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Female Scripture Biographies, Vol. II by Francis Augustus Cox

Part 4 out of 6

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all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge!" And happy, thrice happy we,
notwithstanding our comparative disadvantages of time and circumstance,
who possess the recorded instructions of "the faithful and true Witness,"
in the page of inspiration, while "darkness covers" so vast a proportion
of "the earth, and gross darkness the people!"

In the situation which Jesus had chosen, he distinctly saw the people
casting money into the treasury, and particularly noticed the large sums
which many rich persons contributed to this sacred fund. Little did they
suspect what an eye was upon them, watching their movements, and
estimating their motives! It is probable that the majority of those who
came to present their gifts on this occasion, had no personal knowledge of
the Saviour, who assumed no extraordinary appearance, excepting that of
extreme poverty of condition and deep humiliation of spirit; and that of
those who might recognize him, some had been so discomfited by his
superior wisdom in the field of argument, as to feel no inclination either
to dare another contest, or to submit to his decisions; others were too
indolent to make inquiries after heavenly truth, too ignorant to penetrate
beyond his humble exterior, or too fearful to incur the censure of
ecclesiastical authority, for seeming by a respectful approach to become
his disciples; while few, if any, who passed by, were aware that "he knew
what was in man."

If there were many among the wealthy contributors to the treasury who gave
from motives of vanity and ostentation, it is reasonable to believe that
others were characterized by genuine benevolence, and as such approved by
their unknown observer. They were not influenced either by a spirit of
rivalry or pride, but devoutly wished to be serviceable to religion and
acceptable to God. If some came in the temper of the boasting Pharisee,
who is represented as professing to pray in these words, "God, I thank
thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or
even as this publican: I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that
I possess"--others, no doubt, as they cast in the liberal offering, felt
if they did not exclaim with the publican, "God, be merciful to me
a sinner."

Although the Son of God has reassumed his glory, being exalted "far above
all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that
is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come;" he
minutely investigates the characters and actions of men, and will
hereafter "appear in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory," for
the purpose of "rendering to every man according to his deeds." The
proceedings of that day will be marked by the utmost impartiality and
justice, founded upon a perpetual and complete inspection of all human
actions, and a most perfect knowledge of their motives.

"Can we think, O Saviour, that thy glory hath diminished aught of thy
gracious respects to our beneficence? or that thine acceptance of our
charity was confined to the earth? Even now that thou sittest at the right
hand of thy Father's glory, thou seest every hand that is stretched out
to the relief of thy poor saints here below. And if vanity have power to
stir up our liberality, out of a conceit to be seen of men; how shall
faith encourage our bounty in knowing that we are seen of thee, and
accepted by thee? Alas! what, are we the better for the notice of those
perishing and impotent eyes, which can only view the outside of our
actions; or for that waste wind of applause, which vanisheth in the lips
of the speaker? Thine eye, O Lord, is piercing and retributive. As to see
thee is perfect happiness, so to be seen of thee is true contentment
and glory.

"And dost thou, O God, see what we give thee, and not see what we take
away from thee? Are our offerings more noted than our sacrileges? Surely,
thy mercy is not more quicksighted than thy justice. In both kinds our
actions are viewed, our account is kept; and we are as sure to receive
rewards for what we have given, as vengeance for what we have defaulted.
With thine eye of _knowledge_, thou seest all we _do_; but we _do well_,
thou seest with an eye _of approbation!_" [40]

After stating the general notice which Jesus Christ took of the variety of
opulent contributors to the treasury, the sacred narrative informs us of
his particularly remarking the offering of a certain individual, whom he
exhibited to his disciples as a pattern of unrivalled generosity. The
comparative value and magnitude of this gift are recorded; and though the
name of this honorable character is concealed, the benevolent deed can
never be forgotten.

We are not informed of the sums given respectively by wealthy persons upon
this occasion, but only in general that they were very considerable:
"many that were rich cast in much." It is astonishing what large
contributions have been sometimes advanced for charitable and other
religious purposes: and from knowing that Jesus Christ selected for
remark, and distinguished by an extraordinary eulogium, the offering of a
certain woman to the treasury, we are eager to inquire who was the donor,
and what the gift so celebrated.

But we must suspend our prejudices. Let us remember, that "God seeth not
as man seeth"--that our calculations of value and of magnitude are often
false, because we do not use the balances of the sanctuary, but are
governed by the erroneous opinions of mankind--and then we shall be
prepared to learn, that on that memorable day, when Jesus sat over against
the treasury beholding the numerous and splendid donations of the rich, a
_female_, a _widow_, "cast in more than they all"--more than any one
individually, and more than all collectively!

What then were her resources? Was she some Eastern potentate, who, like
the queen of Sheba, "came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with
camels that bare spices, and very much gold and precious stones"--a queen
who was able to present Solomon with "a hundred and twenty talents of
gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones?" No, she was a
_poor_ widow! Our astonishment increases. But some poor persons have great
future prospects, or great present connections. Had she then sold an
hereditary reversion, or borrowed extensively of some wealthy friends, and
impelled by a zeal for God, given it to the treasury? No--she gave only
out of her _poverty_--"she threw in _two mites_, which make a FARTHING,"
or about _two pence_, according to the proportionate value of English
money. [41] This was the donation that led Jesus to call his disciples,
and address them thus, "Verily, I say unto you, that this poor widow hath
cast more in than all they which have cast into the treasury: for all they
did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that
she had, even all her living."

It is proper to remark, that this gift was rather religious than
charitable, the offering of piety as distinguished from that of
almsgiving. This will be obvious, upon considering that the contributions
to the treasury were not for the support of the poor, but for the supply
of sacrifices and other necessary services. Dr. Lightfoot states that
there were thirteen treasure-chests, called _Shopheroth_, and collectively
_Corban_ or _Corbonah_, which were placed in that part of the temple
denominated the Court of the Women. Two of these chests were for the half
shekel, which every Israelite was to pay according to the law; and eleven
others were appropriated to the uses specified in their respective
inscriptions. 1. _For the price of the two turtle-doves, or two young
pigeons_. 2. _For the burnt-offering of birds_. 3. _For the money offered
to buy wood for the altar_. 4. _For those who gave money to buy
frankincense_. 5. _For those who offered gold for the mercy-seat_. 6. _For
the residue of the money for the sin-offering_. 7. _For the residue of the
money for a trespass-offering_. 8. _For the residue of an offering of
birds_. 9. _For the surplus of a Nazarite's offering_. 10. _For the
residue of a leper's trespass-offering_. 11. _For whosoever would offer an
offering of the herds_.

Our Saviour eulogized the gift of this good woman less, probably, on
account of its comparative superiority to the more splendid donations of
opulent contributors to the treasury, whose circumstances were so widely
different from hers, than because her motives were more pure and pious.
The intention to purchase renown or self-approbation, diminishes the
excellence of the most costly offering; while the simple desire to honour
God and promote his cause, superadds substantial worth to the meanest
donation. Jesus Christ perceived the workings of genuine faith and love in
this woman's heart, and estimated them at a price above the choicest
jewels or the purest gold.

He saw and he approved the holy zeal of her mind, and well knew that the
operations of her benevolence were restricted solely by the limitation of
her means. These alone presented an impassable barrier to a liberality of
spirit which impelled her far beyond the allowance of a timid policy, or a
calculating prudence; and we may reasonably conclude, that she knew no
regret at the scantiness of her pecuniary resources, and the
inferiority, of her condition, save what originated in perceiving her small
capacity of usefulness. She who could cast into the treasury the only two
mites that she possessed, would have adorned a higher station. Had
Providence placed her amongst the princesses of the earth, while she
retained such a disposition, what an extensive blessing to society would
she have proved! Such, however, in two many instances, is the corrupting
influence of large possessions, that it is always questionable, whether in
the very great majority of cases an increase of riches would not
deteriorate the principle of benevolence; and whether, if placed amidst
the splendid scenes of elevated rank, our eyes would not be soon so
dazzled, as to incapacitate us either for seeing the wants of the poor, or
the necessities of the church of Christ.

How exquisite and how enviable must have been the feelings of this pious
woman, when she cast her last two mites into the treasury! What a noble
generosity! what disinterested zeal! She could not delay a moment to
inquire respecting the means of her future subsistence, or the comfort of
the present day; the impulse was too powerful to be resisted, and was
amply recompensed by an instantaneous enhancement of her happiness.

This example is highly honorable to the female sex. It is not the language
of flattery, but of truth, to say that they are distinguished by acute
sensibility, quick sympathy, and persevering patience in doing good. They
are naturally compassionate, and have the best opportunities of gratifying
a charitable disposition. From constitution they are more susceptible,
from habit more considerate, and from character more prompt than the other
sex in promoting benevolent purposes. They generally require less urging
to useful measures, and the flame of charity often burns with more
brightness and perpetuity in their bosoms.

In the church of Christ, women have ever been pre-eminent in numbers and in
character; they have been the first to profess Christ, and the last to
dishonour him; they have joined the train of his followers, borne the
reproach of his accusers, sustained the cross of self-denial, and aspired
to the crown of martyrdom; they are recorded with marked distinction by an
apostolic pen, "Women received their dead raised to life again, and others
were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better
resurrection;"--in a word, whenever they have been required to suffer for
Christ, they have willingly surrendered life with all its joys; and
whenever called to maintain his cause by pecuniary supplies, they have
been found ready, like the poor widow, to give even to their last
_two mites_.

Some persons will not be liberal, unless they can be praised. They are
anxious to see their names exciting public attention, and their
benefactions proclaimed upon some public list. If you will allow them to
be "seen of men," they will reconcile themselves to make some sacrifice
for the good of others; and overcome their heartfelt reluctance to give,
when they are assured of being repaid in a proportionate measure of fame.
And thus, in fact, their charity is nothing but a sordid traffic; they
barter for renown, and aim to insure the recompense before they hazard the
gift. But we may be assured, that this is of all speculations the meanest,
the most detestable, and ultimately the most ruinous. The poor widow had
no suspicion of the kind of observance to which she was exposed, and no
wish to attract attention. She silently dropped her money into the chest,
and departed. The whole world was, in her estimation, ignorant of the
deed; and the whole world could not have bestowed upon her so rich a

Persons of the class alluded to will sometimes admit of concealment. They
adopt many measures to hide their virtue from the eyes of others; they
will by no means court public attention, or allow a formal publication of
their deeds: but if perchance they are whispered abroad, if any
indiscretion betrays them, if though not _written_, they are _stated_;
they are the last persons on earth to feel any offence, and congratulate
themselves on having effectually secured the applauses of mankind.

"Good actions," as the admirable Achbishop Leighton remarks, "cannot well
be hid; and it may sometimes be necessary for example and exciting others,
that they know of it; but take heed that vanity creep not in under this.
And further than either unavoidable necessity, or some evident further
good of thy neighbour carries it, desire to be unknown and unseen in this.
When it must be public, let thy intention be secret; take no delight in
the eyes of men on thee; yea, rather count it a pain; and still eye God
alone, for he eyes thee. And remember it even in public acts of charity,
and other such like, _he sees in secret_; though the action be no secret,
the spring, the source of it, is; and he sees by what weights the
wheels go, and he still looks upon that, views thy heart, the bidden bent
and intention of it, which man cannot see. So then, though in some cases
thou must be seen to do, yet in no case do to be seen: that differs much;
and where that is, even the other will be as little as it may be."

There are other persons who, though they cannot in all cases be censured
for penuriousness, have imbibed a very pernicious error. They plead that
they have scarcely sufficient for themselves, that they cannot therefore
afford to contribute even to a good cause; and that if they were to do any
thing, it must necessarily be so little as to be useless. What, say they,
could our insignificant donations avail in aid of a fund which requires
the most liberal and constant supplies? Could our drop of charity
materially increase the tide, or swell the ocean? Would it become us to
take from our few necessities, what could not much augment the comforter
minister to the wants of others? Or does God require that his cause should
be sustained by the poor, and the poorest of the poor, when he can command
the purses of the opulent, or turn the stones of the desert into gold.

