Luke 3:14
In these verses we have brought into view four aspects of religious truth.

I. THE FUTILE. The Pharisee, if he were charged with any evil course, consoled himself with the thought that he was a "son of Abraham;" to his mind it was everything with God that he was lineally descended from the father of the faithful, and had been admitted by the rite of circumcision into the "commonwealth of Israel." John, anticipating the doctrine of Jesus Christ, demolishes this delusion. That, he tells his audience on the banks of Jordan, is a matter of very small account with Heaven; that is not the criterion of character; that is not the passport to the kingdom of God. Let no man think to build on that poor foundation. Not genealogical connection with the best of men (see John 1:13), not admission by outward rite into any visible community, decides our state before God. If we appear before him, and have no better plea than this to offer, we must prepare for his dismissal. All that is fleshly, all that is circumstantial, all that is outward and unspiritual, falls short of the Divine requirement. It does not bring us into the kingdom of heaven.

II. THE DIFFICULT. "God is able of these stones," etc. Nothing could be easier than for Almighty power to raise up children unto Abraham - to bring into existence more children of privilege. He had bet to "speak, and it would be done; to command, and it would come forth." But it was quite another thing to win the disobedient and the disloyal to filial love and holy service, to bring the hard of heart and the proud of spirit to penitence and confession of sin, to conduct the feet that had long been walking in paths of selfishness and guilt into the ways of wisdom and of worth. This is a work in the accomplishment of which even the Divine Spirit employs many means and expends great resources and exercises long patience. He teaches, he invites, he pleads, he warns, he chastens, he waits. And on this great, this most difficult work, this spiritual victory, on which the eternal Father spends so much of the Divine, we surely may be well content to put forth all our human, strength.

III. THE SEVERE. "Now also the axe is laid unto the root... is hewn down, and cast into the fire." John intimates that a new dispensation is arriving, and with its coming there will come also a more severe sentence against disobedience and unfruitfulness. The shining of the fuller light will necessarily throw far deeper shadows. They who will not learn of the great Teacher will fall under great condemnation. The useless trees in the garden of the Lord will now not only be disbranched, they will be cut down. It is a very solemn thing to live in the full daylight of revealed religion. With every added ray of privilege and opportunity comes increase of sacred responsibility and exposure to the Divine severity.

IV. THE PRACTICAL. (Vers. 10-14.) Real repentance will show itself in right behavior, and every man, according to his vocation, will take his rightful part. The man of means will be pitiful and generous; the man in office will be just and upright; the soldier will be civil; the servant will be faithful and be satisfied with the receipt of what is due to him; the master and the mistress will be fair in their expectation of service; the father will be considerate of his children's weakness; the children will be regardful of their parents' will. And while the right thing will be done, it will be done reverently and religiously, not only as unto man, but as "unto Christ the Lord." - C.







And the soldiers likewise.
The common argument, founded on this for the lawfulness of the military profession, seems unanswerable. It is true that war is contrary to the mild spirit of Christianity, and that the guilt of it must be always chargeable, at least on one side. But there are several professions for which there would be no use, were it not for human depravity and injustice; e.g., there would be no use for magistrates or for civil or criminal law at all, were it not for the lawless and disobedient. So, though it is often a delicate point to settle when war becomes just or necessary, its justice and necessity in some cases are beyond dispute, and therefore the employment of the soldier must, generally speaking, be a lawful one. But, to look no farther than to the authority before us, when soldiers under concern about salvation and the path of duty applied to John for direction, would that intrepid teacher have hesitated a moment, if their profession had been unlawful, to tell them so, and to exhort them to quit it immediately, whatever might have been the consequence? Instead of this, however, he tells them how to conduct themselves in it.

(James Foote, M. A.)

