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that “curse,” which the Lord turns into a “blessing,” by making it the means of our evincing to the world the true excellence of personal religion.
Thirdly. The reconciliation he was to make. “Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother.” He is not to wait until he have an opportunity of meeting him in the common order of events, much less until he shall come and seek the reconciliation, but he is to go and seek him out. The Jews have a tradition, that whatever repentance a man may properly profess for an injury done to his brother, either in his name, or person, or family; and however he may be desirous of presenting the trespass offering appointed by the law, yet that such a sacrifice would not be accepted, unless he had first made reparation to the injured party. The difference between the two cases lies in this:The Jewish doctors taught that such an act of justice should be done before the required gift were presented ; and our Saviour, that the adjustment of the matter in dispute should be made, and satisfaction given, where it was due, before any voluntary offerings were to be brought into the temple of the Lord. Our Lord, therefore, carries the point farther than the Scribes and Pharisees, and intimates that this necessary duty is to be instantly performed, for we are to leave our “gift before the altar;" thereby teaching us that, although we should have come so far as the sanctuary, and the very place in the sanctuary, where the gift was to be presented, yet that we must even delay to offer it, and go immediately in search of our brother, and be at peace with him. Oh! what animosities and strifes ; what bitterness of spirit, and pain of heart, would be prevented, if this divine precept were fully practised.
Fourthly. The encouragement which he then has to present his oblation : “ Then come and offer thy gift.” There is much more intended than expressed in this
direction. It intimates that if we do our part, the blessed God, “whose we are, and whom we serve," will not fail to do his. We may not be always able to assure ourselves of the success of our petitions and praises from evident answers to them ; but thus much we are authorised to believe, that the sacrifices of such a grateful heart will be ever acceptable to the Most High. On the other hand, no duties, however pleasant, and proper, and scriptural, in themselves, can be approved by a God of holiness, from a mind that is under the influence of bitter feelings towards any human being. Bear this solemn truth in remembrance, my dear brethren,- the duties of the first table will not discharge you from obligation to perform those of the second. That would be an unworthy and unjust commutation in the sight of God and man. But, in the exercise of “brotherly love,” of “the charity that hopeth all things, and endureth all things, that suffereth long, and that covereth a multitude of faults," there will be a two-fold blessing—peace with God, and rest to the mind, in all social and solitary devotion. These are the plain and practical truths which are contained in the words of the text, and I trust they will prove useful to us all.
I now proceed, according to my proposed method,
II. TO SUGGEST A FEW REFLECTIONS UPON THEM.
First. The perpetuity of divine worship, both social and private, under the gospel, is here recognized. The text contains a direction as to the temper and frame of our hearts in relation to it, which evidently shows, that it was designed to be continued as long as the book which records the counsel shall be in existence; that is, till all the
purposes of grace are fully accomplished. Now, there are few who make any professions of religion, however slight, but will acknowledge the divine origin of its insti
tution, and that it was intended both for the glory of God, and the good of the creature. With the general history of the fact you are acquainted; and if you have
hungered and thirsted after God,” you have frequently found “a day spent in his courts better than a thousand.” In the midst of his temple you have acknowledged your dependence on his providence, and your obligations to his grace. You have also “glorified God by offering praise;":
;"* and have derived instruction, for your guidance, in perplexity and duty. There, too, you have doubtless been comforted under the sorrows of life, and replenished with additional strength for your future journey. Now do you wish to “ forsake the house of the Lord your God?”+ Would you allow a trivial cir. cumstance to keep you from “the little heaven below?" It is particularly noticed of “ Anna the prophetess,” that when “ she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, that she departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.”. And to such the promise is made: “Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing; to show that the Lord is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him."S
But there are persons to be found who, if they admit the perpetual obligation of the sanctuary, are very far from showing it by their works. I refer not to the vast multitudes, who either devote the moments of the day of rest to commercial business, or else consume them in the pursuit of pleasure : whatever their creed may be, their conduct is decisive as to their character. But I allude to the way in which many individuals spend their time on this hallowed
• Psalm 1. 23.
+ Neh. x. 39.
Luke ii. 36, 37.
Ø Psalm. xcii. 13-15.
day. It must be admitted, that it is the bounden duty of every man to worship his Maker, and to worship him socially. Now, whatever may be his devotions in the closet, if he, of his own accord, refuse to join the "communion of saints” in some place appropriated for the purpose, he does not reach the scriptural idea of “ bowing before the Lord.” And it is much to be doubted, whether they who absent themselves from the open expression of divine worship, do really “ wait continually upon God” in the mean time in secret. May not such an excuse arise from the disrelish of the service of God altogether? But there are others who are partially culpable here: they will attend, perhaps, once on the Sabbath, and no more. They cannot plead distance, or illness, or a paucity of the outward means; but it is their custom to
appear before God” only once a day. I would, however, beg permission to ask them, what would become of divine service in the temple, if all the congregation were to act like this? I could, moreover, inquire, whether it be really keeping holy the Sabbathday—to spend about two hours of it only in the “ courts of the Lord ?” In many places there is social worship for prayer, and hearing the word, on the evening of some day in the week; and it is not pretended that attendance on such an occasion is absolutely required by the law of God. If, however, the members of the congregation expect their pastor to offer public prayer, and to preach the gospel, it becomes, to say the least, a duty, to which they are bound in honour, to wait "upon his ministration;" and, if possible, to suffer nothing to prevent it. But on the Sabbath, the case is otherwise; and while some men are all for the sanctuary and never found in the closet, yet they who voluntarily devote two-thirds of its precious moments to any thing but the worship of the Lord with his people, are two-thirds Sabbath-breakers.
But the worship of God in private is also fairly to be
inferred from this passage. The Jew, when he went to the temple to offer his free-will offerings, went in his individual capacity. Under that dispensation, “ Jerusalem was the place where men ought to pray;" and the people went into the house of God even to offer their secret devotions. In this light we are to understand the circumstances recorded of the Pharisee and publican; and the remembrance of this fact may help us to a right view of their respective characters and conduct,—why they severally addressed the Almighty, as if alone, on their own personal affairs. But under the gospel it is not so. The direction is plain, —“ When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father, which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”* Now, although the offerings of the Jews are not to be presented to the Almighty as in the former dispensation, yet the sacrifice of a grateful heart is still to be made; and every Christian will endeavour to perform it as his highest privilege. There is, indeed, a reciprocal union and influence between all the acts and duties of religion. Private devotion, family worship, and the public exercises of the sanctuary, mutually aid each other: neither should be neglected, or receive a disproportionate attention. Each is beautiful in its season, and proper in its place: and he that would live in the fear of God, and walk in the “comfort of the Holy Ghost,” must observe them all, and render to each its due.
Secondly. The frame of heart necessary to acceptable worship is here declared. Under the economy of the gospel we have no gifts of frankincense and myrrh, to offer up to heaven as a part of our homage. If we have been cured of the leprosy of sin, we are commanded to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy,
• Matt, vi, 6.