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This amiable and compassionate spirit of our religion conspicuously appears in the character of its great Author. It shone in all his actions while he lived on earth. It breathed in all his discourses; and, in the words of the text, is expressed with
In the preceding verse, he had given a high account of bis own person and dignity. All things are delivered unto me of my Father; and no man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoreeth any man the Father, save the Son, and he io whomsoever the Son will reveal him. But, lest any of his hearers should be discouraged by this mysterious representation of his greatness, he instantly tempers it with the most gracious benignity ; declaring, in the text, the merciful intention of his mission to the world. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
The first thing which claims our attention in these words is, what we are to understand by coming unto Christ. This is a phrase which has often given occasion to controversy. By theological writers it has been involved in much needless mystery, while the meaning is in itself plain and easy.
very metaphor that is here used serves to explain it. In the ancient world, disciples flocked round their different teachers, and attended them wherever they went; in order both to testify their attachment, and to imbibe more fully the doctrine of their masters. Coming unto Christ, therefore, is the same with resorting to him as our declared Master ; acknowledging ourselves his disciples, believers in his doctrine, and followers of his precepts. As Christ is made known to us under the character both of a
Teacher and a Saviour, our coming to him imports not only submission to his instructions, but confidence also in his power to save. It imports that, forsaking the corruptions of sin and the world, we follow that course of virtue and obedience which he points out to us; relying on his mediation for pardon of our offences, and acceptance with heaven. This is what is implied in the scripture term Faith ; which includes both the assent of the understanding to the truth of the Christian religion, and the concurrence of the will in receiving it.
WHAT next occurs in the text to attract our notice, is the description of those to whom the invitation is addressed. All those who labour and are heavy laden, that is, who, in one way or other, feel themselves grieved and distressed, are here invited to come to Christ. — Now, from two sources chiefly our distresses arise, from moral, or from natural causes.
First, They may arise from inward moral causes, from certain feelings and reflections of the mind, which occasion uneasiness and pain. A course of sin and vice always proves ruinous and destructive in the issue. But its tendency to ruin is not often perceived, while that tendency is advancing. For, as sin is the reign of passion and pleasure, it forms men to a thoughtless inconsiderate state. Circumstances, however, may occur, and frequently, in the course of life, do occur, which disclose to a vicious man the ruin which he is bringing on himself, as an offender against the God who made him. When some occasional confinement to solitude, or some turn of adverse fortune, directs his attention immediately upon his own character; or when, drawing towards the close of life, his passions subside, his pleasures withdraw, and a future state comes forward to his view ; in such situations it often happens, that the past follies and crimes of such a man appear to him in a light most odious and shocking; and not odious only, but terrifying to his heart. He considers that he is undoubtedly placed under the government of a just God, who did not send him into this world for nought; that he has neglected the part assigned to him; has contemned the laws of Heaven; has degraded his own nature; and instead of being useful, having been hurtful and pernicious to those among whom he lived, "is about to leave a detestable memory behind him. - What account shall he give of himself to his Maker ? Selfcondemned, polluted by so many crimes, how can he expect to find mercy in his sight?-Hence, an overwhelmed and dejected mind; hence, dismal forebodings of punishment; hence that wounded spirit, which, when it is deeply pierced, becomes the sorest of all human evils, and has sometimes rendered existence a burden which could not be endured.
Such distresses as these, arising from moral internal causes, may be made light of by the giddy and the vain; and represented as confined to a few persons only of distempered imagination. But to those whose professions give them occasion to see men under various circumstances of affliction, they are known to be far from being unfrequent in the world; and, on many more occasions than is commonly imagined, to throw over the human mind the blackest gloom of which it is susceptible. Religious feelings, be assured, have a deep root in the nature of man. They form a part of the human constitution. They are interwoven with many of those fears and hopes which actuate us in the changing situations of fortune. During the gay and active periods of life, they may be smothered; but with most men they are smothered rather than totally obliterated: And if any crisis of our condition shall awaken, and bring them forth in their full force, upon a conscious guilty heart, woe to the man, who, in some disconsolate season, is doomed to suffer their extreme vengeance!
But, while under such distresses of the mind, not a few may be said to labour and to be heavy laden, greater still is the multitude of those who, from natural external causes, from the calamities and evils of life, undergo much suffering and misery: The life of man is not indeed wholly composed of misery. It admits of many pleasing scenes.
On the whole, there is reason to believe that it affords more joy than grief. At the same time, the unfortunate, as I before observed, form always a numerous class of mankind; and it may be said with truth, that sore travel is ordained for the sons of men. Though the burden is not equally laid on all; some there always are, on whom it falls with oppressive weight. - Unexpected disappointments have crushed their hopes, and blasted the plans which they had formed for comfort in the world. The world had, perhaps, smiled upon them once, only to give them a sharper feeling of its miseries at the last. Struggling with poverty, unable to support their families, whom they see languishing around them, they, at the same
time, are obliged, by their situation in society, to conceal their necessities; and, under the forced appearance of cheerfulness, to hide from the world a broken heart. They are stung, perhaps, by the unkindness of friends ; cast off by those in whom they had trusted; or torn by untimely death from real friends, in connection with whom they might have flourished and been happy; at the same time borne down, it may be, with the infirmities of a sickly body, and left to drag a painful life without assistance or relief. - How many sad scenes of this nature, on which it were painful to insist, does the world afford ?
When we turn to those who are accounted prosperous men, we shall always find many sorrows mingled with their pleasures ; many hours of care and vexation, wherein they acknowledge themselves classed with those who labour and are heavy laden. In entering into some gay festive assembly, we behold affected cheerfulness displayed on every countenance; and might fancy that we had arrived at the temple of unmixed pleasure, and gladness of heart. Yet, even there, could we look into the bosoms of these apparently happy persons, how often would we find them inwardly preyed upon by some tormenting suspicions, some anxious fears, some secret griefs, which either they dare not disclose to the world, or from which, if disclosed, they can look for no relief; in short, amidst that great company of pilgrims, who are journeying through life, many there are whose journey lies through a valley of tears; and many to whom that valley is only cheered by transient glimpses of joy.
To these classes of mankind is addressed the invit.