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riseth up to heaven, to be treasured in the vials | our hearts are right with the Author of our being. full of odours, which are the prayers of saints,' there But just as the magnetic needle, while far away come down from on high a thousand incomparably on the quiet waters of the Pacific, points regularly more earnest warnings, admonitions, and entreaties, towards its pole; yet, from the moment the prow of urging us to turn from the evil of our ways, and the vessel is stedfastly turned to the north, begins seek the Lord while he is waiting to be gra- to vary the more, the farther it advances, and will cious.' The generality of us, however, go on settle on any point of the heavens, except the resisting and vexing the Spirit of grace, and stop-right one; till, at last, the navigator throws it aside ping our ears, like the Jews, when St. Stephen as useless; so does the human heart, when urged was declaring his vision of the glorified Redeemer; beyond the cold, quiet, and distant adoration, which till either death puts an end to this waste of it easily learns from natural piety, to a close warnings for ever, and drops the curtain of eternity communion with God, face to face--spirit to between the soul and its God; or till the Almighty spirit-eye to eye-suddenly waver, recoil upon Saviour, by a series of gracious afflictions, and itself, and search, as it were, all around the horizon, a continuous pressure of sanctified calamities, for a refuge from the very thought of the Father, crushes the heart into a sense of its own depravity, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. and subdues its resistance like a worm beneath the rolling of his chariot wheels.
In this state of enlightened humiliation, Ephraim compares himself with a beast of the stall, a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke, that stubbornly refuses to serve the master who feeds and protects it; or to answer the purpose for which it is kept. The more it is chastened, the more does it rebel; and only submits, in the end, when exhausted with the unequal struggle, and incapable of further resistance. And we would do well to regard ourselves frequently in those faithful mirrors, which the providence of God is continually presenting to our view, in some department or other of his creation; and judge ourselves by the feelings excited in our bosoms, when it is our turn to meet with resistance where we have a right to exact submission, and to harden a will by all our endeavours to subdue it. When we are wishing, like Balaam, that we had a sword in our hand to slay the creature that resists our will, it is time to remember that God has his sword always within reach; and to bow the head in submission, lest we perish in his anger.
The prayer of the penitent, in the eventful moment of spiritual life is, very remarkable; and may cast some useful light over the understanding of those who think they can turn at any time to God; and who therefore, defer their repentance till the day when 'desire fails,' with the prospect of turning their face to the wall, and to the Judge of all the earth, at the same time. Experience, however, is a faithful teacher; and from it do we soon learn, that of all bodies the heart is the most unwieldy and difficult to turn upon its course; and that of all points, moreover, in the compass it is slowest in turning to God. O! in our hours of ease, when we think little about the spiritual world, and far less about its greatest habitant, we are apt enough to suppose that
We find all this strikingly verified in the prayer of the penitent Ephraim. We might readily think within ourselves, that he is already turned to God, because he is praying. Alas! do we not know that it is mainly in prayer we gather our experience of the truth we have just been stating; and feel the tendency of the heart to turn away from God in every attempt to approach him. Hence is it just this aversion of the soul from its Maker that forms the subject of the penitent Ephraim's prayer, and just in the attempt at turning unto God in it, that he prays, ‘Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God.'
And happy is the heart which the Lord has turned to himself, for never again does it turn back to the ways of the world, or its own; but, once more, like the magnet, when brought close up to its pole, ceases from all its waverings; and rests secure on the rock of ages.
Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, eren confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth,' Jer. xxxi. 19.
IN repentance unto life' there are two parts, equally essential to each other; the first of which is turning from sin, and the second turning to God. Without this second movement of the mind, the former is not only fruitless in regard to its results, but imperfect, and even false in its own nature. We may hate and abhor our most besetting sins, because of their bitter consequences; and by a violent effort tear ourselves loose from them, one after another; and then that tear
ing of our hearts on the thorns in which they are entangled, may we dignify with the name of repentance; but if we go no further-if our eye still continue in the direction of our relinquished vices-we are not in reality hating sin, but merely its punishment; and our repentance is only remorse. If, on the contrary, we turn from it to God, there is not only a new feeling superadded to our previous emotions, but a new spirit infused into our abhorrence of sin: for we see it from that eventful moment in a totally different light, and regard it not only as injurious to our selves, but as a grief to the Spirit of grace.