To this reasoning the instructive history we are considering is a direct
reply. There were two circumstances in her lot, which not only merited
compassion, but would have furnished as strong arguments against her
contributing to the treasury as it is perhaps possible to adduce.

She was in the first place POOR--poor in the extreme; for when she cast in
"two mites" it was "all her living" Poverty is helpless. It does not
possess the means of alleviating its own distresses, much less of
assisting others to any considerable extent. "Wealth," says Solomon,
"maketh many friends, but the poor is separated from his
neighbour"--separated by his neighbour's _selfishness_, who is too much
occupied with his own concerns to cast his eyes beyond the narrow limits
of personal interest--separated by his neighbour's _insensibility_, whose
heart is often cold and motionless to pity as the stone which paves his
doorway--separated by his neighbor's _avarice_, who idolizes gold, and
grasps it with unyielding tenacity--separated by his neighbour's _pride_,
who looks with contempt upon his unoffending inferior--separated by his
neighbour's _servility_, who flatters greatness even by acquiescing in its
unfounded dislike of the poor--ah! "the poor is _separated_ from his

You plead poverty as an excuse for disregarding every claim upon you; but
are you as destitute as this obscure yet excellent woman, who had but a
farthing, and gave it even without solicitation? Be encouraged by
recollecting who observes and who can repay you. Indeed the poor of every
class were the particular objects of the Saviour's attention during his
residence on earth; and he has rendered the tattered garment of poverty
respectable by having worn it himself.

There is one consideration, above all others, which seems to appeal most
forcibly to the inferior classes of society in behalf especially of the
cause of Christ, and to urge some, even the smallest donations, to the
_treasurer_, of the Christian temple, however incapacitated they may be
for other benevolent exertions, namely, that _poverty appears to be the
peculiar object of divine complacency and provision._ It is the common
condition of the people of God, who "hath _chosen_ the poor of this world,
rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that
love him." The vale of poverty seems to be the favourite walk of celestial
mercy. Here she distributes her charities--here she spreads her
table--here she sends her ministers of grace. It was here the Saviour
"went about doing good." The discourses he delivered were adapted to the
poor--he consulted their capacities, instructed their minds, felt for
their circumstances, and relieved their necessities. Whom others despised
he honored--whom others forsook he sought--whom others suffered without a
sigh to perish, he supplied, and comforted, and saved!

The Gospel itself was expressly addressed to the poor, and is peculiarly
suited to their condition; and the messengers of heaven are directed to go
out into the highways and hedges to compel men to come in. The promises of
Scripture are peculiarly appropriated to the necessities of the poor. They
have no _money_; hence the blessings of the everlasting covenant are
described as "wine and milk," and are to be procured "without money and
without price." The poor are subject to _fatigue_ through excess of labor;
hence it is "the weary and heavy-laden," whom Christ invites to "come to
him," promising them "rest." The poor, being deprived of those means of
mental cultivation which the rich enjoy, are usually _ignorant_; hence the
source of the Redeemer's grateful appeal to the Father, "Thou has hid
these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto
babes." The poor are the _servants_ of others; hence we read of "the
liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free," and "if the Son make you free
ye shall be free indeed." The felicities of the invisible state are
represented in terms which form a complete contrast to the present
condition of the poor. Are they now the tenants of the lowly cottage? "In
my Father's house are many mansions"--"we have a _building of God_, a
house not made with hands, _eternal_ in the heavens." Must they now look
on all the fields around them, and sigh to think that they belong to
another?' Through the grace of the Gospel they anticipate "an inheritance
incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away." Are they now clothed
in wretched attire?--they may expect to be adorned with "white robes" and
"a crown of glory." Are they now in a state of obscurity--their names
unknown--their condition mean and despised?--hereafter they shall have a
"name better than of sons and daughters;" they shall "shine as the
brightness of the firmament," and "as the stars, for ever and ever." Is
their condition on earth eminently "the _house of mourning_?" Do a scanty
meal, a starving family, a pining partner, a wasting disease for which
poverty forbids their procuring the most skilful means, frequently excite
the bitter, the burning, the unavailing tear? In heaven "the days of our
mourning shall be ended," and "God himself shall wipe away all tears from
our eyes."

Had this poor woman been disposed rather to have evaded the gift to the
treasury than to have volunteered so large a donation as that of "all her
living," the circumstance of her being A WIDOW would seem to have been a
sufficient apology. No condition of life can be conceived more wretched. A
widow is deprived; "of the object of tenderest regard, the soother of her
cares, the defence of her weakness, and the staff of her life." She is left
to bewail in solitude--to suffer alone; or, if her children surround her,
by tracing in their features the resemblance of her departed husband, she
perpetually opens afresh the wound that time was kindly healing, and
blends her fond caresses with tears of unavailing regret. She must now
support herself--and perhaps struggle to supply them, whose childhood both
disqualifies them from affording any assistance, and renders the incessant
vigilance of maternal care essential to their very preservation. If, in
addition to this, her poverty incapacitates her for resisting the arm of
oppression, or vindicating herself against the unmerited reproaches of the
censorious and the impious, her situation is inconceivably deplorable.
Some part of this description certainly applies, and perhaps all, to the
character under consideration. She was a poor widow: and yet the miseries
of her own state did not prevent her casting in a liberal supply, even
"all her living," into the treasury of God. She trusted for to-morrow to
that Providence which had supplied her to-day; a confidence which we
cannot doubt experienced its appropriate reward.

In addition to these considerations, and as a reply to the sophisms
already adverted to, by which so many in far superior circumstances to
this good woman endeavour to fence themselves against the charge of
illiberality, we remark--

1. It is by no means evident that you have absolutely _nothing_ that can
be applied to the purposes of a pious charity. In order to prove this, it
would be requisite to show that all your labour is scarcely sufficient to
procure your subsistence--a subsistence that does not require or admit the
smallest redundancy or the least indulgence. You must prove that you never
pamper one appetite or gratify one lust; and that, in compliance with the
exhortation of Christ, you "take no thought for the morrow." This is a
case of so extreme a nature that its occurrence seems a bare possibility,
and will not surely exonerate those who, if they are but scantily
supplied in comparison with the ample abundance which enriches the
condition of others, have nevertheless the means of a sufficient and
perhaps a comfortable support. From those who possess much, much is
required; and of those who have little _something_--to prove that the
spirit of benevolence is not extinct, nor the claims of humanity and
religion disregarded. You may be unable to pour in gold and silver, but
surely you can contribute _two miles_'. It is an excellent piece of
advice, "If thou have but a little, be not afraid to give according to
that little; for thou layest up a good treasure for thyself against the
day of necessity."

2. Whatever may be our estimate of the merit or utility of a small
donation, the most trifling addition is of some importance. The seed which
is sown in the field of benevolence will bear some fruit and help to swell
the harvest. The immeasurable extent of sand upon the sea-shore is made up
of grains, and the loftiest mountains are composed of diminutive particles
of dust. If the millions who are able to contribute their mites could be
induced to do so, the treasury would soon be full; but if they withhold
them, the uncertain, capricious, and ostentatious, though large
contributions of the opulent, may fail to replenish it.

3. The _habit_ of giving, however small the sum, is inconceivably
beneficial to the contributor himself. It is an important means of
cherishing in the breast that divine principle, which without exercise and
use would be likely to languish: for whatever sentiments we feel, whatever
theories we adopt, and in whatever eloquence of language and warmth of
spirit we expatiate upon the excellences of liberality, unless we _give_
to the necessitous ourselves, the heart will become hardened and cold;
and a _theoretical religion_ can never preserve us from a _real impiety_.

"The peculiar nature of our religion," observes Dr. Barrow, [42]
"specially requires it, and the honour thereof exacts it from us; nothing
better suits Christianity, nothing more graces it, than liberality;
nothing is more inconsistent therewith, or more disparageth it, than being
miserable and sordid. A Christian niggard is the veriest nonsense that can
be; for what is a Christian? What but a man who adores God alone, who
loves God above all things, who reposes all his trust and confidence in
God? What is he, but one who undertaketh to imitate the most good and
bountiful God; to follow, as the best pattern of his practice, the most
benign and charitable JESUS, the Son of God; to obey the laws of God and
his Christ, the sum and substance of which is charity; half whose religion
doth consist in loving his neighbour as himself! What is he further, but
one who hath renounced this world, with all the vain pomps and pleasures
of it; who professes himself in disposition and affection of mind to
forsake all things for Christ's sake; who pretends little to value,
affect, or care for any thing under heaven, having all his main
concernments and treasures--his heart, his hopes, and his happiness, in
another world? Such is a Christian: and what is a niggard? All things
quite contrary. One whose practice manifestly shows him another thing
besides and before God; to love mammon above God, and more to confide in
it than in him; one who bears small goodwill, kindness, or pity towards
his brother; who is little affected or concerned with things future or
celestial; whose mind and heart are rivetted to this world; whose hopes
and happiness are settled here below; whose soul is deeply immersed and
buried in earth; one who, according to constant habit, notoriously
breaketh the two great heads of Christian duty, '_loving God with
all his heart, and his neighbour as himself_. It is, therefore, by comparing
those things very plain, that we pretend to reconcile gross contradictions
and inconsistences, if we profess ourselves to be Christians and are
illiberal. It is indeed the special grace and glory of our religion, that
it consisteth not in barren speculations, or empty formalities, or forward
professions; not in fancying curiously, or speaking zealously, or looking
demurely; but in really producing sensible fruits of goodness, in doing
(as St. Paul signifies) _things good and profitable, unto men_."

The story of the poor widow is eminently calculated to inspire gratitude
in the hearts of those who are mercifully exempted from the wretchedness
of such extreme poverty, which exposes to the temptation of repining at
the dispensations of Heaven, and of pursuing improper measures for
obtaining relief. Nor is its least evil that of cherishing an envious
spirit towards those who are in superior circumstances. From the abodes of
penury and want it is indeed a pleasing fact that Divine Grace has chosen
its objects, and from lowly vales and humble cottages elevated them to
thrones of immortality. We hear apostles saying, "Silver and gold have we
none;" and Bartimeus, brought into the train of disciples from "the
highway-side," where he was "blind" and "begging." And though it is a
delightful consideration, that religion Can alleviate the rigours of want,
and infuse sweetness into the bitterest waters of sorrow; yet poverty,
with its concomitant evils, is an affliction from which, in its extreme
form, we may pray to be relieved. Though in the strictest sense, the
Christian, like the apostle, while "having nothing," may yet be said to
"possess all things;" yet that degree of necessity which arises from
extreme poverty is far from being desirable either for the body or
the soul.

In the most destitute circumstances, however, the promises of our Father
in heaven, and the examples which we find upon sacred record, are
encouraging. "I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed
begging bread"--"He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for
the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and
wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine,
and bread which strengtheneth man's heart." Of Zion it is asserted, "I
will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her poor with bread:"
and "He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that
despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of
bribery, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his
eyes from seeing evil; he shall dwell on high: his place of defence shall
be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall
be sure."

Remember the interpositions of God to supply the necessities of the
destitute. Go to _Egypt_ and _Canaan_, and trace the wonderful
appointments of that providence which supplied the famished household of
Jacob! Go into the wilderness of _Sin_, and behold an extraordinary kind
of dew covering the camp of Israel and sparkling in the morning sun, in
fulfilment of the prediction, "I will rain bread from heaven for you!"
Observe the famished prophet at "the brook Cherith, that is before
Jordan," and see the ravens of heaven descending with bread and flesh to
supply Elijah! Follow Jesus into a desert place, where five thousand
weary, wayworn strangers, besides women and children, are fed by his
liberal hand and his miraculous power! "Behold the fowls of the air; for
they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your
heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of
you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? and why take, ye
thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow; they
toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon
in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, 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, O ye of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we
drink? or Wherewithal shall we he clothed? (For after all these things do
the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of
all these things."

O, how sweetly does that spirit rest which reclines upon the lap of
providence, and feeds contentedly on "daily bread!" The storms may rise
and the winds may blow--the clamours of human competition may fill the
air; but nothing can disturb his repose. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect
peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee." When
Solomon was about to ascend his throne, how earnestly did he implore
superior wisdom, and how readily leave the disposal of earthly good to his
God and Father! And what was the consequence? "God said unto him, Because
thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life;
neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine
enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment;
behold, I have done according to thy Words: lo, I have given thee a wise
and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before,
neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given
thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honour: so that
there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days."

