Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?
~ 2 Corinthians 3:1
For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.
~ 2 Corinthians 5:12
It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory.
~ Proverbs 25:27
Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.
~ Proverbs 27:2
For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,
~ Romans 15:18
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
~ Luke 18:11
Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.
~ Proverbs 26:12
For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
~ Galatians 6:3
The Folly of Men Measuring Themselves, by Thomas Chalmers.
2 Corinthians x. 12.
” For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves; but they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”
Paul addressed these words to the members of a Christian congregation; and were we to confine their application to those people of the present day, who, in circumstances, bear the nearest resemblance to them, we would, in the present discourse, have chiefly to do with the more serious and declared professors of the Gospel. Nor should we be long at a loss for a very observable peculiarity amongst them, against which to point the admonition of the Apostle. For, in truth, there is a great disposition with the members of the religious world, to look away from the unalterable standard of God’s will, and to form a standard of authority out of the existing attainments of those whom they conceive to be in the faith. We know nothing that has contributed more than this to reduce the tone of practical Christianity. We know not a more insidious security, than that which steals over the mind of him who, when he looks to another of eminent name for godliness, or orthodoxy, and perceives in him a certain degree of conformity to the world, or a certain measure of infirmity of temper, or a certain abandonment of himself to the natural enjoyments of luxury, or of idle gossiping, or of commenting with malignant pleasure on the faults and failings of the absent, thinks, that upon such an example, it is safe for him to allow in himself an equal extent of indulgence; and to go the same lengths of laxity or transgression; and thus, instead of measuring himself by the perfect law of the Almighty, and making conformity to it the object of his strenuous aspirings,—does he measure himself and compare himself with his fellow-mortals,—and pitches his ambition to no greater height than the accidental level which obtains amongst the members of his own religious brotherhood, and finds a quiet repose in the mediocrity of their actual accomplishments, and of their current and conventional observations.
There is much in this consideration to alarm many of those who, within the pale of a select and peculiar circle, look upon themselves as firmly seated in an enclosure of safety. They may be recognised by the society around them, as one of us; and they may keep the even pace of acquirement along with them; and they may wear all those marks of distinction which separate them from the general and unprofessing and, in respect of Church, and of sacrament, and of family observances, and of exclusive preference for each other’s conversation, and of meetings for prayer and the other exercises of Christian fellowship, they may stand most decidedly out from the world, and most decidedly in with those of their own cast and their own denomination; —and yet, in fact, there may be individuals, even of such a body as this, who, instead of looking upwards to the public.
Being with whom they have to do, are looking no farther than to the testimony and example of those who are immediately around them; who count it enough that they are highly esteemed among men; who feel no earnestness, and put forth no strength in the pursuit of a lofty sanctification; who are not living as in the sight of God, and are not in the habit of bringing their conduct into measurement with the principles of that great day, when God’s righteousness shall be vindicated in the eyes of all his creatures; who, satisfied, in short, with the countenance of the people of their own communion, come under the charge of my text, that measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, they are not wise.
Now, though this habit of measuring ourselves by ourselves, and comparing ourselves among ourselves, be charged by the Apostle, in the text, against the professors of a strict and peculiar Christianity; it is a habit so universally exemplified in the world, and ministers such a deep and fatal security to the men of all characters who live in it, and establishes in their hearts so firm a principle of resistance against the humbling doctrines of the New Testament, that we trust we shall be excused if we leave out, for a time, the consideration of those who are within the limits of the Church, and dwell on the operation of this habit among those who are without these limits; and going beyond that territory of observation to which the words now read would appear to restrict us, we shall attend to the effects of that principle in human nature which are there adverted to, in as far as it serves to fortify the human mind against an entire reception of the truths and the overtures of the Gospel.
