the First Week of Advent
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Mornings and Evenings with Jesus
Most men will proclaim, every one his own goodness. - Proverbs 20:6.
LET us attend to this assertion, which expresses the commonness of self-applause. We may see it in this nation. What exultation and vanity! What extolling of our own laws, our own fashions, our own customs!-not to bless the Giver of all good, but to run down and disparage others. Thus the Jews called the Greeks “dogs;” and the Greeks accounted all besides themselves “barbarians.” We may see it also in churches. The Papists call themselves “The Catholic and Apostolic Church,” and admit of no salvation out of it. And how strangely do we hear Protestants speaking of other churches, (forgetting that by going back we can prove all are Dissenters!) With what arrogancy do some religious denominations speak of themselves! How do they censure those who cannot pronounce their shibboleth! How do they say, in the language of their early predecessors, “Stand by thyself; I am holier than thou.”
But let us pursue this subject more personally, lest we ourselves should escape; and, instead of regarding the faults of nations and of churches, let us be more forward to self-application. In the first class of those who proclaim their own goodness, we may place the profane. These tell us that they mean well; that their hearts are good,-as if the tree could be good and the fruit bad, or the streams be pure if the fountain were defiled.
Secondly, The Pharisees and the formalists. What attempts do these make to recommend themselves to others! Our Saviour gives an account of one of these. And, after all, what did this man say? Only that he was not so bad as one who was very bad,-that he was free from scandalous vices, and performed duties in which, perhaps, his heart had no concern! And it is amazing what a slender foundation some rest their hope of eternal life upon. Where there is no faith, no repentance, no spirituality, no walking with God, persons entertain a full persuasion of their safety, nay, of the excellence of their character.
Thirdly, The Orthodox Bigot,- those who have received their doctrines from men, while they are entire strangers to grace; whose religious opinions consist entirely in notions.
Fourthly, The Godly. Even these are guilty in a measure. Thus, Peter was guilty of this when he said, “Though all men shall be offended, yet will not I. Though I die with thee, yet will I not deny thee!” And did not the event prove this? Possessors of godliness may talk too much about themselves. If we know, if we have enjoyed, if we have done any thing in itself good, let another praise us, and not our own lips. Persons may even speak of their infirmities and imperfections, in the hope that others will compliment them. Some angle for praise with the bait of humility. Some persons complain of themselves in such terms, that if another had said, “It is indeed true,” they would never have spoken to him again. Alas! “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”
Ten men out or all languages of the nations shall take hold of him that is a Jew. - Zechariah 8:23.
HERE we have the subjects of this attraction. Observe, first, Their number, “Ten men,” &c. When we read the words “ten men,” we are not to take the number literally and definitely; it is here used to denote a large number, as we may see from the preceding verse: “Many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.” We use the word in common conversation in this sense; we say “ten times further,” or “ten times worse,” &c. Among the Jews it was a number of perfection. “Thou hast changed my wages,” said Jacob to Laban, “ten times.” “You have provoked me these ten times in the wilderness,” said God to the Jews. And when they would render a number countless, they did it by attaching the word ten, as we find in the prophecies of Daniel: “I saw thousands standing before him, and ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands,” to intimate that according to our mode of calculation they were absolutely innumerable, By the ignorance of some, and the sneers of others, and the bigotry of many, the people of God are now often improperly diminished. If there be a sense in which they may be considered as few (as there surely is), so there must be a sense in which they are many, and very many.
This will appear to be the case peculiarly when we look forward. Down to this hour we have only seen individuals called, or now and then a whole family (that is indeed a lovely sight to see- God multiply such sights). But when we look forward we read of a nation that shall be born in a day, we read of “the nations of them that shall walk in the light of the Lamb.” Already the number is great, and we are fully persuaded the number is increasing, “The Lord add to his people, however so many there be, a hundredfold.” One thing we are perfectly sure of, namely, that these promises have not as yet been accomplished; there has been nothing as yet in the course of divine providence and grace sufficient to embody them; nothing sufficiently durable or wide in extent, or powerful in energy, or glorious in magnitude, to do anything like justice to these glorious assurances. Hence we infer there are better days for the world before us than the world has ever yet seen.
But, secondly, We see the variety as well as the number. “Ten men out of all the languages of the nations.” The Jews had been the peculiar people of God before, but it is obvious now that the Gentiles were to be made fellow-heirs of the same body, and partakers of the same promise in Christ by the gospel. The Jewish religion, though it was of divine original, never could in the nature of things have become a universal religion. For instance, and to specify one thing only, how could all the males of all the countries of the earth repair three times a year to “Jerusalem to worship and to sacrifice?” There is nothing in Christianity either local or restrictive. It regards man not so much circumstantially considered as essentially. It regards man in his grand wants.
Where man lives, or whatever his outward circumstances, we shall always find him guilty and depraved, and needing pardon and renovation-a great and dignified being destined to immortality, which immortality would be a curse instead of a blessing, separate from the forgiveness and holiness of the gospel. But the gospel provides for the whole of these wants. The civilized need its influence, and the savages are not excluded from its benefits; the illiterate can learn its lessons as well as the scholar; and the poor can purchase its blessings as well as the rich, because they are to be bought without money and without price. And even the poor slave can be the Lord’s freeman. And the Apostle says, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” There is no difference, for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. And therefore, when John “saw a multitude whom no man could number,” he tells us that it was extracted from all the differences of human condition; it was “gathered out of every kindred, and people, and nation, and tongue.”