« PreviousContinue »
selves this day at Christ's holy table. Surely we may rejoice earnestly that so many were there thus to pledge themselves. We may rejoice in this and be very thankful for it, provided we are only not over confident. It must be a great pleasure to me to see many of you at the Lord's table; I feel sure that it comes of good, and I trust and believe that it will lead to good. But we must never indulge ourselves long in self congratulation; it is neither safe nor right to do so. We have all our onward progress to think of. If we stop for more than a moment to rejoice that we have come so far, we slip back again, and lose the ground which we have gained. That there is good working amongst us, I most thankfully believe; take care that it is not dimmed or quenched by any presumption or carelessness; take care that you do not value it too highly. But our daily sacrifice is not a little thing, nor to be offered without constant prayer and constant watchfulness. Let us watch and pray, that we may pray always and watch always. God will help us; Christ will strengthen us; His holy communion is the pledge that He will not forsake us, unless we obstinately forsake Him. May we go hence to our several works, to the overcoming of evil in ourselves and others, to the devoting ourselves and all our powers and feelings to Christ our Saviour.
October 31, 1841.
PHILIPPIANS, i. 9, 10.
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.
THESE words agree entirely with that language concerning the excellency of wisdom, of which we have heard so much in both the lessons of this day's service, taken from the Proverbs. And words to the same purpose occur in many other parts of St. Paul's Epistles. Nor is this to be wondered at, for no one can pay any close attention to the conduct and character of others, without being aware that one of the very most fruitful causes of evil in them is the want of wisdom; some one or other of those defects which go to make up what the Scripture calls folly. By which of course is
not meant a weak state of intellectual faculties, such a state being wholly out of our power to remove; but it means the not using those faculties which we have, or the not using them rightly; so that by this neglect the faculties, whether naturally strong or weak, fail of effecting their appointed purpose; they do not lead us to knowledge and judgment, nor to approve the things that are excellent; and thus we are not sincere and without offence till the day of Christ, but defiled with many great faults, and by these faults tempting and hindering others no less than ourselves.
The words, "to approve the things that are excellent," occur again in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. It is mentioned as one of the boasts of the Jew that he knew God's will, and approved the things that were more excellent. In both these passages the meaning is the same: what the Jew boasted that he did, what St. Paul prayed that the Philippians might do, was, that they might be able to distinguish between right and wrong; and so distinguishing, might avoid the wrong and choose the right. It follows from St. Paul's language, that this is a thing of some difficulty; of difficulty, I mean, even in the discerning or distinguishing what was right, without speaking of the difficulty of practising it.
But in a great part of our conduct the whole
difficulty consists in practising what is good, there is none at all in distinguishing it or making it out. Good and evil, in most common cases, are plain enough to be seen: we do not mistake the one for the other; the fault is wholly in our practice; we knowingly leave good undone and do evil. But there are also many cases where it is otherwise, and where before we come to the difficulty of right acting, we have a previous difficulty to overcome in the right judging. And here it is that St. Paul's prayer for the Philippians applies to us also. We need God's help in order to distinguish and approve what is really excellent.
Now what hinders us from doing this when we set about it, is always some one or more kinds of idolatry. I say, when we set about it; for I am not speaking of those who never think seriously at all, and who live merely at random. But what hinders persons with any degree of seriousness and sincerity of character from distinguishing rightly between good and evil, is always idolatry. There are some, it is likely, who, when they read so much against idolatry in the Old Testament, and so much about the worshipping of strange gods, and of many gods, and find this regarded as the greatest of sins, consider that such parts of the Bible belonged only to times past, and that idolatry was the sin indeed to which the Israelites were most exposed, but not one from which
we are in danger now. This mistake arises from confounding idolatry with image worship,-the sin forbidden by the first commandment with that forbidden by the second. The difference between them is very great and palpable. He who were to represent God in the shocking way that He is represented in some old pictures, and make an image of Him like the form of an old man, and then to worship God under that image, would certainly be guilty of image worship, but not of idolatry. Whereas, he who prays to the Virgin Mary, or to the saints, though he may have no image of them at all, is equally guilty of idolatry. What he worships is not merely an unauthorized representation of God, but it is not God at all; and the sin of idolatry is the reverencing or worshipping, or loving another in the place of God. And thus St. Paul tells us more than once, that covetousness is idolatry. Nor is this a mere figurative way of speaking: it is idolatry; not image worship, but idolatry, really and truly. The covetous man loves and trusts in his riches more than he loves and trusts in God. He gives to them his heart, and not to God; and this is not figuratively but truly the sin of idolatry. In the same way there are many other things which different persons honour and love and obey excessively; and in each case there is a different sort of idolatry it is true, but all the cases are idol