It may be remarked, by way of illustration, that the habit condemned in the text is an abundant cause of that vanity which is founded on a sense of our importance. If, instead of measuring ourselves by our companions and equals in society, we brought ourselves into measurement with our superiors, it might go far to humble and chastise our vanity. The rustic conqueror on some arena of strength or of dexterity, stands proudly elevated among his fellow-rustics who are around him. Place him beside the returned warrior, who can tell of the hazards, and the achievements, and the desperations of the great battle in which he had shared the renown and the danger; and he will stand convicted of the humility of his own performances. The man who is most keen, and, at the same time, most skilful in the busy politics of his corporation, triumphs in the consciousness of that sagacity by which he has baffled and overpowered the devices of his many antagonists. But take him to the high theatre of Parliament, and bring him into fellowship with the man who has there won the mighty game of superiority, and he will feel abashed at the insignificance of his own tamer and homelier pretensions. The richest individual of the district struts throughout his neighbourhood in all the glories of a provincial eminence. Carry him to the metropolis of the empire, and he hides his diminished head under the brilliancy of rank far loftier than his own, and equipage more splendid than that by which he gathers from his surrounding tributaries, the homage of a respectful admiration. The principle of all this , vanity was seen by the discerning eye of the Apostle. It is put down for our instruction in the text before us. And if we, instead of looking to our superiority above the level of our immediate acquaintanceship, pointed an eye of habitual observation to our inferiority beneath the level of those in society who were more dignified and more accomplished than ourselves,—such a habit as this might shed a graceful humility over our characters, and save us from the pangs and the delusions of a vanity which was not made for man.
And let it not be said of those, who, in the more exalted walks of life, can look to few or to none above them, that they can derive no benefit from the principle of my text, because they are placed beyond the reach of its application. It is true of him who is on the very pinnacle of human society, that standing sublimely there, he can cast a downward eye on all the ranks and varieties of the world. But, though in the act of looking beneath him to men, he may gather no salutary lesson of humility—the lesson should come as forcibly upon him as upon any of his fellow mortals, in the act of looking above him to God.
Instead of comparing himself with the men of this world, let him leave the world and expatiate in thought over the tracks of immensity,—let him survey the mighty apparatus of worlds scattered in such profusion over its distant regions; let him bring the whole field of the triumphs of his ambition into measurement with the magnificence that is above him. and around him,—above all, let him rise through the ascending series of angels, and principalities, and powers, to the throne of the august Monarch on whom all is suspended,— and then will the lofty imagination of his heart be cast down, and all vanity die within him.
Now, if all this be obviously true of that vanity which is founded on a sense of our importance, might it not be as true of that complacency which is founded on a sense of our worth? Should it not lead us to suspect the ground of this complacency, and to fear lest a similar delusion be misleading us into a false estimate of our own righteousness? When we feel a sufficiency in the act of measuring ourselves by ourselves, and comparing ourselves among ourselves, is it not the average virtue of those around us that is the standard of measurement? Do we not at the time, form our estimate of human worth upon the character of man as it actually is, instead of forming it upon the high standard of that pure and exalted law which tells us what the character ought to be? Is it not thus that many are lulled into security, because they are as good or better than their neighbours? This may do for earth, but the question we want to press is, will it do for Heaven? It may carry us through life with a fair and equal character in society, and even when we come to die, it may gain us an epitaph upon our tombstones. But after death cometh the judgment; and in that awful day when judgment is laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet, every refuge of lies will be swept away, and every hiding-place of security be laid open.
Under the influence of this delusion, thousands and tens of thousands are posting their infatuated way to a ruined and undone eternity. The good man of society lives on the applause and cordiality of his neighbours. He compares himself with his fellow-men; and their testimony to the graces of his amiable, and upright, and honourable character, falls like the music of paradise upon his ears. And it were also the earnest of paradise, if these his flatterers and admirers in time were to be his judges in the day of reckoning. But, alas! they will only be his fellow-prisoners at the bar. The eternal Son of God will preside over the solemnities of that day. He will take the judgment upon himself, and he will conduct it on his own lofty standard of examination, and not on the maxims or the habits of a world lying in wickedness. O ye deluded men! who carry your heads so high, and look so safe and so satisfied amid the limits and equal measurements of society, do you ever think how you are to stand the measurement of Christ and of his angels? and think you that the fleeting applause of mortals, sinful as yourselves, will carry an authority over the mind of your judge, or prescribe to him that solemn award which is to fix you for eternity?
