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[No. 4. Vol. XIV,
Tothe Editor of the Christian Observer. CARCELY any parts of your volumes have been more interesting to me than the histories which have been at different times introduced of the characters of Scripture. In imitation of more able writers, I have ventured to present to you the history of a very humble but interesting character recorded in the word of God, with a few plain observations upon it.
It is one of the features of true religion that it occupies itself as much with the least as with the greatest persons; with the seller of purple as with the monarch who wears it. It is the soul, and not the worldly circumstances, which determines the value of man in the eyes of his God. Christ died for the soul, and therefore every soul is dear to God. We accordingly find that all false religions-the religions of Greece and Rome, for instance-set little value on the poor. As if the lower orders had been without souls, philosophers and legislators thought little more of them than of the brutes that perish. But the Gospel is the religion of the poor; it was preached to them; it was received by them; and of multitudes who received it, the Apostle has said, "God hath chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom of God." Among the other proofs of the importance given by the Gospel to the poor, is the simple record of their religious history sometimes found in the pages of Scripture. And of these histories, few are more interesting than the short account of Lydia, on which CHRIST. OBSERV. No. 160.
I now wish to offer some observations.
In the first place, let us consider her station in life.-She was a "seller of purple;" a person occupied, that is, in the common trade of the place in which she livedthe sale of cloths of a purple colour, which were dyed and prepared there. Now, how often do we hear the bustle and occupation of business of various kinds pleaded as an excuse for a negligent service of God? "Our temptations in trade (it is said) are so many; such and such customs are established, to which we must conform; others break the Sabbath, and therefore so must we; our time is so much taken up, that we have little leisure for religion: when, indeed, God shall be pleased to release us from our present circumstances, we hope to do better." To all this, may it not be answered,-Look at the history of Lydia? She was a "seiler of purple;" occupied, perplexed, hurried, probably, like some of ourselves-with all our apologies, had she chosen to urge them, for doing wrong, for neglecting God and salvation. But she did not plead them. Her history is not recorded to tell us the impossibility of persons in her circumstances serving God. On the contrary, it is her success which the sacred historian records. Her name is inscribed in the lists of apostles and martyrs. Her history is preserved by the hand of God limself; and teaches us that business provides no excuse for coldness or negligence in religion,
But we shall see this more distinctly in pursuing her history. And 2 E
here it may be well to notice the place of her residence. She dwelt, the Scriptures say, in the city of "Thyatira;" that is, in a heathen city; a city where, except, perhaps, from a few scattered and despised Jews, she may never have heard the name of the true God. Now, let those consider this who are apt to plead as an excuse for irreligion not merely their peculiar employment in life, but their peculiar circumstances as to religion. We have not (say some) the instruction that we need; not the very minister or doctrine that we prefer; not the religious companions we could desire." Surely to all this it may be answered, the humble Lydia was an inhabitant of a heathen city. What, then, were her advantages? What was the example which she enjoyed? Who were her teachers? In the corrupt state of the Jewish synagogues, where tradition had usurped the place of Scripture, and ceremonies had swallowed up the spirit of religion, Lydia must have suffered an almost absolute dearth of all instruction calculated, humanly speaking, to touch the conscience and reach the heart. Let us count up and magnify our difficulties and wants as we will, it would be easy to point out circumstances in her case still more unfavourable.
Let us next inquire what, in these circumstances, was the state of her mind. It is said by the sacred historian," she worshipped God." That is, though bred among heathens, she worshipped the God of the Jews-the true God-Jehovah, who was, in those days, revealed to them alone. She quitted the religion of her country, and of her friends; she sacrificed early prejudices and worldly interests; she exchanged, for a religion of self-denial and holiness, a religion of shew and self-indulgence:-she was a "worshipper of the true God." Now, let us not fail to mark the difference between her circumstances and our own. In
this country the popular religion is, at least, nominally Christian. We have a truly Christian church; and every man rather gains than loses, even in a worldly way, by adhering to that church. We are baptized into the true religion; we are more or less educated in it; we are called, even from infancy, to the profession of it; we have numberless examples around us of men who love and serve God; we have, in short, every thing which she wanted. And yet she wor shipped God. She really adored him; she " worshipped," we may believe, "in spirit and in truth," the true God. And now whom do multitudes around us worship? Nominally God; but in reality, perhaps, that which is no God, the work of men's hands or the devices of men's hearts; perhaps, preferring themselves, their pleasures, their honours, their indulgences, their interests, to God Almighty. A thousand idols are erected, to which the heart, if not the knee, does homage. And to bring the matter home to ourselves; is it not possible, that in the whole course of our lives, we have never offered a hearty, earnest prayer to the "true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent?" Is it not possible that our first real prayer, a prayer springing from a humble heart, from a sense of our need of pardon, from a feeling of the goodness of God, of the love of Christ, and the merit of his atonement and intercession, is even yet to be offered? Perhaps those angels who "rejoice over one sinner that repenteth," are now waiting to carry to heaven the intelligence that we have at length begun to pray in a right spirit, and with a pure mind, and "lifting up holy hands." And is not this a deeply affecting consideration? What are we, it is asked, "that thy mercies to us are so many and so great?" I may add, "What are we, that our ingratitude and deadness to God should be so constant and so great?"