Finally, let us deduce motives for consolation under the pressure of
sorrow, and for the limitation of our wishes to the necessary subsistence
of life, from "a greater than Solomon." Who was it that stooped to a
manger and a cross? Who fasted forty days and forty nights in the desert,
refusing to employ his power in furnishing a miraculous table? Who had not
"where to lay his head?" Who lived on the scanty fare of a small purse in
common with the family of his disciples? Who withdrew from the
entertainments of Jerusalem to the humble cottage of Mary and Martha,
cheerfully subsisting on the most homely and casual provision?--HE, who
has taught us to limit our desires of temporal good within the narrow
circle of _one short_ request--"GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD."


Chapter IX.

Mixed Constitution of the Church of Christ--benevolent Spirit of the
primitive Believers at Jerusalem--Anxiety of Ananias and Sapphira to
appear as zealous and liberal as others--Ananias repairs to the Apostles
to deposit the price of his Possessions--is detected in Deception and
dies--similar Deceit and Death of Sapphira--Nature and Progress of
Apostasy--peculiar Guilt of Sapphira--Agency of Satan distinctly
marked--diabolical influence ascertained--consolatory Sentiments
suggested to Christians.

"The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his
field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the
wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought
forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the
householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in
thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy
hath done this.... The field is the world; the good seed are the children
of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the
enemy that sowed them is the devil."

This parable, so descriptive of the mixed constitution of the church of
Christ, from the primitive times down to the present age, is strikingly
exemplified in the history of Ananias and Sapphira. These were some of the
first tares that appeared in the apostolic field of labour; and we should
feel grateful that their names and characters are transmitted to us upon
whom the ends of the world are come, for the purpose of salutary warning.
Their singular atrocity was but a more full development of the very same
evil principles that exist in embryo in the hearts of mankind in general;
and their signal and immediate punishment, which was some deviation from
the more ordinary methods of Providence, which permits the tares and the
wheat to grow together till the harvest or "end of the world," was, under
all the circumstances, a necessary expression of divine displeasure.

During the first age of Christianity, when it was propagated by apostles
and their holy coadjutors, and when Jesus Christ, having so recently
departed from the world, had left an unusual glow of ardor and affection
in their minds, it seems natural to anticipate not only extensive success
in the establishment of Christian churches, but a peculiar purity in the
sentiments and conduct of their members. And where shall we find such
union, such fervour, such simplicity, such energy, as prevailed in that
golden age? Persecution separated them indeed, but could not dissolve
their attachment either to the cause or to each other; it could not
extinguish their ever-burning zeal. But in vain should we hope for
perfection even in the purest societies on earth. If a Judas insinuated
himself amongst the apostles during the personal residence of Christ on
earth, and under his immediate eye, it is not surprising that an Ananias
and a Sapphira intruded into the earliest and best of his churches; nor
should it prove unduly discouraging to his ministers or people at any
period, when they witness similar instances of deceit and impiety. The
more valuable the coin, the greater is the reason to apprehend its being
counterfeited; and the more excellent religion appears, and the more
highly it is esteemed, the greater will be the probable number of
hypocritical professors.

The history of these two offenders is intimately blended. Their sin and
punishment were similar; but there, were some circumstances connected with
the transaction which exhibit the guilt of Sapphira in characters of more
conspicuous enormity. While reviewing the inspired narrative, let us not
cherish the feeling of Hazael, who indignantly demanded of the prophet,
"Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this!" but, deeply aware of our
inward propensities and our moral dangers, let us unite fervent prayer
with sleepless circumspection, "lest we enter into temptation."

The church at Jerusalem possessed one peculiarity, resulting from the
remarkable exercise of a pure, exalted, disinterested benevolence. Rising
superior to every selfish interest, and, in the spirit of unbounded love
and liberality, concurring in every measure that was devised to promote
the general good; "as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold
them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them
down at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made to every man
according as he had need." The great proportion of converts were probably
indigent, for in no age have "the mighty and the noble" been attracted by
the unostentatious simplicity of the religion of Jesus; but some were
persons of property. They had lands and houses, with which, however, they
willingly parted to supply the necessities of their poorer
fellow-Christians. This was a generosity which could not fail of exciting
the admiration of the whole society, and of acquiring for them
considerable influence. While the apostles approved their
disinterestedness, the widows, the orphans, and the indigent of every
class, would pour their best benedictions upon their heads, and look up lo
them as the ministering angels of Providence. Too often, indeed, the
supplies of benevolence are received with a coldness which is truly
repulsive, and which bespeaks a secret conviction in the minds of the
wretched, that they have a right to expect, and that the opulent are bound
to bestow them; but these were _Christian poor_, and were influenced, we
should hope, by a gratitude which such benefactions were calculated to
inspire. At the same time, even the unthankfulness of the recipient ought
not to shut up our "bowels of compassion."

Ananias and Sapphira were anxious, amidst such fine specimens of
disinterested goodness, not to appear backward. They might be conscious
that the respectability of their situation, and the zeal of their
profession, excited expectations amongst the other disciples; and though
they were certainly under no obligation to practise this profuse charity,
they seemed unwilling to lose the opportunity of enhancing their fame: We
may justly suspect, that a long struggle was maintained between the love
of money and the love of applause. They consulted together;--they were
anxious to devise an expedient by which they might gratify their vanity,
and yet retain at least the principal part of their property. Ambition and
avarice were to be alike gratified, but they were to contrive the
concealment of their hypocrisy. With this view, they agreed upon a course
of meanness and dissimulation, which involved the most tragical
consequences. Ananias seems to have proposed, and Sapphira to have
abetted, the transaction. With her consent, which he chose to obtain, and
which might have been legally necessary, their estate was sold; and _part_
only of the purchase-money was laid at the apostles' feet, as if it were
the whole, and as if Christian charity had dictated this liberal
distribution of it.

Hypocrites, we perceive, are frequently very much influenced by example
and popular applause. How many ostentatious charities may be traced to
this polluted source! It is not to do good, to assist the needy, to
promote the cause of Jesus Christ; but to escape censure, or to purchase
renown, that men often unite in pious contributions. They will slot be
outshone by others, or submit to the dishonor of being reputed niggardly
and ungenerous. But however such persons abound in _visible_ acts of
benevolence, their charity does not resemble the subterraneous rivulet,
that revives the drooping flower, and refreshes the languishing herb,
wherever it directs its _secret_ and _silent_ course.

What a fine opportunity was afforded on this occasion to Sapphira, for
fulfilling the high but difficult duties of her situation! How would she
have immortalized her name, had she suggested proper advice to her
husband, and acted with an upright firmness herself! If, instead of
coinciding with his impious plan, she had objected to the proposal, and
warned him of the probable consequences of his dissimulation, a strong
remonstrance from so dear a relative might have produced the happiest
effect upon his mind; and had he still persisted, would at least have
vindicated her refusal. Wives are indeed required to "submit to their
husbands," but there are cases in which resistance is a virtue of the
noblest class. If, transgressing the proper bounds of civil dominion, he
attempts to lord it over her conscience, and urges, however
authoritatively, her concurrence in iniquity, she must steadfastly oppose
temptation. However painful the contest, it is honourable. It will be
owned in heaven as a war of duty and necessity.

In some cases, the woman proves the first instigator to evil, or the prime
coadjutor in mischief; but, in others, her sentiments may be sought with
advantage. A wise man will seldom engage in an affair of considerable
importance without soliciting advice, for "in the multitude of counsellors
there 5s safety;" but who so naturally expects, or who so much deserves to
be consulted, as the wife of the bosom? Her opinion is likely to be the
most disinterested and the most affectionate of any that can be obtained;
and if we could obtain a faithful history of domestic life, it would
appear that a consultation so natural and proper, has often proved the
means of guiding in perplexity and rescuing from error.

In the full confidence that their scheme had been concerted with the
utmost privacy, Ananias, after the sale of his possessions, hastened to
deposit a part of the price in the hands of the apostles. He, no doubt,
expected to be welcomed in the warmest terms of commendation. With what
astonishment and horror, therefore, must be have heard the terrible appeal
of Peter, "Why bath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and
to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not
thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast
thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but
unto God!" Instantaneous as the lightning of heaven, Almighty vengeance
descended upon the unhappy criminal, and withered him in a moment.
"Ananias hearing these words, fell down and gave up the ghost; and great
fear came on all them that heard these things." He was immediately buried,
and about three hours afterward, his wife, totally unacquainted with the
melancholy fate of her infatuated husband, and glowing with expectation of
sharing the praises which the assembled disciples, as she supposed, were
bestowing upon their generosity, presented herself to the apostles. Peter
immediately demanded an explicit answer to the question, whether the sum
which Ananias had subscribed were the real purchase-money of their estate?
To this she deliberately replied in the affirmative. "How is it," said
Peter, excited to holy indignation, "how is it that ye have agreed
together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of them which
have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out."
Immediately, to the universal astonishment and terror of all the
spectators, "she fell down at his feet and yielded up the ghost; and the
young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her forth, buried her
by her husband."

The apostle, by representing the atrocious sin of these offenders as
"lying unto God," and "tempting the Spirit of the Lord," intended to
intimate that as the ambassadors of heaven, and endowed with miraculous
powers and discernment, they who attempted to deceive them, virtually
offered an insult to that Holy Spirit that resided in them. They were his
representatives and agents, acting by his authority and under his
influence. God was present with the apostles in a manner totally different
from the mode of his manifestation to any other persons; and in attempting
to deceive them, they virtually denied the agency of the Omniscient
Spirit, in communicating to them a capacity to discern the inmost motives
of the mind.

It is not with a view to extenuate the guilt of Ananias or Sapphira, but
merely to detect character and illustrate the progress of sin, that we
suggest the probability that when they first determined upon the sale of
their estate, it might be under the impulse of a momentary benevolence,
and that the device of retaining a part of the price was a subsequent
consideration. Hypocrites are not profoundly acquainted with their own
hearts, or with all the secret operations of a spirit of self-delusion. A
sinner does not always, nor perhaps often, imagine the extreme lengths of
impiety to which one erroneous step may ultimately conduct him. If he
could be brought to see at the period of first indulgence the odious
outline, not to say the finished picture, of his _future self_, he would
start with instinctive horror, and blush with unutterable confusion.
Secret wickedness is frequently long concealed from all but the eyes of
God, by a religious deportment. It remains buried deep in the recesses of
the soul till occasion exhibits it, as the needle continues at rest till
the magnetic influence approaches. Hence the church of Christ is sometimes
astonished and alarmed by the misconduct of a character in whom, perhaps,
it had reposed the utmost confidence, or placed the warmest affection; and
which, though immediately produced by some sudden temptation, was really
the result, the natural, easy, and almost necessary result of a previous
course of secret iniquity. The train had been long preparing, but it
required some kindling touch to produce the explosion.

The progress to apostacy is, indeed, usually gradual, though rapid,
resembling the irresistible haste of persons travelling down a precipitous
path, or the descent of a heavy body towards the earth, whose velocity is
accelerated in proportion as it approaches its destination. The first
compliance with temptation is accompanied with misgivings--trembling--
restlessness--the very thought of sin is admitted with difficulty, and the
determination to practise it, is formed amidst a thousand relentings and
prickings of conscience. Still the mind lingers with the object--still the
fancy plays about the forbidden fruit, till the hand is stretched forth to
gather it--an increased appetite is superinduced, accompanied with a
diminished resolution. How many youthful persons, deterred for a time by a
religious education and sedate habits, have paused--and paused--and paused
on the brink of danger; like Cæsar ere he crossed the Rubicon; their
passions and their conscience have held a warm debate--till induced in
some fatal hour of illusion to comply, they have progressively advanced
to a state of confirmation in guilt, and have made a covenant with hell!

