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THE CHRISTIAN A BLESSING.
REV. H. 8. PLUMPTRE, A.M.
ST. MARY'S PAROCHIAL CHAPEL, LAMBETH, AUGUST 17, 1834.
“ Thou shalt be a blessing."-GENESIS, xii. 2.
Do thou, O God, attach this promise to each of thy servants here assembled. We can desire nothing more at thy hands; it includes all thy providential and redeeming mercies; for “ I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed.”
The individual more immediately interested in this declaration, was one whose name stands conspicuous in Scripture history, as affording a remarkable instance of a vigorous and lively faith ; so that with the character of Abraham will ever be associated the appellation of “the father of the faithful.” At the command of God he proceeded to sacrifice his son, and leave his country; he placed himself entirely at the disposal of his Omnipotent Guide ; even against hope, he believed in hope. As he, therefore, signally honoured God by his implicit obedience to his mandate, God was pleased to single him out as the special object of his benediction, making him the appointed channel of communication through which the waters of salvation were to flow to a perishing world : “ In thee,” said he, “ shall all the families of the earth be blessed, and thou shalt be a blessing."
Were the words of my text applicable only to the patriarch, we should read them simply as a matter of ancient history; but they are applicable equally to all who by faith are the descendants of Abraham ; for “this blessedness cometh not upon the circumcision only, but upon the uncircumcision also ;" for blessed is every one, of every description, that feareth the Lord. We propose, then, to consider how much is involved in the declaration of the text.
First of all, it implies that the subject of God's approval will be a blessing to himself. In consequence of having been renewed in the Spirit, and made the subject of a new creation in Christ Jesus, he has the peace of God shed abroad in his heart, which diffuses a heavenly serenity over the whole of his life. He breathes a holy atmosphere, which counteracts the moral corruption by which he is surrounded ; preserving him, at least for the most part, uncontaminated by the evil influence of the ungodly world in which he is constrained to dwell. When he goes out, or comes in, a secret stability is imparted to his footsteps, because he walks in the consciousness of an earnest desire to please God, though at the same time under the deep conviction of his own sinfulness, that he falls very far short of that divine perfection at which he would arrive; still, however, he is able to commit the keeping of his soul and body to Him as unto a
faithful Creator. Yea, though called upon to encounter perils and difficulties, to steer his course amidst dangers great in nuinber and vast in magnitude, even through the dark valley of the shadow of death, he fears no evil, because he has the inward testimony that his God is with him, that His “rod and staff they comfort him ;" he realizes to his internal satisfaction the gracious assurance, that “the Lord orders a good man's going, and makes his way acceptable unto himself." Whatever be his station in life, he knows that he is not too insig. nificant to be overlooked by the eye of Omniscience; that although despised of men, the Lord has given his angels charge over him, not only to preserve him from falling, but to exercise their invisible guardianship, both by day and night, in administering to his wants. Thus delighting himself in the law of the Lord, whatsoever he doeth it shall prosper; or should it not prosper to the extent or in the manner lie had anticipated, still he is willing to have his expectation thwarted; knowing that, if it be the will of God, there will be more advantage in the failure of his purpose than in its accomplishment. He is anxious, in all respects, to commit himself and his affairs to be regulated by infinite wisdoin ; he knows enough of the treachery of his own heart, and the impotency of his own strength, to trust himself; in “every thing, therefore, by prayer and supplication, he makes his requests known unto God," and implores His gracious protection. He desires as far as possible, without any compromise of principle, “ to give no offence in any thing,” to “ live peaceably with all men." Should he, however, unintentionally provoke the enmity of any by whom he may be surrounded, he is the first to seek reconciliation, but the last to feel resentment. He does “ not render evil for evil, but contrariwise blessing." Still, however, he is not alarmed at the menaces of his foe; he knows who can render them powerless, or else convert enmity into friendship; for " when a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." In short, without entering into any further delineation of his character, “ a good man," as Solomon observes, “is satisfied from himself :" not with that self-complacency which is the offspring of pride, totally repugnant to Gospel principles; he is, on the contrary, dissatisfied with himself in this respect; he sees nothing in himself but what is calculated to promote self-abasement; nevertheless, he is satisfied from himself, because he has the internal conviction, and evidences it by external demonstration, that he is “justified by faith," therefore he has “ peace with God,” and peace with himself. He rejoices in this, the testimony of his conscience, that in “simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, he has his conversation in the world :” “ the Spirit itself bears witness with his spirit that he is a child of God.” On this account, therefore, he is satisfied from himself not naturally but spiritually. Thus shall “ the man be blessed that feareth the Lord.”