Notwithstanding the too general prevalence of impiety and immorality in the military life, there are many honourable exceptions. We read of the believing and humble centurion of Capernaum, who said that he was not worthy that Christ should come under his roof, and that if He would but speak the word his servant should be healed; which led our Lord to declare, that He had not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. We read, too, of Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian band, a devout man, who feared God with all his house, and gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always, and to whom Peter was sent, more fully to instruct him. There is something peculiarly interesting in almost every case in which genuine religion decidedly influences the mind and conduct of a soldier. These principles must be sincere, and of considerable strength, which enable him to overcome the varied temptations with which he is beset. The trials of his physical and mental courage have been severe, and his opportunities of observation have been extensive. The result of all this is the obvious, and, in the eye of the enlightened Christian, the very adorning and engaging, union of frankness with caution, of complaisance with faithfulness, of meekness with manliness, and of the knowledge of the world, from which, however, he is separated, with the knowledge of God, in which he continues to grow, and under the influence and in the comfort of which he is prepared, if it be the will of God, to live, and equally prepared, if it be the will of God, to die. Let no soldier be so infatuated as to imagine, that his profession will be sustained as a satisfactory excuse for his impiety, when he comes to stand before the judgment-seat of God: for whatever be the difficulties in his way, he is offered Divine aid in proportion to these difficulties, if he apply for it. Let no soldier imagine that, because he is a soldier, irreligion, or profane swearing, or violence, or intemperance, or licentiousness in him, can possibly be passed over, unless he exercise repentance towards God and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ, unless he be actually reformed and converted. On the other hand, let no soldier who is in earnest about his salvation be discouraged. Let him be prepared to set at nought the profane and unhandsome sneers with which he may expect to meet. Let him study at once to live like a Christian, and to be exemplary in the duties of his profession, and then even those who affect to despise will inwardly respect him, and even in their own estimations appear small before him.

(James Foote, M. A. .)

The soldiers, so necessary as a class in all such civil constitutions as those of the East, receive advice of which the Zabtiehs, or Turkish soldier-police, of today stand in great need; especially in provinces more remote from the capital. The outrages they commit, in violence done to men and women; and the false accusations which they bring to ruin them, would scarcely be believed here; and indeed they are mostly too shocking to relate. The writer remembers a case which occurred in Cyprus while he was there, where the Zabtieh had been too brutal and fiendish in his behaviour in the house of a newly-married couple. But not daring to resist him openly, the wife had managed to cajole him into drinking heavily, and when drunk the husband stabbed him to the heart. The soldierpoliceman is an object of dread in every country village. His coming can scarcely be looked upon as anything but a calamity. In many cases — always, indeed, in actual service — it would be hard fare for him to be content with his wages, or rations. But the people with whom they are quartered, or whom they come to "protect," would doubtless be glad to give peaceably out of their deep poverty enough to support the soldiers, if they might thus be relieved of their violence and false accusations.

(Professor Isaac H. Hall.)

I have read that a foolish young English clerk — fond of practical jokes — once said to a friend, "Have you heard that E & Co., the bankers, have stopped payment?" He merely meant that the banking-house had, as usual, closed up for the night. But he amused himself by seeing how he had startled his friend. He did not stop to explain his real meaning. His friend mentioned the alarming report to another: the rumour spread. Next day there was a " run upon the bank," and Messrs. E & Co., were obliged to suspend payment. The silly youth did not mean to burn down the commercial credit of a prosperous house: he only meant to amuse himself by playing with fire. And a kindred mischief to his is perpetrated by every one who retails contemptible gossip, or gives birth to a scurrilous slander. "An abomination to the Lord is the false witness who speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren."

(Dr. Cuyler.)

While Athens was governed by the thirty tyrants, Socrates, the philosopher, was summoned to the senate-house, and ordered to go with some other persons, whom they named, to seize one Leon, a man of rank and fortune, whom they determined to put out of the way, that they might enjoy his estate. This commission Socrates positively refused. "I will not willingly," said he, "assist in an unjust act." Chericles sharply replied, "Dost thou think, Socrates, to talk in this high tone, and not to suffer?" "Far from it," replied he: "I expect to suffer a thousand ills, but not so great as to do unjustly."