In the prosecution of the following discourse, let us first attempt to expose the folly of measuring ourselves by ourselves, and comparing ourselves amongst ourselves; and then point out the wisdom opposite to this folly, which is recommended in the gospel.
1. The folly of measuring ourselves by ourselves is a lesson which admits of many illustrations. The habit is so universal, it is so strikingly exemplified, even among the most acknowledged outcasts from all that is worthy, and all that is respectable in general estimation. There is not a congregated mass of human beings, associated in one common pursuit, or brought together by one common accident, among whom there is not established either some tacit or proclaimed morality, to the observance of which, or to the violation of which, there is awarded admiration or disgrace, by the voice of the society that is formed by them. You cannot bring two or more human beings to act in concert without some conventional principle of right and wrong arising out of it, which either must be practically held in regard, or the concert is dissipated. And yet it may be altogether a concert of iniquity. It may be a concert of viliany and injustice against the larger interests of human society. It may be a banded conspiracy against the peace and the property of the commonwealth: and there may not be a member belonging to it who does not carry the stamp of outlawry upon his person, and who is not liable, and righth liable, to the penalties of an outraged government, against which he is bidding, by the whole habit of his life, a daily and systematic defiance. And yet even among such a class of the species as this, an enlightened observer of our nature will not fail to perceive a standard of morality, both recognized and acted upon by all its individuals, and in reference to which morality, there actually stirs in many a bosom amongst them a very warm and enthusiastic feeling of obligation, and some will you find, who, by their devoted adherence to its maxims, earn among their companions all the distinctions of honour and of virtue,—-and others who, by falling away from the principles of the compact, become the victims of a deep and general execration. And thus may the very same thing be perceived with them, thai we see in the more general society of mankind—-a scale of character, and, corresponding to it, a scale of respectability, along which the members of the most wicked and worthless association upon earth may be ranged according to the gradation of such virtues as are there held in demand, and in reverence and thus there will be a feeling of complacency, and a distribution of applause, and a conscious superiority of moral and personal attainment, and all this grounded on the habit of measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves amongst themselves.
The first case of such an exhibition which we offer to your notice, comes so aptly in for the purpose of illustration, that homely and familiar as it is, we cannot resist the introduction of it. We allude to the case of smugglers. These men, in as far, at least, as it respects one tie of allegiance, may be considered as completely broken loose from the government of their country. They have formed themselves into a plot against the interests of the public revenue, and it maybe generally said of them, that they have no feeling whatever of the criminality of their undertaking. On this point there is utterly wanting the sympathy of any common principle between the administrators of the law and the transgressors of the law,—and yet it would be altogether untrue to nature and to experience to say of the latter, that they are entire strangers to the feeling of every moral obligation. They have a very strong sense of obligation to each other. There are virtues amongst them which serve to signalize certain members, and vices amongst them which doom to infamy certain other members of their own association. In reference to the duties which they owe to government, they may be dead to every impression of them. But in reference to those duties, on the punctual fulfilment of which depends the success, or even the continuance, of their system of operations, they may be most keenly and sensitively alive. They may speak of the informer who has abandoned them, with all the intensity of moral hatred and contempt; and of the man, again, who never once swerved from his fidelity; of the man, who, with all the notable dexterity of his evasions from the vigilance that was sent forth to track and to discover him, was ever known to be open as day amongst the members of his own brotherhood; of the man, who, with the unprincipledness of a most skilful and systematic falsehood, in reference to the agents and pursuers of the law, was the most trusty, and the most incorruptible, in reference to his fellows of the trade; of the man who stands highest amongst them in all the virtues of pledged and sworn companionship;—why, of such a man will these roving mountaineers speak in terms of honest and heart-felt veneration: and nothing more is necessary, in order to throw a kind of chivalric splendour over him, than just to be told, along with his inflexible devotedness to the cause, of his hearty adventurers, and his hair-breadth miracles of escape, and his inexhaustible resources, and of the rapidity of his ever-suiting and ever-shifting contrivances, and of his noble and unquelled spirit of daring, and of the art and activity by which he has eluded his opponents, and of the unfaltering courage by which he has resisted them. We doubt not, that even in the history of this ignominious traffic, there do occur such deeds and characters of unrecorded heroism; and still the men who carry it on, measuring themselves by themselves, may never think of the ignominy. They will enjoy the praise they have one of another, and care not for the distant blame that is cast upon them by the public voice. They will carry in their bosoms the swelling consciousness of worth, and be regaled by the home testimony of those who are about them: and all this at the very time when, to the general community, they offer a spectacle of odiousness; all this at the very time, when the power and the justice of an incensed government are moving forth upon them.