But in the second place, he is not only blessed in himself, but in his family and household. “God blesseth the habitation of the just; he is in the generation of the righteous." He himself bears testimony to Abraham's fidelity, when he saith, “I know him that he will command his children and household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.” Although it is impossible for any parent or master of a family so to control every member of his domestic establishment, as to make them really religious, or even morally good; still he will use every means for the suppression of vice, and the promotion of all those
principles which can alone engender vital godliness. He will rear a domestic altar, and at the rising and setting of the sun he will offer upon it the sacrifice of prayer and praise; a grateful tribute if presented through faith in the name of Christ Jesus. Both by precept and example he will shew to all around him how “they ought to walk and please God."
Where the head of the household thus manifests a regard for the welfare of those who are committed to his superintendence, his labours will not be ineffectual, though for a long time they may scarcely be perceptible; still the house shall not be destroyed, “ for a blessing is in it." There will not only be an absence of all those broils and contentions so utterly subversive of domestic harmony; not only will order, regularity, and punctuality be visibly displayed in every department; but there will also be, in God's own appointed time, the germ of grace, fructifying and budding forth to the glory of God. The seed which the parental husbandman has so diligently scattered, having watered it with his prayers and tears, will not entirely be lost; he shall see of the travail of his soul in some awakened domestic, in some pious child, and shall be satisfied that he has not laboured in vain. Were we to trace the rise and progress of Christianity in the minds of those who are now eminently conspicuous for their piety, doubtless in many instances the stream would be discovered to have taken its origin in the house of their parents : there the fountain began to flow which is now fertilizing with its refreshing waters some barren spot in the wilderness. The lap of many a pious mother has given to the world some of the brightest gems of Christianity, which, after having diffused their lustre on all around them here below, will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Both Scripture and experience warrant the conclusion, that sometimes the ungodly child is spared for the sake of its pious parents; that, as the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband, so God sometimes sanctifies the unbelieving offspring for the sake of its believing parents.
But we know in answer to this it may be said, that many unquestionably religious parents have to mourn over a very undutiful offspring ; that no blessing seems to rest on their habitation; that their house is not ordered so with God as they could wish it. We readily admit the fact. Judging from external appearances, many would be ready to conclude that all these things are against them. Let not the fidelity of God, however, be called in question; nor let them be rash with their mouth to charge God foolishly. For their encouragement we can tell them, that many children who in early life gave promise of bringing down their parent's grey hairs with sorrow to the grave, have at last become their crown of rejoicing. Arrested in his licentious career by the hand of an Omnipotent Savionr, many a spendthrift prodigal has been brought back to his father's house in the garb of penitential mourning, who has been welcomed to the parental embrace with these endearing accents—“ This my son was lost and is found ; was dead and is alive again;" so that from having sown the seed as he imagined upon the waters, he has been permitted to reap it again after many days. Where no such results arise, but iniquity marks the end, as it did the beginning, of some unhappy child, let parents look to themselves, lest in any measure his guilt be chargeable upon their heads, because, like Eli, “ their sons have made themselves vile, and they have restrained them not.” Certain it is that the promise has undergone no change; that “God is in the
generation of the righteous ;" that, as we have before observed, he “ blesses the habitation of the just."
But the influence of the true Christian is felt beyond the limits of his own domestic enclosure, it extends itself to all around him in the neighbourhood in which he dwells. This is the third point of view in which to contemplate his character. As a city set on a hill cannot be hid, so the servant of God stands out to public gaze, an object of admiration to all whose eyes are not so blinded by infidelity or sin, as to turn with disgust from contemplating the beautiful impress of the image of God on the soul of man. He seems whithersoever he goes to purify the polluted atmosphere which he is constrained to breathe ; he diffuses a rich savour of godliness around him, which, like the incense of the sacrifice, ascends up to heaven with a grateful odour. He is the salt of the earth. He is the channel of spiritual and temporal mercies to all who have the happiness of residing in his vicinity; scattering with one hand the perishable treasures of the earth, with the other the unsearchable riches of Christ. Like the refreshing dew upon the thirsty land, he leaves a blessing behind him, diffusing the means of revival to those who are besotted in the arms of a spiritual slumber; imparting fresh life to some who are dead in trespasses and sins. Whithersoever he goes, vice stands abashed at his approach, and strives to hide its head. He imposes a restraint upon youthful levity. He has a look or a word of rebuke or encouragement for his neighbours as their case may require; being ready to “weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice." To the afflicted sufferer his presence is hailed with delight, as the harbinger of good to soul and body. What Job somewhat arrogantly said of himself, may be applied to him: “When the ear heard him, then it blessed him, when the eye saw him, it gave witness to him; because he delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him ; the blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon him." Well knowing the beneficial effects, by example, by conversation, by their alms, and by their prayers, which the righteous are capable of extending to their vicinity, our Lord gave it in command to his people, “ that they should let their light so shine before men, that they might see their good works, and glorify their Father which is in heaven.”
