact is sufficiently easy of explanation. Humility is the regular habit of every converted mind. Through divine grace, the believer has been brought to an inward and abasing conviction of his state as a sinner before God; he finds nothing in self upon which he can rest with complacency and satisfaction; and, by this daily and hourly view of his spiritual emptiness, he is led, by degrees, to form the same lowly estimate of all his mental qualities, and of every personal attainment. He is thus prepared to listen, with a quiet and unobtrusive spirit, to the instructions of other men; he is "swift to hear, and slow to speak ;" and, in the communication of his own † Eph. iv. 2.
*Rom. xii. 10.
James, i. 19.
sentiments and knowledge, is characterized by a manner the very reverse of inflated consequence, and dictatorial arrogance. Such being the necessary result of that inward change, by which the proud heart of man is made to bend before the foot of the Redeemer's cross, the Apostle very properly urges, upon those who name the name of Christ, the cultivation of so distinguishing an evidence of the sincerity of their profession. It is evident to every attentive observer of the Christian world, that there are very many, among the professed members of the kingdom of God, in whom this self-complacent disposition, condemned in the words before us, is reigning in its fullest extent. In conversation with their fellow-men, they are found dogmatically stating their opinions, and adhering to them with vain pertinacity; and, whenever brought, by the business of life, into collision with others, are uniformly distinguished as those whom neither argument nor persuasion can ever constrain to yield. Of such disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, it seems no breach of charity to infer, that divine grace has never in reality effected a renewing change within their hearts; or it would certainly have stamped upon their characters that meek and humble spirit, which so effectually marks the servants of God. To these, therefore, the admonition of the Apostle addresses itself with peculiar force: it seems to ask them for the fruits of their conversion: it bids them cease to claim the title, before they have exhibited the qualifications of the believer. It is to be observed, however, that, as it is the Spirit's work upon the soul only to subdue, not to eradicate, the evil propensities of nature, so there are those among real Christians who occasionally, in the inter
course of life, manifest some remains of the arrogance that distinguished their unconverted mind. With respect to these, then, we are not hastily to conclude that they are as yet destitute of the renewed heart. The proper course is to compare the present extent of this proneness to self-conceit, with that which marked them in other days; to see how far it has been overcome; and thus to find a new evidence of the triumphs of the gospel, in the victory which it has achieved over the original disposition of their fallen and corrupted nature. In the mean time, the very fact that even many Christians are thus, in some slight degree, at variance with the principles of their calling, is the most powerful of excitements to lead us all to watchfulness and prayer; to daily self-examination; and to constant aspirations after larger, and still larger measures of conformity to Him, who was "meek and lowly in heart."*
St. Paul gives the Philippians, in the fourth verse, another injunction exceedingly useful in its character; the duty of cultivating a generous and accommodating disposition, in the daily intercourse of the world. The precept is thus expressed; "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others:" and the Apostle means to condemn that selfish spirit, which leads men to keep a single eye upon their own interest and advantage, to the total disregard of the welfare of others. The admonition is delivered in very similar language, in the First Epistle to the Corinthians; "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth."t And, in another part of that same Epistle, it is stated as one of the characteristic marks of Christian "charity," or love, v that she "seeketh not her own." You will perceive, by at
*Matt. xi. 29.
† I. Cor. x. 24.
I. Cor. xiii. 5.
tending closely to the phraseology of the sacred writer, in the passage now under consideration, that he by no means intends to forbid a reasonable degree of attention to the promotion of your own happiness and profit. When he says, "Look not every man on his own things," he means to say, that this is not to be your exclusive aim: for immediately afterwards he adds, "but every man also on the things of others;" that is, seek what is useful and comfortable for yourselves; but, at the same time, have some reference, in your actions, to the wellbeing of your fellow-men.
Now the command here given by St. Paul may be understood as applying, first of all, to the grand duty of consecrating some portion of life, and talent, and property, to the advancement of the best interests of mankind. The Christian casts his eyes around him; and beholds, wherever he turns, a world groaning under spiritual ignorance, or under the temporal evils of life. Toward these, his heart, if properly affected, will be drawn with a noble benevolence of feeling; he will strive for their illumination; he will assist in the alleviation of their miseries; and, even if the object asks for some sacrifice of time, or for a reasonable measure of his worldly goods, he will cheerfully, and with delighted spirit, contribute the boon. Wherever, therefore, my brethren, as you travel through the pilgrimage of life, you meet with a professed servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, who shuts up his soul within the narrow circle of self; who never expands his views, to behold the condition of this ruined globe upon which he dwells; whose labors, whose endowments, whose possessions, are all employed upon personal objects, and confer nothing toward the general good; turn from such an one to the admonitory lan
guage of the Apostle, and read, in explicit terms, the futility of his pretensions.
There are, however, some subordinate parts of the believer's conduct, to which the precept before us may very reasonably be presumed to refer. This kind and yielding regard to the comfort of others, should accompany the Christian through all the scenes and circumstances of his life; give a gentleness to his social intercourse; and make him ever ready to prefer, to his own convenience, that of the friends among whom Providence has placed him. And experience does, indeed, most assuredly prove, that it is in the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, above all other men, that the spirit of genuine politeness is found to dwell. The religion of the gospel takes off the natural selfishness of the human character; creates a desire to promote the good, and to study the pleasure of others; and its operation is particularly to be seen among the ruder classes of life, and in those who, before the illumination of the grace of God, were only engaged in the unyielding pursuit of their own profit and advantage. After this attractive spirit, be it yours, my beloved hearers, daily to strive. Drink into the spirit of your Master. Learn a lesson of self-renunciation at the foot of the cross. As you travel through these lower scenes, keep ever before your eye the image of Him, who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. "*
* Matt. xx. 28.