But another case still more picturesque, and. what is far better, still more subservient to the establishment of the lesson of our text, may be taken from another set of adventurers, hardier, and more ferocious, and more unprincipled than the former. We allude to the men of rapine; and who, rather than that their schemes of rapine should be frustrated, have so far overcome all the scruples and all the sensibilities of nature, that they have become men of blood. They live as commoners upon the world; and at large from those restraints, whether of feeling or of principle, which hold in security together the vast majority of this world’s families, they are looked at by general society with a revolting sense of terror and of odiousness. And yet, among these monsters of the cavern, and practised as they are in all the atrocities of the highway, will you find a virtue of their own, and a high-toned morality of their own. Living as they do, in a state of emancipation from the law universal, still there is among them a law esoterical, in doing homage to which, the hearts of these banditti actually glow with the movements of honourable principle; and the path of their conduct is actually made to square with the conformities of right and honourable practice. Extraordinary as you may think it, the very habit of my text is in full operation among these very men, who have wandered so far from all that is deemed righteous in society; and disowning, as they do, our standard of principle altogether, they have a standard among themselves, on which they can adjust a scale of moral estimation, and apply it in every exercise of judgment on the character of each individual who belongs tothem. In reference to every deviation that is made by them from the general standard of right, there is an entire obliteration of all their sensibilities, and this is not the ground on which they ever think either of reproaching themselves, or of casting any imputation of disgrace on their companions. But, in reference to their own particular standard of right, they are all awake to the enormity of every *act of transgression against it,—and thus it is, that measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves amongst themselves, there is just with them as varied a distribution of praise and of obloquy as is to be met with on the face of any regular and well-ordered commonwealth, And who, we would ask, is the man among all these prowling outcasts of nature, on whom the law of his country would inflict the most unrelenting vengeance? He who is most signalized by the moralities of his order,—he who has gained by fidelity, and courage, and disinterested honour, the chieftainship of confidence and affection amongst them —he, the foremost of ali the desperadoes, on whose character perhaps the romance of generosity and truth is strangely blended with the stern barbarities of his calling,—and who, the most admired among the members of his own brotherhood, is, at the same time, the surest to bring down upon his person all the rigours and all the severities of the judgment-seat.
Let us now follow with the eye of our observation, a number of these transgressors into another scene. Let us go into the place of their confinement and, in this receptacle of many criminals, with all their varied hues of guilt and of depravity, we shall perceive the habit of my text in full and striking exemplification. The murderer stands lower in the scale of character than the thief. The first is worse than the second—and you have only to reverse the terms of the comparison, that you may be enabled to say how the second is better than the first. Thus, even in this repository of human worthlessness, we meet with gradations of character; with the worse and the better and the best; with an ascending and a descending scale, which runs in continuity, from, the one who stands upon its pinnacle, to the one who is the deepest and most determined in wickedness amongst them. It is utter ignorance of our nature to conceive that this moral gradation is not fully and frequently in the minds of the criminals themselves,—that there is not, even here, the habit of each measuring himself with his fellow-prisoners around him, and of some -oothed by the consciousness of a more untainted character, and rejoicing over it with a feeling of secret elevation. They, in truth, know themselves to be the best of their kind,— and this knowledge brings a complacency along with it,—and, even in this mass of profligacy, there swells and kindles the pride of superior attainments.
