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To “enter into the kingdom of God," is to become a Christian. Whence arises the difficulty of this to rich men? It arises from their education and training. They are generally brought up and mingle with the wise men of this world. Yet a man must " become a fool,” in order that he may be made wise unto salvation. He must become teachable as a child; not debating, but learning.
It arises from their pride. Distinction always excites this in the natural man. But to become a Christian he must be humbled in the dust; condescend to men of low estate; and avouch the despised and persecuted people of God as his brethren and sisters.
It arises from their lively sense of honor and reputation. The least apparent slight is by them often painfully felt; whereas, as Christians, they must not only submit to reproach, but even glory in it.
It arises from that worldliness of spirit which the possession of riches often creates and fosters. In becoming a Christian, the rich man must learn that he is only a steward, who must give a strict account of the purposes to which he has applied the property that was committed to his trust. He must acquire, also, a heavenly mind.
2. My second selection is “ a hard saying” for the poor, or those who are comparatively so. " Take no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." This, too, is a hard saying; who can hear it?"
Its hardness arises from the natural anxiety of the mind respecting the future. This anxiety is so natural to men, that even the rich are not free from it. Strong as is their “mountain,” they fear that it will some time be “moved," and they often live in fear of ten thousand imaginary evils. How much more must this natural anx iety press upon the poor, to whom future evils are more probable; and who are reminded of that probability by present afflictions !
It arises from a very natural and obvious mode of reasoning. If they are poor in health, what must they be in sickness? If they are poor in the prime of life, what can they expect in old age? If to-day they are in trouble, and see no way of relief; to-morrow, in all probability, will be worse. The cruise of oil wastes, and the barrel of meal fails; and they do not live in the age of miracles. How hard is this saying! It is hard for preachers to take it to the ears of the poor; and hard for them to receive it.
Nor is this “saying” easily relieved by our Lord's own words: “If God so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to. morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, Oye of little faith ?" In nature we see God more immediately than in providence; at least, we see nothing between him and the effect, but unconscious and unresisting agents. The sun darts his beams, the clouds hold on their flight, the showers drop their fatness, the valleys laugh and sing. Thus God clothes the grass : warmth and moisture spread vegetation over the earth ; and the playing light paints every flower with beauty.
But in providence man comes between us and God. A willing being is often a resisting one. How hard it is to believe that God can accomplish his purposes, when they must often encounter in their march the selfishness, the sloth, the wickedness of men!
3. A third of these sayings respects both the rich and the poor. “If any man will come after me," that is, will be my disciple, “ let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
The hardness of this saying arises from the strange kind of contest which it enjoins “Let himself deny himself." Here is self against self, engaged in settled and constant war : the self of reason against the self of passion; the self of conscience against the self of appetite ; severity against pleasure ; exertion against indolence; the enduring of hardness against effeminate indulgence.
It arises from our natural antipathy to suffering and dishonor. Yet the cross is to be taken up, and borne with joyfulness, even unto death.
It arises from our condition, as corrupt creatures. “Follow me,” said Jesus. A man that is born corrupt is to follow, to imitate, Him who knew no sin. A creature is to imitate God. “This,” say some, " is a hard saying. You urge impossibilities, both natural and moral.” Remember, however, that they are not my words, but the words of Christ.
4. My fourth example is connected with the text; and it relates also to all people, whether they be rich or poor ; as it touches the matter of our justification and spiritual life. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” By eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of man is meant, partaking by faith of the benefit of his sacrifice, in order to our present pardon, and future spiritual life. Through faith in the sacrifice of ihe Lord Jesus we are justified from the guilt of our sins; and by the same means the divine life is produced and nourished.
This is hard to the wisdom of the world, which cries, “Why cannot sin be pardoned by mere prerogative on the part of God, without an atonement ? and why cannot man obtain it simply by repentance, without trusting in any sacrifice? Why may not spiritual life be the result of personal acts, and of meditation, rather than of faith in the death of the Lord Jesus ?" All this is “hard” to pride. Man wants to do something to merit these blessings; whereas faith in Christ takes away all glorying in man,-renders salvation common, by placing its blessings within the reach of all.
Many reasons might be assigned why these "sayings" of Christ are deemed "hard," and why men so often complain of them. I will only mention two.
1. The first reason is our natural insensibility to the evil and danger of our sinful state. Sin has darkened the understanding, corrupted the will, depraved the heart, and made men "earthly, sensual, and devilish." Look at Adam in his plenitude of moral glory; and at man in his present fallen state. et of this change and degradation he is not sensible, nor of the danger that threatens him. The wrath of God abideth on him, and he is doomed to future misery. If we saw ourselves aright, we should feel self-abhorred and alarmed, look around for help, and seize it when offered. It would make the “hard sayings” of Christ easy, did we only feel for sin as for a painful and dangerous disease. What man, in pain and danger, puts riches in comparison with health. If we were duly convinced of the evil of sin, as little should we cleave to riches in comparison with healing and pardon. Who that is in pain and bodily danger is so anxious about what he shall eat, or drink, or be clothed with ; as how he may be cured? And if we felt our burden, and regarded our danger, we should be indifferent to every thing but the recovery of God's favor and likeness. Who in sickness does not deny himself? and who quarrels with an effectual mode of cure? Nor should we quarrel with God's method of saving the world, if we had a just apprehension of our danger. We should eagerly accept the salvation offered upon God's own terms. Till we obtain the right sense of our sin, the sayings of Christ will ever be “hard,” and even a stumbling block.
2. A second reason is, an excessive love of the world. This is a base passion, but it is a part of our degradation; and degrading indeed it is to us, when we recollect that we are but travellers, passing through this country. Yet we set our hearts on every thing we see, and forget our home. We are immortal; and yet love that which we must soon quit for ever. Can this be right? Does this accord with our condition as men? It is one of the developements of our worldliness of spirit, that it makes the sayings" of Christ “hard.”_Why do rich men so hardly enter into the kingdom of God ? Because of the love of the world. Their hearts are set upon wealth, honor, pleasure. Why are men anxiously careful for the morrow? Because of the same love of the world. They fear loss and humiliation, and lest what is so anxiously hoped for should not be obtained. They wish to see the outward good which they love heaped around them, instead of being willing to have their store only in the daily supplies of God's providence. For the same reason men do not deny themselves.
What they are required to put away is more loved than that which is offered. On this ground, too, pardon on God's terms is declined, or quarrelled with. It is not that which men want, but an earthly gratification. Till this love of the world be expelled from our hearts, we shall never cordially accept the sayings of Christ.
Yet are the sayings of Christ full of mercy. They imbody truths which cannot be altered ; and it is therefore a mercy that we should know them. God deals openly with us; and for this we should be thankful. Both the rich and the poor must have their peculiar trial and tem ion. Sin cannot be permitted, and therefore we must deny ourselves. In one way only will God pardon and it is a mercy to us that we should know it. Find no fault with the great Teacher. To wish that he had not spoken so plainly, is to wish that we might be deluded.
These “hard sayings" only meet the case of man, miserable, corrupt, and guilty. Look at them carefully and candidly, and you will find them all to be sayings of mercy.
You are not to love the world. Is not that love a source of misery? The same may be said of the pride and selfishness against which we are warned. Anxiety for the future is not only useless, but pernicious. Self-indulgence is the strengthening of our corruption. The body ought to be subjected to the mind. As to the method of our pardon, the sayings of Christ exactly meet our case. We have nothing to pay; and God, for Christ's sake, frankly forgives us all.