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THE STRANGER AND HIS FRIEND. MATT. XXV. 35-40.
A POOR wayfaring man of grief
That I could never answer, nay.
Once, when my scanty meal was spread,
gave him all; he blessed it, brake,
I spied him where a fountain burst
Clear from the rock; his strength was gone; The heedless water mocked his thirst;
He heard it, saw it hurrying on-
I drank, and never thirsted more.
'T was night. The floods were out, it blew A winter hurricane aloof;
I heard his voice abroad, and flew
To bid him welcome to my roof;
I warmed, I clothed, I cheered my guest, I laid him on my couch to rest;
Then made the ground my bed, and seemed In Eden's garden while I dreamed.
Stript, wounded, beaten nigh to death,
In prison I saw him next, condemned
And honored him midst shame and scorn.
Then in a moment to my view,
The stranger started from disguise; The tokens in his hands I knew;
My Saviour stood before my eyes.
He spake, and my poor name he named--
IN MATTERS OF RELIGION.
THOSE who are of too stiff a virtue to court the world into a compliance with that which is good, may do well to consider how the apostle is to be justified in the character he has given us of himself; 'Though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.' Into what a variety of shapes did he turn himself, to gain the affections of men, that he might the more easily gain admission for the gospel of Christ. Had he fallen directly upon their infirmities and mistakes, he might have fired their minds, and stopped their ears to his instructions. He knew that patience and gentle teaching would by degrees get the mastery of their errors, and lead them, without tumult or opposition, to the acknowledgment of the truth; that their prejudices would wear out, and, as the light of the gospel began to dawn in their hearts, their affections would take a new turn of themselves, which at present were not to be stemmed. He used the art of a skilful pilot, who chooses to coast it along the shore when the tide runs too high in the channel, as knowing it
to be not only the safest, but the shortest way to the point he makes.
Yet thus to court the affections of men is by many thought below the dignity of religion. But where does the indignity lie? Ought not men to be made in love with virtue and religion? Yes, you will say. And how is that to be done? Must it not be by engaging their affections in the cause of religion? Undoubtedly it must. And is it then necessary to engage men's affections in the cause of religion, and is it yet an unworthy attempt to endeavour to engage them? How can these things be made to agree? But, if it must be allowed that it is necessary to apply to men's affections in the cause of virtue and religion, it will show the reasonableness of the apostle's advice, and the necessity there is of having recourse to christian prudence and wisdom to direct us in the practice even of that which is good. For all things have not the same appearance to all men; nay, the same object appears differently to the same man, as it is exposed in different lights; which holds as true with respect to the eyes of the mind as of the body; and therefore it lies upon us to guard against any ill impressions that may be made upon others by the good we do.
This care not to offend, is the foundation of civility and good breeding in common life, and will likewise be productive of mutual love and