The character of Sapphira seems marked with even a deeper stain of guilt
than that of her husband. She had more time for reflection, and received a
salutary premonition by the question of Peter. Not to advert to the period
in which she might probably be left alone during the various transactions
of the sale of the estate, three hours elapsed between the infliction of
judgment upon Ananias, and her coming to the apostolic assembly. If her
concurrence in this base action had resulted in any degree from mistake,
from momentary illusion, or from mere persuasion, she had time to correct
her error by immediate repentance: or if she had hitherto sinned with
deliberation, it was a time in which conscience might hive been heard, and
the wretched backslider have yet been reclaimed. This was the golden
moment, the period of long-suffering and mercy, the "accepted time!"
Repentance was not yet too late--return to reason and duty was not even
now impossible--she might still have retracted her steps, though her
worthless husband had suffered for his iniquity, and had passed the
boundaries of time, the sacred enclosure, the hallowed ground where
celestial mercy dispenses her pardons. Every thing was favourable to
penitence. She was alone, and solitude has sometimes shaken the purpose of
the sinner, and opened his eyes to an awful perception of the
atrociousness of guilt. But Sapphira was "hardened through the
deceitfulness of sin." Long since she had dismissed every compunctious
feeling, and was hurried on to perdition by the fiends of avarice and
vanity, to whom she had resigned the dominion of her soul. The inquiry of
Peter, pointed and abrupt--"Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much?"
Would have startled an ordinary transgressor, and produced those
sensations of shame and confusion which a consciousness of detection is
calculated to excite--O, if she had even then trembled, confessed her
iniquity, and sought forgiveness through the blood which cleanseth from
all sin, who will affirm that she could not have obtained mercy, and
perhaps escaped both temporal and eternal punishment! But she was
obdurate. The falsehood which Ananias had _acted_, she deliberately
_affirmed_, and justice instantly dismissed her to the society of her
kindred transgressor in a state of condemnation. Here, then, we read in
characters too legible to be mistaken, that "it is a fearful thing to fall
into the hands of the living God."

If we pursue this subject, it will conduct us far beyond the sight of mere
temporal punishment. Sin not only incurs present misery, but has opened
the gates of despair, and kindled inextinguishable flames. That wrath
which must have inevitably consumed the whole of Adam's posterity, but for
the Redeemer's interposition, will rage forever against the impenitent and
the apostate. "Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies; thy right hand
shall find out those that hate thee. Thou shall make them as a fiery oven
in the time of thine anger; the Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath,
and the fire shall devour them." "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares,
fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest; this shall be the portion of
their cup."

It is surely wonderful to holy angels, that by persevering acts of impiety
and rebellion, men should voluntarily reduce themselves to a state in
which it "had been good for them if they had never been born." Can there
be a more important gift than life, or a more valuable quality attached to
it than immortality? Yet apostates, by their degeneracy, convert this
greatest of blessings into a curse--this noblest good into an infinite
evil. "As righteousness tendeth to life, so he that pursueth evil,
pursueth it to his own death." Who can paint the horror of that moment,
when the final, the irrevocable sentence will be passed upon a guilty
race--when INFINITE LOVE will denounce INFINITE WO--when every word
proceeding from the mouth of eternal justice will prove a poisoned arrow,
struck into the destiny of transgressors--when that face which has always
illuminated the regions of glory with smiles of ineffable grace, will
gather blackness and look despair! O what a crush!--what a ruin!--what a
wreck!--How many human temples, defiled by intolerable abominations, will
in a moment fall into the gulf of perdition to supply its everlasting
fires!--What lightnings will accompany the "thunder of his power!"--What
fervid heat will melt these elements--what terror shake the lowest abyss
of hell! O, could we descend to the regions of despair, whence "the smoke
of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever;" or, transported on a
seraph's wing, rise to listen only for a single moment, to those rapturous
sounds which warble from immortal harps, and bespeak infinite
felicity--with what feelings should we return to this probationary state!
How should we be alarmed and allured--terrified and enraptured--deterred
by "sights of wo," excited by scenes of glory! but, "if we hear not Moses
and the prophets," Christ and the apostles: if "God who at sundry times,
and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the
prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son," to no
purpose: "neither should we be persuaded though one rose from the dead."

This dreadful history ought not to excite despondency in trembling saints.
Ministerial anxieties are principally excited by a presumptuous state of
mind. It is not the timid, the diffident, the cautious, that awaken
apprehensions, but the forward, the fearless, the bold. That solicitude
which agitates the pious mind, is an effectual antidote against the evil
it dreads, while that confidence which possesses the hypocrite, prevents
the good it anticipates. The one obtains through fear, the other loses
through presumption. The one is victorious, by maintaining a constant
petty warfare with all his corruptions; the other is over-thrown through
rushing fearlessly forward, and falling into the ambuscade which Satan has
prepared for him. Hypocrisy is contriving, full of artifice, and
arrogant--sincerity is quite the reverse, aiming to be right--fearing
mistake--avoiding even trifling deviations and slight compliances--
"sitting at the feet of Jesus"--"clothed with humility,"--and in a "right

Let us adore the grace which has hitherto prevented our falling, and
humbly depend upon it for future preservation. Conscious of our infantine
weakness, let us lean upon the arm of Omnipotence. Under the conduct of
him who directed the march of ancient Israel by the pillar of cloud by day
and of fire by night, wo may hope to be upheld, protected, and guided in
our journey to Canaan. Hail, happy hour, which shall put us in possession
of our rest! Hail, celestial morning, whose bright beams shall disperse
the shadows of death, and diffuse the splendours of immortal day upon our

In the account of the crime by which Ananias and Sapphira have acquired
such an awful celebrity, the agency of SATAN is distinctly marked--"Why,"
said Peter, hath _Satan_ filled thine heart?--This a subject so seldom
treated, and yet of such great importance, that it seems proper to avail
ourselves of this statement, in order to examine it with some attention,
and to suggest some consolatory reflections to the timid Christian.

The earliest mention we have of Satanic influence is at the fall. Assuming
the body of a serpent, this evil spirit attacked the first woman and
seduced her into a transgression which "brought death into the world, and
all our wo." If Satan were permitted to practise his detestable
machinations in the earthly paradise, who will presume to say that it is
improbable he may yet be able to tempt man in the wilderness? He knew the
position of human affairs, he manifested extraordinary skill in the
adaptation of the means which he employed to promote his purposes, and in
the incidental conversation, which he contrived with our first parent; and
although Christians have run into great extremes in their estimate of his
powers, he unquestionably possesses superior knowledge and capacity. His
talents like those of other wicked beings, are probably not impaired by
his fall, but even sharpened and invigorated by malignant practice. In the
aspect of this creation, and in the character of a degenerate world, we
may perceive the infernal fiend. We may see his dark hand in the strifes
of society, supplying the burning fuel to intemperate passions and
discordant societies. We may mark his detestable footsteps in the field of
death, staining provinces with blood, where human brothers are polluted
with the guilty spirit of assassination, and sacrifice to the glory of
war, the hopes of nations, the comforts of life, and the earthly existence
of infuriated millions, unprepared to enter an eternal state. In these
mighty tempests and desolating whirlwinds, we may hear the hissing breath
of his malice, and the yell of his infernal joy. If he seduced our parent
in innocency, is it incredible he should seduce her race in their
apostasy? if he were the chief agent in the _first_ of sins, is it
improbable that he should instigate other crimes peculiarly connected with
human misery and degradation?

Scripture, which we take as the "lamp to our feet, and light to our
path," represents _delusion_ as the appropriate work of the arch-fiend. It
is not for us to inquire by what means he operates upon the mind, because
we know so little of the economy of the spiritual world, of the manner in
which spirit can operate on spirit, and consequently of the nature of that
influence which superior beings are capable of exercising upon others in
this world, that we could at best only make a vague conjecture. It is
sufficient for all moral purposes to ascertain the fact, that such an
influence is possible to evil spirits, and permitted by Providence, that
it forms a part of the trial of good men in this state of existence, and
often tends to accelerate the too rapid progress of human impiety.

Satan then is possessed of great subtlety, and addicted to _wiles,
snares_, and _devices_, for the purpose of deluding mankind. He is thus
described by Christ: "He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not
in the _truth_, because there is no _truth_ in him. When he speaketh a
_lie_, he speaketh of his own; for he is a _liar_, and the father of it."
Peter, in addressing Ananias said, "Why hath _Satan_ filled thine heart to
_lie_ to the Holy Ghost?" "We are not ignorant," says the same apostle,
"of Satan's _devices_." "If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are
lost: in whom the god of this world _hath blinded the minds_ of them which
believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the
image of God, should shine unto them."

"I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent _beguiled_ Eve through his
subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in
Christ." In speaking of the deceptive practices of false apostles, he thus
alludes to infernal power--"No marvel; for Satan himself is transformed
into an angel of light." And in writing to the Ephesians, Paul exhorts--"
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the
_wiles_ of the devil." Antichrist is described by a similar allusion:
"Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and
signs, and _lying wonders_, and with all _deceivableness_ of
unrighteousness." "And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the
key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold
on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the devil, and Satan, and bound
him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him
up, and set a seal upon him, that he should _deceive_ the nations no more,
till the thousand years should be fulfilled; and after that he must be
loosed a little season."

Satan doubtless attacks mankind by diversified modes of operation, and
deceives them on various occasions and by different means. In the
parabolical representations of our Lord, he is described as "_sowing
tares_ in the field," and as "coming immediately" where the _word is
sown_, "to take away the word that was sown in their hearts." This is
indeed a _figurative_ statement, but nevertheless descriptive of a fact.
The essence of the representation is _real_, though decked out in the
attractive garb of imagery, to win attention and to excite inquiry. To
suppose otherwise in this or in other cases, would be to reduce Scripture
to the standard of Tales for Children, or Arabian Nights' Entertainments.
What, then, is the truth intended to be conveyed here? It is that Satan
possesses some mode of access to the human mind, that he is peculiarly
attentive to the impression which the ministry of the word is producing,
and that he uses his utmost skill to neutralize its effect: probably, by
tempting the hearer to doubt its truth, to dispute its importance, or to
defer immediate regard to its holy requisitions. And in the human heart
there is such an ample supply of materials upon which to work--such a
tendency to evil--such depravity of spirit--such corruption of
nature--such love of the world--such enmity against God, that he soon
succeeds in erecting an edifice of delusory hope, in which the deluded
soul takes shelter from the sharp-pointed arrows of ministerial fidelity
and scriptural appeal.

"Your adversary the devil," is represented as walking "about, seeking whom
he may devour;" which intimates the _settled enmity_ of this spirit. He is
your _adversary_--at once the most malignant, most subtle, most invisible,
and often least suspected of all others. This passage describes his
_powerful superiority_; he is a _roaring lion_--remarkable for fury,
strength, and zeal. It represents his _incessant activity, secrecy, and
watchfulness_; "he _walketh about_." It proclaims his _destructive
purpose_--"to _devour_." He is not, it seems, confined to place, but fixed
in torment, and destined in all ages to suffer a perpetual aggravation of
his misery, in consequence of the increase of his guilt, and the frequent
discomfiture of his devices.

The severest contests of the Christian are with this adversary, who, being
possessed of insinuating subtlety, powerful resources, constant vigilance,
distinguished sagacity, and invisible means of operation, combined with
infernal malignity, must be acknowledged to be a most formidable foe. It
is both needless and unscriptural to assign ubiquity to Satan, but by
himself and his emissaries he undoubtedly possesses a very extensive range
in this lower world, and his favourite employment is to cherish the
rebellious principle, to perpetuate the backsliding character, and thus to
form the finished apostate. He observes with a vigilant inspection every
tree planted in the garden of the Lord, and provided there be no real
fruits of righteousness, he is not displeased at the leaves of
profession. He knows this will never prevent the decree, "Cut it down, why
cumbereth it the ground?"

Pregnant with horrors as this subject appears to be, the Scriptures supply
two most desirable sources of consolation, with the mention of which I
shall hasten to conclude it.

