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least in the kingdom of heaven.” The sentiment is, in whatever account these men had been held by the corrupt nation of the Jews, or however highly they might have valued themselves, for their own skill and knowledge, they should be of no account in the kingdom of Christ. It has already been observed, that, by an elegant figure of speech, “ to be the least in the kingdom of heaven," means, that such an one shall never enter there. He may indeed hold some visible membership with the church—he may belong to some congregation of professing people, and may be even high in office in this connection, but he has no real and spiritual union with the true church. His talents
may dazzle by their brilliancy, and his eloquence deceive by its speciousness; but if he can allow himself to break the least commandment, and teach others, by words and actions, to do the same, he is not a true member of the family of Christ. He shall have but little credit among the faithful friends of the Redeemer on earth, and he shall have no place in heaven. His ultimate destiny is awful. There is the closest alliance between the present course, and the future result. The word is gone forth, “that whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” An individual of this description is obviously in the high road to everlasting perdition. Every professor of Christianity, whatever be his zeal for orthodox opinions, and the promotion of the Christian faith, who allows himself to live in the known transgression of the law of ten commandments, commonly called the moral law, and who encourages others to do the same, is, beyond all question, in a most dangerous situation with respect to the future.
But we now proceed to consider the opposite character. The contrast is most striking and complete. “ Whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
Do you ask for the explanation of this? It is very easy.
The Christian pastor, or the private friend, who exemplifies, in his walk and conversation, a strict regard to the rule of equity and love, and labours to promote its observance among his household, and flock, and in the world at large, shall be held in high estimation in the church, both above and below. And is not this true? Do we not often see its exemplification even in this corrupt and sinful world? There is a spirit in the most depraved of men, which
approves of consistency and virtue in others. The faithful disciple of Christ, whose “ faith worketh by love” to God and man, whose light shines in a dark and dreary world, whose integrity is inflexible, whose humility and kindness and holy conversation are “ without dissimulation,” sincere and genuine, will always command the respect of mankind, however widely their own character and conduct may differ. A good man is sure to have a testimony in the conscience of all who know him and see his works, to the excellence of his religion, and the value of his piety. And, doubtless, there have been many wicked men on the bed of death, who would have given all this world, and a million more did they possess them, to exchange condition with the poor and despised disciple, whom in the day of their health they have probably reproached and persecuted. Seeing, therefore, the deportment of such as profess to be true followers of Christ is of so much importance, both as it respects their own safety and the opinion of the world in general, “ Let your light so shine before men, that others beholding your good works may glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
A question seems naturally to arise on this branch of the subject, whether the doctrine in the text does not lend some countenance to the supposition of different degrees of glory in heaven? To this I answer, that certain distinctions among the saints in glory seem both rational and scriptural. The Saviour says of his suffering saints, “great is their reward in heaven." The expression of magnitude intimates something more than falls to the portion of the common and undistinguished servants of Christ. Redeemed by the same price, chosen to the same inheritance, and sanctified by the same spirit; yet believers are, nevertheless, of different capacities and attainments on earth: why, then, “should it be thought a thing incredible,” that they should be of various orders and degrees of eminence in glory? And, doubtless, the devoted and faithful disciples of Christ, who have answered as far as they were able by divine assistance, the character described in the last part of this verse, will be honoured as those“ whose works follow them.” If the professor of the Christian name, who voluntarily breaks through even the most inconsiderable portion of the law of justice, truth, and mercy, which has been appointed by the Lord, to be the guide of men, will be finally dishonoured and rejected ; then the conscientious and circumspect believer, on the other hand, will be highly commended “in the day when God shall judge the world in righteousness.” Bear it, however, in your minds, my brethren, that the honour which he shall receive among the ranks of the blessed, will not be conferred as the reward of merit, but as the gift of grace.
Having thus endeavoured to illustrate the particulars of the text with as much brevity as is consistent with clearness,
II. I PROCEED, IN CONCLUSION, TO OFFER A FEW PRACTICAL REFLECTIONS OF IMPORTANCE TO OURSELVES.
First. Let us reflect on the error of those who endeavour to exalt faith by setting aside the law. It is a circumstance which every faithful friend of Christianity must deeply deplore, that there are persons who deny the law to have any authority over such as believe the gospel. A sentiment more dangerous to the interests of the soul, and more contrary to truth itself, can hardly be propagated. It makes “ Christ the minister of sin,” and “ turns the grace of God into licentiousness.” It is a slander on all the practical and vital truths contained in the whole of this divine sermon which we are considering. Probably there are few so hardened as boldly to avow their adoption of such an unholy opinion, and perhaps there are fewer still who do, in the sight of the Searcher of Hearts, really believe it; yet it appears, that more or less of its spirit has existed in the world from the days of the apostles until now. The evil consequences and blighting influence of such a deadly notion may be most painfully felt as well as seen by others, while the parties who espouse it would sensitively shrink from an acknowledgment of their believing it. Now it is to be apprehended, that its baneful and poisonous tendency has made larger inroads on the minds of multitudes who profess themselves Christians, than at first sight may be conceded or supposed. But in proof of this remark, and to show you that there is ground for such a fear, let me ask, if the professsors of religion are as much alive to the cultivation of the lovely virtues which have been recently set before you as they ought to be? And are the eternal principles of the law, and the holy requisitions which it imposes upon all who make any pretence to Christian piety, so exemplified as the Supreme Legislator demands? And while such as believe the grand peculiarities of the gospel, will in general, if required, be able to stand a most rigid comparison on all matters of practical godliness, with those who disbelieve every thing which approaches evangelical truth; yet too many of their number, have given occasion to the enemies of Christ to charge them with sin. There has been a laxity of conduct in commercial transactions—the point on which the
world will always try professors-by which the fetters of prejudice have been fastened more secure. therefore, caution you against this evil. Make it evident that you hold not the truth in unrighteousness. “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid, How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”*
Secondly. The sentiments of the passage show, on the other hand, the mistake of those who place their whole dependence for eternal life on the practice of morality. This is an evil of equal, perhaps of larger, magnitude than the former. It includes a very numerous class of men who rank as Christians, and who would consider themselves seriously wronged if you were but to breathe a whisper as to any cause of alarm for their safety. The opinion to which such modern Pharisees cling, is simply this, that their obedience to the law of God, is the ground of their acceptance with him, and the way by which they are to procure salvation at last. Now this sentiment is alike derogatory to the law of works, as it is to the gospel of grace. If men are saved by the law, it must be by their perfect submission to all its requisitions, and the most entire obedience to all its precepts. And is there a human being who can presume to expect salvation on this ground? Does any one pretend to obey the divine law in all its extent and purity? If, then, we cannot be saved by a perfect, we must be by an imperfect, obedience. And what is the consequence which such a conclusion would involve? Why, that the law is lowered, relaxed, and in part made void by being brought down to our weakness, and accommodated to our frailty! Besides, such a supposition obliges you to define how much morality
Rom. vi. 1, 2, 15.