It is impossible to calculate the good which one individual of piety may effect in that station of society in which he moves. He may set his face as a wall of brass against the iniquity by which he is surrounded. He may “ lift up his voice like a trumpet" against all that is immoral in practice, or vicious in principle. Or else, by the influence of a mild and patient demeanour, he may put “ to silence the ignorance of foolish men," and soften the violence of some perverse disputer. Or should he not be required to combat the enemy in the open field, he may retire within the camp, and there display the power of religion in sustaining the soul under the trials of mental or bodily anguish ; so that many, on beholding the loveliness and efficacy of religion, may be induced to say, “ We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” There is no one so poor, or so ignorant, but he may, if such be his desire, contribute to promote the general welfare of society, and the glory of God.
But we pass on to consider, in the fourth place, that the righteous man is a blessing to his country. If it be true that righteousness exalteth a nation," then every individual who is contributing to augment the measure of righteousness,
is contributing, in the same proportion, to promote the national prosperity. If he be a man of commanding influence, holding an exalted station either at the bar, the pulpit, or the senate; by the force of example, and the power of his eloquence, he may do much to effect a change in the moral and religious character of his country. He may diffuse throughout society a higher tone of Christianity; he may raise the standard of elevation, and procure for his countrymen the appellation of a “nation that fears God and worketh righteousness.” Should he, on the other hand, tread only the humble walks of life, it is true that, in a national point of view, he can hope to contribute but a little to his country's welfare; but if only one talent has been committed to his custody, he is careful to improve it to the best advantage. Knowing that national religion is only an accumulation of individual piety, he endeavours, in the sphere in which he moves, to “ adorn the doctrine of God his Saviour in every thing.” Thus he becomes a patriot in the best of senses ; and desires to enrol his name among the list of those who, while they cultivate personal holiness, are contributing, at the same moment, to secure the foundation of their country. National prosperity can only be based on national religion; and national religion can only be created, as we have just observed, by individual piety. The Christian rejoices in thinking that, though small and of no reputation, he may, nevertheless, be made instrumental in delivering his country from the effects of divine indignation, justly provoked by our multiplied and magnified iniquities ; for he rightly argues, that if God would have spared, in olden days, licentious Sodom, had it contained within its walls only ten righteous persons, why may not, in the present day, the salvation of his native land be made dependant on the same grounds ? If God, for the elect's sake, will shorten the days of final tribulation, why may he not, for the same cause, shorten, or altogether avert, the days of present tribulation? Indeed, such is the tenor of God's reasoning with the sons of men. By the mouth of his prophet Jeremiah he says, “ At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom to pluck it up; if that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” Who can say that the preservation of this country may not be owing to the existence of so much piety within its borders ? For notwithstanding the abounding of iniquity, and the overflowings of ungodliness which make us afraid, still there are not wanting those who “ cry and sigh for the abominations of the land;" who are entreating the Lord to stay his avenging arm, and to sheath the sword of divine vengeance in the scabbard of his infinite love. If we can benefit our country in no other way, still we may pray for it. Whether, then, in his public or private capacity; at home or abroad; as a parent or citizen; whether he be poor, or whether he be rich ; in his going out and coming in, the righteous man is a blessing.
Who, then, does not ardently desire to thus happy in himself, thus serviceable to his fellow-creatures, thus honoured of God? Methinks I hear some person exclaim, “ Hast thou but one blessing ? bless me, even me also, O my Father.” God grant that it may be so; for my text involves one important consideration, that if we are not a blessing, we must be a curse to ourselves, to our neighbours, and to our country.
It requires no argument to prove-unless, indeed, we disbelieve the Scriptures,