1. While considering the terrific facts of the existence and works of the
devil, recollect the _limitation of his agency_. If no kind of restraint
were imposed upon his efforts, if his untractable malice were allowed to
act with all its diabolical force, and were absolutely under no
restrictions, the idea of his being and of his malignity would be
unutterably appalling: but the giant foe is held in the mighty grasp of
Omnipotence. His power is only permitted to operate to a certain extent,
and under the regulations of certain laws ordained by the eternal mind. He
who says to the raging ocean, "Here shall thy proud waves be stayed,"
assigns the sphere of infernal influence, and places impassable barriers
of a moral nature to his further encroachment. Evil of every description,
and evil beings of every order, are under divine superintendence and
control. The lion is chained--the dragon cannot add one cubit to his
stature--a point to his tongue--or a drop to his venom. The serpent may
hiss, but he cannot devour.

The influence of Satan resembles every other test that Divine Wisdom sees
fit to apply to human character. It is probationary. The people of God are
put to the proof, and their principles subjected to fiery trials. But gold
will endure the furnace, and real piety will "resist the devil, and he
will flee." He could tempt the Son of God, and he can torment his
followers; but he possesses no compulsory power. His attacks can never be
successful, unless _we_ give them efficacy by our criminal negligence and

Nor is it just to suppose, as many good people do to their inexpressible
but useless alarm, that every individual is under his constant power, or
every moment exposed to his incessant attacks. This would be to assign him
a degree of omnipresence wholly incompatible with his nature and the
economy of providence. Like other evil beings he _walketh about_. His
movements may be more rapid as a spirit, and his capacities more extended
and certainly his malignity more violent, than those of other wicked
beings; still he is hut a creature--he has his appointed sphere of
exertion--his capacities are finite--and he is observed by the unsleeping
eye of God. He may prowl around the sheepfold of Christ, but the guard is
too strong for him; and if he seize, or attempt the feeblest of the flock,
Omnipotence will ultimately rescue the prey from the hand of the terrible.

2. Let us realize with holy satisfaction the _destruction of Satanic
power_. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might
destroy the works of the devil." The apostle John, in his Revelation,
describes "the devil" as "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where
the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night
forever and ever."

In conceiving of the destruction of this hateful dominion, we may realize
it as _certain_. Although the issue of the war between good and evil,
Christ and Belial, heaven and hell, be deferred to a distant age, it is
not doubtful or precarious. It is ever present in the eye of God, and
forms a part of that irresistible destiny which infernal power cannot
avert. There is no escape from the chains of darkness which Omnipotence
will finally rivet on; and this irreversible doom of fallen spirits is
essential to the final arrangements of that wonderful period, which will
develope "the consummation of all things."

It is the glory of the religion of Christ, that none of its promises or
plans are precarious. The hopes of Christians cannot be lost in the crush
of nature or the wreck of the world; and the condemnation of impenitent
sinners and of Satan cannot be averted by any mistake of evidence, by any
confusion, of multitude, or by any unevenness of balance in the scales of
justice in the day of judgment.

The destruction of Satan and his power may be considered as _gradual_ in
the mode of its accomplishment. The whole system of revealed truth, from
the period of the first prediction, points to this predestined end; and
the whole scheme of Providence, including the rise and fall of empires,
the work of Christ, and all the events of time through successive
generations, respects this mighty and this marvellous result--a result
connected so essentially with the glory of God, the honour of Christ, and
the felicity of a redeemed universe.

"For this purpose the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the
works of the devil." But it was not deemed fit to do it at once, and at a
single blow; if it had, he who commanded the boisterous winds and the
raging seas, and they were still--he who expelled demons at a word, and
cured diseases by a touch--he whose creative energy restored lost limbs to
the victims of misery--who reanimated the dead and the putrifying, and
remanded their spirits from an invisible state--could have withered at a
touch the power of hell, crushed in a moment the throne of diabolical
authority, and bound the dragon himself in his eternal chain. But the
wisdom of God, which at first permitted evil to stain his moral creation,
designs to admit the reign or influence of Satan for an appointed period,
and to overturn his dominion by a gradual establishment of truth and
righteousness in the earth. The great adversary was smitten by his hand
when the first promise of salvation was given to our race; the stroke was
repeated, in successive predictions to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and the
death-blow inflicted when the expiring Redeemer exclaimed on the cross,
"_It is finished_!" Still, like a dying monster, who raves amidst his
agonies, and terrifies spectators by his terrific aspect and more terrific
efforts, and destroys or mangles all who venture within the reach of his
arm, Satan still rages and raves--sometimes languishing into comparative
inaction, at other times breathing out threatening and slaughter against
the church of God--still conscious that his power is declining, and that
the whole system of providence is preparing for his final overthrow.

This overthrow will be _complete_. He will never more ascend from his
confinement, to fill the earth with plagues or the church of Christ with
terror. The "new heaven and earth wherein dwelleth righteousness," will
never be exposed to his awful revisitings--the contest will have for ever
ended--the struggle eternally ceased; and the harps of angels, with the
holy hymnings of ten thousand times ten thousand before the throne--

"Blest voices, uttering praise!"

will proclaim the full, the final, the everlasting victory. And in the
heavenly city "there shall be no more curse; but the throne of God and of
the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: and they shall
see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be
no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the
Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever." (See


Chapter X.

Joppa illustrious on many accounts, particularly as the residence of
Dorcas--she was a Disciple of Christ--Faith described as the Principle
of Discipleship--the inspired Testimony to the Character of Dorcas--she
was probably a Widow or an aged Maiden--Remarks on the Reproaches
commonly cast upon the latter Class of Women--Dorcas exhibited as a
Pattern of liberality, being prompt in the Relief she afforded--her
Charities abundant--and personally bestowed--Observations on the
Propriety of visiting the Poor--the Charities of Dorcas often free and
unsolicited--wise and conducted upon a Plan--the Pretences of the
uncharitable stated and confuted--Riches only valuable as they are used
in bountiful Distribution.

Seven of the most celebrated cities of antiquity (Smyrna, Rhodes,
Colophon, Salamis, Chios, Argos, and Athens) are said to have disputed the
glory of having given birth to Homer; and it must be admitted that places
and families acquire an importance from their connection with names which
appear conspicuous on the page of history, and have been praised by the
united voices of successive generations. We cannot hear, without an
instinctive glow, of the cities of Rome, Athens, Sparta, Syracuse, and
others which respectively produced a Cæsar, a Demosthenes, a Lycurgus,
and an Archimedes; of the islands of Samos and Ægina, whence emanated the
resplendent genius of a Pythagoras and a Plato; of the villages of Alopece
and Andes, immortalized as having produced a Socrates and a Virgil.

But let not the enchanting annals of Roman literature or Grecian wisdom
detach our minds from the nobler records of inspiration, or diminish the
conviction which religion must ever inspire, that the birth place of
benevolence and piety is more illustrious than the birthplace of genius
and philosophy. On this principle we look with admiration upon the town of
Joppa, which, if it cannot boast a prodigy of valour, talent, or learning,
is nevertheless conspicuous as the residence of one "of whom the world was
not worthy." She was not, indeed, rich in wealth, but in good works. She
was not a conqueror of nations or a distributor of crowns, but a giver of
alms. She had no name on earth beyond the limits of a small Christian
church, but her record was on high, and her memorial has not perished
with her.

Joppa was the nearest seaport to Jerusalem on the Mediterranean. It was
situated in the tribe of Dan in a fine plain, and has acquired the modern
name of Jaffa. This place is frequently mentioned in Scripture. The
materials for the construction of Solomon's temple were sent thither in
floats, by Hiram, the king of Tyre, whence they were easily conveyed by
land to Jerusalem. Jonah, in his flight from the presence of the Lord,
embarked at this port, and gave occasion to the mythological fable of
Andromeda. Here the apostle Peter enjoyed that remarkable vision, in which
he saw heaven opened, and a great sheet descending to the earth, which
seemed to contain every variety of beasts, and creeping things, and fowls
of the air; intimating to him the abolition of the Mosaic law, and the
removal of those distinctions which had so long separated the Jews and the
Gentiles. It is probable Philip preached the Gospel here in his progress
through various cities to Cesarea; but the history of Dorcas, or, as she
was originally called in the Syriac dialect, Tabitha, has given it
peculiar prominence in the sacred page.

The memorial of this excellent woman is short, but replete with
instruction. Her character is sketched at a stroke, and by the
introduction of an incident as full of significance and interest as can
well be imagined. Dropping those minute details and accidental
circumstances which are not necessary to character, and which the New
Testament so seldom mentions, the most instructive part of her story is
preserved and set in the most brilliant point of light.

She is simply announced, in the first place, as "a certain disciple," or
one that embraced the faith of Christ, and professed it by baptism and a
public union with his church. Whatever might be her situation in other
respects was of little consequence; this was her best, her most
substantial distinction. It invested her with a real glory, which however
overlooked by those who are chiefly attracted by exterior splendour,
surpassed every vain and glittering honour of the world. It raised her to
the dignity of a name in the volume of inspiration, and the unfading
distinction of a place in the annals of eternity.

How poor and how perishable is human fame; and yet with what eagerness is
it universally sought! What is it but like a bubble, excited by some
accidental cause, to sparkle for a moment on the stream of passing ages,
and then to disappear for ever! And yet the love of fame has been called,
and perhaps with propriety, the ruling passion; for so much does it blend
itself with human motives, that there are comparatively few of our
actions, at least such as are visible to the public eye, which may not be
traced to this feeling, or which do not receive a tone from its influence.

But how shall we describe that faith which is often mentioned in the New
Testament, which so marked the character of Dorcas, and which, perhaps,
may not be inaptly called the _principle_ of discipleship?

This term is of various import, and of very extensive application in
Scripture. It signifies belief, and refers to testimony either human or
divine; but is restricted in its evangelical use to the latter. Revelation
in general is the object of faith: and those invisible realities which it
discloses to the mental eye are seen with equal distinctness, and believed
with equal conviction, as if they were capable, from possessing some
material quality, of impressing the corporeal senses. Faith glorifies its
great Object and Author by paying an implicit deference to his authority.
It asks no other bond than his promise, no other evidence or attestation
than his veracity. It not only ranges through worlds which mortal eye
could never explore, but which human reason could never discover: and as
by transgression man has fallen under the dominion of his senses, it
delivers its happy possessor from this state of degradation and

But though this be a general signification of the word, its more precise
and appropriate use in the Gospel is expressed by the phrase, "believing
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." Here the general and the
particular use are necessarily blended. Faith is belief--but belief in
"the truth as it is in Jesus." To believe, in the ordinary sense, is to
admit a fact, to assent to the statement of an accredited or respectable
witness; to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, is to acknowledge his
real character, to perceive his true dignity, to view and to love him,
not only as distinguished by perfect excellence; but as specifically the
Saviour of lost sinners; for "whosoever believeth that Jesus is the
Christ, is born of God." Faith comprehends what he is, contemplates him in
all his glorious offices, and from the manger of meanness traces him to
the throne of power, relying upon what he has suffered and said as the
infallible pledge of what he will accomplish. It is not only well
informed, but humble. It resided in his heart who exclaimed, "Lord, save
me!" It dictated his language who cried out, "Lord, remember me when thou
comest into thy kingdom." It gave efficacy to the prayer of that humble
petitioner who said, "Speak the word only, and my servant shall be
healed." It is pleasing to God, essential to salvation, and his own gift:
for "Enoch had this testimony, that he pleased God"--"a man is justified
by faith"--and "by grace ye are saved through faith, and that not of
yourselves, it is the gift of God."

Faith is not dormant, but active and operative. It resembles good seed
sown in the cultivated soil, which expands, and grows, and produces fruit.
This holy vegetation exists in very different degrees of vigour, according
to the diversities of Christian character, but it is apparent in all--the
mark of true religion, the pleasing verdant hue that covers the whole
surface of the spiritual creation. We cannot point to every pious person
as a Dorcas, who presents a singular fertility of some of the noblest
graces; but of all it may be said, "the root of the matter is found in
them," and "their root shall not be rottenness, nor their blossom go up
as dust."