But there is at least one delusion, from which one and all of them stand exempted. The very best of them, how ever much he may be regaled by the inward sense of his advantage over others, knows, that in reference to the law, he is not on a footing of merit, but on a footing of criminality,—knows, that though he will be the most gently dealt with, and that on him the lightest penalty will fall, yet still he stands to his judge and to his country, in the relation of a condemned malefactor—feels, how preposterous it were, if, on the plea of being the most innocent ofthe whole assemblage, he was to claim, not merely exemption from punishment, but the reward of some high and honourable distinction at the hands of the magistrate. He is fully aware of the gap that lies between him and the administrators of justice,—is sensible, that though he deserves to be beaten with fewer stripes than others, yet still, that, in the e ve of the law, he deserves to be beaten: and that he stands at as hopeless a distance, as the most depraved of his fellows, from a sentence of complete justification.
Let us, last of all, go along with these malefactors to the scene of their banishment. Let us view them as the members of a separated community; and we shall widely mistake it, if we think, that in the settlement of New South Wales, there is not the same shading of moral variety, there is not the same gradation of character, there is not the same scale of reputation, there is not the same distribution of respect* there is not the same pride of loftier principle, and debasement of more shameful and abandoned profligacy, there is not the same triumph of conscious superiority on the one hand, and the same crouching sense of unworthiness on the other, which you find in the more decent, and virtuous, and orderly society of Europe. Within the limits of this colony there exists a tribunal of public opinion, from which praise and popularity, and reproach, are awarded in various proportions among all the inhabitants. And without the limits of this colony there exists another tribunal of public opinion, by the voice of which an unexcepted stigma of exclusion and disgrace is cast upon every one of them.
In so much, that the same individual may, by a nearer judgment, be extolled as the best and the most distinguished of all who are around him,—and, by a more distant judgment, he may have all the ignominy of an outcast laid upon his person and his character. He may, at one and the same time, be regaled by the applause of one society, and held in rightful execration by another society. In the former, he may have the deference of a positive regard rendered to him for his virtues,—while, from the latter he is justly exiled by the hateful contamination of his vices. And in him do we behold the instructive picture of a man, who, at the bar of his own neighbourhood, stands the highest in moral estimation,—while, at a higher bar, he has had a mark of foulest ignominy stamped upon him.
We want not to shock the pride or the delicacy of your feelings. But, on a question so high as that of your eternity, we want to extricate you from the power of every vain and bewildering delusion. We want to urge upon you the lesson of Scripture, that this world differs from a prison house, only in its being a more spacious receptacle of sinners,—and that there is not a wider distance, in point of habit and of judgment, between a society of convicts, and the general community of mankind, than there is between the whole community of our species, and the society of that paradise, from which, under the apostasy of our fallen nature, we have been doomed to live in dreary alienation. We refuse not to the men of our world the posses* sion of many high and honourable virtues: but let us not forget, that amongst the marauders of the highway, we hear too of inflexible faith and devoted friendship, and splendid generosity. We deny not, that there exist among our species, as much truth and as much honesty as serve to keep society together: but a measure of the very same principle is necessary? in order to perpetuate and to accomplish the end of the most unrighteous combinations. We deny not, that there flourishes on the face of our earth a moral diversity of hue and of character, and that there are the better and the best who have signalized themselves above the level of its general population: but so it is in the malefactor’s dungeon, and as there, so here, may a positive sentence of condemnation be the lot of the most exalted individual We deny not, that there are many in every neighbourhood, to whose character, and whose worth, the cordial tribute of admiration is awarded but the very same thing may be witnessed amongst the outcasts of every civilized territory,—and what they are, in reference to the country from which they have been exiled, we may be, in reference to the whole of God’s unfallen creation. In the sight of men we may be highly esteemed,—and we may be an abomination in the sight of angels. We may receive homage from our immediate neighbours for all the virtues of our relationship with them, while our relationship with God may be utterly dissolved, and its appropriate virtues may neither be recognized nor acted on. There may emanate from our persons a certain beauteousness of moral colouring on those who are around us,—but when seen through the universal morality of God’s extended and all-pervading government, we may look as hateful as the outcasts of felony,—and living, as we do, in a rebellious province, that has broken loose from the community of God’s loyal and obedient worshippers, we may, at one and the same time, be surrounded by the cordialities of an approving fellowship, and be frowned upon by the supreme judicatory of the universe. At one and the same time, we may be regaled by the incense of this world’s praise, and be the objects of Heaven’s most righteous execration.
