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SERMON. ZECHARIAů v11. ......But they refused to heurken, and pulled aroay the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.
God has uniformly designed, in the course of his providence, te discover the deep depravity of the human heart. For this purpose, he has placed mankind under a vast variety of circumstances, and affordeıl them very different means of instruction. In the first ages of the world, he left them very much to the light of nature, and only occasionally favoured them with immediate intimations of his will. After they had resisted this light for about two thousand years, he called Abraham from the ignorant and depraved world, and formed his posterity into a distinct nation, and gave them his lively oracles. But this highly savoured nation treated the light of divine revelation with the same disregard that other nations did the light of nature. So that notwithstanding God gave them line upon line, and precept upon precept, by his word and the holy prophets, they still chose darkness rather than light, and refused to hear the messengers of the Lord of hosts. At length, God was so displeased with them for resisting divine instruction, that he sent them into a seventy years' captivity, and deprived them of their superiour religious advantages. There they longed for Zion, and ardently desired to be restored to the city of God, and.the place of religious instruction. God, in his own time, appeared for them, and brought them back with joy to their native land, and put them in possession of all the privileges of the sanctuary. At this time it was, that God saw it neca essary to send his prophet Zechariah, to reprove them for their gbstinate opposition to his plain and positive commands. And he direets him to hold up before them the conduct of their nation before they were carried into captivity, and to exhort them to take warning from it. Accordingly, the prophet addresses them in this form: “Should ye not hear the words which the Lord hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, whon men inhabited the south and the plain? But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hcar. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts.” Such was the conduct of the ginners in Zion, which brought upon them the severest marks of the divine displeasure. They despised, resisted, and rejected di vine instruction, and utter ly refused to be governed by it. This God directed his propbet to tell them, was highly displeasing to him; and the same conduct of men at this day, is no less offensive to God.
Hence arises this general observation:
It is highly displeasing to God, that sinners take pains to resist his instructions. I shall,
1. Show that sinners do take pains to resist divine instructions. And,
II. Show why God is highly displeased with them for it.
1. I am to show, that sinners take pains to resist divine instructions. This will appear, if we consider,
1. That divine instructions would always carry conviction, if sinners did not take pains to resist them. The word of God naturally approves itself to the understandings and consciences of men. All the precepts, prohibitions, admonitions and threatenings of God, are perfectly just, and reasonable, and intelligible. Wayfaring men, and the most illiterate, are capable of understanding what God says to them, concerning their character, their duty, and their happiness. When sinners either read or hear the word of God, they are capable of perceiving his will and their duty. And his word would always fasten conviction and obligation upon their minds, if they did not exert their natural powers and faculties to resist the force of divine truth. Were children as willing to receive divine instruction, as they are to learn the language, the customs and manners of the world, they would be as well acquainted with their duty, and as uniform in doing it, as they are with their common employments. The human mind is so framed, that divine instruction naturally carries conviction to it, and does never fail of making impressions, if no pains are taken to obstruct it. But we know, that divine instructions do osten, very often, sail of impressing the minds of sinners. And this is a clear evidence, that they do take pains to resist the power and influence of divine truth.But,
2. Tbiş more fully appears from the universal conduct of sinners. God has been pleased to give us the moral history of mankind from the beginning of the world to the Apostles' days. In this history, he has taken more notice of the opposition of sinners under divine instructions, than of any other part of their conduct. He bas told us how they treated the preaching of Enoch and Noah; how they treated the commands, warnings, and instructions of Moses, of Samuel, and of all the prophets till the appearance of Christ. He has recorded the obstinacy of the Jews under the ministry of Christ, and the enmity and opposition of the Gentiles, under the
preaching of the Apostles. Ecclesiastical writers have continued this history of the human heart, from the crucifixion of Christ to the present day. And it appears from the united testimony of God and man, that sinners have always been disposed to pull away the shoulder and stop their ears, and harden their hearts under divine instructions. They have been so far from giving a ready and cordial reception to divine truth, that they have treated the messages of God, whether delivered by his ordinary or extraordinary ambassadors, with total disregard, or the most virulent opposition. Hence we may naturally conclude, that they take pains to resist divine instructions. And here I will mention some of the methods they employ, to guard themselves against the powerful influence of divine invitations, commands, and admonitions.
First. Some neglect to read the word of God, for fear of meeting with something, that shall carry irresistible conviction to their conscience. The bible is the most entertaining book in the world. It contains a history of the most important events that ever took place. It gives an account of the lives and characters of the most illustrious personages that ever acted their parts on the stage of life. It gives us the only authentic information concerning the creation of the world, and the first generations of mankind. It carries the mind further into future ages, than all other books put together. And it is the only volume which gives any true and rational account of mankind after they leave the body. These are subjects, which every human creature must have a natural und strong curiosity to know, But there is so much of God, of heaven, and of hell, contained in the bible, that the enemies of God and of righteousness, dread to look into it, And to guard against the convictions, which divine truths are fitted to impress on their minds, they take pains to shun the sacred oracles. They will neither read it, nor hear it read. There are thousands and thousands in the Christian world,
who take a great deal of pains to avoid these divine instructions, · which they might receive from a book, which God has given them, to make them wise unto salvation.