Did this poor heathen find her way to God, and are we still wandering in the dark? Did her voice of prayer ascend to heaven, and is ours silent? Did her harp of praise resound, and is ours unstrung? Are her supplications treasured up by a gracious God, and has the smoke of our incense never ascended?
But let us go on to inquire into her conduct when the Gospel was first preached in her native city. We are told by the sacred historian, that she went "to hear" the apostles. She went, that is, to listen to their instructions; to catch the manna as it fell from heaven. -I am by no means disposed to esteem it praise-worthy to indulge a disposition to hear new and extraordinary preachers; and had the Apostles entered that city, unsent and unauthorized, and with out their peculiar claims to attention, to preach down Judaism, and put a new religion in its place, we should have seen more to admire in caution and forbearance, than in any eagerness to listen to them. But any one who, like her, had worshipped the true God in the Jewish synagogue, must have known the Scriptures; and therefore must have known that the Messiah was to come; that his heralds or ministers were to appear; that the sick should be healed, the dumb speak, the blind see, the lame walk, and to the poor bis Gospel should be preached. When, therefore, all these signs were fulfilled; and when those who performed these miracles, announced that they also came to preach the Gospel, she naturally went to hear them, and to judge of the doctrines they taught. She "heard" them. She was not content to sit at home and wonder whether these things were so. She was not content to take the matter upon trust. She was not willing to cleave to Judaism, if God thought fit to improve upon that religion. She did not say, "I will wait for the example of
others;" or, "I can read at home." She " heard" the Apostles; she followed them to the synagogues; she laid aside the affairs of this world, to pursue, for a time, the great things of eternity; she "heard them" tell the simple history of our Lord's birth and death, of his conduct and conversation, of his wisdom and his love, of the wrongs he bore, and of the blood he shed. And all these things she was solicitous to hear. She did not let the unpopularity of the new faith, the combined anger of Jews and Gentiles, her worldly interests and character, her reputation for sense and discretion, stand in the way of the discharge of so obvious a duty. She opened her ears to their preaching, as did the shepherds to the song of the angels, "This day is born to you a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."-O what a reproach is this history to us! What a large proportion of every parish rarely enters a place of worship! Upon how many houses in this land does the eye of God look down, on every Sabbath, whence no individual goes up to his holy temple! "The ministers of Christ," it may be said, "are not apostles now.' No. But still many of them preach the same Gospel, which those Apostles preached-they borrow their words-they serve their Master-they desire, and pray, and strive, I should hope, in many instances, to catch their spirit and to wear their mantle. They build upon the "foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." They are not indeed able to affirm, as the Apostles might, the perfection of their lessons. Far from it. But at the same time, their lessons have much of truth in them, because they have much of Scripture, And these lessons are of high importance, because (even setting aside other topics) "they beseech you, as ambassadors of God in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled unto God."-Shall Lydia then hear, and shall we refuse to hear?
Shall not the houses of God be crowded now? Shall not the voice of hundreds echo along their holy walls? Shall not the song of the multitude ascend? Shall we not continually and habitually come to gether to speak and to hear of the things which accompany salvation? But let us now see in what manner God was pleased to acknowledge, and to bless the attendance of Lydia upon the Apostles.-The historian says, "the Lord opened her heart." She had manifested, through the blessing of God upon her soul, much conscientiousness, much disposition to follow the truth and to serve God. Still this disposition of mind did not, of itself, qualify her to understand and to embrace the Gospel. In all stages of life, under the most prosperous outward circumstances, and even with much knowledge of religion, "our sufficiency is of God." It is God who by his Spirit must dispose us to hear, must enable us to understand, and must constrain us to feel; must enlighten the understanding, touch the conscience, and open the heart. But Lydia sought God in his temple, and she found Him. She worshipped Him, and his Spirit descended upon her: she heard with a candid ear, and with an honest heart; and that God, who had given her both, gave her additional light, in proportion to the use she had made of that already enjoyed. He tore away the veil, which as yet concealed the Saviour from her sight-revealed to her the corruptions of her heart, and the all-sufficiency of the merits of Christ and of the power of the Spirit of God. God descended, not indeed by a visible Shechina -the bright and awful cloud of his presence-but in the sweet and secret influences of his Spirit,softening what was hard, sanctifying what was corrupt, enlightening what was dark in the soul of His conscientious worshipper.-And may this be a precedent for ourselves! The instructor of this servant of God
must be the instructor of all. It is the common air which the body breathes and lives: and it is a common energy, and power, and light, and nourishment, by which the soul must live. It is the breath of God which alone can give or sustain the spiritual life. It is the atmosphere of heaven alone in which the plant of devotion can flourish. God" opened her heart," and he must open every heart which discovers the truth, embraces and obeys it. But then let us consider the encouragement which this little history affords for every man to seek this grace and instruction from God. Did the eye of God discover amidst the thousands of Thyatira, even this one, solitary, humble, honest woman-did He hear the prayer which she offered, and instantly shed around her heavenly light, fill her with himself, and clear away all the mists of prejudice, and all the obstacles of inward corruption-and "will he not hear us?" Let us stand as the nation of Israel stood at the dedication of the temple, calling upon God to descend upon them-and now, as then, he will descend, and fill every chamber of the soul, extinguish every unhallowed fire, illumine every dark spot, and change the abode of ignorance and pollution into the mansion of puri ty and the "temple of the Lord."