But is this the real place, it may be asked, that our world occupies in the moral universe of God? The answer to this question may be obtained either out of the historical informations of Scripture, or out of a survey that may be made of the actual character of man, arid a comparison that may be instituted between this character and the divine law. We can conceive nothing more uniform and more decisive than the testimony of the Bible, when it tells us that however fair some may be in the eyes of men, yet that all are guilty before God; that in his eyes none are righteous, no not one; that he, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, finds out iniquity in every one of us; that there is none who understandeth, and none who seeketh after God; that however much we may compare ourselves amongst ourselves, and found a complacency upon the exercise, yet
that we have altogether gone out of the way, however distinctly we may retain, even in the midst of this great moral rebellion, our relative superiorities over each other, there is a wide and a general departure of the species from God; that one and all of us have deeply revolted against him; that the taint of a most inveterate spiritual disease has overspread all the individuals of all the families upon earth insomuch, that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and the imaginations of his thoughts are only evil, and that continually.
The fall of Adam is represented, in the Bible, as that terribly decisive event, on which took place this deep and fatal unhingement of the moral constitution of our species. From this period the malady has descended, and the whole history of our world gives evidence to its state of banishment from the joys and the communications of paradise. Before the entrance of sin did God and man walk in sweet companionship together, and saw each other face to face in the security of a garden. A little further down in the history, we meet with another of God’s recorded manifestations. We read of his descent in thunder upon mount Sinai. O what a change from the free and fearless intercourse of Eden! God, though surrounded by a people whom he had himself selected, here sits, if we may^use the expression, on a throne of awful and distant ceremony; and the lifting of his mighty voice scattered dismay among the thousands of Israel. When he looked now on the children of men, he looked at them with an altered countenance. The days were, when they talked together in the lovely scenes of paradise as one talketh with a friend. But, on the top of Sinai, he wraps himself in storms, and orders to set bounds about the mount, lest the people should draw near, and God should break forth upon them.