Secondly. Some neglect to hear the word of God preached, lest their minds should be disturbed and their consciences alarmed.There are many motivez to draw sinners to the house of God, and they often ardently wish to be there, while their dread of divine truth restrains them from appearing in the place of public instruction. They take pains to avoid the house of God, and choose to spend the Sabbath in sloth and solitude, or even in disagreeable company, rather than to hear the great truths of the gospel, which are sharper than a two-edged sword, and contain the gall of bitterness to the unholy heart. Thus sinners often pull away the shoulder, and take pains to put themselves out of the reach of divine instructions. They voluntarily subject themselves to weariness,
and trouble, that they may maintain their stupidity and security, in which they wish to live and die. They take pains to depart from God, and shun the knowledge of his ways. They hate the light, and will not come to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved.
Thirdly. Some resist divine instruction, by constantly attending to other objects. This is what the prophet calls stopping their ears. While the mind is closely attending to one object, it cannot attend to another. Sinners find that they can evade the force of divine truth, hy attending to something else. They endeavour, therefore, while the word is preached, to fix their attention upon something more agreeable, which makes them deaf and unseeling towards the most convincing and alarming truths. And, if any expression happens to arrest their attention in spite of their hearts, they will soon erase it from their minds, when they leave the house of God, and mix with the men and objects of the world. By attending to the cares or the pleasures of the world, they can stifle con riction, and set their minds at rest. And in many cases, they take a great deal of pains to throw out of their minds the thoughts of God and divine things.
Fourthly. Some resist divine instructions, by disputing and per. verting them. This was the method which sinners took in Christ's day, to evade the force of the weighty truths which he delivered. The Jews complained, that they could not understand his doctrines. And they often went to him, and desired some explanation of what he had said; but were generally as much disposed to dispute his explanations as his preaching. He knew where the difficulty lay, and ascribed it to the proper cause, He demanded, “Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word." Sinners employ all their knowledge and ingenuity in endeavouring to make the truths of divine revelation appear absurd and inconsistent. They will torture the plainest texts of scripture, and per. vert the plainest doctrines of the gospel, in order to resist a sense of guilt and condemnation. There is scarce an unbeliever in any of our congregations, who does not take more or less pains to misunderstand, misapply, and pervert the truths of the gospel, in order to prevent, or stifle conviction,
Fifthly. That many resist divine instructions, by paying an external, without an internal obedience to them. They find, that they can have no peace, while they totally disregard the commands pf God. And therefore, like Herod, they do many things of an external nature, which pacify their minds, and free them from the painful remonstrances of conscience. A very large proportion of gospel sinners, take a great deal of pains in this way, to ward off conviction. While they read and pray, and generally attend publie worship, they feel whole and secure, This was the state of the Jews, in Zechariah's day, Isaiah's day, and in Christ's day.
Their external strictness and punctuality in religious duties and devotions, hardened them against the most plain and pungent discourses of Christ, and steeled their hearts, and made them as bard as adamant, which no divine truths could penetrate. This is the most powerful resistance that sinners can make against divine instructions.
Let us now inquire,
II. Why God is so highly displeased with those, who refuse to bear his voice, and take pains to resist conviction? It appears from the whole current of sçripture, that there is nothing more displeasing to God, than such disregard and opposition to divine teachings and admonitions. He more frequently mentions this conduct of sinners, than any other, as drawing down the weight of his vengeance upon them. This Nehemiah acknowledges was the just cause of the Babylonish captivity. “Nevertheless, they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs.” And God says by the mouth of David, “O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my head against their adversaries.” And it was a proverb in Israel, “ He that. being often reproved. hardeneth his neck,shall be suddenly destroyed, and that without remedy." Our Saviour said of the Jews, who resisted and rejected his preaching. “If I had not come and spoken únto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sins.” And he told the men of Chorazin and Bethsaida, that their opposition to divine light and instruction, would render them more inexcusable and miserable, than the men of Sodom and Gomorrah.
But here the principal question is, why God is so much displeased with men for disregarding and opposing his instructions and admo-. nitions. God is never displeased without cause, nor highly displeased without high provocation. He must see something in those who pull away the shoulder, and stop their ears under his calls and warnings, which is a just ground for his great displeasure. And here I would observe,
1. God is highly displeased with those who resist his instructions, because they sin directly against himself. There are many acts of disobedience which are not directly pointed against God. But when he speaks to them, and calls upon them to hear his voice; and they stop their ears, and refuse to hearken, and take pains to resist conviction, they directly oppose God himself. They know, that God calls to them, and lays his commands upon them, to turn from the paths which they are pursuing, and become obedient to his will; but they refuse to hearken, and justify themselves in opposing the Supreme Majesty of heaven and earth. This God calls “ Casting him behind their backs," and "provoking him to his face.” And says Samuel, “If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sins against the Lord, who shall entreat