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nations. St. Paul seems to elevate this ordinance in dignity even above the sacrament of baptism. “ Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel : not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness: but unto us which are saved, it is the power
of God.” And in the Epistle to the Romans, having argued the necessity of preaching the gospel to the heathen and unconverted Jews, he concludes, t “So then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God;" and there is life and death in the sound thereof; for the same apostle adds, in another Epistle, “ We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved and in them that perish. To the one we are a savour of death unto death; and to the other a savour of life unto life !!! So then, whenever that gospel is preached in simplicity and love, it is not man that speaks, but God, by the mouth of every faithful minister; and if it be despised or neglected, it is not the word or wisdom of man, but that of God, which is thus profanely dealt with. If the word preached be agreeable to the word written, the message is from God direct, as a voice from heaven to each man's soul, and to trifle with it must be infinitely perilous !
* 1 Cor. i. 17, 18.
+ Rom. x. 17. 2 Cor. ïi, 15, 16.
Now the character of the irreverent and careless hearer is well illustrated in the text by a familiar metaphor. “If any be a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass : for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was." Here the preached word is compared to a mirror, presented to the people by the ministers of God, in which each man beholds his own likeness, faithfully exhibited. It is no flattering resemblance which is there reflected. In the mirror of truth all the blemishes and defects of the human character are displayed, as they exist in the heart, and with the utmost fidelity. Here the man of pleasure beholds an accurate picture of the vanities that fill his mind, his folly, his weariness, his futile attempts to wear away the tedious hours of life, are all presented to him. Here the vicious man beholds the darker features of his secret bistory reflected with appalling accuracy; the loathsome dungeon of his corrupt heart is thrown open to his view, and he shrinks from the contemplation of those impurities exhibited by another, which he vainly imagined were known only to himself. The avaricious man is startled by the faithful delineation of his secret passion, his sordid love of gold, his midnight vigils, his artful contrivances to accumulate wealth, are all detailed to him; and he wonders who has read his
heart, and dived into the secret purposes of his covetous soul. Here too, every species of hypocrisy is detected; and however successful any one may have been in deceiving others, and perhaps even himself, no sooner does he cast his eye upon this glass, than he sees with astonishment his own character; his false professions, his hollow resolutions, his secret iniquity, his hidden and sinister motives, are all discovered; and he stands forth a traitor to his God, one who “ professed much love, while his heart was far from him.” Others also, of varied complexions and features, the motley group of half-way christians, who are undecided, hesitating,"halting between two opinions,” striving to “serve God and Mammon, Christ and Belial,” to maintain friendship with both parties, and to please alike the world and the church, these all may here behold their own image ; and so accurate is the likeness which the ministers of God are by his word sometimes enabled to present, that the convinced and astonished sinner feels as if he were singled out of the whole assembly, and he thinks that every eye must be turned on him, recognizing the description; he almost imagines that some false friend has betrayed him to the preacher; whereas this is only the force of “truth which commends itself to every man's conscience as in the sight of God;" it is only the arrow of conviction, which, directed by the Holy Spirit, has insinuated itself through the joints of the armour of selfrighteousness and self-deception, and pierced the heart of the sinner; as it is written,* “For the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.'
Such convictions may indeed be transitory, still the sinner is convinced--for a moment he is humbled, he is softened, he weeps, and inwardly exclaims, “ Yes, the likeness is faithful—that is my portrait-I am that wretched man-I am living without God—my soul is estranged from Him-I know Him not, nor love Him."
66 Woe is me, for I am undone !" He has beheld his natural face in the glass of God's word; but, alas ! “ he goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was;" he returns to his ordinary employments, to his worldly cares, to his fashionable engagements; the impression is soon effaced; ere the return of the succeeding sabbath, he has too probably escaped from all his harassing convictions, and he appears again in the house of God, to pass through a similar process of momentary awakening and deliberate resistance of the truth, until his conscience becomes “ seared as with a hot iron,” callous and dead. Infinite is the danger of such hearers, “who
* Heb. iv. 12,
do alway resist the grace of God;" perilous is their state of mind; grievously do they “ deceive their own selves," as the apostle adds in the text: attaching some merit or value to their formal attendance on the house of God, when by that very act they are aggravating their offences and hardening their hearts. The end of such persons is predicted by the Lord himself, * “Every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” Oh, that He who wept over Jerusalem, and loved and pitied sinners, while he faithfully warned them, might look mercifully upon us; and if he should discover but one person among us in peril of everlasting perdition through the hardness of his heart, oh that he would soften that heart, and subdue that proud spirit by the gentle influences of his grace, that it might henceforth “receive with meekness the engrafted word which is able to save the soul !”
But we proceed to consider, II. THE DESCRIP
TION WHICH THE APOSTLE GIVES IN THE TEXT OF
THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE ATTENTIVE AND PRACTICAL HEARER. " But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he
* Matt. vii. 26, 27.