It is the nature of genuine faith to stimulate to the most laborious
duties, to sustain amidst the most poignant sufferings, to produce the
greatest purity of character, to communicate the noblest kind of happiness
of which a creature in the present state can be susceptible, to nerve the
feeblest arm with strength, to give the dullest eye perception, above all,
to "work by _love_." For these reasons, and because of its transforming
influence, we denominated it the principle of discipleship. It operates by
love to its object and to all its subjects, as well as to the divine
commandments in general; and influences its possessor to practise
universal philanthropy. To the latter our particular attention is now
directed by the example of Dorcas; but it must not be forgotten, that
though the particular specimen of her excellence be taken from the common
offices of kindness and the act of almsgiving, the existence and
proportionate vigour of the great principle from which her minor charities
resulted must be presupposed, as by observing the fertility of a branch,
or the verdure of a twig, or even the greenness of a leaf, we infer the
growth of the tree, its root, its stem, and all its various ramifications.
While we contemplate this flourishing plant of grace, we know that it was
deeply "rooted and grounded" in faith.

The inspired testimony is as follows: "This woman was full of good works
and alms-deeds, which she did." Amongst other acts of beneficence, she was
accustomed to make "coats and garments" for "the widows." Her own
circumstances are not specified. If she were _poor_, as the mass of
Christian converts in the apostolic times appears to have been, her
readiness in furnishing these supplies was admirable indeed. As Paul
testified of the Macedonian believers, she contributed to the utmost, yea,
and beyond her power: nor are these solitary instances of persons
willingly impoverishing themselves in obedience to the fine impulse of a
pious sympathy. While others have calculated, they have acted, incapable
of a cold arithmetic and a measured benevolence. If Dorcas were _rich_,
she is perhaps entitled to a still higher commendation. So many are the
obstructions which "great possessions" cast in the way of charity, so many
temptations to a lavish expenditure, beset the opulent, and to support
this, on the other hand, to a parsimonious, _saving_ habit; so easy is it
to frame excuses, and by trifling precautions to escape importunity, or at
once to silent it; that it may well excite both wonder and delight to find
charity associated with splendour. It is surprising, however, and no less
deplorable than surprising, that persons of this class will not consider
for a moment, how easily, with how few sacrifices even of time or money,
they might be extensively useful. A single drop of supply from their
replenished cup of worldly prosperity, would often make "the widow's heart
sing for joy," and prove a healing cordial to the sufferings of perishing
humanity. A slight taxation upon even acknowledged superfluity, would in
some cases produce an ample revenue for many indigent families, although
religion claims on their behalf more than a scanty and unwilling pittance;
for "he which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which
soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he
purposeth in his heart, _so let him give_; not grudgingly or of necessity,
for God loveth a cheerful giver."

From the sacred narrative, we are led to infer that Dorcas was either a
widow herself, possessed perhaps of a moderate competence, a state which
seems of all others the most favourable to a benevolent disposition; or
one of the class of females, sometimes designated by the reproachful
epithet of _old maids_. And having introduced the term, it may not be
improper to make a short digression upon this subject.

It cannot be doubted that a life of celibacy is unnatural, and contrary to
the general appointment of Infinite Wisdom; consequently, a voluntary
seclusion of this kind from the duties of our proper sphere as social
beings, unless the case be very remarkable, and the counteracting
obligation singularly clear, must deserve censure. By this conduct
whatever important results are connected with the marriage union by the
law of Providence, are deliberately opposed, and the principle is no less
sinful than it is pernicious. But the case of determined celibacy is far
less common among females than with the other sex, and where it does
exist, is usually attended with less evil effects upon the good
of society.

In respect to the two most frequent occasions of continuing single, among
women of piety, the one demands admiration, the other pity; but neither
can, without a total dereliction of all reason and propriety, excite
ridicule. The first which has been made, is that of a voluntary
resignation of the pleasures and solicitudes of matrimony, for the sake of
more extensive usefulness, and at the call of duty. Such is the case of
women who deem themselves required, or are considered by others as
remarkably qualified for foreign and missionary service in the cause of
God, or who, from the high tone of their irreligious feeling, have
ascended to an unusual degree of spiritual elevation of character, and
whether called to labour abroad or at home, are desirous of an entire and
incessant self-devotement to Jesus Christ. These instances are indeed rare,
and can scarcely be estimated by ordinary rules, but they were not
unprecedented in the primitive age of Christianity. Dorcas might possibly
be a woman of this extraordinary character. Her works were at least worthy
of one who was thus bearing the cross, for "the kingdom of
heaven's sake."

The second class of aged single females presents a subject for
compassionate sympathy. They are not solitaries by choice, but necessity:
and whoever sports with their destiny, betrays a cruel, if not a wicked
mind. They have already been the prey of disappointments the most
agonizing to the mind; let them not be the objects of unmeaning contempt
or impious sarcasm. There was a time when the morning of life rose upon
them in all its enchantment and beauty. Every thing around them smiled,
and their yet unwithered hopes were alive to every delightful impression.
Who knows but the object of their tenderest earthly affection was severed
from them by death, whose murderous instrument inflicted an incurable
wound? Who can say, but that the very sex which dares to load them with
contumely for their solitary condition, was, by its base flatteries and
delusive promises, the very occasion of their unhappiness? Who can deny,
but that religion itself might have been honoured by their noble heroism,
in refusing the solicitations of some, who, although distinguished for
many accomplishments, possessions, and connexions, were either enemies to
the Gospel or indifferent about it? They trembled, perhaps, to please
their taste, and "lose their own souls."

Nameless and numberless may be the occasion of an involuntary, and
therefore justifiable celibacy. Besides, how has this condition been
improved! How have some of these venerable women gone about doing good!
What a wise and holy improvement have they made of the dispensations of
providence! Their very disappointments have become the means of increased
zeal in the best of causes, and given an impulse to their activity. They
have arisen from the golden dreams of pleasure and promotion, to the
dignity of the saint indeed. Their temporal sorrows have awakened their
spiritual energies. They have lost the blessings of a family, but have
from that moment adopted, under that sacred name, the whole community of
mankind. Let ridicule be abashed before the majesty of such characters!

The excellent woman in question seems to have partaken much of the spirit
which pervaded the church at Jerusalem in these times of primitive
simplicity and zeal, when all temporal considerations appear to have been
overwhelmed by the hope of eternal blessedness. "And the multitude of them
that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them
that aught of the things which be possessed was his own; but they had all
things in common.... Neither was there any among them that lacked; for as
many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the
prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles'
feet; and distribution was made unto every man, according as he had need."

Although this community of goods is not to be regarded as an absolute
precedent for our imitation, considering that it is impracticable in all
cases, was chiefly restricted to one Christian society in a very peculiar
situation, and is never enjoined upon others; yet, no duty is more
expressly commanded, or more solemnly inculcated in Scripture, than that
of liberality to the poor. In the enactments of Moses it is vigorously
enforced, it is urged by the prophets and apostles; and represented by
Christ himself as an evidence of the highest perfection of character; "If
thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor."
In those passages where a summary of religion is presented by an
enumeration of its most important points, this virtue is distinctly
mentioned. It is stated as an invariable characteristic of the most
eminent saints, as Abraham, Job, and others; it is often called
_righteousness_, is represented as a fulfilment of the divine law, or the
best expression of our love to God; and while tremendous judgments are
threatened to those who disregard this sacred duty, the most ample rewards
are promised to the pious benefactors of mankind. "Blessed," said Christ,
"are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." "To do good and
communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
Such persons are described as "making themselves bags which wax not old, a
treasure in the heavens that faileth not"--as "making themselves friends
of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when they fail, they may he
received into everlasting habitations"--and as "laying up in store for
themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay
hold on eternal life." The equitable decisions of the last day are to be
founded upon a reference to these principles, as the basis of that
sentence which will irreversibly fix our destinies. "When the Son of man
shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he
sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all
nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd
divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right
hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his
right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared
for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungered, and ye
gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and
ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I
was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him,
saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and
gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked,
and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto
thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you,
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye
have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand,
Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil
and his angels: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was
thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in:
naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an
hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and
did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I
say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye
did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but
the righteousness into life eternal."

The history of Dorcas is very instructive as to the genuine character of
charity, and the best mode of distribution. It teaches us not only to
cultivate this heavenly temper, but in what manner it may become most
useful. We have here, indeed, a fine and finished picture; and we cannot
do better than study it closely, and copy it with all possible accuracy.

This venerable woman was _prompt_ and _undelaying_ in the relief she
afforded to the necessitous. She was not all promise and all tardiness,
quick to feel but slow to succour. It is not uncommon for the most
parsimonious persons to be liberal in good words, and to superadd the pang
of disappointment to the already almost insupportable sufferings of the
destitute. What is the language of commiseration unaccompanied with
substantial assistance, but a drop of burning caustic poured into the
wounded heart, instead of a healing cordial? To listen to the tale of wo,
and to solicit by apparent kindness its minute and tragical details, only
to mock expectation by professed incapacity, is the very perfection of
cruelty, the forfeiture of a solemn pledge which is given in the very
assumption of a listening attitude, and highly dishonourable; for we have
no right to know the history of distress, if we feel indisposed to relieve
it. "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one
of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled,
notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the
body; what doth it profit?"

There is a posthumous charity which often purchases to the dispenser
considerable reputation when he little deserves it, and which is utterly
vain to him who is inevitably beyond the reach of human applause or
censure. If the charity of Dorcas had been of this questionable nature, we
should not have read of the widows that stood Weeping by her death-bed,
and exhibiting the various articles of clothing she made "_while she was
with them_." Assured that life was the proper time of action, and that
opportunities of usefulness could never be recalled, she "did with her
might whatever her hands found to do." It is deplorable to see the numbers
who, while possessing ample means and rich opportunities of feeding the
hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick, consume their lives in
forming their plans, or proclaiming their intentions. They are indeed
great benefactors in their _wills_, and with unsparing liberality
distribute their wealth, when they can no longer keep it. They were
bountiful, only because they were mortal; and notwithstanding the
misplaced commendations of their survivors, bestow reluctantly what death
extorts. Dorcas was "full of good works and alms-deeds which she DID." A
person, with whom the writer is acquainted, had specified a large sum in
his will to be appropriated to the purpose of erecting convenient
alms-houses for the poor; but bethinking himself of the possibility that
his life might be extended to a distant period, and that in the meantime
the poor would continue to buffer, and many of them perish without the
projected aid, he became the instant executor of his own will, and lived
for years to be a gratified witness of that comfort which must otherwise
have been so long delayed. It is descriptive of the "good man," that "he
HATH dispersed, he HATH given to the poor."

Another feature in the beautiful portrait of female excellence before us,
is the _abundance and variety of her charities_. Dorcas is represented as.
"_full_ of good works and alms-deeds?" and though I the coats and garments
which she gave to the widows are only mentioned, they are to be considered
as one specimen only of a very extended system of benevolence. She was
neither capricious, nor merely occasional in her bounty; but "glorified
the Father, by bearing _much_ fruit."

Some persons are the mere creatures of impulse. When affected by any
violently exciting cause, they start into momentary vigour, and by a kind
of convulsive effort resist the inwrought habit of their minds, but
instantly relapse into greater insensibility. If a necessitous case be
presented to their attention under deeply afflicting circumstances, with
powerful recommendations, especially from those whom they are solicitous
of pleasing, or with whom they expect to be enrolled in the popular and
widely circulated list of donations, they may at times he found
"_willing_ to communicate," but even then never attain the noble
pre-eminence of "_a cheerful_ giver." It would have pleased them, however,
to have remained unasked; and if by any petty artifice they could have
evaded the application, they would most readily have adopted it, provided
they could have saved their reputation as well as their pence.

You may sometimes meet with persons who are indeed charitable, but their
charity is sectarian. They do good within certain limits, but never take a
wider range; and if they do not "forbid" others, who "follow not with
them," they afford no encouragement to their exertions. They have chosen a
particular spot to cultivate, and beyond the encircling fence which
bigotry has marked out, they cannot he persuaded to impart even a drop of
refreshing supply. What they do seems, in some measure, an apology for
what they omit; but what they omit detracts from the value of what they
do. They are not "FULL of good works."