It is just after this turning to God, and contemplating the august, the majestic, and righteous Sovereign, whose authority he has so long despised, that the soul of the penitent Ephraim is stricken with the real enormity of his guilt. What was shame and self-condemnation, before the Lord, in answer to his prayer, had turned him round to himself, is now the most poignant anguish that perhaps the flesh of the human heart can bear on this side of the grave. 'Surely after I was turned,' he exclaims, I repented; and after I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh. What is the instruction he has received in so short a space? He has seen as it were the face of his offended Father in heaven, and contemplated the sin of his long rebellion by the light of that pure eye that cannot behold evil; and it is just in this view of the divine countenance-in beholding for the first time, though but as through a glass, the beauty and majesty of his God, so long a stranger to his thoughts, and so different from all his previous imaginations, that he shrinks within himself, overwhelmed with shame and confusion; and yields up his soul to a sorrow which the world knows nothing of.
This anguish of the penitent Ephraim is undoubtedly a wonder and derision to the world, and to the great masses of mankind, who measure the iniquity of sin by the standards of the earth, or the judgments of a criminal court; and most unquestionably would they attribute such an extraordinary distress about sin, either to a morbid state of intellect, or a conscience troubled with the secret guilt of some enormous crime. Yet no one all the while ever wonders at the frenzy and despair of a gamester who has played away the last acre of his ample domains, in a den of thieves, or thinks it out of nature if he follow up the ruin of his heritage, not by smiting on his thigh' or his forehead alone, but in the uttermost excess of remorse, doing violence to nature itself, and plunging a dagger to the hilt in his own bosom. Yet verily if there be cause of wonder
in either case, it is all in the sorrow that so seldom excites it. For what is the loss of an estate to him who has health and hands to earn, in common with the mass of mankind, his daily bread in the sweat of his face? But to gambol with the pearl of the soul; to frolic with the favour of God; to squander the infinite riches of redeeming grace, and throw away an eternity of glory, is a source of sorrow which no figure of speech can ever adequately express; and which can be a subject of wonder only to those in whose minds the whole spiritual world, with all its forms and features, is a mist. And yet this is not the main source of the sorrow manifested in the words of our text. It is the simple contemplation of God that is cutting the soul of Ephraim; and sharpening his sorrow for sin. We hear him saying, like David, in a moment of similar anguish, against thee, thee only, have I sinned; and done this evil in thy sight.'
In all this anguish of soul, however, poignant as it manifestly is, there is no misery. For just as repentance in its very beginning implies an apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus,' without which there might be a horror of sin, and of conscience, but no turning to God, so is there hope in the sorrow of Ephraim, which essentially distinguishes it from the misery characteristic of the sinful state. It is just in reality the very goodness of God that goes so sharp and deep into the heart which he has turned from sin to himself; and from that goodness does every returning sinner derive, even in the moments when it is most poignantly wounding him with the reproach of his youth, the highest encouragement to advance nearer and nearer to a throne of grace. O! most abundant authority have we for declaring that God is all the while watching our sorrow with an anxious eye; and will not suffer it to exceed, by an atom of dust in the balance, the measure necessary for its removal. For in the very front and forehead of our text, do we read, that God in the midst of anger remembers mercy, and that the very first manifestation of a godly sorrow for sin, on the part of the stricken sinner, is the signal for the return of divine favour, and the down-pouring of healing waters on the broken heart. Not a sigh of the penitent soul is lost. Not a moan of the mourner in Zion escapes the ever-waking ear of the Father, who has afflicted only to soften, and wounded only to bind up. It is the Lord himself, let us observe to our inexpressible comfort, that speaks throughout the whole of this remarkable passage. The very words of the penitent come to us at second hand; for they reach us-and there is not
in scripture a more touching circumstance than this not as they passed from the lips of Ephraim, but from the mouth of God. We know then, that God has all the while been listening to Ephraim; has not only heard him, but heard because he was listening; and that he has been listening, moreover, with the tender anxiety of a Father, on purpose to convince himself that he 'has heard aright. Surely I have heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus.' And then because he has heard aright, I will surely,' he declares, 'have mercy on him.'
in cases of judicial blindness, or hardness of heart, in which the sinner is suffered to glide smoothly down the stream without a thought of the future, till he be swallowed up of eternity; but extends even unto instances of indescribable alarm and anxiety concerning the life which is to come, when 'sinners in Zion are afraid, and fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites;' and they begin to cry, who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? For then there is rending of garments, and tearing of hair, and wringing of hands, and crying unto the Lord; but he will not hear them, for their season of grace is past; their sentence is already pronounced, its execution begun, and the mercies of the Lord while he may be found, call ye however little we may have familiarised it with God for ever clean gone. This awful truth, 'Seek ye upon him while he is near,' Isa. lv. 6.
our own meditations, is nevertheless abundantly revealed to us in scripture; but never without a most sufficient vindication of its equity, and ample directions for averting its infliction. Thus, in the book of Proverbs do we read, that prayers extorted by calamity, after a long contempt of divine counsel and mercy, shall be in their turn treated with scorn and derision. 'Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my
mock when your fear cometh. . . . Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me; for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord.'