But we have an evidence to our state of banishment fromGod, which is nearer home. We have it in our own hearts. The habitual attitude of the inner man is not an attitude of subordination to God. The feeling of allegiance to him is practically and almost constantly away from us. All that can give value to our obedience, in the sight of an enlightened Spirit who looks to motive, and sentiment, and principle, has constitutionally no place, and no residence in our characters. We are engrossed by other anxieties than anxiety to do the will, and to promote the honour, of him who formed us. We are animated by other affections altogether, than love to him, whose right hand preserves us continually. That Being by whom we are so fearfully and wonderfully made; whose upholding presence it is that keeps us in life, and in movement, and in the exercise of all our faculties; who has placed us on the theatre of all our enjoyments, and claims over his own creatures the ascendency of a most rightful authority; —that surely is the Being with whom we have to do. And yet, when we take account of our thoughts and of our doings, how little of God is there! In the random play and exhibition of such feelings as instinctively belong to us, we may gather around us the admiration of our fellows: and so it is in a colony of exiled criminals. But as much wanting there, as is the homage of loyalty to the government of their native land; so much wanting here, is the homage of any deference or inward regard, to the government of Heaven. And yet this is the very principle of all that obedience, which Heaven can look upon. If it be true that no obedience is rewardable by God, but that which has respect unto God, then this must be the essential point on which hinges the difference between a rebel, and a loyal subject to the supreme Lawgiver. The requirement we live under is to do all things to his glory; and this is the measure of principle and of performance that will be set over you: and tell us, ye men of civil and relative propriety, who, by exemplifying in the eye of your fellows such virtue, as may be exemplified by the outcasts of banishment, have shed around your persons the tiny lustre of this world’s moralities; tell us, how you will be able to stand such as ever and righteous application? The measure by which we compare ourselves with ourselves, is not the measure of the sanctuary. When the judge comes to take account of us, he will come fraught with the maxims of a celestial jurisprudence, and his question will be, not, what hare you done at the shrine of popularity,—not, what have ycu done to sustain a character amongst men,—not, what have you done at the mere impulse of sensibilities however amiable, or of native principles however upright, and elevated, and manly,—but what have you done unto me? how much of God, and of God’s will, was there in the principle of your doings? This is the heavenly measure, and it will set aside all your earthly measures and comparisons.
It will sweep away all these refuges of lies The man whose accomplishments ofcharacter, however lively, were all social, and worldly, and relative, will hang his head in confusion when the utter wickedness of his pretensions is thus laid open,—when the God who gave him every breath, and endowed him with every faculty, inquires after his share of reverence and acknowledgment,—when he tells him from the judgment-seat, I was the Being with whom you had to do, and yet in the vast multiplicity ofyour doings, I was seldom or never thought of.—when he convicts him of habitual forgetfulness of God, and setting aside all the paltry measurements which men apply in their estimates of one another, he brings the high standard of Heaven’s law, and Heaven’s allegiance to bear upon them.
It must be quite palpable to any man who has seen much of life, and still more if he has travelled extensively, and witnessed the varied complexions of morality that obtain in distant societies,—-it must be quite obvious to such a man, how readily the moral feeling, in each of them, accommodates itself to the general state of practice and observation,-—that the practices of one country, for which there is a most complacent toleration, would be shuddered at as so many atrocities in another country,—that in every given neighbourhood, the sense of right and of wrong, becomes just as fine or as obtuse as to square with its average purity, and its average humanity, and its average uprightness, —that what would revolt the public feeling of a retired parish in Scotland as gross licentiousness or outrageous cruelty, might attach no disgrace whatever to a residenter in some colonic al settlement,—that, nevertheless, in the more corrupt and degraded of the two communities, there is a scale of differences, a range of character, along which are placed the comparative stations of the disreputable, and the passable, and the respectable, and the super-excellent and yet it is a very possible thing, that if a man in the last of these stations were to import all his habits and all his profligacies into his native land, super-excellent as he may be abroad, at home he would be banished from the general association of virtuous and well ordered families. Now all we ask of you is, to transfer this consideration to the matter before us,—to think how possible a thing it is, that the moral principle of the world at large, may have sunk to a peaceable and approving acquiescence in the existing practice of the world at large,—that the security which is inspired by the habit of measuring ourselves by ourselves, and comparing ourselves amongst ourselves, may therefore be a delusion altogether,—that the very best member of society upon earth, may be utterly unfit for the society of heaven, that the morality which is current here, may depend upon totally another set of priniples from the morality which is held to be indispensable there; —and when we gather these principles from the book of God’s revelation, —when we are told that the law of the two great commandments is, to love the Lord our God with all our strength, and heart, and mind, and to bear the same love to our neighbour that we do to ourselves,—the argument advances from a conjecture to a certainty, that every inhabitant of earth, when brought to the bar of Heaven’s judicature, is altogether wanting; and that unless some great moral renovation take effect upon him, he can never be admitted within the limits of the empire of righteousness.