Others have certain stated charities; and though they have passed the
narrow boundary of party prejudice, have made no provision in their plans
for cases of singular and sudden calamity. Their charity walks in
particular districts, and cannot go a step out of the beaten track. They
have allotted a certain portion of their income to the regular calls of
necessity, which cannot be exceeded, and have a specified circle of
objects which cannot be changed; and, if one may judge by their
comparative callousness to all other claims, it would be natural to infer
that they had taken a certain _quantum sufficit_ from their stock of
sensibility, which bore an invariable proportion to their calculations. In
vain you plead for the most urgent distress, in vain you solicit the
smallest contribution; they have no sympathies left; and, beyond u certain
sphere, they are relentless, impenetrable, and cruel.

In proportion as charity is methodical, it is apt to become cold; and
though we cannot plead for that diffusiveness which is bounded by no
prescribed limits, regulated by no order, or influenced by no preferences,
yet care should be taken lest it suffer by restriction. If this holy fire
be too much confined, it will be in danger of extinction.

Another and a pleasing peculiarity in the benevolence of Dorcas, is, that,
so far as appears from her brief history, her benefactions were
_personally bestowed_. She is represented as _making_ the garments given
to the poor widows herself; and doubtless to ascertain what they wanted,
and the proportion of their respective necessities, she was in the habit
of visiting their habitations, for the purposes of inquiry and inspection.
These visits, besides, would afford favourable opportunities for pious
conversation. How often she wept over their sorrows--what words of peace
and consolation she uttered--what salutary instructions she
communicated--what fervent petitions she uttered, cannot indeed now be
ascertained; but there is a book which has recorded them in imperishable
characters, and a day approaching when they shall be disclosed and
rewarded. "For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that
every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he
hath done, whether it be good or bad."

It would be easy to specify many reasons why the charitable should _visit_
the poor. Independently of the inferiority of the impression which is
produced on the mind by the mere recital of the sufferings of others, it
is scarcely possible to obtain correct information respecting their actual
and diversified necessities, without repairing to their cottages. The most
faithful narrator will not deem it necessary or proper to enter into
certain particulars, which the vigilant eye of sympathizing benevolence
would at once discover, and the heart of pity must deeply feel. Owing to
the different effects which the same distress produces on persons whose
natural constitutions are dissimilar, it may often happen that the most
afflicting part of their condition is overlooked; and the prompt
assistance which would otherwise be afforded, is lost through some
omission or unintentional misstatement. "To visit the fatherless and the
widows in their affliction," is no less represented by an apostle as
constituting the best exemplification of "pure religion," than "to keep
himself unspotted from the world;" and in the transactions of the final
judgment, the supreme Arbiter is described as noticing with peculiar
approbation, as even making the very determining point of his people's
character and destiny, their _visiting_ the sick and those in a state of
imprisonment, in order to supply them with the necessaries or comforts of

Ladies are respectfully urged to these labours of love, from the
consideration that they possess the most leisure and the best
opportunities of doing them. It would prove a wise and pleasurable mode of
employing some of the intervals of domestic engagement, and furnish both
useful and interesting subjects of reflection to fill up the vacuities of
thought. But if the multiplicity of their concerns furnish some plausible
excuse for, at least, a less constant and busy attention to the wants of
poverty; single ladies, on whom the cares of a family have not yet
devolved, should feel it their duty, and will ever find it their
privilege, to be thus devoted to the cause of suffering humanity. Their
time is their own, their property at their command. They are responsible
alone to God and their own consciences; and by these services to the
community are every day and hour giving a practical and unanswerable reply
to the scoffings of an illiberal world. How much better are these visits
of mercy than visits of ceremony, in which useless hours are squandered
away amidst the butterflies of fashion, insufferable fatigue is sustained,
scandal circulated, and religion outraged! Sweet and refreshing is the
sleep of active benevolence: it knows no tossings, is visited by no bitter
compunctions or terrific visions; it is cradled in innocence, lulled to
rest by the music of gratitude, and guarded by the sleepless eye of

The habit of visiting the abodes of misery is an important means of
improving our sympathies. They will become less sickly and less
capricious. Those who have only wept over fictitious sorrow, will learn to
shed tears of real feeling at the sight of real grief; and will gradually
associate the idea of doing good with the strong emotions of a genuine
liberality. It is of importance for our own sakes, as well as for the
welfare of others, that sentiments of this kind should fill the mind, and
that the fine edge of sensibility should never be blunted. Some, it is
true, are very little solicitous for the improvement of any of their
faculties; but let them remember that the faculty which is not improved,
usually and almost necessarily suffers deterioration; and that he who does
not warm and expand into benevolence, is likely to contract into
contemptible selfishness.

Mere pecuniary aid, or indeed any other form of donation, is after all a
cheap description of charity. The most avaricious persons may sometimes.
resort to annual or other stated contributions, as expedients to save
trouble and to pacify conscience; and while we duly appreciate this
periodical goodness, it is insufficient as the basis of a claim to
philanthropy of spirit. How many in the carpeted walks of wealth will
readily purchase, by this means, an exemption from the inconvenience of
soiling their shoes, or hurting their delicacy, by going to witness scenes
of real distress.

Ladies of opulence or of leisure should reflect further, that in paying an
occasional visit to the dwellings of poverty and suffering, they are not
only likely to discover many cases of silent, unobtrusive wretchedness,
which but for their personal inquiries and researches might sink into the
grave without the smallest relief, while clamorous wo sometimes gains the
ear of the most thoughtless passenger, but they become the means of
imparting a twofold blessing. In addition to what they give, the sense of
their sympathy enhances the favour, and it is received with double
pleasure. Man is possessed of a social principle, which operates with
peculiar energy in cases of affliction. As a consciousness of neglect
excites disgust and resentment, so a conviction of being the object of
solicitude and sympathy produces the most grateful emotions. It may,
therefore be safely asserted, that a donation to the poor, when
_personally_ bestowed by the donor, is, in consequence of the effect
produced on the _mind_ of the sufferer, of incalculably greater importance
and use than the same or even a superior sum contributed by the cold
agency of some unfeeling distributor. Besides, a charitable soul has a
perpetual feast. Who can remain an unaffected spectator of the tearful
eye--the speaking look--the thankful smile? The very silence which an
overwhelming sense of kindness imposes, is more delightful to a benevolent
spirit than dainties to the taste or music to the ear.

In dispensing charity, many valuable acquisitions may be gained. It is, in
fact, a profitable service; and he makes an excellent exchange indeed,
who, while bestowing money or goods to assist the poor, obtains
substantial instruction. Here then, in the meanest hovel, in the most
shattered and weather-beaten shed, amidst cries of distress and sights of
sorrow, the wisest may gain knowledge. What a lesson of gratitude is
taught in every scene and circumstance! Who maketh thee to differ from
another in point of temporal possession, mental superiority, or religious
distinction? What hast thou, that thou hast not _received_? That humble
cottager is human, like thyself! That nest of callowness and weakness
contains the same species with thyself, on whom Providence has bestowed
wings to soar to heights of prosperity and enjoyment. Thou art descended
from the same common Father, and art heir of the same common dust! Thy
life is no less precarious, if it be less wretched, than that which
animates a meaner clay, and breathes in a less decorated exterior! If the
one be porcelain, and the other earthen ware, both are brittle! "God hath
made of one blood all nations of men." Sometimes a cottage furnishes an
impressive lesson respecting the _independence of happiness upon external
circumstances_. It teaches the salutary truth, that it is in the power of
religion to impart substantial felicity in every condition, to communicate
exalted enjoyment, to form an ennobled character in the meanest
habitation, and to inspire the sublime sentiment of the poet:

"Give what thou wilt, _without_ thee I am poor,
And _with_ thee rich, take what thou wilt away."


Poverty has been the lot of the most distinguished of the human species;
and if ever the vanity of riches, and the incurable emptiness of temporal
splendour are felt, surely it must be when visiting the dwellings of the
_pious_ poor. No riches can inspire their songs of praise, or purchase a
title to their immortal inheritance. No rank or dignity can attract the
eyes of those holy spirits that hover round the spot to which affliction
has confined an outcast Lazarus, or kindle such rapturous sensations and
holy congratulations, as they manifest at the repentance of a sinner.
Piety hallows the dwelling which it inhabits, and felicitates as well as
sanctifies the heart, the family, and the city which it pervades. In the
primitive ages of Christianity, the disciples of our Lord could see the
rapacious oppressor seize the last portion of their worldly goods, and
"take it joyfully;" they could "most gladly glory in their infirmities,
that the power of Christ might rest upon them;" they could hail the
martyr's stake, while they anticipated the martyr's crown; and, in the
days of Paul and Silas, if there were a spot on earth where celestial joy
took up her residence, it was, at least for one happy night, in the very
dungeon of persecution.

To return to Dorcas. Her character is so described, as to imply that hers
were _free_, and often _unsolicited charities_. She did not indolently
wait for applications, or contrive a thousand delays, while misery was
pining into the grave; but, like her Divine Master, "_went about_ doing
good." She penetrated the obscurest retreats, not waiting to be pressed
and urged to afford a trifling relief; but her benevolence resembled the
course of the sun, which pours its beneficent radiance upon the earth with
undistinguishing liberality. It ought not to be forgotten, that
sometimes minds of the most delicate constitution are involved in all the
miseries of poverty, and placed in a situation of all others the most
painful, that of persons reduced from former competency and comfort. The
privations of life are far more sensibly felt by those who have once known
plenteousness. To them the wind of adversity blows with tenfold keenness,
and the crust of want seems peculiarly unpalatable. They are reluctant,
not to say "ashamed, to beg." The blushes of an instinctive sensibility
suffuse their countenances, and petitions for assistance falter on their
tongues. They have to contend not only with the afflictions of poverty,
but with all the timidity which a consciousness of degradation
superinduces. In many cases of this description, persons of eminent worth
have been found, who could not overcome their scruples, till absolute want
forced them abroad to suffer the rebuffs of an unfeeling world, or to gain
the scanty pittance which mere importunity extorted from reluctant
opulence. Dorcas is celebrated for having particularly selected such a
class of sufferers. She had sought out the _widows_, who had lost their
dearest relatives, by whose daily and cheerful labours they were perhaps
enabled to live in decent sufficiency, or by whose sympathizing tenderness
they were at least consoled amidst inevitable sorrows. The weakness of
their sex, or the infirmities of their advanced age, prevented their
contending with the storms of life; and, no doubt, many of them surrounded
by a numerous family, at the decease of the beloved of their hearts, were
left to struggle with accumulated difficulties.

Women on whom Providence has bestowed a sufficiency, might here find ample
means of usefulness among persons of their own sex. A helping hand might
rescue many a widow from the deep waters of overwhelming grief: a trifling
sum would in many cases prove an inestimable boon; and a very small
expense of time and trouble might produce the most valuable results. A
well-constructed system of benevolence resembles a fine adjustment of
mechanism: by a gentle force or a moderate supply, judiciously applied,
the whole machinery is kept in motion, and the greatest burdens
are removed.

This leads us to remark another characteristic feature in the charity of
Dorcas. It was _wise_ and _prudential_. She had a _plan_ which was not
only unexceptionable, but singularly excellent and worthy of imitation.
This consisted in furnishing the poor with substantial assistance, and
providing for the proper application of her aid to their real and most
pressing necessities. She made "coats and garments" for widows. It is to
be feared, that the good intentions of persons charitably disposed are
often frustrated by the improper manner in which they render assistance to
the poor. They fulfil the impulse of a benevolent spirit by sending or
giving their money, leaving the mode of its expenditure to their own
judgment. But it is notorious, that such as are in reduced circumstances,
and who feel the particular pressure of the moment which they are most
anxious to relieve, have very little sense of the real value of money and
of the propriety of providing against the difficulties of futurity. They
take the cordial to-day, draining out every drop, forgetting that the
phial will be empty to-morrow. In consequence of this extreme improvidence
and inconsideration, the pecuniary help they receive frequently does
little good, and fails of all the purposes which a pious charity intended.