We know that the time of our probation is limited at the utmost by the sum of the few and evil days' that make up our lot in the land of the living; for in the grave, unto which we are all hastening, there is no work nor device, and as the tree falls, so it lies.' We are hence in full possession of the very awful truth, that when the silver cord is loosed, and the wheel is broken at the cistern, our disembodied soul is destined to find God seated,—not on a throne of grace,-but of judgment, dispensing no longer mercy, but equal-reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity, and handed justice, according to the fruit of our doings, whether they have been good or evil. We know therefore at the same time, that with life ends the season of prayer; for there can be no praying at the judgment-seat, where they who are clothed with the wedding-garment have no more need of mercy; while unto those who appear in the filthy rags of their own righteousness, all the mercies of God are for ever clean gone. Warned and wilful do we therefore rush upon the sword of Divine justice, if deferring, from day to day, and from year to year, the duty of securing, by the prayer of faith, an interest in the all-sufficiency of Christ, till death, coming as a thief in the night, strip our souls of the knees that were made for kneeling on the footstool of grace, and the hands, and the eyes, and the voice that were given to be lifted towards heaven in prayer and devotion.
We are not so familiar, however, with the fact that, short as our portion of time is, the reign of divine mercy is sometimes still shorter; and that unto some the sun of Righteousness sets before their day is done. What casts a hue, moreover, of special fear and solemnity over this fact, is the circumstance, that not only is it true
We have the same principle just as clearly laid down in the passage immediately under consideration; for in exhorting us to seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near, we have a most significant intimation of a time when he is not found, and a place where he is no longer near; while over both are cast all the terrors of uncertainty and darkness; for not in more palpable obscurity is muffled the year and the moment of our death, than the instant when the cup of divine indignation shall overflow, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ cease for ever to be gracious.
But just as significantly, all the while, are we cheered in every scripture. that intimates the approaching sunset of divine mercy, with the assurance that, so long as the day of salvation endures, and the accepted time of the Lord is passing by, in the Father of our Saviour there is grace sufficient for our need, and mercy ready to flow in the most blessed abundance at every up
turning of our eyes in prayer. The graciousness their proper field, and full range, for the expanof every promise indeed has its most ample proof and manifestation in the threatening with which it is accompanied; and the yearnings of divine love after the straying sheep of Israel, are most visibly revealed in the fierceness of the vengeance suspended over the neglect of divine mercy. We are thus taught to think that in avoiding the mercy-seat of God while he is waiting to be gracious, we are in reality defrauding his benignant Spirit of its banquet; shutting him out from the exercise of his favourite attribute, and putting a seal on a fountain of mercy, so pleasant to himself in its flowing, that, to give it unhindered issue, he gave his only-begotten Son to the death; and averting the vials of his wrath from our guilty race, poured their concentrated torrent on the head of our innocent Redeemer.
O may God then perfect upon us his own gracious gift, and through the mighty power of the Saviour's blood, save us from the scarlet sin of stopping our ears to the invitations of his grace, and despising the mercy in which he delights. Let us seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near.' And let us seek him now just with all the greater assurance of faith, because we know that his Spirit will not always strive with man; and that the sun of his mercy is not far from its setting. We know that he is merciful now-that he is at this moment waiting to be gracious; yea, that he is bowing his heavens and coming down to meet us more than half-way, and stretching out his hand, and calling unto us to seek him while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near.' Why else are these words at this moment under our eye? How do they happen to form the theme of our present meditation? O this is just the way in which God speaks to us-the way of his word, and his Spirit!
sion of their capabilities in the contemplation
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrigh-fills up his place, with a change of form and
teous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon', Isa. Iv. 7.
