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CHRIST had just spoken the parable of the unjust steward, in which He presented the case of one who unjustly used the property of others entrusted to him, for the purpose of laying them under. obligation to provide for himself after expulsion from His trust. Our Lord represents this conduct of the steward as being wise in the sense of forethoughtful, and provident for self -- a wisdom of the world, void of all morality. He uses the case to illustrate and recommend the using of wealth in such a way as to make friends for ourselves who at our death shall welcome us into "everlasting habitations." Then going deeper, even to the bottom principle that should control us in all our use of wealth, He lays it down that no man can serve both God and Mammon. Rich and covetous men who were serving Mammon need not suppose they could serve God too at the same time. The service of the one is not to be reconciled with the service of the other.
The covetous Pharisees heard all these things, and they derided Him. As if they would say, "Indeed, you seem to be very sanctimonious, to tell us that we do not serve God acceptably! When has there ever been a tithe of mint that we did not pay?" Those Pharisees did not admit His orthodoxy, by any means. They thought they could serve God and Mammon both. Let whoever would say they served Mammon, they knew they served God also, and they had nothing but scorn for those teachings that showed the inconsistency and absurdity of their worshiping two opposing gods and serving two opposing masters.
Our Lord replied to them in the words of our text, "Ye are they who justify yourselves before men, but God knoweth your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God."
In pursuing the subject thus presented, I shall-
1. They have a different rule of judgment. God judges by one rule; they by another. God's rule requires universal benevolence; their rule is satisfied with any amount of selfishness, so be it sufficiently refined to meet the times. God requires men to devote themselves not to their own interests, but to His interests and those of His great family. He sets up but one great end -- the highest glory of His name and kingdom. He asks them to become divinely patriotic, devoting themselves to their Creator and to the good of His creatures.
The world adopts an entirely different rule, allowing men to set up their own happiness as their end. It is curious that some pretended philosophers have laid down the same rule viz.: that men should pursue their own happiness supremely, and only take care not to infringe on others' happiness too much. Their doctrine allows men to pursue a selfish course, only not in a way to infringe too perceptibly or, others' rights and interests.
But God's rule is, "Seek not thine own." His law is explicit, "Thou shalt love (not thyself, but) the Lord thy God with all thy heart."Love is the fulfilling of the law."Charity (this same love) seeketh not her own." This is characteristic of the love which the law of God requires -- it does not seek its own. "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's." 1 Cor. x. 24. "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others."For all seek their own, and not the things which are Jesus Christ's." Phil. ii. 4, 21. To seek their own interests and not Jesus Christ's, Paul regards as an entire departure from the rule of true Christianity.
God regards nothing as virtue except devotion to the ends. The right end is not one's own, but the general good. Hence God's rule requires virtue, while man's rule at best only restrains vice. All human governments are founded on this principle, as all who study the subject know. They do not require benevolence, they only restrain selfishness. In the foundation principles of our government. it is affirmed that men have certain inalienable rights, one of which is the right to pursue each his own happiness. This is affirmed to be an inalienable right, and is always assumed to be right in itself, provided it does not infringe on others' rights of happiness. But God's rule requires positive benevolence and regards nothing else as virtue except devotion to the highest good. Man's rule condemns nothing, provided man so restrains himself as not to infringe on others' rights.
Moral character is as the end sought. It can not be predicated of muscular action, but must always turn on the end which the mind has in view. Men always really assume and know this. They know that the moral character is really as the end to which man devotes himself. Hence God's law and man's law being as they are, to obey God's is holiness; to obey only man's law is sin.
Men very inconsiderately judge themselves and others, not by God's rule, but by man's. They do this to an extent truly wonderful. Look into men's real opinions and you will see this. Often, without being at all aware of it, men judge themselves, not by God's rule, but by their own.
Here I must notice some of the evidences of this, and furnish some illustrations.
Thus, for example, a mere negativeteemed by some men. If a man lives in a community and does no harm, defrauds no man, does not cheat, or lie does no perceptible injury to society; transacts his business in a way deemed highly honorable and virtuous -- this man stands in high repute according to the standard of the world. But what does all this really amount to? The man is just taking care of himself; that is all. His morality is wholly of this negative form. All you can say of him is, He does no hurt. Yet this morality is often spoken of in a manner which shows that the world highly esteem it. But does God highly esteem it? Nay, but it is abomination in His sight.
Again, a religion which is merely negative is often highly esteemed. Men of this religion are careful not to do wrong but what is doing wrong? It is thought no wrong to neglect the souls of their neighbors. What do they deem wrong? Cheating, lying, stealing. These and such like things they will admit are wrong. But what are they doing? Look round about you even here and see what men of this class are doing. Many of them never try to save a soul. They are highly esteemed for their inoffensive life; they do no wrong; but they do nothing to save a soul. Their religion is a mere negation. Perhaps they would not cross a ferry on the Sabbath; but never would they save a soul from death. They would let their own clerks go to hell without one earnest effort to save them. Must not such a religion be an abomination to God?
So, also, of a religion which at best consists of forms and prayers and does not add to these the energies of benevolent effort. Such a religion is all hollow. Is it serving God to do nothing but ask favors for one's self?
Some keep up Sabbath duties, as they are termed, and family prayer, but all their religion consists in keeping up their forms of worship. If they add nothing to these, their religion is only an abomination before God.