The depravity of mankind, which must be expected to operate in the poor
as well as in the rich, is another occasion of the misuse of benevolent
aid. The friendly supply is consumed upon their lusts. Abandoned in
character and selfish in principle, many heads of poor families addict
themselves to bad company, despoiling their families of their earnings and
of charitable supplies, and stupifying their consciences in the cup of
intoxication. The discovery of such a misapplication ought not to
extinguish the feeling of sympathy, but rather excite it afresh; both
because the individuals themselves are to be doubly pitied for their
destitution of moral feeling and want of religion, as well as of necessary
subsistence, and because their outraged families demand renewed attention.
It ought also to render liberal persons particularly watchful of the use
which is made of their benefactions. It should not shut the heart, but
regulate the course of feeling. The sin of others does not exempt us from
the duty of contributing to the alleviation of their miseries, though it
ought to induce us to study the best expedients for counteracting it. It
is in fact quite as requisite that we should see to the application of
what is given as to give, in all cases where this is possible or
convenient. Dorcas appears to have adopted the useful plan of expending
the money which she appropriated to the poor widows, _for them_; partly
because she was probably better able to judge of the most useful mode of
assisting them, and partly because the very same sum would prove doubly
efficient in consequence of the savings which would acrue from working
with her own hands.

The pretences by which men excuse themselves from giving to the poor are
stated, and satisfactorily answered, by Dr. Paley, [43] in the following
words: "1. 'That they have nothing to spare,' _i.e._ nothing for which
they have not provided some other use: nothing which their plan or
expense, together with the savings they have resolved to lay by, will not
exhaust: never reflecting whether it be in their _power_, or that it is
their _duty_, to retrench their expenses, and contract their plan, 'that
they may give to them that need: or rather that this ought to have been
part of their plan originally.

"2. 'That they have families of their own, and that charity begins at
home.' The extent of this plea will be considered when we come to explain
the duty of parents."

_N. B._ The explanation is, that the duties of parents comprehend
"maintenance, education, and a reasonable provision for the child's
happiness in respect to outward condition.... A father of a family is
bound to adjust his economy with a view to these demands upon his fortune;
and until a sufficiency for these ends is acquired, or in due time
_probably_ will be acquired (for in human affairs _probability_ ought to
content us,) frugality and exertions of industry are duties. He is also
justified in declining expensive liberality: for, to take from those who
want, to give to those who want, adds nothing to the stock of public
happiness. Thus far, therefore, and no farther, the plea of 'children,' of
'large families,' charity begins at home,' &c. is an excuse for parsimony,
and an answer to those who solicit our bounty. Beyond this point, as the
use of riches becomes less, the desire of _laying up_ should abate

"3. 'That charity does not consist in giving money, but in benevolence,
philanthropy, love to all mankind, goodness of heart,' &c. Hear St. James:
"If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of
you say unto them, Depart in peace; be ye warmed and filled;
notwithstanding _ye give them not those things which are needful to the
body_; what doth it profit?" James ii. 15, 16.

"4. 'That giving to the poor is not mentioned in St. Paul's description of
charity in the thirteenth chapter of his first epistle to the
Corinthians.' This is not a description of charity, but of good nature;
and it is not necessary that every duty be mentioned in every place.

"5. 'That they pay the poor-rates.' They might as well allege that they
pay their debts: for the poor have the same right to that portion of a
man's property which the laws assign to them, that the man himself has to
the remainder.

"6. 'That they employ many poor persons:'--for their own sake, not the
poor's;--otherwise it is a good plea.

"7. 'That the poor do not suffer so much as we imagine; that education and
habit have reconciled them to the evils of their condition, and make them
easy under it.' Habit can never reconcile human nature to the extremities
of cold, hunger, and thirst, any more than it can reconcile the hand to
the touch of a red hot iron; besides, the question is not, how unhappy any
one is, but how much more happy we can make him.

"8. 'That these people, give them what you will, will never thank you, or
think of you for it.' In the first place, this is not true; in the second
place, it was not for the sake of their thanks that you relieved them.

"9. 'That we are liable to be imposed upon.' If a due inquiry be made, our
merit is the same; besides that the distress is generally real, although
the cause be untruly stated. "10. 'That they should apply to their
parishes.' This is not always practicable: to which we may add, that there
are many requisites to a comfortable subsistence which parish relief does
not supply; and that there are some, who would suffer almost as much from
receiving parish relief as by the want of it; and lastly, that there are
many modes of charity to which this answer does not relate at all.

"11. 'That giving money encourages idleness and vagrancy.' This is true
only of injudicious and indiscriminate generosity.

"12. 'That we have too many objects of charity at home, to bestow any
thing upon strangers; or that there are other charities, which are more
useful, or stand in greater need.' The value of this excuse depends
entirely upon the _fact_, whether we actually relieve those neighbouring
objects, and contribute to those other charities.

"Besides all these excuses, pride, or prudery, or delicacy, or love of
ease, keep one half of the world out of the way of observing what the
other half suffer."

The sentiments expressed by the profound Dr. Barrow [44] will form an
appropriate conclusion to the present chapter.

"If we contemplate our wealth itself, we may therein descry great motives
to bounty. Thus to employ our riches, is really the best use they are
capable of; not only the most innocent, most worthy, most plausible; but
the most safe, most pleasant, most advantageous, and consequently in all
respects most prudent way of disposing of them. To keep them close,
without using or enjoying them at all, is a most sottish extravagance or a
strange kind of madness; a man thence affecting to be rich, quite
impoverished himself, dispossesseth himself of all, and alienateth from
himself his estate; his gold is no more his than when it was in the
Indies, or lay hid in the mines; his corn is no more his than if it stood
growing in Arabia or China; he is no more owner of his lands than he is
master of Jerusalem or Grand Cairo; for what difference is there, whether
distance of place or baseness of mind sever things from him? whether his
own heart or another man's hand detain them from his use? whether he hath
them not at all, or hath them to no purpose? whether one is a beggar out
of necessity or choice? is pressed to want, or a volunteer thereto? Such
an one may fancy himself rich, and others, as wise as himself, may repute
him so; but so distracted persons, to themselves and to one another do
seem great princes, and style themselves such; with as much reason almost
he might pretend to be wise or to be good. Riches are Χρηματα things
whose nature consists in usefulness; abstract that, they become nothing,
things of no consideration or value; he that hath them is no more
concerned in them than he that hath them not. It is the heart, and skill
to use affluence of things wisely and nobly, which makes it wealth, and
constitutes him rich that hath it; otherwise the chests may be crammed,
and the barns stuffed full, while the man is miserably poor and beggarly;
'tis in this sense true which the wise man says, '_There is that maketh
himself rich, yet hath nothing_'"


Chapter XI.

Account of Paul and his Companions meeting with Lydia by the River-side
at Philippi--the Impression produced upon her Heart by the Preaching of
Paul--Remarks on Conversion as exemplified in the Case of this
Disciple--its Seat the Heart--its Accomplishment the Result of divine
Agency--the Manner of it noticed--the Effects of a divine Influence upon
the human Mind, namely, attention to the Word of God and the Ordinances
of the Gospel, and affectionate Regard to the Servants of
Christ--Remarks on the Paucity of real Christians--the multiplying Power
of Christianity--its present State in Britain--Efforts of the
Bible Society.

The historical part of the New Testament, called the ACTS or THE APOSTLES,
contains a faithful record of the early propagation of the Gospel and the
incessant exertions of the first labourers in the vineyard. They were not
men who "wasted their strength in strenuous idleness," or dissipated the
time of action in "laboriously doing nothing;" but were endowed with
extraordinary qualifications and an inextinguishable zeal for their novel
and interesting employment. They reflected the light of the Sun of
Righteousness upon a dark age, and glowed with the very spirit of their
ascended Lord. Remarkable effects were produced upon the moral world,
notwithstanding the counteracting influence of human prejudice and
opposition; and as they quitted the world, amidst the whirlwinds of
persecution and in the flames of martyrdom, they dropped from their
ascending chariots the mantle upon their successors in office, who
"entered into their labours," and continued "with great power" to give
"witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and great grace was upon
them all."

So wonderful are the appointments of Providence, that we find a youth who
took an active part in the murder of the first martyr to the Christian
cause, and afterward breathed forth an unrelenting hostility against all
its adherents, selected as the chief instrument of its extension in
various countries. That mighty energy which "commanded the light to shine
out of darkness," as he was on a persecuting expedition to Damascus,
"shined into his heart," and by a miraculous interposition not only
checked him in his career, but communicated to him "the light of the
knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus," and turned all
the energies of his character into a new and most important course of
exertion. He became a Christian, a preacher, an apostle, and a missionary
to the Gentile world: and while by his indefatigable labours he benefitted
so large a proportion of his contemporaries, by his inspired epistles he
has instructed the church 'of God in every succeeding age of the world.

Paul appears to have travelled over a considerable portion of Asia and
part of Europe. Barnabas, and afterward Silas and Timotheus, accompanied
him. In many places he suffered great personal injury, and his valuable
life was repeatedly endangered. Having passed through Phrygia and the
proconsular province of Asia, of which Ephesus was the capital, Paul and
Silas came at length to Troas, where the former had a vision, in which he
saw an inhabitant of Macedonia standing before him, and uttering this
request, "Come over and help us." This impressed his mind with a
conviction that he was called in providence to preach the gospel in that
part of Greece; and he immediately sailed down the Aegean Sea by the
island of Samothracia and the port of Neapolis, and from thence to
Philippi, which was a Roman colony. [45]

In this city, whither it seems probable from the history, that Luke had
accompanied them, they remained some days; and here we are introduced to
the brief but instructive account of the excellent woman whose name is
prefixed to this chapter.

Paul, and the companions of his missionary tour, first met with Lydia at
one of the Jewish places of prayer by the river-side, which ran near the
city. The Temple at Jerusalem, and previously the Tabernacle, were the
appointed places for the public worship of God, in the open court of
which, before the altar, the people assembled. But such as lived at a
distance, or from local inconveniences could not constantly repair to the
place of general association, were allowed to build _Proseuchiæ_, or
_Oratories_, in one of which our Saviour continued all night in prayer.
They had no covering like synagogues, but were surrounded by porticoes, to
afford shelter from the inclemency of the weather, and were erected in the
suburbs of a city, by the baths or near rivers, on account of the
purifications so frequent with the Jews, and usually on very elevated
spots of ground. The proseucha signalized by the devotions of Christ was
on a mountain. Some have supposed that Isaac went out to meditate in the
evening in a place of this description. These were probably the _high
places_ of ancient times, in or near which groves were planted, and which
are only condemned in Scripture when appropriated to idolatrous purposes.
"I am like a green olive tree," says the Psalmist, "in the house of God."

Availing themselves of the opportunity afforded by the resort of devout
persons to these religious retirements, these zealous ministers of the
Gospel conversed and preached to the people, who on this occasion were
chiefly women. But though many were addressed, it does not appear that
more than one was substantially benefitted. Her attention was excited, her
heart opened, and her profession of the name of Jesus immediate and
public. The several points of her character deserve particular and
distinct illustration.

Lydia is said to have been of the city of Thyatira; but whether she had
removed to Philippi, or was only come for the purpose of trade, is not
certain. She was one who "worshipped God," that is, one who, in
distinction from the heathen around her, had learned the character of
Jehovah, and was probably a Jewish proselyte. [46] Instructed in the
ancient records of that extraordinary nation, which had been so many past
ages the only depository of divine truth, she was expecting the predicted
Messiah; and while, from the natural aversion of mankind to the
humiliating doctrine of salvation through a crucified person, the greater
proportion of Jews rejected him, she experienced a true conversion, not
only from the principles of heathenism, but from those of Judaism, to the
Gospel of Jesus Christ. A few instances of this description occur in the
evangelical record to show the sovereignty and diversified operations of
the grace of God.

That moral change, that spiritual renovation, which has been called
CONVERSION, is, we are aware, and ever will be, the subject of profane
ridicule amongst unbelievers. It does not indeed produce any astonishment,
although it awakens extreme regret, that one of the most obvious effects
resulting from the publication of the Gospel of Christ should be so
unblushingly denied by this class of mankind. "The natural man discerneth
not the things of the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually
discerned." The scriptures themselves predict this incapacity, even in
some of the most refined and intellectual of our species, to form a
conception of this marvellous change; and experience evinces the truth of
what they affirm, and which originates in the very nature of things. It
is characteristic of human perversity to disbelieve what is imperceptible
to reason or invisible to sense, and to vaunt itself upon that very

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