Ir is a remarkable circumstance, that the two passions which exercise the greatest influence on our conduct, in regard to the life which now is, namely, hope and fear, are likewise most prominently called into action by the cares of the spiritual world. They seem, indeed, to have
aspect suited to the sinner's changing case; and hovering right before his eye, in whatever direction he seeks to lay hold on the mercy of the Lord. The self-same spirit of lies which, in his days of ease and carelessness, represented his sins as harmless, trivial, and far beneath the notice of the divine eye, will now dash them with such a depth of crimson that no hyssop can wash them out; and the same foul fiend who before spake of no attribute in the divine nature but mercy-who for all the
hesitations and compunctions of his human dupe | side of heaven and the grave that all the mercy
had always the same drivelling answer ready in his mouth-God is merciful-will now talk of no attribute but his inviolable holiness, justice, and truth; and of no passion but his anger, with its treasures of tribulation and anguish for every soul of man that doeth evil. All the while, moreover, is the inborn spirit of unbelief just as busy in the sinner's own bosom, persuading him that he is not in all God's thoughts-and that, weary with the long waste of words, discipline, and tenderness, the Lord hath given him over to waste, in turn, his tears upon the desert, and sow the wind with his vain complaints.
The frequency and fervour indeed with which the assurances of divine mercy are repeated and pressed upon our notice in scripture, are at once a proof of its own abundance, and of our slowness to believe in its sufficiency. No devil surely can make us believe that God does not know his own mind; and just from his own word, and from his own Spirit, do we derive the most solemn assurances, confirmed even, in many instances, with oaths that he has grace sufficient for our uttermost need, and mercy in store for the chief of sinners. Need we go farther than the precious passage which is at this moment under our eye? Its words are addressed to the wicked and the unrighteous of all grades, and of all generations, without distinction, and to them goeth forth the assurance that God has mercy and abundant pardon, ready to meet the uplifting of their eyes to his throne of grace.
Lift up thine eyes, then, thou downcast mourner in Zion, to the holy habitation of God, and behold, to thine amazement, that over his countenance there spreads, at the meeting of his eyes with thine, the joy and the tenderness of a father who has long been watching for the return of his prodigal son, and waiting to be gracious. To know if any good thing can come out of Nazareth, thou must 'come and see;' and so must thou taste and see that the Lord is gracious, 'Come unto him, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and he will give you rest.' 'Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock,' at the door of grace, and it will fly open. Blessed opening! It is the gate of heaven, with its green pastures-its living waters, spreading to infinity behind it.
But O let us beware of mistaking the mercy of God, or twisting it round to the bent of our own sinful inclination. Hah! we are apt to confine our views of mercy to these gates of heaven; and in our very prayers to think only of mercy dispensed from the throne of judgment on our naked souls. O! it is not there--it is on this
of God is dispensed and applied: and verily just because God is infinitely more merciful than we are inclined to have him. For he will not only bestow upon us that rich inheritance of honour, glory, and immortality, which Christ has purchased for us with his blood, but qualify us for the enjoyment of them, by a sanctification of our nature, a refinement of our taste, and an elevation of our desires, without which heaven would be unto us a poorer inheritance than even the earth itself with all its sorrows. We, in a word, would seek only to be saved from the penalty of sin, but God wants to save us likewise from its power.
Let us begin then the work of salvation, like every other, at the right end, and commence with saying unto every besetting sin, 'Get thee behind me, Satan.'
'Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance, Matt. iii. 8.
Or all spiritual vices the most loathesome in the sight of God is indifference. And just as odious should it be in our own eyes, if we viewed the concerns of the soul, and the vast interests of religion, in the same light as the cares of the body, or the business of the present life. In temporal affairs the incitements to activity are so numerous and powerful, that we regard a sluggard folding his hands, in the midst of his most urgent necessities, for yet a little sleep and a little slumber, with equal surprise and abhorrence; and turn away, sick at heart, from the 'broken fences' of a field overgrown with thorns, and a vineyard covered with nettles. Just inasmuch, however, as the vast idea of eternity overshadows the thought of time, should our contempt of that spiritual indifference, which is the sloth of the soul, surpass our scorn of a sluggishness, limited, at the worst, in its consequences, by the slumber, and corruption of the grave.
The repentance to which we are called, let us never forget, is positive, as well as negative; comprehending, in its wide and woful survey, the guilt of our omissions, as well as our actual sins; and, however bitterly we may bewail the heinousness of our actual transgressions, yet, ever to the sad array of our neglected duties will the Spirit of truth direct the main flowing of our tears. The renouncing of sin is indeed but a small part of repentance, and if not followed up by a fruit