But let us now go on to examine the effect of God thus opening the heart of Lydia. "She attended (says St. Luke) to the things which were spoken of Paul."-The effect of Divine teaching, of the movements of the Spirit of God upon the soul, is not to make men listeners to the suggestions of their own fancy, to the ravings of enthu siasm, or even to the opinions of others; but to lead them to Christ and to his Apostles, to the proper teachers of religion, to the blessed volume in which their lessons are recorded. She attended to the things spoken of Paul." His voice was to her, not merely like the
sound of "a pleasant instrument," which rises, and dies, and is forgotten. She attended--she weighed the instructions he gave her-like the mother of Jesus, she "pondered these things in her heart" she dwelt upon them-she praved over them-she strove, by Divine aid, to apply them to herself--to the construction of her creed, to the government of her temper, to the regulation of her life. The words of St. Paul did not fall like "seed by the way side," which "birds came and devoured." But they found there a soil prepared by the Divine Husbandman, and matured by the dews of Heaven; and which, therefore, brought forth fruit an hundred fold.-Here again is an example for ourselves. We hear but do we "attend?" We read the letters of St. Paul-but do we regard them? We listen to those who have succeeded St. Paul in the sacred ministry-but do we dwell upon their instructious? Is every really scriptural sermon a matter of moment to us? Do we consider it as a special commission from God? Do we welcome and revere it as we should the approach of a prophet, charged with some message, bearing some peculiar roll inscribed and dedicated by God to ourselves? Do we not too often suffer the word spoken to escape? Do we not merge and choak it in the business of life, or in the society of the world? Do we nourish and cherish it as a precious gift of God, as a flame lighted indeed in heaven, but soon extinguished by neglect, and perhaps never to be lighted again?
But that I may not dwell too long upon this history, I will conclude by noticing a few particulars which are mentioned in her subsequent conduct.-And here we find it recorded, that she was "baptized;" that is, she dedicated herself to God, by the most solemn act and ordinance of our religion. She publicly avowed her change
she conformed to the ordinance
appointed for the introduction of all into the Church of Christ. She was washed in water, to manifest her sense of the pardoning and cleansing efficacy of the blood of Christ, and of the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit.
In like manner, it is said that her household was baptized.-Her religion was not of a selfish character: she was not content to trim her own lamp, and neglect the lamps of others-to feed whilst others starved--to work out her own salvation, and leave others to perishto stand a solitary pillar amidst surrounding ruins-to bloom a solitary flower in the wilderness, drinking in the dews of heaven, whilst terror and barrenness reigned around her. She called upon her family, her relations, her children: she warned them to flee from the wrath to come: she spoke to them of sin, of death, of hell, of the Saviour. And God was pleased also to convert, and sanctify their hearts, and they were baptized into the same faith-they, let us hope, embraced the same Saviour, and found the same salvation. O may we "go and do likewise!" May we remember, that we are awfully accountable for the souls of those committed to our charge-our children, our servants, our friends! They are deposited by God in our hands. O may we strive to give Him his own with usury! May we pray, and labour to be enabled to say with our Lord, Of all that thou hast given me have I lost none."
Lastly, we find it is said of Lydia, that she constrained the disciples to come to her house, and abide there.-In so doing, she sought fellowship and communion with the good. She regarded the Apostles not merely as members of the great family of which God is the Father, but as brethren in Christ Jesus. She discovered in these distinguished servants of her Saviour-however dim, and obscure, and shaded by human imperfection-many features of their heavenly Master: she took