There are still other facts which show that men loosely set up a false standard, which they highly esteem, but which God abhors. For example, they will require true religion only of ministers; but no real religion of anybody else. All men agree in requiring that ministers should be really pious. They judge them by the right rule. For example, they require ministers to be benevolent. They must enter upon their profession for the high object of doing good, and not for the mere sake of a living -- not for filthy lucre's sake, but for the sake of souls and from disinterested love. Else they will have no confidence in a minister.
But turn this over and apply it to business men. Do they judge themselves by this rule? Do they judge each other by this rule? Before they will have Christian confidence in a merchant or a mechanic, do they insist that these shall be as much above the greed for gain as a minister should be. Should be as willing to give up their time to the sick as a minister -- be as ready to forego a better salary for the sake of doing more good, as they insist a minister should be? Who does not know that they demand of business men no such conditions of Christian character as those which they impose on Gospel ministers? Let us see. If a man of business does any service for you, he makes out his bill, and if need be, he collects it. Now suppose I should go and visit a sick man to give him spiritual counsel -- should attend him from time to time for counsel and for prayer, till he died, and then should attend his funeral; and having done this service, should make up my bill and send it in, and even collect it; would there not be some talk? People would say, What right has he to do that? He ought to perform that service for the love of souls, and make no charge for it. This applies to those ministers who are not under salary to perform this service, of whom there are many. Let any one of these men go and labor ever so much among the sick or at funerals, they must not take pay. But let one of these ministers send his saw to be filed, and he must pay for it. He may send it to that very man whose sick family he has visited by day and by night, and whose dead he has buried without charge, and "for the love of souls;" but no such "love of souls" binds the mechanic in his service. The truth is, they call that religion in a layman which they call sin in a minister. That is the fact. I do not complain that men take pay for labor, but that they do not apply the same principle to a minister.
Again, the business aims and practices of business men are almost universally an abomination in the sight of God. Almost all of these are based on the same principle as human governments are, namely, that the only restraints imposed shall be to prevent men from being too selfish, allowing them to be just as selfish as they can be and yet leave others an equal chance to be selfish too.
Shall we go into an enumeration of the principles of business men respecting their objects and modes of doing business? What would it all amount to? Seeking their own ends; doing something, not for others, but for self. Provided they do it in a way regarded as honest and honorable among men, no further restriction shall be imposed.
Take the Bible Society for an illustration. This institution is not a speculation, entered upon for the good of those who print and publish. But the object aimed at is to furnish them as cheap to the purchaser as possible, so as to put a Bible into the hands of every human being at the lowest possible price. Now it is easy to see that any other course and any different principle from this would be universally condemned. If Bible societies should become merely a speculation they would cease to be benevolent institutions at all, and to claim this character would bring down on them the curses of men. But all business ought to be done as benevolently as the making of Bibles; why not? If it be not, can it be a benevolent business? and if not benevolent, how can it have the approval of God? what is a benevolent business? The doing of the utmost good -- that which is; undertaken for the one only end of doing good, and which simply aims to do the utmost good possible. In just this sense, men should be patriotic, benevolent, should have a single eye to God's glory in all they do, whether they eat or drink or whatever they may do.
Yet where do you find the man who holds his fellow-men practically to this rule as a condition of their being esteemed Christians, viz., that in all their business they should be as benevolent as Bible societies are? What should we say of a Bible society which should enter upon a manifest speculation and should get as much as they can for their Bibles, instead of selling at the lowest living price? What would you say of such a Bible society? You would say, "Horrible hypocrite!" I must say the same of every Christian who does the same thing. Ungodly men do not profess any Christian benevolence, so we will not charge this hypocrisy on them, but we will try to get this light before their mind.
Now place a minister directly before your own mind, and ask, Do you judge yourself as you judge him? Do you say of yourself, I ought to do for others gratuitously all and whatever I require him to do gratuitously? Do you judge yourself by the same rule by which you judge him?
Apply this to all business men. No matter what your business is, whether high or low, small or great; filing saws, or counting out bank bills; you call the Bible society benevolent; do you make your business as much so and as truly so in your ends and aims? If not, why not? What business have you to be less benevolent than those who print, publish, and sell Bibles?
Here is another thing which is highly esteemed among men, yet is an abomination before God, viz.: selfish ambition. How often do you see this highly esteemed! I have been amazed to see how men form judgments on this matter, Here is a young man who is a good student in the sense of making great progress in his studies (a thing the devil might do), yet for this only, such young men are often spoken of in the highest terms. Provided they do well for themselves, nothing more seems to be asked or expected in order to entitle them to high commendation.
So of professional men. I have in my mind's eye the case of a lawyer who was greatly esteemed and caressed by his fellow-men; who was often spoken of well by Christians; but what was he? Nothing but an ambitious young lawyer, doing everything for ambition -- ready at any time to take the stump and canvass the whole country -- for what? To get some good for himself. Yet he is courted by Christian families! Why? Because he is doing well for himself. See Daniel Webster. How lauded, I had almost said canonized! Perhaps he will be yet. Certainly the same spirit we now see would canonize him If this were a Catholic country. But what has he done? He has just played the part of an ambitious lawyer and an ambitious statesmen; that is all. He has sought great things for himself; and having said that. you have said all. Yet how have men lauded Daniel Webster! When I came to Syracuse, I saw a vast procession. What, said 1, is there a funeral here? Who is dead? Daniel Webster. But, said 1, he has been dead a long time. Yes, but they are playing up funeral because he was a great man. What was Daniel Webster? Not a Christian, not a benevolent man; everybody knows this. And what have Christians to do in lauding and canonizing a merely selfish ambition? They may esteem it highly, yet let them know, God abhors it as utterly as they admire it.