John Wesselus of Groningen, who was one of the most learned men in the fifteenth century, and was, on account of his extensive attainments, called "the light of the world," having been once introduced into the presence of the pope, was requested by that pontiff to ask for some favour for himself. "Then," said Wesselus, "I beg you to give me out of the Vatican Library a Greek and a Hebrew Bible." "You shall have them," said Sixtus; "but, foolish man, why don't you ask for a bishopric, or something of that sort?" Said Wesselus, "Because I do not want such things."

Care, a pattern of moderation, was very early taught the happy art of contentment, by the following circumstance: — Near his country seat was a cottage, formerly belonging to Marius Curius, who was thrice honoured with a triumph. Care often walked thither, and reflecting on the smallness of the farm and the meanness of the dwelling, used to meditate on the peculiar virtues of the man, who, though he was the most illustrious character in Rome, had subdued the fiercest nations, and driven Pyrrhus out of Italy, cultivated this little spot of ground with his own hands, and, after three triumphs, retired to his own cottage. Here the ambassadors of the Samnites found him in the chimney-corner dressing turnips, and offered him a large present of gold; but he absolutely refused it, remarking, "A man who can be satisfied with such a supper, has no need of gold; and I think it more glorious to conquer the possessors of it, than to possess it myself." Full of these thoughts, Cato returned home; and taking a view of his own estates, his servants, and his manner of life, increased his labour, and retrenched his expenses.

An Italian bishop struggled through great difficulties, without repining or betraying the least impatience. One of his intimate friends, who highly admired the virtues which he thought it impossible to imitate, one day asked the prelate if he could communicate the secret of being always easy. "Yes," replied the old man; "I can teach you my secret with great facility; it consists in nothing more than making a right use of my eyes." His friend begged of him to explain himself. "Most willingly," replied the bishop. "In whatever state I am, I first of all look up to heaven, and remember that my principal business here is to get there; I then look down upon the earth, and call to mind how small a place I shall occupy in it when I die and am buried; I then look abroad into the world, and observe what multitudes there are who are in all respects more unhappy than myself. Thus I learn where true happiness is placed; where all our cares must end; and what little reason I have to repine or to complain."

"It is a great blessing to possess what one wishes," said some one to an ancient philosopher; to which the wise man immediately replied, "It is a greater blessing still, not to desire what one does not possess."

Those who preach contentment to all, do but teach some how to dwell in misery; unless you will grant content desire, and chide her but for murmuring. Let not man so sleep in content, as to neglect the means of making himself more happy and blessed; nor yet, when the contrary of what he looked for comes, let him murmur at that providence which disposed it to cross his expectation. I like the man who is never content with what he does enjoy; but by a calm and fair course, has a mind still rising to a higher happiness. But I like not him who is so dissatisfied as to repine at anything that does befall him. Let him take the present patiently, joyfully, thankfully; but let him still be soberly in quest of better; and indeed it is impossible to find a life so happy here, as that we shall not find something we would add to it, something we would take away from it. The world itself is not a garden, wherein all the flowers of joy are growing; nor can one man enjoy the whole of those that are there. There is no absolute contentment here below; nor can we in reason think there should be; since whatsoever is created, was created tending to some end, and till it arrives at that end, it cannot be fully at rest.

(Owen Felltham.)

Joe Martin, an Indian chief, residing in New Brunswick, was interrogated by a professional gentleman who held an important office under Government, whether he would accept the commission of a captain among the Indians, which, he observed, it was in his power to procure for him; to which the Indian made the following reply: — "Now Joe Martin love God, pray to God; now Joe Martin humble; certain not good to make Indian proud; when Indian proud, him forget God: for this reason Joe Martin never must be captain!" He accordingly declined it.

It is not so much the large stars shining on a dark night that makes the sky luminous, but the multitude of little ones, all doing their best in their separate places. There are comparatively few of the large ones — not enough by any means to light up the infinite reaches of space between us and them — and so here is the need of the little ones. Are you pining in your place for the honour of a large star? Be content; your mission is just as high a one as that of the largest orb that shines. Though not equal in size, you may yet be in brightness. Keep steadily to your appointed place, making all the light you can, and you are the largest star in the eyes of the great God who ruleth over all.

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